How my dogs drive me nuts, and save my sanity.

I often think when I walk my dogs in the mornings – or when a tradesman comes to my door – that people must think me insane: “How on earth does that poor woman put up with those dogs?”

I say this because, on initial contact, my dogs are unbelievably loud.  A confusing combination of fierce barking and fiercely wagging tails that continues for several minutes.  They travel in a pack and approach everyone and everything as though  (wherever we happen to be) it all exclusively belongs to them.

Visitors to the house get assaulted by love on entry.  The dogs offer every bone going and, since I am an indulgent mother, climb along the backs of sofa cushions while we’re trying to chat to see if anyone is interested in being kissed.

Fortunately they are somewhat disarming to look at. Bobo is the eldest at almost 7 and looks and behaves like a miniature Labrador.  He is in fact a cross between a Pincher and a Chihuahua. In Bobo’s mind, I am exclusively his and being as close to my face as possible at all times is his life goal.

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The smallest, Lucy Bella, looks more like a character out of Beatrix Potter than a real dog.  She could easily be mistaken for a meerkat.  Being tiny, she is the one who barks the loudest and the longest out of sheer determination (I am sure) not to be mistaken for a snack.  We carry her round the house like a baby.  Which she allows.

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And then there’s Owen. Owen is a cross between a Beagle, a Pointer and a large, plush toy from Hamleys.  Almost 3 years old and four times as large as the other two, he considers himself to be the same size.  This can be challenging when it comes to pillows or lying behind your head along the top of a sofa.

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Sure, the dogs can drive me absolutely batty at times: the mud, the shredded shoes, ham off the counter, stepping on a bone with one’s bare feet, the occasional accident, noise.  However, their noisy, boisterous meet and greets account for less than 10% of their daily life.  For the other 90%, they fulfil the function of extra siblings, playmates, cuddlers, blankets, companions, entertainment, and sanity savers. They are just fantastic company. And since one dog day equals 59 human days they also, understandably, spend much of their time asleep.

They are possibly the most expensive dogs in England after I shipped them Canine First (/Only) Class from Los Angeles after we unexpectedly moved here in 2016.  There was never a question in my mind that they should join us. We had lost so much already, I was not prepared to lose them as well. We had all been apart for almost three months when they stumbled bemusedly through customs at Heathrow after their flight and the kids and I fell on them as if they brought a lifesaving elixir in a barrel on their collars.

Which metaphorically they did.  In the midst of so much stress and strain and grief, the dogs are exclusively ours, and provide an unrelenting constant of upbuilding love and comfort. The dogs are our home and, unequivocally, on our side.

As a single mum navigating a houseful of teenagers, Bobes, Lucy B and Benowen by contrast think I’m a superstar and are unfailingly thrilled to see me.  Even if I’ve only been out for five minutes.  This is hugely supportive even when I’m struggling with seven bags of shopping and trying to squeeze in through the front door.  They are my faithful companions.

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Dogs bring balance.  It can never again just be about the kids or about you.  Taking the dogs for a daily walk for the dogs’ sake mystically brings my own life into balance. I am blessed to be outside in nature with a purpose.  And dogs don’t forget.  They hold no truck with whatever else may be going on, a walk’s a walk for goodness sake!

Dogs train you to colour outside the lines simply because they lead you straight over them.  The best laid plans come unstuck with mud, or wet, or a chewed shoe, or – God forbid – a lost dog.  They teach us to dwell in the messiness of life, not try to cover it or recover from it. My house is far from immaculate because of the dogs and yet, because of the dogs, it is so much more a haven of hugs and home.

In my experience, dogs enlarge the place of your tent.  You’re a bigger party, a broader concern. It’s no longer just you guys facing the world on your own, you have by your side huge fans cheering you on everywhere you go and every step you take.  Dogs, without fail, are loyal.

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And dogs keep you humble.  Have you ever had the worst behaved toddler at a birthday party?  That’s my daily dog walk.  “I AM so sorry!!” I cry throughout various parts of Surrey, shovelling charm on with a spade to allay alarm. “They’re completely harmless! Just loud…”  My three bark and wag and bounce back to me with looks of sheer glee at what they’ve accomplished.  They only do it in a pack — out individually I suspect they’d stick close to my heels and barely make a peep.  Little stinkers.

So yes of course, I have my moments of wondering, “How did I end up with three? What in the world was I thinking??” But then I look in those faces and get down on the floor for a cuddle.

And the world seems bearable again.

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jsg/march 18

Mothering As Falconry.

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I have a fourteen year old daughter.  She is loving, beautiful, witty, creative and brave.  And, boy, does she hate me.

She doesn’t hate me. But, boy, it feels real.

Many changes have happened in her life over the past few years.  Changes over which she had no control and little to go on except the sometimes tenuous belief that her mother has her best interests at heart.  On numerous occasions, however, the stress of our circumstances have stretched her ability to believe this beyond reasonable limit.

At me, she snaps; she flails; she lashes out; she tears; she attacks; she wounds; she hates.

But I know she also weeps, and feels, and hurts, and questions, and fears.

She is like an elegant young falcon the Lord has put on my wrist.  He has entrusted her – specifically – to my care until she is strong enough, old enough and wise enough, to fly away and thrive on her own.

She is attached to my wrist by a thin strip of leather around her leg. So she can fly a little — but must return.  Sometimes I let the leather out further and glory to see her spread those growing wings.  But then it limits the freedom she begins to discover, and she’s furious.   I draw her back to me and she stabs with her beak at the soft tissue of my forearm or lunges at my face.

OW.

However, the leather strip is attached at the other end to a glove given to me by the Head Falconer.  I wear the glove on my left hand for protection – both for her and for me.  The glove is Faith and it shields us both.  It shows me that it’s not just me and her in this to and fro of maturing.  She can flail and nip, but I’m equipped to protect us both from real injury.

And every time she wants to fly away but can’t, or wants to stay on my wrist but I make  her airborne, she battles me.  Yet with every battle, the muscles employed to flail and rail and flap are the same ones she will need even more so later on, when I’m not there. And these crucial muscles grow stronger and more developed each time (as do mine to steady her.)

Sometimes I put blinders on her eyes to protect her from things that would frighten her or are beyond her need to know.  She doesn’t know I’ve put the blinders on because I’ve protected her. She rests quietly on my wrist and I stroke her feathers and reassure her. Such gentle moments are sweet relief.

In her and my struggle, I should remember this: That I only get to keep her attached to me — firmly, wisely, kindly — until such time that the Head Falconer reveals she has grown ready to soar beyond my restraints.

In the meantime, I must see this back and forth for what it is:  a majestic and terrible privilege to nurture and train and comfort this exquisite creature to fly higher and farther than I could even imagine.

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I love her so.

 

 

 

jsg/aug 17

Playing the bass note.

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There are times in my life – many times over the past few years – where what has happened seems to be one damn thing after another.

Unfortunately, I do not find currency in this.  I have no interest in being “Oh poor Josie!” as if people are expecting one more dreadful thing to come flying at my head. It irritates me hugely.  I am not interested in drama (somewhat ironic for an actress), and I long for the moment when news might travel far and wide on the airwaves prefixed by this, “Oh my word, how BRILLIANT! You will NEVER GUESS what has happened for Josie – she’s had a WIN!”

In the meantime, I sit with what is.  I am not disconsolate nor in despair. I have retained my sense of humour, I can mostly see the funny side.  I have good perspective.

And here’s the interesting thing.  I realise that because my life has so often played the bass note, I find that I can be the “go to” person when friends are in difficulty.  I either reach out to them, or they will contact me.

For here is the treasure of darkness.  Once you have sat in the ashes (and been willing to stay there knowing that, ultimately, God will bring it to good no matter what) you are willing to do it for other people also.

Oswald Chambers (as so often) puts it well:

‘You always know the man who has been through the fires of sorrow and received himself, you are certain you can go to him in trouble and find that he has ample leisure for you.’

It’s not that you are no longer impacted by tragedy or heartbreak, you feel it wholly.  But you no longer feel excluded from involvement by its enormity.  Because you know that actually there is nothing you can say to mitigate the circumstances, the key is just to show up. Just be present.  Be with.  Sit it out.

I think of the bass notes in jazz and how they ground the tune.  Carve it out, deepen it, enrich it, bring out every shade of tone and temper. They give the higher notes room to dance, to soar, to play around.  They give the music its frame.

Without them the score would be lightweight. With them, it’s breathtaking.

And when those bass notes play in your own life, those who will walk beside you become doubly precious.  Not simply because they know a part of your journey, but because they stayed with you through it, no matter how unending it seemed to be.

I cannot flee the music of my life, it’s my only one. Tellingly, as much as I think I might prefer to be a soaring high note, when I’m rigorously honest with myself I recognise that perhaps really I wouldn’t.

For the greatest riches of my experience have all come when everything else has been stripped away. They are the ones I truly cherish, because they came at a cost.

And of course the greatest gift through all of it is this.  It is indeed because of the bass notes that I have come to know that I know that I know that I know 

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that God is real.

 

jsg/aug 17

 

 

 

 

Decisions

This is the post excerpt.

And then she was free

Problogue (see what I did there?):

This is my new blog.  I finished my previous blog/incarnation in the early summer.  That character arc took me from married to divorced, Los Angeles to England with two youngish children in tow.  You can read all about it here: www.bashonregardless.wordpress.com.

This new blog is entitled: AND THEN SHE WAS FREE. Not because it’s unicorns and rainbows – the reality of freedom is far grittier than that.  I’ve burst forth from one cocoon to discover slowly slowly who I’ve now become (“I have legs?  Oh my word, I can see!”). But here’s the catch.  NOT into the old world I inhabited. No, no.  It’s a whole NEW one which clearly requires this new person I’ve become.  Old patterns fail fast, new capacities only begin to emerge and I want to cry, “Seriously? This is freedom?”

Yet I believe it is.

So, as I begin, I have come to some decisions.

I have spent a year feeling guilty for all that I have put my children through (divorce, transplant, multi-generational living). A year, I now realize, where I forfeited my right to be the parent because I simply felt so badly for the choices I was forced to make.  The right choices yes, but horrendously challenging ones.  Compromise, compensate, compromise.  Oh my word how the three of us have suffered on account of me.

It has been a year where, by force of necessity, the children and I moved back in with my elderly parents.  A sanctuary!  A safe place!  A kindness! But a time to recoup?  Well yes and no.  It turns out your childhood issues don’t go away when you return home as an adult. Either with your parents or your siblings.  And now there’s no escape.

It has been a year where I was determined to create new community fast, fearing isolation as death. I forged forward and was blessed to discover whom the Lord had placed in readiness in my path.  Sadly, not so for my children. Racism, alienation, and grief have consumed them much. And I have watched and grieved and felt co-dependently guilty as if, somehow, this were all my fault.

So now I emerge into Year Two.  How am I to make my way, like an elephant through the jungle, forging a path for my reluctant children to follow?  What must I decide?

  1. That I cannot live for anyone else. Elderly parents, unsupportive siblings, dysfunctional exes, friends with a different view, even my children.  I have to find a way to make this life work. I must focus and gain ground.
  2. Boundaries must be put in place. No more “anytime you need me, I’ll be there”.  It’s not possible.  I need to keep my eye on the finish line.
  3. That my schedule must be basic to succeed.
  4. That I need to close my door. To process what is truly needed and to reflect on what is left.
  5. To look neither to left or right, but to listen, watch and discern each step. There are wolves, alligators and swamps out there.

I have to say it’s not sexy, this life as a single parent replanted on the other side of the globe.  But is anyone’s?

I would love you to walk alongside me as I navigate this new way of being. Surely it cannot be as bad as where I’ve been. And if it is?  I’ve surely had the training to meet it before it meets me.

Forward.

Jsg/aug 17