October has been a rough month for my family, but my youngest son Joe has taught me a lot about strength and grace throughout it all.
We lost my Dad in October. He had been ill for several years and while we all knew he wasn’t ever going to get well, his good spirits and laughter countered all that reality. So when the doctor’s gave us the famous, “take him home and keep him comfortable, there is nothing more we can do,” speech, my Mom and I were knocked off our feet in disbelief.
Anyway, back to Joe….
Families love and suffer together. No one reading this has escaped tragedy and heartache and I can only hope everyone has at least one person to hold onto when they hit their own personal iceberg. But Joe, six years younger than his brother now away at college, did not ask for any comfort or connection. He hid in his room until I found him crying under the covers, holding onto his pillow for dear life.
Relatives came in town, the funeral was lovely, Mom is managing and I am running as fast as I can in all directions to stay ahead of my grief, Jack has joined a fraternity and my dear, dear husband has become my Mother’s chief supporter and defender.
Joe continues to go to school and does very well there. He has suffered a painful injury on his foot, most likely a stress fracture, but he continues to work out with his cross-country team. He gets up on time every day and gives me nothing to worry about–except for one thing.
When Joe gets home from school he does his homework, eats dinner and goes to bed. His clothes are laid out and his bed is made everyday, but he doesn’t smile much and he speaks hardly at all. I will admit, it probably took me too long to notice this.
We spoke about Christmas a few days ago. He replied he didn’t want anything in particular, but he wanted to pass out candy and fudge to his teachers. He didn’t seem very excited at all.
“Will Jack be home soon?” “Will you be home today?” “When does Dad get home tonight?” He asks these questions every day.
Finally my selfishness gave way to the realization, my son is lonely and sad.
Jimmy and I spoke at length about what to do for him. We discussed an additional sport, a weekend camp out, a slumber party, but none of these seemed to be long-term solutions. A counselor? Therapy? That seemed a little extreme.
“Let’s get him a dog,” I suggested. My husband was not on board at first. We already have two dogs and one cat and they keep us hopping.
But my reasoning was this, a dog is creature who embodies trust and love, just like Joe. A dog is all forgiving and communicates in other ways instead of incessant talking, just like Joe. And a dog gives off more warmth than a clutched pillow.
Jimmy agreed. So the dog was a go, but we had guidelines. Our fifteen year old Lab is grumpy and our two-year old Heeler can be wild, so the dog would not be bigger than those two. Also, no puppies! The dog should be house trained and crate trained.
Joe and my Mom and I went looking for dogs.
We saw lots of wonderful dogs at adoption events, but to be fair, Joe is not the best with animals, dogs especially can be a little too intrusive for him. When they jump, Joe backs up, when they try to lick his face, Joe doesn’t like the way it feels, when a bark is very high-pitched, it hurts Joe’s ears. But he loves the feel of their fur and he adores when they sit on his lap or run beside him in play.
So finding the dog with all of this criteria small, house trained, crate trained, not too jumpy, not too much licking, lower pitched bark was becoming an epic quest.
Then we went to the Humane Society and found out about a litter of puppies who were too young to be adopted out yet.
Joe saw them first. They were all heaped together sleeping in one large cage. He stopped to look.
“Way too young,” I said, “Let’s go down this row.” The Humane Society volunteer confirmed they were not even up for adoption yet.
But one of the puppies was sitting up looking back at Joe.
Well, just a minute with the dog wouldn’t hurt. Joe would soon see the puppy was too rambunctious.
Out we went to the yard. The puppy walked over to Joe, tail wagging and did not jump. Joe rolled a ball to the puppy. The puppy watched the ball roll away, but didn’t make a move towards it. The little dog seemed to smile as if he thought it was funny to see the colored ball rolling past. Joe sat down and the puppy walked over to sit on his lap. Joe picked the puppy up and the fat, little thing wrapped its paws around Joe’s neck and settled in.
No! No! This had to be stopped! I suggested Joe go back inside with the volunteer, put the puppy back and look for another dog. With the puppy still in Joe’s arms, back inside they went. They both reappeared a moment later with the same puppy.
“Mom! He wouldn’t let me put him back in the cage. The other puppies were all cute, but this one licks my fingers and he is the only one not barking.”
The volunteer just handed me the paperwork without saying a word.
Turns out that Harvard J. Perdue, as Joe named him, Harvey for short, was the product of a torrid affair between a Polar Bear Lab and a Texas Cattle Dog who both live in the open ranch lands of Western Oklahoma. Harvey’s father is a rough and tumble renegade and his mother is a snow-white creature the size of a small car.
Harvey will not be ready to come home for another week or so, he has only just been weaned, but Joe doesn’t seem to mind. He is busy buying dog food and picking out collars and leashes.
In the end, none of my “dog criteria” was met, but as my good friend Shannon said, “No worries! You never know where God is going to lead you.”
The picture at the beginning of this post shows the first genuine smile I have seen on my son’s face in a month.
My most important criteria was met.