Things have been pretty smooth lately. Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised that Monday things went upside down. I didn’t feel well all day- nothing specific, just a general malaise. I had plans to get a lot done, especially some writing, but all I managed to do was force myself to go to the grocery store. I walked in the door into that special kind of chaos that happens when you mix the witching hour with two overtired kids and a mom that had been out running errands. I don’t know about your kids, but for some reason mine go crazy when I’ve been away from them for a few hours. The babysitter swears they are calm, and then I walk in the door and the crazy gets cranked up.
I push open the door with my hip, balancing my keys and a bag with a carton of milk and a bag with eggs in it. The dog, a 100 lb wiggler, starts pushing his head into me, while jumping side to side with his back legs. My daughter rushes in. “Momma’s here, momma’s here,” she squeals and starts twirling. “Hug and kiss, hug and kiss, hug and kiss”, she chants. My son begins with the questions. “Mom, can you come look at my new office? Mom, can I write a contract on your computer? Mom, can I have a snack? What time is dad getting home? Can I have a play date?” All. At. Once.
I manage not to yell. I remind my son that anything he asks me gets an automatic no until I can come in and get settled. I drop the groceries and the keys, hold the screen door open so the dog can get out from under my feet, and scoop up my daughter for her hug and kiss. This is all it takes to ruin my planned evening of tacos and early bedtime, a fire and watching the Ohio State vs Oregon national championship game with my husband. Because I had not closed the gate.
I chat with the sitter, get all the groceries inside, check out all of my son’s creations, and get the kids settled for a few minutes so I can put away the groceries and start dinner.
The doorbell rings. My neighbor, John, says he just saw my dog run out of our backyard and down the street. Shit, I think. The gate. It’s dark and raining and cold. It’s also rush hour and we live a few houses away from a very busy street. That the dog always tries to cross.
My first thought is annoyance, that I have to go look for the damn dog. I don’t have time for this, frankly. And then I look at my kids. My son has a frown and my daughter’s eyes are big.
“Wider is gone? Doggy gone? Oh no poor Wider! Poor doggie!” says the little one as she twirls.
“Where is he? Will someone kidnap him? What if he’s hit by a car? What do we do? Call the police?” His voice has gotten very high. Then it shifts into the faux deep voice he puts on when he’s trying to act like a grown-up. “Actually, I got this, I’m calling 911”, he says and heads to the phone, his little hands on his hips. Rider has recently begun sleeping in my son’s room, at the foot of his bed. My son does not like to be alone, and the presence of the dog has made our bedtime routine a whole lot easier. My son has started saying Rider is his dog. He feeds him and talks to him, and takes him on patrol.
My heart sinks when I realize not only that this affects me, but this is really going to affect my kids. I stop my son from calling 911. I pick up my daughter and tell my son to follow me. We go out into the dark and cold and scream for him. Often he’s just next door. But after checking all of our neighbor’s houses, I am actually starting to get worried.
My husband texts me. Something blew up at work, he has to work late. Damn it. Just then, my neighbor Sarah comes out. She offers to take my kids to her house while I go look. A small something softens inside me, a tiny relief to not be completely alone in this. My son happily runs inside her house, but my daughter won’t let go of me. So I throw her in the car and we drive the streets, windows down on this cold and rainy night, yelling and hoping.
My daughter is worried but also gleefully repeats whatever I say. “Rider! Rider dog! Where are you?” I say. “Wider! Wider, good wittle doggy. Where are you?”, she shouts. We drive the dark streets and I am really worried now. I stop and ask people if they’ve seen a big black dog. Every time we cross the busy street, I brace myself to see a large lump on the road. I see nothing. He’s disappeared.
We drive home and I go to collect my son. I tell Sarah it’s been one of those days and I still have to unload the groceries. She instantly says, “Let your kids eat with mine.” I start to say the expected “Are you sure?” but instead just say “Thank you”. The thought of dinner almost undoes me. She takes them in and I go home. Put away the sweating ice cream and milk. The taco meat and shells. My house is too quiet, no kids and no dog. This is how things happen. A normal boring evening gets turned upside down by one action.
I go back to Sarah’s. My kids are eating macaroni and cheese and broccoli with hers. We sit and chat. I keep my phone out, hoping and praying someone will call. Bedtime without Rider is something I can’t think about. Sarah and I chat about the nothingness of our days, the sameness and the shared rolling of our eyes a balm to my chapped nerves. This is what great neighbors do, I think.
The phone rings, someone has found our dog. I run out in the rain to grab him. Two women are sitting on a corner, five blocks away, with a wet and stinky Rider. One noticed him on her way out to do an errand. She stopped and got out of her car, grabbed him and called the number on the collar. And then waited in the cold and dark.
I over-thanked them, got the dog in the car, collected my kids and got home. The house was a mess, but the kids were fed and the groceries put away. I corralled them upstairs, baths and bedtime stories, rocked one, laid down with the other and listened to him talk about his day while Willie Nelson crooned underneath it all. Rider thumped his tail, exhausted from his adventure.
I went downstairs and collapsed on the couch. I was too tired to grill the veggies I planned. It was too late for the fire. I made some soup and put on Downton Abbey instead of football. And closed my eyes and gave a small prayer of thanks. For people that care. For John for letting us know that Rider was gone. For Sarah who knew instantly what I needed and offered, who fed my kids and calmed my nerves and never made me feel like a mess of a bad mother. For Rebecca and Renata, who interrupted their own busy lives to return my dog. Each and every one of them didn’t have to do a single thing. John and Sarah could have just stayed in their warm houses. Rebecca certainly could have seen a dog running down the street and assumed it would find its way home. I’m not sure that many people would inconvenience their own lives at 6 pm on a rainy, cold Monday evening in that way.
It reminds me that we need to honor our instincts to help, to get involved. I’m not sure I always do, but after seeing how one small thing made such a big difference in our lives, I’m vowing to do better.