When life puts a dog in your lap

Published on Thursday, 18 July 2013 14:36 - Written by

I had just one goal for the weekend: Write content for the first installment of the YES! page.

Knowing that an overnight trip from Tyler down to Beaumont was going to take up most of the weekend, I figured it would be realistic to set a single goal, and one which could be accomplished while riding shotgun for seven hours in the car seemed particularly appropriate.

I visualized this scenario — how I would scribble notes in my spiral as the miles slipped away, creatively brainstorming with my husband and 11-year-old son — and it seemed easy.

It seemed fun. It seemed productive.

What I didn’t consider, however, were the consequences of bringing our two dogs along on this journey, or the fact that it would be our 7-month-old puppy’s first extended road trip.

The impact of this wildcard revealed itself before we reached the outskirts of Tyler.

In the far back seat, the cargo hold of the SUV, the 80-pound Great Pyrenees puppy named Boo Radley — a slow-motion battering ram who could pass for a polar bear — shoved his mammoth, panting, slobbering head over my preteen son’s shoulder.

A Rorschach-worthy stain of doggy drool rapidly expanded down the seat back, and the boy squirmed as far away from this as possible on a bench seat half filled with luggage, while Boo nudged deeper into his personal space.

I fidgeted with the spiral notebook on my lap and tried to come up with an idea for a story.

The discontent of dog and boy grew for nearly an hour, until the puppy determined that the cargo hold was no longer sufficient for his ride and tried clambering over the seat back, wedging his massive frame between two headrests. Finding himself stuck, half over the seat and half behind, he howled. My calm and patient husband looked for a place to pull off the highway, while I frantically stretched from the front seat to the back in an attempt to manhandle Boo Radley’s solid bulk backward, out of his self-created trap. Boo yelped pitifully in his plight, and my son slumped lower in his seat, shrinking away from the whole fiasco.

At the gas station, I abandoned my spiral notebook and quickly swapped places with my son, as Boo wriggled free but continued to try and climb over the seat back. After a few miles of exertion, of me attempting to physically shove his body into the far back, we reached a compromise in which I lowered the center panel of the back seat so that Boo could lay his head and front paws through the open space and into the backseat to receive the human closeness for which he seemed so desperate. The struggles subsided, and I rubbed his head and gazed out the window until we reached our destination.

The next afternoon, as we loaded the car for our return trip home, the older dog - whose trip thus far had been passive and uneventful - jumped into the middle back seat and refused to budge, as if to say, “Boo rode up front last time! It’s my turn!” Realizing that my plans for writing were on hold indefinitely, I suggested we preempt further doggy drama by lowering two of the three seat backs so that the dogs could essentially, more or less, sit in the back seat with me.

And so they did. And for 200 miles, Boo rested his giant, slobbery head in my lap and slept like a contented baby. I stroked his fur and admired how truly magnificent he is - this dog, my first ever, whose breed I daydreamed about for more than a dozen years before I finally was able to offer one a home. And the drive slipped by, as he drooled on my legs. And I did not write a word.

When we got home and I showered the slobber off my body, I expected to feel the guilty pang of non-productivity. My spiral notebook remained unopened; my one objective, unmet. I had spent nearly seven of 24 hours doing nothing but snuggling my dog. And yet somehow, the anticipated guilt was supplanted by sheer gratitude for this opportunity - the chance to enjoy a weekend getaway with my family and to bond with our goofy but sweet pets. We created memories. We had an adventure. And what I received from the trip was, while different than what I expected, probably exactly what was needed.

It made me think how often this has been the case in my life. With jobs, with projects, with relationships, with trying to cook dinner and being interrupted by the latest creation on Minecraft - very often the plans that I design are derailed by something else. Things don’t necessarily go the way I think they will or should. But I can’t shove the circumstances of Life around, just as I can’t shove a giant, wet-snouted dog back where I think he belongs. Usually, in fact, resistance and struggle only increase the tension and futility of such situations. Far better, I have found, to recognize when to surrender, to put the seat back down, to let the dog climb into my lap, to enjoy the scenery along the ride and to trust that the road is taking me where I need to go.

Beth Lytle is a Hawkins native and Tyler area yoga instructor.