dogs, motherhood

Fur-Ever Changed by Love

There are stories you never want to write. The ones that become irrevocably true once the ink leaves your pen.

This is one of those stories.

July 9, 2003 – June 4, 2021 (just shy of 18 years old)

Max lived a good life. He walked every day until he couldn’t.

That’s how he told me it was time for him to go.

When Max came into my life I did not understand the magic he would sprinkle over every part of my existence. His devotion to me was unmatched. In his younger years, though already ten when he became our family member, he would wait at the base of the stairs as I ran up and down completing the endless daily tasks of motherhood. Once he felt certain of my location and pause in movement, with Herculean effort he’d heave his stout little body up the stairs to find me and keep watch. I don’t know what exactly he was watching for but it seemed important.

As the center of his universe I did not take this lightly. I gave him as much as he gave me. Until he couldn’t give anymore, and he was tired, and his old body said enough is enough.

From the outside, the story of Max and me seems simple.

Dog meets girl.

Dog devotes life to girl.

Best friends for life.

From the inside the story reaches deeper. Max came into my world with precise timing. I was dealing with the crushing loss of my mom, raising two rambunctious boys, and supporting Mad Dog’s corporate aspirations. I was barely holding myself together and in swooped Max. He did not care how my anxiety sometimes froze me in place. He didn’t mind how I looked, if I showered, and if my writing got published. He didn’t care if my boys were on the honor roll, if I took awesome vacations, or if my house was organized. He taught me that I am enough as is. On the days I didn’t believe him, it did not phase him.

He loved me anyway.

The love he gave me was so perfect and true it has me questioning everything. We are taught by the world we must earn love through striving, pushing ourselves, winning at everything, and looking a certain, standardized way. Even if we somehow achieve this ephemeral perfection, its temporary nature has us immediately turning our attention to the next outside-of-ourselves goal.

I don’t want to live like that. I want to choose goals that speak to my heart. The kind that inspire me and fulfill me as I move through them. I want to cultivate a fluid state of being and allow the process of becoming to light the way. I want passion and purpose to rise up from within and carry me through all the twists and turns of life.

When you love someone, you dress up like an Ewok even though it makes you really, really angry.

Losing Max is a twist I knew was coming, but I wasn’t ready. We are never ready to lose something we love. It rips us apart at the seams and feels overwhelming and irreparable. And yet, underneath the surface of this gaping Ewok-shaped hole, the true-ness within me holds me steady.This is the part of me that Max loved the most.

This is where I will find my joy again.

Above all else, I want to make Max proud.

The best and only way to do this is remember each and every day no matter what, I already have.

motherhood, South Africa

Prince Othawa

When you cross paths with a lion, you remember every detail from the angle of the sun as it attempts to glint your fear away, down to the exact shade of red of the pebble-specked earth his paws tread soundlessly upon. Not only was I able to live this experience up close, I was able to share our face-to-face encounter with Prince Othawa, a fierce and looming presence at the heart of Londolozi, on their daily blog.

You can read that story here:

Fulfilling a Life Long Dream

Since our time in South Africa I have followed the safari stories of this otherworldly place with hopeful dedication. These snippets of animal life keep my heart dreaming of our return. The drama of the unfolding power dynamics as the beasts of the wild grasp for dominance easily entertains with all the makings of a soapy, serial drama. Some stories light up my day, like with the birth of a new leopard cub, and some hit me dead-center when a cherished animal does not survive the night. This week when I opened my inbox and saw the tagline of “The Fate of the Othawa Male”, my heart thudded to the floor.

You can read about his final hours by clicking below:

Othawa’s Fate

It feels like I am mourning a friend. The astonishment he provided for Mad Dog and myself cannot be adequately captured with words. Facing him, not even a breath-space away, turned our visceral fear into whole-hearted communion with the present moment. The fragility of life was never more apparent than in that instant.

We control nothing.

Prince Othawa’s fate was sealed the moment he charged into battle, a lone warrior unaware he would be outnumbered. He relied on instinct as he pushed the boundaries of his territory, believing in the power of his singular strength.

One lesson we could take from this is to never go it alone. But, this doesn’t seem exactly right to me. Prince Othawa died as he lived, walking a path that called to him even when the ultimate destination could not be known.

This is how I want to live for the rest of my days. Though they may be numbered, they are bright with possibility.

Like Othawa, I vow to follow the roar of my heart no matter the outcome.

inspiration, motherhood, Writing

To Love, Always

“There is a famous question that shows up, it seems, in every single self-help book ever written: What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

But I’ve always seen it differently. I think the fiercest question of all is this one: What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?”

–Liz Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

There are only two things I would do no matter how many times I fail.

Writing is the first.

Loving others is the second.

There are times I despaired when my essays were rejected or the doors of opportunity jolted shut, but I always returned to my notebook.

As for loving others, this has proven a bit more complicated. Throughout my life I have spent so much energy mitigating the love in my heart so that I might blend in, but, much to my amazement my heart lives life on its own terms.

My heart believes that each of us are intrinsically good, and when when we cover over this “goodness” it’s because somewhere along the way, we believed something untruthful about ourselves. In whatever form rejection came to us, we believed the lie that enveloped it. We mistakenly thought we weren’t enough as-we-are and in order to have love, we needed to change ourselves. We cannot blame the messengers of these lies. They, too, were lied to about their own value and worth and like us, believed they weren’t enough as-they-are.

Therefore to offer compassion and forgiveness to another, no matter how much they have hurt us, is essentially offering this same love and compassion to ourselves.

We all have traits and characteristics we wish we could change. We all have ways we could improve, but the only thing we ever need to do, is return ourselves, our views, our opinions, and our perspectives, and bring them all back to love.

Never, ever stop loving.

motherhood, Writing

Pen in Hand (WFAM Origin Story)

When I was young I had no understanding that I was a writer. Creative endeavors were in short supply where I grew up. I had access to the basics in terms of education, and I never questioned beyond what was in front of me.

I had a few splashes of recognition in grade school and high school. A couple writing awards, an essay or two that caught a teacher’s attention but nothing remarkable. I didn’t truly understand how to flow my thoughts on paper until my sophomore year of college. My sociology professor bloodied my written assignments with so much red ink, they looked like crime scenes. As hard as this was to take in stride, at the end of the term I emerged a competent and coherent writer.

I started to notice I could churn out page after page of text while my peers would bemoan the process often coming up short. I loved any and all written assignments. All group reports were designated to me and gladly so.

In graduate school, this trend continued. I had a propensity for spinning analytical papers into fictionalized versions (this was social work and not physics after all) and my professors loved it. This is when I began to understand my writing ability may be something unique. I started to fill notebooks with journal entries, poems, short stories, and whatever else I extracted from the ether of my dreams.

Nothing ever came of it, unless you count the sky-high volume of consumed notebooks as recognition of my authorship, I was still just me.

I got married, paused my social work career, and had kids.

Motherhood changed everything.

It wasn’t all cuddles and coos. It was sleep deprivation, loss of identity, and feeling completely out of my depth. Four years into it my world collapsed as my mom passed away with no real warning. I was faced with navigating parenting without a touchstone. Did I mention my two boys were strong-willed balls of energy that ran me ragged day after day?

I did my best to swim through the grief and be a present and loving mom, but I was woefully overextended. Babysitters and structured preschool helped but what saved me was writing.

After seeing the movie Julie and Julia (about a food bloggers’ homage to Julia Child), I came home and was compelled to start a blog. This was how I began to make sense of my life, my loss and muddle my way through parenting my rambunctious boys. It gave me space to process what I couldn’t see in the moment. I learned I could glean meaning from my wounded parts and find humor in the chaotic absurdity of raising a family.

The first year of my blog I wrote every day. I started to believe I was a writer and that this could be my livelihood.

It’s been over a decade and I’m still waiting.

At some point I had to change my relationship to my expectation of my blog. I realized my audience may be small but the eyes that are meant to find it always do. Sometimes the only benefactor of an entry is Mad Dog, my most fervent and dedicated reader. Sometimes I need the words out of me more than I need anyone else to read them.

WFAM became my growth tool. It helped me practice and hone my skills. On occasion it has led to writing opportunities, and it has given me confidence to submit pieces to numerous publication outlets with varying degrees of success.

WFAM led me to Amelia Island Writers and now I am a published newspaper columnist. This humbles me but I also understand this truth:

I am not special.

I am not more or less talented than anyone holding a dream in their heart or reading these words right now.

I am someone who stumbled upon their creative joy and had the courage to cultivate it. To show up with pen in hand, face the gaping expanse of an empty page, and fill it with words both seen and unseen.

humor, motherhood

Who Runs This Town?

Every week Mad Dog and I get a phone message from the boys’ school principals. Inevitably, valuable information will be disseminated and Mad Dog will then share what is said. Full Speed will hear him but not actually listen. He will be there, physically present, nodding and agreeing, but mentally be somewhere else entirely.

He does not like to follow up on anything Mad Dog tells him to do.

Ever.

Even if the principal left us a message that leftover pots of gold from St. Patrick’s Day were available for pick up at the school office, Full Speed would hear this and then never, ever, ever follow-up. All his school friends could be throwing gold coins around like confetti and he would still never, ever, ever stop by to get his.

Mad Dog, ever the problem solver, is hopeful to add Full Speed to the principal’s call list. This way at least there is a chance, albeit slight, that Full Speed will do what is asked of him.

Trust me, the leprechauns aren’t worried.

Nora also does not like to listen to Mad Dog.

However, this blatant disregard for his authority

is rewarded with treats, verbal affirmations, and let’s not forget,…

unlimited belly rubs.

She runs this town.