I want to talk about Grace.
Grace entered our lives on August 20, 2014. She weighed five pounds and (as I’ve written before) screamed and squalled from the moment she landed in my arms. To say we had plans for Grace was an understatement; we’d been talking about her for months. We had schedules and lists of things we’d teach her. We had all of our experiences from growing up in families that competed with dogs (agility, tracking, obedience, and conformation), and we were certain that our first dog, OUR dog, would fulfill everything we expected her to be.
See, Grace was going to be perfect.
Then she wasn’t, and we were devastated. She hated cuddling, and because she’d been tossed out on the highway, she never got the important socialization that her mother would have provided. She was mouthy and hard to housetrain. The biting is a faint memory now, but I remember how many times she caught me with those sharp puppy teeth. She embodied what it meant to be an ankle biter.
She would eat anything, and we were constantly fishing stuff out of her mouth. We’d take turns on “Grace surveillance”. Occasionally, we would get a friend to watch her, and they would always have a frazzled reaction when we returned. (We do intend to write more on how it feels to have a dog your friends hate or antagonize, but needless to say, these people will most likely be culled from your life or you will no longer hang out with them as much if you have a “wild child”. This may be a bad or good thing depending on what kind of people you would like to associate with.)
For the first six months, we struggled, but it helped that she was so smart. She learned sit in a day and how to roll over almost instantly, but we were so caught up in what we thought she should be that we didn’t fully recognize the wonderful parts of her. Here she is at about 8 weeks:
Then somewhere between new jobs and a new house, Grace settled. She is still herself, but our consistency finally paid off. The biting stopped. She completely housetrained. She became and still is my shadow, sleeping peacefully in the kitchen or chewing her nylabone beside me as I write. We believe consistency was a huge factor, but also very important, we accepted that Grace was who she was supposed to be.
She will never be perfect, and the minute I let that go was the minute I could appreciate Grace for her abounding joy. No one will ever greet me the way Grace does. I love that she stays with me, and I love that she is the first to let me know if someone is at the door. Grace can only be who she was meant to be – a bit overenthusiastic, a touch wild, perhaps a little too possessive at times, and incredibly loving.
Mark gives me grief sometimes because I like to take Grace’s face in my hands. “You’re a good dog,” I’ll say as she wiggles to get her face closer to mine. “You’re smart and loving and wonderful addition to the world.”
“Are you giving Grace her daily affirmation?” He’ll joke, but he knows it’s important.
You see, Grace has saved us from making a dire mistake. The reality is that each living thing has a will of its own and its own desires. The potted plant will lean its way to the sun, regardless of where you think you’re going to put it. Despite knowing that and being around dogs our whole lives, we still assumed that we could nurture Grace to be “perfect” and have the “correct” personality. We still ignorantly assumed that despite all of our knowledge of dog personalities that our dog would be completely malleable to the mold we thought she should be.
Grace is forgiving. We are lucky for that.
Now, as we plan ahead for children (in years to come), we talk about our experience with Grace a lot. We are very cognizant to be careful when imagining what our children will be like because, although we will mostly control their environment and schedules, we know that only heartache can come from trying to force their personalities one way or the other. We are each made with a special set of skills, weaknesses, and ideas; we hope to honor that in our family.
Grace taught me to release my expectations of what I think my children should be, and for that, I am endlessly thankful.