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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Transferrable Skills

I am a new mom. Before you call the Weekly World News, I have not given birth in my 50s.  But if you read this column last month, you may remember that my family recently adopted a puppy named Mickey.  You may also remember that this is the first pet I have ever had, and while I am definitely not one of those “dog people” who equate children with animals and sport bumper stickers like “My Chihuahua is smarter than your honor student,” nevertheless, I’m finding as I take care of Mickey, I’m having flashbacks to those days when my babies were small.  I’m finding the skills I learned as a mom often apply to raising my puppy.  
Mickey employing the charm offensive

To begin with, God knew what he was doing when he made babies and puppies irresistibly cute.  One of the first milestones babies achieve is the ability to smile—good thing.  It’s hard to be annoyed at 2:30 a.m. after being summoned from peaceful slumber by a wail when your baby greets you with a toothless, ear –to-ear smile.  Every parent has precious memories of their toddler jumping wildly while holding onto the crib rails as you walk into the room to get them. 

Although it is spring, you would not have known it by the weather we had the first few weeks we had Mickey.  The first few nights we had him, he decided he needed to go outside at 4 a.m.  Let me tell you, it was a good thing he was so cute and his tail was wagging like a manic metronome while we stood in the dark in the front yard with sleet pelting us as he shivered and sat on my feet as I encouraged him to get on with his business. 

I remember reading baby manuals when I was expecting my twins and many of them stated that as mom gets to know her baby, she will instinctively learn what the baby needs.  The first few days of motherhood, I had my doubts, but as the days went on, I did learn that when my baby snuffled and moved his head around, he was getting hungry.  Likewise, I’m getting to learn Mickey’s language.  When he looks up at me with adoring eyes and makes a slight whimper, I know he wants to come and sleep next to me while I sit on the couch.  And I’ve noticed that when he licks his lips, he wants to eat. 

After the daily care-giving requirements were met for my twins like feeding, bathing and diapering, I would spread a blanket on the floor, and I would get down there on it with  them and play.  I’d tickle their bellies and give them toys.  I find I’m doing the same thing with Mickey.  I have such fun getting on the floor with him (although at this stage of my life I don’t get up from it as fast) rubbing his belly and tossing his ball.

One of the joys of motherhood is seeing your children grow and learn.  I would sit and watch my babies struggle to pull themselves up in the playpen, encourage them as they lost a grip and fell and then clap excitedly when they finally stood.  Last week, Mickey learned how to climb the stairs to our second floor.  I clapped and petted his head and told him he was a big boy, even though now I will have to rescue him for a while because he hasn’t yet mastered how to come back down.  As I did with my infants, I find myself talking to him and singing him songs (Yes, Oh Mickey, you’re so fine is our favorite).

But there is a more important thing that having Mickey has reminded me of.  Before we got him, my husband and I were pretty much free agents, other than the limited responsibilities we had with our grown children and family, we didn’t have to be responsible for anyone but ourselves.  While living an unfettered lifestyle sounds attractive, it’s not really a life of any significance. 

I watched the installation of Pope Francis with Mickey at my side, and many commentators remarked on Cardinal Bergoglio’s taking the name of St. Francis, stating that Francis is the most beloved saint of all time even among those who are not Catholic.  Why?  Because St. Francis’s life illustrates the great paradoxes of life.  In the prayer attributed to him , we learn, that it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, dying that we are born into eternal life and that in giving that we receive.  

Having children, and now Mickey, has reminded me that a life of meaning is lived in service of other beings.  Humans were not designed to indulge ourselves (see the list of hedonistic Hollywood train wreck lives as an example).  To be happy and fulfilled, we need to help others.  Some of the most trying days I have had in my life have come as a mom, but they were also the days of most importance in my life.  Mickey is not my child, but he is my responsibility.  St. Francis, who knew the secret to a happy life, is also the patron saint of animals.  Is that a coincidence?  I think not.  One of the joys of raising a furry baby has been of being reminded that selflessly giving of yourself to another is the key to a happy life.   

This article originally appeared in the May issue of Northern Connection Magazine.