Spray’s Lessons by Morgan Baker

This week’s blog is from Morgan Baker, author, professor, writing coach, quilter, and dog lover.  

Thanks, Morgan, for sharing your thoughts about what dogs can teach us, specifically what you learned from your dog, Spray, about being a mother, letting go as kids leave the nest, and learning to be present. It’s a fitting topic for September as families with kids heading off to college, or to a job and an independent life, face a new normal.


Interested in being a guest-blogger? Contact me.  

Spray’s Lessons

Spray the dog

On a cold January morning, I watched Spray, our 2-year-old Portuguese Water Dog, lie on the gray carpet in our TV room, and birth ten puppies for more than eight hours. I admired her no fuss, no muss business. She didn’t scream or moan. She didn’t seem to be in distress or discomfort.

I was transported back in time to my deliveries, which had been quite different. But then, Spray was a dog. I was a human.

Had I watched Spray before I had babies, maybe I could have learned a few things, but as it turned out, I did scream and cry when my daughters, now 31 and 28, were born. The lessons I learned from Spray came later.

Spray and her puppies

When our family decided to breed our “perfect” Portuguese water dog during my older daughter’s last year of high school, I wasn’t sure how safe or sane this plan was. Puppies and mom dogs die during the birthing process. And, if you don’t spay them, intact female dogs, or bitches, are at risk for uterine and breast cancer.

 But we went ahead anyway because – puppies… how can you say no?

 My family fell in love with them, just as I fell in love with my daughters when they were born. But, I also realized how fragile the pups and babies’ lives were and discovered how much pain I would be in when they all left me.

The night after my first daughter was born, I went to sleep in the hospital and dreamt that Maggie was cold and to warm her up, I put her in an oven.

I woke in a sweat, panicked that this was an omen. I was going to be a terrible mom.

 I wasn’t, although I did make, and continue to make, mistakes along the way, but they’re my mistakes. I own them. I didn’t inherit them. There are no instructional manuals on how to do this job. Every child and pup are individuals with their own set of needs and interests, and every parent does it their way.

Spray and her daughter Ezzie

 Spray decided when she would stop nursing her ten pups, and notified them by running through the room, and leaping onto a sofa where the pups couldn’t reach her.

She also knew instinctively when it was time for some Spray time. She walked away from her pups and hung out with our older PWD, Splash.

Spray’s puppies didn’t suffer from Spray’s attention to herself. They probably benefitted from it because when they left their nest they would be more independent as they joined their forever families.

Maybe they missed their litter-mates and mother a bit, but Spray didn’t agonize over the puppies leaving, the way I did when my daughters left my nest. After my husband gave Spray a bit of chicken to distract her as we handed each pup to their new families, she returned to the remaining pups.

Spray took care of herself. She never acted sad or depressed. I did though. I cried – a lot – and desperately missed my kids.

But then I took a lesson from Spray’s playbook.

It was hard to weave into my life, but eventually, I got it. I began to focus on myself. There were other things out there that brought me joy – quilting, baking, spending time with my husband and dogs. There is life after pups move out, and sometimes it’s really fun.

Spray taught me to pay attention to what’s in front of me, right now, right here, and not to worry about the future. It’ll be here soon enough.

Now is the time to enjoy the runs in the parks, the walks in the neighborhood, and squishing on the couch to be cozy. Live in the present, smell those flowers your dog stops to smell, nap when you’re tired, and run when you’re unleashed.

About the Author:

Morgan Baker is an award-winning writer and author; her latest book is Emptying the Nest: Getting Better at Goodbyes.  

She is also a professor at Emerson College, an avid quilter, and a writing coach. Learn more at byMorganBaker.com

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