By Judy Merrill Larsen
It's not like I didn't see it coming.
First, they toddled off to kindergarten, maybe glancing over their shoulders, running back for one last hug, but then entering a new sphere where they'd make friends I hadn't hand-picked.
Then, the big steps. High school. A driver's license (man, that's when I really became obsolete. Except as a human ATM). Finally off to college.
And each time, I'd call them back for one more kiss, then I'd wave, and stand with the dog. His wagging tail beating against the open door like a metronome. We'd watch them leaving and he'd look up at me as if to say, "Now what?" His tail always drooped just a little and his step was a bit slower until they returned
Now, if I'd really been able to orchestrate things, that first dog would have lasted until #2 Son shuffled off to college. That was the yellow lab pup we brought home three weeks after their dad (who hadn't been crazy about having me for a wife or getting a dog) had moved on to greener pastures. The boys had been 4 and 6. I'd done the math, figuring dog years and all, and my plan had been for Tank, the wonderdog, to make it until the kids were away at college.
But, not quite. Dogs and kids rarely worked on my schedule. So, one hot summer day before #2 Son's junior year in high school, we helped our old, sweet, dying dog into the car and took him to the vet, where we sobbed and petted his silky ears as he fell into that long final sleep. We brought his collar home with us and divvied up his dog tags for our various key chains. And when that same son came to me and asked, "Is it your intention to get another dog?," well, how could I say anything but "of course."
So, Ernie, a golden retriever joined our household. And it's now Ernie and me, standing at the door, just like we did this week, waiting first for their arrival, where Ernie's joy is palpable when they come in the house, hauling dirty clothes and ravenous appetites. He follows them around, happily hopping on their beds (the only ones he's allowed on), sleeping until noon with them, and imagining they are home for good.
And he can keep believing that, but I know that it is likely they'll never live here full-time again. #1 Son spent 5 days of his spring break interviewing for jobs in Seattle (two time zones away). #2 Son will be here this summer, but after next school year, who knows.
And I know that I've done--am doing--my job. I know I'm supposed to raise them to leave me. And that we're entering a whole new phase of our mother-son relationship. They have girlfriends I adore. They not only ask for my opinions and advice, they occasionally follow it.
But, the first few days after they've left, I'll notice Ernie, wonderdog #2, wandering around whimpering and looking for them. He'll go all the way up to their third floor bedroom and eagerly sniff around. Sometimes I even catch him on one of their beds as if he's waiting for them to return, pet his head, sneak him a chicken nugget or pizza crust. And then he'll come downstairs, slowly, looking just a little bit lost. And I'll call him over and ruffle his hair and scratch behind his ears because I know, in his little (very little) dog brain what he's thinking.
When will they be back and how could they just grow up and leave me?