Comet

Yesterday was our seven year anniversary of adopting our beloved dog, Comet. I remember the evening; it was a Thursday and Ben picked me up in front of Queens College where I was finishing up my graduate degree in Exercise Science and Nutrition. He was driving a rented ZipCar because our puppy was in a litter being fostered in southern Connecticut. The agency, Pet Rescue, pulls dogs from kill shelters mostly in the South and brings them up to the Westchester area, where they are fostered by volunteers until adopted.

I had been begging Ben for several months to allow us to get a puppy but the time wasn’t right at first and for a short stint, we lived in a small studio in Queens where dogs were not allowed. I was going through an emotionally difficult time and desperately wanted a pet, so my mom let us temporarily foster her cat for several months. This was helpful, although it didn’t fully scratch my dog-desiring itch. For numerous reasons, the Queens apartment didn’t work out and we ultimately moved back to Harlem. This time, we landed a dog-friendly rental and I revisited the discussion. Ben, an avid dog lover, finally agreed that it could work out. I had been researching dog rescue agencies and keeping my eye out for specific dogs for several months. We didn’t have a particular breed in mind nor clearly defined desired characteristics; I was convinced I’d know the right dog when I saw her. And then I did. As soon as I happened upon Comet’s picture and short bio on Pet Rescue’s website, I was positive that she was my dog. I showed Ben, and, beginning that night, I pretended Comet was already mine. When we would ride the elevator, I would pretend she was on an invisible leash pulling me out the door. When we would walk to the subway, I would extend my arm as if she was leading the way. At night before bed, I would kiss imaginary Comet goodnight. Invisible Comet had already warmed her way into my heart. Unfortunately, we were not yet approved as viable adoptive parents according to Pet Rescue and needed to undergo their rigorous application process. I eagerly submitted the completed application, but we still had a phone interview with Katie (her foster “mom,”) a Skype tour of the apartment to verify its safety, and two references needed to call on our behalf as suitable dog owners, all while adorable Comet was up for grabs for anyone, baiting even the most cold-hearted dog hater with her adorable face. Ben was stressed. The more and more I became convinced that she was my perfect dog, the more he figured we wouldn’t be approved in time to “win” her. He also cautioned me that even if we were approved and she was still available, we should keep our mind’s open for other potential dogs, including her littermates, because you “can’t judge a dog by her photo.” I pacified him with halfhearted yeses, but inside, I knew she was my girl.

Thankfully, we worked through the hoops of the application process in an expedient fashion and were approved. (For the record, I fully believe in the need for formalized process; adopting a pet is a big responsibility.) I set up the trip to meet the foster dogs under Katie’s care and scoured Craigslist for a home crate and a travel crate. We prepared the apartment with puppy toys, the food she was used to eating, and training books.

When class let out that night, I was like a caged bird set free on her first flight. I ran to find the ZipCar and I manically chatted with Ben the whole ride about what Comet would be like and how much I would love her. When we arrived, Katie led us to the back where two litters of puppies tussled with one another. They swarmed us upon our entrance into their pen. I had a broken shoulder at the time, so I kneeled on the ground to prevent getting tangled or knocked in their play. Like a human sand pile, puppies climbed all over me and ran up and down my back and over my head. As much as I like puppies, I hate chaos and get easily overwhelmed, so I was actually fairly miserable. But then there was Comet. That sweet little girl came up somewhat gingerly. She placed her front paws on my chest and poked her neck out to smell my face, and then licked it. While puppies yipped and yelped and jumped around us, Comet and I locked eyes and connected. “That one is Comet,” said Katie. “And this is Cider, and this is Condor…” She continued to list other C-names and point to each rowdy furball. “This is her!” I said to Ben. He’s a dog magnet, so every dog loved him even more than me and he more agreeably romps and ruffles with them so he glanced over at us, said, “Are you sure?” and then fit in more puppy play time. He called her over and then engaged in spirited play and Comet seemed sold on him too.

Before we knew it, we had Comet in our new travel crate and I was sitting with her in the back of the car. For just a moment after we had pulled away from Katie’s lot, I panicked that I wouldn’t be the mom she needed or wanted and that I’d fail her. My heart started racing and I looked at her tiny little body cowering in the corner of the crate. She had seemed more energetic and spunky at Katie’s and I was worried she was overcome with sadness that we’d just pulled her from all the siblings and friends she’d ever known. She’d already lost her real mom, and I couldn’t bear thinking I was causing her more pain. I opened up the crate’s door and extended my arm inside. Little Comet was nearly trembling, but upon encountering my hand, she licked in and came to the front of the crate, nuzzling her nose through the cracked door to try and climb onto me.

From there, our bond strengthened by every hour of every day. I wasn’t working at the time, so I spent my days before class training and playing with her. She had never used a leash before, which is mandatory in Manhattan, and she wasn’t yet housetrained, so we had a lot of ground to cover. Each day was an adventure, but she was eager to please and a dedicated student.

Seven years later, a lot has changed and yet a lot remains the same. She’s still my best buddy, my companion, my sweet and loyal girl. She’s an integral cog in the Amber-Ben triad. Ben and I have moved six or seven times, held probably eight different jobs between the two of us, had several broken bones, hundreds of cries and thousands of laughs, and probably gone on enough walks with her to cover the distance across our country and back. Comet has been there for all of it. She is flexible and easy-going. She has crazy food allergies like me. She is the first to greet me every morning and it’s never with a bad mood or lackluster energy; every morning she treats me like I’m a gift, excitedly wagging, whining, and sneezing (her preferred expression of joy) when I rise. She is relentlessly loving and interested in whatever we are doing. She saved me when I didn’t want to save myself. She has been my friend when I’ve had no one to talk to. She’s taught me to be a mom and a leader, more patient and prepared. Despite all the troubles and challenges Ben and I have faced in the last seven years, it’s impossible for us to truly believe our life is unfair. We have Comet and she’s been far more than we ever dreamed she’d be.

Superhero Mom

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would dedicate a brief post to my mom, who, for all intents and purposes, is really a superhero masquerading as a mom. Although I’m an adult and old enough to be a mom myself, I still need her; in fact, possibly more now than ever. And as a young adult with a chronic illnesses, autism, depression, and PTSD (to name just a few of my challenges), my mom has an overwhelmingly difficult task, yet she far exceeds any expectation or definition of a “mom” that I’ve encountered.

For someone who has such a easy time writing about quite a variety of topics, I always find it difficult to explicitly and effectively convey how much of “my everything” my mom is. I think that’s it though:  she is so much more than just a wonderful mom. She’s a dependable friend, an informed counselor, a confidant, a cheerleader, an unwavering source of support, to name a few. Maybe her importance in all of these roles and all of the many other hats she wears for me is so influential and necessary is because she is, in many cases, “the” instead of “a” for these roles: a sole warrior on the “Amber team”, working tirelessly behind the scenes to support my needs and dreams. It may sound cliché, but outside of the dyad of Ben and me, my mom is my best friend and my support system no matter what storms I have to weather. I’m not an easy person to befriend, given my physical restrictions for health reasons and my social confusion and blindness. Given my pain and my problems, I’m certainly not a pleasant or positive person many times, and against all odds and every challenge, my mom persists. I have yet to reach a day where my mom throws in the towel on any one of those crucial and tremendously generous hats she will don for me. This dependability has taught me to trust in her unconditional love and just be honest and open about my worries, problems, and even my lofty goals. I used to deeply dread being the bearer of bad news or opening up about some of my issues because I wanted her to see me as successful and well-adjusted. That facade is long gone! When I reflect on what changed, I think it was my ability to have faith (after continued reinforcement through her consistent backing of my needs) that mom was going to love me and help me no matter what. This is the most priceless and important gift anyone in life can receive. No matter what battles I need to face, I feel confident that I have a dedicated teammate who will help me face the challenge, strategize a way to work through it, and ultimately defeat it.

My mom carries a tremendous amount of wisdom, knowledge, patience, and dedication to learning about my problems and conditions so that she can both understand me and help me understand myself so that I am more comfortable and better off. Again, this is one of the most selfless and generous gifts I could possibly receive. My mom gives me her time, concern, compassion, and her strength when I don’t have enough of my own. Her unwavering support and love have stripped away some of the anxiety and guilt that I tend to innately bear for being “different” and “difficult.”

Perhaps equally important is how honored and special I feel that my mom allows me to be one of her best friends. She is open and honest with me and entrusts me with her own fears, pains, and emotions. As someone who has very few friends, this reciprocity in conversation and support makes me feel valued, respected, and purposeful.

I hope, for both of our sakes, that this year will be smoother, with fewer challenges and more clarity, comfort, success, and happiness. At the same time, I feel blessed that I can rely on my mom’s support in whatever way I need it and reciprocate this to the best of my ability, though we better not be evaluated on the same rubric because I’m more than a few paces behind her!

To my mom on this Mother’s Day (and every other day): Thank you for being everything I need on any given day and seamlessly shapeshifting to fill that need. I used to make you plaques and awards for Mother’s Day that read: World’s Greatest Mom, but as I’ve grown up I’ve found this to be a significant understatement. You are by far more than the best mom ever; you’re the best everything-I-need-you-to-be ever.

A Visit

My oldest sister came over today. Even though I’ve moved closer to home, I don’t see her often: she’s busy, I’m anti-social. In fact, when she got here, she commented that she couldn’t remember the last time we hung out alone. I was hoping that my nervousness was not as palpable as it felt. I guess that’s one of the weird things about me—perhaps it’s an autism thing—nervousness to see my own sister. She’s known me my whole life, yet my own social anxiety is so crippling that I fear seeing her. It’s also likely a product of times in my life I have been judged or teased, even bullied, and certainly made to feel even more different than I am by other people. Even though she’s family and I’m confident she wouldn’t treat me that way, I have trouble separating fears induced by past experiences in disastrous social situations over likely safe, and even pleasant new ones. This is another instance where I often let self-limiting anxieties hinder my happiness. Not only do I end up missing out on a source of love and joy, but it’s also unfair to wrongfully project the behavior of behavior of a handful of spiteful people onto my notions of everyone.

I think one of the special qualities about family members or true friends that you don’t have to “do” anything when you spend time with one another. Because I am basically immobile with my fracture and carry all sorts of limitations normally, ranging from severe food allergies to sensory challenges, there isn’t much I can do right now anyway. Ashleigh didn’t care. She didn’t pressure me to go out, provide any sort of entertainment, or make me feel like I was boring her to death. She just sat and talked with me, asked how she could help, tidied up my messes and mishaps, made me laugh, and distracted me from the loneliness and pains I’m going through. She regaled me with humorous bits from our favorite shows and talked to me like an equal, not a little sister.

Ashleigh has her own challenges and doesn’t claim to know how to help me with mine, but we seem to have a tacit understanding that we’ve got each other’s backs and admire the courage and strength that we both engage against the struggles we face, including the necessarily hard work of self-improvement and self-understanding. I look at her and see someone who is quite different than me, but also someone who, just like when I was young, I aspire to be more alike. Especially over the past couple of years, she embodies such grace, such resilience, and such clemency.

Even though she didn’t stay long, it was a bright spot in my day and a welcome break from work and even from my usual routine that I so tightly cling to. When I was talking with my husband after she left, he asked how the visit went. I caught myself saying, “surprisingly well.” Again, reminding me that I had the preconceived notion or fear that it likely wouldn’t. He asked me why I thought it went well or what I liked about it. All I replied was: I felt like I had a real friend.