A Mother’s Love

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I’ve heard people say that it’s impossible to understand how much a parent loves his or her child until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Well, I wholeheartedly agree. Ever since I adopted my first son, Michael Cuddledog, in 1993, I’ve known what it is to love a child. I’ve known what it is to have a mother’s love.

From day one with Mikey (as we called him), I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility for my son. His birth parents were teenagers and unable to care for the rambunctious infant that he was. To top it off, he was only one of a set of quintuplets. His birth parents were in over their heads, and I made a commitment to give Mikey the home that he deserved.

Of course, being seven-years-old myself at the time, I also enlisted the help of my own parents to help guide Mikey along. (This help was chiefly financial but also included taking the lead on everything that I didn’t “feel like doing”). It took a village to raise Mikey, and it also took patience and understanding on each of our parts. As a Cairn Terrier, Mikey was slightly different than the other members of our family, and there were times that we didn’t fully understand one another. For instance, we didn’t understand why a young boy would take such an interest in the dining room furniture, and he, in turn, didn’t understand why no one else peed on the legs of the kitchen table.

When Mikey was nearly three, his sister, Winnifred Midnight (Winnie) joined our family. On “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Dylan once tells Jim Walsh, “if you thought you had your hands full with Brenda, Valerie is a much bigger package with a much brighter bow.” I’ve always thought that this statement pretty accurately described what it was like to bring Winnie into the fold. Without elaborating further, I’ll simply say that I will forever and always scoff at anyone who claims to have a behaviorally challenged dog. We didn’t use our front door for eleven years.

I grew up with Mikey and Winnie and loved them so much that I’d been hesitant to adopt another child out of fear that I’d always hold my new baby up to the standards that my original kids had set. I could hear myself wondering, “why didn’t you eat the entire face off of my doll?! Your brother wouldn’t have left the nose!” Or, “there was a storm! Why isn’t there a big hole in the sheet rock of that wall? Didn’t you miss me as much as your sister always did?” The bar was set undeniably high, and I didn’t want to set my future children up for failure. I didn’t want any child to have to live in the shadows of the greats who came before.

The idea of adopting a new baby also gave me pause because a new and different dependent in my house also signifies a new and different life. Although Mikey and Winnie both died roughly four years ago, I still didn’t want to replace them. I didn’t want them to stop being my kids. Eventually though, I realized that they wouldn’t want me to be alone. They’d want someone around to watch out for me, and I was only hurting myself by not having a buddy to pick up dropped crumbs or shoo away any potential visitors. I knew the time was right to adopt again.

I’d be lying if I said that I instantly loved Lexie as much as I loved my other kids. After she tried to kill me by breaking my knee and attempted to sever my hand during her lurch towards freedom, there was a moment that I looked at her and thought, “I hope one day, you’ll really be mine.” I’m happy to report though that after two weeks, Lexington Sapphire Shores definitely is mine, and there is no doubt in my mind that the stork landed exactly where it was supposed to.

For starters, she doesn’t like it when people run up to her for a hug. Neither do I. She also laughs in the face of authority. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We have the same favorite colors, TV shows, and taste in music. Sure, I slightly prefer the Bangles while Lexie favors Bananarama, but we resolve conflicts like these peacefully. I always get my way.

Lexie has also taught me more in two weeks than I learned in fourteen years with my other kids. Being a single parent is a tough row to hoe. In fact, it’s the only row I’ve ever tried to hoe. I’m all the kid has. She relies on me for everything from food to toys to contact with the outside world. I choose her outfits, hair bows, radio stations, and friends. The level of responsibility is unyielding, and I’m forced to make every decision in her life with the knowledge that if ever I find her drinking beer and smoking cigarettes under the bleachers of the high school with a Rottweiler named Butch, I’ll truly only have myself to blame.

Because of my intense fear of Butch, I’ve had to completely change my life since Lexie came along. Long gone are the days of burning the midnight oil. In fact, as a latchkey kid, Lexie is alone much of the time, so I’m inclined to spend every minute with her that I’m not at work.  I can already tell that she’s starting to talk back and resents my busy schedule. Each morning though, as I turn on the classical radio station (this is to promote her brain development when I’m gone – I would never listen to that garbage), I remind Lexie that I have to work so that she can have food in her bowl, a costume for Halloween, and beautiful cashmere sweaters at Christmas. She usually nods understandingly as soon as “Christmas” is mentioned. In general, I find myself sacrificing the things that I might want in order to get her the best. The best sweatshirts, the best toys, the name brand Snuggie.

Because of all the money that I’ve shelled out on her behalf, Lexie has started to realized that she’s indebted to me and has warmed up in strides. She now runs to greet me when I get home and forgives me for the small mistakes that I’ve made. For instance, before I left to run errands last Saturday, I turned the adorable cartoon, “Horseland,” on for her to enjoy. Unfortunately, I was gone longer than expected and by the time I returned home, she had been left to watch football for nearly an hour. Let’s just say, we’re putting the incident behind us.

Lexie has also taught me how much of a reflection the child is on his or her parents. Forgetting about behavior momentarily, Lexie is incredibly good looking, and as her parent, her appearance is an obvious reflection on me. Therefore I’m to assume that I’m also incredibly good looking. At least, I figure that this is the way things work because as Lexie and I meet more and more canine children in the area and remark on how cute the child is, the parent often responds by saying, “thank you.” Lexie gets more compliments than most children, but I stop myself from ever saying, “thank you.” God painted Lexie. I didn’t.

To let your children sleep with you, to force them to sleep alone… that is the question. I’ve actually chosen secret option number three on this one. I no longer sleep in my bed. In fact, I’ve pretty much permanently moved to the couch where Lexie feels more comfortable and can easily jump up and down as needed. I encourage this. It’s really best to let the kid call the shots. In fact, is anyone looking to rent a room in Nashville?

To sum things up, Lexie is now my life. My life revolves around Lexie. This change is unusual for me as I’m typically more of juggler without becoming obsessed with one particular thing at any given time. Some of you might be wondering what I’ve been doing since I haven’t been watching (ahem “as much”) television, and the answer is, bonding with Lexie. And the longer answer is, I’ve basically had to quit that endeavor since raising a kid without television is like trying to catch a fish without bait. Just dumb. Really really dumb. For real. Speaking of TV, as college football continues, please consider cheering for Kentucky (in Lexington) or ideally Georgia (home of the Dawgs). Lexie and I don’t ever watch the games, but we always hope for our teams to win. And to all the other parents out there, keep doing what you’re doing. We certainly don’t get enough credit, but I’ve always believed that our children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.

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Lexington Sapphire Shores

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There are a few differences between my new canine child, Lexie (short for Lexington Sapphire Shores), and the previously mentioned, Go-Go My Walkin’ Pup.  The premier difference seems to be that Lexie pretty much refuses to walk whatsoever.  While Go-Go’s mother brags that she walks her “forwards and backwards too,” I’m forced to report that Lexie prefers to be carried from place to place on a bedazzled pillow, donning a tiara, and snacking on caviar.  In fact, this morning she asked me to fill her bowl with “part fresh squeezed Florida orange juice, part Dom Perignon.” Furthermore, Lexie also fails to show any interest in being tethered down by that thing called, “leash.”  In turn, Go-Go seems particularly attached to hers.

As you know, I’ve been looking for a dog friend for a while now (following an exhaustive lifelong search for human friends of course), so I was elated when I found out that Lexie was available. I was even more elated when I drove an hour-and-a-half in the pouring rain, picked a panicked Lexie up out of her cage in a nondescript trailer park, and made it home with both of us alive.  Throughout the drive, Lexie clung to my arm like a monkey, so I assumed that she’d already taken a shine to me.  She seemed to know that I’m her hero.  She seemed to know that I’m the kind of person Mariah Carey sings about.

Because I got her on Labor Day, Petsmart was closed by the time we got back to our neighborhood, so I rushed into Kroger for some of the essentials.  The “rescue group” had sent her home to me without so much as a rope let alone any kind of food or documentation.  In fact, when I asked which kind of food Lexie had been eating, the woman responded, “dry.”  I wondered if she was describing my sense of humor.  Yes lady, I know the food inside of the bag is dry, but are there by chance any descriptive words written on the outside that might indicate the specific type of “dry”?  “Whatever I have a coupon for.”  Perfect.

While I raced around Kroger like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, Lexie waited patiently in the car and seemed glad to see me when I returned.  Although clearly nervous, the pup behaved as though she already wondered which BFF necklace to get me for Christmas.  “Yep,” I said to myself, “if I had a pink bike, this is the kind of dog that could ride along with me in the sparkly basket.”  When I got home, I put on her new collar and leash (on her of course) and put her down in the grass for a little exploration.  I knew that being frightened and in a new place, she’d stick with me, her best buddy.

It goes without saying that Lexie took off like a shot.  The dog, who both up until then and since that moment, has refused to saunter two paces without being carried, hopped away like Thumper at a top speed rivaling Hussein Bolt’s.  I lunged at the leash trailing behind her and stepped on it with the precision of a seasoned pro.  At that moment, the “breakaway” cat collar that I had purchased lived up to its name.  Why did I buy a breakway cat collar, you ask?  The only answer I can provide here is that following Kelly Clarkson’s single of the same name, I must have had trouble giving the term, “breakaway,” the respect that it evidently deserves.  And for the real answer… the cat collar came in purple while the dog collars only came in red or black.  Like a person new to the planet, I figured, “well, what’s the difference?”  Take my word for it, friends.  The difference is a vast one.

So there I stood, in the dark and pouring rain, screaming, “Lexie” at an eight pound ball of fur who didn’t have the slightest clue that this term somehow referred to her.  It was as if someone started shouting, “moron,” at me and then became increasingly agitated when I failed to respond.   Meanwhile, a man standing nearby told me that Lexie could “sense my panic.”  If I hadn’t been so “panicked,” I would have taken the time to respond, “you’re right sir.  I’ll calmly stand still and simply wish for the best.”

I continued to chase after my new dog –  the dog who had never been inside her new home, had no tags, and who I had zero proof of ownership over – like a ballistic psychopath.  I had been in this situation at least three times before, and I vowed that if I ever got another dog, I would only get one that would never run away from me.  Ha.  “They” say that all dogs go to Heaven, and at that moment, I could hear Mikey and Winnie laughing their tails off at me.

After chasing Lexie around the yard for several minutes, I sensed I was losing the race and out of desperation, dove down into the mud with my arms outstretched… coming up empty-handed.  She was getting away!  Finally, I felt a temporary sense of relief when I chased her into the corner of a fence.  All relief vanished, however, when she started running through the small hole in the wood. As she darted through her passageway into the abyss, I hit the ground head first and grabbed onto her as though she were the final life raft and I had been traveling to America on the Titanic.  She retaliated by biting me ferociously.  We were both wet, cold, and muddy, and an excruciating pain targeted my right knee.  I could barely walk.  Lexie and I were off to a winning start.

Since that day, I’m happy to report that Lexie has already made strides.  She’s made friends with a few neighbor dogs and is now willing to sit on the couch with me for the length of an entire song.  But a long song.  Like something by Meatloaf.   She has a pink heart-shaped tag, beautiful hair bows, and the new middle name, Sapphire Shores.  So… I think we can all agree that she knew what she was doing when she tried to run away.

Although both “Lexington” and “Lexie” have their own special meanings, I’m guessing that “Sapphire Shores” isn’t a name that most of you are familiar with, so that’s the one that I’ll attempt to explain.  Although there are a few reasons that I went with it, the primary motivation came to me from Lexie’s cousin, Cupcake Sweetie-Pie Kremer.  Although, “Cupcake,” is an obvious selection that needs no introduction, it’s also the name of one of Hasbro’s My Little Ponies.  Ironically, so is “Sapphire Shores.”  And when I read that “Sapphire Shores is a famous popstar in Canterlot” and that “she premiered in the episode, ‘A Dog and Pony Show,”  I knew she was the pony for Lex’s namesake.  Later, when I found out that the pony “speaks with a loud and theatrical voice and frequently inserts  musical intonations into her sentences,” it was obvious to me that I had made the right decision.  Besides, sapphire is the stone of September, the month that we had our joyful homecoming.  Finally, to put the cherry on the sundae, I figured that if Lexington Sapphire Shores grows up to be a stripper, she won’t have to change her name.

Although four days later, I’m still not completely convinced that my knee isn’t fractured, I have to say that I love living with Lexie.  Sure, she’s not exactly potty trained and yes, she still seems a bit startled by my presence, but hey, who isn’t?  I know it won’t be long before she has a favorite Judd song and starts quoting Saved By the Bell in everyday conversation.  It won’t be long at all.