I’ve always thought there’s nothing sweeter than watching my boys wake up. Their warm bodies, sleepy eyes, crazy hair, and sheet wrinkles imprinted on their cheeks are a gift (before the grind). As it turns out, I was wrong. Letting a five-pound puppy loose in their beds to sniff their feet and lick their knees and noses is way sweeter.
Gertie has turned our house upside down in the most delightful way. The floors are a mess with dog toys and treat crumbs, the kitchen counters are cluttered with food bowls, leashes, and cleaning supplies, and we’re in the house training weeds, but our hearts are full.
Earlier in the week, my therapist asked me how things were going. “What is it like having Gertie?” she asked.
She meant, What’s it like having Gertie but not Harry. I thought about it for a minute and replied, “It’s like Light.” Light because a weight has been lifted. Light because she’s made our home bright again.
“Does Riley still talk a lot about Harry?” she asked.
And suddenly it occurred to me that he doesn’t talk about Harry anymore. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time he asked me about dog heaven or the last time he drew a picture of him. I don’t know when it stopped, but I supposed it was the day we brought Gertie home.
For me, Harry exists inside Gertie. It’s like she carries a piece his soul inside of her own, and every now and then his Light seeps out in a look, a trot, or a snore. I wondered if in Riley’s fleeting four-year-old mind Gertie had replaced Harry, and that made me all kinds of sad.
Two hours later, in the car on the way home from an appointment after school, Riley said, “I miss Harry.”
I was all kinds of relieved to hear those three words.
“I miss him, too,” I said.
Then Dylan said, “It’s too bad dogs don’t live more than 15 years. I wish Harry could still be here. I hope Gertie lives forever.”
Normally, I dreaded the death talk, but that afternoon in the car, while Gertie sat in her crate at home waiting for us to return, I relished in it.
“I hope Gertie lives a long time, too. And I wish more than anything that Harry were still here.” I said. “The thing about pets is that even when they live long, healthy lives, we usually outlive them, which is why we have to enjoy every moment we have with them.”
“I wish you had four kids,” Dylan said.
Uh-oh. The “Why won’t you have another baby?” talk.
“Me, Riley, Gertie, and Harry,” he clarified.
Phew. “Me, too,” I said. “That would make me happy.”
“You know,” I said. “Harry’s birthday is coming up on March 6th. He would’ve been nine.”
“When I’m 14, Gertie will be seven,” said Dylan, the mathematician.
“Do they have birthday parties in dog heaven?” Riley asked.
“I think so, sweetie. I’m pretty sure birthday parties in dog heaven are awesome.”
Then the conversation evolved into coming up with a nickname for Gertie.
“How about Sweetie Underpants,” suggested Riley.
“That’s interesting,” I said.
Dylan wanted to come with something just right. “Like how we called Harry Bo-Berry,” he said.
I told him that a “just right” nickname would come to him when he least expected it and that the breeder’s nickname for Gertie before we named her was Sneakers. Then, I laughed because Gertie absolutely loves to chew on the boys’ sneakers.
“I like Sneakers,” Dylan said.
“Me, too,” I said.
When we finally arrived home, the three of us rushed into the kitchen to find Gertie accident free in her crate. (Good girl, Gertie!) We threw our bags and backpacks down on the kitchen table because doing homework, signing school forms, and unpacking lunch boxes could wait a little while. Riley opened Gertie’s crate, Dylan opened the sliding doors, and we all emptied into the backyard to play with our Light. Our Gertie. Our Sneakers. (Maybe.) Our Sweetie Underpants. (Nope. Never.)
Here’s to letting the light in!
Happy Valentine’s Day!