“The one who tested and triggered you the most was also the one who was sent forth to set you free from the pattern.” ~ as seen on the Internet

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Scout, photographed by Becky Mashuta

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I am not a mother. You may already know that. I never wanted to be a mother and at 57 I still have no regrets in that department.

I am married.

My husband has three children from a previous marriage. They’re all grown with families of their own.

We have two cats. I’ve had cats my entire life. They suit me and my lifestyle.

My husband has grown to love the cats (and they him), and he’s always wanted a dog. I’ve never had a dog as an adult. The last time he had a dog was 30+ years ago when his kids were young.

In late 2018, I signed us up to receive emails from a service dog organization that adopts out dogs deemed not suitable for that type of work. After a year of not being matched with a dog, we finally connected with Scout, a five-month-old black lab (named for Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird). We picked her up on December 15. Given the handling and training she received, she’s incredibly sweet and well-behaved. House- and crate-trained, too.

She also had some intestinal issues due to food (which we were not aware of). A week or so after we got her, in the middle of the night, we heard her whimpering. She’d had diarrhea and it was all over her bedding inside her crate. My husband got it all cleaned up and put her back to bed. Less than an hour later, it happened again.

After talking with our vet, we put her on a diet of boiled chicken and rice (and Imodium) and she improved. The vet suggested a prescription food that is supposed to be great for puppies with diarrhea and on January 2 we started adding that food into her chicken and rice. On the 3rd, my husband had outpatient surgery under general anaesthesia. That night, some time after midnight we heard the tell-tale whimpering. Sure enough, the diarrhea was back.

Husband, who was supposed to be resting, insisted on getting up to help. I was uncharacteristically angry, which should have been a clue to me that there was something deeper going on, but in the moment, I was swept up in it. I didn’t want to have to deal with both Scout and then him having one of the many complications the discharge nurse had warned us about.

I got Scout and her bedding cleaned up and put her back to bed. Then it happened again. And then a third time. My anger intensified (picture me thrashing out of bed, creeping down the hall in the dark, sighing loudly, and swearing to myself) and then dissolved into resignation. I was frustrated and seriously regretted the decision to adopt a dog. I got very little sleep, which added an extra layer of anger and anxiety (working on my thoughts about what I make it mean when I don’t get a good night’s sleep is up next).

The next day involved boiling more chicken and rice, taking her out, making sure she got enough play time, etc., when I all I wanted to do is sit around and do nothing. The breaking point came after a walk. She wouldn’t come inside with me when I asked her to come. We’d learned positive reinforcement methods (aka using bits of food) for training and had let them lapse.

“Scout, come!” I said, in a fake-cheerful voice. I gently tugged at her leash a bit. She resisted.

“Scout, come! Scout, come! SCOUT COME!!” I gritted my teeth wanting to scream.

She would not come.

The desire to yank her and drag her and scream at her was overwhelming. I didn’t. I picked her up and carried her inside, then went to my closet, closed the door, and sobbed.

There in the dark I probed a deep, tender, raw spot: I acknowledged a side of myself I didn’t want to acknowledge. A side that I associate with my mother and grandmother, who, it seemed to me, had no patience for illness, weakness, neediness, messiness, too muchness.

This is one of the many reasons I didn’t want to be a mother. I didn’t want the responsibility. And I guess I knew, even before I consciously knew, that I hadn’t learned how to have patience and compassion for children. And for the longest time I hadn’t learned to have patience or compassion with myself.

Later that evening Scout wouldn’t even look at me. She seemed so despondent. I mean, not only did she have an upset stomach, she was dealing with living in a new place, with new people, no other dogs, and an angry, frustrated (also despondent) woman who wasn’t using the tools she’d learned.

I understand how naive I sound. This is a dog. And humans who parent little humans, in all types of circumstances, in way less privileged situations than mine, are doing sacred work.

Although I am not a mother I am certainly aware of the stresses that mothers, especially, endure. The fears, the guilt, the worry. Also the immense love and fulfillment that goes with it. I am aware that I don’t really know those particular highs and lows. I am also aware that when a mother is in any way compromised physically, emotionally, mentally, whether she knows it or not, it’s that much harder. And let’s face it…the vast majority of us are dealing with some form of trauma.

“We live in a society where now most children are being raised by women [and sometimes men] alone in their homes. We did not evolve to raise children in such isolation, nor to have so much responsibility on one adult for the care and nurturing of their babies. … what really creates security [is] a psychologically resourced parent. A parent who continues to attend to their own inner life, integrates their past, attend to their ongoing development, and looks forward unencumbered by unfinished business within.” ~ Ellen Boeder in What Secure Attachment Really Is, And How To Create It (It’s Not What You Think)

The good news is that it’s not too late. Whether you are a human who is a mom of young children, a human who is a mom of adult children, a human who is stepmom, a human who is not a mom, a human with a difficult mother, a human with a difficult daughter, or a human with a dog with diarrhea. We can become resourced.

Much, much love,

Karen (& Scout)

Reveal patterns. Heal shame. Transform legacies.

Enjoy these selfies of Scout and me…and here’s Part 2 🙂

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