A prominent figure recently made statements about purposes and worth....and what life choices deem some as selfish. It was aimed at men and women, but I'm talking about women for now because it is what I know.
I'm not here to debate religion. I am here to say this because I worry that especially for women, the message could be detrimental. I worry that somewhere out there, those words cut deep for someone.
Here's the thing:
If you mothered children, you are worthy in my book.
If you mothered others in any way, you are worthy.
If you can't mother in the traditional sense, you are worthy.
If you mother as a dog or cat or any other creature mom, you are worthy.
If you don't mother in any way at all, you are worthy.
Our worth as people and especially women is not solely tied to our mothering qualities. Being a mother is important and admirable. I respect you all. But I also respect those of you who don't feel that calling, that purpose. I respect those of you who are called to it in a non-traditional sense. I respect those of you who love and nurture in different ways. I respect those of you who love and nurture yourself enough to chase the life that is right for you.
There is nothing selfish or detrimental or shameful about living your own purpose, your own life, and your own calling....whatever that looks like.
It takes all types, all beliefs, all values, and all pathways to make this world a better place, in my opinion. Never follow the pathway that you feel you must. Follow the one that sets your heart on fire.
And yes, I am in the dog mom only category....and proud of it. To those who have ever loved a dog, you know there is nothing selfish or ugly or detrimental about that bond.
To the dog who replaced my mastiff
"There is no joy since you left." That was the phrase I wrote after Henry, our mastiff, died in February. A few weeks later, you came along.
You came into my life at a dark, dark, dark time. You came into our house when we were still cloaked in grief from the loss of our beloved mastiff. He was more than a dog to me. He was my best friend, my world. My cheeks were still tear-stained when your crazy puppy self blasted into our house. I wanted the sadness to stop. I wanted to feel hope again. I know now that it probably wasn't the best idea to get a crazy puppy in the middle of winter while I was still drowning in sadness. But you came into our lives all the same, ready or not (and most days, I realized not).
I know now it wasn't really fair to you in those early days. You had crazy big pawprints to fill that you really had no business filling....and we should have never expected that of you. I was still mourning the friendship I had with Henry, one that I'd built over seven years. You came in with your puppy breath and wild energy...and you never could be him. Try and try as you might, you couldn't fill those pawprints.
At first, if I'm honest, that was really hard. Henry loved the snow and cupcakes. You were terrified to go outside to pee if there was a single snowflake or a puff of wind, and you didn't really like any food except canine carry outs. Henry loved to cuddle; you liked to run like wild, jumping all over and gnawing on me with those razor-like puppy teeth. Henry was a social butterfly, and you were afraid of your own shadow. Henry would lay his big, heavy head in my lap when I was sad. You would pee on the floor or chew on my shirt or get into a million things that seemed to make everything harder.
You were nothing alike. I realized that very quickly. You didn't really notice though. You probably wondered who the heck that Henry guy was I always mentioned.
As time went and spring broke, I still cried. A lot. I still grieved for Henry. In truth, even now, I still do. However, slowly, I started to realize the reality I should have known from the beginning: You weren't Henry. You never would be. And those pawprints I wanted you to fill...you would make your very own because you were your own dog.
Even though the weight of grief was heavy, you didn't mind. Even when I was crying and staring at his picture, you were having a blast with your new toy or tossing your rope in the air or chewing on the throw pillow. You made me laugh in spite of the sadness. You lifted the darkness from our house, and the rooms no longer echoed with the silence of our missing dog because there was a new energy there. One who liked to run on the sofa and stare at the fan. One who loved to dash around with his giant frisbee and roll on his back with his treats. One who loved sleeping on pillows and stealing socks and playing in the empty tub.
And even though some days I wanted nothing more than to sleep off the grief, you didn't let me. No longer could I wallow on the couch all day because you needed exercise, attention, and love. And so, I started lacing my shoes up at five a.m. to walk you. I had to be home from work to get you out. I had someone happy to see me when I got home, and someone who didn't care how many mistakes I made that day or how much I messed up. On days when it all felt hard, you were there, throwing your toy or being so damn happy over everything.
There were still frustrating days, of course. The day you ate your $65 Serta bed I just bought you, and all of the days you refused to listen. All of the cat chasing, pooping on walks, and middle of the night barking. The $35 you chewed up and your insane antics at dog school. You were exhausting from that very first week. You still are. You have pulled more stunts than Henry could've ever dreamed of in his lifetime.
Nonetheless, as I sit here with you now, eight months into our friendship, I can appreciate how special you are. You did the impossible. You walked into our lives in the middle of the darkest darkness I've ever experienced...and you brought us joy, laughter, and light. You didn't worry about filling Henry's shoes...because you brought your own pair. You reminded us that you could never replace our first beloved dog, nor should you. You reminded us that you would make your own path, your own memories. You would carve out your own bond with us that is wild and messy and sometimes a bit annoying....but filled with joy all the same.
So to the dog who replaced our mastiff: You could never replace him. And you don't have to. But you taught me in these past months that loss doesn't go away--still, with the right bond, it can become bearable.
Most of all, you taught me that every dog has its purpose, its reason, and above all, unconditional love.
When Henry died, there was no joy. I thought it would stay that way forever. Thank you, Edmund, for leading me through the grief of Henry and teaching me that yes, there would be joy again....crazy, energetic, expensive, exhausting, but beautiful all the same... joy.
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I wish I had known.
I wish I had known it wouldn't be the huge, flashy moments that I would think about. The ones you are supposed to photograph and remember. The holidays, special occasions, the big adventures.
I wish I had known that it would be the tiny moments that I would come back to. The summer day when I put my lounge chair in the grass to guard the bunny nest and you slept beside me in the sun.
The days we ran in the sprinkler or took a walk together. The days we snuggled on the couch watching Beauty and the Beast, eating turkey dinner from The Dream in sweatpants.
The mornings I kissed that big, squishy nose. The night we went out to look at the meteor shower.
The small moments. The moments that were the everyday moments. The ones we don't have photos of.
I wish I had known. But I do now. And thanks to you, I soak in those moments a little more. I breathe them in, savor them, take note of them.
I still miss you, but just know....I still live in those moments all the time. And I am grateful for that.
Here's What You'll Wish You Knew
To the Girl Who Doesn't Want a Puppy,
I was you eight years ago.
My husband brought home a twenty-four pound, eight-week-old ball of fluff--and it was completely against my wishes. Let me be clear: It's not that I hate dogs. I'm an animal lover to my core. It's just that, well, when you buy a house and start a brand-new teaching job within the same two-week period, it just doesn't seem like the right time to buy a puppy.
And it definitely doesn't feel like the right time to buy a puppy that will turn into a two-hundred pound, horse-sized creature.
Thus, when my husband returned from a six-hour car ride with that ball of fur, I swore two things:
1. If the puppy woke me up or was a pain, our marriage wouldn't last.
2. I was not going to love that puppy. Ever.
Henry, as we named him (After the Henry & Mudge series, my favorite growing up...my husband didn't like the name Mudge, so we settled on Henry), didn't make it hard to hate him in the beginning, in truth. As twentysomethings who never had a puppy as adults, we naively went to Wal-Mart to buy a baby monitor because we were terrified we wouldn't hear him if he cried in the middle of the night. Needless to say, we didn't need the monitor to hear his howls from downstairs. Somehow, though, as the days turned into weeks, my husband simply "didn't hear him" in the middle of the night--and Henry didn't understand that three a.m. was not the time to play hide-and-seek under the deck steps.
There were plenty of other incidents, too, that resulted in me haughtily looking at my husband and wordlessly reminding him that I was right--getting a puppy was a terrible idea. There were chewed shoes--I can still picture those leather kitten-heeled shoes from T.J. Maxx that were shredded--and chewed baseboards. There were popped cans of soda that resulted in sticky messes all over the kitchen and stolen bags of Cheese Puffs that resulted in a very nauseous mastiff puppy. There was the time I decided to give in and maybe love Henry a little bit...and then he peed on my lap while I was holding him. There were nightly frustrations as I tried to do lesson plans with a puppy tugging at my pants.
There were so many times that I swore up and down that I would never love the puppy. I would never, ever be best friends with him. Dogs might be man's best friend, but women knew better than to be friends with a slobbering, terribly behaved creature, I assured everyone who would listen.
But to the girl who is nodding along now because you don't want a puppy, either, here's what you need to know: Enjoy every damn minute of it. Every single second.
Soak in every angry time you call that puppy and he flops down in the yard instead. Enjoy every chewed shoe, every mess, every wild moment. Enjoy every playful excursion and every second of training that puppy.
Seriously soak up every single second, even when you're convinced that puppy will never be a friend of yours.
Because here's the thing. Even when you feel like you might hate that puppy, even when he drives you crazy and he sheds everywhere and there are not enough Clorox wipes in the world to clean up his messes, you will miss these days. They go so fast, so very fast.
And before you know it, before you can even realize it, your heart will soften. Suddenly, that puppy that is nothing but a reminder of why you are so tired will, in fact, worm his way into your heart. Before you even know what's happened or how, he will be the one you look forward to seeing when the world is falling apart. He'll be the one you laugh with and rely on. He'll be your rock in a life that can be so, so hard. He'll be there when you're crying your eyes out over lost friends and lost jobs and lost everything. He'll be there to share cupcakes with and run through the sprinkler with and dance to Taylor Swift with. He'll be the one you take too many selfies with, you buy too many toys for, and that you hurry home just to be with.
In short, somewhere between where you are now and where I am, you'll fall in love with the puppy you swore you didn't want. He'll become your best friend, your confidante, your world.
You'll build a friendship that is impossible to understand and impossible to foresee. But build it you will. The days will turn into weeks and the weeks into months. Years will pass and you'll get fooled again--you'll get fooled into thinking your friendship will always be there.
To the girl who doesn't want a puppy, though, here's the thing. I know you can't see it now through your sleepless nights and accident cleanups, but there will come a day when you miss that puppy energy. There will come a time when suddenly, that puppy can't zoom around the house anymore. There will come a day when he doesn't chew shoes because it's too hard for him to bend down to pick them up. There will be a day when his legs don't work anymore and you can barely remember a time when you dashed through the sprinkler or danced in the kitchen.
In the blink of an eye, you'll be me, eight years later, watching her very best friend in the world fall apart a little more each day. You'll be me, looking at those sad eyes and gray fur and wondering where the time went. You'll be me, wishing you had savored the moments a little more, taken a few extra pictures, and not spent so much time trying not to love that fur ball. You'll sit and remember all the moments, good and bad, and realize that they were what built your friendship.
You'll realize that those puppy years and all the years after didn't just grow a friendship, though--they grew you. They changed you. They made you who you are today.
These final years are perhaps even harder than the puppy years in some ways. Now, as I sit and know that our goodbye is coming sooner rather than later, I have a heart full of memories and a memory full of love for that puppy I didn't want.
But I'm not that girl anymore. I have Henry to thank for that. He taught me what it was to be patient and to love, to truly, unconditionally love--destroyed kitten-heeled shoes and all.
So I know you might not want that puppy.
I know you are going to have hard days.
I know you'll probably threaten to divorce your husband several times--and probably, deep-down, mean it a little.
You'll get sick of vacuuming and cleaning up pee and trying to teach that monster to behave just a little.
But to the girl who doesn't want the puppy...you will. Oh, some day you will want nothing more than to have that puppy back.
Trust me--from one girl who didn't want the puppy to the next, you will want these days back more than anything.
So get the puppy. Scowl at your husband a little if you must (which, let's face it, we all must sometimes). And then do your best to love every crazy, annoying, frustrating, wild moment of what that puppy brings to your life.
Because someday, you'll realize he brought exactly what you needed after all.
USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books