My daughter had been asking for a dog since kindergarten (she’s in third grade now). My husband and I would always say, when you’re 8 and your brother is 6, we’ll get a dog. So this has been a long time coming.
Once they both had their birthdays this past spring, we said we would wait until after we got back from our annual trip to Block Island. Once that was behind us, we started looking for real.
I’m not sure if you’ve adopted a pet lately, but the Internet has made it a lot like online dating. There’s lots of hours spent perusing search results, emailing with foster moms, setting up dates to meet. It’s no small investment of time.
We also had family meetings to talk about what kinds of tasks are required to take care of a dog, and to discuss who was responsible for each of the tasks. We also talked about things like whether the dog would be allowed on furniture (not at first), if it would sleep in a crate (maybe just the first week or so), if it could get people food (occasional treats in its bowl, but not from the table, although eating food that’s fallen on the floor is fine, even welcomed).
We also knew some specific things we wanted in the dog—not too young (too much work) and not too old. Not too big and not too small. Relaxed. Hopefully not too much of a shedder or a barker.
I also spent a lot of my own time thinking about the big picture reasons why I wanted us to get a dog—more outside time, more walks, more responsibility for the kids, more love.
This is all a long way of saying, we thought about this. We planned for it. We knew it was coming. I was as clear as I could be.
And then we found Cookie. She’s one (not too old, not too young). Forty pounds (not too big, not too small). So sweet (she wiggles her butt and flips over on her back for tummy rubs every time she meets someone new). And only barks when she wants to play. She was clearly our dog. So we signed the contract and brought her home.
So then why did I spend most of that first weekend thinking, “WHAT HAVE WE DONE?!”
It turns out, Cookie totally imprinted on me. She followed me everywhere. I had flashbacks to new motherhood, which was a really stressful time for me. I found myself holding off on going to the bathroom because she had just settled down for a nap and I didn’t want her to wake up. I worried she was bored. I worried when she didn’t pee that whole first day. I was wondering why we had gone and complicated at our lives just as our kids were getting old enough to not need us so intensely any more. In short, I was having major doubts.
I knew what was happening, which is what always happens—you make a decision with a clear head and open heart. And then—you can almost set your watch by it—the doubt shows up.
I know this, both because I’ve experienced it and because I coach people through this all the time. But knowing what was happening didn’t really lessen the intensity of the doubt. It was pretty darn strong. I wanted to hide in bed with the covers over my head. In fact, I tried, but it only made Cookie bark. It was like a mini post-partum depression.
All I could really do was let it in and know it would pass.
Because that’s also what always happens—the second-guessing yourself doesn’t last. Like every emotion, it will happily move along on its own if you simply let yourself feel it.
I’m not saying it feels great to let yourself feel the ickier emotions like doubt, fear, sadness. But when you pull out a chair and offer them a seat at the table, they transform much more quickly and completely than they ever do when you try to ignore them or beat them back with a stick.
Because by Tuesday, I was back on the Cookie bandwagon. I’m not quite as exhilarated as I was those first couple days, when we were all oohing and ahhing over her. I am still kind of shaking my head when I think of the responsibility we’ve taken on—but you can’t really know how something is going to feel until you give yourself the experience of doing it. Meaning, all the preparation in the world will only get you so far. At some point, you just have to show up, stay open, and trust.
Now I can get one soulful look from her, or hear one sound of my kids’ giggle as she licks their faces, and I remember all those big picture benefits. I try to soften when I feel myself resisting the thought of taking her out at 11pm for last call, or doing what it takes to get her the exercise she needs at this point in her young life to sleep past 5:30. And it helps. It doesn’t make it perfect, but it definitely helps.
When your doubt shows up, remember, it’s not a sign. It’s a part of the process. Pull up a chair for it and get curious about how long it actually sticks around. Just like listening to a baby cry during sleep training, I’m betting it won’t last nearly as long as you fear it might. And there is peace waiting for you on the other side.