Animals of the non-human variety skeeve me out. I know that you’re not supposed to be weirded out by animals, but I am. I enjoy a nature documentary as much as the next person, but I have no desire to snuggle a cat, play with a puppy, or milk a cow. Animals make me nervous and just holding them often gives me the heebie jeebies. Everything about nature, in fact, makes me a little nervous. I like short forays into nature, where I can be duly awed without coming in contact with anything squiggly, wet or unpredictable. Then I’m ready to head back to the city.
A city, with its jumble of concrete and mechanical noises and gritty people, where most of nature is confined to leashed pets and window boxes, is the place for me. Which is why my friends were stunned when I conceded to my children’s pleas for a dog. The three of them ganged up on Jeff and me with sad faces, the promise to do all of the work, and hundreds of dollars of cash they had raised to buy the one thing that would “make our lives complete” – none of which was convincing.
Regular readers may know that Jeff and I worked hard to develop a Rule of Life, with disciplines to help our family follow Jesus in healthy, life-affirming rhythms. Much of the Rule involves simplifying and slowing down. Dogs do not help with that enterprise.
Jeff is reading Courage and Calling, by Gordon Smith, who writes that when deciding whether to add complexity to your life, you need to decide if the pursuit is “on mission.” And that’s where my desire to keep things simple and to avoid be licked by anything that also licks its own feces lost out to my desire to love on my kids. Raising and loving a dog has been shown to help improve confidence and social skills in children with social difficulties. Playing hard with a dog and sitting calmly with a dog have both been shown to be helpful to kids with ADHD and anxiety disorders. Stress hormones in grieving and traumatized children decrease when they spend time with a dog. We’ve got all of those issues and more going on in our house, so a dog was certainly on mission.
We brought Hazel Mae home last Thursday. Since then, I’ve been walking around with a lump in my throat. On Monday, I went to bed with a sense of dread that I have only experienced two other times. The first was after my first husband and baby died, and the second was after we started homeschooling.
The kids are doing all of the work they promised to do, but there is work we didn’t anticipate. Like making rice and boiled chicken and pumpkin concoctions to deal with her diarrhea, and washing a dozen towels because she pees and poops all over the house, and spending hours online trying to figure out how to best crate train her. I know it will get better, but right now that’s hard to believe and I spend a lot of time crying. When I look ahead to having this dog for fifteen years, my chest tightens and I get knots in my stomach.
My ray of hope comes from something I read years ago in Michael Lewis’ book, Home Game. In his memoir about fatherhood, he describes how he eventually fell in love with his children: he took care of them. Changing diapers and staying up with a croupy baby is what moves us from fond admiration to real love.
This must by why God told Adam to keep and till the garden. Tilling the garden teaches you to love the garden in a way that having asparagus fall from the sky would not. So I will get on the floor and play tug-of-war with a dog I don’t love, and I will get up before the sun to take her to the dog park. I will trust that the knot in my throat will go away, and that I will one day love her. And for now, that will have to have to be enough.