Fill­ing the empty nest with four legs

When the chil­dren have moved on in life, it’s nice to have a wet nose sniff­ing about

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - JEN­NIFER ALLFORD

I didn’t even re­al­ize I’d missed it — the sound of my dog lapping up water from a bowl in the kitchen.

But now that lit­tle pud­dles are grac­ing the lino again, I re­mem­ber how much I took that sound — and the beast mak­ing it — for granted. It’s been al­most three years since my last doggo died, his gi­ant head on my lap near that water bowl on the kitchen floor. Rocky’s favourite peo­ple fed him an en­tire pack of hot­dogs as the vet pre­pared the nee­dle. Af­ter­ward, I bawled for days. A lot has hap­pened since then. Kids have come and gone and gone again, this time for good. One is fin­ish­ing school and mov­ing back to Cal­gary next sum­mer, but he’ll only be in the house long enough to pack up his stuff and move into his own digs. The other one is off at grad school. All bets are off as to where she may end up. Her ca­reer hori­zon is as big as the prairie sky.

They’re gone. The nest is empty. The cream in the fridge is ex­actly as you left it. So are the left­overs. And you can’t blame any­one else for the messy kitchen counter.

But I am hap­pily clean­ing up splashes near the water bowl again. Janet the res­cue dog moved in at the be­gin­ning of the year. We walked in the front door and in­stead of tear­ing around the house smelling all the smells, she just sat down and fixed her big brown eyes up at me.

It made me think of bring­ing home our first-born 26 years ago. We walked in the door, put the car seat down in the mid­dle of the floor and looked at our bun­dle of joy and then each other, won­der­ing what the hell to do next.

We man­aged to fig­ure it out, even with­out the wis­dom of mommy blogs. It was 1992, af­ter all, and the in­ter­net was also just a baby. When we brought the sec­ond kid home three years later, some­one showed up with pizza and some­one else brought beer and we had a proper “wel­come to the world” party.

It all seems like 20 min­utes ago. When my chil­dren still had bed­times, my sis­ter-in-law, who is a mother of five and my ver­sion of the mommy blog, in­sisted that one day I’d be more than

ready for the punks to move out. I re­mem­ber be­ing baf­fled by her com­ment. I couldn’t even imag­ine it. Yet, here we are and she was spot on. I am thrilled the kids are liv­ing their lives, fin­ish­ing school and plan­ning ca­reers. But man, it sure is quiet around the house.

At least it was un­til Janet ar­rived. She’s not so sure about the hard­wood floors. So I hauled out all the rugs we laid down when Rocky was old and had a hard time on the slip­pery floors. She seems con­fused by yoga — my down­ward dogs, not hers. She’s mes­mer­ized by the end­less Squir­rel de Soleil out the front win­dow, but not so happy about the hare on the lawn. The bunny taunts her from the bot­tom of the birch tree near where my daugh­ter and her lit­tle pals spent an en­tire week one sum­mer build­ing “Tiny Town” with peb­bles and sticks.

When Janet and I know each other a bit bet­ter and I have some de­gree of con­fi­dence that she’ll come back when I call her, we’ll start go­ing to my favourite big-dog dog park, Nose Hill. In the mean­time, I walk her around

the neigh­bour­hood on the leash. As she sniffs trees and shrubs around the school field at the end of the street, I drift back to when my kids ran across this field — first with those lit­tle kid soc­cer prac­tices (where they were as likely to chase but­ter­flies as the ball) and later dur­ing their ju­nior high gym classes. I can’t help it — I still scour the field dur­ing gym to see whether I can spot any stu­dents I know. My kids hung up their pin­nies and moved on from that school yonks ago, but their Grade 9 grad cer­e­monies seem like 10 min­utes ago.

Janet is four. If all goes well we will have a decade or so to­gether. Maybe be­tween now and then I can re­tire and maybe my kids will have their own dogs — and kids — for me to take on walks. Who knows?

One thing I do know for cer­tain is that when the sor­row­ful day ar­rives and we feed Janet an en­tire pack of hot­dogs on the kitchen floor, it will seem like about five min­utes since the day she moved in, sat down on the floor and looked up at me with those big brown eyes.

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