A little over a month ago, I was walking Scruffy by my house and I ran into a woman holding an old, funny looking dog on a leash. “Do you recognize this dog?” she asked. I said no. After a few minutes of talking I discovered that she had found the dog running back and forth in the street, looking lost.
Since I work with a local rescue that almost always reunites lost pets with their owners within hours, and since we were in front of my house, I said, “I’ll take the old girl. I can hold onto her until we locate her parents.” We nicknamed her Temporary Mabel as we didn’t think she’d be here long.
That was about thirty-eight days ago. The last thing we wanted was another dog, but she grew on us. She’s got a pointed tri-color Corgi head, short constantly-shedding hair, a few bald spots, no tail, and short pencil legs. She’s anxious, at least nine years old based on her chip, and emits a high-pitched yowl when anyone leaves or comes into the room, which in a warm way reminds me of my childhood dysfunctional beagle.
She was not content with our fenced in yard, and demanded brisk, long walks. The first couple of times I took her out she pulled on her leash until she coughed. We bought harnesses for all the dogs, suddenly questioning why we subjected them to collars all these years.
Before we got Scruffy, it never occurred to us to get a dog door or visit our town’s lovely dog park. Scruffy’ s needs taught us new things I wish we’d known when it was just Lily.
And Lily? Until I got her with her sensitive tummy and skin allergies, my pets always ate basic food, dry and cheap. But for her I had to upgrade to grain-free, limited-ingredient kibble. Then Henry the cat began eating the expensive dog food so I upgraded the kitty food too.
Comparatively, people who have a bunch of human kids get the opportunity to improve their parenting skills with each new child. But you don’t get a start fresh with parenting when you have just one.
I thought of this the whole thirty day waiting period that Temporary Mabel was gradually transforming into Permanent Mabel. I love Ivy and she’s the best daughter anyone could ever want or have; but I feel guilty that I made so many mistakes while raising her, and that as an only child she didn’t get the benefit of lessons learned from mistakes I could have made on earlier siblings.
I don’t think I was ever a bad parent mind you, but I would have done things differently if I could have been sure it wouldn’t change the outcome. I love my life now and Ivy loves hers so maybe everything that happened was predestined. But you gain experience when adding children. If you have a bunch, by the time the fourth or fifth kid comes along you are flawless. And that lucky child gets the most learned, best version of you. Disclaimer: that view could be my fantasy imaginings as the mother of an only child, the grass is always greener and all that.
You foolishly believe when you’re pregnant that after the baby is born the time will go slowly, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to figure it all out. But it doesn’t work like that. You pop the baby out, and next thing she’s in her early twenties and you’re scratching your head wondering how the heck this much time went by. You berate yourself for expecting her childhood to last forever, that each stage would go on indefinitely with ample time to research and do everything just right.
Maybe that’s why I can’t resist being a mother to this abundance of animals. With each new pet I raise I get “parenting” a little closer to perfect.
I hope that Ivy learned from some of my missteps and that her children get the very best version of her. If not, she will learn as she goes.
If nothing else, we hold fast to the belief that we did a way better job of raising children than our parents did, and that they were more adept than their mother and father and so on. If that were true though, our ancestors would have been absolutely clueless, and it’s only our current child-rearing experience that achieved perfection.
Clearly that’s not the case. Each parent starts fresh and makes a lot of the same mistakes. Be it from not knowing better, or stubbornness, or immaturity, or through loving too much and not wanting to set boundaries, or from setting too many. For better or worse, we devour and entrust that generation’s Guide to Parenting which conflicts with those of other generations. No matter how astute our parents were, we think we’re wiser… Until our kids are grown and then we reconsider and mull over the decisions we made, the paths we chose. We rethink our own parents’ actions.
Oh, now I understand…is a mantra that is often in my head.
We may not all be human or pet parents, but we are all constant learners, rushing to get it right before the clock runs out. Take a deep breath, savor the moments as they come, and use your life experience to be the best, kindest person you can be.
Childhood is temporary. Life is temporary. But you don’t realize that until it whizzes past you in a blur of fuzzy memories. All we can do is be humble and learn from our mistakes, our successes, our children and parents, and of course from our dogs.