We recently moved into a new old house. It’s a house that dates back to the turn of the century, and we spent a year renovating it. It’s out of the city, across the street from a beautiful park. With Norman Rockwell-like pleasure, I have watched my kids sled down its hills during the winter and play hide and seek in the overgrown forsythia bush during the spring. So, it seemed only natural that once we got the two kids, the house in the burbs, we should acquire the one thing we were missing: a dog.
I blame the Dog Whisperer. I love this show, and I’ve got a thing for Caesar Milan. Sure, he’s short and maybe little too metro-sexual, but he’s got that swarthy Latin thing going on, and the way he deals with dogs is magical. I must have watched 100 episodes of the DW. To the point where I thought, “I need a dog. I can be the Pack Leader. Having a dog is going to be easy!” I would have a black Lab sitting attentively at my knee, looking up at me adoringly. This fine canine would obey my every command. People would envy the relationship between my dog and me. Growing up, my family had two dogs. In truth, I don’t recall interacting with them in any way. (They were like moveable furry furniture.) Friends who already had dogs would caution me. They’d say, “We love (insert dog name here), but it’s a lot of work.” But my dog wouldn’t be work. I would get Super dog…Instead, I got Willow.
Willow is a yellow Lab who came from a “hobby” breeder in New Hampshire. She will be two in July. She is not a Super dog. She is just a dog. And I’m living proof that intellectually imagining life with a dog is not at all like owning a real, breathing, pooping puppy. It’s like living with a 70-pound toddler who doesn’t know her own strength. Our dog, for all her sweetness, has issues. We have nicknamed her “Ferocia” for the way that she rushes anyone who comes to the front door, rings the front door, or attempts to enter the front door. Hackles up, growling, she stalks anyone who dares to visit us …or as my husband has learned, anyone who happens to enter the kitchen late at night to get a snack.
Willow is also easily distracted, and like her owner, tends to follow her heart wherever that leads her. I learned this the hard way back in March of this year. Willow discovered someone’s old sandwich in that park across from our house. The sandwich had probably been there since October and had nicely defrosted. She was chomping on it, and my words “drop it” and “come” (spoken in authoritative Pack Leader tones, of course) had no effect on her at all. Every time I’d try and catch her, she’d romp away gleefully to just within arms length. I lunged for her, and she playfully pulled away…with my left ring finger caught in her collar. A hospital visit the next day told me the news: The tip of my finger was broken, and it needed to be splinted. There went my spring plans to really shed the guitar. Instead, I had to learn how to drive, wash my hair and cook for my family with one hand.
Fast forward nine weeks…the finger was healing…strangely…and not in any way that looked perfect, but good enough to function. I’d actually picked up the guitar and tried the D, C and G chords. No bar chords yet, but I could play a simple country song. (All you need is three chords and the truth, right?) I took off the splint for good on a Monday. On that Thursday, I took Willow to my son’s soccer game. I guess the combination of kids screaming and running around kicking soccer balls was just too much for her. She bolted from me when I wasn’t looking, and her leash happened to be wrapped around my broken finger. The same doctor at the same hospital delivered the news: the same finger was now broken in two places! And to add insult to injury (literally), my poor finger hadn’t healed fully, so I needed to have surgery.
So what is the bigger message in all of this? My (funny and clever) producer suggested that perhaps my dog doesn’t like the way I play the guitar. While that’s certainly a possibility, I’ve come around to thinking maybe it’s about patience. Since I started this crazy idea of being a performing artist, my manager/husband has needed to remind me regularly that the music biz is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m now three and a half months into the healing process, so I guess I’m getting close to Heartbreak Hill. And I have learned a lot in these past few months. I can parallel park and shampoo my hair with one hand like a pro. And my kids say that my PB&J sandwich (while sloppier than before) is still the best in town, because I made it with love and only five fingers.