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.

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Patterns

Max has started being more insistent about eating at a certain time of the day. It’s like he knows it is the time for his food and has to let us all know too. He’s always done something like that, but for some reason it seems more pronounced now. I guess we got in a steady enough pattern of feeding that he is confident he knows when it needs to happen.

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Max has a lot of patterns of life – eating, walking, sleeping. And taking care of him is another one put upon my life. It’s a good pattern, and one I am happy to incorporate, but still an additional rhythm to weave in.

Max has me thinking about patterns a lot more right now.

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I recognize that I got out of the habit of blogging about Max the past month or so. It was completely unintentional. In fact, I think I just got out of the practice of attending to any lessons Max might be teaching me. I didn’t forget about him or anything, I just got out of the pattern of considering those great truths he was trying to impart.

Max taught me that it is easy to get out of life patterns, as good or helpful or fun as they may be. It is easy to let the busyness of life wash out any rhythms that are not necessary. And sometimes a lot goes missing when those patterns fade away.

Max and I used to walk every morning. It was tough to wake up and go out when it was cold or rainy, but we did it, every day. And it was actually a really good start to the day. It was refreshing and my body appreciated the movement. Many things contributed to the interruption of that pattern, but regardless I see how easy it is to get out of even good practices.

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But Max has also taught me that sometimes the pattern needs interrupting.

I didn’t train Max as a puppy or have to go through all the bad stuff that come with that part of dog life. But I still have had to encourage him out of bad habits like jumping on people who visit because he is so excited, lunging and barking at other dogs on walks, slowly creeping into the kitchen while cooking so he can snag whatever falls (we are still working on that one).

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Max has taught me that there are many troubling patterns and those need to be dealt with.

Part of my absence here has been the overwhelming distraction of terrible patterns that keep emerging in our world: patterns of hate and discrimination, patterns of violence and lack of real concern, patterns of blame and shame. These are patterns of school shootings, racism and sexism, demeaning and hating immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ. The intensity and devastation of these patterns makes me think anything I say here is superfluous. They have the tendency to overwhelm and silence me.

But Max has taught me that I must break my tendency toward retreat and silence and apathy in order to seek to break the patterns of hate that are still woven into the world around me. He has taught me that any bad habit or behavior has to be called out directly and unwaveringly.

And Max has taught me that it can’t stop there. I also have to work long and hard to establish good patterns in their place. The good rhythms have to follow right along behind in order to make a real change. He has shown me that it takes a long time to consistently develop good behavior to replace what has been chaotic or erratic. And those better practices of love and welcome and acceptance have to start with me.

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It is not quick or easy work to recover past good habits or to change current bad ones, but when patterns have such a big impact on life, there is no choice but to attend to and deal with them so that my life might bend toward a new and better order of things.

Thank you Max, for making me more aware of the patterns in my life – those that are missing and those that need to be changed. And thank you for giving me at least a little hope that the patterns of my life might make a difference.

In Sync

Max and I have been a little out of sync lately. I have been tired when he is ready to play and I’m ready to go outside when he is content to lay around.

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I think this mismatch is in part due to me changing my work schedule and being gone at different times than I have been in the past. This small element of change unknowingly had an impact even on my time with Max, and I learned that getting out of sync could happen very subtly and quickly. The cause went unnoticed for a while as I was just frustrated that Max kept bothering me when I didn’t want to be bothered.

For instance, I would come home very tired and try to lay on my couch for a little bit to rest my head. But Max, already past ready to go out, would have none of it and breathed right in my face and paced and whined and then came back to breathe right in my face and try to play.

And then Max started waking me up earlier in the morning (something he thankfully hasn’t done much before).

I could tell something wasn’t working, and my initial reaction was – Max why are you so bothersome today?

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But I eventually realized it was not Max’s fault. It was the subtle change in circumstance that led us to be out of sync with one another. And I learned that instead of blaming Max, I should focus on how to get us back in sync.

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And Max has taught me that getting in sync with another will probably not just magically happen. No matter how intensely two people adhere to different rhythms, they will always be different until one changes to match the other or both change to a new one.

So, to get back in sync requires some self-sacrifice and intentionality in understanding the other person. It requires a change in my lifestyle and openness to another.

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To get back in sync with Max I have had to endure my tiredness just a little longer so that we can get closer to the same rhythm of activity and rest. And this isn’t necessarily a one-time thing. Being in sync requires consistent attention and readiness to change when we inevitably get out of sync again.

So thank you Max for teaching me to consider why I am really out of sync with others. Thank you for teaching me to be more lovingly adaptable and give of myself to get back in sync rather than expect others to join my rhythm.

Max is a Dog

Yes, Max is a dog. He may try to fool me sometimes by acting like a model, but he is definitely a dog.

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This week included national dog day and I got to celebrate Max’s species with many other people by posting and looking through dog pictures online. Maybe not the celebration Max would most prefer, since it didn’t involve any food and he doesn’t understand pictures or the internet, but it gave me a reason to think about Max and why he matters so much to me…

Then he came up and slobbered all over me, because he is a dog. He made some weird noises while licking himself and pestered me until I took him outside to walk, because he is a dog.

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On the walk he tried to sniff everything and pee on most things, because he is a dog. When he saw a rabbit, he forgot everything (including the leash around his neck attached to my arm) and sprinted after it, because he is a dog.

Then he ate something nasty he found on the ground while I wasn’t paying attention, because he is a dog.

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Sometimes it is hard to understand Max’s behavior (and I don’t even have to deal with the bad puppy stuff). I find myself thinking, “Why won’t you just learn not to eat that gross stuff you find outside,” or “Can’t you see I’m tired and don’t want to play,” or “Do you really have to shred that toy and leave all the scraps all over the floor?” I too often try to treat Max like a person and expect him to live just like me.

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Then Max reminds me that he is a dog. He does dog things, which make no sense to me as a human. But I shouldn’t get overly upset about it nor try to change him and make him act like not a dog.

Rather, I should appreciate his doggyness, even when it is hard. It is easy to appreciate his joyful presence, loyal companionship, friendly demeanor, and contagious fun-loving spirit. But his doggyness extends beyond just those positive qualities and I am to love and accept him in all his weird doggy ways, just as I am to love and accept other people in all their weird peopley ways.

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Max innocently expresses himself according to his biological makeup. And it is a complex mixture of all sorts of weird stuff. But that is what makes him interesting and unique and a being worth posting pictures of online. Sometimes it is tough, but embracing him as a big, hairy, bundle of energy is really the only way to embrace him and honor him as the dog he is.

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(apparently I can’t embed this video, but it is still well worth watching)

So, thank you Max for teaching me that we all are complex, complicated beings. And thank you for helping me understand how to love you as the dog you are: smelly, slobbery, curious, energetic, and sometimes downright gross.

Change

Max and I just moved to a new apartment. It has been a stressful process, but also an exciting one. And I learned that in many ways, Max does not deal well with change.

Max’s uneasiness was amplified because the moving process drug out over a couple of weeks. I slowly packed things up until there was one tiny maze through my apartment to get anywhere. Max could tell something was going on but he didn’t know what.

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I could see the anticipation turn quickly into anxiety as Max continued to live in an unresolved state. He did not know what was happening and was not getting any answers.

Max taught me that my own stress was centered in trying to live in that unresolved state. I wanted to move and get everything situated so that I could get on with things, but since my life couldn’t pause for that transition, I had to plow ahead bit by bit and deal with the piles of boxes.

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Max’s uncertainty persisted even when we finally made the move over. When I came back home from work the first day in the new place, he stuck to me like glue for most of the evening. The poor guy just couldn’t figure it all out and was trapped in a state of uncertainty and unfamiliarity.

But eventually he calmed down and he taught me several very important things about dealing with change and uncertainty.

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First, Max taught me that it is normal to feel uncomfortable with change. The stress and worry are natural because even the little changes can make a big impact. However, he also taught me that I need not stay in a perpetual state of stress. Change is exciting and can bring growth when it is encountered in certain ways.

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So, Max also taught me that the best way to move past the stress and worry is to find solace by seeking comfort in a friend. Max depended on my presence much more than normal to assure himself that things were going to be all right.

This lesson struck me because I think I often seek solace in trying to cling to whatever familiarity I had before a change. The times I’ve moved I have looked back from where I came and tried to be comforted by those memories rather than depending on a loved one to help me be more comfortable in the place I am now. But Max has taught me that the best way to deal with change is to face the unfamiliar head on accompanied by a friend on whom you can depend.

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FInally, Max taught me again to look at new opportunities as adventures to be explored. I know I have a heart set on adventure and exploration, as does Max, but we both were a little timid that first day after the move. It is scary going into a new place and being the stranger. But after the first day here, we decided to embrace the unknown with an attitude ready to learn more about it rather than fear it.

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While Max taught me that it is normal to be worried by change, he also taught me how to deal with it in a more hopeful and meaningful way.

So thank you Max for making this move with me and for teaching me how to deal with change. Thank you for being my companion and helping relieve some of my stress. And thank you for already embarking on an exciting new adventure with me.