Life Changes In an Instant

It has been 6 months since I was able to do yoga. In late January, my life changed forever and I now navigate life with a combination of a wheelchair and arm crutches with leg braces.

Everything was going well until it wasn’t. I was recovering well from a microdiscectomy on my lower back in December and looking forward to getting active again. I’d been off my mat for my recovery, but I was doing well and almost ready to lose my lift limit. Then, I started having some weird symptoms that couldn’t be explained by MRI’s of my lower back or my neck. My neurosurgery team was baffled as I began to lose more and more function in my legs. They felt “shaky,” like they might fold up under me. I began losing some sensation in my “saddle area,” the parts of my body that would touch a saddle if I was riding a horse. I began to have bowel and bladder changes. My neurosurgeon’s nurse practitioner wasn’t sure what it could be, so she said, “Sometimes a problem in your thoracic spine can cause weird symptoms. It’s really rare, so I don’t think that’s what it is, but we’ll get a MRI just to be safe.”

A week later, I was unable to walk, kind of dragging my body along when I went to her office for a follow up. She gave me a series of nerve function and neurology tests and her face became grim.

“Is your husband waiting?”
“No, he went to run an errand, but he’s not far.”
“Can you call him?”

I was admitted to the hospital and told to go straight there from the office. Because of a covid surge, my husband had to just drop me off. I was told I would be having emergency surgery that night or the next morning. My condition deteriorated rapidly as imaging was done of my entire spine. Soon, I had to have a catheter and was lifted from beds to gurneys and back boards. My neurosurgeon wasn’t available because he was helping people at the VA hospital, but a new neurosurgeon and his students watched my MRI results come in. In one week, a disc in my thoracic spine went from mildly compressing my spinal cord to pinching it off. A ruptured disc in the thoracic spine like this is rare, almost unheard of because of the way our ribs brace our spines. About 1% or less of spinal surgeries. Surgery in the thoracic spine is more complicated and risky because of the ribs and so many important organs, but at this point, I was paralyzed from the waist down. I had little to lose and a lot to gain by trying.

The next morning, I was prepped for surgery and signing consent papers after my surgeon confirmed that the loss of sensation was spreading to my torso. I couldn’t lift my feet off the bed. He was frank with me, letting me know that surgery was no guarantee that I’d regain the use of my legs or my torso.

I was in surgery all day as my thoracic spine was fused, bone removed, and the offending disc removed. My surgeon chose to fuse me because of the extent of the degenerative disease throughout my spine. He didn’t want me to have one thoracic surgery and then another. Most of my back was cut with an incision running between my shoulders to my waist. My blood pressure dropped during surgery and I was sent to the ICU where I spent a difficult night in so much pain. At one point, I told one of the surgery residents that I’d rather have a baby every hour than what I was going through.

Slowly, different lines and IV’s began to be removed and I moved to the Spinal floor and began physical therapy. At first, I seemed to be doing really well. I could walk some with help and a walker. I skipped rehab and went home thinking I’d make a full recovery.

My adventures were far from over.

I kept falling at home. I re-injured my lower back and had another surgery on it. I learned how to use a wheelchair so I didn’t fall any more and worked in neuro rehab to try to regain function. I’m still going to neuro rehab, now down to once a week. I’m moving next week into a handicap accessible apartment. I’m re-learning how to do everything I used to do. I had another surgery to try to decompress a nerve in my arm.

Everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to think about it, which I’m actually thankful for. There was no time to second guess my decisions, no time to worry about the outcomes. I’ve had some rough times where the grief at what I’ve lost has hit me fully, but also some immense joy at finding that my future is brighter than I may have thought. I’ve been able to keep my job in network security because I was already working remote. My little dog, Roo, has been by my side after every surgery and my family and friends have continued to support me.

I have more surgeries ahead as my spine acts like an old house where we fix one problem and then 2 more pop up. I have a lot more physical therapy ahead as I fight to regain what function I can. I’m so thankful that I have good insurance and support.

And I still have my yoga mats. I’m eyeing accessible yoga training programs for once my condition is stabilized. Not only do I want to keep doing yoga, I want to help other people like me do it, too.

My adventures aren’t over.

Rise Up and Light the World

I’ve been in a funk. My husband’s health issues continue to cause him pain and keep him isolated and then last week, I got bad news about my spine after I went in for a MRI after some numbness in my hand and pain in my lower back. I’ve been down and depressed and feeling sorry for myself.

I stopped working out or even taking those long walks. I stayed inside my home, but didn’t clean or declutter like I’d planned. I just curled up in a ball and felt sorry for myself, drowning my sorrows in chocolate. Why should I take care of my body if it was just going to fall apart anyway? Why should I take care of our home if it’s always going to have so many projects we can’t catch up on? Why should I keep trying when it seems like I never make a dent in the way things are? What is the point of all this effort?

And maybe that’s what I needed to do for a while.

We’re halfway through Chanukah and last night, as I lit candles, it’s like I woke up from a daze. I realized that it’s ME that brings light into whatever situation I’m in. I’ve been sitting back and waiting for good news, waiting for change, waiting for someone to find an answer, some test to reveal something, some doctor to tell me what to do next and how we can feel better. I’ve been passive, like someone sitting in a dark room, just waiting for someone else to come in and turn on the light.

And I’ve had the matches in my hand the entire time, but I just was too down to realize it.

I just takes one tiny spark to change a dark room into a lit room, to light one candle that you can then use to light more. One tiny little spark of energy, of positivity, of light can change everything. This season we celebrate light in the darkest part of the year. We also celebrate the power of hope and of small things or a small force standing up to the mighty. We celebrate not giving in to dispair even when the odds seem unlikely. We celebrate instead fighting back against the dark with hope and optimism, rising up with a throaty war cry against everything that tries to hold us down and change who we are.

And who I am…is not that person sitting on the couch waiting for someone else to act. Who I am is the person charging into the situation and taking an active role.

We celebrate taking an active role in this world and making it a better place for everyone and not falling into the trap of just being like everyone else, accepting things as they are and not making waves. We celebrate ancestors who were game changers and move makers and realize that we all have so much more power to bring light into this world than we realize. We each are a spark and it only takes one.

Today, I woke up and ate a healthy breakfast instead of skipping it or eating chocolate. I threw away a cookie that was sitting, waiting to be eaten instead of eating it myself. I put the dishes in the dishwasher before work.

Small things. Tiny things.

But a spark nonetheless.

Embracing My Geekiness, Teaching PE, and Other New Beginnings

For me, even before I was Jewish, Fall seemed more like the beginning of the year. It was the time a new school year always began and the changing of the seasons marking the end of my family’s long months spend growing crops. It was a time to reflect on the year past, with my Mom and Dad thinking through last year’s crops and planning for the next year and me gearing up for classes. I still feel like Fall is the beginning of my year and at least now the Jewish calendar also agrees.

I’ve always found most of my biggest shifts and changes during this time of year. I met my husband in the Fall. Most of my big job changes have happened or at least began at this time. It’s a time when I take stock and make moves. This year, again, it was time to make some big changes.

Over the past year or so, during the long Covid isolation, I had a deepening sense of burnout in my career. Last year, I did a yoga teacher training and I often thought of other career paths. I couldn’t remember why I’d gone into networking and it felt like any other job would just be a continuation of what I was feeling. I was feeling overworked and like my work really didn’t matter or make a difference in the world. Why I was I spending so many hours, so many nights and weekends lost for my family, if what I was doing didn’t really help the world be a better place? My work seemed repetitive and dull, but also tedious and draining.

I guess maybe it was a midlife crisis?

The problem was that my work paid well and helped support my family. No matter what career change I considered, running the numbers, I knew it would cause my family hardship at a time when we really needed the stability that my career was providing. I’d worked hard and was now at a good point in my career. I had skills that were valuable and needed. The problem was that I just felt empty using those skills day after day.

So, probably at the worst possible time, just as the Jewish High Holidays began, I began a job hunt, putting my resume out there, not knowing what to expect and knowing that it would be tough to book interviews around holidays.

I was immediately pleasantly surprised that so many great companies were hiring! These were companies that I never dreamed I’d be asked to work for and the positions they were hiring for were interesting and would enable me to learn new things and brush up on skills I hadn’t been using for a while. These roles actually sounded interesting and as I talked with hiring managers, I wanted to know more about the projects they were doing. My curiosity, which had been dormant for the past year and a half, was suddenly fully ignited in a way it hadn’t been since I’d left Footlocker.

In order to prepare for the next round of interviews, I had to dust off a lot of old skills and study some so that I could do well in the technical interviews. I also wanted to study a little about the technologies these companies were using that I wasn’t familiar with so that I could ask some good questions. I found myself printing off material to study when I couldn’t be online and hitting the books as well as playing with scripting and other things I hadn’t touched in a while.

And…just like that, I began to remember WHY I’d gone into networking to begin with.

My passion came back. This stuff was FUN, like playing with a big, complicated lego set. Again, I wanted to figure out how all the pieces could fit together and the different things I could build. There were so many new things to learn that would only add to that lego set and make me able to design and build cooler things, whether those things were physical networks, cloud networks or just ways to automate boring, repetitive tasks so that I could spend more time on the interesting stuff. My brain woke up from a long slumber and in the end, I had a few great offers to choose from and I chose the one that most excited me.

I’m not giving up on yoga, but I am leaning fully into my “geekiness.” The fact is…I do love technology and working with it…I just was in a job that wasn’t a good fit for me. Now, in my last week of work at this position before I start my new one, I’ve been given a golden opportunity to do BOTH.

I was asked to teach a once a week PE class at my daughter’s school, teaching the girls a fitness-based yoga class. I was excited to say yes and to volunteer my time for free because this allows me to continue doing both of these things in ways that I love most and to give back to my community. I’ll spend most of my week up to my eyeballs in technology and projects, earning a living to support my family and a couple hours a week doing something that impacts others closer to home. I may also start my weekly women’s yoga class back up.

I can’t think of a better way to find balance and flexibility.

What I’m Eating and Not Eating Lately

I’m still 20lbs from my goal weight, but I’m still also 35 or so pounds down from a year ago. I can’t blame my nutrition or training plan or trainers for my latest weight plateau. It’s purely me cheating while dealing with a new puppy and slacking off to snag some extra rest. Now that she’s sleeping through the night well, I’m regrouping.

A lot of people ask me what I’m eating now and that’s a rather interesting question to answer. The most accurate answer would probably be “plant based, ayurveda-ish,” but then I need to go into a lengthy explanation of what that means.

Basically, I’m eating mostly vegan meals, although I’m still not 100% on that. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the full discipline to eat fully vegan and I also don’t know if things will shift as the weather does and I’ll be back to including more animal products again. I know I do like eating plant based as much as possible and I’d like to keep that going as much as possible, but I also am not so rigid about it. In an average week, I *maybe* eat meat or dairy 1 time, if that. Weeks can go by without me eating any animal products at all. I do take vitamin supplements just in case, particularly for B vitamins and folic acid.

The ayurveda part is a little more complicated. I began learning about ayurveda as I was learning about yoga and was intrigued, but I really started playing with it when my husband’s digestion didn’t return to normal after his last cancer surgery. Ayurveda is basically a holistic medical system that goes back thousands of years in India, with particular emphasis on digestion. For me, learning more about this helped me finally relieve all my acid reflux symptoms and now my stomach feels better than ever. We’re still trying to find something that can help my husband that he can stick to, but for me, this has really been helpful. I’m still learning and exploring it and figuring out where my balance is and what fits into my busy life. For example, someone adhering to strict ayurvedic principles would cook each meal fresh and never eat leftovers…well…that just doesn’t work for my lifestyle. I still food prep, but I’m mindful to include fresh vegetables wherever I can and to use ingredients that support my health. If you’re interested in more information about ayurveda, a podcast and website I really like is Simple Ayurveda by Angela. I’m part of her simple ayurveda collective and working through all the learning material she has in there, which is a lot! She’s really good at simplifying concepts and coming up with realistic, real world examples that you can fit into a modern lifestyle.

And I’m still doing 2 protein smoothies a day. I may need to get a new blender soon as my current one has gotten quite the workout!

When I stick to the macro plan my trainers have laid out for me and keep up with my steps and workouts, I definitely see the results. Now that I’m sleeping regularly, I look forward to being more on top of all of this and getting past this last plateau!

The Little Things Are the Most Important

I thought about titling this “how NOT making my bed messed up an entire month for me,” but then I started thinking about how many other little things go into adding up to a good month or a bad month.

Last month, in July, we picked up our puppies. I had been doing great with my vegan bodybuilding program and had an awesome routine in place. Then…Roo just did NOT agree with her crate. I’ve crate trained multiple dogs and I’ve never seen a puppy react as strongly to the crate as she did. She was out and out screaming as if someone was torturing her. I tried treats and the usual training solutions, but the only way that both of us got some sleep was with her cuddled up next to me. Since I love cuddling with my dogs while I sleep, this is what happened. She now sleeps happily through the night with no accidents curled up by my side.

The problem is, in the meantime, I had to keep getting up and taking her outside and I also had to keep changing linens, putting down puppy pads in the bed. My bed was chaos every night and as a result…I stopped making my bed.

No big deal, right? Plenty of people never make their beds and no one sees my bed but me, so…what’s the problem here?

At first, nothing. I was able to do my usual morning routine. I just skipped making my bed. Then…I started skipping other things. It started slowly until finally, I was up 5lbs and behind on my workouts and my laundry wasn’t put away and my house was chaos.

All because I started not making my bed!

I kind of woke up and came to my senses this week and started with making my bed. Then, I found it easier to stick to other parts of my daily routine. I’m already back on my workouts and sticking to my macros better. I feel calmer. My house has less chaos.

All because I got back to making my bed!

Now, I’m not saying everyone needs to make their bed, but if you do have an “anchor habit” that ties all the rest of your routines together, it’s really important not to let that slide. Maybe for you it’s a morning cup of coffee or morning journaling or prayer or a walk with your dog. Whatever it is, you have to make it a high priority or else all the other priorities start to slide, too. This past month really proved to me how making my bed has become an anchor habit for me. Without it, nothing else in my day goes the right way.

So yes, my bed is now made…even if it often has a puppy in it and I sometimes dream that I’m sleeping with a groundhog that nips me.

Gifts for Future Me

I have a weird hack I use to get things done that I don’t really feel like doing sometimes. I divide life up into two separate “me’s.” There is current me, that probably doesn’t feel like meal prepping, brushing my teeth, working out, or (insert mundane task here), but then there’s also “future me” that will be really glad I did these things.

Future me is the one that won’t have to cook dinner tomorrow night because there’s a meal already prepared by past me. Future me is the one that will have to pay to sit through having cavities filled if past me doesn’t brush her teeth. Future me is the one that will feel so much better if past me stuck to her workouts. I almost think of future me as a separate person, like a friend that I don’t want to let down. In this way, I motivate myself to do things now that will make my life easier later.

I fold and put away my clothes for future me. I make my bed for future me. When it comes down to it, so much of my daily tasks are gifts I’m making for my own future self and then when I do pull out a fresh outfit, I feel a kind of gratitude that I am taking care of myself in this way. Future me is glad I scheduled those appointments ahead of time. Future me is grateful I chose the healthy meal yesterday instead of junk food when I step on the scale. Future me is happy that I chose to sit through a class instead of napping when I need that little burst of inspiration.

Often, the best thing I can do for the future me is the very thing I’m least motivated to do in the present, so framing it this way helps me push through that and just get it done.

Give it a try and maybe future you will thank you!

You Aren’t Supposed to Be Perfect

If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty hard on yourself. I see this often reflected in my daughter, who also is so tough on herself whenever she makes a mistake and watching her struggle with her perfectionism is like a mirror reflecting back a place where I have a lot of work to do.

Every day, I wake up and I start out with a blank slate, but it’s not long before I forget something, let something slide, or make a mistake. Suddenly, it’s like the sun outside darkens and my whole day begins to be colored by that feeling of falling short. I’ve internalized this idea that anything less than perfect isn’t good enough.

Logically, I know this is ridiculous. Logically, I know that no one is perfect and I’d never try to measure anyone else in this way. I know I’m human and I will make mistakes, but somehow, logic goes right out the window and I can be merciless when it comes to measuring myself against an ideal that I’ll never reach. The fact is, even if I get all my steps in today, I might make a mistake on my nutrition…or lose my temper with one of my kids…or not catch the puppy in time to take her outside before an accident…or forget to make an important call or appointment. The odds are stacked against me having a perfect day and I will make a mistake in some small or big way because I am human.

This is EXACTLY by design and how I’m meant to be.

It can be VERY easy if you’re someone into self-improvement of any sort, whether it’s a fitness buff, yoga student, spiritual or religious seeker, or in recovery or therapy, to start to focus on the negative, the places where you have growth to do or character traits that you’d rather not have or the little spots on your body you’d love to change and lose track of the bigger picture, which is that no one is perfect and we’re not supposed to be. You were created with certain personality features and if you were able to smooth all of those down to some ideal…would you even be the same person anymore? My quick temper is the flip side of my passion that helps me find intense joy and share it with others or push through adversity. Without that temper, I wouldn’t have other positive traits and all of that is a big part of who I am. Should I work on handling it better? Of course. But at the same time, I shouldn’t beat myself up for having imperfections that are part of my unique design. None of our bodies fit a perfect ideal. We always have something to learn and some way to grow.

In my life, I have a very specific religious path I’m on that can be very exacting. There are a lot of rules and it can be really hard to feel like I’m living up to it all at times, but then I need to take a deep breath and realize that I’m not meant to be perfect at it all…I’m just meant to try and to do my best, whatever that may be for me, not what someone else’s best might be. No one is expecting me to be perfect, least of all the One who created me complete with my unique limitations.

There is something freeing about accepting my imperfections as part of the plan rather than as some mistake that I have to work to correct. It also has an added benefit of helping me be more patient and tolerant and accepting of the humanity of others. If I recognize that the things I’d rather change about myself were put there on purpose and I’m kinder to myself as a result, I find it much easier to accept and love others in their imperfections. I even find often that it’s those “imperfections” that make them uniquely endearing. One friend might tell the worst puns, the kind that make you groan and may even get annoying, but when I love and accept them as they are, I begin to see that trait as something cute that makes them who they are. A crooked smile, a tinny singing voice, a weird quirk…all of these become something special rather than some kind of mistake. They are part of what makes each person different and distinct and I remember that the world would not be complete without a single one of them…quirks included.

We were never meant to be perfect. That was never the plan and none of us was created with perfection in mind. We are meant to make mistakes and fall short…and keep trying and we’re meant to do this alongside and with other imperfect beings all with their own unique struggles and mistakes. It’s messy and beautiful when I step back and look at it from a more positive perspective rather than trying to make the world in my own ideal instead of accepting that it works perfect as it is.

Imperfections and all.

44 Years

44 years ago, I sprang into this world early. I’ve been early for most things ever since. I get nervous about being late and I guess I started that from birth. I am marking this grand occasion by…working as usual. I did take a short break and visit my favorite coffee place, but most of my celebrating happened 2 weeks ago when we went to pick up the puppies, so today is more like a regular day.

I did buy my first set of reading glasses, which I guess is the first sign of my acceptance of middle age.

I found myself squinting and holding a bottle of flea shampoo at a distance to read it last week and decided it was time. I got the fancy blue light blocking ones and I’m hoping I won’t feel TOO old using them.

There are days I feel like I’m in my 20’s again, with so much better health and fitness than I’ve had for years. Then, there are days my body reminds me that I’m not in my 20’s anymore and furthermore, that it has a lot of dumb stuff I did in my 20’s to remind me about. When I fell last week, x-rays showed osteoarthritis in my knee, where my body is adding in some extra bone to try to stablize things. According to the x-ray of my foot last month, it’s doing the same thing there and x-rays of my spine a couple of years ago showed it happening in my spine. My body is trying to build bone spurs here and there to stabilize joints where cartilege is breaking down…just part of the normal process of aging for most people. I begin to think more about choosing activities based on how sustainable they are…maybe that half marathon just isn’t worth the wear and tear when I want to be doing other activities for years to come?

I also realize this year more than last that I’m entering a new season of life. My children, who needed me so intensely…now prefer their own company or the company of friends their age. It’s as normal and natural as the aging of my joints, but like my joints, it still aches a little. Soon, they’ll be off on their own adventures, doing their own dumb things in their 20’s that their bodies will remind them of in their 40’s and I will be watching from afar. I’m so proud of the young adults they’re becoming, but I do already wonder where the time went.

My husband and I start to scratch our heads wondering…what do we do when it’s just us? For us, it’s never been just us. He entered the picture when the kids were very young, but very, very present and jumped feet first into child rearing. There was never any time when we were a young couple without kids in tow. He was already in his 40’s and I in my 30’s and we were parents from the beginning. Should we go on dates and try to do this all backwards? I’m definitely not wearing uncomfortable shoes, though.

For me, I think the most defining feature of middle age so far (and those older than me are probably already rolling their eyes that I should have any idea at this point) is not really knowing where you fit anymore. At this age and stage, I sometimes feel like I fit with people younger and sometimes with people older. I no longer fit so well with people raising babies, but I’m also not near retirement, either. It’s definitely another awkward in-between stage, like late teens, where you feel a little gawky and like you’re not one thing, but you’re not yet another and you just have to stay in that state a while until time catches you up.

Proof would be that I can still lift heavy weights…and I can apparently also fall down stairs needing a life alert. I can run stair laps, but also consider that maybe we should move into a ranch to save my knees.

And, LL Bean catalogues start to look pretty darn nice because isn’t that a cozy cardigan for reading in?

I mean…I do already have the reading glasses on the way!

It’s Ok…to Not Be Ok.

Last week, before I took a tumble down our back stairs, I went for a long walk with Percy, my daughter’s 3 year old Corgi. Tisha B’Av was on my mind, but I was also exhausted from a week of puppy potty training and work. I was also exhausted from the past 2 years, which never seem to end.

I’m thankful that the Jewish calendar has times and days of mourning, times when it’s specifically ok to be down, to not be all right, to not put a brave, stoic face on things. As we walked, I realized that I have been working so hard these past few years to put a bright side on everything, to smile and never show how bad things really are, to not have anyone worry too much about us.

The truth is…things are often not ok.

The weight of it all came down on me on that walk and the tears began to fall. My husband still isn’t back to anything remotely close to what you’d call “normal.” He’s in pain every day, the kind of pain that has him clenching his fist and groaning or breathing heavily. His doctors don’t know how to ease this pain for him. He can’t resume a normal life and it’s possible that all this might just be how things are for us now. It takes a toll on him and all who love him. He bravely fights through it so that we can try to have a normal life and do things like our road trip to Arkansas, but that entire trip was colored by his pain. When we did go try to do “fun” things, he remained back at his own hotel room resting and waiting for new medications. He couldn’t stay with us because most nights…he doesn’t sleep…and he doesn’t want to keep us awake. Every day we live our lives around his pain and suffering, unable to ease it for him, unable to help him.

It’s taken a toll on both our children. Our daughter has been in therapy for months for depression, anxiety, and OCD. Our son is doing so much better with his Autism, but he still struggles. Getting puppies may not have been the wisest move in terms of time, but just seeing the family laugh as they play has been worth all the late nights and extra work. My husband’s puppy cuddles close to him when he’s hurting and provides so much comfort. Somehow, between it all, we have to carve out some joy, some reminder that life isn’t just about fighting death, but also about fresh new life, laughter, and joy.

And, when I’m brutally honest with myself…it’s taken a toll on me, too. There are times I just don’t have the energy or emotional space to go out and be with friends. There are times I fall apart, alone and in private. There are times I’m angry because it is all so unfair. There are times I feel trapped or alone in it all.

As I walked and cried I also talked to G-d. I poured out my heart, raw and unfiltered. Sometimes I’m angry at Him for the way things work. Other times, I beg and plead. I do still thank Him for the bits of joy and happiness, but I also question Him for why there is so much suffering and pain. I know He can take it. I imagine that I’m like a small child in the lap of a parent, getting a necessary shot or medical procedure, crying out in pain and struggling against their arms, looking up with that heartbreaking face of betrayal as I’m held to endure whatever is needed. I remember holding my children like that when they were small and my heart breaking with them. I imagine G-d’s heart breaking with me, wishing He could explain to me why this is all needed, why my family must endure this for our own good.

By the end of my walk, I felt better, my tears slowing. Percy was the perfect companion, never questioning my tears or asking me to explain. He just walked by my side, a comforting presence. I cried also for my big dog, Sam, missing him by my side and how he always made the world seem safer, even as I am thankful for a cute new puppy to cuddle with.

I love that my religion makes space for joy and for mourning and recognizes that mourning is another part of life that needs acknowledgement and its own time. Fast days and periods of mourning aren’t always easy. I never look forward to them, but I always feel better after them, somehow lighter and more able to move on with the day to day business of life. I felt lighter as I wiped my tears and opened the door to our home, ready again to try to find the joy amid all the crud.

It’s ok to not be ok.

Seeing the World With Fresh Eyes

I’m knee deep in puppy rearing, which is pretty tiring. It’s not QUITE as bad as human babies or toddlers, partially because the duration is much shorter, but there are still a lot of disruptions to sleep and interruptions. I’m lucky in that I have a really great puppy. She’s a wild bundle of energy when she’s awake and tries to get into everything, but she’s relatively easy to redirect and is a quick learner when it comes to training.

It also helps that both puppies are super cute and cuddly!

My husband and I can’t have more children, so puppies are kind of our way of adding to our family. Yes, it isn’t quite the same, but some of it is just close enough to soothe that little ache that’s there, wanting a baby in my arms. A puppy will cuddle up in my arms, cry to be picked up or played with, and has a scent that is somehow “new.” It’s a different scent than a newborn, but I find I sniff my puppies in a way similar to how I would just hold and sniff my kids when they were newborns. There’s just something almost intoxicating about the smell of a new little creature, fresh to this world. The logical part of me guesses it all has something to do with mothering instincts that get triggered to make mothers stay attached to their infants and in this case, my brain is confused enough to attach to another mammal’s baby. Happily, the puppy also attaches to me in a way similar to its mother, coming to me for comfort when she’s frightened or tired.

One of the most fun things, though, about spending time with a young child or a puppy is that I get the chance to see the world through new eyes. For my puppy, Roo, so many experiences are brand new to her. She is excited to explore the world around her and has an innocence that even a grown dog doesn’t have. She assumes everyone loves her and will pet and give her treats just like we do because she hasn’t yet been scared of anyone. She thinks everything is probably good to chew on because she hasn’t yet bitten into something sour or with a nasty texture. She also is sometimes afraid of things that are completely safe, like a strange leaf and she will tentatively explore it, jumping back and forward. It’s fun to see her little brain working, always trying to figure things out and yes, it all reminds me of my children when they were little and I would sit with them, watching them explore the world and enjoying seeing them like little scientists, experimenting with the big world around them, learning so much and so quickly, little brains just soaking it all up.

For me, this is a chance to let go of adulthood a bit and not be so responsible and serious. I talk to my puppies in a high pitched voice like I do children because both respond better to it. I can be playful and in fact, I need to be. I have to take breaks from my responsibilities to play tug or roll a ball or do a quick training session and even those are meant to be fun for the pup. I cheer and celebrate with them when they get something new right and I patiently redirect them away from doing things that aren’t good for them…or our house. I fall asleep with my puppy snuggled into my neck, her favorite spot to be, where my scent is the strongest and sometimes I stay awake watching her dream, knowing she won’t be this little long and I remember the way I’d be so exhausted with my own babies, yet still stay awake watching them sleep because I didn’t want to miss a single precious moment.

Raising puppies makes me feel older and younger both at once. With each puppy I raise, years have passed since the last and I forget how the late nights get a little harder each time. I drink my coffee and push along because I know this is temporary. It probably will only be a few weeks or months at most before both puppies are sleeping through the night. My husband’s puppy is bigger physically, so he can sleep through already, but little Roo just can’t hold it that long and needs potty breaks during the night. As she gets bigger, she will be able to go longer. When I think back to my own babies, I remember YEARS of disrupted sleep, so it’s quite a difference. I feel a little older as I roll out of bed in the middle of the night, calming a crabby puppy and taking her outside to go potty.

I feel younger again as I play games in the living room and laugh at the silly faces the puppies make. We all laugh a bit more, even as we rub our eyes a little sleepy. My teenagers act a little more like the kids they really are underneath those teenaged bodies as they cuddle and play with both puppies. They’ve helped raise puppies before and still I’m impressed with how good they are with them, similar to the pride I feel whenever they hold someone else’s baby and know how to be gentle and act silly to get a smile.

Our dogs are a part of our family in a way that’s hard to describe to people who haven’t had them. We know that they aren’t children and there are times we definitely don’t treat them like children, but they also aren’t like livestock or wild animals. They are companions and they are a big responsibility, too. When I decide to adopt a puppy, I commit to keeping that dog for life, no matter what it takes. If there are behavior issues, we’ll work through them and manage them. If the dog has health issues, we’ll take care of them. When we move, the dog will come with us. Much of our life revolves around what is best for them and it changes our plans often. With Sam, his behavior issues meant we couldn’t really have houseguests unless they were very comfortable with big dogs that were very wary of strangers. We also were limited in where we could go on vacation because he didn’t board well, particularly towards the end of his life and most hotels that allow dogs still don’t allow a big horse-dog.

Still, we adjusted our lives because he was part of our family in the same way we adjusted our lives for any issues our children had. I like to think our own kids learned a lot about responsibility and commitment from that.

I love sharing my life with dogs and they bring such joy and richness to my world. In the same way I used to sometimes wish I could fast-forward through the sleepless nights with my babies, I sometimes look forward to next year, when the pups will be past most of the puppy and adolescent dog struggles. Yet, in the same way I wished I could freeze time in so many moments with my children, I realize this time of tiredness and puppy nips is so short and I should enjoy it as much as I can.

So, I’m sleepily getting in workouts and walks and looking forward to my four-legged workout buddy joining me. Maybe I’ll teach her to do yoga too?