Recently, I was rubbing the belly of our sweet little Chihuahua mix, Cindy, bending as I did so to kiss her fur and breathe in her warm egg roll smell.
Cindy is wonderful at being a pet. She doesn’t chew on shoes or snap at strangers and she likes to sleep in on weekends.
“You’re my easy child,” I cooed, not loudly. Still, Ethan responded, “I heard that,” from the other room.
I laughed, assured by the playfulness in his voice that he was no longer angry, though moments earlier we’d been embroiled in an argument. The details escape me, but it’s likely to have started by me inadvertently saying the exact wrong thing. That’s been happening a lot lately, and I have to keep reminding myself that I haven’t actually turned into a bumbling idiot or an insensitive clod in recent months. Ethan’s merely turned into a teenager, so to him I seem that way.
Okay, that’s a partial truth. Relatively often, I’m a sane, grounded adult whose well-meaning words are taken out of context by a hormonal teenager. But every once in awhile that boy’s well-meaning words are taken out of context by his peri-menopausal, PMS-y mom.
In either case, Cindy still thinks I’m wonderful, wagging her tail so wildly at the sight of me that her whole self wags along with it. It reminds me of how Ethan used to stand up in his crib and beam at me when I entered the room, raising his arms to let me know he wanted nothing more than to be held in the ultimate comfort of mine.
Though I know in a deep soul-place that the secret to happiness is being present in the moment, I have this nasty habit of mourning my losses before they occur. The day Ethan was born, I found myself crying because he fit so perfectly against my chest as I held him. I’d like to say those were tears of joy over the beauty of that precious time, but the truth is I cried because I was aware that our perfect puzzle-piece fit wouldn’t last very long.
Part of me has been practicing letting go of Ethan ever since. It’s all moving so quickly, though the first years of motherhood were an especially hard time for me. Parenting a baby is such physical work that I came up against the limits of my disabled body in an entirely new way. I don’t think able-bodied parents realize the miracle in the feats they accomplish every day: climbing onto a bus, a squirming baby in one arm, a heavy stroller in the other; or catching up to a running toddler who is seconds away from darting into the street. I marvel at them, and at myself for having gotten through that time without those skills, especially since Ethan was a baby who insisted on being constantly nursed and held, then grew into a toddler who was quick, wild, and hard to please. Still, I miss that wide-eyed challenging boy with an indescribable ache just as — as is my tendency –I’ve already begun to miss the touchy teenager who, at this moment, is lazily browsing on his computer in the next room.
I think that’s why Cindy is such a comfort to me these days. She hasn’t changed since she came into our lives nearly two years ago, except to mellow a bit and flow more naturally with the rhythms of our household. She weighs under ten pounds like she did the day we got her and she still loves to be petted and held, to press her little heating pad of a body right up against the nearest human while she sleeps.
Cindy loves to play and will often toss a slimy ball or a chewed up tug-a-war toy in my lap while I’m reading or working at the computer. Here again I’m reminded of Ethan who, until recently, craved my attention, often talking continuously as he followed me room to room. At times, I couldn’t help but burst out, “I just need a moment to hear myself think!” But this summer, if he’s not out with friends he’s closed up in his room with them or chatting on Facebook. Meanwhile, I feel like the dad in the last verse of Cat’s in the Cradle: “Son, I’d like to see you if you don’t mind . . . ”
The only constant in parenting is change. A good friend said that to me years ago and I think of it often. The child I live with is literally a different person than he was a few months ago, just as he was a few months before that. He has different interests, different priorities, and — most recently and the hardest to get used to — a different temperament. No wonder I so often say the exact wrong thing! I’m still getting to know this new person and it’s an awkward, ungainly process. I like him, though. He’s smart and quick-witted, and usually easy to forgive.
Ah, and Cindy. Sweet, unwavering Cindy. What a great thing I did by saying yes to a puppy for Ethan’s twelfth birthday. I figured it would teach him responsibility and be a good constant for him as he moved back and forth between his dad’s place and mine. But what I didn’t realize was how soothing her silent, accepting nature would be for both of us as we navigate through each new phase in our relationship. We can have a loud blowout fight, adolescence and peri-menopausal PMS vying for first place in nuttiness, hypersensitivity and volume, and she’ll merely yawn and stretch. Afterwards, when we’re spent and sad and sorry she’ll wander over and drop a slimy ball in one of our laps. Our eyes will lock and we’ll both end up smiling.