This week in Houston

September 4, 2017 5:33 | Permalink | Comment?

What a week. I am simply blown away with all the love. First, we are fortunate to be saved and sheltered by our amazing family during this disaster, who are just around the corner and must be exhausted by our crazy lives during a regular week when we have power and water. Then, the world checks in with us, and I mean everybody. Not just like “sucks to be you”, or “good luck with that”, but genuine empathy and offers of all kinds of help that we didn’t even understand we needed, sometimes from would-be strangers. My mom in law and sister do my laundry – while watching children. Grumpy offers his room before we know if an apartment will be available. Neighbors and my father in law start the hard work of cleaning out the house. My parents plan to bring a car and help with long term recovery. Friends plan meals and replacement items. Having discovered I returned to work too early, my colleagues cover my absence at a time when I’m really torn between patients and a chaotic life event of my own. Then, I have the best birthday ever. THEN, a whole crew shows up at our house to do some seriously dirty work. Out of the kindness of their hearts and the drive to DO GOOD, these beautiful, loving souls are feeling this with us, jumping in with everything to help fix it. No one wants to need help, and I am quite uncomfortable asking for and accepting it, especially when so many need so much. This part is a marathon, and I know I can count on my support system going forward. What we have experienced across this week – and it has been more eloquently described than here – is truly beautiful and fully restores my faith in humanity. I wish this feeling for everyone. I’m not sure it can be had without loss first. But if it can, that’s why I’m sharing my thoughts. Be grateful and look for the goodness first.

General, Life

Another post about hair

June 1, 2014 2:33 | Permalink | 1 Comment

It’s not uncommon for me to shop for a particular food online. I found myself on amazon last night after our trip to Jason’s Deli because I really love that chocolate sauce. As in, forget the soft serve even though it’s also great, but it’s really just an excuse for the sauce. I was invited to select a charity to benefit from the proceeds of my amazon shopping, which can be substantial in a year. You think 10% isn’t that much, but then the first two years of your daughter’s life, you buy diapers [and all the things] at Costco and get that back as in-store credit, and you are excited at first and then realize that means you spent 10x that… Anyway a 30 minute analysis ensued. Of all the things that cause me heartburn, what do I care about the most? Human? Animal? Political? Global? The choices are dizzying. I polled the audience. Joel’s answer, while inspiring, didn’t stir me to action. I mean, I care about protecting America from becoming a totalitarian city-state, but Neil Degrasse Tyson has me thinking even bigger. What is going to keep humanity from the likes of Idiocracy (where I think we’re headed) and change the course toward a more progressive and sustainable future (of which I hope, but only on really good days, we’re capable)? Besides, he’s on it, so his cause already has a champion of sorts. No, I would need something else, and all this has really distracted me from my original goal of purchasing an item that is NOT on my most recent attempt at a healthy diet. Zoe usually has good ideas, so I ask her: What is the greatest problem facing our world today?

Her answer? “My hair.”

I. Have. Failed.

And I would say this separately from the scene just prior to our dinner. But in conjunction with the following, I say it emphatically.

En route to the restaurant, Zoe breaks down. She’s sobbing. What started as a mild protest to leaving the house at all, fueled in part by my request that she trade out a tutu for a skirt that covered her undies, escalated to a foul mood while corralling her hair into a neater ponytail. Large tears began while walking to the car, and by the time we pulled out of the garage, she was wailing. “I hate my bangs! They’re in my face and they’re really BOTHERING ME!” Her bangs, which had just grown past her chin, were recently butchered by her own hand over a week ago. Despite near daily conversations, usually as I pinned back the bangs in some way, about how we just have to give it time, that they will, eventually, be even with the rest of her hair, and every hair trim, revisiting the issue of whether she wants bangs or not, and her vehemently denying ever wanting bangs again, she impulsively chopped the very front chunk of her bangs to less than one inch long with school scissors during a story time in class. The curls came home to us in a baggie, utterly useless other than as relics of a less frustrating time.

The following day, we visited my favorite salon for professional help. There was, of course, nothing to be done about the bangs but to attempt a cover up with a thick set of longer bangs. It is passable at some angles, but then she moves. I know in two or three weeks, this will be a non-issue. But she does not. And actually, the thing she’s most upset about, and the thing she may recall as the first time I’ve ruined her life (because she doesn’t remember that incident at 9 months involving an elevator door – her hand is fine – or countless other times I’ve screwed up), is that in addition to a bang repair which necessitated more bangs, I had the GALL to get the rest of her hair cut. Her Dad and I reassure her that she is beautiful with whatever hair she has, and the recent trim has done it nicely. She doesn’t hear any of this. “Every time someone says it looks good, it makes me feel worse! My hair is SHORT!” It’s not, though, Zoe, it’s past your should- “BARELY!” It looks healthier and will be easier to maintain with all the swimming this summer, and besides, it will grow back quickly. “Not quickly enough! I’m going to have to look like this ALL SUMMER!” She’s seven, you guys. Double her age, and I would expect her to care that much about her hair. But I had no idea we were in for this so early. Then I remember my puff bangs. A school photo flashes across my mind, and it’s all coming back to me now. Curling iron, can of hair spray, more than a few incidents involving me on the floor in tears over a few misplaced strands of hair… I’m not proud, but it adds up.

“I WAS OKAY WITH A TRIM! THIS MUCH!” – she barely has her thumb and first finger separated – “BUT YOU LET HIM CUT THIS MUCH!” – her hand is at her shoulder – “AND NOW I LOOK RIDICULOUS!” I’m no longer furious with her for being so short-sighted and cutting the offending swaths of hair. She is facing a universal problem in civilized society: the post-salon remorse. The powerlessness of putting your appearance in someone else’s hands and feeling violated when the outcome is not what you agreed upon at the start. And she’s the girl with the long beautiful waves (work with me – we do our best – the raw material is sheer perfection, but we don’t always have the time or she the patience to maximize its potential), so I truly understand her devastation. And I, as her mother, who should protect her and advocate for her, agreed with the stylist to “take off a couple of inches to get it healthy”. We’ve all been there. That means losing at least twice what you intended, and the initial freedom quickly becomes oppressive and you feel naked. I did the exact same thing last June and have second-guessed it almost every day. I feel her pain. So I try to comfort her by focusing on what’s important, as I try to do with myself.

“At least you have hair. It’s beautiful and healthy and your own. It WILL grow back. We have the freedom to display our hair, to fix it however we want. There are people who can’t, who are forced to keep it covered or wear it a certain way, or who have no hair at all. I was bald.” I did; I played the cancer card. “And my hair came back and now it’s just not as important.” She seemed to understand and was quiet. I reminded her of the recent Locks of Love drive at her school and how people choose to cut off more than 10 inches of their hair so other can have some, and how her own Cap’n shaved his head so I wouldn’t be alone in my hairlessness. She was impressed. We even laughed about how her Aunt Ft nicely threatens her stylists if they take more than the small fraction she requests, and how this is a good example of how we must be firm and explicit about our desires and make sure we have done what we can to ensure the other person hears us.

I felt good. I felt like she heard me. We went on to have an uneventful dinner and rest of the evening. But somehow, her hair is still the greatest problem the world faces.

Baby, Family, Life

Happy 7th Birthday, Zoe!

February 14, 2014 1:21 | Permalink | 1 Comment

What a year! Six was so great. And what a trooper this kid is. She survived med school with me, then seamlessly transitioned to residency. I credit all the loving support we have. Plus I think she likes her Dad. They’re playing a lot of games, reading books, watching Adventure Time, practicing softball and soccer, tending to the zoo pets, and getting her homework done, so they stay pretty busy. She has moved up to level 2 girls gymnastics and hopes for roller skates and a magic kit on her birthday. Allowance is typically spent on the toy du jour, but she makes a lot of her own entertainment, whether it’s a paper animal complete with habitat, or a rubber band fishtail bracelet custom made for a loved one. The girl has an eye for colors and patterns. She gets really creative with her outfits.

She’s remarkable. I remember when she was 2 or 3, we couldn’t give her a compliment without several more… she’d say, “…and?” The list keeps growing. She’s still smart, beautiful, sweet, and SO FUNNY. The thing that has struck me the most about this past year is how much more independent she has become. She handles things I wouldn’t expect her to yet, even though I’ve learned to have high expectations. She will do a task or explain something from her school work as if it’s old hat, which is sometimes accompanied by some extra sass. We’re working on the balance between confidence and humility. I see a lot of myself in her when she gets frustrated, usually because the thing she has set out to do will take some practice to master. Hopefully Joel’s tendency to enjoy tinkering and improving something over time will influence her a bit more. She balances it out, though – we do a lot of laughing. And this year there seems to have been more of it, including the kind of silent, nasal-flaring, hard to breathe kind of laughing that I remember from my childhood. I feel like I’m in a dream when I see her laughing.

She’s growing up so fast, but she’ll still let me snuggle her and still holds my hand on a walk. I feel so lucky to be her mom.

Family, Health, Life

A tip for polite society

February 9, 2014 10:31 | Permalink | 1 Comment

Two posts in a year? Really?

Like old friends, let’s just pretend like it hasn’t been ages and pick up where we left off. I’m fine with that. You? Whew. Thanks. Because I do have good intentions; I have so much to say and no time to say it, or I talk myself out of it because TMI or confidentiality or the chance it will be taken out of context. I’d love to say I’m writing it down in a super secret journal somewhere, or calling up a loved one instead, but most of the time I’m living stream of consciousness, with a few moments of reflection here and there.

So. Everyone generally understands that asking a woman if she’s pregnant doesn’t win you any brownie points, yes? Because if you have to ask, it isn’t obvious, and she hasn’t outright told you, so what you’re left with is this awkward situation: either you’ve just implied that she’s fatter than she probably wants to be, or it’s early and she doesn’t want to tell you yet. So I have come to know that many people have not thought this through. (FYI, since you’re all much too nice to ask, Zoe’s an only and probably always will be, so no news to report here.) If you’ve asked someone like myself who has only a thin filter, you’ll get the long list of excuses of why I carry around about 8 extra pounds. It’ll start with my pre-Zoe weight, followed by my post-delivery weight, followed by the high praise of breastfeeding and parenting the busiest child ever, which I credit for my all-time-adult-low weight when Zoe was about a year old. (And quickly, you’re very sorry you mentioned anything.) Then I’ll tell you about how I started med school and sat a lot while studying, so the weight returned, and it settled right where you’re pointing. I’ve had two abdominal surgeries; one healed very well. The next… Zoe was born at a university hospital where the residents did much of the repair. They’re in training. So. While I’ll be forever grateful for that awesome day and how great they were at documenting Zoe’s first moments with pictures that I couldn’t possibly have captured, the closure was by no means expert. Plus, you know, babies. Your body is never the same anyway. And I’m lazy. I’ll tell you about how my “best” efforts at exercise and eating right are, when I really am honest, fair and disorganized. And I totally love so many foods. Then residency. You’d think you’re running around the hospital saving lives, which…some days you are. Other days you’re holed up in a cubby in a fetal position rocking yourself so it won’t hurt so much with snacks. (I’m kidding – our call rooms are much larger than cubbies, and I really like the days where I’m available but not needed and get to catch up on my other piles of work.) And, in case any future residents are reading, my program is awesome and food is covered.

Then, if you’re really lucky, the conversation will turn to the future. Do we plan to have any more children? You’ll hear about my cutoff, and how there’s no good time, and how Zoe desperately wants a sibling, and you’ll see a fleeting sad expression when I think about how the door is closing due to a combination of indecision, overwhelm, and simple biology. Of course, you could be a patient of mine, or the umpteenth person who has asked, or we just aren’t that close, in which case I’ll simply say, “Nope, just my mom tummy.” I’M NOT OFFENDED AT ALL. Merely appalled at your human indecency. Unless you’re a medical professional about to administer a potentially harmful test or treatment, wait until a lady mentions it. Otherwise, it’s none of your beeswax.

Honestly I’m pretty confused about the whole thing. I’m fatter than I want to be, sure. But I’m still a normal weight with a normal BMI. And interestingly, the people who ask are often a good bit heavier than I. So what do I do then? I can’t start talking about my unacceptably and disproportionately large belly, which YOU BROUGHT UP IN THE FIRST PLACE, because it’s smaller than yours, and it would be rude to point out when someone’s belly is big. But see you didn’t know that or you wouldn’t have mentioned it. I replay our conversation: did I say something that implied I was with child? Is it my choice of clothing? I will say that it *could* be that they want to share in the excitement just in case their astute observation that I’m unshapely turns out to be better news. Most of the time, though, the only thing I can pin it on is the person’s ignorance of all social graces. I silently thank them for opening a couple of wounds, and then, apparently, blog about it. Consider it a PSA.


Um. Hi.

June 11, 2013 17:24 | Permalink | 2 Comments

Oy. It has been some time, hasn’t it? In the past almost six months, as is to be expected in the life of a family, things happened. We did stuff and kept quite busy. Let’s see… Zoe had a birthday, complete with swimming party (indoors), and I didn’t post a birthday tribute at the time, but I’m totally going to fake one (don’t tell anyone). So she’s six now, and amazing. Shortly after that I submitted my rank order list for the match, indicating where I would like to attend residency. It was a very tough process, during which our family evaluated what was most important to us, and in the end we got exactly what we wanted. I am happy to announce here (in case anyone reads this who wasn’t constantly flooded with texts, tweets or facebook posts from me with the happy information) that I will spend the next three years training in family medicine at the Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program out of Sugar Land. We get to stay in Houston! So yay. 🙂 It’s not that I was super busy with school after March 15 (MATCH DAY!), but super busy with life, which as it turns out is even more busy than school ever kept me. Seriously. I took that time to get our home a little more organized, volunteer at Zoe’s school, and exercise my ever-expanding body. In April I worked my last month as a medical student on an emergency psychiatry rotation. I absolutely loved it. I have been off work since May and despite feeling constantly busy, it has all amounted to very little. Oh except for graduating from medical school. Blake Motley Watts, M.D. is official. It has been a LONG ROAD since that day in mid-2005 that I, finally emerging from the cloud of cancer and all it entailed, felt moved to pursue medicine, and Joel, not knowing any better, encouraged me. I laugh when I think of freshman-in-college Blake in 2000, quitting biology because it didn’t suit me, and derailing my med school plans because I thought there was no way to become a doctor and have a family (and be good at both). I had real and practical concerns, mature thoughts for 19, actually, and perhaps it was naiveté at 24, or the new-found YOLO attitude post-cancer, but WHAT A FOOL to think it would be easier AFTER having a family. But we made it. And I’m proud of that for all of us, and grateful for ALL OF THE HELP. We have so much support. And we will need it going forward, because my life is over residency is starting soon.

We just returned from Sea World and Aquatica in San Antonio, which was a great time for all. Zoe’s last kindergarten unit was on oceans, and she is in love with all things dolphin, so naturally feeding and touching dolphins was on the agenda. She did her own report on dolphins after learning a pink bottlenose dolphin exists (rare albino version of a pigmented dolphin), and has made it one of her life goals to inform the world’s population of this fact. I’m soaking up time with her now, because in under a week, I will begin residency orientation, followed by my SISTER GETTING MARRIED!!!!, followed by three months of inpatient rotations. So I make no promises about my updates here, but I really like the idea of keeping track of myself. Pictorial proof of life and our activities can be found on Flickr.

General, Life, School

Things I did today

January 27, 2013 23:03 | Permalink | 2 Comments

Our Saturday was, and really the whole month has been, very busy. As a rare Sunday with no scheduled activities, naturally I have a ton of things on my todo list. Tomorrow is my test in emergency medicine, followed by a short presentation on the topic of my choosing. Yesterday I borrowed a book as preparation for today’s whole day devoted to studying and creating a powerpoint for an as-yet-undetermined topic. I’ll be productive and studious, I tell myself, all while accomplishing the usual necessary tasks of the weekend to prepare for the usual hellacious week.

I am awakened by the dog at 0600. I am mad. But I take her out, accompanied by Zoe. It is the nicest five minutes we have had in awhile, commenting on a lovely fullish moon and some things I’ve now forgotten. Determined to get just one morning of sleep, I return to bed, only to be plagued by my hamster wheel of todo list items and one I had forgotten – a quick email remedies this – but unleashes another set of tasks. Eventually, I drift off again for much too long, finally getting out of bed around 1100.

You know how when you sleep longer than you planned, you’re grateful but feel really behind for the day? So I set about checking off the todo list, putting away dishes, getting people & animals brunch, starting laundry, cooking a chicken, contemplating the correct spot for the half-eaten princess shoe that has been sitting on the counter, fielding a constant barrage of requests for play dates despite the answer being, repeatedly, NO – the usual. I sit down with my coffee and read several pages. I am proud. Off to a good start, I say. Feeling very studious, I suggest that Zoe begin her homework. We read one page.

There is a fight.

I am the insanely frustrated and fuming person with bedhead, in her pajamas and Danskos, carrying an open book, stomping around the apartment complex trying to calm down. It begins to drizzle. I return home, dress, and pack my things for a day of studying outside the house. Meanwhile Joel has coaxed Zoe into apologizing and encourages me to talk with her. We make up, and I decide to stay home. I’m not sure what brings it on, but there is a decision to move the fish tank from her room into the living room. Cleaning – of the fish tank itself, and the place it will go, and the place all that stuff was in before will go – ensues. The fish are relocated and happy, but Zoe’s room needs attention. We clean her room. And then her closet. And then the bathroom, and the hallway, and the living room. It’s time to eat again, and we do. It’s 1800. I realize for the first time in hours that I haven’t worked on anything for tomorrow. I text friends for topic ideas. I open my computer, reply to emails, adjust the YouTube video of Zoe’s Rockets game performance, attempt to archive some school emails and lose them, tweet about it, and remember I have to make a presentation for tomorrow. Oh and study for a test.

I choose the topic of seizures and dig in. So far I’ve made way too many slides, but I’m happy with my progress. It’s time for bed. I take the sheets from the laundry and am successful in enlisting help making the bed. Leaning over to tuck in the corner, I am plowed in the side of the head by a charging dog. I do not pass out. Joel administers aid. I sit in the floor of the bathroom imagining the possible injuries to my brain and what it means for my future while holding a Hello Kitty ice pack to my head. I’m unconcerned about the idiot dog whose head is evidently harder than mine.

Next it’s bath time. I’ve used all the hot water with the laundry and dishwasher, so I use the electric kettle to warm Zoe’s bath. I blog. And I’ve miles to go before I sleep.


Having outgrown her shell…

January 4, 2013 13:09 | Permalink | Comment?

Zoe has generously agreed to pass down her car seat for 5 – 40 pounds to our friend who will have a little girl in April. But not before taking it for one last spin. While preparing lunch, I heard a bumbling commotion, and I saw her attempting to climb into her lofted dining chair with the car seat strapped to her like a turtle.


Life, Meme

An inventory of 2012

December 31, 2012 23:00 | Permalink | Comment?

So 2012 was a roller coaster of a year. I’ll not pretend I have it bad; I’m grateful for everything our life is and realize my worst day is better than most. But I did have some trouble going with the flow this year, because the flow took us in some unpleasant directions.

Some was small stuff, like Zoe’s birthday party getting rained out. We had this cool, creative campfire thing planned, and it poured and flooded. There wasn’t a good time to reschedule it, and the rest of the year I felt badly about it, especially when people would ask if we had rescheduled. We had great fun with family in town, though. I had a great month of derm, delivered babies and made the most enormous cake ever in the spring. In June, Chief was diagnosed with cancer (sobbing). Later that same day, Amanda & Chris got engaged (happy tears)! In July, Joel started a new job (which he loves), and we got in a wreck on the way to his first day; Ali & Matthew got married so beautifully in Wyoming, and Zoe was hospitalized for mesenteric adenitis. In August, Chief died, then Zoe started kindergarten and rapidly lost her first two teeth. We adopted Ellie at the shelter in September, followed by a near-constant stream of illness that at one point was deemed distemper; eventually it was changed to kennel cough and she is now doing much better after much treatment and a change in food. (We adore her.) September also marked eight years cancer-free, but at my check-up, my CA-125 was elevated, so I had to get my eleventh CT, which really irked me. Radiation CAUSES cancer. Ugh. Anyway no real cause for alarm, but it is trending up, and it’s on my mind until that number goes down. My ICU & radiology rotations were great (apartment flooded in November), interviews have gone well, and the vacation month, while not AT ALL relaxing, has allowed me to be more involved in Zoe’s school activities. That may be why I was extra shaken up about Sandy Hook, though if you’re paying attention, the normal reaction is gut-wrenching pain and sorrow. (I appreciate the “look for the helpers” comments, as this is truly sanity-saving.) In contrast, my baby is alive (despite our car wreck the following week; it was totaled) and with me and we had a wonderful holiday with family all around. So I can’t say any of my worries are big in comparison. Other friends and family and patient concerns stay on the hamster wheel, but remain there alone for privacy. I keep hoping for peace.

Anyway. That was our year. We grumbled plenty and have yelled into the abyss to make it stop on more than one occasion, always aware that we are blessed beyond belief.

Soon I’d like to post some notable dates in 2013 and considerations as this residency process continues. But first…

Keeping the tradition alive…

In 2012, I gained weight, a brother-in-law, some CA-125 points, a dog, and some confidence.

I lost my Chiefy, some inhibitions, and a couple years off my life from stress. Kidding on the square there.

I stopped writing as much. And exercising. I don’t recommend stopping those.

I started thinking more about the future as though I might actually become a doctor.

I was hugely satisfied by delivering babies, passing both portions of the Step 2 exam, receiving invitations to interview for residency, and watching Zoe excel academically.

And frustrated by balancing my responsibilities (I doubt this will ever change).

I am so embarrassed that I’ve not made an effort to be fit.

Once again, I resolved to stop biting my nails. And I did, for interviews, at first.

Once again, I bit my nails.

The biggest physical difference between me last December and this December is my hair is longer, and my waist will eat you.

The biggest psychological difference between me last December and this December is more hamster wheel. I had hoped it would be less, but residency application will do this to a person. Come March 15, 2013, the hamster will get some rest.

I loved being with Zoe & family, September’s ob/gyn clinic, learning to love another dog, and taking steps toward residency.

Why did I spend even two minutes worrying about the small stuff? (Repeat, but a good reminder: don’t sweat the small stuff!)

I should have spent more time being 100% present with whatever I’m doing. (Also a repeat.) And exercising. And writing. And reading quality stuff.

I regret being distracted and consumed with stress too often. And not leaving work to spend time with Chief on his last day.

I will never regret quality time spent with Zoe.

I worried, stressed, and nagged way too much.

I didn’t exercise, play, and relax nearly enough.

Deciding on a specialty nearly drove me crazy.

The most relaxing place I went was poolside.

Why did I stress so much?

The best thing I did for someone else was listen.

The best thing I did for myself was let go.

The best thing someone did for me was encourage me to power through.

The one thing I’d like to do again, but do it better, is parent.

Happy New Year!

(Fill-in-the-blank template from Mary Schmich at The Chicago Tribune)

Family, Life


November 25, 2012 22:14 | Permalink | Comment?

Part of our nightly routine is grinding the coffee for the morning. It smells amazing and gives me something good to anticipate; if I must wake, especially if early, coffee makes it worthwhile until I’m coherent enough to appreciate the rest of it. After Joel hit the button I scurried to the grinder and inhaled. “Nommmm. I love coffee so much.”

Zoe piped up, “Me, too, man.”

I love her.

Life, Pets

Goodbye to the best dog ever

November 16, 2012 12:48 | Permalink | 2 Comments

It’s hard to believe he has been gone three months.

In late April Chiefy slowed down. We had gone on a long family walk, longer than usual. We got about 2 miles out, and he was done. Getting back was rough, and he acted like the oldest man for about a week to recover. He could still walk, but his limp was pronounced. We rested him and hoped it would get better. I’m angry at myself because I was so busy. I kept putting off taking him to the vet and thinking he would just heal. In early June when he hadn’t, we scheduled a vet appoinment. Joel and Zoe took him because I couldn’t make it on time, and when I walked into the room a little late, the x-ray was up; seeing it, I cried. It was cancer: osteosarcoma of his left front leg. Treatment for that is amputation and chemotherapy, since usually by the time it is causing pain, it has already metastasized, with an iffy prognosis even then. Our vet did not recommend putting him through that. We agreed. He said he would have a few months at best, with an increasing need for pain medication. We went home with a regimen, which Chiefy happily took wrapped in smoked turkey.

I was hopeful after the first month. He was doing well and really didn’t seem sick. Some days he didn’t limp at all. I kept refilling the pain meds and even got a new giant bag of food. I hugged him extra every day. I hoped we would know when to take him in and we promised him and ourselves that we would not let him be in pain.

In early August, over a weekend he got slower and less able to get around; it happened really in a matter of two days. He kind of told us Friday evening. I felt like he was asking me to make it better. There was much sobbing and cuddling. By Monday it was time. I love our vet for helping us all through this. We were able to be right there holding Chief when he died, swiftly and with dignity, on August 6, 2012.

In the vet's office

I went to the SPCA to donate the remainder of Chiefy’s sensitive tummies dog food. As I watched people leave with their new dogs, I happy cried. They have no idea what’s ahead of them – I didn’t know when I got Chief. I had spent the summer in Spain. While I was there, I kept seeing these ADORABLE chocolate cocker spaniels, and I decided when I got back, I would find one and make it mine. I visited the shelter more often than is advisable for a young girl whose boyfriend/future husband has just left for the Army.

On my fourth or fifth visit, I found this dachshund with a cold and was visiting with her, when my sister called me over a few rows to see this giant but skinny yellow puppy with the sweetest face I had ever seen. He cowered in the corner, tail tucked between his legs, shaking. As a stray, he had three days to wait to see if anyone claimed him before he could be adopted. We brought him to the play area and threw a ball for him. Nothing. He was too scared. We put him back in his cage and decided to return the next day. He responded to us a little more and even entertained a bit of play. The next day he was full-on fetching the ball, his paws were floppy, his nose was wet, he gave fantastic oafy kisses, and I loved his huge self. I don’t know his birthday; we usually celebrated sometime in early February, since he was about 6 months old when he came home with me on July 18, 2002. I don’t know what he was called before, but he became Chieftan Licky. He’ll be about 60 pounds, they told me. About a year later, he tipped the scales at 106.

Chief as a Puppy in July 2002

That dog got me through some of the loneliest times of my life. Some days I got out of bed solely for him, usually grumpily and cursing that he had to pee so much, but I know the routine he provided me helped me finish school, survive the long days in California as Joel studied so hard, complete chemo while staying as strong as possible, and take daily walks while I was pregnant. I trusted him completely, even with my new baby, and I know he introduced Zoe to the beauty of living with animals because she loved him almost as much as I did. (There is a terribly awesome car commercial that airs right now – makes me cry every time.) He was there, even when I wasn’t, just waiting for whatever time I had to spend with him, grateful when it was more, and not the least bit reproachful when it was less.

Occasionally I catch up on my blog reading, and Momastery is always a favorite. Right around the time I was hurting extra, Glennon posted this, and she puts things I have felt into words so eloquently:

“Oh my God – I love having a dog. I love my dog.

I work really hard on love. I study it and dissect it and try to understand all its complexity and beauty and pain. Love, however it’s done, is serious business. It’s hard work and can be completely confounding because people are involved. And people are beautiful and mysterious and broken and unpredictable and demanding. But Theo is simple. And so loving him is simple.

I have so much love to give, but sometimes it’s hard to love my husband, because he’s a person and has needs and expectations. And often it’s hard to love on my kids because they, especially right now, are kind of rough. The girls are fighting constantly, nasty to each other, really, and Chase is starting to duck my affection. All is unfolding as it does and should, I know, but it’s sure as heck not a snuggle-fest over here these days.

But Theo. I can always love him. He is there waiting to receive my love and accept it and appreciate it. He doesn’t want anything complicated from me. I do not need to figure him out. I don’t have to be great or funny or particularly patient or even smile. Someone who loves you even if you won’t smile is a keeper. At night in bed, I curl up on my side and he makes his body into a perfect circle in the crook of my leg, right behind my knee. So there’s just this little bit of pressure on the back of my legs that is his presence. That pressure in the night and my morning coffee are two of my most sacred daily joys.

If I have to go out into the big, brutiful world, I’m taking a dog.”

We all miss him so much. He was the best dog to me, there for me in a way that only dogs have the capacity to be. No one can replace Chief; he will be in my heart, fetching balls and swimming and cuddling, and probably in my belongings, forever. I find his furry reminders every day.

The best dog ever.

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