Bella follows me everywhere. When I sit on the couch with my legs crossed, she rests her head on my elevated foot. She curls up beside my chair while I write. She goes to bed when I do.
We have invented at least a dozen nicknames for a dog that we’ve had in our home less than a week. She dances when she’s happy to see us. Bella — or Belly-bean, or Jelly-belly, or Bella Bells — has tolerated scores of hugs from Boo Monkey (age 4) and Rainbow Girl (age 7). And me.
I can hardly imagine the vacancy when we give her back on Saturday. We’re dog sitting, but it feels like Bella is taking care of us, stitching up places in our lives that we never knew were torn.
Diana Spechler, author of Skinny, writes about how a loaner cat helped her reach places in her manuscript that she’d been afraid to confront. Over the last few days, Bella has nudged our family towards a similar grace. If that sounds like a lot to attribute to a four-legged sage, just take a look at the lessons we’ve learned.
Pay attention to what scares you. Since Monday, we’ve learned that Bella is afraid of rain, umbrellas (symbols of evil wetness), shovels that scrape on pavement, strangers, loud noises, quick movements, lacrosse sticks, and trucks.
Now, I’m a yeller. It’s not one of my more endearing traits, but there is a persistent piece of my brain that truly believes a loud voice from the other end of the apartment will get my kids ready faster when we are late. It never works, and this week I’ve had to — gasp — find other solutions. A raised voice makes Bella skedaddle. She has become my own personal volume control and, miraculously, everything seems to run a bit more smoothly when I tone it down.
Simplicity means reeling it all in. My family — even my dog-leery husband — has fallen head-over-heels-over-chins-over-nose in love with Bella. We all know she’s only here for a few days, and we know she needs a regular schedule of walks and munchies, so we’ve reeled in our activities and we’re spending more time at home. We’re eating quiet meals together. Yesterday, during the evil rain, the girls and I (and Bella) watched the movie Beethoven (with buttered popcorn), simply because we could. Oddly, a lot of the things that HAVE to get done, really . . . don’t.
Breaks are mini-adventures when you let go of the plan. If I work for too long at a stretch, Bella flips up my arm with her nose. It’s impossible to keep typing that way. The jingle of her collar is a melodic reminder to get down on the floor for a hug. Every walk has its ritual of harness, lead, poop bags, and treats. The kids take turns holding her leash. For the most part, we let Bella decide the direction. She has a particular fondness for the quietude of the baseball field, though woods are also intriguing. Today, Boo Monkey collected a huge bouquet of dandelions. They are decorating the table right now, a little reminder that beauty can grow in inhospitable places.
Love isn’t blind, but it overlooks a lot. I am abundantly flawed (see the part about yelling, above). I swear more than any mother (or sailor) should. I am anxious and neurotic and unforgiving of myself. I worry about the kids, my writing, the piles of paper in my office, the piles of laundry in the living room, the unexplained crack in the wall, and strange noises that come from the car. On top of all that, I’m am almost always late (which often leads to yelling, and sometimes cursing). There’s more, but I’m drawing a line in the interest of “too much information.” Somehow, for unfathomable reasons, Bella doesn’t care how imperfect I am. She still follows me everywhere. She still rests her head on my foot. She still dances and encourages hugging and watches me with melty-chocolate eyes. Huh. I don’t get it, but I’m grateful.
It’s late afternoon, and Bella is waiting patiently for her dinner with a speckle of glitter glue on her head — Rainbow Girl gives artsy hugs. Boo Monkey needs help cleaning her room. It’s her turn to feed “our dog”. We’ll give Bella back to her family on Saturday, but in an inexplicable way, she’s become ours, still and enduring, with her four-legged lessons, her sweet, charming self. My little shadow has graced us with a great deal of light.