it’s a sign…
“Mom, do you have a minute? I need to talk to you about something serious,” Sam said.
I looked up from chopping the salad. “Do you want to talk while I make dinner?”
“Sure, but you need to know it’s serious.”
“Okay,” I nodded. “I think I’m up for it.”
Sam pulled the stool up to the counter and sat on his knees, leaning over the counter on his forearms. “Here’s the thing,” he began, “I think it’s time for us to get dog.”
Everything inside of me wanted to scream noooooooooo! Instead, I steadied my facial expressions and said, “What makes you think that?”
Sam blinked and I was reminded of the way his blue eyes have always tugged at my heart. He is still so sincere. “You know I miss Kate, right?”
I nodded. It’s been many months since our dog died.
“Well, it takes a long time until you’re ready to let your heart love again. I know it might seem silly to want another dog, because it’s not fun when they die, but I think it is sillier to miss out on all the fun and joy they bring.”
“Dogs are fun,” I said, chopping the cucumbers.
“It’s more than that. I like having a dog around. You know it’s always going to be there, no matter if the day is hard or good.” Sam continued listing reasons for getting a dog. He talked about how he knew Dad is allergic, so the dog wouldn’t have to sleep in my room. He talked about going to puppy training classes and the way a dog helps him relax. I was surprised by how much he had been thinking about it.
Hannah was listening in and slowly began to join in on making a case for a dog. Soon they were researching hypoallergenic dogs. Then they were checking best breeds to come when called. It led down the slippery slope of looking at puppy pictures. We were all mush when the family thread pinged with messages from the other half of the family. Wrestling practice was over and they would be heading home.
I played the trump card — “Dad is not ready for a dog,” I said.
“Maybe we can keep this between us, for now?” Sam said.
“Good idea,” I agreed.
But the dog desire was out there, nudging our hearts and our thoughts. Soon, there were all kinds of “signs” for a dog. Memes and commercials and dogs playing in the park.
At church, a woman shared that she has puppies for sale. A few years ago she went on a trip to Cambodia. Perhaps you know that Cambodia is the center of the world for human trafficking. As a way to actively fight against human trafficking, she breeds dogs and donates all of the profits from the puppies to Destiny Rescue, a local activist group who fights child exploitation and slavery.
“It’s a sign,” Sam said and he beelined to the dog breeder after service. The other kids joined him.
Andy groaned when he saw what was happening.
Despite the signs, it is still not the time for a new puppy in the Ayres’ house. That’s not the important part of this story. The important thing is I remembered to validate during the conversation. It’s important for people, especially family members, to know they’ve been heard. Whether we agree is of less importance than if we hear and understand one another.
I can feel both — compassion for the kids who have a big dog-size hole in their hearts; and gratitude for pragmatic Andy who knows a dog isn’t something we have time to care for right now.
I used to struggle with validating the kids’ feelings. I felt like validation was agreement; it’s not. It is simply an expression of sincere connection — I hear you and acknowledge your feelings. Validation communicates, I’m here for you, and I love you. I’m learning this statement is more important for teens to hear than any amount of correction can ever be.
I hope I can get better at sending all the signs to say — I’m here for you, and I love you.