Mom, can we get a pet? on repeat, for 1.5 years.
I got James a puppy as a surprise the day he went to take his Step II board exams in med school. We had been married for a year, and we owned a small townhome in Augusta, GA. He was a small, black curly haired Schnoodle whom we named Gus. The first night we had him, we put him in a crate, determined to train him the right way from the beginning. He wimpered. We took him out. He wimpered some more. We propped his doggie bed up on pillows, on top of a chair, so he was even with our bed. Then, he kept wimpering…so we put him in our bed. And that was that.
He slept with us, at our feet, every night until right before Aidan was born. I’m going to get choked up writing this. I wasn’t sure how he would react when we brought the baby home, but I was not prepared for his reaction! Gus sniffed baby Aidan, licked him, and then growled at anyone who came close. He NEVER growled, ever. Except when we brought a baby home. He met each one of our babies, and he loved them. He let them pull his hair, hold him, tickle his belly, chase him, play fetch, and feed him table scraps. He never bit or nipped- not once- in his whole life. He would however, bark at everything including his own shadow, the older he got. This drove me nuts.
After my mesh surgery and injury, I was on edge all of the time. I couldn’t stand loud noises or my sleep being interrupted. Since Gus barked a lot, he ended up being put in the laundry room to keep him quiet. It has a window, food and water, a bed and it’s right off the kitchen- so it wasn’t a punishment or anything. Still, he would keep his little nub of a tail down and act like he was being banished to Siberia.
In January 2017, I underwent a procedure that was supposed to be low risk, that had a 50/50 chance of working very well to relieve the nerve pain called pulsed radiofrequency treatment. I had a horrific reaction, and it ended up making me much, much worse temporarily. I couldn’t speak the pain was so bad. The few days afterwards are a blur- but I remember my dad coming in to my bedroom and saying that something was very wrong with Gus. Two days later he was dead. I was bedridden, and the kids were in shock. James and dad dug his grave in the backyard on a cold, rainy afternoon. My mom was in town, and she came in to tell me that I HAD to find the strength to come outside. My daughter wouldn’t put the dead dog down, and she had his blood on her shirt. She was inconsolable. That is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. I got up and walked outside in the rain, and I took Gus out of Rose’s arms. I was on 100mcg patch of fentanyl, I don’t know how much Lyrica, 3-4 doses of oxycodone a day- and I still couldn’t focus through the pain. Nick was so little, and he said “why is there water coming out of my eyes?” Our oldest son blurted out “That’s not water! You are crying because you are sad!” I don’t think that Nick could process grief at his young age, but after Aidan said that, it hit him and he tore off running across the yard, sobbing. He hid in a giant bush and James had to crawl in the mud to retrieve him. That was a horrible day. The pain was unbearable and blocked out rational thought, grief, and I felt useless. I limped back inside, and curled in the fetal position on my bed while James and my parents took care of the children that afternoon.
I did not want another pet. At all. Ever. It’s amazing how resilient children are, and not long after that day, they started asking. I started saying “no” on a daily basis, for over a year. I had long told them that I did not have the energy to take care of 6 kids, work on my health, and take care of a dog. It wouldn’t be fair to a dog to bring them into our home unless we could promise to take care of them adequately. Finally, FINALLY they wore me down. Well, Rose did. My desire to NOT have a pet, was nothing compared to her love of all of God’s creatures. The child brings everything in here. Crickets, spiders, frogs- oh the tears!! I made her let a frog go at the soccer field. She wouldn’t speak to me the rest of the night!
I started doing my homework on low maintenance animals. They shot down my suggestion of a goldfish, lizard, or fiddler crab. They wanted a rodent of some sort. Ok, y’all, I have to admit- I have a fear/phobia of rodents. Like I freak out and scream. I cannot stand them. I kept researching, hoping the answer would present itself- and it did! I found the perfect pet!
When Rose was at camp, we wrote her a letter and surprised her, telling her when she got back we would go to PetSmart and pick out a new pet! We decided on a dwarf hamster. They don’t get along with others so you can only own one, they don’t bite, they don’t smell, make noise, and they don’t eat much. Voila, the perfect pet. Oh, the unbridled joy when we brought that tiny animal home!! We named her S’Mores because of her coloring. She’s SUPER fast, and teeny, and we explained that if she ever got out of her cage, that was it- she’d be lost forever. She can run really fast and she’s the size of a small plum- so we wouldn’t be able to find her.
On the first day of public school this year, I drove Matthew to school. I told his teacher that the only thing I was nervous about was him riding the bus. She assured me that she would personally walk him to the right bus that afternoon. When I went to pick him up at the bus stop… he wasn’t there. Our neighbor went back on to the bus and searched- no Matthew. I had to jump in our van, leave my oldest child at home in charge of napping siblings and frantically drive around searching for Mattie. Turns out, his teacher had put him on the “correct” bus, the one that the school system told me was ours, but the letter was wrong- they had mixed up the numbers and sent him to the wrong place. We found Matthew, and he was totally calm of course. Very exciting first day!
When we returned home, my 5 year old came up to me, tears rolling down his face. He explained that he had been playing with S’mores when he was supposed to be resting, and she had gotten loose. I know he was scared of his siblings’ reaction, so he hid behind me. He was SO upset. All of the excitement about losing Matthew was forgotten, and the kids all started shouting at once. They weren’t angry at all with Nick, they were too worried that our pet was lost forever. They took off upstairs, calling her name (as if she would come running?). Frantic, and hysterical. They took their shoes off before they run upstairs to look- I guess to avoid the chance that they stepped on her? I tripped over the shoes, and fell pretty hard on my knee and elbow. Ouch.
After I limped up the stairs, I laid down on the floor, pretty sore. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her tiny, furry body. She came running right at me! Here’s where my fear of rodents hurt the most- I didn’t have the nerve to grab her! I froze- and she kept going. Oh, boy did the kids let me have it! Finally, Aidan trapped her and they got her back in her cage. They patted Nick on the back, letting him know there were no hard feelings. Truth be told, I think they liked the excitement. We are really careful with her all of the time, and I know the little ones learned their lesson that day about taking her out. She is adored by all of them, not a problem at all, and it’s another step back to real life for me!