Two years ago, just prior to my daughter’s 13th birthday, she was given the most beautiful Australian Shepherd pup I’ve ever seen.  A blue merle, her markings were unusually evenly distributed rather than in patches (similar to the center puppy in this picture).  Her eyes, crystalline blue and playfully expressive, demanded that you–dog lover or not–fall in love with her at first sight.  Weighing in at m a y b e a bag of sugar when we got her (and 12 times the sweetness), Bella radiated joy, and no one could see her without the immediate compulsion to scoop her in their arms to LOVE her!  Bella simply had no need for legs, we wanted to carry her everywhere.  Testimony to her puppy wiles, Tad consented to a second dog where he had maintained a hard-line "NO!" before; he couldn’t help himself, her inescapable gravity was that strong.

Rachel received her the weekend before school started.  Because the children hated leaving her behind (and because she was becoming my conjoined twin), Bella made the afternoon trip with me for pick up every day. 

By Wednesday, Bella was moping around and I remember thinking she seemed depressed, which was odd to me–a depressed puppy?  It made sense that after having the children to play with ALL DAY over the weekend, she was missing them while they were at school.  By Wednesday night, we knew something was terribly wrong.  Thursday morning, she was lethargic and we found her draped over her water bowl, not once, but twice before school.  I made an appointment for 10, but when I went to the garage to check on her shortly after returning home from drop off, she had disappeared.  This time, not beside her water, I couldn’t find her anywhere!  Frantic, I began searching the yard.  I finally found her under some shrubs, breathing, barely detectable, and flies beginning to settle on her body.  Horror replaced frantic and I grabbed a towel, scooped her up, and flew to the vet’s office.  I was totally ignorant about what was going on, the progression of Bella’s illness was remarkable. 

Once there, the vet easily diagnosed the problem.  Advanced Parvo.  It was wicked.  It was relentless.  And, pitifully, too far gone to treat.  Through an ocean of tears, I called Tad, and although there was really no decision to be made, we decided to let the vet put her to sleep.  I was devastated.  I could not stop crying for this puppy we had had for less than a week!  I dreaded telling the children, telling Rachel. 

My response to all this surprised me–it wasn’t "like" me to become so openly emotional; the tears flowed more than ebbed, and honestly, they were bewildering.

But, then it hit me…it wasn’t just about Belle.  Classic transference, it was also about my oldest child, my only daughter, celebrating her 13th birthday the same week.  I remember being flooded with emotion and remembrance, mentally filing through all the milestones of her then-turned-teenage life.

I’ve relived some of these thoughts this summer as well, as our first-born son and middle child also turned 13.

This has been a summer of milestones with my children, I haven’t been able to keep up with them all; for some, we’ve been in the vortex of just living them.  Others, perhaps, have been detectable only to the eye of a mother’s searching heart.  For a season, maybe for life, doesn’t she see her own better than anyone else?

To say Thomas has challenged my parenting skills is to say the Grand Canyon is a pretty big valley.  He’s dramatic, larger than life, emotionally charged, feels deeply and quickly, and sometimes has even made me toy with the idea of running away from home.  I say this with a smile, he is also the child most like me…he knows this and I think he’s proud of it.

Turning 13 was a big deal to him, as well it should be.  He now has a "title":  Teenager!  He celebrated first by having a few friends spend the night; then, later, with just our family.  In spite of receiving a really cool gift from us, I think his favorite surprise were the cards and letters we gave him.  Once again, I was moved to (quiet) tears–thankfully, not because of a pet’s death!–when I read the words by his sister and brother.  They were humorous and demonstrated the precious sibling relationship I’m thankful they share. 

This kid freely admits his philosophy on life is "It’s better to seek forgiveness than ask permission."  When he’s "in the zone", his charm can make you forgot why he’s in trouble; but when his short fuse blows, he seems to ignite all those around.  That’s when an "explosive personality" is not a good thing.

He loves and receives loves with words and acts of encouragement; he knew how much I miss them kissing me goodbye when they hop out of the car for school, so without giving thought to "who" might see him this week, he leaned over and kissed me and said "Just for you, Mom…".  He tells me I’m pretty and notices most anything new or different I wear or have (his father’s gene). 

Ah…and his WONDERFUL sense of humor, he thrives on laughter (sometimes to his detriment).  Like last night…it was bedtime and we kept hearing the boys laugh…and they finally came into our room, and Thom had two huge balloons stuffed in his shirt, and I couldn’t help but snort before lecturing him on why that was wrong…derogatory towards women, etc., but he KNEW he had gotten the laugh first, so it was worth the cost of a mom-lecture.

He’s at the cusp of b e c o m i n g  a  m a n, on "this" side of puberty, a bit behind most of his peers.  Vacillating between little boy pranks (see paragraph above) and very adult fare, just this summer we had an unexpected conversation about euthanasia of all things!  At Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone, he had passed an older gentleman, several yards in front of me at the time.  When I caught up to him, he told me he had felt sorry for this man; Thom saw him eye the steep flight of steps in front of him, then heard a huge sigh escape his aged lungs, and felt compassion.  Then he told me when he got old, he just wanted "them to put [him] to sleep".  Internally, I was horrified that he’d come to this conclusion so easily, but I certainly didn’t want to avoid the conversation.  He had witnessed (mainly through my eyes) the suffering of my own dementia-ravaged father for a year and a half and understood the complexities associated with and tragedy of the "living dead".  It was a beautiful conversation about the value of life, and I understood why he said what he said (see my December ’05 post on Dr. Death), but there was a holiness to life that did not allow him to make this choice.  He was thinking, processing, I don’t recall him handling such a tough subject so contemplatively before.

More than likely, I was more "prepared" for Thomas’ 13th birthday after having done it once with Rachel; I wasn’t flooded with emotion, but oh, how I wondered how he could’ve gotten here so quickly…wasn’t he born just a week or two ago?  When I look at him, I see more clearly who he is becoming, how we have little time and lessening influence about who that will be…and I marvel at how God could use this child to affect amazing change in ME.  I sure wasn’t thankful at the time (and probably won’t be in the future, either), but for the moment, I’m certain this is a gift….

Stephen’s story, Trifecta – Part One

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