I've always said that some people are born with the "dog gene" and others either acquire it or learn to live in the worlds of those who do. My son Isaiah? He firmly inherited the dog gene.
Now. That DNA must have been hidden autosomal recessively coded and unexpressed in his mama--but surely I know of its origin. Isaiah has my brother--that is, his Uncle Will, to thank for that. When we were kids, Will always loved dogs and from as early as I can remember, he expressed his aspiration of becoming a veterinarian. Which is exactly what he did.
I think at some point we had some kind of labrador retriever mix growing up. Mostly I just recall him being not allowed to come into our house. This pretty much shot his chances of really getting integrated into the family or helping the rest of us to acquire Will's dog gene. Or rather expression of it if you want to be all academic about it.
On May 6, 2007 we had this big party in our backyard. We'd just moved into this house and had orchestrated this Sunday gathering with all of our friends and family to celebrate 1. Isaiah's second birthday, 2. Zachary's baby dedication, and 3. a quasi-housewarming. And my point of even mentioning this is because that time has always stood out in my head as it relates to Isaiah. He acquired language remarkably early. As we planned that party, I was able to ask him what special things he wanted and that little precocious toddler very clearly expressed exactly what that was:
"I want a Go Diego Go cake. And I want a doggie."
He got that Diego cake. The dog? Well. Let's just say we were in denial about his dog gene.
Isaiah would consistently ask for a dog every birthday and Christmas from 2007 forward. And we would try to distract or dissuade him until finally it wasn't working. That's when we evolved to this far away and fantastical age--10--when suddenly the heavens would open up and a canine would fall out of it. Well. That gameplan was fraught with peril since the way time works is that eventually that tenth birthday comes and the chickens come home to roost.
When Isaiah turned 10 last May, I flat out told him that I wasn't ready for a dog. That dogs changed everything and that the responsibility would mostly fall on me. And, of course, he promised and promised that he would walk the dog from here to Six Flags over Georgia if need be but I still stood firm in my position. "I am not sure when I will be ready for this, son. Maybe when you're a teenager? I'm not sure."
His eyes welled up and that was about it. No real, true tears which sort of bothered me. I wasn't sure if it was some sort of Jedi kid trick or if, deep down, he knew that we'd never actually come through after all these years. He also seemed to understand the level of work a dog takes. He shifted his focus to other things and it didn't really come up much after that.
That is, until Harry looked at me one day and said, "We have to get that boy a dog." We were somewhere at someone's home where there was a dog running about. And, in true Isaiah form, he was right there with that dog, playing, petting it, and in hog heaven. He never seems to bore of them and lights up when one is in the room. When a person has that dog gene with complete penetrance? Man. It's a really hard thing to ignore.
And so. Somewhere around June, we made up our minds to get him a dog. And Harry agreed that he'd give me time to research breeds and to do the nerdy things I do like read books on introducing puppies into homes and how to get your dog not to tear everything up in your house. Which is exactly what I did.
My sister-in-law Fran found him for us. She did the leg work and the research, I think, appreciating how high the stakes were for Isaiah and this dog. A good family dog that sheds minimally and is pretty smart. Not too big or small. Not too yappy or aggressive. And, of course, the veterinarian in her let me know that there was no fool proof breed for such a request but that some come closer to this than others. We settled on either a goldendoodle or a labradoodle.
Which reminds me of something funny. I may or may not have misheard Fran when she told me she'd found our pup and that he was a labradoodle. Somewhere in there I thought the dog was a goldendoodle and even downloaded two books about them on my Kindle. I read both and had Isaiah read one, too. Imagine my surprise when I received a photo text from the lovely woman from whom Willow came--with the puppy's mother: a beautiful chocolate labrador retriever.
Well. The good news is that Isaiah is such a sentimental soul that, instead of glaring at the photo and feeling duped, he immediately saw it as a sign. "This is Willow's mom? She looks a lot like Chancey! That's so awesome, mom!" And that immediately made my eyes sting and think of the sweet, gentle chocolate brown lab who'd belonged to our next door neighbors. Besides my mother's dogs (she, too, has the dog gene) Chance is perhaps the dog our family has known the best. He passed away a few months back after a long, full life of being a fantastic companion to Dave and Beth, our neighbors.
"You have to send Mr. Dave and Mrs. Beth this picture," Isaiah said. Which I promptly did. It didn't surprise me one bit when the dog arrived and his full name included not just the names the kids agreed upon ("Willow" and "Pepper") but also a third name: "Chancey." And as if that weren't enough mush from Isaiah, he even acknowledged that it was "Chancey" not "Chance" because his grandma's most beloved former dog was named "Chauncey" and he wanted to honor him, too.
Sigh. That boy.
I'm still not sure where the name "Willow" came from. But Isaiah saw a photo of that litter, picked the smallest, scrappiest one of the lot, and quickly let us know that this would be his name. When told that some people think of "Willow" as a feminine name, he didn't even flinch. "He will be a boy named Willow," Isaiah replied firmly. Zachary acquiesced and allowed his preferred name "Pepper" to become a middle name. Both boys touched and agreed upon adding the "Chancey" part, though.
I feel like the time spent preparing for him was a bit like a gestational period. Those months allowed me to imagine how my life would work with a dog in it and also seek counsel from my fellow mom-friends who'd already experienced this. Especially the ones without dog genes.
It surprised me how much my heart expanded when I first saw Willow. That dog seemed to know that Isaiah had waited ten full years for him and that he was going to be loved in ways that humans would kill to experience. And Zachary, the younger brother, has fallen right in line as well. But somehow, someway that pup knows. He knows who lulled him into our home with his pulsating dog gene.
I am so happy for my boy. It's only been less than a week, but the gestational period served me well. It has been actually a pretty cool experience so far and has really pushed our entire family to work together. The boys have been hands on deck and Harry's firm voice has given them their marching orders to participate in Willow's care.
And they do. And not in that pretend way either. They actually do.
And so. We are now officially a party of five. And, just maybe, I might find out that my dog gene has been lying dormant and waiting these forty five years to come alive through the eyes of a ten year old boy.
Happy Saturday. Remember Isaiah and the "Puppy Mafia?" from when Isaiah and Zachary were smaller? And "Baby Chancey?" OMG. I'd forgotten about that until recently. Gave me a good laugh to reread those posts.
Now playing on my mental iPod. . . the song I sing to Isaiah that I overheard him singing to Willow yesterday. . . . along with Isaiah's tenth birthday video that reminds me that the very best reason to be inconvenienced is the love for your beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy.
Honestly? I write this blog to share the human aspects of medicine + teaching + work/life balance with others and myself -- and to honor the public hospital and her patients--but never at the expense of patient privacy or dignity.
Thanks for stopping by! :)
"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
~ James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)
"Do it for the story." ~ Antoinette Nguyen, MD, MPH
Details, names, time frames, etc. are always changed to protect anonymity. This may or may not be an amalgamation of true,quasi-true, or completely fictional events. But the lessons? They are always real and never, ever fictional. Got that?