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When My Kids Didn’t Need Me Anymore, I Rescued a Dog Who Did

It was mid-December, and all three of our kids were taking finals—one in grad school, one in undergrad, and the last a junior in high school. Each one of them would have argued that they were carrying the most stress. I would have disagreed with all of them.

As the mother, the stress was greatest on me. After all, I had to worry about all three of them.

And, yep, my stomach was in knots.

You’re probably thinking it was because of the kid in grad school. Wrong—he doesn’t need me. Oh, the undergrad majoring in data analytics? Wrong again—he definitely doesn’t need me. Of course, the high school junior—everyone knows this year will make or break college admissions and the rest of her life. Nope, wrong again—no need there. 

Lucky for me, finals were the same week that I visited my parents in sunny Florida. I’ve been doing this for a few years, and I look forward to it for many reasons—not least that, back home, Cleveland has usually experienced at least three snowfalls by that time.

So what was my problem?

It was Luna. 

Luna, a recently surrendered two-year-old chocolate lab, had entered our lives just two weeks before, and I was smitten. The mere mention of the song Puppy Love put a palpable lump in my throat.

One of the things I noticed first about this lovable dog was how attached she was to her foster mom after a mere two weeks in her home. I remember saying to the children that Luna must have an indomitable spirit and was looking for love. I knew our family could provide it.

What I didn’t anticipate was how quickly this little doggie would capture my heart.

The last time we adopted a dog was 17 years ago when our kids were 6, 4, and 18 months. Moxie was a sweet German shepherd that was relegated to fourth position the moment she walked in the door. I loved her fiercely, but only after caring for the other three. She accepted that, and she took the love we offered from our tired hands but very warm hearts. She melded right into our family.

This time felt different. 

Two kids were launched, and one was an independent, busy young woman who came and went often, enjoying the freedom a driver’s license provided. My hands were free, and my heart was creating space in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I had more to give, and she was desperate to receive it.

And, boy, did she receive it. 

She nudged my resting hand to be petted. If I stopped, she quickly reminded me by shoving her wet nose under my hand yet again. I learned to type quickly with my right hand so my left could answer her neediness.

My neediness was another topic altogether. 

I’d see her in the shape of the clouds and in any other dog that walked by. I talked about her. Heck, I even talked to people the way I talk to the dog. I was in deep.

From Florida, I FaceTimed my husband daily under the guise of checking in with him and the kids. Oh—is the dog nearby? Sure I would love to see her, I added casually.  If I caught him in the office or on mobile, I would call back to make sure I could see her, talk to her, see her wagging tail as she responded to my voice.

At one point, my husband quipped, I think you’re just FaceTiming me to see the dog. Duh.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the need to be needed. There was nothing that could have prepared me to be counting down the days until our January reunion in Cleveland. 

It snows in Cleveland? Who cares?

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.

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