"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teacher Toby

My early morning routine has changed little since the beginning of this school year: I'm up at 4:00, greeted by a wriggling, grinning Toby who acts like we've been apart for much longer than a night. He goes out, gets fed, then I put water on for tea. By then the cats are letting me know they just might expire if they have to wait another minute for their food.

Once they've all had their breakfasts, my tea (turmeric ginger green) is ready and I settle into my rocker to journal, read, and meditate. That's where the routine has taken on a new twist. Until earlier this month Toby almost always went back to bed until Walt got up, leaving me a lovely space of quiet time with which to start my day. But because of the long lonely days he faces now with both his humans at work, he considers every minute I'm home to be his.

It's challenging to be prayerful and meditative under the weight of his beseeching eyes. It's hard to write in a journal holding a tug toy in one hand while Toby does his best to pull me out of the rocker. It's almost impossible to follow a thread of an idea in whatever book I'm reading (Brene Brown right now) with the background music of his soft insistent growls for attention.

So we play. Sometimes that's all I get done. Sometimes Toby will wander off after a bit and leave me to my time alone.

As I get ready for work, he's never far away. Usually he ends up sprawled in the hall outside my bathroom while I do hair and makeup. Or he'll lie on the bed halfway between his two humans. When I move from one room to the next, I feel his eyes follow. Frequently I'll turn to leave my closet (originally a very small computer room) only to find the way blocked by 80 pounds of sad-eyed dejected retriever, looking for comfort.

When Toby needs comfort, he'll butt his head into the tops of my legs (or the legs of anyone else who will stand still for what at first seems very weird behavior). He stands that way for as long as I'll allow, often breathing like an asthmatic Darth Vader, pushing against me if I try to pull away. He never ends this stance first. I have to hold his head and push him away, or say "treat" to break the hold.

I love those times with him because he's incredibly sweet then. I can lean over and hug him hard. I can play in his fur and inhale his warm toast scent to my heart's content. The cost of all that loving is dog hair and slobber on the front of my legs. Which is not a problem unless I'm dressed for work.

So I accept his love. Sometimes I change clothes afterwards. Sometimes if he's not too liquid I can brush the hair off and be good to go.

Toby has the power like nothing and no one else to keep me from getting completely lost in the demands of a teacher's life. I make myself leave school close to the actual end of my workday, knowing he's waiting at home. His needs are a priority in our weekend planning.

He simply doesn't accept no when he needs attention. I come home in the afternoon foot-sore, heart-weary, and ready to curl up like a sowbug against stresses that follow me home no matter what I do. And there he is, ball in mouth, tail going gangbusters, ready to romp and run and receive enough love to make up for the empty hours he's just slept his way through.

So we walk, and I'm renewed. Sometimes that's all I have time for before dinner. Sometimes Walt takes a shift and I can get some housework done first.

One of the hardest things about being back at work is enduring the tight box of scheduled days. Every minute counts, and there are not nearly enough minutes to be an effective teacher and continue the very full life I was living before mid-August. Much that I love—most of my writing life, leisurely visits with friends, antiquing with my brother, taking a day to read a book, time to just be—has taken a huge hit.

Toby keeps me connected to what really matters: play, love, the spiritual and physical energy that walking creates for me. When we brought him home almost four years ago, I could not have imagined what a powerful teacher he would become in my life. Or how much my heart would soften and expand in response to his headstrong loyalty, and simple exuberant joy.


kario said...

I love the Darth Vader breathing - CB does that, too. And it is such a wonderful realization to come to that his play for attention is sometimes greeted with annoyance, but more often with love and affection. It reminds me to ask for what I need unapologetically, too.


Rita said...

I was giggling all the way through this post, having lived with several dogs in my lifetime. ;) Nothing like a dog to keep you in the present moment and to shower you with need and attention and gratitude. Yup! A dog can take your mind off your troubles and help you to remember to appreciate the little things--and make you laugh when they sound like Darth Vader!! LOL! ;)

Lilith said...

It's been three years since I gave up my dogs and I still miss them. He's a gorgeous dog. And dogs love like no other creatures.

Desiree said...

This was BEAUTIFUL, Deb, written as only you are capable of writing! You have articulated so eloquently all the joy I feel from my own dogs and your Toby reminds me so much of my Toby. They truly are a gift in ones life, aren't they and there really is no better way to keep ones footing firmly grounded than in the company of a dog.

Linda Hoye said...

Ah yes. I understand all too well what it's like to have too few precious minutes to be still and appreciate the blessings that surround us. Like you, my dogs ground me at the beginning and end of each day too.

yaya said...

When my son moved with his lovable dog I was surprised how much I missed that funny face looking out the dining room window every day when I arrived home. Edddy (the dog) was always happy to see us walk in and always ready for play. I'm not sure I want a dog right now, but one day I know we'll get another. Enjoy Toby, like kiddos they grow up very quickly!

Retired Knitter said...

I can totally relate to this post ... and I have 2 cats who "demand" the same kind of attention every morning that I am dog-less. My grand-dogs are frequent visiors so when they are here the cats are absent... but when the dogs are gone ... the cats rule.

Pam said...

Such a beautiful tribute to Toby. He is lucky to have you and Walt too. The world is full of animals that are not acknowledged, noted or listened to properly and are treated as a mere convenience or novelty. As you pointed out, they are fine teachers and so often the most loyal of friends. Lovely post Deb.


What a lovely essay about your time with your beloved Toby. How renewing for you to have him in your life.
And how fun. I know how stressful full time work can be and this is certainly a reward at the end of the day.
Please do leave that work at work. You could spend another 8 hrs on it at home but you don't want to do that. Too much of you is lost.
Be well and God bless.

kt said...

9/18 - I am posting this on everyone’s blog:
My father has been in and out of the hospital 3 times in the past couple of weeks.
I have not been able to visit each of you as I would have liked.
Today, it looks as if I am going to have to take him in again so don’t expect to see any comments from me for a while longer. I WILL be back as soon as this passes, one way or another. I have several posts that should go up automatically for the next several weeks that I have held in reserve just for this occasion. kt

Barb said...

I just finished A DOG'S PURPOSE by W. Bruce Cameron. It was recommended to me by a dog-loving friend. and at first, I thought it was way too predictable. However... I began both laughing out loud and dabbing my eyes freely at times. It has lessons to teach - just as the dogs in our lives often have lesson to impart. Toby is the genuine article - take heed of his "lessons." Hugs to you, Deb! Your schedule does sound exhausting.

BECKY said...

Deb, as I read this, my beautiful, smart, loving lab-mix, Vern, was pleading for my attention, too! You almost described our scenario around here, although I don't work outside the home. I'm in and out with errands often, plus my writing critique group, and then the time I spend at my laptop, trying to write and blog! What an adorable guy your Toby is!!

Sandi said...

Deb, I'm so glad you have Toby to ground you, entertain you, and bring you joy! Your words of praise are beautiful.

Nikki has never been "my" dog, she was mostly Kailyn's, truth be told. But, with Kailyn away, and for the simple reason that I am mostly all she gets, she has taken on many of those same mannerisms! I have to be really careful, as she is constantly laying at my feet, or on my side of the bed on the floor, or just outside the bedroom door (even if it's open!) and I've nearly tripped over her too many times! But, it's so heart soothing to be loved.

Katie Gates said...

Great post. Just the other night, I was working on a piece I call "Pet Therapy," and my conclusions are similar. For me, it's cats who are the teachers, and I value their impact on my life as much as you clearly value Toby's.

Journaling Woman said...

He looks so SWEET! I believe dogs were put here to keep us in check. They try very hard to keep us aways from being what we shouldn't be.

Richard said...

If I had to get up at 4 a.m., I'd be a zombie for life. 6:30 a.m. is about as early as I can do, and that requires me to go to bed as early as possible--usually by 9 p.m. I need a lot of sleep.

If we love our pets and meet them on their level, at least for a little while, it reminds us how to live.

Working at our day job is a killer for artists. We feel that the best hours of our day are wasted. At least, that's the way I felt. I'm retired now, but I'm raising my two-year old grandson, so I'm not retired. It's a full time job. But, honestly, I'd rather be raising my grandson that working at a dreary job.

DJan said...

You remind me again how life used to be when I was working. Now that I'm retired, I love having lots of space in my days. Toby is a wonderful creature, you are really blessed! Love your writing, Deb!

Dee Ready said...

Dear Jeb, Like Katie Gates, it is cats who have taught me unconditional love and what is truly important in my life. They help me be mindful and live in the present and the Presence.

The following you wrote sums up for me all the learning from your own situation and from mine:
"Much that I love—most of my writing life, leisurely visits with friends, antiquing with my brother, taking a day to read a book, time to just be—has taken a huge hit. Toby keeps me connected to what really matters: play, love, the spiritual and physical energy that walking creates for me."

As all those who commented have said, this essay is lovely. The writing lyrical. What a gift you have.

And my belief is that out of the necessity you have this year to leave the house and teach will be born something you will write that will reach a multitude of readers.


Wanda said...

He is such a love. I love your presence with him...and his with you.

Stacy Crawford said...

I love that you have this outlet. Mine is football/soccer. It keeps the demands of teaching at bay and lets me be mom and wife. The things that matter most...You're right he is a good teacher.

Amber said...

Mmmm, I really do 'get' this. It took me a long time to open my heart to animals, because I so often lost them as a child, in all our moves. But I have, and I also feel that first my dear late cat, and the three dogs we have had really have been teachers to me... I think they have helped make me a better mother to my kids. I like that I am softer now, because of them.

I can picture him against your legs, because our big old bear will also do that, with his big bear head. Sweet.

oxox :)

Anonymous said...

Such a handsome boy!!!

-M in Vancouver

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Oh, Deb. I'm so sorry you are back to work, although a lovely teacher you are for all your children. But doesn't it just screw up your day? (I say this as I should be headed to bed. I'll be playing kickball with 6th graders all day tomorrow.)

I impressed that you get up at 4am. I'm impressed that you are making this effort to continue your fine work. I'm impressed that your love for Toby gives you fodder for blog posts.

When you get up at 4am tomorrow, I'm two hours behind you, but I'll still be in bed. I sleep til the last possible second.

colbymarshall said...

I know what you mean. My black lab, Kekah, was recently diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, and we have our last of 5 chemo treatments tomorrow. I may've never thought I'd do chemo on a dog, but she's like my child,and she's my joy! :-)

Kathryn Grace said...

Toby may be signalling his needs, but sounds to me he's assuring your basic needs are met. I feel a sense of gratitude for your wise companion.

Mark Lyons said...

My little "nephew" is AWESOME!! Way to go, Toby!


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