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You’re Doing a Great Job

Happy Dog Last night, while my husband was working late, I loaded my two kids into the double stroller, strapped leashes on the dogs and headed out for an evening walk.

It had been a long day. Nothing had gone as planned and by the time I got everyone out the door it was practically bedtime.

The trials of the day had taken their toll, fraying my nerves and eroding my patience. I felt leaned on and used up and just plain worn out.

So many days as a stay-at-home mom feel like yesterday did. Two young kids and two rowdy dogs provide a fair amount of chaos inside my home. Nothing’s ever clean enough, we’re never punctual enough, no one gets to bed early enough and my son could definitely use a few more baths throughout the week.

There are so many jobs to do as a stay-at-home mom that it’s hard to feel like I’m ever doing enough. There are days when I feel I’m doing great as a parent, but that’s usually when the dishes sit in the sink unwashed. And on the days when the house gets a good cleaning, dinner may get neglected. It’s not often I feel like I’m succeeding on all fronts.

So as I negotiated the heavy double stroller down our steep driveway, I exhaled a deep, long breath. Not your best day, I said to myself, letting it all go.

It takes some concentration to steer the kids with one hand while gripping two dog leashes with the other. Countless things can disrupt the careful balance: a toddler removing and hurling a shoe, a dog walking toward us, a loose hair tickling my face. But we found our rhythm and picked up the pace.

The breeze felt good against my skin and the sky was darkening just enough to provide glimpses of families inside their lamp-lit homes, preparing for the end of the day. Eventually, we passed a middle-aged couple out for an evening stroll. I saw them eye my cumbersome load and, instead of offering up the usual remark (“you’ve got your hands full!”), the woman nodded to me and said matter-of-factly, “You’re doing a great job.”

Just like that. You’re doing a great job.

I knew she was referring to my command of two dogs and two kids, but in that moment it felt bigger than that. I let her words wash over me; let them soak through my skin and into my core.

You’re doing a great job.

Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I thought this job was easy. I admit it: I did. The realities of this vocation blew my expectations away.

Raising children is physical, emotional, patience-testing work.

It can be painfully lonely. It can be demeaning. It can leave you aching at the end of the day, exhausted and wired at the same time. Some days, it can make a person wonder if she’s up to the task.

And yet, here was a total stranger, telling me I was doing a great job when, most days, I can’t say those words to myself.

It’s so hard to let go of the laundry that didn’t get done, the dinner that didn’t turn out as hoped, the tufts of dog hair that waft across the floor just after the vacuum’s been run. Every time I start to feel like I’m succeeding in this job, one of the dogs chews up a precious toy and throws it up in the middle of the night or my toddler reacts with total disinterest to a fun surprise I’ve planned.

You never know when something’s going to pop up out of nowhere to make you feel like a big, fat failure. Last night, the opposite happened.

This is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I don’t know that I’m always doing a great job, but maybe I ought to tell myself I am a little more often. In parenting, you’ve got to celebrate the successes and let go of the flops.

I’m doing a great job. (Now excuse me: I’m pretty sure there’s some dog vomit around here somewhere.)

He’s Back

To help limit Frankie’s movement, my husband and I have been taking Frankie to the bathroom in the unfenced front yard instead of making him go down several stairs to the back. The past two days have been pretty trouble-free: put on the leash, open the glass door, ease him down three steps, let him do his business and then shepherd him back inside.

Today, it went more like this:

  • Take leash off hook.
  • Make frantic attempt to contain Frankie, who, upon seeing leash, does bucking bronco routine around kitchen.
  • Grab collar of other dog, since both dogs have now decided it’s time to play.
  • Wrestle leash over Frankie’s nose and bear hug him to stop the prancing.
  • Burst outside through glass door, opened just in time to prevent major incident.
  • Take all three steps in one leap, while being dragged into front yard.
  • Step in last night’s dog poop.
  • Nearly fall while trying to remove poop from bottom of Ugg boot.
  • Attempt to pick up last night’s poop with flimsy plastic bag while Frankie whips around and starts game of tug, using his own leash as the rope.
  • Remove leash from Frankie’s mouth, only to have him take off across the yard to provide more poop to pick up.
  • Take off Ugg boot and hop to front door to deposit Frankie inside.
  • Hop back down to pick up this morning’s poop.
  • Look through glass door to see Frankie, leash in mouth, making frenzied circuit around house.

Apparently, he’s back.

We’ll have to monitor his movement for a few more days to be sure, but he certainly seems to be back to his mischievous, maddening, exuberant self.

Thanks for your prayers and words of support. I’ve been amazed by how universal it is to love a dog. There’s definitely something about their loyalty, their optimism, their big, human eyes that strikes a chord deep within us all.

A little while later, when I had finally gotten things settled back down after Frankie’s manic spree, I walked back to the nursery and came upon this scene:

Dog guarding baby

A few minutes later, it looked like this:

Dogs with baby

This is my life. And it’s a good one.

For Love of Frankie

This is Frankie.

He’s — how shall I put this? — exuberant.

If you’ve ever come to my house, you may have a slightly different description, such as wild, hyper, manic or insane. In the first 10 minutes, Frankie likely jumped all over you, put your forearm in his mouth, ran wild circles around the house and made off with at least one of your shoes — possibly from inside your suitcase.

Despite (I cringe to admit this) four rounds of obedience training, Frankie doesn’t make a very good first impression.

But to my husband and me, Frankie is the heart and soul of our family. And, strangely enough, he’s my role model. His enthusiasm and zest for life is greater than that of anyone I know. He’s passionate in a way I wish I could be. He’s curious, crazy-smart and loves intensely. Sometimes I think he understands me better than anyone in the world.

So when he started limping around and whimpering last night, it sent shockwaves through our family.

I was out taking an infant safety and CPR class (yes, I just now got around to the “infancy PR” class I was supposed to take before Hudson arrived) and came home to find the house in a state of panic. I had missed my husband’s voicemail asking me to call before entering the house, so when I put my key in the door, Frankie — even in a state of acute pain — jumped up to give me his usual exuberant greeting.

My husband — filled with emotion and anxiety — said, “Something’s wrong with Frankie.”

Those are words I never want to hear about either of our dogs.

When you have a dog like Frankie, you have to be accustomed to a few bumps and bruises. When he was a puppy and I was desperate to tire him out (three vigorous walks a day just weren’t doing the trick), I took him to a tennis court so he could run freely. Insanely excited, he took off in his usual high-spirited style. After a few throws of the tennis ball, I looked down to see blood flowing from all four of his paws.

Panic-stricken and guilt-ridden, I carried him nearly a mile back to my apartment, tears streaming down my face. The vet bandaged his injured paws and declared him fine, and I avoided tennis courts from then on. But when we got home from the vet’s office, Frankie looked at me, and — I swear — his eyes said, “Let’s go!”

No matter how many times he gets knocked down, he always gets back up. He accepted first the introduction of a new puppy (who grew up to be bigger and stronger than him) and then the arrival of a new baby. He’s the kind of dog who excitedly bursts into the vet’s office with his tail wagging, forgetting how many times he’s encountered pain inside those doors. He’s the kind of dog who will always jump up to greet me, regardless of how much he’s hurting.

And today, he’s lying here next to me, in pain.

We’re scheduled to take him to the vet’s office today at 4:00. I’m hopeful he only has a mild sprain, from yesterday when we took him to a field for a game of Frisbee. Still, I can’t help but think about what’s to come.

Frankie is 5 ½ years old now. He and I have lived together in four apartments and one house in three different cities. I’ve watched him jump as high as my reaching fingertips; I’ve cried into his soft fur. Every day, I kiss his nose and notice that it’s grown a little pinker.

As I look at Frankie, I think of my favorite memory with him. In Boston, we lived in a small apartment, but had a massive park the size of six soccer fields just a short walk away. Inside a locked, chain-link fence lay acres of nothing but lush green grass — Frankie’s paradise. Once again desperate for a way to release Frankie’s boundless energy, I’d hoist my agile dog over the chest-high fence and then hop over it myself.

One day, I brought a chair and my journal with us, planning to let Frankie explore the field while I sat in the sun. After a few minutes of roaming, Frankie came and lay next to my chair, no more than three feet away. I looked out over the expanse of green and thought to myself, he could be anywhere in this entire field, and instead he’s chosen to lie here next to me.

I don’t know what the vet will say today. But I know that whatever Frankie needs, we’ll give it to him, no matter how much it costs or how difficult it may be. To my husband and me, Frankie is a symbol of all that’s good about us, and he reminds us of how far we’ve come.

He is our first baby, our chosen son. He is patient with his canine brother and amazingly gentle with his human one. His intuition astounds me.

I only wish I could find some way to tell him how much I love him. In a moment, I’ll bring him another bowl of water and feed him some more banana, which he loves (although not as much as butter). I hope that lets him know just how much I care.

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