Happy Howloween 2018!

Hair we are again – another year, another furstive Howloween for Maximus.

This pup-kin head really “gets into” the spirit of the season.

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So this year, I tried asking Max what he wanted to be for Howloween, but the doggone cat got his tongue.

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Then I found out that this Golden Retreader loves sticking his nose in a good book, as long as it’s an exciting tail.

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But he couldn’t trick me for long. I know why some bunny really loves howloween – there’s even more treats to wolf down! And Max doesn’t miss any oppawtunity to lick up whatever’s in the kitchen.

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When he gets caught, he just claims he was framed. Can you blame him, though? His face does look like a fine piece of barkwork.

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This year, he wanted to change things up a little. So he started by channeling his furocious side, but he’s a bit too sweet to be Tyrannosaurus Max.

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Then he wanted to be a bowWOWarina performing as the sugar pup fairy, but he didn’t have the correct pawsture.

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He even considered trying to dress up like me, that impawster!

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And finally, I realized he had been working on a costume for a long time. It’s a little ruff, but by not bathing the past several months and rolling in the dirt as much as pawsible, he has become: the stink bug.

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Nevertheless, thank you Max for another golden Howloween!

And if this is your furst encounter with Max’s costumed shenanigans, please check out year 1year 2year 3, and year 4 also!

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Center of Attention

For the past 5 years, Max has definitely been the center of my attention while at home. That started to change 2 years ago when I got married and suddenly it was not just Max and me. But even then, Max drew a lot of attention from both of us since he was the only one who needed our care.

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Max relishes being the center of attention. Whenever people come over to visit, he forces himself into the middle of things and makes sure he is constantly known. He rotates from person to person to get petted and noticed. And I think he does it both to receive as much love as possible, but also just to make sure everyone remembers they are really there to see him.

Unfortunately for Max, that changed when a baby entered the picture. Now Max is not the center of attention from us or visitors. It is not that Max is ignored or cast to the shadows – far from that. Max still receives a lot of love and attention, but he is not the center of everything anymore. He has to share the spotlight.

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I realized the extent of this shift when I looked through my pictures of Max to pull some for this blog. (I will add that the fact he has a whole blog dedicated to him proves Max still receives quite a bit of attention.) As I looked through my pictures, I realized there were very few new ones of Max and even fewer of him without the baby also in the picture. Granted, the rate of pictures I take of him has slowed down each year, but suddenly in the past several months there has been a drastic decline.

Part of that is tiredness, but most of it is that there is another person now taking up picture space and attention space. I believe that love is limitless and can be extended to all equally, but time and attention are not. For Max, that means no less love, but considerably less pictures and constant focus.

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In reflecting on this new state of affairs, I do feel a little sad for Max. At times I can see that he misses being the center of all the attention. It is hard to share the spotlight of affection, especially for a people-pleasing, energetic golden retriever.

And then I realize that Max is teaching me that most of us want to feel a little special. We may not all want to be the center of attention, I know I definitely do not want that in any situation I am in, but still, that feeling of being noticed and considered special warms our hearts and makes us feel like we have an important role to play.

Max has taught me that the desire to feel special is not a bad thing. It is normal, and it helps give us meaning and worth. It is important to feel valued and valuable.

Max has also taught me that it matters to find a space where we can feel that way. Not one that makes us the center of attention, but a community that does value and love us.

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But that balance is hard to manage. Max has also made me ask myself: how can we share attention and show someone they matter without them being the center of everything?

I don’t have a great answer for that. I am still struggling to make sure Max knows he is loved, even when I spend more time with the baby than I do with him some days. And I don’t know that it is a science with a specific answer. I bet that striking that balance and showing love to all is an art, and it gets better the more it is practiced.

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I am at least glad that in all this Max has still shown me a lot of love. While he is clearly envious of the attention, I think Max understands that we still love him as fully as before. And he has shown me the value of loving others even when their attention is spread thin.

So thank you Max for loving me even when you are no longer the center of attention. And thank you for challenging me to figure out how best to show you and others they are valuable and special even when I’m sharing that attention around.

Pupternity Training

Max and I have spent the last 6 weeks at home on paternity/pupternity leave with the newest human addition to the family. I’ll be honest that I was very nervous about caring for a baby all day – it is not something I have much experience with. Max, on the other hand, was very excited to have friends at home with him, and was not nervous about the baby at all.

And the more time we all spent together, the more I realized how much Max had already taught me that prepared me well for caring for an infant. I know I still have much more to learn, and I am sure Max has much more to teach me about being a dad, but here are a few lessons I learned before graduating from this round of pupternity training.

Com-mutt-ucation or Non-English 101

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Max has yet to master the English language, which can be frustrating when I want him to really understand something I am saying. But in this case, his non-verbal skills have helped me, the now only and out-numbered English speaker in the house during the day. By honing my ability to pick up on all different kinds of communication, Max has helped me make at least a little more sense of the baby’s crying and babbling.

Too Drool for School or Biolo-gross

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I always thought Max was too slobbery, until the baby began sucking on arms or shirts or her own hands or whatever she could get her mouth on. I still don’t like slobber – human or canine – and I still do all I can to avoid or get rid of it, but Max at least prepared me with the assurance it can be washed away before it returns again and again and again.

Hungry, Hungry Hound-os or Lunchtime

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I have written here often about how Max loves eating. I promise I feed him enough (according to the vet), but he has always been one of those Golden Retrievers who devours whatever food or treats he is given. Little did I know that dealing with his ravenous hunger would prepare me for an equally ravenous little human. Max has taught me how to be quick on the draw with food, which I’m sure the baby has already thanked him for and is colluding with him for some future joint food heist.

Let Sleeping Babes Lie or Naptime

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In addition to wanting to eat all the time, both Max and the baby are very prone to sleeping all the time. Max sleeps in the most random places at the most random times, and while the baby is less free to find her own napping spot, she certainly finds plenty of random time to sleep throughout the day. Max prepared me for how best to tiptoe around the house in order to avoid waking up any dozers. And Max has been oh so nice as to wake me up in the early morning hours occasionally over the past several years to get me ready for the baby waking up at any random hour. (To be fair, my lovely spouse does so much more of the middle of the night stuff than I do, so I thank Max on her behalf too.)

A Little Ruff Housing or Physical Educanine

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Max has incessantly taught me how important and fun playtime is. He is always ready to go on a walk or run around or wrestle and will not let me forget even when I am tired. His eagerness for playtime has prepared me to make sure the baby also gets a lot of playtime, and he has taught me that in both of their cases, that free play is where the real discovery takes place…even if it is discovering ways they can plot against me (I can see it in their eyes)!

Time Trots On By or History Unleashed

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It is hard to believe Max and I have lived together for 5 years, just as it is hard to believe that I have already finished 6 weeks with the baby. Each day, and sometimes each week, has felt rather long, but Max has prepared me for how overall it flies by quickly. I know I don’t even know the beginning of how quickly that history will zoom by with the baby, but at least Max has taught me to live as presently as possible and enjoy the time.

Poopy Puppies or Can I Get a Hallpass?

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And possibly the top way Max has prepared me for this baby stuff is by giving me opportunities every single day to pick up poop. Max has allowed me so much close contact with poop that handling it has become a fact of life. I don’t love that about my life, and I still don’t love dirty diapers, but Max has taught me that dealing with others’ poop is not so undignified and that a swift, direct approach is the best. He has also taught me that no matter how much poop I deal with, more will always come.

So thank you Max for preparing me for this new adventure with another human in my life. Thank you for being good and patient these 6 weeks at home together and for teaching me at least a some of what it means to care for another hungry, slobbery, sleepy, sometimes confusing being. And I look forward to what you will teach the baby about how best to live with me.

Dog Days of Summer (Part 2)

Max has certainly taught me how to boldly face the uncomfortable heat of these dog days of summer, as I shared last week. But he has also taught me that moving and keeping busy is not the only (and not always the healthiest) way of dealing with the heat.

Max most truly embodies the image of the dog days of summer as he spends much of the day plopped down on the cool tile of the kitchen or bathroom. And there is a beauty and art to Max’s flopping down on the nice cool tile floor in the middle of the hot afternoon. It’s not the slobber pattern he leaves on the ground, however abstract expressionist it may be, but rather the intentional way he takes a break.

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Such rest is important, not only in these dog days of summer, but at every time. And as important and life giving as that rest is, both Max and I are not great at it.

Max is so eager to get attention and be in the middle of the action that he easily wears himself out without even thinking about it. Several years ago we took a day hike around a nature trail on a really hot mid-Spring day. After a long time, we finally turned around to go back to the car, and for most of that trek Max was eager to keep up and take everything in. Yet, even with plenty of water stops, he finally got so tired he had to stop and rest. He just plopped down right in the middle of the trail.

I think it is the only time I’ve seen him stop in the middle of an activity – and it was clear we had both pushed ourselves too far by that point.

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Even on our walks around the neighborhood, I can tell when he is overly tired from the heat, but still pushes himself to keep going. And Max has taught me to look into myself and recognize the same pattern.

Max has taught me that I too have a hard time taking a break. I don’t like to sit still for long, even when I am tired. I don’t like naps, because why would you when you can just drink more delicious coffee?

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And yet, Max has also taught me the danger of not taking breaks. During that day hike when he just stopped, Max scared me. It was so weird to see him lay down in the middle of a walk and it was immediately clear that we had pushed it too hard.

The beauty and art of his plopping down, then on the trail and now on the kitchen tile, is the way it is a window into the reality and danger of fatigue, which is only emphasized by the oppressive heat. In that one motion he is able to convey so clearly the state of things and how consuming exhaustion can be.

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But the beauty and art of his plopping down also extends to showing the deep value of rest. Max has taught me that those moments of rest are not just lazy or selfish or weak. They are signs of being deeply in tune with needs and they are a way to embrace life-giving restoration that will positively impact me and all the other people I come in contact with. Such rest helps me recover and find peace and even prepares me for those other times when I do have to go out and boldly face the heat.

In the midst of Max’s restorative, dog days of summer embracing, peaceful way of life, he has helped me learn the value and importance of rest. When I push myself to constantly be doing things, Max reminds me to be. When I am over-busy, Max teaches me to chill.

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And often, in the middle of the heat of these dog days, the most helpful and healthy thing to do is to chill.

So thank you Max, for teaching me the honest truth that I am often bad at resting. And thank you for reminding me of the important, restorative purposes of plopping down and taking a break. It is a lesson I know I will need to be taught again, but it is a lesson I know you are happy to teach.

Dog Days of Summer (Part 1)

For Max, every day of summer is a dog day – and not just because he is a dog.

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I actually found out that the “dog days” of summer came to be because of the presence of the constellation Sirius, not because dogs like Max lie around panting, but since the phrase has taken on the other meaning of heat induced exhaustion, I think it is fair to use it that way.

I have no doubt that Max feels some extra exhaustion these days from the intense Texas heat. And laying around is what he does best (second only to eating). To be fair, he does a lot of laying around even in the nicer seasons, but the dog days of summer are a reality in our house.

In fact, the past couple of weeks we got out a box fan for our living room, and it did not take long for Max to figure out how to make full use of it. He may be a hot dog, but he’s still a very smart one.

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I’m impressed every year how well he handles the heat with all his fur, with or without a fan, and that even with the heat, he still wants to get out and go on walks.

Max faces that heat head on, and has taught me the value of doing the same. He has taught me to get up even when I don’t feel like it, to jump into things even when I am tired, and not to let laziness be an excuse. Whether it is taking him on walks even in these dog days of summer, or expending a little extra energy to be present and active where I am needed, Max continually reminds me that sometimes the things most worth doing are the hardest or most uncomfortable.

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He has taught me that even in the uncomfortable heat of conflict or injustice or humbly admitting that I am wrong, I have to walk out and address it. It is easy for me to want to stay inside my little bubble of life, to keep myself cool and at ease, but I am learning the value of stepping out into spaces where I am uncomfortable in order to address the ways I have contributed to problems and broken systems.

It would be nice to stay inside and not deal with those uncomfortable things, but if I did, the poop would just pile up – literally with Max or figuratively.

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But Max has also taught me not to charge out recklessly. Because I don’t want either of us to overheat, we have to push back our walk time until pretty late. I am usually as anxious as he is to go on the walk so that it is not the last thing I do before bed, but so many days the heat just leaves no other options.

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And with all that, Max has taught me to be aware and responsive to what is going on around me, not just charge out and be overwhelmed or unprepared and cause even more harm.

This is of course a very practical lesson as we navigate these dog days, but it is also a lesson as I navigate all those uncomfortable matters. Max has taught me to be attentive to what is happening in the world, recognize that things are changing, and be willing to adapt, even if it is not how I’ve always done things or thought things to be.

Sometimes the life-giving option is not to charge out the door thinking I have all the answers, but rather to pay attention to the temperature of a matter and seek to learn from whatever is going on.

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Now, that does not mean we stay in, isolated from whatever is happening, as tempting as that is. Max has taught me that even when things are almost unbearably hot, it is worth it to get out and walk – to do so thoughtfully and flexibly, to listen and learn before moving, but still to get out and walk.

The dog days of summer can be brutal, but Max has taught me that living in this space and time means we have to face them. He has taught me to step out and be a little uncomfortable in order to connect with others and live a more life-giving way.

So, thank you Max for teaching me how to face these uncomfortable dog days of summer head on, and in a way that does not add to the harm. I’ll happily sweat (or pant) it out with you.

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Changes

Three weeks ago, Max’s world was rocked a little. My wife and I came home with our newborn baby and Max became an older dog-brother.

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In all the changes that have suddenly happened within those three weeks, Max has been a champ and has taught me a lot about adaptability.

The first week we were actually back home was tough. The humans had no clue what we were doing and I’m sure Max knew we had no clue what we were doing. He was of course happy to have us back after a couple days at the hospital, but was not sure why we returned with a crying, screaming, attention-hogging addition.

Max had to be flexible even before we all returned home. Other family members and I checked on Max through the hospital time, but it made for a drastic change in his normal routine. He had to walk and eat at whatever random times I was able to get away for a while.

And despite all that upheaval of routine, he was always excited to see me and ready to do whatever was happening. I’m sure he was sad that I was gone more than normal, but he still appreciated what he was able to do with me.

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Then, the baby came home and the real upheaval began. Our baby is thankfully rather calm so far, but she’s still a baby and so she has moments of crying throughout the day. I remember seeing Max during one of those first crying fits at home and he looked so confused. Glad we were back but probably not glad about all the extra noise.

And then at 4am, as I was doing very little to help feed the baby, I noticed that look on Max again – why are you up and what is going on?

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And then day after day, he was happy we were home but clearly concerned that he was no longer receiving all our attention.

But in all that change and disruption, Max taught me about adaptability and patience. I am amazed at how well Max is able to adapt to a whole different schedule and a whole different structure of life with this baby. I wish I could say I was handling it that well, but I am still figuring out how to embrace a totally new way of life.

I don’t know that I’ve fully learned how Max is able to be so flexible and patient, but I have learned that since he is, he is able to be more present. As he rolls along with whatever is happening, he is able to embrace not only what is going on, but also the people working through all that change. He is focused much more on the family than on the disrupted patterns of life.

I noticed Max’s ability to focus on his connection to us even while adapting to new things the other day when I was watching the baby do some “tummy time”. Max came in the room, probably to try to steal away some attention. But as he stayed, he found a place to lay down and be close to us in a new way.

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Maybe that’s how Max stays so adaptable – by focusing on his connection with the people going through the change and allowing those connections to sustain him through any disruptions to what was normal. Max has taught me to hold fast to the relationships with those around me and trust in that enduring love to guide me through whatever comes next – whether it is 4am cries or new opportunities to get close to one another on the floor.

So, thank you Max for being so flexible in all these life and home changes we are putting you through. And thank you for teaching me to hold fast to the people (and dogs) around me to help guide me through those changes.

What’s Going On Here?

Max is either clueless, curious, creative, or comedic. Whichever is the case, I love him very much, but I often look around the house and find him in some rather strange situations. I look and laugh, then he notices and reflects the joy I express. I never know what is going on in his head in these moments, but appreciate it all the same.

Here are some of my favorites:

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How did you even get in that pawsition?!

 

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I guess it’s just a dog-hug-coffee-table kind of world now…

 

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Should he stay or should he go now?

 

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Is he pawndering the art or retrieving some distant memory?

 

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Whatever is going on here, Max certainly chewses his own style and path.

 

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Max, are you comfurtable enough?

 

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Max, are you comfurtable at all?

 

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Max…how is that comfutable?!

 

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I see, I see, you’re a yoga mutt…clever.

 

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Now that is a real downward dog…

Whatever is going on, Max certainly does his own thing. Maybe he is all four – curious, clueless, creative, and comedic, or maybe he’s just a cool, confusing canine. Regardless, I am sure he has also looked over to me at times and wondered, “What is going on with him?” I know I too have my clueless, curious, creative, and comedic moments too, intentional or not. And I’m grateful that Max still sees the best in me anyway.

So thank you Max for being yourself and bringing some (confusing) joy to my life. You do you and I’ll keep wondering.