Monday, May 30, 2016

Jake Ryan Turns 10

His first day home - 2006
      It’s just past 6 p.m. I stare out the back window, keeping an eye on Jake Ryan. He needs no eye kept on him. The wooden fence assures me he can't leave the yard. Regardless of this, my maternal instinct positions me here, watching. He chews on grass, sauntering between grazing sites. Peace fills the tree-lined, lush green yard. I wish I could tell him how special this day is. He is at a place not all dogs get to. He can’t understand. I know this. But I don’t accept it.

     On May 29, 2006, Jake Ryan Gregg came to be. Nine weeks later he came to me. For 10 years he’s hiked, ran, played and fetched with the heart of a champion. He’s seen me through countless heartbreaks, endured many moves and never judged my nakedness. 

Obedience Graduation - 2007
     Yes, today is a special day – and he’ll never understand.  This causes a break in my heart. Will our beloved animals every know how much they mean to us? No. I’m not even going to ask it again in a different format. No, they will never know. They know they are fed and housed. Perhaps that’s all that matters. Perhaps that’s all that matters to them. But on this day, on Jake Ryan’s tenth birthday, a nagging inside me wants it to matter more.

A boy and his ball - 2010
     “You should get a dog,” an acquaintance casually mentioned.  The idea wedged itself into mind and refused to leave.  And so, I got a dog.  A miniature schnauzer – who wouldn’t shed – who would sleep beside me most nights, and never winced when I held him too tight because the pain in me was too much.  

     He became a big brother, a role he actively resents and cherishes. He spent 18 months as a beach bum, six-days riding across the country, and too many hours away from me.  “Be good. No hookers, no drugs,” I advise each morning as I leave.  So far, he’s obeyed my rules.
Birthday Adventure at the beach - 2016

     Soon he’ll come trotting up the five porch stairs and look at me through the screen door.  I’ll slide it open and before I can get it closed he’ll be in search of a resting place.  His legs tremble after a day of adventures; I limit them now, but couldn’t refuse today.

Pure love - he holds my hand
     As he curls himself into a ball, I’ll lie next to him and say, "You are a good boy.  You are loved."  I’ll kiss his nose and thank him. This is what matters to me. It matters that I say these words; these words fix the breaks in my heart. I say them and write them. This will have to be enough. The gift I can give him on his tenth birthday is just that: pure, unconditional love. After all, it’s what he gives every day. For that I am thankful.

     Those of us who are blessed enough to get a dog at the start of their lives and plan to be with them until the last breath leaves their body, we strive to give them enough adventures, love, treats and time. We foolishly try to be as good of a human as they seem to think we are. As such, when these milestone birthdays come along, we can't help but feel nostalgic. What we would do without our precious dogs? I don't know. I hope I never discover the answer. A life with dogs is worth every struggle, especially when the time behind us is greater than time ahead of us.

Happy Birthday, Jake Ryan Gregg. You are the best spur-of-the-moment decision I ever made.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Red Nails and What Ifs

     On a typical Saturday, at a typical nail salon, I looked at nail color offerings. My eyes searched for the palest pale options.  I grabbed three bottles to determine the palest. These man hands of mine – these hands that can palm a basketball, open tight jars, and snap a varmint – were accustomed to the palest of pale when they had polish, which wasn’t that often anyhow.  I’m large.  My hands are large. My personality is large.  The less I can do to draw attention, the better. 

The start
     My friend continued her selection process, forcing me to wait, but leading me down an interesting path.  I grabbed the reddest of reds thought, “What if I painted my nails red rather than pale? Okay, let’s give it a shot!” A bit later, as the nail technician applied the reddest of reds, I was taken aback.  “Wow,” I thought. “Look at that.  I’m fancy now.  It looks great.  Why was I so scared of this?”  I made a mental note to edit my hand-talking use while wearing the red.  Surely I’d clean it off in a few days and go back to the palest of pales and extreme hand gestures.  But I didn’t.  A week went by – and there I was again at the same salon, but this time I brought my own red.  And so it continued for about two months.  I’d get my nails done or do them myself – for that window of time they were perfectly red. 

     During that time, I’d catch myself staring at them and apply my preconceived notion of what red nails meant:  that you were fancy, important, and had somewhere to go.  Regular people didn’t just wear red polish for shits and giggles.  But I did.  And I’m not fancy or important or have somewhere to go.  As I maneuvered through the thought process, I came to see how wrong I was about wearing noticeable nail polish.

Exhibit A
     This one shift opened up my heart and mind, bringing me to a place of self-love and acceptance that I never imagined was possible.  If I was wrong about this one thing, what other theory did I need to check.  First on the list:  how I look when I work out.  We think we look like this girl in Exhibit A – perfectly toned and slightly sweating.  Her hair is out of place, but perfectly so.  So I had my trainer take a few videos and pictures of me jumping up on a 24-inch box.  Initial reactions contained a slew of self-hate criticizing my hair, elbow, pants, and giggle. I stewed on this for months.  And then I thought, “Why do I have to look like Exhibit A?”  And so I said, “What if I just love the fact that I can laugh while jumping on a 24-inch box?  What if I look at that power and precision and give them the respect they deserve?”  Then the flood gates opened.

Pure Precision
     For years I’ve tried to change to fit everyone else’s standards.  One day, a voice silently asked, What if you accept and love yourself rather than trying to be skinny enough, quiet enough, smart enough, pretty enough, motherly enough, daughterly enough, sisterly enough?  What if you see your thick thighs as powerhouses as opposed to nuisances that need to be covered and apologized for?  What if you see your intelligence as force to be reckoned with rather than a piece of you that needs to be edited/hidden/apologized for?

     I’ll tell you what happens.  You arrive at happiness.  This magical land is open to everyone: man-hand-havers, red nails, thick thighs and all.  You just have to show up.  Here’s the biggest secret of all, once you get here, everyone who is already here has two reactions: they’re thrilled to see you and wonder what took you so long.  You belong in happy.  You owe it to yourself to be in happy.  Never reduce your worth by giving the world an explanation or begging for its forgiveness. 

     My nails aren’t red right now – they’re color free, allowing me to focus on other what ifs.  I’m still a box jumping beast, and I will be as long as my legs let me.  A peacefulness has enveloped me.  All the energy I spent trying to fix this for that is now spent on doing what brings me great joy.  My only wish is that I had done it sooner.  But that’s one “What if” I refuse to ask.