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.

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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.

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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