Space Cadet

Max is a space cadet. Of course he is often clueless about what is going on and will bumble into things, but I actually mean that I think he is preparing to be an astro-mutt. Maybe it is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, or maybe he is just expanding his horizons, either way I have noticed these unique behaviors emerging recently…

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He’s gotten less 10tative when looking down from the heights. I believe Max is ready to take any giant leaps for dog-kind.

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This K-9 may be weird about getting in the water, but he certainly dives right into his weightless training.

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In his new diet the past few months, Max only 8 his own bowls of food, plus all the crumbs the baby dropped, and whatever he could find outside. I think he is making sure can stomach anything.

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Max puts in a solid 7 minutes a day studying, sometimes even reading the most cutting edge scientific research. He knows reaching the stars will take a mind as toned as his body.

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He has been waking (all of us) up in the 6 o’clock hour. I’m not sure if it is his training regimen or that he knows he can nap all day. Either way it is far too intense for those of us who are not morning people.

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By every evaluation, this is a 5-star dog.

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Max insists that sleeping with all 4 paws in the air will help him quickly acclimate to a bed with no gravity.

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This dog has been pulling up to 3 Gs in his own homemade gravity training, tail chasing program. Though he usually falls down afterward.

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Max is simply 2 cool for this world.

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For over 1 year, Max has been studying other strange creatures and is now prepared to meet any weird extra-terrestrial life.

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There are 0 reasons to keep Max from blasting off in pursuit of his dreams.

Keep reaching for the stars, Max!

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Dig It

Max is a pretty weird dog in that he doesn’t like swimming in water, won’t play fetch, prefers human attention over other dogs, and does not dig in the yard. At least (for that last one) until recently.

Last month, Max started digging little holes in the backyard. It came out of nowhere and I honestly thought he didn’t even know how to dig or that digging is a thing dogs tend to do.

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It really took me by surprise, and then I got mad and told him to stop. Since then, I have not seen any new holes, but that also could be because the weather is ridiculously hot now and Max does not want to be outside any more than he has to be.

Still, Max’s short foray into digging has made me really consider how well I do or do not know him. I don’t question that we have a bond and I recognize that I can typically predict his behavior, just as I am sure he can predict mine. But Max taught me that there is still some mystery hiding just below his surface.

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And often that mystery is frustrating, because I really want to know what’s going on with him (both in a good, helpful way and a not-so-good, prying, unnecessarily curious way). I too am tempted to dig. I want to find some way to uncover Max’s motivations and know without any shadow of doubt what makes him feel and behave the way he does.

I recognize my fear of uncertainty in that desire. Maybe it comes from wanting to control things or maybe it comes from discomfort with change, especially sudden unexplained change. Regardless, it is a gut reaction through which I seek to uncover something that is not really my business, or even worse it is a reaction through which I seek to impose my own desire on the matter.

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Then I remember scolding Max for digging and wonder if I should heed that advice myself. Max may confuse, frustrate, or even baffle me sometimes, but in doing so he reminds me that relationships are not equations to be solved or experiments to be dissected or forces to be controlled. Rather, Max has taught me that relationships are mysteries to be appreciated and explored.

To be sure, I am all about honesty and authenticity in even the most superficial of relationships, and Max consistently teaches me how to be and express myself openly and fully. He reminds me not to conceal or deceive by being transparently present in all he does. But it this moment of digging, he also taught me that I can’t claw my way into understanding someone completely. There are certainly layers to people which can be wonderful to uncover and explore, but a frantic disturbance only leaves fatigue and a dirty mess.

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Maybe that exploration is less like digging for information or certainty, and more like appreciating the deeper and deeper layers of connection we can share and develop as we live life together.

Maybe that exploration is less like exerting my control or insecurity on another, and more like embracing the reality that we are not simplistic and can consistently expand the ways we value one another.

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In that sense, I certainly dig Max and the many other important people in my life. I may not completely understand everyone or the things they do, but I dig the mysterious fullness of who we all are, and the way we can learn more and more about one another every day, even without unnecessarily digging into things.

So, thank you Max for teaching me the real value of exploring and appreciating the complex nature of our relationships with others. Please don’t dig any more holes in the yard, and know that I dig you even when I don’t understand you.

What’s the Rush?

Max has become a big ol’ lazy bones. Most mornings and nights he is in no rush to do anything. There are still occasional moments when he is rearing to play or anxious for attention. And when he knows food or something new and exciting is at stake, relaxed Max goes out the window and the frantic rush takes over.

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But those frantic times are increasingly the exception. Maybe it is the reality of Max entering middle age, or maybe he just has a more laid back view of life.

Either way, it bothers me quite a bit, especially when I am in a rush. Most often, such frustration hits me on walks. I enjoy walking Max, but often I am fitting it in between getting home from work and going to another meeting or getting dinner ready or whatever else fills my evening time. The worst is when it is raining in the mornings and Max will not go out on his own, but I know he needs to go to the bathroom. On those mornings (and they are always the ones for which I am already running late), Max seems to take an extra long time deciding which identical spot of ground to pee on; in the rain; while I’m getting later and later.

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Max is simply not in a rush.

As frustrating as it sometimes can be, Max has taught me to reconsider whether that rushing around is really worth it.

Sure, there are things I can’t help but hurry to do, but perhaps I have given in a little too much to a rushed lifestyle.

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Recently, I spent half a year reading the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. Some of that was due to an overly busy schedule leaving little time for reading, but also the book itself is written in such a convoluted way that it forced me to slow way down. And that frustrated me. I have so many other books I want to read and that pace was not acceptable.

But now that I’ve finished, I see some of the same wisdom I have learned from Max – what was the rush? It is a fantastic read unlike anything I have read before, and in the moment I just wanted to get it done. But that wasn’t the point, and thankfully the writing itself forced me to slow down a bit.

Max, in his counter-cultural approach to life, has taught me to be more aware of how rushed I allow myself to get. As I busy around the house frantically doing stuff, I see him out of the corner of my eye, enjoying the beautiful sunny day or sprawled out on the nice, cool floor.

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To be fair, he has the luxury of no responsibilities, and I have the privilege of living a life in which I can afford taking breaks and slowing down a bit. But Max is teaching me a value of life that I see ignored and trampled upon around me, and which I myself am tempted to see as lazy or weak or trifling.

To slow down certainly means giving something up – a sense of efficiency or productivity, maybe even a bit of reputation or pride. But in observing Max closely, I see that his lack of rush is not all laziness or weakness. By not rushing, Max is much more present. He sees things going on that I wouldn’t see. He can much more easily adapt to anything new happening that either requires his attention or is merely something fun. And he certainly has less stress and worry.

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I know I will still be busy and that there will be plenty of times I have to rush around, and sometimes it might lead to something good. But Max has taught me that there is a difference between being busy and rushing around. Even the busyness can be approached in a more intentional and less rushed manner. In order to best navigate those busy (or still) times, he has taught me to question consistently, “What’s the rush?” And in doing so, he has taught me to seek the values of presence, appreciation, adaptation, and peace over only looking to the next thing, productivity, schedules, and non-stop-ness, so that maybe I can define not only my day, but also myself in a healthier, more wholesome way.

So thank you Max for being an easy-going presence in my life. Thank you for helping me question why I expect such a rushed life and showing me the true strength and value of a slower, more intentional approach.

Cleavers

Max is a pretty hairy guy. He so graciously reminds me of that fact every spring and summer as he sheds his hair all over the house. And somehow, even after shedding so much hair, he has loads of it that stays with him.

At this point in the summer, I am much less bothered by the hair he sheds than I am by what happens with the hair he keeps. Because the weather is pretty nice, Max enjoys being outside in the yard, rolling around, and exploring any sights or smells of other squirrel or bird friends. As he does all of that, especially the rolling around, he tends to get matts in his fur.

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But those matts are not even the worst part. Also at this time of year in our yard, plants that I believe are called “cleavers” or galium aparine are growing like crazy. They grow up fast and spread like wildfire all along our fence, right where Max likes to sniff around.

And that would be just fine, except that these plants have little seeds with hooked hairs that tend to cleave to anything they touch, and Max has his significant furry coat. Even when I actually try to stay on top of things and pull up those plants, Max finds a way to rub up against them and get the seeds all throughout his coat.

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Even at that point, it would not be a problem if Max had opposable thumbs. But he does not. And his attempts to pull the seeds out with his teeth only makes things slobberier and more tangled.

The annual struggle with managing the plants and all the seeds in Max’s coat typically takes a good deal of time. But Max has taught me that it is necessary.

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Max has taught me that cleavers happen, the stuff he and I brush up against throughout the day sometimes sticks to us. And often what sticks to us is not all that helpful. It causes tangles and for Max those tangles quickly turn into matts of hair (often with one of those little seeds at the center) that grow more and more uncomfortable.

Max’s cleavers may be more visible, but he has taught me to be more aware of my own less visible ones. Those negative messages I scroll across on social media that do nothing but make me mad and spiteful, those messages I see and hear in other media that I am not working enough or successful enough, those fears and worries that spring up like weeds and cleave to me until I give into the ever increasing entanglement of self-doubt or anxiousness or despair.

Max has taught me that those cleavers can make a real mess and that they can spring up quickly just about anywhere. He has even taught me that often we may not be able to remove them easily by ourselves. But he has also taught me that they can be dealt with.

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Max helped me realize that the best solution to those cleavers is being around others who care enough to help brush them out. I am grateful that I can provide that for Max and that he continues to remind me of the importance of having a community that can help, even if all that community can do is sit with the tangled mess and slowly work those cleavers out.

But Max has also taught me that it doesn’t take any elaborate training to get them out. Since we all know what it is like to have those cleavers, we know how to sympathize and help. All I need is to bear witness to the tangles and then set aside some time to work through them. And that is exactly what a caring community can offer.

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At the end of the day, Max has taught me that even with the cleavers, the yard is still full of wonder and beauty. He certainly does not avoid going outside just so he doesn’t get the cleavers. In fact, I think he has the confidence to run and play out there in part because he knows he has a community here that will take care of him if he were to get too tangled. That trust provides him not only security and untangling help, but also the freedom to be himself fully. And through that, Max inspires me that if I have a community that can help me deal with the cleavers that may spring up all around, then it is still worth it to explore and roll around in the grass and venture out into wild places.

So thank you Max for teaching me not only about the reality of that which cleaves and leaves us all tangled, but more importantly about the value of community that can help with the untangling and provide the assurance for a life of freedom and adventure.

Comfort

Max is a sneaky little blanket thief. Throughout this past winter, I documented every case I could of his diabolical plans to horde all the blankets in the house. Then, I looked back over the past 5 years to see just how bad it has always been. Here is what I found.

It started way back, when I was much nicer and let Max on the couch, when I didn’t realize just how much he was taking advantage of that bougie life.

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“If comfort is an art, call me Claws Maxet. For I will certainly leave my impression in this landscape.”

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“A little privacy please. Jeez dad.”

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“Heads…

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…Or tails. Either way you toss it is a win for me.”

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“Don’t hate. If it works, it works. And this right here works.”

Then, I realized his behavior was bleeding over to sleepovers with his friends, and with blankets that were probably not his.

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“Hey, I let him have the bones so I could have the blanket! Ok, now I want the bones too.”

Then, we got a new resident at our house, who also was partial to blankets. That shook things up, but not for too long.

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“What’s this baby doing on this blanket!?”

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“Ok, ok, I will share…for now…”

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“Ha ha ha. Victory is mine. I am still king of blankets!”

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“And now I extend my reign. You leave dirty clothes and towels on the floor? They are now my blankets.”

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“This pillow will make a fine addition to my blanket collection.”

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“I know…It’s not a blanket, but I claim it. It is flat and soft and close enough.”

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“Leg is the new blanket.”

What can I say? This dog likes blankets. And that doesn’t even count the one I specifically laid out for him in our bedroom that he now uses almost every night, or many others of which I did not get a picture.

Thank you Max for enjoying the comforts of life and for reminding me of the value of a good, trusty blanket.

What Is Love?

Max has consistently shown me love and taught me what love is. I recognize that I write this at the risk of overdoing it on this theme (even the last post was on love), but I continually find new and inspiring realizations from this very loving companion.

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To be fair, Max is only one in a large group of family and friends who have helped me continually discover and rediscover what love is, but through his pure and simple relationship with me, I see both my mistakes and the truth of love very clearly. And even when I thought I was describing and showing love pretty well, Max has taught me that there are some important things to sort out. 

This is what I have learned:

Love does not seek to hold power over another.

Love does not possess another.

Love does not seek to change the other.

Love does not insist on certain patterns or markers in life.

Love does not keep accounts.

Some of these are more obvious than others – love is in no way manipulative. But some of these things are actually important in my life and for Max – things like accountability and transformation (the whole point of this blog is the many ways I have been transformed through what I have learned in relationship with Max).

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Accountability to certain ideals can be a good, helpful thing in certain relationships. But Max has undoubtedly helped me realize that such accountability is not love. Real accountability is an act of care, if it is truly established to help people attain the values or goals they set in their lives (sadly, accountability is often twisted to describe punitive consequences when someone does not uphold another person’s values…which is not a helpful form of accountability, and definitely not a form of love).

I have often been tempted to say that my desire to keep someone accountable or to express power over others is love. Even in my relationship with Max, I have been tempted to think that my stern insistence on obedience is a form of love. It is not. It is important and keeps him safe, but it is not love.

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Here’s why – Max has taught me on the positive side that:

Love is merciful.

Love is self-giving.

Love is forgiving.

Love is patient.

Love is affirming and valuing of the other.

I don’t like thinking that I am limiting love, and am sure that there are plenty more descriptors, but Max has taught me that love is a distinct force of good in this world recognized in those ways. He has taught me that too often I use the word love to describe acts that are not merciful, self-giving, forgiving, patient, and affirming, even if those acts are helpful to incorporate into my life.

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My relationship with Max would be incomplete without a certain sense of accountability (extended both ways) and assertiveness and learning from one another. But my relationship with Max is fundamentally distorted if I think any of that is love.

So, thank you Max for loving me and teaching me what love really is and is not. Thank you for helping me be a more loving presence in your life and in the lives of many others I meet.

Greedy

Max often comes across as greedy. I think it is mostly because he is terrible at waiting when he knows there’s something else he can snatch up.

For instance, when we go visit other houses with dogs, Max immediately goes to eat whatever other dog food is lying around. He waits for no one, especially whoever is telling him “no” or the other dog looking confusedly and helplessly at the sight. The same goes for any toys that are lying around – Max will greedily claim them as his.

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His greediness with food and toys can be frustrating and embarrassing, but I’ve also noticed a different kind of greediness – Max craves a lot of attention and love.

I imagine that right now, that is partly due to him still adjusting to the new baby in the house and wanting to be in the middle of things when we are playing with her. And so I do try to carve out time in the day where I show him direct attention and he gets to be close by when we play with the baby.

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But it never seems to be enough. Max wants more and more love and attention, whether it is from us on a typical day, or from friends who come by for an evening. Max tends not to leave people alone as long as they have an empty hand to pet him.

And that has made me wonder – is there ever a time that it is good to be greedy? Could it be good to be greedy for love?

Love is certainly a good thing and experiencing it is a need of living beings, but I’ve always been taught that greediness is inherently bad – it’s one of the seven deadly sins after all. But then again when Max craves more loving attention, it just doesn’t seem bad, even if it interrupts whatever I am doing.

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I think it is complicated because love is a different kind of commodity than food or toys or other tangible items. Love is not just something that is received (at least not at its best), rather it is something that is mutually shared. As much as Max is greedy to receive loving attention from me, he is also eager to show me that he loves and cares for me.

That means the “greediness” is not purely consumption – it is not just Max taking and taking selfishly, which seems to be the evil root of greed. Rather, Max’s greediness is as much a giving as it is a taking, and he teaches me that perhaps if I was more “greedy” to give love to all those around me, the world might be a better place and our connections might be strengthened.

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Moreover, when I think about what Max is doing, I see that he is teaching about the importance of assertiveness. Max is asserting his real need for receiving more loving attention and giving more loyal companionship. That kind of assertiveness is important to maintain a healthy, mutual connection of love where he feels needed.

Max has taught me the value of being more assertive in need for love, and the value of really paying attention to the expression of that need. He has taught me that it is not so much a matter of greediness, but really a matter of sharing more abundantly in the loving connection we have.

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And ultimately, he has taught me that greediness can be good when it is not just about taking or consuming. When love is in the mix, greediness can help us experience the goodness of boldly giving of ourselves more and more.

So thank you Max for being a little greedy for loving attention and for teaching me the value of assertiveness and abundance when it comes to love.