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an old dog

Jan Pennington took these pictures for us last year because our lab, Schooner, is getting old. He lags behind us on walks now and groans over sore joints whenever he flops down. Pete & I have our seventh anniversary this month, but it really feels like the life we’ve made together started with bringing Schooner home as a puppy in New Mexico eleven years ago. Some people mark the first years of marriage by a place or a first house, but ours are all tied to a brown dog. Schooner’s photo was our save-the-date postcard, he lived with us in third story apartments in Seattle, he rode along on drives up and down the Alcan Highway. He was equally miserable the summer we spent finishing the cabin in Uyak Bay. He hates loud power tools and raised voices. His presence in the house means that arguments end just as we realize we’re fighting, when Schooner’s tail sinks between his legs and he leaves the room.

I took him for a walk today, and maybe it was because I’d just read Diane Ackerman’s essay about the beauty and decay of falling leaves that I was thinking about change and the significance of  endings.

“In time, they will become fragil, and, like the body, return to dust. They are as we hope our own fate will be when we die: Not to vanish, just to sublime from one beautiful state into another.”

Maybe the anticipation of winter and the waning light has me sad today. Or maybe it was the realization that Schooner’s lessening mobility and his last, slower years happen to parallel a kind of settling down into this stage of parenthood and life–working, planning, compromising. I’m nostalgic for the sunlight and warmth of the Southwest in the fall, for long drives to new places, Schooner at our feet in the tent, nights we watched for trails of light across a deep, still sky.

I wish I’d written this

I just read this Huffington Post piece by Allison Tate: “The Mom Stays in the Picture.”

I loved it.

Tate writes:

“But we really need to make an effort to get in the picture. Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were. Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives. Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay?

Someday, I want them to see me, documented, sitting right there beside them: me, the woman who gave birth to them, whom they can thank for their ample thighs and their pretty hair; me, the woman who nursed them all for the first years of their lives, enduring porn star-sized boobs and leaking through her shirts for months on end; me, who ran around gathering snacks to be the week’s parent reader or planning the class Valentine’s Day party; me, who cried when I dropped them off at preschool, breathed in the smell of their post-bath hair when I read them bedtime stories, and defied speeding laws when I had to rush them to the pediatric ER in the middle of the night for fill-in-the-blank (ear infections, croup, rotavirus).

I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.

When I look at pictures of my own mother, I don’t look at cellulite or hair debacles. I just see her — her kind eyes, her open-mouthed, joyful smile, her familiar clothes. That’s the mother I remember. My mother’s body is the vessel that carries all the memories of my childhood. I always loved that her stomach was soft, her skin freckled, her fingers long. I didn’t care that she didn’t look like a model. She was my mama.

So when all is said and done, if I can’t do it for myself, I want to do it for my kids. I want to be in the picture, to give them that visual memory of me. I want them to see how much I am here, how my body looks wrapped around them in a hug, how loved they are.

I will save the little printed page with four squares of pictures on it and the words “Morgan’s Sweet Sixteen” scrawled across the top with the date. There I am, hair not quite coiffed, make-up minimal, face fuller than I would like — one hand holding a sleeping baby’s head, and the other wrapped around my sweet littlest guy, who could not care less what I look like.