It is no secret that Evan, who is now at the ripe old age of eight and a half, has always had some pretty big emotions. He feels even regular, everyday things (both emotionally--frustration, sadness, anger; and physically--hunger, fatigue, sock seams, shirt tags, and "spicy" food) on a very intense level. He works very hard to contain these feelings and to express them in an appropriate and constructive way when he is out in the world. His teachers, his friends' parents, our extended family, and people who just happen to cross his path all say the same thing, "He is such a sweet, caring child."
And I smile and thank them. "He is," I agree out loud. In my head, though, I can't help it: "Oh, you have no idea." He is, it's true, rarely sweet or caring at home. After working so hard to keep it together at school, for his teacher and friends, he lets it all out once he gets home. It's not that he's never nice: he and Max can find a good groove and play together for an entire afternoon. But more often than not, one or both of them ends up in tears or Taking a Break. And yes, he'll let me cuddle up next to him and read Harry Potter before bed, tickling his back after I turn off the light.
But when I say "I love you," he says, "Okay."
When I kiss him (and it has to be on the top of his head) he shakes it off.
When I hug him, he stands rigid, refusing to participate and be the other half of the hug.
Lately, I've been feeling as though it is just not my lot in this life to be able to experience his affection. And I'm okay with that, because as long as he is a kind and positive contributor in the outside world, as long as he treats his siblings with love and kindness and his dad and me with respect, and as long as he knows that there's nothing he could ever do or say to earn an eviction notice from this family, we'll be fine.
A few months ago, I started to notice an unmistakable trend: Evan is at his very Best, his kindest, his most compassionate, his most tender, around babies and dogs. People actually stop and watch him interact with these perfect, faultless beings. He's something of a Whisperer, that Evan, and it's a beautiful thing to see. But we're not having any more babies. And I am NOT a dog person.
They are filthy.
They are expensive.
They are time-consuming.
They are Not My Thing.
If I can't be on the receiving end of Evan's unconditional love and affection at this point in his life, it sure would be great to be able to witness it...
A tiny seed of a thought would float into my brain, Maybe we should get a dog.... My brain would swiftly and unapologetically sweep the thought aside with a pragmatic, Don't be ridiculous. We are not a Dog Person. But then we went to a play date, where Evan ignored the kids to play with the dog. And the seed-thought would return, Maybe Evan is a Dog Boy. Again, though, my brain would send the thought packing, Dogs are like destructive newborns. You're not thinking this through. Then he started jumping the fence in the backyard to play with our neighbor's dog. "Mom! Reese is out! I'm gonna go play fetch with her!" And that damn seed-thought started to sprout We should get a dog.
Last week, something flipped and my brain stopped trying to quiet the sprout of thought. On Monday, the thought entered and started to walk around a bit. A dog would be so good for Evan. Molly would adore it! It might be good for all of us, really! By Wednesday, it pulled up a chair. A dog would help teach compassion and responsibility. It would be a great way for Evan to practice expressing affection. A boy and his dog....such a pretty cliche. On Friday, it sat down and made itself at home. We're getting a dog. Time to tell Sam.
Sam is a Dog Person. He grew up with a dogs and even had a dog when we got married. It was a great dog. But it was a dog and I am not a Dog Person.
He came home for lunch last Friday afternoon.
"You're going to think I'm crazy but I have something I want to say."
I'm not usually one to throw a curveball, so he continued to eat. "Okay, what's up?"
"I think we should get a dog."
He stopped, mid-chew. He slowly turned to face me, not sure what prank I was trying to pull.
"I'm serious," I went on. I started to list the reasons why I think a dog would be a good fit for our family, a great fit for Evan.
He didn't let himself get too excited. He knew that I could pull the plug on this train of thought at anytime. "Let's think about it," he offered.
That evening we had settled on a breed and found some relatively local breeders. We knew we wanted a puppy so the kids could grow up together, form an early bond.
The next morning we were (secretly) admiring the dozens of dogs we saw on our hike and I was starting to get really excited about the prospect of becoming a dog family.
That night, just 36 hours after I breathed word of my Crazy Thought to Sam, we told the kids.
Max and Molly squealed with delight.
Evan was shocked. He stopped asking for a dog years ago after countless "We're not getting a dog" responses from me. He looked at me with a mixture of disbelief and hope and I nodded, "It's true, buddy. What do you think?" His eyes actually twinkled. A smile spread across his whole face and he yelled, "I call Fetch Duty!" He hasn't stopped talking about Our Dog since.
A boy with his dog. I can't wait to see it.
Believe me, I know it's not going to be perfect. I know it's not going to solve all of our problems. I know it's going to be more work and more frustration and more money than I can possibly imagine. But I also know that it could be great. It could be just what he needs. It could be just what WE need. We're ready to work hard and accept the challenge. We're ready for our puppy.
Also, we're picking up the dog on Friday, three days before our entire family descends upon us for Thanksgiving week. Because what's one tiny puppy in a house of 20, right?
This might just be the biggest regret of our lives.
Or it could be the best decision we've ever made.