Category Archives: pets

The night we didn’t lose the dog and I failed as a mother.

We were at the park when I asked Riley to hold Gertie’s leash so I could help Dylan with his shoelaces. He wrapped the leash around his body and pretended he was tied up.  “Be careful,” I said.  Moments later, Gertie’s harness slipped over her head from the pulling. All of a sudden, she was loose and running in circles. The sun was setting and there were dense patches of wooded areas in every direction.

My heart leapt out of my chest thinking of all the different ways she could’ve disappeared forever. It took about thirty frenzied seconds to catch her, but it felt like 30 years, and the clumsy, chaotic process caused me to almost hurt her (I had to grab her hind legs) and her to almost hurt me (she tried to bite me when I grabbed her legs).

Partly, I was furious. Riley was irresponsible with the leash. We’ve talked about leash responsibility many times. Mostly, I was terrified. What if we had lost her?

I put Gertie back in her harness, knelt down at eye level with Riley, pointed my finger in his face and said in a quiet and harsh voice, “If we lost her, it would’ve been on you.”

Can you believe I said that to my five-year-old son? In one sentence – in just nine words – I destroyed him, even if momentarily. And what if it wasn’t fleeting? What if it’s a memory permanently imbedded in his brain (and heart), one to be replayed over and over again about the night I blamed him through clenched teeth for the (almost) loss of our darling puppy loved so dearly in part because she embodies the spirit of our beloved Harry. Call me melodramatic, but Riley occasionally reminds me of the time when he was three and caught me crying on the toilet, so there’s a pretty good chance this one will stick.

There was absolutely a lesson to be learned in the park. If you hold the leash, you’re responsible for the dog’s safety, but the way I handled it was shameful. Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery would say it was brutiful. She’d reassure me that exposing my flaws teaches my kids that perfection is a lie and that there’s beauty in my messy authenticity, but the thought of my enraged words and the image of my finger in his face feel simply brutal.

After my rant, Riley’s eyes welled up, but he didn’t cry. The fact that he didn’t melt into a puddle of tears after my inappropriate outburst, but instead stood tall and prepared to shoulder the responsibility for something that didn’t even happen made my actions even more unforgivable. Yet, he looked up at me and said softly, “Mommy, I’m sorry.”

He was sorry. I could feel it in my bones. I was sorry, too. I spent the rest of the night apologizing to him (and his brother). Over and over again. For my words. For my finger. For my blame. I was manic at the thought of losing Gertie, and I took it out on him. I was scared about what a tragedy like that would do to our family. What it would do to me. In a heartbeat, I placed an unfair burden of guilt on him that would’ve been inescapable had the worst-case scenario actually unfolded, and I did it because I wasn’t thinking about him. I was thinking about myself.

At moments like this, I wonder who the real me is. Am I the mother who panics, yells, and says explosive and regrettable things, but holds it together most of the time? Or, am I the mother who takes deep breaths, thinks before she speaks, and is mindful of the lasting effect of her words and actions, but occasionally loses her shit? I want to believe I’m the latter, but after a night like the one in the park when we didn’t lose the dog but I threw my five-year-old son under the bus anyway, I’m not so sure.

At its core, motherhood is about putting other people first, but eternal selflessness is as unattainable as perfection. When motherhood and humanity intersect, and especially when they collide head on at a high speed, the end result is a crapshoot. The only sure thing is that tomorrow is another opportunity to try again.

Editor’s note:

Don’t finish reading this and tell me not to be so hard on myself because I’m a good mother. That’s like telling a frazzled mom with a tantrumming toddler in the cereal aisle at the grocery store to enjoy every moment because it goes by fast. I know I’m a good mother, but sometimes good mothers fail.  If you want to make me feel better, tell me about a time when you failed, too.



Filed under boys, guilt, Harry, motherhood, pets


We watched the movie “Blended” with the kids last weekend. It was cute, silly, and funny, as are most romantic comedies starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, but one scene brought me to tears.

In the movie, Drew Barrymore’s character, Lauren, is a divorced mother of two sons and Adam Sandler’s character, Jim, is a widowed father of three daughters. Throughout the movie, Jim’s middle daughter, Espn, talks to her mom, who died of cancer, like she’s an imaginary friend. She reserves a seat for her at the dinner table and leaves a spot for her in her bed. Everywhere she goes, she brings her mom with her.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the movie, when Jim and his daughters realize how much they love Lauren and want her to be a part of their lives, Espn finally decides to let go of her mom. In a touching scene, she tells her dad that she’s afraid she’ll forget her. Jim assures Epsn that it will never happen. She’ll never forget her mom because her mom will always be in her heart.

A few days later, on a walk with Gertie, the boys and I bumped into our neighbor, Bud, who was standing at his front door with a new puppy. I’d never seen the puppy before, and it struck me as odd, because Bud had a much older and bigger dog named Bunker.

My heart sank.

“Hey, Bud,” I said waving across the street. As he walked toward us, I asked the question to which I had a feeling I already knew the answer. “Everything okay with Bunker?”

Bud proceeded to tell me that he had to put Bunker down because he had bone cancer.  A friend bought him the new puppy (the same breed as Bunker) because he couldn’t stand to see him so sad.

“This is Bogie,” he said.

Dylan was walking a few steps behind me when Bud told me the news. “Where’s Bunker?” Dylan asked when he caught up to us.

“Bunker got sick, Sweetheart.” Uncomfortable pause. “Like Harry,” I said stepping into a can of worms things I didn’t want to talk about. “He died,” I said matter-of-factly, “and now he’s in dog heaven with Harry.”

I told Bud how much Gertie helped us heal after Harry’s death and that I hoped Bogie would do the same for him. After Bud left, I turned to Dylan and said very carefully, “Bunker’s in Bud’s heart now, just like Harry’s in ours.”

Harry is in my heart. He’s in every rainbow, every sunset that turns the sky deep shades of pink, peach, and purple, every cloud framed just right with sunlight peaking from behind, and every sad song on the radio. But, when I close my eyes to see him, I see Gertie instead. His image has somehow blended with hers. I cried during the Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore movie because even though I tell my boys the same thing more or less that Jim told Espn – that we’ll never forget our loved ones because we hold them in our hearts – I feel like I’m forgetting bits and pieces of Harry every single day.

Today is Gertie’s first birthday. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since this Light was born.


It’s fitting that her birthday falls around Thanksgiving, because of all the things I’m grateful for this year, this little nut ball is definitely at the top of the list.


When we first brought Gertie home, everything she did reminded me of Harry. Every inch of her – from her facial expressions to her trot to her snore – was the embodiment of Harry. In fact, I called her Harry all the time! I sometimes still do, and Dylan and Riley love to point it out, but her distinct personality and unique quirks have made it increasingly difficult to see Harry in her and, frankly, to see Harry at all. More and more, I just see her.

A few days ago, I asked Riley, my odd but often wise five-year-old son, “Is Harry still in your heart?” We were in Petco picking out birthday toys for Gertie and waiting for Dylan who had to go to the bathroom really badly, so we had some time to chat.

“Yes,” he said.

“If you close your eyes, can you see Harry?” I asked.

“I think so,” he said.

“Riley, I need your advice,’ I said. “When I close my eyes, I can’t see Harry. What should I do?”

“If you want to see Harry, you have to go up into the clouds.”

“That’s very good advice, Riley,” I said. “Thank you.”

I think what he meant was that I don’t need to see Harry to remember him. I don’t need to see him to hold on to him. I just needed to trust that he’s there, because whether or not I see him when I close my eyes, he’s permanently blended in my heart.

Just like Gertie.


Happy 1st Birthday, Gertrude Glenn!

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Filed under death, Harry, pets