You know the story.
A family gets their first dog. Initially, having the dog is tough and a lot harder than anyone thought, but then the family goes through some kind of hardship and the dog is there to help them through.
The family has moments of joy with the puppy. There is music playing in the background with all kinds of cheerful and funny scenes; from giving the puppy a bath to it sneaking a lick off the kid’s ice cream cone.
There are “cute,” little scenes where the puppy causes mischief. It pees where it shouldn’t, digs up the yard, and tears up the furniture in the house. So funny and adorable, right?!? (Cue exaggerated eye roll).
There’s that moment where the dad in the family almost gives up the dog and drives it angrily to the pound, but the kids and wife convince him not to.
You know the story. The family keeps the dog. They live happily ever after.
This is not that story.
Before she was Summer, our puppy was identified in her litter as “Miss Orange.” I thought it so fitting that we bring home a puppy with an orange collar to a house with an orange door. It’s like she was meant for us.
I could go over the details of what happened and someday I will. I could write a book about this summer with Summer and it would certainly be entertaining. But to make a long story short for now and to get to the point, let’s just say that Jordan and I came to the decision that having a dog (specifically a puppy) was not the right fit for our family at this time.
Hadley is the dog lover in the family. She’s the one that wants to be a vet, dog walker, dog trainer etc. She really is the one Jordan and I got Summer for. We thought that would be enough of a reason to trudge on when things got really difficult. Turns out, it wasn’t enough. Turns out that while Hadley did have a puppy, she also had a mom who felt stressed, angry, tired, and was suffering from emotional breakdowns. She had a dad who didn’t look forward to coming home from a long day at work and having to take care of the dog.
There was immense relief when we made the decision to take Summer back to the breeder to find her a new home. Both Jordan and I felt a weight lift off us. We all shed tears, an outrageous amount of tears for a puppy that caused so much chaos in our lives. Even John, who insisted the whole time we had Summer that he didn’t like her, cried much more than we anticipated after she was gone. Jordan and I are confident we made the right decision and did what was best for our family, but there is that small part of me that still hears a whisper saying, “You failed. You couldn’t do it for your daughter. You failed her.”
This is not the first time failure loomed its ugly head into my life as a mom.
I don’t remember breastfeeding Hadley for the first time. I don’t remember the last time either, but I remember some of the times in between.
One time in particular, around nine months of age, as Hadley was getting to know her newly sprouted teeth and human bite force, she bit me. Hard.
I screamed in panic and pain. Hadley’s jaw immediately unclenched, letting my nipple free from her toothy grasp. She recoiled in horror and curved her lips down into a deep frown. With a wrinkled chin and her eyebrows scrunched, she let out a wail of regret.
I tried again to breastfeed after the crying had stopped. I sat back down with Hadley and tried to get her back in position. She turned her head away so fiercely and with such utter disgust, I thought she’d never look at me the same again. She refused me.
I couldn’t even get her near my breast without her starting to whimper and pull away with Hulk-like strength. I thought we might be done breastfeeding at that point.
“Okay, well we got nine solid months in.” I said to myself. “Nine months with no biting and no tears.” Then, I did get bit, screamed horrifically, and traumatized my daughter beyond repair. “Maybe we call it. Maybe that’s it for breastfeeding.”
I looked down at Hadley who had cried herself to sleep, exhausted and laying against me with her chin tucked down and eyelids closed. I noticed her wispy brown hair had started to fill in on more parts of her head. Another thing about her that was changing. The change was constant.
“No.” I said firmly. “I’m not done. We are not done breastfeeding.” I nodded at her as if this would convince her, and myself.
I called the lactation nurse and I’m glad I did because she said, “Just keep trying. Don’t give up. She’ll come back around.”
I was pretty sure I had traumatized Hadley to the point of no return, but she did eventually come back to nursing. It took 24-48 hours, I don’t recall completely. But I kept trying. I didn’t give up on her or myself. I did it. We got back in sync. I am so grateful we did because I was able to breastfeed Hadley for the first two years of her life and those were very precious moments to me.
If I hadn’t continued to try to breastfeed, would that have been failure?
No. It wouldn’t have been a failure. However, breastfeeding Hadley was important enough to me that I refused to quit. I wanted it to end on my terms and I wasn’t ready for it to end. Granted, it was only a couple days before Hadley was back to breastfeeding, but a trial can be any length of time, it doesn’t have to be weeks on end in order for it to have significance.
Summer bit me too. I had bites and scratches all up my arms and mainly my left hand. But Summer is not my daughter. There was no connection, no innate desire to continue to provide or care for her like the desire I have for my children. I knew this puppy phase would not last forever, and yet, I didn’t feel the strong pull to keep working at it or push through like I did with breastfeeding.
Summer did bring us some small amounts of joy. For example: her excitement in the morning when she’d see us, taking her for walks, petting her, and feeling her soft ears. The way she would follow the “sit,” command and look up at you with those adorable puppy eyes. Although Jordan still insists she had “dead eyes.”
You could get a puppy hug anytime you wanted with Summer around, until she started biting you which was about three seconds into the hug. She also was super cute. However, there comes a time when the puppy being cute, is simply not enough.
We could have done it. We could have kept Summer knowing the hardest parts might end eventually. I could have lived as a stressed, exhausted, short-tempered mother, but I chose not to. I chose to live my life with more purpose than just “getting through a tough phase”.
This whole ordeal got me thinking about the hard decisions we have to make as parents. Initially, I felt that in giving Summer back to the breeder, I was giving up on Hadley. That I had somehow failed her. But the more I’ve had time to process, the more I realize that is not so. In finding Summer a new home, I chose to not give up on Hadley. I chose her. Just like when I made the choice to keep trying to breastfeed. I chose to be the mom I want to be. It wasn’t a failure. It was a learning experience to be sure, that I know one thing from and that is:
I will always choose my daughter.
I will always choose my family. Over anything. Sometimes this means to not give up and keep trying, like in the breastfeeding strike of 2014. Sometimes this means knowing when to quit, when to make the change, when to do the hard thing.
I still get sad when I see a puppy. I look at Hadley and wonder what she’s feeling and if she feels sad too. When I see an adult golden retriever, I often think, “ I wonder if that’s what Summer will look like?”
I see other moms doing it. They have the dog, the kids, everything. It’s as if they are on a whole other level, which I can only dream of ever attaining. I still feel a sense of failure lurking near me, like that spider who sits in that super hard spot on the wall making it almost impossible to kill. But I kill it. I squash that thought as best I can. Even if I have to slam the shoe ten times, just to make sure I got it.
As a mom, failure is a constant threat. This is something I am working on. Because, turns out, I fail all the time. Thank the Lord for his grace and mercy because I can’t be the perfect mom, even in this season of being a SAHM (stay-at-home mom). There is a reason my blog reads, “motherhood requires grace,” because it does.
You know the story.
The family gives up the dog and finds it a new home. The family lives happily together without the dog but instead with one another, knowing they picked sanity over the stressful, chaos that would maybe, one day subside (but maybe not). They chose not to wait for that day, they chose their story, now.
You know the story, or maybe you don’t. But either way, it’s ours.