Our dog Benjamin will be 13 this fall. There won't be a bar mitzvah or a confirmation, but we'll note the occasion with some extra treats, and maybe one of those singing birthday cards that he loves to destroy.
I was talking to a friend recently about family, dogs, and my looming empty nest. He's a writer and history professor -- smart, accomplished, a father of four grown kids (and from the way he described it, of two dogs as well).
"What's the empty nest like?" I asked him. "What do you do with all the energy you once dedicated to nurturing your kids?"
"You nurture your dog instead. Even more than you do now," he said. "In fact, when your kids move out, your dog's going to become the center of your universe."
He went on to say that no matter how much I think I'm not an over-the-top dog person, I'll become one. And that I should prepare myself for the way the conversations between my husband and I will shift from talking about our kids, to talking about our dog.
"Just wait, you'll see," he said.
I know he's smart, but come on -- dogs aren't people. And just because I sometimes talk to my dog as if he's a person and say things like, "I'm going to make dinner, would you like to come help me?" or "Let's go for a ride in the car," or "Do you want to watch Downton Abbey or Dancing With the Stars?," that's not an early indicator that I'm going to fully transfer the nurturing I once gave to my children to my dog. I mean, my kids are my kids, my dog is my dog.
I've met people who think their dogs are their kids. They talk about them a lot. Show pictures of them on their phones. Compare dog sickness stories, dress them up, fret about any changes in behavior, worry about getting home to them when a storm is approaching -- or dream up vacations that include the dog. Sometimes they even call them their babies.
I don't do those things. Well, maybe I do some of those things. Hey, my dog has allergies. And a delicate tummy.
And he's super cute.
Okay. I might be one of those people.
In my defense, I only take pictures of Benjamin so I can text them to my older son. He misses him, and the photos make him laugh when he's having a hard time at college.
And it's Benjamin who wakes me up in the middle of the night when a storm is coming and stares at me in the dark when I'm asleep until I wake up (how do they do that?) so I can let him out when he has to go.
It's not my fault. He's been a part of the family for 13 years.
My kids grew up with him -- cuddled with him when they were sad, and played with him when they were happy. Because of him, they learned to nurture -- to feed him, to care for him, to be responsible for his whereabouts and safety. In return, he loved them, played with them, protected them.
The year my youngest son was sick, the dog never left his side. And after I had surgery for breast cancer, he was my constant companion. There were days I didn't want to say a word to anyone, but he never minded. He hung out with me through the silence and loved me anyway.
So yes, this fall when Benjamin turns 13 and the kids are both at school, I might become an over-the-top dog person. Maybe I'll bake him a doggie birthday cake, and get him a special bed for his aging joints, and take his picture wearing a little hat and text it to his brothers (I mean, my sons). Come on, he's becoming a teenager. We might even Skype the guys so we can all be together and watch him destroy his singing birthday card.
Then my husband and I will tuck Benjamin into his new bed, and fall asleep talking about how he stills acts like a puppy even though he's the oldest of our three kids (68 in human years). Maybe I'll even tell a story about something cute he did on our morning walk.
Come to think of it, a dog mitzvah wouldn't be such a bad idea.