A Bit of Chaos is Home

My sweet girl Mazie had to visit the vet again this week. For no reason that I could think of, she had thrown up her breakfast five hours after eating and then immediately pooped what looked like tomato paste. Forgive me if that’s a bit too graphic, but for anyone who has pets or kids, I’m sure you’ve seen worse.

I swear Mazie has seen the vet more times in the last two years than any of my other dogs did in triple that time. Sure, there were episodes of chili pepper chocolate consumption (earning her the moniker “Coco”) but there have been plenty of other milder reasons for visits too.

The point is, I would be devastated if something happened to her. She’s only 3.5 years old and I’m looking forward to another decade or more with her. I have really loved all my dogs (two of which are still kicking it at 14 years old in Idaho!) – and – there’s something about Mazie that takes my adoration to another level. I suspect some of this attachment has to do with her size. At twelve pounds, she is essentially the weight of an infant. And I tend to hold and cuddle her like one too.

Years before I shared my life with a dog, my sister had cats. She still does. And I’ve never forgotten how she once told me that a cat is a perpetual three-year-old. That’s it. They never grow up. Not actually three years old but in essence, a three-year-old child. I’m allergic to cats so I tend to keep my distance. But I do know dogs and dogs are very much like little kids.

Dogs have no concept of time. They exist in the present. Five minutes is the same as five hours. When you return, they greet you with exuberance, gratitude, and joy. When you play fetch, they can always keep on playing. You just rubbed their belly? Here, rub it again!

Dogs can make a mess of a home. At least twice a week, I gather up all of Mazie’s toys and dump them in a basket in order to vacuum, because even for a small dog, her hair is everywhere. Within hours, the toys are once again strewn across the floor. One of Mazie’s pups, Rupert, is her best friend and he stays with us frequently. Ru has a habit of taking a toy with him into every room. Into the kitchen, the bedroom, the hallway, the yard. It totally cracks me up. Somehow, I trained my other dogs to leave the kitchen when I say, “Out!” but not Rupert.

Kids can make a mess of home too. It doesn’t matter what age they are. Babies and toddlers turn our worlds upside down. No matter how many locks you have on cabinets, new humans are pretty darn creative, like puppies with thumbs. Toilet paper unrolled down the hall, crayon drawings on walls, and toothpaste or peanut butter… well, every parent has a good story. Then at elementary school age, everything ramps up. Play dates, clubs, nonstop activities, and more – all which include different clothing and accessories, in the wash and throughout the house. “Order” and organization are unnatural to children. Chaos isn’t chaos when we’re young. Only when we get older do we learn structure – for better or worse. And we fight like heck against it for as long as we can. Almost universally, “Clean up your room!” is regularly heard in homes with children. A home with kids is chaotic.

And yet, somehow it works. Too much order is death. Consistent calm is essentially a flat line on an EKG. Chaos enlivens us. Emotions that run the gamut, up and down, deep like tree roots and passing like sun showers, are what fix us firmly to life, and to home.

Home is the realm of the child. When we think of home, or going home, we tend to be nostalgic without even realizing it. Providing, of course, that home as a child was a good and safe place. And this is because four of the five basic levels of human needs – as defined by Maslow – are met in our homes as children. At least in the archetypal home – what home is supposed to be – what we all expect home to be: a place of shelter, safety, love and belonging, where we develop a sense of worth and value.

And it’s the role of the parent to provide these things to us when we are young. Whether or not we actually did receive these things from our parents – or from home – we will always long for them as adults. Only, when we grow older, we become responsible for providing these things. Not just to our own children (if we have them), but to ourselves.

I started providing these things for myself at age eighteen when I moved away from Chicago and refused any financial assistance from my parents. Financial gifts were always welcomed, of course, but I felt acutely responsible for my own survival and needs. That led to me becoming very organized and keeping a clean and functional home.

I’ve always loved my home. I’ve been proud of how I create my surroundings: the beauty, the books, the art, the comfort, and curiosities – all the things that make it welcoming to me and to others. But the truth is, I lacked a bit of chaos that is beneficial, the kind of disorder that brings life to a place. I never had children (a much longer conversation for another time) but finally, when I was thirty-nine, I started sharing my life with dogs. And that, my friends, has made all the difference.

Me and Mazie on my birthday last year

Each furry four-paw has progressively made me a better person. More attentive and less uptight. More playful, less compulsive. Until Mazie, however, my dogs were my dogs. They didn’t sleep in my bed. I didn’t like it when Athena licked me. I was furious when Leo would run off chasing something and be gone for hours. I expected them to behave.

Something changed with Mazie. I accept her interruptions as invitations instead of aggravations. I take a break, reframe, step outside, and snuggle. Just a minute or two while crunching at work is healthy for both of us. I accept her licks as affection instead of annoyance. I still keep my lips away from her, but sure, go ahead and lick my hand, even my cheek. I think it’s her favorite way of showing affection. I’ve arranged my work life around her and, honestly, I arrange my social life around her too. I prefer to be with friends that let her tag along. When allowed, she is always my plus one.

Dogs make me laugh. They are pretty predictable and yet very spontaneous. And of course, they are incredibly loyal and loving. Maybe the same is true of ferrets and cats. Aw heck, maybe you’ve even heard of WallyGator, the emotional support alligator.

Bottom line: we all need a bit of chaos in our lives. Not too much, but just enough to keep us spontaneous, laughing, alive, and not overly uptight. Children and pets can do this for us. They are, in so many ways, what truly makes a house a home.

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