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
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.