I have decided to add a new feature to my blog, a weekly entry for fellow dog lovers, puppy breath addicts and those with a high tolerance for the furry and cute. One of the reasons is that, thinking back, my early memories of our original Newf Jonah are pretty cloudy, lost in the haze of the fact that we made the crazy decision to get a puppy and have our first baby at the same time.
Prepare for a weekly feature that will include photos of the famously-hard-to-photograph Newfoundland as he grows (you can almost watch it happen) and a journal entry that chronicles this exciting addition to our family. The other reason? Let's face it: my littlest kid just turned four. It's been too long since I've had something tiny and helpless and endearing to slather with affection and obsess over.
SAMPSON COMES HOME:
7 weeks, 16 lbs
In January, a few weeks after our Newf of almost ten years died, I happened to come across a farm near Harrisburg that was known for Newfoundlands, miniature silky goats and dried flowers, whose name was Opening Heavens Doors. I thought it might be a sign. Some of our dearest people and animals had recently gone to the other side, so anything that promised some kind of connection to this seemed auspicious. When I perused the website and found a female looked exactly like Dakota, the Newf I'd had since I was 16, the one who marched in Cornell's graduation alongside me and whose immediate acceptance of my then-casual-boyfieind, now-husband J made me think twice about him, sealed the deal. I contacted the owners, paid our deposit and we began the wait.
In the past three years, my children have lost their grandmother to cancer, suffered the sudden departure Uncle Matty G, and then the loss of Jonah, their lifetime canine companion, their constant. I have been a little anxious about the idea of loved ones as 'replaceable' and so the waiting period was important. Waiting to hear if the breeding took, if there was a black male in the litter, and finally, driving to Harrisburg to pick out the newest member of the family.
In the interim, I did exactly what I did when expecting Hayden: I read. Piles of books on dogs and training, though this time around I had the sense to get them from the library. I remember before our first child was born, I had been reading "The Baby Whisperer" and I took a long walk with my aunt, mother of 6 (5 boys and 1 girl) and told her how great things were going to be when the baby arrived, according to this book. There was even an acronym for it! E. A. S. Y.= Eat, Awake, Sleep, You Time! I told her how we would never nurse or feed our baby to sleep so he didn't get used to that as the norm, and how we would not need to change our life for our baby: the nanny whisperer told us to 'invite the baby into our life'. Which, in our appropriately selfish mid-twenties, included lots of job changing, frequent sports-inspired vacations, liquid dinners and constant moving.
I remember my aunt very politely, gently said something along the lines of 'wait and see when he gets here'. Which, when it happened, turned our lives upside down and created a complete 180 in our parenting views. Invite him into our lives? We had planned a surf trip to the Bahamas for weeks after our due date, reasoning that one of us could hold the newborn in the shade, and then we'd swap. We were so anxious to show everyone that a kid wouldn't slow us down or change us. As the plane ticket came and went, we found ourselves in the NICU at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, praying for the life of our first born, making promises that included never seeing the ocean again if he would just survive. (You can read about this story here.)
The books I checked out this time around, about adding a hairy, four-legged addition to your family or pack, were surprisingly familiar--The Dog Whisperer, and Natural Puppy Rearing. If you subsituted 'baby' for 'puppy' in these texts, the polar messages were exactly the same. I inhaled them, checking in about what resonated and what didn't apply.
J scoffed a smidge at my need to revisit texts from the 'experts'. "We've raised two great dogs and three amazing kids in the last 15 years--why do you think you need to read books again?" But I did, just to reaffirm where I stood. I'd read parts of the text aloud, things that didn't resonate, 'tests' we were meant to put our puppy through, and principles that probably do apply when you are the Dog Whisperer rehabilitating pit bulls, but maybe not so much when you have an underactive, home-raised seven-week-old Newf on your hands, or in your family bed as the case may be.
Choosing Sampson was easier than I had worried it might be, and we wanted to do it quickly so there was no sadness or second-guessing. Taking both was not an option--whoever didn't come home to us was going to a baker. Both boys were on their stomachs on the cool tile floor, front paws outstretched, back legs pointed behind them, in tiny little Superman position. Both would have made great additions to the family, but we chose the sleeker, 1 lb heavier boy on the left.
The several hour ride home, despite the nail in our tire, Piper clipping her neck in the clasp while trying to don Sampson's collar, and Hayden losing privileges for taunting a cross-legged Max with hissing 'pee' sounds and Sampson snoring away was pretty good too.
At home, our first night was surprisingly smooth. We sat out in the late evening air and let Sampson and our cats get a gander of each other, and then he wandered into his little spot in the ktichen and passed out.
I had these expectations that we would co-sleep with our new puppy--we still have a musical beds schedule with most of our kids, and Jonah certainly enjoyed his years in the 'pile of puppies' style of family bed. But for whatever reason, Sampson was cooler and more comfortable in his own little spot by the a/c vent and an ice cold stainless bowl of water in the corner of the kitchen.
So J and I went up to bed, feeling pretty smug. He had gone to the bathroom several times outside, had lolled in the kids' arms the whole car ride home. No accidents, no crying. I remarked that I felt about him like I had when bringing my babies home: I loved them on principle, but didn't feel like I knew them yet, and I lived in quiet fear of The Night and all of the unknowns it might bring. With Hayden, it was months before he came home, and Max was such an easygoing little fellow that I didn't have a dreadful newborn night until I brought home my third, Piper. By your third kid, you're supposed to be seasoned. You're supposed to know better than to feel like a cocky pro on the maternity ward when your little angel (left) sleeps all through her first hours of life and by god, you're supposed to know better than to rush home. But I didn't. I begged to be discharged at less than 24 hours, and took a borderline jaundiced Piper home to meet her brothers and even did some gardening.
But when night fell, and her thready wails began, I am embarrassed to admit that not only did I call all my friends who had three or more kids and hold the phone up to her for a diagnostic, not only did I call my Labor and Delivery nurse friend on the West Coast, but I actually called the staff at the hospital that I had campaigned to be discharged from, and suggested I bring her back. Just in case, you know, she was crying because there was seriously something wrong with her. I swear you could see the eye-rolls through the phone.
So our first night with little Sampson, J and I went to bed with a small amount of terror in the pit of our stomachs. It wasn't long before I noticed he was gone. J slept much of the first half of the night on the kitchen floor beside the puppy because of Sampson's penchant for putting his whole face in his water bowl while sleeping. I'm not kidding, (photo at end,) and upstairs, I fretted about the peaceful silence, the calm before the storm, anticipating the moment that the howling would begin.
3:36 am: you would think harbor seals were being slaughtered downstairs. I took a shift on the floor wondering when was the last time I scrubbed the baseboards, J took a second, I took a third, he took a fourth, and finally at 4:45, little man was up for the day. I carried him outside for the summer dawn chorus of birds and did some halfhearted weeding in my pajamas while he got into some determined grass sniffing.
Despite the lack of sleep, our first full day has been an early summer delight. Sampson and Piper watered the lima bean garden before she went to her final day of preschool and the heat index got so high that our panting black woolly bear caterpillar had to stay inside with the AC running.
Early morning, Sampson and Atticus went Round Two. Atticus is our junior kitten of three cats, 2 years old and full of attitude and machismo--he took a soft paw to Sampson's downy cheek in their first few minutes together, and then has made a point of following us everywhere, and then scampering ahead to flop in our path and flick his tail, just so we're clear that he's really annoyed. Shades of toddler Max's fantastical "Ben 10" rage-transformations when baby sister arrived on the scene. If I'd had more than three hours of sleep last night, I would find the video of one of these and post it. Lordy.
Midday, 96 degrees in the shade, we took Sampson to the pool for his first swim. You'll have to ignore my Kenny Loggins thrift store sunglasses--it's crazy sunny out and I am in desperate need of a trip to Target for some more cheap UV protective eyewear, but until then, try to take me seriously in these. (My husband can't.)
Sampson was calm and relaxed in the water, and when Hayden took him in, even tried a few tentative paddle strokes. Could it be? We might finally have a Newfoundland, the famous water-rescue breed, who actually swims?!
Aside from swimming, most of the day, Sampson has slept and eaten, gnawed and drooped his little head into the fresh ice cubes in the water bowl. We have done our favorite summer tradition of an evening walk with bikes and it fills my heart to have a dog along again. Piper and all of the kids are getting very good at the art of distraction, (chew a stick instead of the hem of a pretty 3T sundress,) and are taking my suggestion not to use the word "no" with his name seriously. The boys had three mini training sessions and swear he comes when called, can sit on command, and has mastered 'lie down and sleep'.
It's dark again, and the kids are settled, J is home from work, and Sampson is showing off his puppy skill of sleeping, eyes closed, chin-deep in the water bowl.
Stay tuned for more Sampson next week, when 73 members of the extended family arrive for a reunion, two-year-old cousin Quinn moves in next door, and we might try something really rigorous, like walking him with a collar and a leash.