Friday, June 10, 2011


A week after the puppy barged into our lives, we had a family meeting to take stock of where we all were, and frankly, whether this was working out.

I will admit I had my doubts. Even though my family had always had dogs as I was growing up, never before had I been the Adult in The Situation. Like my kids do now, I blithely went off to school and life, leaving my mom behind to do the house training. I slept the first night on the floor with every puppy we had - and my recollection was, "after that, it was easy." So, I freely admit that the challenges of integrating a new and energetic puppy into a household took me by surprise.

Back to the family meeting. There were tensions in the house - one child was opting out of engaging with the dog, while another believed that the child who wanted the puppy most in the first place was happy to take on the lion's share of puppy care. That child had been in tears more than once at the frustrations of our wiggly wonder.

There were accusations and exasperation flying around the room before I stopped the conversation.

"OK," I said."I once read a book about marriage and it said it's easy to fight by saying, 'you never' or 'you always', but a more productive way is to look at the marriage as a third thing, to say,'what does the marriage need?' Only here, instead of marriage, we're going to say, 'what does the puppy need?' and 'what do we all need to take care of him?'"

The tone shifted. A few minutes later, as we were heading too close to the same precipice of accusations, I threw in another approach.

"We all have 'tendencies,'" I said. "Defaults. Approaches we fall into, if we don't think about it. So let's talk about what each of our tendencies are."

And we sat and admitted our foibles, our propensities, our strengths turned weak. We helped each other see ourselves better. We talked about how we could counter these tendencies.

"Yours, Mom," the kids agreed."is that you take on way too much and then you blow your stack."

Moi? I fluttered my eyelashes.

I thought about the conversation last night. Last night when I was overwhelmed. I have four work projects due in the next week, kids in soccer every evening of the week, a puppy with a witching hour, some challenging interpersonal stuff in my life, a business I'm trying to launch and general June-ness.

Last night, I had had enough. "I haven't showered in two days," I complained. "Today I had to work on three projects at the same time, and the puppy whined while we had him tied up so we could move our shoe rack into a closet. And I didn't have tuna for the dinner I had planned. And the lawn needs mowing yet again."

"Take care of yourself," my husband said, and he took the puppy and two kids to soccer. I put on my iPod and mowed the lawn. I swept up maple keys. I asked third child to vacuum and to clean the kitchen. I cut third child's hair.

And then, I took myself off alone on my bike to get a tall glass of refreshing bubble tea. I sat in the shop, still unshowered, sweaty but mercifully alone and not worried for once about the puppy, and wrote notes on the back of a chequebook. Little ideas about ways to make my full life run more smoothly, to find bits of space where I needed them. Ideas that never would have occurred to me if I had just kept pushing through.

A young woman sat at the table next to me, working away writing longhand in a binder. She packed her stuff up, just before my bubble tea arrived, and she inclined her head in my direction, to get my attention.

"I know this will sound weird," she said. "But I wanted to tell you you look beautiful today."

"Thanks," I said. "I need to hear that right now."

But, as I biked home in the cool evening air, bubble tea perched on my handle bars, I realized the value - the beauty even - of recognizing my tendencies and taking just a few minutes to live counter to these strengths made weak.

There's beauty in letting yourself be weak, be human, be yourself.


  1. What a beautiful post, Susan. And what a lovely and unexpected gift from a stranger. Makes me want to be that stranger for someone else.

  2. Sometimes we entertain angels unaware...

  3. What I love is that you're a family that talks to each other and works things through- what a blessing and result, I'm sure, of a lot of hard work! That Dave sent you off to take care of yourself shows a lot of clear communication, love and understanding. The ending is just pure gold- I can see our Father smiling. So... weak, but also very strong.

  4. This was a great post Susan. What was the name of the marriage book? That approach (the marriage as the third entity ;)) has been very useful in our experience - but I didn't know it was in a book! :)

  5. I can totally relate to taking on too much!

  6. The book was Walter Wangerin's As For Me and My house. The other marriage book I really liked was Mike Mason's The Mystery of Marriage. Neither was how-to.

  7. What a beautiful unfolding of embracing weakness. Thanks for the permission Susan. :)