Today, my son is finishing up his first year of college. He'll be going to one last class, saying goodbye to his roommate and friends for the summer, covering up holes in his wall with toothpaste, and stuffing a pile of dirty clothes into a duffel bag before turning in his keys and leaving campus behind.
He will do all of this on his own, just like he experienced all the rest of freshman year for himself. Thinking back*, I don't think I appreciated how much of a gift this independence was for me. How foundational having the space to misbehave and strive and goof off and win and fall down and lose sleep and connect and love and eat poorly and bond and learn and type and cheer and drink and run and get naked and question and write and be me would be. It was, I think, one of the most important periods of my life. My parents had no part in it. None.
That is as it should be. But I kinda wish my mom was around now so I could tell her I get it. Long distance relationships are tough. Long distance motherhood is brutal.
And then, just to make it that much worse, the first birthday away from home comes around.
Yep. Today is his 19th birthday. He's there. I'm here.
Deep breath. Text. Call. Bake.
Tomorrow, he'll be here. Tomorrow, we'll have cake.
Right around the holidays, we started talking about it.
Tentatively at first, because we were still so tender and upset, then more analytically and then, at last, giving ourselves permission to be hopeful, with a fair amount of actual giddiness.
I mean, who were we kidding, right? We had been expertly trained by our big guy on how to be a dog family, and to let all that work go to waste would be almost criminal. We couldn't do it.
We decided to get a puppy.
Not a replacement, because there can be no such thing, but someone furry and new and special in their own way.
I began my research.
ME: [Googling on my laptop] What breed is like a Bernese, but is not a Bernese GOOGLE: Here are images of Bernese Mountain Dogs and websites full of Bernese Mountain Dogs and breeders of Bernese Mountain Dogs and they all look just like your dog that you still miss so much you can barely stand it.
ME: [incoherent muffled sob]
I stayed away from Google after that. Eventually, I found a breed that sounded amazing. Huge and hairy and friendly and smart. There was a breeder just a few hours away who was due to have puppies on my husband's birthday. I told her all about our loss and our family and she loved the whole thing. It was a sign. We were thrilled.
The puppies were born, and the photos began arriving. Nine adorable balls of fluff rolling around with their exhausted mom. My daughter was besotted with them, and I was, too. My husband, a bit concerned about just how huge and how hairy these things would grow up to be, consented to sending in our deposit. With so many puppies, the breeder was glad to set one aside for us newcomers, even though other families had been waiting for years. We signed up for puppy class and bought all the puppy things. We began counting down the weeks until our little one could come home.
My son was appalled. We should be rescuing a dog, he said firmly. There were all kinds of animals needing good homes. These purebred dogs didn't need us. There's a dog out there who does.
Yes, I agreed, distracted by a fluffy curly tail in my inbox. But look how sweet they are, honey. These puppies need homes, too.
Would it be rambunctious Miss Red, or shy little Miss Yellow? Identified only by their adorable bow collars, we could only speculate, as the breeder would be matchmaking when we met. Miss Orange was awfully winsome, too.
Pick up day was set, less than 10 days away. After all these weeks, the sheer level of email cuteness and anticipation was staggering.
Then came the staggering email of cruelty.
To: Puppy-obsessed family I have been taunting for three months From: Nutjob Breeder from Hell Subject: No puppy for you* I just now noticed that all of my puppies are perfect. I asked my friends who are puppy experts, and they agree. Every single one of them is going to be a champion show dog. Since you are only going to be bringing the puppy home to love it like mad and make it part of your family, and not parade it around a ring on weekends to earn trophies, I have decided you are unsuitable. If I had a flawed puppy, I would have given it to you. But I don't.
So instead of Miss Red or Miss Orange or Miss Yellow, who are likely piling up accolades and blue ribbons at this very moment, we rescued Miss Juneau, the mutt.
Turns out she is the perfect puppy for us.**
More photos of Juneau can be found daily on Instragram, #juneaudiaries.
Two weeks ago, we made room for Juneau and all the lovely chaos.
Long, long ago, whenever my mother felt overwhelmed by big events and life's dramatic twists and upheavals, she would go to the stove and begin stirring chocolate and sugar and butter together in a pot. She would stir and stir and then there would be fudge. Creamy, just a teeny, tiny bit grainy, tender, and cocoa-sugar-salty. Magical.
Until recently, it was elusive, this salve for the extraordinary emotional milestone.