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.

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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.

Safe Spaces

A note to startI have written and rewritten this post over the past several months. At first I had intended it to be pretty lighthearted, then the weekend I was going to write it up there was a school shooting, and I didn’t even have words. Then there was another shooting, and another, and another. Sometimes they happened right when I was going to put up this or a different post, so I waited a week. Every time they have happened, they take the words out of my mouth and I am left speechless. And yet, I return, not because I think this will solve all our problems, but because Max gives me hope and makes my life better, and I think we need more of that. At least I need more of that.

Last year, I got Max a dog bed. Before that, way back when it was just the two of us, he had been allowed to lay on the couch, then I married and moved and we got a new couch and Max got kicked off. It’s not because we didn’t love him anymore, it’s just that he treated the previous couch pretty rough.

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We also got rid of a comfy chair that was basically only for him, because we didn’t have room. That was over a year before I got the dog bed, so it was a little overdue, but Max is resourceful and makes do with whatever he has.

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When I got the dog bed I was worried he wouldn’t like it. But that worry was soon eased when he began spending a lot of time on his bed.

He does still like my kneeling cushion, and random hallways, and probably the couch when no one is home, but at least he’s using his own cushion too.

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In fact, his cushion has become a sort of safe space for him. He is able to look out to the front yard and still be close to us. But even more than that, his cushion provides some safety from the vacuum cleaner.

I vacuum about once a week (because of Max’s hair, just to give credit where it’s due), and almost every time, when I come to the living room, I find Max perched on his cushion. I don’t think he is super scared of the vacuum, but he definitely does not like it. And he stays there as long as he can. The cushion seems to provide the safe space he needs to make it through vacuum day.

It is trivial – the vacuum poses no real danger to him – but thankfully it is the worst danger he has to face. We’ve been lucky to be able to provide an overall safe space for him.

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But Max has taught me the real importance of creating and maintaining safe spaces. In a world of uncertainty, fear, and danger, whether that comes from vacuums or something far more sinister, we all need some space where we are protected and where we know we belong.

This lesson has only been heightened by the recent events of shootings in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas, not to mention the many, many others that have also already tragically happened this year.

We need safe spaces, not just because of the violent acts that continue to take place, but especially because of them.

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In light of this need, Max has taught me that safe spaces are created, they don’t just emerge out of thin air. He could go find a secluded corner, but that is not the same. A safe space is a place where there has been intentional work done to set it apart and make it comfortable and protective. And so, safe spaces take time to establish, just as trust in anyone or anything takes some time.

Max has taught me that it is up to those of us who do feel safe to create those safe spaces for those who are more vulnerable. I do not expect Max to create his own safety in circumstances outside his control.

And Max has taught me that safe spaces are fundamentally different from unsafe spaces. His dog bed is a unique place just for him that does not negatively effect others or contribute to unsettling peace anywhere else. It seems weird to say it like that, but I am very aware that many examples of creating “safe” spaces around the world involve making other places unsafe. But unsettling others to protect us is in no way creating safety, rather it is just reciprocating or redirecting the fear and danger.

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And then, when I see Max sprawled out in the middle of the hallway far from his bed, I realize that he is also teaching me that we shouldn’t need safe spaces, because our world should be safe for everyone. There is no excuse for us maintaining a world in which safe spaces would be needed, because there is no excuse for us perpetuating a world in which there is danger or violence or any tools that could contribute to such states. Max should know that he is safe in my house at anytime. He should know he is safe when we walk or travel or do anything.

Max has taught me that it is such an important part of life to be yourself, which can only happen if we feel secure from threats. He has taught me that by now we should have created a world in which that is a possibility for all.

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But until something actually changes, Max has taught me we do need safe spaces.

So thank you Max, for teaching me the importance of offering safe spaces to those in dangerous circumstances. Thank you for reminding me of my role in intentionally creating and maintaining such spaces, and working toward a world in which they are not needed. I hope you always feel safe here.

Devotion

This week I went for a jog. As I usually do, I left out the back yard and let Max outside while I ran. Normally, I also finish by coming back through the back yard and I see Max ready and waiting for me. This time, though, I ran a different route and came back in the front door without Max noticing.

When I got to the windows, I saw Max very expectantly waiting for me to return. He was laying in the grass looking out the way I normally come back, with ears eagerly perked and with attentive stare. I just stood and watched for a while as he stoically kept watch for me.

It truly warmed my heart to see such an obvious expression of his devotion.

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And then I took some pictures because I could not resist and because I immediately knew I wanted to write about that feeling.

Max was solely focused on my return. His whole being was dedicated to patiently waiting for me to come back. It was an expression of love and concern and loyalty.

I know Max and I are close, but in the day after day normalness of life, I sometimes forget about that bond. And I am ever grateful for that chance reminder of how much Max cares for me.

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Max taught me in that brief moment an important lesson about devotion. He reminded me of his loving devotion of me, but he also evoked some questions that I was forced to think about afresh:

To what in my life am I that dedicated? What am I willing to patiently sit and wait for without any certainty that it would be fulfilled?

What do I hope for with such expectant hope?

What would I give all my focus to and be completely present for?

What is so important to me that I would set everything else aside to attend to it?

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Thanks, Max, those are some deep and weighty questions. I have thought about some of this before, but seeing Max’s vigilant example made me reconsider how devoted I am to the important things in my life. And Max taught me that it is important to reexamine that devotion from time to time to make sure other stuff hasn’t distracted me.

Max taught me that there is stuff in this life that is worth such whole-hearted dedication. He has taught me that sometimes I need to take a moment and discover what I’m willing to sit in a backyard and eagerly expect for as much time as needed.

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But as I was watching Max, I also realized that his vigilant patience, as touching as it was, did not do anything to help him realize his hopes.

In the specific case of Max, I am ever grateful that he did not decide to jump the fence and run after me in order to realize that hope. But I also see the limits in just sitting and waiting.

Sometimes we have to sit and wait to know what is worth that level of devotion, but then sometimes we have to do something to grasp at that hope. Max taught me that idle devotion is good for scaring the squirrels away, but not much else (and I am convinced the squirrels would eventually garner the courage needed to come in anyway). He taught me that idle devotion leads to deferred dreams. He taught me that I have to do more than eagerly listen and watch for change, I have to jump over fences and go on a pretty uncertain, risky journey.

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And I don’t think that realization detracts from the profound expression of and lesson about devotion that I saw as he lay waiting. Rather, I think it adds to it. Because when a door was open to Max (the back door that I eventually did open when I couldn’t take it anymore), he ran to me in a full expression of that loving devotion come alive.

So thank you Max for teaching me about the beauty of hopeful devotion. And thank you for teaching me that such devotion is truly alive when it is riskily pursued.