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“Ma! Bella’s too old to go on a plane,” said Warren.
“Ma. You can’t leave Bella in Halifax. No one will love her like we do,” said Graham.
“Mama. It’ll all work out. Don’t worry,” said Cary.
Dogs are dogs to me, but my three sons think our dog, Bella, is their sister. I adopted her when they were 12, 10 and 8, primarily because I believe unconditional love is a necessary ingredient in raising kids, especially boys. A dog would be a friend for them to love and care for that asked for nothing in return.
This decision was either one of my most shiningly brilliant mom-moments or evidence at how adept I was at figuring out how to make the mom-job easier.
All meager nine pounds of dog was there to lick away tears when I couldn’t during the inevitable times when my sons hated me, couldn’t get along with each other, or were in some puberty/hormone-induced fugue that no one could wrench them from. I’ve long lost count of the times Bella did the mom-job for me— better.
Though she’s now 15 and both deaf and blind (but still can’t play pinball the way Tommy could), she’s seen the boys through grade school, high school, college and university. When each boy became fully-grown man and fled the nest, she and I waved them off, one-by-one, only to anxiously await their return. On cue, their visits home sparked frenetic welcome-home tail wagging (Bella) and equally frenetic pot and pan rattling (me). She cuddles. I cook. It works.
Hmmm… seemed that I, mama/ma, could not leave the dog behind for the holiday season. The only way I was going home was with the dog, and the only way for that to happen was by car.
Hello 1,892 kilometer drive to Waterloo.
How ironic. Not only do I hate driving, I’m not all that good at it. Make that I’m a bit of a bad driver, easily distracted by shiny sparkly things, and as my sons TELL EVERYONE, the kind of driver that tends to forget signs are speed limits, not suggestions, and stop signs mean stop. All the time.
I love my sons and they love their dog, so what I did for love dog was this: I got up at 3:30am on Sunday, December 20th and left my Halifax cave home at 4:11am, exactly, to begin the journey to Waterloo. In the passenger seat beside me sat Liane, a friend to Warren and Sara who was attending school in Halifax but came from Waterloo.
That’s right. My Halifax roommate son, Warren, was not with me. No. He would leave for a FLIGHT home later that same day due to a trick of bad timing. His father had booked him a flight home before I knew I would have to drive.
I coerced asked Liane to come along in a moment of weakness—her’s. Before she booked her flight home for Christmas, I tricked she agreed to come on the Christmas Vacation drive home, with me. Her job would be to keep me company and, of course, to take care of Bella, the Clerk/Jones family Princess dog. Liane happens to be an animal nut, which is how I tricked her.
The morning departure went off without a hitch. I had my coffee, a full tank of gas, and the road was clear. Liane bundled Bella on her lap in a blanket wrapping job she coined the “Taco Time” technique, and the two of them quickly nodded off, back into the land of zzzzzzzzzzzs.
“This is easy,” I said to Liane.
“Mmmmmm,” she mumbled.
Twenty-five minutes in and barely outside of Halifax, disaster hit in the form of freak blizzard.
All I could see ahead was swirling snowflakes.
The lines on the road were buried under the winter siege in seconds and visibility was nil. White-knuckling the wheel, I prayed for inner sonar to guide me as I struggled to keep the car on the road and maintain an outward calm for Liane’s sake.
Wait. Who am I kidding? I wasn’t calm. I freaked. The last thing I expected was an 18-hour drive in Sasquatch weather.
As the storm enveloped us, I had to take a deep breath and give myself an upside-the-head swat. This wasn’t about me. It was about the dog and getting her safely into the arms of her three brothers, in Ontario, so I steeled myself to the onerous blizzard-driving task.
I had precious cargo onboard. Darn right I’d get her back in their arms safely.
18 hours straight-through driving later, I arrived at my brother’s house at 11pm, exhausted and on the ready to commence my next trial—visiting for two weeks, with a dog.
I’m not going to say it was easy because it wasn’t.
Bella is an old dog, with habits and proclivities that after 15 years, I still don’t get. For example, she refuses to bark when she has to go out. No, she stares at you instead. Even if you catch the stare, it doesn’t necessarily mean she has to go out, so you almost doubt it, and sometimes take your chances. The look could mean she needed to go out, but it could also mean she was hungry, thirsty, bored or just seeking attention.
Sometimes, she stares at you every half our, which usually means she’s just bored since she can go for 9 – 10 hours without a pee when she’s having a comfy nap. But she’s so tricky. When you finally give in and put her out for the tenth time, she’ll go so far as to take a mock pee just to fake you out.
But as dumb as I am on dog, some things I am smart about, and I understood that guests are like fish and start to stink after a few days.
Um. Then there is guest with dog. I knew a one-stop-stay would never do.
I elected to move us out of the first abode in less than a week, though finding someone to take us in was dicey. Eventually, we landed at my old neighbour’s house, right next door to my former marital home, in LuluLemon land no less.
It’s questionable who was more discombobulated by the relocation. Bella kept meandering over to my old front door and scratching to get in, while I fought off the urge to shovel my former front walk and remove that annoying branch on the crab apple tree that was shorn off by lightening and still limply hanging, imprisoned by another branch.
My solution? Self-medication by wine and a mantra, “I don’t live there anymore. I don’t live there anymore. I don’t live there anymore” I kept telling myself. But when I found myself making sure there was enough salt on my old front stoop so that no one would slip, I had to switch it up with “I’m going home soon. I’m going home soon. I’m going home soon.” and upped the self-medication from wine to scotch.
Midway through that second week, with a dog-break in order, I took Bella to Toronto for a three-day sojourn at son Graham’s place, without me that is. While Graham got in some 24/7 dog cuddling, I was freed up to visit without a thought on my mind, other than getting me some serious fun and friend time.
But then I picked them both up again to bring back to Waterloo for New Year’s Eve. And with Bella back, it was rinse and repeat stress time. It wasn’t long before the notion that perhaps we should head home a day early crept into my thoughts.
I told myself it would make the drive a more sensible 2-day affair, but really, it was to clear out our mom/dog visitor fish stink. And besides, Bella needed to get back to her own routine. She was tired, bedraggled, and had even lost a pound or two from the stress of two weeks away.
Oh wait. That was me, actually.
Anyway, on New Year’s Day, I packed up the car with dog, Liane and about five times more stuff than what we brought originally and hit the road. By the time we left it was 2:30 in the afternoon. But with pedal to the medal, we made Quebec City by 11pm, found a hotel and smuggled in Bella illegally since the only hotel with a room available was, unfortunately, not pet-friendly.
Bella slept in the bed with us. And I’m sure the remnants of her little “accident” will wash out of the white duvet cover with a little bleach.
I can’t tell you what else happened on the drive home because Liane and I both agreed that what happens on the road should stay on the road. But I will share this… the scrambled egg, toast and hash brown breakfast Bella had at the hotel made a startling reappearance on the highway. We had approximately 1-minute from her squirming and tummy rumbles to pull off, open the door and hang her outside by her butt. Not kidding. The good news is clean up was almost a breeze.
At 7pm on the second driving day day, I pulled into my parking spot tired, but thrilled and happy to be back in my cave.
So, what did I learn from the adventure? Well, the first thing is that I will never drive across the country with Bella again. She’s going FedEx, and I’m flying.
What I also learned, for real, came through my sons’ insistence on the dog being with us for Christmas. Bella trained them very well, and I expect that what goes around will come around. So if my sons treat me the way they treat Bella, things are gonna be pretty good in my golden years.
They carry her everywhere. Thus, when I’m old, I expect to no longer have to use my legs since I, too, shall be carried. I shall be cleaned up after, no matter the mess, and at bedtime, lovingly nestled into a warm, cozy blanket atop soft comfy pillows. I shall sleep as long as I want.
When I give them a stare, my sons will jump to my beck and call, without the need to explain what I want. They will drive me across the country, rather than leave me home alone, and they will always feed me my favourite foods, even if my choices are rotten—Note: Captain Crunch and coffee (fresh beans from Two If By Sea ground in a burr grinder) for breakfast, fudge for lunch, Kevin Stemmler’s bacon with Elmira maple syrup chaser for dinner, and scotch before bed.
And when I am old, in turn, I will my give sons and their children my undivided attention and inexhaustible unconditional love, just like Bella.
I’ve run this theory by them. And while they don’t out and out say that’s what I can expect, they don’t threaten that they will find me a “good home.” Not anymore anyway.
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