• Lijing Cobb

Inconvenient love

About 8 years ago I picked up a wooden plaque from Home Goods, and it’s been hanging on our kitchen wall since then. Someone, gathering the wisdom of many kindred spirits, explains the concept of “love” on this space thus:

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud.

Love is not rude.

It is not selfish.

It cannot be easily angered.

Love remembers no wrong, never gives up, never stops trusting, never loses hope, never quits.

Love never fails.

I’ve always wondered what love is and is not. What it does and does not. This one seems to have gathered a good deal of that information in one space, so it was valuable for me to have it so that I could look at it, read the words, and be floored by all these statements.

Because I was NONE OF THESE.

The other day one of my dogs came over to me while I was on the toilet (Too much information? But I’m trying to make a point here), carrying a toy in her mouth like she always does, and in that confined space whipped her tail so ferociously when I petted her that I saw red blotches started to appear on the wall every time her tail hit. Alarmed, I hurried her out of the bathroom and examined the wall closer. The red was blood from her tail! My dog was bleeding from her tail because of her happiness from being petted by me, and she was not going to stop showing me her love back just because her tail bled. I was a bit shaken.

My husband is in the animal care business. He knows and loves his dogs all his life, and from him I had learned that when my dog brings me a toy when she comes to me, she is saying, here you are master, I’m yours. We have 3 dogs. One is almost 11 (my husband got him as a puppy when I was 20 months pregnant with our first child. Inconvenient!), the second one is 3 (my husband got her the day I opened my fitness studio. Inconvenient!), and the one who brought me bloody love is 1, who was born to our second dog, in a litter of 10, just right before last Thanksgiving.

Would it be crazy to suggest that these dogs could be viewed as the barometer of my love? Yes. And no.

When my husband got our 11yo dog, we lived in a house that I wished was 3 times bigger, taller, and brighter. We already had two dogs who gave all their fur to me every day and grew more the next day. We were about to have our first child, and I was busy reading about all the things that could go wrong when you have a child, and how to fix them. On a day that was like any other day when my daughter sat on my sciatic nerve and made my right thigh numb, my husband brought in the Jack Russell puppy in his sweatshirt. As soon as he set the puppy down on our floor, I knew that I was stuck with it, because no amount of persuasion could convince my mule husband to change his mind. The story was that the owner of the puppy threw him out because their child could not get along with the puppy. My husband was “trying to” find another suitable owner for him by carrying the puppy on his person day in and day out, and before long, before a discussion with his 20 month pregnant wife could happen, which would have been the only responsible thing he could have done, love struck. He knew he could no longer let anyone else carry this puppy on their person, so he snuck it in to our tiny house instead, on a hairy floor to live with his two other dogs.

I could not love this dog, no matter how cute he was. He, in return, never really shows affection for anyone else in our house. My husband leaves the 11yo dog when he goes to work, and the dog, no kidding, stays invisible and mute until the eventual return of his rightful master.

When my husband got our 3yo dog, I had just spent 2 sleepless months in preparation to open my fitness studio. Because my attention was elsewhere, on the day I opened my business, I thought I saw a brown ball on my husband, but I dismissed it because I was severely sleep-deprived. The next day, however, the brown ball materialized in my house, on the floor, along with a big cage and a brand-new dog bed. Apparently, a high school friend of my husband’s had gone down to South Carolina for a puppy, and while he was there he troubled himself to call my husband and ask if perchance we would like a puppy too. Coming from a person he’d known and respected forever, my husband’s first instinct was to say yes of course, and sadly, again, without undergoing an appropriate discussion with his wife first where she might have objected on the grounds of such inconvenient timing, because by that time she no only had 3 kids to take care of, but also her own business. Without even seeing the brown ball, love struck, and I was once again castigated to the gates of non-lover.

How cute was the brown ball when she showed up? Tremendously. And she turned out to be the best and smartest dog in the world. Yet I found plenty of reasons to not love our 3yo bountifully, and in return, she stopped bringing me toys of affection when she grew out of puppyhood.

So back to the blood-stained wall and our 1yo dog. My last chance at redemption and salvation. Every morning between 4-5 I go downstairs to make a cup of tea so that I can enjoy it upstairs where I would return to plan, reflect, and write. A very inconvenient time for sleeping puppies for sure. Although I would never expect the two older dogs to be there waiting for me to hit the bottom step of the stairs, my 1yo is always there waiting with a toy in her mouth, wagging her entire body to welcome me to the day. And I pet her.

I am not entirely without hope, my 1yo dog tells me. Although when my husband gets up around 5-6, and before he even approaches the top of the stairs to descend down to our dogs’ floor, all three of them are already making a huge commotion, waiting to show their love for the man who loved them from day 1. I hear the noises and I tell myself that I don’t want their fur on me anyway, but I’m jealous.

Yesterday we had a birthday party for my son, and we spent the majority of the day out of the house. By the kids’ bedtime I had not yet had a chance to read my book, and I couldn’t wait to do that. It’s me time, I told myself.

My kids had different ideas. My 10yo, the mature one, gave me a hug, kissed me good night, told me she loved me, and petted me on the head and said that I was the best mommy in the world as she waltzed away into her own room. Very convenient.

My birthday boy needed a proper good night. I sat down at his bedside, and asked him how he liked his party. He loved it, but then shared that he couldn’t go to sleep because he’s too excited to wait to open all the presents he got from the party. After we resolved that issue, he furrowed his brows once again. Turns out that he’s anxious about finally returning to in person school after having been home for almost 6 weeks. We had a discussion about that as well, until he felt relieved and calm enough to finally settle down for bed.

Two down, 1 to go. But I didn’t leave my boy’s room feeling that I had rushed anything. I left because it was time to leave. He was ready for me to leave.

My 7yo literally sprang out from under her comforter to welcome me into her arms when I stepped into her room. She had two big concerns that were keeping her from falling asleep: first, she was afraid of the dark. Second, she was afraid that I, her father, and the dogs would be chopped down by the monsters she imagines and die without her knowledge or permission. Through logic and persuasion she was eventually convinced that we would indeed not die, and with that and a reminder of fairness (would she like it if I spent more time in the other kids’ room than in her room?), I successfully, without rushing, concluded my good night foray into her room.

At this point, my feet carried me over to my oldest child’s room on their own. Her good night seemed to be too convenient in comparison, so I had to do something about that.

I tiptoed into my 10yo’s room. She was laying on her side with her face towards me, eyes closed. I bent down over her head to check if she was asleep, and her smile betrayed her awakeness right away. She was excited to be going back to school; she missed her friends and teachers terribly. This is a brilliant child who is good at everything but gets cold sores every two seconds or so. So we talked about anti-cold sore strategies. I assured her that grades are not everything. I emphasized that we are happy with any results just as long as she gives her best. And most importantly, communicating her thoughts and feelings with us will be the secret to dodging the cold sore attacks, for she’s not allowed to get them anymore.

After all the good nights had been said properly, I walked back into my room with peace in my heart and a big smile on my lips. It was time to read.

My plaque, my dogs, my children. Love is, I might add to the plaque, inconvenient. Love is beating your tail on the wall so hard that you start to bleed, but you can’t stop because that’s what you do when you love. Love is focusing on the needs of the moment, no matter how much you think you want to get to the next thing. Love is not rushing love. It is staying for as long as we need at our children’s bedside to watch it unfold, when the eyes close on their own and the heart is full of a wonderful warmth instead of fear and anxiety.

I’m not entirely hopeless in love after all.

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