I don’t remember my parents being particularly overprotective when I was growing up. I certainly played my share of sports, had minor bumps and bruises, even a few concussions, and they didn’t whisk me off to the doctor every time I stubbed my toe or had a snotty nose. Then again, my mother was a nurse — which meant she could quickly determine whether something was really a crisis and act accordingly. More often than not, the “crises” were manufactured by me, a self-confessed hypochondriac from a young age with an extensive ACE bandage collection my family still teases me about. (I don’t think I’m really a hypochondriac, incidentally — I’m using the term loosely — but I do tend to be dramatic about my own injuries … as well as most things in general.)
Today, my mother’s theory is that she spent the day working with patients when I was a child; when she came home, I wanted her attention. I wanted to be the patient. So I made up ailments. Like sprained ankles, headaches, and other things I could pretty easily exaggerate. I wasn’t conscious of it. And lord knows I got tons of positive attention from my parents all the time. I don’t know why I was such an attention whore, but I apparently was. (And yes, I’m in therapy now. Twice a week. I know, it should be like 17 times a week at least. I’m accepting donations.)
Before Rosie, I had cats — Lucy and Ethel — who lived to be 17 and 19, respectively. They were pretty healthy up until they died, and I don’t remember being particularly overprotective of them. They were pretty independent — coughed up the occasional furball, got a UTI or two, then just got sick at the very end and died. I don’t mean to sound callous; I loved them dearly, but that’s what happened. They were healthy and then they were not. I simply didn’t really worry that much about them.
Rosie is a different story. I worry about her incessantly. My mother has dubbed me a HELICOPTER MOM. I hover. And it’s been this way since I rescued her last year. I clearly didn’t learn this behavior from my mom, so I don’t quite understand why I hover. It’s not like Rosie’s done anything to make me not trust her. She doesn’t drink (well, just lots and lots of water); meets her curfew; doesn’t run around with shady neighborhood mutts; and, as far as I know, does not smoke or take drugs (except her once-a-month heartworm treatment).
My “helicoptering” started almost immediately after I rescued her. Maybe it was because I saw her as especially vulnerable and viewed myself as her savior; maybe there was some weird tie-in with my aforementioned “hypochondria”. Perhaps I project it onto her. Maybe it was simply because I was a new dog mom and I wanted to do everything perfectly and I was just a nervous nelly. Whatever the reason, I have become one of “those
smothers mothers” who practically hold out a safety net underneath the monkey bars every time their kid is on the fucking jungle gym.
I fell instantly in love with Rosie (which wasn’t hard to do) and couldn’t believe how quickly we bonded. When she arrived from Los Angeles via Waggytail West, she was exhausted the first few nights. I would just walk her, feed her dinner, wrap her up in a little blanket and watch the sweet little thing sleep. Sometimes my eyes would well up with tears, as I couldn’t believe how lucky I felt to have this little puppy in my life. She was truly my dream dog.
As I watched her sleep more closely, I observed the way she loved to make her body as small as possible in the blanket (this is very Chihuahua-like); her gentle breathing; the way she adjusted herself every ten minutes or so, and the way she opened her eyes and look around every so often as if to say, “Where the fuck am I tonight?”
When she would go back to sleep, I started to focus on her sweet little blonde lashes and the way they fluttered a little, as if she was dreaming.
Then, her little head would move ever-so-slightly from side-to-side and her nose would twitch. Maybe she’s dreaming that she’s in a park sniffing other dogs’ butts, I figured. Or maybe she’s imagining she’s in my kitchen and I’m whipping up the most amazing turkey and giblet stuffing dinner for her. (Since I don’t cook, that really is a dream!) And I kept watching …
And this is where what could have been a beautiful exchange between a new mother and her dog becomes the story of a stalker helicopter mom psychotically monitoring her jetlagged puppy’s first nap in her new home.
Rosie’s leg began to sort of shake. Just a little, but enough so that I got alarmed. Was she okay? Was she having one of those “falling” dreams? They say to never wake someone having a nightmare … should I leave her alone? Was she indeed having a nightmare? Or trying to just scratch some kind of itch she was having? Do dogs even fucking dream?
I continued to watch, getting increasingly concerned. Her eyes began to twitch more; so did her leg. Her head moved from side to side. What the fuck was going on here? Was she having a seizure? Was she epileptic? Could they have missed that in her physical? Should I call the 24-hour vet? Should I call Fiona for advice? Should I wake my sleeping child? What should I do?
Then, it was the final straw. Rosie began to make noises in her sleep that were somewhere in between low-pitched barking and really loud burping. Like she was speaking in fucking tongues.
“ROSIE!” I shouted, patting her on the leg. “ROSIE!”
She opened her eyes right away and looked around a little, then focused on me. She looked as sweet as ever — slightly alarmed, but more inquisitive and not the least bit irritated. And there was that undeniable loving Rosie look that she always has on her face — the look I fell in love with, the look everyone falls in love with. I was relieved and grateful. And I felt batty as all shit. This just couldn’t happen again. I took her in my arms.
That was last April.
I’ve really learned a lot since then. Rosie still has her little dreams and I’ve learned to lay off in that department. Just not every department.
I am getting better, though. Last Christmas, Rosie stayed with her sitter/boyfriend Manuel for the first time when I went to D.C. to visit my family. It was a cold month and I sent Rosie off with a little bag containing a wool and shearling tartan jacket, little boots, a warm blanket, and a sweater.
He sent me frequent updates, videos, and photos of Rosie and the other dogs she was staying with — one of which was Chula, the black lab who lives down the hall and who is one of her best friends. The pictures and videos made me feel secure and know that she was in great hands — it didn’t really even bother me when Manuel told me Rosie was “terrorizing” another dog who was staying with them. First of all, I couldn’t imagine Rosie “terrorizing” anyone/anything. I figured Manuel was exaggerating. And secondly, I’m a helicopter mom on behalf of Rosie — not on behalf of someone else’s fucking dog. I don’t care if Rosie’s doing the terrorizing! Just as long as no one is terrorizing her! I can’t save the goddamned world!
Anyway, Christmas in D.C. was nice. Festive. I saw my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and niece and nephew and was able to relax, for the most part. I tried not to mention Rosie too much to the family — not because they don’t love her, but because they tease me incessantly about my helicopter-momming and as much as I’m able to laugh at it myself, when they poke fun, it can be endlessly irritating.
Manuel sent me his holiday card (starring Rosie, Chula, and the dog Rosie was allegedly “terrorizing”) and a video of Rosie playing with one of her friends. He also sent me a video of her running around in Central Park on Christmas morning and I was so happy to see her out and about. Because she has some terrier in her and is only two, she has a ton of energy and loves to run around. I’m a little skittish when it comes to taking her to the dog park because I’m such a helicopter mom — I’m always afraid she’s going to get kidnapped by aliens or eaten alive by Cujo. But I trust Manuel to take her to places with unfamiliar dogs. As I mentioned before, he’s a trainer as well as a sitter.
So anyway, more about this video of Rosie in Central Park on Christmas morning — it was just so cute. I showed it to everyone in my family. I watched it several times that day, feeling a combination of gratitude that Rosie was in such good hands and sadness that we couldn’t spend our first Christmas together (dogs are not allowed in my mother’s apartment). As I watched it for the hundredth time, something struck me: Rosie was not wearing her little shearling coat. I checked the temperature in New York on my phone: 34 degrees. What was Manuel thinking? He clearly wasn’t. Did he want my precious baby to die of hypothermia?
“Jesus, take a chill pill,” my sister said. “She’s a dog. Dogs have fur. She lived on the street. She’s a survivor. She’ll get through it. Eat your fucking dinner.”
She was right. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t let go of the helicopter controls.
I decided to let it be and not call Manuel out on it. But I did text in the morning to check on Rosie.
“She’s good,” he reported. “She had the runs a little bit in the night — she pooped on the floor so I gave her a Pepto-Bismol so she would be more comfortable. She’ll be back to normal by the time you’re home.”
PEPTO BISMOL! Is that safe for dogs? Should I call Dr. Farber?
“Helllllllll…i-copter,” my mom said. Helllll-icopter!”
“But mom, what if he gave her too much? I never told him what she weighs. What if she overdoses? Should I Google it? Should I call him?”
“NO!” my mom and sister said in unison. “It’s the day after Christmas. Relax. He knows what he’s doing. Rosie’s fine. Have a beer. Take a Xanax.”
They were right and I knew it. So I didn’t call, I let it go and the day was salvaged. (I did take a Xanax, though.) I came back to New York and picked up Rosie. Manuel said her runs were gone. She was happy to see me. I was thrilled to see her. I wrapped her up in a blanket, got a cab, and took her home.
I honestly think I’ve chilled out a lot since then. Sure I have my moments of, “ROSIE! Watch out for that glass on the ground!” and “Rosie! Don’t take treats from strangers!” For the most part, though, I’ve learned that my helicoptering is less about Rosie and more about me. (And hey, it only cost me about $34,000 in therapy to figure that one out.) I’m not going to fuck this mothering-a-dog thing up. All I need to do is sit back, trust my instincts, use my best judgment… and the most important part: enjoy my girl.