Newest Family Member brings back old feelings

I remember feeling this way over 20 years ago, the night before my son was born. I was in labor and would soon be heading to the hospital- leaving my daughter in the care of her grandma. I recall thinking:”What have we done? Why did we think we should have a second child? How can I love another baby as much as I love this one?”

In hindsight, it seems naive or foolish to think our love is finite. Of course, the instant my infant son was places in my arms I fell in love all over again. All that dread and doubt were a waste of energy. However, today I have the same questions going through my head. I have been in a different type of labor: moving items I don’t want to become chew toys, protecting cords and outlets, setting up gates; all as part of puppy-proofing my house.

Tomorrow we will be driving to the home of the breeder and collecting our 8-week old bundle of joy. Our elder dog will stay home, even more clueless than my 2 1/2 year old was that by this time tomorrow he will have a sibling. This newest member of the family will mean a permanent sharing of attention with the human parents; but it will also give him an opportunity to be a mentor and role model, as well as someone to love or at least snuggle with when we are out of the house.

I know I will love the new puppy as much as I love my beloved Cockapoo, who will still be the King of the Hill. He will still be allowed special privileges for seniority and good behavior. Cooper will still sleep on our bed; puppy will sleep in the crate. Cooper can roam the house and yard; puppy is confined to puppy-proof areas. Cooper can enjoy some treats from our dinner plates; puppy will stick with his puppy food.

I am hopeful that Puppy will motivate Cooper to be more active and boost his energy level. At the same time, I hope Cooper will be a good example of how to behave, perhaps making our training a little bit easier. I really shouldn’t compare children and dogs, but it is kind of ironic that just as my daughter moves out and begins medical school, we add a new puppy to the family. So I can assure you that, contrary to what the term “empty nest” implies, our days of “finally empty nest” will be quite lively!

*By the time I was able to publish this post, Puppy has been named Dino (“Dee-no”).

The Expanding Family Horizon

  What is a “family horizon”? you may ask. A horizon is a line as far as the eye can see- usually a boundary between the known and the unknown, the real and the imaginary. In relation to a family, a child’s horizon might be very close-at-hand: mom, dad, brother, sister. These are the people we interact with every day and come to rely on for comfort and emotional support.

Today’s families aren’t so black and white, though. Due to high rates of divorce , financial needs and longevity there is a greater likelihood that a family’s horizon will expand. In-laws or step-families, adult children and spouses all add to the expanded version of today’s family- often inhabiting the same household.

Early on, children learn to include their grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins into the category of extended family. My children had 4 grandparents, 4 sets of aunts /uncles and 2 cousins. One set of grandparents divorced before they were born. My daughter was a year old when my father remarried. His wife graciously accepted an endearing nickname and took on the role of step-grandmother. She brought their horizon up to 5 grandparents.

The other set of grandparents was married for 56 years and were only recently separated due to death. That shrunk my kids’ horizon, but only temporarily. Within a year, their Nana had met a gentleman who liked her very much and they began spending a lot of time together. When my father married a new partner, the kids were too young to know there had been anything different. But at this stage of their lives, the idea that their Nana could take a new partner seemed to rock their concept of family.

My children obviously have strong loyalties and affection for family members. My daughter is a believer in the status quo. Neither has any experience with romantic relationships, other than what they see on tv, so it was difficult for them to accept that their grandmother had already come to terms with their grandfather’s death and was ready to move on with her life.

Q. How do you get a self-centered teenager to switch lenses and zoom out to a farther horizon?

A. Patience and baby steps.

We had heard much about Nana’s beau and my husband and I were very supportive; but it took several months until we finally met him. The kids were nervous- not sure what to expect or how to treat him- he wasn’t their beloved Papa after all. When he and Nana arrived, we spent as much time out of the house as possible (at a tennis match, restaurant and they slept at a nearby hotel). I think it was important that the kids didn’t feel pressured that he needed to be treated like family at this initial meeting.

By getting to talk with him and realize what a kind, thoughtful person he is, they were able to form their own opinion of him and be more forgiving of Nana. My son actually said he was happy if she was happy. A few weeks later, Nana visited alone for several days, reassuring the kids that she was aways there for them. She had an opportunity to answer their questions about her boy-friend and I think they were more open-minded.

By their next visit together, he should be welcomed back as a member of the expanded family- and my children have reset their sights on a higher point of the family horizon.

Baby Pictures

This morning I grabbed my camera and snuck out to the front porch to take some pictures of the Robins nesting there. I think I was inspired by all the beautiful shots of hummingbirds, grosbeaks and goldfinches that Carol has posted on her blog   ( Even though the American Robin no longer migrates from the Northeast during winter, they do become more active in the spring and the sight of them making a nest full of  bright blue eggs is a sign that Spring is finally here.

Every year, a Robin couple has returned to our front porch to build its nest. I can’t blame them. From the outside, the perch is well-hidden by a climbing hydrangea and sheltered from wind and rain by the roof and lattice-work. On the inside it is quiet and safe from predators. Even the nosy humans don’t pose too much of a threat. The worst thing we do is tear down the nest every summer so they have to start fresh if they choose to come back.

I don’t know where they go after they are done brooding, but somehow they always return, year after year. I find it fascinating that somehow they have a homing device in their brains.

The mother did not like it when I took pictures of her on the nest, but she must not have felt too threatened because she flew off a few minutes later, giving me an opportunity to catch some shots of the babies.  They looked so small and helpless- tiny little beaks with patches of fluff covering their exposed freckled bellies.

It made me think about the responsibilities of the mother. How she sits on the nest to lay the eggs and keep them warm. Then she must fly off in search of food to bring to her young ones. When she determines they are big enough to fly, she must force them out of the nest to spread their wings and face the real world. Warding off foes, hunting for food, seeking shelter and finding a mate are the challenges that lie ahead for these fledglings.

How much support can the mother give them once they have left the nest? And for how long do they stick together? Maybe an ornithologist could tell me in more detail how a bird’s life and social structure parallels humans; but from what I have observed or read I can see the similarities. The biggest difference is the importance of family.

While the bird parents are protective of their young, once they are a few weeks old they lose that connection. Will this Robin mom be sad when her last baby flies away? Statistically, 25% of them don’t even make it past two weeks. At those odds, it is not worth attaching yourself to a young living being. You raise them, send them off and start over again. It’s called the life cycle, right?

Humans, on the other hand, never stop being parents once they have children. Even when the children have offspring of their own, the parents still are bonded to them. Thanks to the average American life span of 78.5 years, we have more time to nurture our children, form strong families and friendships and create multi-generational bonds. The ties to our family members give us confidence and support. Knowing that they will always have our back encourages us to try new things.

It seems a lot more reassuring to a mom to know that even as she gently prods her child out of the home and encourages him to “fly”, he can always call her on his cell phone or hop on a bus and come home.