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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