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.

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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.

Wait for it…

Max is decidedly not good at waiting. Even as I write this, he is impatiently staring at me to feed him, even though it is an hour before his normal dinner time.

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When he thinks it is time to eat or go outside or come back inside, he will let me know in as many ways as possible. He whines, he paces, he starts running around, and sometimes he even jumps up on me.

I try my best to respond in reasonable ways, and only make him wait when it is really necessary. But unfortunately for him, he has to wait on me for many things central to his life. He cannot get the dog food himself or let himself outside. And in those moments when I am distracted or my hands are full, Max makes sure I know the time is ticking.

I can’t really blame him, because waiting is hard, whether you have control of how long you wait or not.

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But I do hope that he can learn to wait with a greater stillness in his heart. When I see him getting more and more anxious in his impatience, I just want to assure him that it will be ok, that I am not ignoring him, and that everything will be remedied soon. His anxiety only increases the franticness of the situation and usually doesn’t bring things about any faster.

Max has taught me through his impatience that sometimes waiting with a little more stillness can make a big difference in how anxious the in-between time can be. I’m pretty good at waiting in stillness, and I wish that I could just give Max the peace I feel even when things are unresolved.

But Max is not wired that way, and so he is not good at waiting…

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…at least if waiting is primarily seen as a time to be still and passive. Max is definitely not still and passive. But maybe what Max is teaching me is that waiting is not always about stillness. Maybe sometimes waiting is about moving and bringing awareness.

Waiting in stillness usually refreshes my perspective and helps me to see what is really important in a matter. But sometimes that waiting only increases the harm or injustice happening. And too often I sit in stillness when I should be more impatient about the wrongs happening around me.

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In that sense, Max’s impatience reminds me of the value of waiting actively and loudly – the kind of waiting that characterized the civil rights movement and helped push forward the kinds of changes needed in society to ensure equal rights. And in a world where those equal rights are still not extended to all, maybe even more impetuous waiting is needed.

Max has taught me that waiting need not be somber and still. But it also goes beyond the “squeaky wheel gets the oil” mindset. It’s about tapping into a kind of waiting that is really attuned to justice and compassion for all – and then insisting that problems are addressed. It’s not a “squeaky” waiting, it is a stop all the traffic on the road because there was a major crash due to the fact that someone was sold a car with no wheels kind of waiting.

Max’s impatience may not be that weighty, but in observing the way he waits, I have learned that sometimes it is good to cultivate a sense of stillness and peace while waiting, especially for the things beyond my control. But sometimes, it is good to cultivate a sense of disruption and passion while waiting.

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And Max has taught me that either way, in stillness or action, waiting is best approached as a time of preparation. That could be preparing our hearts by instilling a sense of calm in the face of anxiety, or it could be preparing to make real change in the face of injustice, but either way the in-between waiting time is crucial for how we encounter or create whatever comes next.

So thank you Max for waiting on me. I hope you find a sense of peace in your waiting, but even in your impatience I thank you for pushing me to embrace a more active, uneasy spirit when waiting for wrongs to be righted.

Treats

Max does not get treats very often, but on Thursday I gave him a Thanksgiving gift that I hoped would be an emblem of my thanks for him. It was a rather big bone.

And by big bone, I mean about 12 inches long. It took Max 2 hours to finish (which is actually slower than his previous records). He scarfs down treats as if they were going to get up and walk away if he lets up for even the briefest of seconds. Max clearly enjoys treats.

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Max also enjoys the handful of other people in his life that give him treats, whether that is my friends and family or neighbors whose houses we walk by. There is one neighbor in particular who always gives Max a handful of dog biscuits anytime she sees us come by. Max has even learned to stop and wait outside her house as long as I will let him, hoping she will come out.

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I really appreciate her expression of care, but the first time she offered I refused. I was focused on the walk and I do try to limit the amount of treats Max eats. After walking around the block, though, I regretted turning her offer away. I know it disappointed Max, and I figure it disappointed her too.

I didn’t intend for any hurt feelings, but I naturally get into a more serious mode and forget about the value of treats and the small tokens of happiness. And it is not just with Max. I easily get bogged down with news and the weighty concerns of the world any given week. I see such importance in addressing those concerns and I find myself fairly at home in that tragic space, so that I often forget to embrace the fun, sillier side of things.

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And then there is Max, munching on a bone in simple delight, and his presence teaches me to embrace the lighter side of things. He even pushes me to be content with more treats than I think are necessary.

So, now, anytime we walk by our neighbor and she offers treats, we stop. I still don’t love how many she gives, but I am thankful for her expression of light-hearted care and I am thankful for a moment of simple happiness.

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And I try to remember to give Max treats on various occasions, especially since I know how much they brighten his day. He may devour them in a moment, but he shows me that even if the moment of happiness is fleeting, it is worth experiencing.

I still don’t buy into the whole “treat yourself” model of living, but Max has taught me that simple joys can make a world of difference in someone’s day and that an eager pursuit of those joys is not a bad thing. He has taught me that the weighty concerns of life are worth considering and addressing, but so are the simple pleasures.

So, thank you Max for appreciating the treats in life and teaching me, at least occasionally, to do the same. Thank you for showing me the difference simple joys can make in this world, especially in the lives of those who give and receive them.

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!

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.