Friday, December 13, 2013

Imperfectly perfect

Whenever I see posts from people saying goodbye to their beloved pet, it seems like most of them have beautiful, touching things to say about their furry friend.

World's Best Dog

My Best Friend

One of a Kind

Today we said goodbye to our 10 year old Golden Retriever, Reagan, and I can say almost none of those things about him.

He was not the World's Best Dog.

He was not my "best friend". In truth, at times he felt like my nemesis.

But, he was indeed, one of a kind. And in the end that is why we are shedding tears and mourning the passing of our big, crazy-making, food-obsessed, disobedient, infuriatingly lovable dog.

He was not the "World's Best Dog". But he was our dog.

And in fairness to Reagan, he didn't come to us at the easiest time. We didn't know it was a bad time, or that it would become a bad time, but maybe we should have known better. We had two young boys and I was pregnant with twins. Probably not the best time to bring a puppy into the family. But we were grieving the loss of our Labrador, Shelby, and getting a dog seemed to make sense. We were not thinking clearly.

But we did indeed get a puppy. An adorable, high energy Golden Retriever puppy. Reagan became a part of the family and we never looked back.

He was horribly nippy and mouthy and food obsessed from the get-go. He tormented five-year-old Timothy relentlessly. Reagan clearly decided that Tim was low-man on the totem pole and he was going to at least get above him in the hierarchy. If I turned my back for a second I would hear Timothy screaming for help in the backyard as Reagan had ahold of the edge of his shirt or, worse yet, the crotch of his shorts and wouldn't let go. I hate to think back on how many of Timothy's shirts and shorts were ruined that first summer Reagan came home.

Even after we got past the mouthy puppy behavior, Reagan continued to be a handful.

He flunked Puppy Obedience. We sent him away to Boot Camp and even those seasoned trainers could only shake their heads and say, "Good luck" when they returned him to us.

He would gulp down socks (not chew...not shred....GULP) which resulted in a very expensive surgery during which they removed two socks and a dishtowel from his small intestine. Our children quickly became experts at keeping socks out of reach. We became the household that routinely had piles of socks sitting in windowsills or on the tops of bookshelves.

He would steal any food within reach.

He ate the Christmas lights.

No amount of training ever got him to properly walk on a leash without the use of a prong collar.

He would never come when called unless bribed with food.

He was big and pushy and stubborn and I spent many years wondering if this dog would ever reveal any redeeming qualities.

And then, Annie came along.

Our sweet, dog-loving Annie. Maybe she came into the world pre-programmed to be the dog-lover that she is, or maybe it's because she was born into a house already over-run with one giant, larger-than-life dog. But whatever the reason....Annie loved Reagan.

She just loved him.

She never saw him the way the rest of us did. She had no negative memories, no torn shirts, no lingering resentments over money spent on surgeries, failed training and replacement clothes. She only knew him as the older, more mature dog that he had become and she loved him.

And her pure, unconditional love and acceptance of Reagan, helped the rest of us to love him, too.

Annie's love cast Reagan in an entirely new light.

We were reminded that he didn't have a mean bone in his body, and he never had.

That in the same way Annie loved him, with all his quirks, faults and foibles, he gave us that same love in return. We weren't perfect either. We hadn't always been able to give him all the time and attention he needed. And yet, he still loved us.

And maybe we would have come around in his senior years either way, but aided by the love between the two of them, we are happy to say that we spent the second half of Reagan's life enjoying him and appreciating him in a way that I can't really say we did for the first half.

Reagan was not by any stretch the World's Best Dog. But he was a good dog. He was our dog. And in his final act of graciousness he spent the last two years of his life being an exceptionally good role model and companion for our new dog.

You forget what puppies are like. We didn't realize what we would be asking of Reagan bringing a puppy into his life when he himself was a senior citizen. We had moments of wondering if we had made a terrible mistake.

But I don't worry about that anymore. Reagan helped Rooney to settle into his new home. He taught him to swim. He gave him companionship. And in return, I think Rooney gave Reagan companionship, too. I think he made these last years more interesting and playful. I think it was good. I hope it was good.

And so, we say goodbye.

Goodbye to our faithful friend.

And in saying goodbye, we will remember all that was good about our Reagan.

He was so friendly.

He was tolerant.

He was a champion swimmer.

He never met a meal, a morsel, or a crumb he didn't like.

He was handsome.

He was quiet and unflappable.

He loved us.

He was loved.

Monday, December 2, 2013


I've taken a little heat for the speed with which we moved onto decorating for Christmas this year. The turkey carcass was practically still sitting on the counter when we hauled all of the Christmas boxes up from storage and started decking our halls with boughs of holly. I could give you a long list of reasons why we were completely justified in leaving Thanksgiving behind so quickly but the biggest reason of all, the one that I challenge any of you to try to resist, would have to do with one little girl who simply loves Christmas.

It really isn't her fault. She cannot be judged for her inordinate love of all things Christmas-y and tinsel-y and Christmas carol-y...because, the thing is, it's in her blood.

At the risk of blowing your mind on this early Monday morning and sending you running for that second, third or fourth cup of coffee, I have a pretty big secret to share. Well, at least it's a secret to some of you. Some of you, and you know who you are, won't be the least bit surprised. But the rest of see, what you might not realize, and will likely come as a bit of a shock to those who have only known me as an adult is...okay...brace yourselves...

I grew up as the daughter of Santa Claus.

I'm sure some of you are smiling, or perhaps wrinkling your brow in confusion, or chuckling, imagining that I am simply telling a cute joke. I am not joking. And I can assure you that any of my oldest, dearest friends- those closest to me and my family as a child-some of whom might be reading this at this very moment-are not chuckling. They are nodding in all seriousness, and would solemnly tell you if asked, "Oh, yes, it is absolutely true. Her father was Santa Claus."

Because they know.

And it wasn't just because my father donned his red suit and beard almost every year of his adult life, thrilling children and adults alike with his booming laugh and jolly spirit.

It wasn't just because he always seemed to know the right thing to say to encourage a shy child to share their deepest heart's desire.

It wasn't just because both babies and awkward teenagers never seemed to balk at taking their place on his knee, sensing him completely worthy of their trust.

It wasn't just because of who he was on that one day each year.  Even though everyone saw and knew and believed he was Santa Claus on that one day.

But the real reason we knew, why we still know, was because everyone saw and knew and believed he was Santa Claus everyday of the year.

He laughed like that everyday. He could get any child to warm up to him, everyday. He loved babies and teenagers alike, everyday. He gave and he gave and he gave....everyday.

And I miss him...everyday.

But especially at Christmas.