In Defense of Spirited Abandon and Cosmic Trust

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I live in an area close to Washington, D.C., however I spent my early youth, of which I recall a great deal, in Buffalo, NY.

We have received a fair amount of snow here, in the DC-burbs this winter. Nothing like 2010, however, and absolutely nothing like what the northeast has endured this winter as well.

I learned about a weather phenomenon, “the ice line” a few months ago. It’s aptly named. It’s what causes a shit ton of emotional and vehicular chaos in these parts whenever the air and surface temps drop below freezing but the substance falling from the clouds ain’t so sure it’s not in Florida. The result is ice. Sometimes it is ice covered by snow.

The issue is the unfortunate confluence of inexperienced drivers on ice and a southern state transportation department which has begrudgingly had to adapt to climate change.

Surely it snowed and was icy when George Washington was president, or before Vespucci found this continent. People, fauna, bears… They coped. They didn’t freak out, wring their dry hands and wonder about school closings, road conditions, Twitter updates and Brian Williams.

They just dealt. They looked outside their huts or caves, they said (in whatever language they uttered) “ok, different from yesterday. The elk skin will be most appropriate for the day along with those muskrat boots… and hand me my pashmina while you’re at it…”

Sometimes (most always) we know what we need to do. Most times, in an increasingly complicated (über-connected) world, it just means we retreat, we go inside to our inner wisdom, and decide for ourselves. Put down the familiar bottle of chaos we subconsciously looooove to stir up and cool our jets. We simply let go, leave it all up to the Fates, God, the Universe, whatever it is which gets us through dinner, and deal, knowing 1) it’s out of our control and 2) it’s nothing to freak out about.

I’m suggesting we do that now. Just breathe, assess and deal; go with our thimble-sized needs and address them accordingly.

One breath at a time.

Thank you.

Unexpected Grace: When a Dream Shifts Everything

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This morning, I awoke from a dream that left me utterly jammed in the head with its images, and the profound energy (you’re going to hear a lot of that word, “energy,” in this post) and vibration that I was to record it, write it all down and learn from it.

I also have a friend, who’s a loyal reader and who has taken the time to get to know me and share with me her own wisdom. We all have our stories, and yet we can share them to help others heal. She shares her knowledge about messages we carry inside ourselves, and the wisdom we are supposed to gain from them, when we learn to step out of our own way.

This friend, T, said something a few times in our recent correspondence, and she has been patient with me, and I am so grateful, to let it sink in as I know it requires slow, gentle rainfalls to soak into a parched earth. Downpours simply run off and cause chaos and floods. When it soaks in, we loosen up and learn who we are.

She said to me, in an exchange in which I was fixated on my childhood and the familiar feelings of helplessness. I wanted to blame my mother for things I missed out on (even though I absolutely have a sense of knowing that everything happens for a reason, sometimes it’s hard to let go of that because it’s easier to blame someone else for our situation). She wrote back “At 47, this is not about your mother. If there’s one thing I can tell you, this has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with you.”

“Screw you” I wanted to say to her. But I didn’t. “You don’t know my pain,” I wanted to add on. But I didn’t. While I knew in my head that she was right, I didn’t necessarily agree in my heart.

They take some time to soak in, these messages, and the people who are in our lives who are blunt enough to stand there and hold up a mirror to us deserve some major love. Their shoulders are burning from lactic acid build-up, their forearms are tired, it’s cold out there holding up that mirror. They can’t see your expressions because the mirror is blocking it and they also can’t see anything else around them because they have to hold that heavy beveled mirror stable, in its massive gilded frame in the light of day, in the cold, in the heat, in the windy eerie dark… they wait there, holding up that mirror, saying those few little words, “Not at 47 is this about your mother…”

And your gut churns and your throat thickens and your jaw sets; you gulp. Your brows furrow and your eyes shift left and right, but your head won’t turn because that mirror won’t escape you. It follows your face until Truth sinks in. Until you see you, staring back at you, reminding you that at whatever stage you’re fighting in your life, when your long-lost mother (who was essentially lost to you long before she died), that your life is about you; it always has been about you; it was never about her, or your dad, or your siblings, or your best friend, or your cousins, or the dog.

It’s about you and the fact that you have created the life you live today with your thoughts, fears, intentions, biases, dreams, lies, and hopes… All the things in it: from the obvious, such as your hairstyle, your car, the box of tea you bought for company when you over-performed, the books in your house, the computer at your desk, the can of expired soup in your cupboard, the cat on your couch … that ALL of it, is the stuff of your mind and your intentions. The more subtle stuff, the stuff we want to blame on our history, or boss, or enemies or our environment, things like addiction, neuroses, obsessions and fears: that’s all you too. With Just A Thought, conscious or otherwise, you brought it in because what we think about most becomes our reality. So if you think about fear: your world will be fearful. If you think about peace, you will see with peaceful intention.

For good or for bad, in the warm sun and the eerie dark: all of it, your state of relationships; all the friends and enemies in your life; all your easy slopes and stumbling blocks; all your confusion and your state of function, are all yours. They start with you and then end with you.

This is hard. This is hugely humbling as well as terrifyingly egoic.

The flow of my dream was totally random, as dreams can be. The point is, I woke convinced that it was about my mother. However, that’s bullshit. She was me, but I was me and the other people too… It’s how this stuff goes. It’s always about the dreamer. This is what I’m starting to understand, that what T said to me is starting to integrate into my consciousness, because rather than having it wait three weeks before I “got” it, I arrived at the realization an hour after waking; after thinking about it, making my coffee, taking my son to school. I got it.

The scene is that I was amongst a mob of people (all me), like we were in a train station or leaving a concert — lots of people, streams of them, absent any panic or doom. We were just people on a crowded space heading in our various directions — much like how life actually is. I looked to my left, and I saw an older woman, with chin-length silver hair, much like Mom’s, and she turned her face to me. She had age spots where Mom did, but her face was not Mom’s; it was more rounded, like Betty White’s and then it sort of morphed into my mother, but not until I asked, “Mom? Is that you?” — all in real-time, knowing in my dream that she had died. The woman’s face brightened, morphing in and out between my mother and another elderly woman, perhaps all the women I knew as a child.

This woman sort of nodded, and gently smiled, not in a “you’re nuts” way, but in a kind, nervous way — the energy was that she knew I was seeking something… so she was going to stand by until I found it. My energy shifted as well, I sensed this wasn’t a match, but it was more of a surrogate, and the clothes that this woman was wearing was a full indicator of that: she was wearing pastels, and an eyelet blouse with a rounded collar and a pink cashmere scarf and an off-white soft cardigan, wearing a string of pearls like Mom’s — these colors lit up her face in a super-healthy way, rosy cheeks and bright eyes. The clothes accented her sylvan hair in a way completely opposite than my mother’s complexion would ever allow.

I turned back to my right side and discovered some friends from my yoga retreat. I felt uncomfortable with this older woman in the pastels. My yoga retreat roommate was there, energetically supporting me and pushing me to continue this “experience” with this mother / not-mother woman. I started to sob in the dream, nodding reluctantly to my roommate, whom I know loves me very much, to return to the woman. I had a strong sense that this interaction, this “moment” was not going to last long, nor would it return any time soon. The Moment was “Now” as they say.

I turned back toward the Mom energy being, and this time she was in a car, but it was British, because there was no steering wheel, but she was on the left side of the car. In fact, in my notes, I say this version of my mother is like an “English” version of herself. I said “Mom … I love you. I always did. And I’m so sorry I was unkind to you in our relationship; especially as we both aged. I was so hurt and you were so patient with me even though I never lightened up, that I was constantly on vigil for you and unyielding. I do love you. I did love you… But this was our path…”

I reached in to touch her face, which was still energetically my mother, but physically not at all her, and when I pulled out my hand, it was filled with water. I turned back toward my yoga retreat friends and one of them was now drastically weakened, lying on the floor, and she needed the water, so I gave it to her to sip. I had enough water for all my retreat friends, who were now all present, guiding me forward. The energy of the crowd was shifting, it felt more dire.

I turned back to that mother energy and all the colors were gone. Everything now was black and white, and gray tones. The folds in her sweater were now like stripes and she appeared to be weakening, aging right before my eyes; her smile straightened a little. Her eyes and cheekbones started to fall, hollow. Her  chin became sharper and I began to realize she was dying right in front of me — all of it: from her vibrant, rosy cheeks to her aging to her wasting to her last breaths … in one dream, in one experience (which of course is true: this life is one continuous, connected experience isn’t it?).

She was fading away before my eyes. She became soft and nodded slowly and kindly and patiently to me. Silent, saying not a peep, not even “Piffle” (which was one of my favoritest things Mom said). The sense that this was a surrogate being was so strong at this point, that while my mother’s energy visited my psyche, that her energetic visage in complete attendance to my experience, was unavailable. And of course it left me wanting more of her. But the message was strong to me: that I was meant to have this realization that just as my mind was confused about who she was in the dream, such was it in life in our relationship: I have always felt confused, spongy, mostly antagonistic, distrustful, and ultimately misaligned with her, that our conversations were more parallel than intersecting; and even then, even though they were parallel, they were ideologically disparate.

I went to bed last night thinking in a high level (for me anyhow) way about her, that I need to really stop trying to figure her out; and I’ve become good about that: I’ve stopped trying to figure her out. Even if she was a puzzle wrapped in an enigma inside a riddle, that’s all I need to know. Anything else is a distraction from the life I have created and the life which is slipping through my own fingers. So having this dream, now in retrospect, was extremely healing.

I wrote this morning after returning from dropping my son at school, “I am now feeling authentically and not rationalizing that the tone of neutrality and statements of fact in my “apology” to the mother energy in my dream is (finally) just that: neutral: no sense of ownership for me or for her or a “role” that I had to play. The simple reality is that I am regretful that things weren’t better, more stable, sincere, softer, authentic and real between us — BUT THEY WERE! THEY WERE AS REAL AS THEY WERE GOING TO GET BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED!

The thing is, if Mom were still here today, and if I’d had the presence to say anything like that (which I know I have) the relationship wouldn’t change, because it didn’t before.

That same sense of confusion I felt in my dream regarding my mother’s “identity” (which I finally just stop insisting that it “check in” and decide to BE something) was/is so closely aligned with my ever-constant state of trying to “figure out” who she was (“was she in there?”) ALL MY LIFE. She was who she was. Why couldn’t I see this until now? Because I wanted to blame her for everything. ‘Not at 47…’

The point to all of this is the co-creation: this life IS what it is. We can think we see something else, we can try to twist it, chew it, shape it, rationalize it, describe it, experience it, let it torque and turn us. We can lie to ourselves and say it’s something else; we can enable it and abuse it, but the point is: it’s all futile to do much other than just Be with it (this is so deep even I’m getting lost now).

Typical of me: I take something that is so incredibly simple and complicate the piss out of it. I think that’s the point though isn’t it? To see things properly, to break all the shards away after we’ve twisted and smashed up the glass trying to see things the way we THINK we’re supposed to.

Trying to see life with our -isms and our people with their -isms with filtered lenses is an exhausting waste of energy and time. I interpret my fixation with “Mom’s” visage in the dream as a trap now: something to trip me up, like a technicality in a football game, because what she looked like –in this dream state– didn’t matter, the energy aligned with her and so that “familiarity” was with Mom. So as we are in real carbon-based life not in a dream: we are the energies rather than the forms… it’s the energy we respond do, never the form — think about it: you don’t respond to a person’s form, you respond to their subtle intention, the expression they make, the snicker or the smile… not the “body” or the face. The face and the body are identifiers, they are not the energy / essence of the person…

So that mirror I wrote about earlier? It’s to remind you of your intention and your energy. That phrase of Carl Jung’s could never be truer, something along the lines of what we find to be irritating or considerable in other people says more about ourselves. If you think someone is smug, it’s because you are too. If you think someone is wonderful, it’s because you are too. “When you point at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you…” all that shit. It’s time to get real.

So I thought about my friend T and I realized again after realizing the above, that this dream, and all my life that my mother’s “energy” was who she was. I wasn’t put here to crack her “code” or fight for justice or shame or out her and her issues. That was all a ruse, a distraction, construct of ego, to keep me (and anyone else in that schema) from attending to me and performing to my highest potential (even though if you ask me, I have performed pretty freakin’ spectacularly), and it’s been a rut in a greater part of my adult life. One I am quite ready to break out of.

And what of that apology or statement of regret? I’m very close to seeing it as a release: that in forgiving her for her path in life, and realizing that I’m here to be me, that I can forgive me for being so “hard” (just being me) on her for so many years. Which is really, what I want more than anything: to forgive myself for being such a bull dog. I can’t necessarily blame it on the circumstance of my very young years: I eventually “grew up.” That’s what T means: it’s about me, not Mom. I can choose to be softer, more patient with Mom me now (and it’s so much easier…)

My mother and I were given to each other for teaching and learning. Just as you have been given your people and circumstances to teach and learn. These are the pockets of Grace; they are everywhere waiting for us to pick them, when we learn to let go of our shame and unfold into ourSelves.

Thank you.

When Love Walks In….

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Valentine’s Day was a blast when I was little: school parties, cupcakes, chocolate, candy, feeling warm despite the cold of February in Buffalo, N.Y.

When I moved to Virginia, it was in the midst of the ubiquitous “Virginia is for Lovers” campaign designed to boost tourism.

Being from New York state, I took offense to that because I felt 1) that Virginia was stealing the super-popular “I <3 N.Y.” campaign, and 2) that Virginia was for traitors to the Union.

It was those Virginia Februarys in which I learned about the “ice line” and how disappointing winters here can be: cold as fuck (certainly not Montana cold), but no snow. Just dry, gray, bitter bone cold.

After I moved to Virginia, I didn’t like Valentine’s Day much.

For my first Valentine’s Day in Virginia, I was 14 (oy vey, I do NOT miss that time) wondering what love is all about and witnessing a fair amount of discord in my parents’ marriage due to various disappointments in my mother and my dad trying to find his social niche after the move.

So I went looking. Not in a hopeless way, but as a true wonderer in doubt of the point of it all and thinking that it really didn’t exist in an obvious way; that the movies and TV shows were wildly exaggerating. That didn’t stop me from wondering if a small percentage of it were possible, somehere, in a distant land or maybe in the house next door: this perfect love, a love which was as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians waxed, “it does not boast, and is patient” (I’m loosely paraphrasing) and that “it endures all things.”

I would add that to me, love also meant that it showed up when it said it would, that it would follow through on a promise or even a threat, that it would inspire silence when criticism would be waiting at the ready, finger on the trigger; and that it would simply wait until I softened.

I had to wait a long time before that kind of love stepped into my life, and when it did, I still was suspicious of it.

Before all that, and even in the midst of it, I lost enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day, especially as a mother. But I will admit that I am turning around. What I object to is the capitalization of the day, and the necessity for jewelers and Best Buy to get in the act. It’s the IN YOUR FACE, mandatory YOU MUST SHOW YOUR LOVE bullshit that turns me off, and has for at least 10 years.

The kids don’t bring home their handmade valentines anymore; my youngest is 11. Dan and I held each other this morning when Jackson Browne sang “Sky Blue and Black” on Pandora. The boys ask us about Valentine’s Day, expecting us to go on a hot date with chocolates and flowers, but that’s not how we roll. Especially with the kids now. Love isn’t dampened, it’s just more reserved. Maybe that’s a bummer. Diamonds don’t tell me how much my husband loves me, his being here day in and day out, helping me with everything and me helping him is what tells me he loves me.

I was chatting with some online friends and we agreed that Valentine’s Day is about family right now. I followed one of my friends’ leads and I’ll break out the china, crystal and sterling tonight for dinner. We will use the dining room.

My sons are good to me though. Thing 3 made me coffee this morning, just how I like it. Thing 2 kissed me on the forehead, he’s almost taller than I am now, and told me he loved me. I could feel his razor stubble from his upper lip. My heart leapt and sank because he’s so big. Thing 1, a master of satire, said “this Valentine’s Day, my 16th, I am still single. I will spend the evening in the basement crying, as I have all the years before.” Yesterday was Murphy’s seventh birthday; his face is whitening and he’s a little slower on the uptake yet he brims with love every time he torpedos my crotch. Charlie is Charlie, chewing on something, pulling on Murphy’s mane.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

I went with my husband to see “American Sniper” two weeks ago. The first show we tried to see was sold out. So we went to an early dinner instead. Over our coincidental orders of warm goat cheese and spiced pecan salads we started talking about my parents’ relationship and his parents’ relationship and how hard it must be to be our remaining parents, because he lost his father just last summer and I lost my mother nine months before that.

We also started talking about us, naturally, and I had to ask him, “Why? Why did you marry me?” I wasn’t seeking bullshit and “because you’re the best…” answers. I really wanted to know, because in my estimation, I am a giant pain in the ass. And when we met, I was a total hardass: I was funny, but rigid in my standards and I was jaded.

He simply said, “Because you are strong and you made me laugh, like no one else I know. I loved you very much and I knew, that as we got older and I might need you more than ever, that you would take care of me, you would have my back.”

Oh boy… is he in for a surprise.

Just kidding.

But sort of not, because who knows? Who knows how I will be when that time comes. Maybe I will be incapacited. I would hate to do that to him. But this is the gamble, isn’t it?

My husband is one of the kindest, gentlest, sincerest, effective, patient people I will EVER meet. This is my version of Dan:

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om-nom from “Cut the Rope” — he’s one of the sweetest little creatures there is.

And he married me. This is who I think I am compared to him:

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This is how I feel about myself from time-to-time. (I didn’t draw this; not in a million years. But I wish I could find the source for it.)

But he walked into my life and now he’s stuck with me.

I had a very small request of Dan when he proposed to me. I said “yes” obviously, but I said to him, no lie, “You must promise me that we will always pay the utility bills. If you can’t promise me that we will never lose power, or water or heat in our home, then I can’t marry you.”

Quickly nodding and with an understandably quizzical expression, he said “Sure.”

He never asked why, but over time I explained and he gets it. I didn’t have that kind of reliability growing up.

And here we are.

People, especially newlyweds and those intending on matrimony need to get this very basic understanding not just clear, but deeply knitted into their psyches: marriage and love is more than living together and playing house. It’s beyond the toothpaste cap being left off and piles of receipts and baseboards that need painting. It’s terribly loud, and unnervingly quiet. It’s about nasal hair and laundry duty; missing tools and body odors; it’s about running the sink for no reason and silently wondering when it will be turned off; it’s about turn-signal neglect and sore throats; about rescue dogs and emotional transferrence; it’s about too many pens and junk drawers; debt and stupid purchases; expensive dinners you regret but paying for; biting your tongue; it’s about endless sports or Bravo TV; about careers derailing and supporting anyway; it’s about saying stupid things and begging for and allowing clarification; it’s about hair in the shower drain and stubble in the sink; about buying the wrong thing and being cool about it; it’s about fears, secrets and shames hemorrhaging in unexpected ways; about psychotherapy and patience during unexpected growth patterns; about miscommunication and apology; about false praise backfiring when you really should’ve been honest; about parents dying and not knowing how to deal; about expensive hobbies and foolish ideas; about driver’s seats not being restored to the primary position and obvious domestic inertia when you walk through the door; about excessive amounts of exercise equipment when a simple daily walk will do; about crazy in-laws and amazing in-laws; it’s about conspiratorially watching an inappropriate YouTube* video away from your children’s ear shot and dark chocolate because it’s healthy; it’s about ratty t-shirts and health changes; sharing your interest despite a prejudice; mood swings and confusion, a cup of tea showing up just because; asking for advice and taking it; bad food choices and nocturnal flatulence; blanket thievery and tulips by surprise and so much more and maybe less… the one thing we do know about love is that we don’t know all about it.

When children are added to the mix, it’s especially essential that if you haven’t already, that you get your head out of your ass and put their needs ahead of your wants. I recently read that Pope Francis said that people who choose to not have children are selfish. I am digressing, but just for a sentence: No, no they are not selfish; what’s selfish is having kids and then treating them like garbage.

I’m back.

Valentine’s Day isn’t a gimmick to me anymore, the way I see it, we should do what we can not just celebrate love, but to recognize it in all its imperfect perfection.

*Gilbert Gottfried reading “50 Shades of Gray”

So on this day, of all days, thanks for reading. You’re good eggs. Here’s a Valentine doodle I sincerely totally made for you:

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Thank you.

Charlie & Murphy — What “Intention” Shows Us

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So I took this photo today of Charlie, our rescue pooch. In it, he’s standing amidst the wreckage of a modest plastic laundry basket that I thought would make a nice dog toy bin, as it had survived in this house for several years before he arrived.

What?

What?

Charlie is about 15 months old now. I realize that makes me sound like a really screwed-up “dog parent” but I mention his age in months because while he’s over a year, physically, he’s still quite a puppy mentally. Or maybe this is who he is.

His adult teeth have been grown in for at least seven months, yet he is a chewer. He is such a chewer that he has shown Murphy, our 7-year-old golden retriever, how it’s done.

Murphy really could not care less about nylabones or rope toys or rubber tug toys or giant knot pulls or a moccasin or a scarf, a chair, a rug fringe, a beach towel, a fire log, a down jacket, a pair of leather boots, a piece of trim on a cabinet, a Jimmy Page DVD box, a remote control, a set of headphones, an uncashed birthday check for $100, an electric guitar cord, a garden hose, a wah-wah pedal, a text book, a yoga book, a set of crayons, a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap, shin guards, a candle, an LL Bean tote bag, flip flops, a few cleats, a BBQ glove, a newspaper, an empty cardboard box, an empty cereal bag, a broom handle, a snow shovel, a volley, soccer, basket, foot, playground -ball, a book by Roz Chast and so much more. Murphy doesn’t care. Murphy couldn’t be bothered.

As you can see, just today, here is Murphy simply not giving a damn about Charlie’s basket.

No. No. No. This is not interesting to me.

No. No. No. This is not interesting to me. I want to see what Mom is doing. Get your hand off my back. 

Why?

“WHY NOT MURPH?!? LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF! C’MONNNNNN!!!” Begs Charlie.

Because Murphy was intended. And Charlie was not.

Murphy’s whole being — from the mounting of his wild, long-haired, as-flaxen-as-wheat father “Kirby” onto his sainted dogly, calm, freckle-nosed, light blonde mother, “Bonnie” — Murphy was intended.

“We’d like a mellow golden. One that is beautiful of course, but that is not too crazy, like Zeus, over there bounding up and down along the gate… And not too dark, because then they start to look like Irish Setters, which are completely insane, and I won’t have that…” I remember thinking, if not actually saying to the breeder, almost seven and a half years ago.

Why? Why did we go to a breeder? Well, it’s simple: our youngest son was still quite little, just four, and every golden retriever rescue we tried didn’t work out.

We had to surrender our first one, “Skipper,” because he was massive, a ton of energy and knocked over my kids constantly. Skipper was gorgeous: he had the big blocky head, and flame-colored eyes. He came to me by way of my Creative Memories (remember those days?) consultant.

My consultants’s neighbor, a recent widower and retired Navy captain who had recently undergone a hip replacement, was given a dog, Skipper, by his children to keep him company. These people, who were clear across the country in California, knew NOTHING about goldens. My consultant friend knew I loved goldens and also knew I would be able to help find a home for Skipper. Our “Maggie” was about nine at the time and she was tender-hipped herself, so I thought a 70-pound puppy might be too much for her.

I was right.

Skipper was seldom walked, because the man had his hip surgery and he told me Skipper mostly lived in the garage when he wasn’t walked by a neighbor kid. He was gorgeous though. I told my friend, “Sure, I’ll meet him. I’m sure someone can help place him…”

The next thing I knew: Skipper and his owner were in my front yard with a crate, leashes, bowls, food, toys, and papers. I looked up to say hello to the man and he was gone. >Poof!< I called my friend / consultant and she was a bit shocked. I wasn’t about to turn over Skipper immediately, but I really didn’t know how to manage it all. My friend later spoke to him and said that he was desperate; I was young (a sucker) and loved dogs and well … yup.

I trained Skipper for about four months. He knocked over my kids, he knocked over poor Maggie, he was very smart, but too much. He had to go. So I contacted our local rescue group and the next day, Skipper was picked up around 10am and I cried my fool head off. The rescue group had a family in mind. They loved that he had been trained in the rudimentary drills and he was showing real promise. I love training dogs. So off he went, to befriend a teenage boy with autism. They were inseparable. I felt so good knowing he was going to be someone’s INSTANT best friend. Our kids were sad, for the most part. But we still had our girl Maggie.

For about a year. Then she died. I won’t go into that here, but it was a very hard day.

I couldn’t really “be” without a dog. So about six months after Mags died, I found another golden. From another rescue group. Ironically, and I didn’t know this at the time, my act of surrendering a “found” dog to the previous rescue group prohibited me from acquiring a dog from them for three years… I didn’t understand it, and when I signed the papers at the time, I of course thought Maggie would live longer, so it wasn’t a big deal.

So I found another golden rescue group.

Why goldens? Because I grew up around them. Because they are wonderful with children. Because I wanted another one. Because.

When we went to meet “King” he was sooooooo very mellow. I thought he was drugged. We didn’t plan on adopting him that day. The rescue lady (INSANE WOMAN, read on) said it was a “site visit” (for us?). He was a sweet boy, about three years old. His story was sad: his original family moved around the world, they tried with a family friend, but that didn’t work out (I SHOULD HAVE ASKED MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT) and no one else could take him, so they gave him up.

He was so mellow, we ended up taking him home that day. Of course we did (I can see my husband rolling his eyes now). All the boys raced back to their seats in our minivan (yes, I did drive one for four years) and in piled King. I knew that name had to go. King belongs to a German Shepherd Dog or a mastiff. We decided to try “Riley.”

Riley worked, he adjusted to the name. But KING… King was still alive and well. You can take the dog out of West Virginia, but you can’t take the West Virginia out of the dog. Riley was calm, sweet and docile in the car. I knew he wasn’t drugged because his eyes were bright and alert, but man, it was like he was in a Zen state.

Until the moment we opened our doors after we pulled into our driveway.

Riley took off. Booked. Bolted. Flew. Freakin’ hauled ass. Tore it up. Burnt rubber. Burnt asphalt. Left us in the dust. Ran. Laughing, if dogs could laugh, Riley was freakin’ howling has ass off.

Riley ran. and ran. and ran. and ran.

Our street is very quiet. But it is an appendage off a side street to a major traffic artery. We’re talking a four-lane-separated-by-a-median-strip artery. A 40mph zone. Riley went for the artery. West. More West. To the sunset.

It was like a scene from a mad-cap Disney pic from the 1970s …

Forget “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World!” Everyone is on a zany foot chase after Riley, the new dog, who simply can’t be caught! Don’t miss out on this great, fun, family adventure, where Riley shows everyone, even people he’ll never meet, that he wants to find his original family somewhere halfway around the world…. in ‘Riley Hates the Suburbs’… starring Elizabeth Montgomery as ‘Molly’ and Gavin McLeod as ‘Dan,’ King as ‘Riley’ and Joan Crawford as ‘The Rescue Lady.’

Riley fooled us all. After a 30-minute death-defying jaunt along our parkway and being caught by a really hot guy who looked like Ricky Martin, Riley came home back to our house on a collar and a leash. When Riley had a leash on, or was behind the gate (which he never tried to dig beneath or jump above) he was your man. He was calm, loyal, patient and sweet. The problem was our kids. Keep the dog, get rid of the kids? My youngest was still quite little, maybe three then, and he needed the doors held open a long time as he exited and entered our house. When Thing 3 had to go outside, Riley was waiting. And off went the older boys to catch him. The final bout was when one of the neighborhood boys almost got hit by a car, in hot pursuit. Everyone in our neighborhood knew that if a deep-red golden retriever was running like an idiot through the yards, it was Riley Field. One of the kids is now a track star at the high school. We’d like to think that we had something to do with his training.

So after about nine months, it was determined, quite easily I might add, that Riley/King had to go back to his original rescuer.

MAAAAAAAN did I get my ass handed to me by that madwoman rescuer. When we got him, he was about 10# underweight. His coat was a mess: it was dry, breaking off, and his skin was scaly but not diseased. He’d clearly been malnourished and under attended. He didn’t know any commands, especially not “stay” (obviously). The woman accused me of all sorts of things when I told her he needed to be returned: of breech of contract, of lying, of trying to look good, of being “fancy.” (Ouch.) Of NEGLECT (even though she’d never seen him) and she said that my vet said that I was a horrible owner and that I should be reported. Well, she never called my vet, because if she had she would have seen that Riley put on all his weight, that his muscle tone was restored, that his coat was lustrous and shiny and that he ran like hell. When we returned Riley, we provided a 50-pound bag of high-end food, his coat luster additives, leashes, a bed, a crate, toys and a $100 donation to her rescue league… JUST BECAUSE.

So that’s why I went back to breeders after two rescues. I feared at this point that my name was mud (because I figured these organizations were like interpol cross-referencing owners and all that) and I just couldn’t let that stop me from getting a dog. I love dogs. Desperately YET responsibly.

So last winter, when the chance to get Murphy a pal presented itself, I had to say yes. A puppy. I knew I could handle a puppy. I could train it. I could imprint it (as much as possible) and I could get it to understand that we are the home base. We are the team. Plus, Murphy was so mellow and huge, I figured any new puppy to him would be in good paws because he’s so patient and sweet. (Right now, Murphy is chewing on his rawhide and Charlie is hovering over him –Charlie finished his– and Murphy is ignoring him, but lowly growling, as Charlie gets terribly close to Murphy’s jaw, pressuring him to give up the goods.)

And we were right. To a threshold.

When we acquired Charlie, the vet estimated him to be about 8-10 weeks old. That’s about two weeks longer than most puppies are with their mothers. With a responsible and ethical breeder, 8-10 weeks is not a huge deal because the dog would have been socialized with other humans and other pups. With a dog like Charlie, who was bred near a salt marsh somewhere in South Carolina, whose mother was a stray, whose father was either dead or just clearly uninvolved, and who was likely whelped in a torn-down abandoned house in not the best of neighborhoods, you need to be careful.

Charlie has strange behaviors, whereas Murphy does not. Murphy does not scrape at the wooden floor or decking before lying down. Nor does he try to lick that flooring or bite the planks out of their position. He is interested in the trash, from the concept that it smells like something he’d consider if there were no food, ever, to be had or if the trash fell over and no one was home and he could get away with it… (he’s no angel).

But what I’ve noticed is the subtle distinction between their behaviors: Charlie came from chance and squalor so he’s scrappy and cheerful and game and so very charming, like a vacuum salesman. Murphy came from certainty and plenty so he’s patient, kind, interested in playing but not to the point of chasing you around the house with a sock to tug on it and he’s very loyal and assured; there is no “desperation” with Murphy whereas there is a definite sense of urgency with Charlie. Don’t get me wrong, I know they’re both on the make and totally full of shit and just want my hamburger, but it’s a very clear case of nurture versus nature between them.

When Charlie came to us he was wild, insofar that he was not a “dog” as I have come to know them, intentionally. He cried like a crazed hyena in his crate. He ate like a fiend and growled when we came near him while eating. I knew that had to stop immediately. As a babe, and as recently as this morning, Charlie goes to Murphy’s mouth to lick it to get Murphy to regurgitate his own food. Well, anyone who knows Murphy knows that ain’t happening, so what that did was also establish Murphy’s “alpha” position in their pack, which is constantly being challenged with little fanfare by Murphy.

What this tells me, watching all of it, is that Murphy knows in some way, because his mother was not in a panic, that he is safe and that all his needs will be met; and that Charlie has been conditioned to be more aware (despite their breed differences; goldens are NOT watch dogs) and needy or resourceful. Murphy has confidence, where Charlie simply has gratitude. I know that if I’m ever with Charlie and I feel unsafe around a person, he will go for the throat of whatever is approaching in a hostile way. He’s a sweet boy, but don’t cross him. Whereas Murphy, he’ll offer the person my coat and jewelry and ask for a ride.

At 5:35 every night, I can tell without the clock that it’s time for their dinner because Charlie goes to Murphy’s mouth to see if anything is there.

You couldn't PAY Murphy to sniff this.

You couldn’t PAY Murphy to sniff this.

When people come to the house to visit, Charlie is beyond thrilled. He can’t wait to sniff them, to kiss them, to inspect their bags or pockets. Charlie does play bows, and wags his tail and smiles. Murphy is, on the other hand, just glad they’re here. He saunters up to them, he lets them pet him, he inspects their crotches and then he moves on. If it’s someone he REALLY loves, he will wag his tail and do a little dance and “wooo-oo-woof” at them. Charlie is silent, but going through their stuff. If he finds something, he shares with Murphy; the same can not be said of Murphy.

He's a charmer. This was after I took my leather gloves from him. He had a great time running around the house with them saying "Catch me!!"

He’s a charmer. This was after I took my leather gloves from him. He had a great time running around the house with them saying “Catch me!!” Is he sorry or just pissed that the game is over?

What’s nice about “knowing” about Charlie’s litter mates is that their owners and I occasionally share pictures or stories about the dogs and it seems that they all have a predilection for digging into established floors. In the case of Charlie, it’s not that he eats what he digs up; but there’s something in him that tells him, “below is security; below is sustenance.” Knowing the story of his exhausting rescue (I shared it here at this link), leaves me barely surprised by his digging and scratching, once I put it all together. It’s part of who he is, just as my telling jokes to cover over a pain or a hurt.

Watching Charlie — a dog by chance who survived by sheer will and the goodness of others, and Murphy — a dog of intention who was spoken for before he was even born, tells me a lot about how I am the way I am. I am scrappy, resourceful, defiant and loyal like Charlie because I grew up in a place that required it in order for me to survive and thrive. Charlie is charming –real and authentic– but there is something that I believe he “knows” about kindness: that when you are safe and secure, that you can give it, without wondering if it will come back to you. And now I can understand Murphy because when I give and live with kindness, I just end up enjoying it.

Possibly my favoritest (that's a word) picture of them yet. Charlie is hugging his "baby" and his head is resting on Murphy's hip.  That "baby" has since been eviscerated to a mere pelt.

Possibly my favoritest (that’s a word) picture of them yet. Charlie is “hugging” his “baby” and his head is resting on Murphy’s hip.
That “baby” has since been eviscerated to a mere pelt.

Thank you.

PS — one more: this is IMMEDIATELY after I washed the glass door:

He has excellent timing.

He has excellent timing.