When I was about five years old, my dad, a pilot in the Marine Corps, bought our family an American bull dog for our family pet, the mascot used by the same branch of military in which he served. We named her Molly, an appropriate name for this small, stout animal whose mouth was as leaky as our water faucet.
Both my dad, my brother and me loved Molly.
My mother, on the other hand, never developed the same tender feelings.
She complained about Molly’s propensity to drool over everything, a problem exacerbated by the fact she was solely responsible for cleaning the slobber, she muttered when she’d trip over Molly’s lazy body positioned in a haphazard spots all over the house, and of course, she’d leave the room as soon as she caught wind of the foul, gaseous bombs Molly was famous for dropping.
(Come to think of it, we all took issue with this particular character trait.)
Though my mother was a kind and devoted parental guide, she could not summon the same love for our family pet.
She tolerated Molly, but she did not love her.
A short time after my dad brought the dog home, he was stationed on an overseas assignment. My parents planned to transport the dog across the world with us, except on the morning we were to leave the country, the dog was bitten by a rattlesnake and died.
My brother and I were devastated.
We sat in the backseat of a packed car, weeping. It was bad enough we were leaving the home we loved, and now we’d be doing it without our family pet. It was almost too much for us to bear.
A few minutes after she delivered us the news, I looked to my mom for comfort and was shocked to see she was crying. I was confused at my mother’s public display of emotion as her disdain for Molly was a well-known family fact. I thought my mother hated Molly and yet, here she was--tears dripping down her cheeks—visibly saddened by the loss.
As an adult, I admit I don’t like dogs for all the same reasons my mom never liked them: they stink, they’re messy, and caring for my six children is plenty enough work for me. I don’t have the skill set or the extra emotional or mental capacity for something furry.
Unfortunately, my 11 year old daughter, Mary, does not share my sentiments and for the last several years, she has claimed her greatest dream in life is to own her very own dog. Though she desires to be a veterinarian when she grows up, that child should most definitely pursue a law career because her ability to argue her case for a family pet is Ivy League material. Recently, after our millionth discussion about why a pet will never be in the cards, Mary looked at me and said,
“Don’t worry, Mom, I’m gonna wear you down. You’ll change your mind.”
Later that night, when her dad was tucking her into bed, she looked at him and said, “One time I saw a mouse run across our floor. I thought it was gross but I also thought, if that were my pet, I’d name her Cherry. Please let me have a dog, Dad. I want a dog so much. I promise I’ll take care of it. I promise.”
Famous last words.
Still, a few weeks ago, Jon and I began to vacillate on our staunch pledge. Even though we both agree John and I have enough responsibilities, Mary’s desire for a pet was so intense, we felt it almost cruel to not even consider her request.
And so this past weekend, after many years of swearing off the idea, we bought a dog, a chocolate lab in honor of Mary’s eleventh birthday. She named him Shiloh, the same name as her favorite dog character in one of the animal tales her dad has read to her several times.
Let me be clear: I still have all kinds of reservations about a dog.
I’m not a people person, not a pet person.
I’m worried about training the dog to go potty outside and to listen to us.
I’m worried about managing a puppy while we try to do school work.
And I’ve already noticed the new dog is teething and gnawing on anything he can put in his mouth. (Plus, he’s already baptized my brand new rug. “Thank you, Shiloh!”)
But parenthood is funny thing and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my journey thus far, it’s that my children constantly issue invitations to my own personal growth, they summon me to open my closed, selfish heart a little more. I sometimes want to keep the door closed--siphoned off where it’s safe and easier--but I keep realizing with every yes I give (even if I want to take it back sometimes), there are so many things for me to learn.
Even in the few short days we’ve had, Shiloh, I’ve learned Mary has an abundance of love to give and that she lavishes that dog with her time and attention. I could stand to follow her example and be as generous with the people in my own house as Mary is with her dog.
I’ve also finally figured out why my mom cried all those years ago when Molly died, and it wasn’t not she was sad about the dog’s departure. She was crying because she was sad we were sad. She cried because she knew we were heartbroken about the dog and so she was heartbroken too.
I’m probably not going to ever be a dog person but I daresay I will love Shiloh, I already love Shiloh because Mary loves him.
Our kids are such great teachers.