I’ve spent the better part of the last 18 years watching my children separate from me, as they played with new friends in playgroups, marched off to kindergarten, spent longer days at school, went to sleep away camps and church trips abroad, shared their confidences with friends, applied to college and developed intimate romantic relationships. Letting go of them, when I’ve put so much time, energy and love into these two creatures hasn’t been easy, nor do I expect it will get easier no matter how proud I am of their accomplishments and adventures.
I should have taken lessons from Spray.
While I cling, she pushes away. Her pups aren’t leaving her the way my children strive for their independence; she’s leaving them. She knows instinctively when they need her and when they don’t.
During the first two weeks of their life, Spray didn’t leave their side. She was with them 24/7, only leaving them to pee and poop in the backyard and even that took a lot of encouraging on our part. She ran out the back door, squatted and ran back in again. Nothing could keep her away from her pups. They were helpless hamster-like creatures, completely dependent on her.
Spray nursed and cleaned them constantly. She lay down when they needed her too. If they cried, she was there.
But four weeks later, she is nursing less. Not only have the puppies graduated from Gerber’s Baby Cereal to mushy puppy kibble, she doesn’t want to nurse. She stands when they come for her teats, making them work for their milk. They have to reach for her. If she doesn’t feel like nursing or gets tired of the little teeth beginning to form, she jumps on a couch where the pups can’t reach her. She walks away and they drop off her. When she comes in the room they scamper after her, but she ignores them much of the time. She is weaning them.
She doesn’t worry if she’s around enough for the puppies, or how well she’s balancing her job and home life. She gives what she wants and then leaves them alone. She knows she’ll have to push them out into the world where they will be on their own.
When the pups were first born, we thought we might have lost Spray. She was no longer our frisky, fun dog. I worried we had changed her for good.
I didn’t have to.
She turns in circles when she’s excited, she naps on the back pillows of our living room couch, she runs to the front door when my husband returns from work, and she grabs Splash’s ear and pulls him out in the backyard for a romp. She’s also back in bed with my husband and me, nestled between us. I was surprised the first night I felt her weight on me, but realized she knew the pups would survive without her. They did. We leave the doors open in the house so she can come and go as she likes, checking on her babies if she needs to. But, she’s tired of her pups in a way I never expected.
I worried about how Spray would react when the puppies left us for their new homes. They may have separation anxiety from their littermates and their mom, but I think Spray will be okay after a brief wave good bye. Her human family will probably have a harder time saying good-bye to the puppies than she does, just as I have a harder time thinking about my oldest leaving my whelping box. With an emptier house, I worry about how I’m going to fill my time and find meaning in my life.
Spray isn’t going to be looking for any new art classes to take or volunteer work to get involved with when her pups leave. She’s going to breathe a deep sigh of relief that the hard work is over. Maybe I should too.