A long time ago, when our parents were still bright-eyed and hopeful that Valerie and I would bring them grandchildren, my Mom said something that stuck with us. She didn’t make a resounding case for continuing the family line. She said that what made having children worthwhile was “the little things”.
I don’t recall much more about that conversation. I do know that Valerie and I felt very resistant about it at the time. No way! Little things? Really, where is the grand epiphany of existence? The key pieces of the cosmic puzzle falling into place? Life had to promise more than “little things”.
Well the grandchildren did eventually show up… not our kids but our beautiful nieces and nephews. At our house, it has been all about granddogs ever since we came home from university. Acceptance of these furry four-legged toddlers as the closest thing to grandkids the parents were going to get? Well, let’s just say that it has improved over the years. Now the dogs get Christmas presents too… I think the threshold has been crossed.
Our dogs are a huge part of our lives, and truly a part of our family. Being self-employed and at home much of the time is kind of a dream for both the canines and us humans. The work is seven days a week, but we never miss a dog walk.
Until last year, the family included our adopted goofy black malamutant named Lulu. From the get-go, Lulu warmed our hearts with her incredible attitude. She was a skinny wisp with frostbitten ears and tail, almost no fur, and a big zipper of stitches from her spay. She wasn’t concerned. She was like the cheerful kid who unabashedly announces her presence on the first day of school: thumbs pointed toward her chest and a boisterous: “I’m LULU!!!”
There are many amazing individual aspects to all living creatures, dogs included. Spending time with our pooches has allowed us to appreciate this in spades. These nuances range from the embarrassing – Lulu greeting new humans with her wolfy ruff spiked up then giving them a firm gonk to the crotch – to the hilarious way she would go on a tear, roaring through puddles with her tail shaped in a “Z”.
When dogs are part of your family you are up close and personal with the accelerated arc of existence. Death comes to us all and sometimes sooner than we expect. Throughout her life Lulu was full of vim and vigour, even as age brought Valerie and I more aches and pains. As her muzzle grayed and the lenses of her eyes clouded, she still ran circles around us. We were shocked last spring when Lulu’s skin burst forth with tumours. Two weeks later we were in the vet clinic, bawling our eyes out and huddled with her on the floor as we said goodbye.
The little things. When we sat on the couches in our living room, the other dogs might be sleeping but Lulu would still be ready to go. She would wander around the back side of the couch and tiptoe around our piles of work and books to get to the lidded basket in the corner.
“Whatcha getting?” we would ask her. Lulu would glance back with a doggie smile and a breathy chuffle-puff. Then she would wedge her nose under the lid and flip it back to expose an arsenal of doggie toys. She would take a discerning dig, testing a few toys to see which might be the most satisfying.
“Get your toy!” we would say. Sometimes it was an obnoxious crinkly squeaker, or a flopsy long toy she could swing around. One, two, three – over the back!
But most of the time, it was the stupidest little thing. A cheap, little velour toy with a squeaker that we called “Humpty”. She would fish through hundreds of dollars of toys to pick up this little garage sale find, and then sprawl to gently mouth it on our mottled shag rug which is perpetually covered in a mottled mat of dog hair.
We were both heartbroken when Lulu died, and Valerie packed up the toys in the basket to give them away. Our other oldsters Dusty and Simba could generally care less about toys. Before the toys went out the door, I picked Humpty out of the pile and stuck him in my pocket.
Humpty isn’t a talisman against forgetting, Lulu was too much a part of my life to make that possible. When I look at Humpty sitting on the desk next to me I am reminded of all the little things: The way Lulu’s fur smelled when she came into the house after following the fox trails in the chill morning air. Having a nap and inviting her up on the bed. Sometimes she would be more aloof and other times would fall asleep with my hand on her side and I could drift off feeling the rise and fall of her breath. Walking through the forest, focused on work and then realizing I hadn’t checked on Lulu’s whereabouts. I would look up and she would be standing a short distance away, keeping watch so I would be safe from all manner of vicious woodland creatures like grizzlies and red squirrels.
Yes Mom, life is about the little things after all. Life is measured by the moment. Blink too many times and you will find it is over without appreciating it. I wish I had understood that earlier, but there is still time. We just heard from a friend that the passage of time did not “smack her in the head” until she was seventy. She is now heading toward a fabulous and vibrant seventy-five and gives us encouragement that we have lots of opportunity to savour all the little things that come our way.