My family always had dogs when I was growing up, and I got my first dog when I was in my 30s – Tucker, a miniature apricot poodle rescue who was the love of my life, my four-legged child, and my companion in so many ways! I had to put him to sleep in 2018, a little sooner than I had hoped, but we still spent a wonderful 14 years together.
Tucker was an amazing dog – he might have only been 14 lbs, but he had such a big personality in that little body. He had a perpetual smile on his face, and those eyes! He loved to snuggle, and he fit so perfectly in my arms. He trusted me so much I could turn him on his back, and lift him up over my head, and he’d be completely relaxed. He never barked at people or other dogs when we went on walks, he never jumped out of the car or went out a door until I told him he could, and he never chewed on anything that wasn’t his. He’d let me take crud out of his eyes, pick off burrs that had attached on hikes, and trim his hair. If it was cold enough at night, he’d snuggle under the covers with me, with his head on my shoulder. Everyone who came in contact with him, even the non-dog lovers, ended up being charmed.
At the start of this year, I was ready for my next dog (after briefly thinking about getting a puppy last spring – you can read about that here). I found an adorable 2 ½ year old Maltese through a rescue site called GetYourPet.com – a great way to find a new pet without having to take up shelter spots.
His name was Lu, which was short for Lucifer – I’m sure someone thought it was funny to name the cute white dog after the devil, but I didn’t like that connotation. So, I renamed him Baloo, after the big bear in the Jungle Book.
Baloo and I have been together almost four months now, and while he’s wonderful, I find myself comparing him to Tucker and having him come up short far too often. Which isn’t fair, for a number of reasons.
You know how at a funeral, the person being remembered always ends up sounding like a saint? But we all know they couldn’t have been that perfect? You may have noticed that I did the same thing in my description of Tucker – he was the perfect dog! So how could Baloo measure up? Well, he couldn’t!
After all, Tucker and I reached that state of “perfection” after being together for years and years. We didn’t start out that way. And more importantly, Tucker wasn’t perfect, either! He had separation anxiety and would howl like he was being torn from limb to limb when left alone in the house. He barked like crazy when the doorbell rang. He could not restrain himself from licking you. And he loved to roll in poop – the stinkier the better! Yep, far from perfect.
I conveniently forgot those aspects of Tucker as I focused on the ways in which Baloo wasn’t (yet) measuring up – for example, he is prone to barking at dogs and other people on walks, he doesn’t like me touching his paws, and he growls to communicate, whereas Tucker rarely did. It’s SO easy to focus on the negative, especially when we’re making unfair comparisons – like comparing my 4-month-old relationship with Baloo to the best parts of my 14-year-old relationship with Tucker. Or comparing the highlights of someone else’s life on their social media feed to the reality of ours (sound familiar?).
I’ve been reminding myself that not only is Baloo not Tucker, there’s no reason he should be. As I’ve gotten better at shifting that expectation, I’ve been able to release some of the stress I was creating about my relationship with Baloo. When I let go of how I think things should be, that allows me to actually see the ways in which he is already an amazing dog:
- he’s super bonded to me,
- he’s smart and wants to please,
- he loves playing fetch,
- he fits on my lap so well that I can have him sitting there during Zoom meetings with no one the wiser,
- he’s a champion snuggler,
- and so far, he hasn’t shown any interest in rolling in poop!
I share this story because there are parallels to the current situation we are in due to COVID-19.* As we’re now at least a month into shelter-in-place orders here in California, we’ve lost what used to be our normal. We look back on our old normal as if we were at its funeral, remembering everything that was good, and that we miss – walking right next to a friend, going out to eat or to coffee shops, celebrating birthdays in person, hugs, even just feeling secure in what the future might bring. And that’s all gone now, and we’re focusing on all the things we don’t like about what we currently have. Which makes sense, but isn’t very helpful.
Because not everything about this new normal is bad – there are some good things if we look: more connection with people who are usually too far away to see in person (my family, for example, is now having weekly Zoom calls, something we’ve never done before), more time at home with pets or significant others or kids or housemates, people and neighbors helping each other, the opportunity for creative new ways of working, environmental benefits, and the list goes on.
So just like it’s not fair to Baloo to compare him to Tucker’s eulogy, it’s not fair – or helpful to any of us personally – to compare this new normal to the best parts of the old normal. Let’s be open to whatever this new normal has to offer, even as we grieve the things that we have lost, or may lose in the future. There will be other things that we will gain, even through the struggles.
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And I’m going to continue letting go of Tucker, and the way things used to be, so that I can make room for Baloo, and whatever this new normal has in store for us.
*I want to acknowledge that I’m writing this from a very privileged place – I have work I can do from home, food to eat, a good relationship with my housemate, technology to connect me to family and friends, and a safe and comfortable place to live. My heart goes out to all of those risking their lives on a daily basis to keep the rest of us healthy and fed and otherwise supplied, those who’ve lost all income, those who are struggling with unhealthy or abusive relationships that making staying home anything but safe – and especially those who have lost someone they love to this virus.