Mom and a Boy Named Ryder
Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Well, Hey There! I KNOW! You never thought you'd be hearing from me again, but 4,000 years, one pandemic and major world upheaval later, here I am! 

We have a LOT of catching up to do, some wonderful, some heartbreaking and I promise we will get to that in later posts. If you're friends with me on Facebook, you already know all the things, just like I most likely know all of your life. If we are not connected on Facebook, please let's be friends. I know Facebook is up to major nefarious nonsense right now, but it's still my favorite place to stay connected. 

But for today, I had to write a little something that was in my heart. So, here you go. 

I got the phone call as I sat at my mother's bedside in the hospital. 

It was our turn. We'd been on a long wait list for a puppy and we were expecting a Bernedoodle to join us in the fall. 

But that's the thing about life. It never happens in the way you expect it to pan out. And now it was only May and there on my phone, I was looking at a photo of the most beautiful bundle of fluff. 

I was already smitten. 

I said to my mom, "There's this puppy and I have to have him, but I'll be right back."

My mom said, "Of course, go. I'll be right here when you get back."

Because at that point, my mom was supposed to be in recovery after a heart stent operation that the doctors had proclaimed a success. It was supposed to be a few more days in the hospital and then she would be good as new. 

But there's that one undeniable fact about life—how you can plan and prepare and expect all you want, but the unpredictable is always there, waiting to remind us that what life has in store for us from one moment to the next cannot be scheduled. It can't and won't be forged by mortal hands. 

Little did I know, did any of us know, that 26 days later my mom would take her last breath upon this Earth. 

She was supposed to get better. Don't bet on supposed to be's. Ever. 

We flew into Nashville and back to Tampa in less than 24 hours with a sweet baby dog named Ryder, all body wags and puppy kisses. 



To be honest, I wasn't sure I would be able to manage with a mom in the hospital and a brand new puppy at home. And as the days in the hospital turned into weeks, I felt like a mother of a newborn going back to work for the first time, leaving my boy every day so I could be at my mom's bedside. 

But I left him in the ever-so capable hands of Bill Mannix and the two of them had a grand time together. Let's just say Ryder is now very familiar with the inside of a Bass Pro Shop. 

And every day when I returned home, drained, hope crumbling bit by bit as Mom began to fade, my little boy would greet me at the door joyously, with his little wigglebutt and puppy kisses. 

It was one of the most inopportune times to get a puppy and it was one of the best moves we ever made. 

The last several months have been hard ones, full of twists and turns we never saw coming. The unexpected rearing up to steal pieces, bit by bit of my ragged heart, a heart that had already been bruised and battered by some tough events of the past year. But even on the hardest of days, there was this little puppy, this fluffy soul of pure goodness and joy, a constant bearer of love, waiting for me. 

When Leanne Lynch, of Bluegrass Bernedoodles handed her baby over to me, she kissed him and said, "Go on now. You have a job to do for this family." She had no idea how prophetic her words would be, how he would do his job like the best dog ever. Which by the way, if you are looking for a sweet-tempered, intelligent, beautiful healthy dog from a stellar breeder look no further than Bluegrass Bernedoodles. You'll be so happy you did. 

Ryder is goofy and full of vibrant puppy energy. He doesn't run so much as he bounces and leaps, a little Tigger dog. 

He gobbles up everything he finds. I've got my whole hand in his mouth a dozen times a day, blindly fishing out all the bits and pieces of everything he encounters. 

He is a thief of vast proportions. The other day I found my eyeglasses among his toys. Unfortunately, they were missing a side arm which has yet to be found. 

He gnaws on only our important things with his Baby Shark teeth. He is especially fond of Italian leather, Bill's fancy flip-flops, the dining room table and of course, my eyeglasses. 

And he is still mastering the fact that my beloved Kelly Clarkson rug that I fondly call my Kelly Clarkson, is not a beautiful, soft blue and beige, vintage-inspired, giant potty pad. 

He is committed to the daily mission of unwinding all the toilet paper rolls and parading them like a hard won trophy throughout the house. He doesn't appreciate the great lengths Bill went to collecting that toilet paper for the last year. 

He is also the biggest baby of all time. 

Seriously. 

We learned this the day Luna, my Tori's 20 pound Frenchie came over for a playdate. Luna accidentally stepped on his widdle paw in the middle of their wrestling match and Ryder began to shriek, hysterical, painful cries that had us all running to see which one of his appendages Luna the Savage had torn off. He was holding his paw up while trying to walk on three legs. And apparently, the act of walking on three legs was too much for him, because he would collapse to the ground with each attempted step, wailing even harder. Panicked, I dialed my vet, (I have them on speed dial) and told them I thought the puppy had broken his leg. They could hear his wailing through the phone and were just as alarmed. The vet had left for the day so they advised me to take him to the ER. I scooped him up to calm his wailing self down before we headed out to get his apparently badly broken leg fixed. 

It took a few minutes of comforting him until his wailing turned into whimpers, pitiful, shaky whimpers with each breath. But then plus-sized Luna trotted by the couch where we sat, oblivious to the fact that her curvy, sausage body had just shattered the puppy's leg. Although knowing Luna, she might not have been oblivious, she probably just didn't care. But suddenly, Ryder leapt from my arms and tackled Luna, continuing their wrestling match. 

That was our first indication we had ourselves a drama king. 

                                                                         

He also has an affinity for our clothing. On the daily, he drags our clothes throughout the house. He never chews on anything, just triumphantly carries pajamas, t-shirts, socks, leggings, underwear all over the house, his little tail wagging, so proud of himself. We finally gave up and we just wait until the end of the day to collect everything. On most days, we look like beginning-stage hoarders with a collection of t-shirts in the foyer, my pajamas strewn down the hallway, my bra across the water bowl. 

But he is also so full of infectious joy, you can't have a bad day with a wriggling Ryder kissing your face. Even though he's the energizer bunny, he relaxes immediately when I gather him in my arms like a baby, allowing me to hold him in any smothering way I please. If I dare to get on the ground for a floor workout, he pounces, covering me in kisses and wriggly love. Anytime I'm standing still, he is there leaning against my legs as if to claim me. The few times we leave the house without him, we secure him in a giant, gated playpen. As soon as we return, he yelps incessantly until Bill rescues him. Bill will say, "Go get her!" And then there is the sound of his puppy paws scrambling, frantically running through the house until he finds me, until he knows he and I are back together. 

He is so eager to please us and easy to train and he has never, ever met a stranger. He is in love with every person and every creature that crosses his path. He sleeps like an angel. He has graduated from sleeping in his crate to our bathroom floor. He will tolerate the bed for only a few minutes until he hops off for the coolness of the stone floor. And most importantly, he has gotten the hang of the fact that his mommy doesn't enjoy waking up before sunrise. 

He even poops in the most adorable way, his back legs marching up and down like a little, pooping soldier. I hope he never stops doing that. 

We have had two major bright spots this year, Ryder coming into our life and our Tori girl and Reese's wedding. Thank God for those two things because the rest of it has made for one brutal year. I feel like around every corner there has been another big, bad thing lurking. I won't go into the details of all the tough events except to say one of the hardest things was the loss of two of my beloved dogs


Bella was 16 and we waited until she let us know it was her time to go. She'd chased a lifetime of tennis balls, jumped into the lake, big leaping dives from our dock thousands of times. She'd been the life of every party and had made her morning neighborhood stroll every day of her life, stopping at all the houses, the goodwill ambassador of our neighborhood. She'd lived a good life but she was tired, her eyes and ears no longer functioned and her limbs were no longer strong enough to hold her up. When she left us, it came with its own sweet relief that she would once more be running free. 

Delilah was a different story. She was supposed to have more time. That sweet girl was an angel and did not deserve the sentence of aggressive cancer. 


When I lost my Delilah, I was unsure whether I would ever know a dog's love like that again. Delilah lived, curled up around my heart. I was hers and she was mine. 

My other two dogs were and are the best—good, sweet dogs. But the unbreakable bond between Delilah and me was different. 

Sophie loves us, but she is a little aloof in her love and she belongs to no one but the outdoors. I always say if Sophie could live as a wild dog, she would be perfectly content. There is nothing better to her than keeping watch under the trees for hours as the squirrels chatter, captive under her Doodle guard. 

And Bella, well Bella loved everyone and everything—us, everyone else, dogs, cats, UPS trucks, cheese. They were all the same in her eyes. 

And so when Ryder came, I wasn't sure who he would be, especially since for the first few weeks of his life with us, I spent hours away from him every day. But I needn't have worried. Ryder never leaves my side. If I dare step out of a room without him noticing, he will scramble through the house until he finds me, content to watch me fold clothes, make lunch, surf the net and yes, even go to the bathroom. I often feel I didn't choose Ryder. He chose me and for that, I am eternally grateful. 

Our life right now is full of puppy chaos—dog toys litter the floor along with all of our dragged out laundry and yards of toilet paper. My eyeglasses are most likely a wash. And we buy enzyme spray by the gallon to keep Kelly Clarkson intact. 

And we wouldn't have it any other way. 

I talked about the big, bad things this last year had in store for me, but the biggest, hardest thing, was of course, losing my mom, watching her fade away until there was no hope left. 


I have walked the path of grief before. It isn't easy. It's filled with sorrow and pain and regret for all the things that could have been and all the things that were and on most days it sneaks up on you with a mighty wallop, leaving you unsteady in its wake. 

My parents are reunited with each other and there is no sweeter song in the universe. But no matter how old you are it is always tough to become an orphan. There is an emptiness to no longer having parents on this earth and even though I have strong roots and a husband and children who love me, part of me now feels rudderless. 

I won't lie, a few months ago I was struggling, weighted down in grief and overwhelmed by the task of being my mom's executor. The shutting down of a life is complicated and hard and it never got easier with each phone call having to say the words out loud that my mom had passed. My husband suggested a change of scenery, an extended stay at our other home in California. But my little baby Ryder had grown too big to fit under the seat of a plane. And I'll admit, I was one of those who rolled my eyes at the ever increasing fad of emotional support animal. (When that one woman tried to bring her emotional support duck on a plane? Please! everyone knows ducks are assholes and not capable of emotional support. They are only capable of pooping everywhere. I unfortunately know this, firsthand.) But I knew I couldn't leave my bouncy irrepressible boy behind. I was too emotionally attached. He had become my life preserver as I swam through the dark, turbulent waves of grief.

And so, my wonderful husband suggested an epic road trip. 

From Florida to California. 

With a five month old puppy. 

I must confess, I was worried. I couldn't imagine this electrified bundle of energy sitting in a car for hours at a time, day after day. But there was no need for worry, Ryder proved himself to be the angel boy that he is. It was kind of astonishing, to be honest. It was like he knew what was expected of him and he became a professional truck passenger, restaurant goer, hotel sleeper, sight-seeing tourist from the moment our road trip began. 



In the truck, he took turns sleeping on his cooling pad on the truck floor, sitting in his car seat watching the scenery unfold, snuggling in my arms and resting his head on the console to keep his dad company as the miles unfolded. He happily hiked national parks, laid quiet under every restaurant table, made friends with every dog we came across, slept like a champ in hotel rooms and did his business on demand at skinny strips of grass at gas stations, in city parks, in dirt lots and everywhere else we asked him to go. 


By the time he was six months old he'd traveled to Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Kansas, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Tennessee and every part in between. He'd stayed in dozens of hotel rooms, laid at our feet in countless restaurants, strolled through shopping malls, traveled Route 66, hiked in national parks in several states, posed at the Grand Canyon, experienced deserts and canyons and mountains and gorgeous rock formations. He had waded in creek beds, put his paws in the Pacific Ocean. He had walked through redwood forests. He'd socialized with all the town folk every Thursday at our Calistoga Music in the Park, fitting right into our small town way of life. He'd been wine tasting, bike riding, partied with all the dogs at breweries and had navigated the sidewalks of big cities like he belonged there. And he did all of this and so much more like a champion, like he knew what his job was, to be there for me, for all of us, our beloved, constant companion.















There was this moment in Sedona. We were driving back to our hotel after a long day of sight seeing. I was staring out the window, at some of the most beautiful scenery this country has to offer. Grief, as it does, had snuck up on me. I was thinking about how much my dad would have loved the glorious rock formations. How he would have said with all the feels, "Don't you just love it?" I was thinking about all the vacations Bill and I took with my mom and dad, how we would drink wine and have adventures and laugh until we couldn't breathe and how sometimes it felt like those moments had been a lifetime ago, but how other times it felt like we'd been together just yesterday and how sometimes I still catch myself almost picking up the phone to call them. I was feeling the weight of the last few months and all the hard things we've had to endure when suddenly Ryder climbed into my lap. He wagged his little wiggly body as he settled into my arms and forced his head under my hand so I would pet him. And as I looked down at this baby, so deliriously happy and content to just be with us, I felt a peace wash over me. I knew that life will go on with all its unexpected joy and sorrow, unforeseen heartbreak and serendipitous treasures, all whirled together, unsparingly merciless at times but always so good, so very good. On the toughest of days, I looked into his sweet brown eyes full of goodness and love and I knew I would be okay, we would all be okay. 

Dog is God spelled backwards. It explains just about everything. Maybe God wanted to give us something because he knew he was about to take so much from us. Maybe my dad pulled some favors because he knew how much it would hurt to walk my mom down the path to Heaven's door. I'll never know why Ryder entered our lives when he did. He came to us when getting a puppy should have been our last priority. He was unexpected and sometimes when you least expect it, this wild, tumultuous life gives you the sweetest of gifts. And sometimes those gifts are in the form of a furry, goofy bouncy bundle of love named Ryder. 
Joann








3 comments:

Gigi said...

Joann - I stumbled across your blog right before you went dark - and I am so happy to see you back here. I am so sorry for your losses; no matter what we can't be prepared for them.

Anita @ GoingALittleCoastal said...

I’m so happy that Ryder came into your life to help ease the pain. Dogs have a way of doing that. My husband and I, just last week, talked about driving out to CA with our dog. She’s not the greatest in the car though so we will work on that a bit before we take the plunge. My son is out there in LA. and there is so much we want to see along the way. You’ll have to share your tips about finding dog friendly hotels and restaurants along the way. Oh, and I just mentioned this post to my husband and all I said was, remember that blog I used to read a while ago? And he say, yeah, Laundry makes me cry, or something like that. The man cant remember five things to pick up at Publix but he remembered you!

Art Chick said...

Very pleasantly surprised to get your post in my inbox after a long hiatus. But so very sorry to hear about your mom. I lost my mom in 2012, very unexpectedly and suddenly. I'm not the same person since I lost her, so I can related to your loss. You have my deepest sympathies. It was nice to read about and see your fur babies though. Sometimes, things like that are the rainbow we need on a very cloudy day. Take care, Joann!

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