Degrees of Adulthood
"Mom," my 7-year old, Matthew, called from the foyer. "Zonker pooped in the kitchen and I didn't see it," he said, smearing his sneakers all over the ceramic tile.
"You didn't step on the dining room rug, did you? And get those shoes off!" I shrieked, jumping up to check on the handwoven Chinese rug that was the centerpiece of our new home.
"Mom, I didn't go in there!"
Sighing with relief, I dabbed doggie stain remover on my formerly gleaming hardwood floor. "Oh, no," I cried! "It's taking off the finish. That's it," I said, glaring at my 10-year-old dog-worshipping daughter, Katharine. "No more dogs. Ever. Zonker, you're a bad girl!" Zonker slunk out of the kitchen and covered underneath the dining room table.
"Not on my rug!" I screamed. "Bad dog!"
"Bad dog!" my 3-year-old twin sons echoed.
"Mom, what's happening to you?" my daughter asked. "Ever since we moved, you're acting like ... like Grandma!"
And Grandpa too, I thought, aware that I had been maniacally switching lights off throughout the house and grumbling about the electric bills. Was I the same woman who used to make only half the bed and, until recently, would reflexively fling the countertop crumbs on the floor, certain that some dog or small human would retrieve them? And was I the woman who, years earlier, rescued a stray mutt and accused her husband of being "old and grumpy" when he turned white at the sight of a third dog temporarily living with us?"
"Mom," Katharine said sadly, "don't you love Zonker anymore? Did you stop being a 'dog person?'" she asked, mimicking the words I had so often used to describe myself.
"Maybe Mom doesn't like old and worn-out dogs anymore," Matthew smirked, trying to annoy his sister. "Maybe Mom loves the new house more than Zonker."
"I love Zonker," I said defensively, "but I don't have the patience for a new dog, and I don't want this house to get trashed." Tripping over a Lego, I retreated to my room.
I turned on the radio and closed my eyes. As Luciano Pavarotti's voice filled the room, I suddenly felt panicky. I was actually listening to opera, a sure sign that I was getting older. There had been other signs, too--an occasional stray gray hair that I would quickly pluck, flush down the toilet and try to banish from my consciousness. And there were furtive glances at Prevention magazine while I languished in long supermarket lines. And most recently, words like "cholesterol" and "menopause" crept into conversations with friends. "What's happening to you, Mom?" My daughter's words resonated in my now-throbbing head.
Sixteen years ago, when I awoke on my 21st birthday, I took a deep breath and waited for adulthood to strike. I scrutinized my reflection in the mirror, reassured that my freckles were still as prominent as my gnawed nails. Adulthood, much to my relief, had eluded me.
Three years later, when my husband and I moved into our first home, I immediately scoured the animal shelters and classified ads until I found the dog of my childhood dreams. Never mind that Bartleby turned out to be a snappy Cocker Spaniel that chewed up all our kitchen cabinets and was never quite housebroken. To me, the very adult step of purchasing a home was simply the means to owning a dog. Ten months later, while my husband was on a business trip, I answered an ad and brought home Zonker, another Cocker Spaniel. Small and sickly, she would emit little baby noises and sleep on my lap for hours. I wondered if it was abnormal to bond with a puppy. In the years that followed, Bartleby's wild nature caused him to bolt out of our fenced yard into the path of a speeding car. Though I mourned my irrepressible dog, I was distracted by having a small child and infant to care for. When my twins came along, four years later, I was too busy and overwhelmed to shower Zonker with attention. I still appreciated her sweet nature, and when a crisis arose, I'd sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and cuddle with her. Dogs don't avert their eyes because they can't bear to see your pain, and this 13-year-old dog has always been here to offer me comfort and love. Unconditionally.
Sniffing away my tears, I walked down our curved staircase and just as I suspected, Zonker was rolled into a ball on her favorite corner of my prized dining room rug. As I crouched beside her, she turned over in submission, as if expecting the inevitable "Bad dog! Get off the rug!" Instead, I looked into those gentle Bambi eyes and at the fading freckles that surrounded her graying muzzle. I thought of my daughter and the 10-year-old I once was who had pleaded, in vain, for a dog to love. "It's okay, girl," I whispered. "You can stay here."
"Katharine," I said, without a trace of resignation in my voice, "I hope that Zonker will live for a few more years. But when she dies, when we are ready, we'll get another dog."
"Yes!" shouted Katharine, jumping up and down. "But I don't want Zonker to die. Ever."
"Me neither." I plopped down next to Zonker and carefully lifted her into my lap. There were just some attributes, along the continuum of adulthood, that I didn't want to acquire. And there were some parts of the child I once was that I didn't want to lose.
|My mom and Zonker, 1995.|
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