A boy and his dog

There are numerous things we’ve done wrong as parents; I can’t even begin to count the things or the ways we’ve messed up our kids (they will need therapy in some capacity when they are adults most likely)!  There is one thing, however, that we’ve done right, and, without a doubt, we will do it again.

We bought a dog.

Before we had children, we had a dog, a beautiful chocolate lab, Ginger.  She was a good dog, but we didn’t have the time or the space to keep her and make her the best dog she could be.  So, unfortunately, we had to sell her.  She went to a good home, an excellent home, with a lake and acreage.  She lived a long happy life there.

A few years later, after we had our three children, a larger house with a huge yard, we rescued a small mixed breed dog, Mollie.  She was a good dog for a year or two, then she became grumpy.  She would snap, growl, and be downright ornery not only to strangers, but to our children.  After 9 years of this, we had to put her down for their safety.  At the time you would have thought we were the worst parents known to man.  Our children said horrible things about how awful we were, etc.  Of course, their reaction was the emotional consequence of loving something, even something with such vicious tendencies.

As we neared the end of Mollie’s life, we got a new puppy, a boxer we named Stella.  For almost a year we had two dogs, one moody and very much not friendly, and one that was playful, fun, and full of life.  We put time and energy into Stella’s training, we encouraged family and friends to come over so she could socialize with them, we brought her places so she would be used to other people and environments, we took her to obedience classes, we worked hard.  She is very protective of our kids – even trying to grab my youngest’s hand so he doesn’t “fall” into the pool (when in reality he is trying to jump in and she thinks she’s protecting him from that scary body of water).  She is a really great dog!

The best part of Stella is what she has taught our children.  Most of these things we have tried to teach them, but in no way could we have taught them as well as Stella has.  She has taught them patience, especially when she has chewed up their favorite football (she loves footballs and soccer balls – and she destroys them, absolutely destroys them).  She has taught them perseverance; her tricks took a lot of time and energy to learn, but she did learn them, eventually.  She has taught them the value of a good laugh as she quietly and patiently lets them put human clothing on her so she can struggle through walking just so they can laugh at her expense.  She has taught them the value of exercise; she has a lot of energy (a LOT) and she needs to burn that energy through daily walks or runs across the field, often chasing one or two of them in the process.  She has taught them the value of friendship; rarely is she not near one of our kids…sleeping, playing, or just being next to them.

But perhaps the best thing she has taught them is unconditional love.  We love our children unconditionally, and we’re pretty sure they love us the same way, but Stella has taught them to love others.  Every time Stella does something wrong (chewing up a toy or digging a giant hole in the yard or knocking over their cup of milk), they just look into her big brown eyes and forgive her.  She is thoroughly excited every single time one of us walks in the door after being gone for even 5 minutes, we are greeted with a wiggly butt, and a face that looks like it’s smiling with joy.  They love her, even at her worst.

And when one of our kids is sad, angry, or hurt, the first thing we see is Stella trying to cuddle up to them to make them feel better.  And you know what?  It works.  Every.single.time.

Not everyone is a “dog-person” and not everyone should be.  Dogs are a lot of work, they smell – boxers REALLY smell, they make messes, they ruin things, they are clumsy, they are hairy, they drool, they are protective.  But, now that we have Stella, she really is truly a part of our family.  She completes our family.

And there is just something about a boy and his dog.

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A Control Freak Christmas

Sometimes we are THAT family; you know the kind – a little dysfunctional, but genuine and cute in our own weird way.  We also have THAT dog – the one that sniffs everyone’s privates and then expects some love in return.  We are now THAT house – the one that is decorated for Christmas but none of the lights work properly.  We, for whatever reason, cannot keep strands of lights lit…

Here’s our tree.  Pretty, eh?  The lights are still there, sorta.  The lights are dark near the bottom, but not all the way at the bottom because that would be way too easy to fix.  They are so tangled they are in a pile behind the tree, still attached because we can’t undo them without knocking every ornament off the tree in the process.  And broken ornaments would put me in a downward spiral of control freakishness in a hurry.

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Here’s our 5 foot tall outdoor tree in all it’s well-lit glory.  Cute, right?  Whatever.

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In case you haven’t figured it out already, I have some control freak tendencies and these trees are driving me CRAZY.  Add to all of that the fact the indoor real Christmas tree is no longer taking water (I add water because it is evaporating and it makes me feel better) and I’m just a big mess of tension and stress.  Not only are the lights half functional, there are evergreen needles all over the floor.  A few weeks ago, the entire tree was leaning so far it would’ve tipped completely over had we not re-set it in the stand.

And then I watch tv and see trees that look like this:

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Who – in real life – decorates their tree like this and have it look gorgeous all the time and even have tinsel all cute and evenly spaced and ribbons and bows without sap and tree junk on them?!?  I only dream of this type of tree.  But then I think, if I had a tree like this, I’d be even more annoying and control-freakish to my family.  I’d say things like: Don’t touch the tree!  Don’t look at the tree like that or you’ll mess it up!  or better yet Stay away from the tree or you’ll ruin Christmas!  Seriously, this is how control freaks think, at least how this control freak thinks.  I walk around the house moving things a 1/2 inch one direction only to turn around and literally move it back to where it was to begin with.

And then I look at my dark barren spots in my lit trees, the corny ornaments that adorn it, the pile of lights strategically hidden (or smooshed) in the corner, and the village scene that I allowed my children to put together (yes, I allowed it.  It was hard, but I let.it.go this year), and, I think, that maybe having an imperfect house, an imperfect dog, and highly messed up trees is okay.  If all I am aiming to be is perfect, I’m missing out on the imperfect and the joyful chaos that creates.  My children will have memories of mistakes we’ve made as parents, of trees that have tipped over (it happened…once), of gifts we’ve numbered instead of labeled nicely with names (we’re mean and those kids are genius guessers!), of ornaments that are ugly, and of arguments we’ve had decorating because someone wasn’t decorating “right.”  We all have our issues, our vices, our quirks.  In this house, our (translated: my) issues currently revolve around Christmas tree lights and decorations.

And did I tell you about the crooked wreaths around our outdoor lights?  My husband says that’s how they’re supposed to look.  I doubted him and he said, “You told me to put them like that.”  Whatever.

Unsung Carols

It’s weird how people can impact your life in ways you never expected.

I work full-time at a church; I’m the central hub for everything that happens there (well, I’m supposed to be, anyway).  Every Friday afternoon, without complaint and always with a smile and a sweet “hello!” my friend, Carol, comes in and helps me with the mundane task of folding bulletins, preparing mailings to the elderly folks who can no longer get out of their homes to worship, and makes sure the worship participants have their outlines.  It’s a boring job.  Really, it is.  But, for years, without fail, she shows up.  Every.Single.Week.

A week before Thanksgiving, Carol confided in me and told me money was tight and she wouldn’t be able to attend some upcoming events for the senior citizens at the church.  The cost for attending these events was less than most of us spend on dinner at a restaurant, so my heart went out to her.  I sent an email to the pastor and asked her if church could cover the cost of Carol’s attendance after explaining the situation.  The pastor enthusiastically said,  “Yes!”  So, I wrote a small note of thanks to Carol, explaining that we, as church staff, wanted to thank her for volunteering every Friday and cover the cost of the events.   I placed the note in her church mailbox and didn’t hear from her for a few days.

The next week, Thanksgiving week, Carol showed up unexpectedly on Tuesday.  Things were busy and a little chaotic.  I was chatting with another parishioner, but, thankfully, the pastor was in the lobby.  Carol graciously thanked the pastor for the note and then waiting patiently for me to finish before entering the office.  She slid a small card across the counter and started to cry.  (If you know me at all, you know that tears make me VERY uncomfortable).  Being a little busy and more than a little slow to pick up on the cues, I asked if she was okay.  She replied, “I just wanted to say thank you.”  I nodded and said, “of course.  We appreciate you.”  She lowered her head and walked out, as quickly and unassumingly as she walked in.

A little while after she left, I opened the card.  I was floored.  It was a thank you card – to us as staff – for appreciating her!  We had thanked her for her devotion to a relatively thankless job and she turned it around and made it not about her.  She literally gave us a thank you card for thanking her.  This is Carol.  This is who she is.  Never has she complained about spending every Friday afternoon folding bulletins or putting up with my endless chatter about my children.  Never has she said, “I don’t want to do this anymore.  This doesn’t matter.  Nobody notices what I do every week.”  She shows up, she does her work, and she leaves.

However, she is not invisible.  She is what we should all aspire to be – one who gives freely without ever expecting anything in return.