“Mom, let me talk to Gatsby” is often the greeting I get when one of my daughters calls from college. Since our chubby golden retriever is typically velcroed to my side, quickly switching the camera mode to his face instead of mine is easy.
Gatsby is greeted with a squeal, my daughter is greeted with a nose on her screen, and then, since Gatsby can’t hold much of a conversation, I get to steal a few minutes with her. We chat while I wander the house, headed to the front window where our lab has set up his neighborhood watch command post. Lucky for me, he feels he has a lot to do during his day, so her conversation with him is even shorter than the one she had with Gatsby.
Sometimes the way my daughters reacted to seeing the dog made me feel slighted
Sometimes I used to feel slighted by these greetings, joking, “Hey, how about that same squeal when you see me on your screen?” However, I can’t blame the girls. Throughout the past twenty years, our dogs have served as some of their best listeners, huggers, confidants, and even some of their best conspirators in mischief. And the dogs don’t ask the girls if they ate something green that day.
As they grew up, as much as my four daughters tried to get the two 90-pound goofballs to sleep with them, they preferred my husband and me. We tried to explain that this was because we were the ones who fed them twice daily, but this didn’t result in any of them taking on this chore. The boys could be lured to their beds with treats and toys but only remained there for a bit, and eventually, the girls quietly accepted that the boys’ bed was Mom and Dad’s.
So for years, every night as my husband and I were settling in with a book or drifting off to sleep, each girl would barge into our rooms, usually at four separate times, to say “goodnight” to Gatsby and Bleau. This did not involve tiptoeing, or even whispering, or even that loud whispering that people pretend is whispering, but rather obnoxious good-nights to the dogs, so emphatic it was like they were greeting a friend at a Clairo concert.
Each goodnight involved squealing, giggling, and more hugs, met by continual wiggling and tail wagging. Once the boys had settled, their tails no longer thumping the bed, another daughter would need to complete her goodnight routine, and the process began again. Sometimes this resulted in a short, fun social event in our room, and other times, it brought a tired, exasperated, “That’s enough. Get out of here” from my husband.
The dogs allowed us to have one last daily connection
Either way, the boys served as a way for us to have one last daily link — another chance to check in after busy days, another opportunity to review who needed which car the next day, and another chance to see each other.
Our dogs continue to foster that connection. We still have that nightly routine with our two youngest, but now the boys take phone calls too.
The girls are in their second year of college, and when I see one of their numbers flash on my phone, I still get excited to hear about their day, even when we have exchanged various texts in the family group chat. However, much like the girls eventually accepted that the boys prefer me at bedtime, I have accepted that the girls like to speak to the dogs before they chat with me.
I’ll take what I can get.
I roll my eyes, laugh, and pass my phone to one of the boys for a FaceTime lick.
A few weeks ago, we visited the girls’ college town. One of our daughters decided to come home with us for a few days. After she had two days of sleeping, laying on the couch, and hitting local hometown coffee shops with her sisters, a dog always next to her, we were packing up groceries in the kitchen for her to take back to school. I remarked how nice it was to have her home, “You are always welcome. What made you want to come home this weekend, though?”
“Oh, Mom, I just needed to see Gatsby.” I looked down at Gatsby, and he looked up at me. I swear he winked. You know I am only part of the reason she is home. His reassuring head tilt proudly declared, “I got you, Mom. I bring our girls home.” I gave her a quick squeeze. “Sure, Honey, you can come home and see Gatsby anytime.”
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