An Ode To Bota

 

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to our amazing dog of nearly 14 years, Bota. More than a pet, she was a treasured member of our family. And while we’re still grieving this loss, I want to remember her. I want to remember the friend that she was and the unquestioning love that she gave us; the shenanigans she got into and the lessons she taught us. Bota lived a life full of the best qualities: love, adventure, loyalty, and undying patience.

Jon and I got Bota in 2006 when we were still newlyweds and she was still a tiny puppy. Actually, that’s not quite right. Jon got Bota for me so I would quit pestering him for a human baby. And it worked.

On Christmas morning in 2006 I unwrapped my gift from Jon: an adorable red dog collar no bigger around than my forearm, and instructions to a location that would hold the rest of the gift. He had scouted out the perfect puppy farm for my Christmas gift–a literal Christmas tree farm (with a side hustle of Border Collie breeding) out in the countryside.

The next morning we drove out to the Christmas Tree farm where 4-month old Bota was still living with her doggy mama, Kate, her doggy daddy, Bo, and one brother from her litter. This little pack of Border Collies had free reign of the farm, and I’m certain this is where Bota’s adventurous spirit was born.

During that first year of Bota’s life she did an excellent job of training her humans (her humans, on the other hand, were pretty clueless and easily frustrated by the human-training tactics employed by their puppy). Since Jon and I were both working, we had to come up with a plan for Bota during the day while we were away.

At first we tried keeping her in a crate, but that was just sad. Then we tried letting her roam around our house, and she managed to open the pantry door and eat through all of the food and beverage containers–including a fresh 12-pack of almond milk–that were at puppy snout level. Then we tried keeping her in our garage, whereupon she decided to chew off all of the drywall at puppy snout level. Next, we tried putting her in our backyard…whereupon she chewed through all of our deck rails at puppy snout level. We even tried coming home from work in the middle of the day and walking her across the street to our little neighborhood park, whereupon she would round up all of the stray children and herd them into a squealing clump in the middle of the field. We never did find a great solution to keep our very intelligent (easily bored), very energetic (would never wear out of new ways to destroy things) puppy occupied. Thankfully for all of us, life changed course just in time.

After our first year with Bota we got news that Jon had been accepted to grad school at Stanford, so we picked up our little life and moved to California. We (me, Jon, and my parents) drove down the west coast with a little moving truck and my even-littler Jetta full of every possession we’d accumulated up to that point in our lives. It wasn’t much, but it included Bota. During The Grad School Years, Bota was an incredibly important, central part of our lives. While I was at work during the day, Bota would keep Jon company as he studied in our tiny one-bedroom apartment. We were lucky to have a little outdoor patio at our apartment.  Jon would lie on our only piece of furniture (a Futon), in the only room of our apartment, near the open front door and Bota would lie in the sun just outside the door so she could keep watch over him as he toiled away.

When I would get home from work we’d take her to the park across the street every day and throw the ball for her for hours. Literally hours. Then we’d go for a run or a hike or a walk around the block. And then we’d throw the ball some more. And then she’d chase black squirrels up the trees or across the fences. And then we’d try to make her run some more. Or we would take her to the beach and she would chase ocean waves as if they were stray sheep that needed to be herded into place. She would run up and down that beach yipping at every single wave until she would literally pass out in the sand from exhaustion. And, finally, she would calm down enough to let us sleep at night. She was our original parental sleep trainer, before we had to throw midnight nursing or diaper changes into the mix.

By the time we left Stanford I was 6 months pregnant with David, and we entered into a whole new phase of life for Bota: The Baby Guardian. When David was born Bota literally changed over night. She went from being our hyper-energetic, non-stop, go-go-go puppy to an aged sage who would lay down her life (or even just lay down for a hot minute) for this helpless human. When David was sleeping, Bota would be curled up at the foot of his crib. When David was going for a walk in the stroller, she’d be half a step ahead so she could keep an eye out on the road ahead. When David started crawling and chasing and dog-hair-pulling and in-your-ear-screeching she just took it. Like a champ. She never got defensive or retaliatory. She didn’t even run away from home (she would have been right to do so). No, she just stood by that crazy baby’s side as if he belonged to her.

Not even two years later, another baby bounced on the scene. And, again, she stood loyally by our side. Even as our time and attention shifted from the dog to the ever-demanding tiny humanoids, she never flinched. She knew she had a job and a purpose to watch over those babies, and she did it with her whole heart.

Just before Jacob’s first birthday we decided to uproot our family again–and this time, we were doing The Big Move. As we were preparing to move to Ireland we had to make some pretty big decisions in regard to Bota. Would she stay in the States or come with us? If she came with us, would it even be worth it (when we began looking into this option, dogs entering Ireland had to be quarantined for up to 6 months). In the end, the timing and the logistics worked out and we were able to bring her with us across the pond.

I am sad to report that the move to Ireland was not easy or fun for Bota…or for us. It was incredibly stressful, expensive, and not at all the sane choice to make. The cargo airline that shipped Bota across the Atlantic to us lost her in transit and Jon quite literally almost punched a helpless airline employee in the face. There was endless paperwork and vet visits and protocols that had to be followed. But Bota was part of our family, and she was worth it.

When our time in Ireland was done, we had to go through the reverse process of re-patriating Bota to American soil. This time we had the wealthiest tech company on the planet footing the dog transfer bill, though, so she got to ride in style. A courier arrived at our home in Ireland, placed her in his special dog transport truck, drove her to the Big Airport 3 hours away, settled her into her first class accommodations on the plane, and then a second courier picked her up from the American airport to drive her to my parents’ house for safe-keeping until we arrived. When the American dog transport pulled up to my parents’ house, Bota was riding in the passenger seat with a grin on her face.

During our next three years of living in California, Bota settled in to herself. She was happy to return to the California sun, and we often referred to her as our “cat-dog” for the way she would lounge in the rays. It was also during our second stint in California that Bota welcomed the third baby into our family.  By now Bota was a seasoned pro, and she resumed her spot at the foot of the bassinet–this time more to protect the squirmy pink baby from her ever-destructive big brothers than anything else.

While I was busy homeschooling and tending to the new baby around the clock, our boys discovered new ways to entertain the dog. One of our houses in California backed up to a creek full of smooth, rounded rocks. They found that Bota loved chasing the rocks into the creek when they’d throw them. What they (and we) didn’t realize, is that she also loved to catch the rocks in her mouth–mid-air–thus chipping away at her fragile old-dog teeth. 7 tooth extractions and a sizable vet bill later, we learned not to throw rocks for dogs.

Three years ago today, we moved back to Washington state. We said goodbye to the California sun and the nice, smooth creek rocks and we made our way back north. The home we bought here in Washington was, in part, for Bota. Up until this point in her long dog-life we’d never really had a yard. We’d had patches of grass and creeks to explore, but never an actual yard with room to run and roam free. We determined that all of our kids–Bota included–needed a real yard in whatever house we chose. So we got a house with the biggest yard we could find and, finally, Bota was home.

***

Yesterday was a really hard day. But I don’t want to hold on to the one really hard day. I want to remember the 5,000 wonderful days. I want to remember the days we spent walking together and dreaming together (Trust me, dogs have the best dreams!). I want to remember the days we taught each other better ways to live. I want to remember the way my heart swelled with love every time I saw her sweet face and the comfort I felt when I would pet her soft fur. I want to remember the way Jon would pick her up and cradle her in his arms like an infant (and how that sweet, old dog would allow him to even do such a thing). I want to remember the way Bota could calm down David when his Big Feelings got too big. I want to remember the way Jacob would chase Bota through the fields. I want to remember the way Hannah’s eyes would light up when she’d see Bota in the room. I want to remember the way she helped form our family, and the ways she will always be a part of our family. Because that is the most important part.

Bota girl, we love you. And even though you won’t be with us here in person, you will live on forever in our hearts. Because you loved us and we loved you, our hearts are forever changed. Chase some squirrels in Heaven today–until we meet again, sweet girl.

 

Supporting a Mother Through Her Miscarriage: A Guide for Friends and Family

Hope-2-570x379 A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Mother’s Day and I was filled with emotion: love, contentment, delight, fulfillment. Being Mom to my two boys is one of my greatest joys in life, and I adore having a whole day each year when this blessing is called to mind.

Mixed in with those beautiful feelings, however, there was a twinge of heartache this year. This sorrow is because, unlike in years past, this year on Mother’s Day I was reminded of a recent loss. Nearly four months ago I had a miscarriage and we lost what would have been our third child. Although time has passed, the wound that experience left on my heart is still very fresh.

Difficult as this whole experience has been, it could have been worse. Thinking back on my own miscarriage, I realize that people around me said and did much to aid in my ability to heal and move forward. The topic of miscarriage is admittedly a very tricky subject to navigate–especially if you’ve never experienced one personally. The sad truth, however, is that most of you reading this right now will experience a miscarriage at some point-whether it is yourself or someone you know. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can help a mother through this difficult time.

Here are some practical tips that I have found particularly useful as I find hope and healing after my own miscarriage:

Let her grieve
I used the word mother in the title of this post, as opposed to woman, because when you have a miscarriage you are losing your real-as-anything child. With my miscarriage, it was not just some cells that gathered in my womb before disappearing, it was my baby. The loss a mother feels from a miscarriage is very real, and it deserves a good amount of mourning. Don’t diminish this. The grieving will be strong at first, then eventually it will subside. At some point you will think that the time of grieving has passed, but then–maybe even months or years down the road–something will remind her of her loss and she will grieve all over again. When this happens, just tell her that it’s alright to be upset, give her a shoulder to cry on, and tell her that you love her.

Share your story
For some reason that I don’t completely understand, the topic of miscarriages is still widely seen as taboo in our culture, and many people are simply unwilling to talk about it. This is much to the detriment of the nearly one million mothers who face a miscarriage each year.

For some mothers, talking about their miscarriage will be the most difficult part of the whole ordeal–but it is necessary. Encourage the mother to talk about her experience and share her story with others. Even if she only confides in her husband and a few close friends, she needs to talk about this. Holding the devastation of a miscarriage inside is like dragging around a thousand pounds of dead weight–it will eventually break you.

On the flip side, if you have already gone through a miscarriage, be bold and share about your experience with another mother who is going through her own miscarriage–this simple act of letting her know that she’s not alone will alleviate so much pain. There is great healing in sharing your story with others, allowing them to help you, and learn from them. When you share your story you will be surprised to learn how many other people have also been through this, and they will help lift you up.

Acknowledge that the baby she lost “counts”
The most heartbreaking thing somebody said to me when I was going through my miscarriage was, “I’m sorry you weren’t pregnant”–as if I’d made up the morning sickness, the surge of maternal joy that came when I saw the positive pregnancy test, and the doctors confirming this joy at my first ultrasound. The reality is that I was pregnant, but I will never get to meet that child.

Through sharing the story of my miscarriage, I met a woman who had experienced a miscarriage over 30 years ago. She told me that after years of struggling to cope with her miscarriage she decided to name her lost baby, and that was what finally allowed her to move on.

We decided to follow suit, and we have named our lost baby Lily. Since the boys were with me at every one of those early ultrasound appointments, I don’t want to diminish the loss of our baby or act like all of this never happened. We will continue to talk about Lily, and the boys know that they have a sister waiting for them up in Heaven. In some small way, by keeping the memory of our baby girl alive we will help our family move forward more completely.

Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault
The first thought I had when my doctor told me that my pregnancy would end in a miscarriage was “What did I do wrong?”. My doctor assured me that I had done nothing to cause the miscarriage, and that there was nothing I could have possibly done differently to have a more favorable outcome. The truth is, 15-20% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, mostly due to chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo and other non-preventable medical issues. Reassure her that the miscarriage was not her fault, and that she is not to blame.

Do something kind 
Going through a miscarriage can make you feel pretty crummy, so do something that will help lift her up. Go above and beyond, and do something thoughtful for her.  Send her flowers. Get her a gift certificate for a pedicure or a massage. Buy her something pretty to wear. Make sure the house is well-stocked with her favorite chocolates. All of these little acts of kindness will let her know that she matters to you and that you love her.

Offer practical help
One of the hardest things for me while I was going through my miscarriage was taking care of others–some days it was hard enough to just take care of myself. Going through a miscarriage is exhausting and physically painful, and she’ll relish the idea of some help. She may not ask for help, so step out and offer it anyway. Babysit her kids so she can take a bubble bath or a nap in peace. Order takeout or pizza (or better yet, cook her favorite meal for her) so she doesn’t have to worry about dinner. Clean her house or do her laundry. Offer to take her somewhere fun so she can get out of the house for a bit. Anything you can do to help her day go smoothly will be appreciated more than you’ll ever know.

Hold on to hope
Help her to realize that a miscarriage is the end of something, but it is not the end of everything. I have found great comfort during this time by counting my blessings and holding onto the hope of what is yet to come. My faith has been a huge factor in my perspective, as have the encouraging words of others. Just knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel makes getting through the dark days so much more bearable.

And, if all else fails, just be there for her. Because, really, with love all things are possible.

XxX

My Serendipity Friend

Life is surprising. When you least expect it you might discover something new or meet someone who changes your life forever. Some may call this luck or chance or coincidence. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. All I know is that when these pleasant little surprises come along they always make me stop and take notice. Such was the case this week when I met Leah: my serendipity friend.

On Tuesday we had to go to our local Garda (police) station to renew our registration for living in Ireland (it’s hard to believe that we’ve already been here for almost a year!).IMG_4472

The registration process is a thrilling experience. So thrilling, in fact, that they only allow you to go through it once a year (just kidding, it’s annoying and tedious and I hate it). Part of the Thrilling Registration Process involves sitting inside a large concrete room with dozens of other people waiting to register with the government. There is one line and one police officer assigned to help all of the people in the queue. Each person in line takes at least 10 minutes to register. The immigration office is open for about two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and when they are closed they just shut the window and if you’re still in line, tough luck– you can come back tomorrow. They don’t care if you have squirrely children or a job to get to in the morning. You just have to get there, find your place in the queue, and hope they move quick enough that you don’t have to come back and do it all over again because you missed your narrow window of opportunity.

Since we already went through this whole registration process last year when we entered the country I knew a bit of what to expect. I planned accordingly (meaning I brought movies on my iPhone, snacks and books to occupy our young immigrants during the Thrilling Waiting Time). Turns out, I was a hero. Within minutes of sitting down with our movie and popcorn (okay, they were just rice cakes) I had a crowd of about 6 kids who had wandered over from the queue to join in our fun. I spent the morning acting as playgroup host to the children of the Thrilling Registration Process–we watched movies, played Angry Birds, read books, and ran laps around the plant in the middle of the room. Time flew by and within 2 hours we were registered and on our way.

After I dropped Jon off at work I decided to take the boys to a new-to-me park in the city center. When we got to the playground there were lots of children running around. One little boy caught my eye, though–it was the same little boy that I’d just read shark books to all morning at the Garda station. What a coincidence!  He recognized us right away and ran up to say hi to David.

I saw his mom across the park and I decided to go over and introduce myself to her (“Hi! You don’t know me but I read shark books to your son this morning. No, I’m not a creepy stalker. See, he knows me!”). Her name was Leah and she was at the park with her two children and another expat friend with her two children. We spent the better part of an hour talking–about our kids, about living in Ireland, about where we came from, about how our husbands have these really cool jobs here and yet we are legally barred from working in this country, about travel. Meanwhile, our boys were having so much fun playing together that I was sure I’d never be able to convince David that we had to leave the park at some point. It was really cool.

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When it was time for us to leave I had meant to go back and say goodbye to Leah, but then The Great Poop Debacle happened and I literally had to run out of the park without saying anything to anyone. Oh well, I thought, I’m sure they didn’t even notice that we left. We’d only just met them, after all–and a very pleasant meeting it was.

On Wednesday I brought the boys to the zoo. We’d been at the zoo for about an hour and were playing on the playground when I looked up and saw none other than our friends from the day before. I went up to Leah and told her, again, that I was not stalking her. She smiled and said that this time they must have been stalking us since we were there first this time. David and her son, Yousef, went back to playing together just like they had the day before. David was having so much fun playing that he chose to pee on a tree instead of walk 5 extra feet to the toilet that was next to the playground–which wouldn’t have been such a big deal except that he was having so much fun playing that he didn’t stop running while he was peeing and the end result was…messy. I’d left his spare change of clothes up in my car, but Leah had some extra pants for Yousef that she said we could borrow until we got back to the parking lot.

So, as it turns out, we spent the whole rest of the day wandering the zoo with Leah and Yousef, our serendipity friends. Our friends who we met by chance not once, not twice, but three times this week. This time we exchanged phone numbers, so our next meeting might be planned rather than left up to fate. Whatever happens, though, we had a wonderful week with our new friends. Maybe it was fate, maybe it was luck, maybe it was chance. Whatever it was, we found something good–and that’s enough explanation for me.