On Dogs and Improvisation

We’d been watching a Bernese Mountain Dog as a trial, to see if she might fit in our family. (She didn’t fit with her last family, which is why she is at ours.) Sunday, we made the decision to adopt her.

We sat the girls on the couch and told them that afternoon. Ellis, our soon-to-be seven-year-old, squealed and hugged us. Maci, our four-year-old was quiet. We asked Maci if she wanted a dog, and she said yes, and she said she wanted this dog. But she insisted that she didn’t want to be too excited. She is hard to read and we always place it on her German ancestry. It’s the same reason that, every four years when we watch a German soccer game, my wife laughs at me: the heavy brows and strong chins.

I cannot help but wonder if the dog will work out the way we imagine now, and when she will be a joy and when a nuisance. I suppose there is no relationship without both, broken as we are.

I wonder, too, about Maci. Ellis is demonstrative and outspoken; her body language is impossible to misinterpret. What she feels is directly acted out. Maci, however, is more like her dad (again, the German ancestry). She will have her feelings hurt and disappear to her room to cry. When she was younger, she would get angry with us if we made too much out of a skinned knee. She would be crying, yes, but she wouldn’t want too much sympathy.

See what I mean?

So we embark on another body in the house. Just an animal this time. I am adamant about not becoming one of those people who confuses his dog with a person. In fact, this afternoon as Brooke went to buy some supplies for the dog, she mentioned the dog’s lumpy bed. It couldn’t be comfortable, she said.

I reminded her that neither would the floor be comfortable for a human to sleep on, but it suits the dog just fine. So does a lumpy bed, as long as she is familiar with it.

I’m reminded how with the dog, or with Maci, we are tenuously doing our best. We may make false steps, and assume too much or too little. But this is what it means to be a parent or a dog owner, to pour ourselves into any worthy endeavor. Writing a novel is the same, and I imagine starting a business would be, too. We jump with all the knowledge we have, and we make the rest up. We improvise. This is, evolutionarily speaking, one of the traits that set humans apart from other animals: our ability to improvise. To take known information and apply it in a new situation. I’m glad our ancestors had millions of years of practice at this. Because I need it on Sunday afternoons just as I do on while teaching a class on Monday morning. Life has much to do with our ability to improvise.

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