I'm beaming. My dog was an absolute gem at the dog park tonight. He didn't bark (this is kind of huge - he's part beagle), he didn't hoard the multiple tennis balls in play, he didn't get nasty with any of the other dogs when they won a ball fair and square over him. Sometimes, he didn't even pick up the ball lying on the ground - he would sniff it and walk right by.
He was like this happy, well-adjusted kid. And today, at least, I'm the mom who made him that way.
Every so often, he isn't that normal kid. He's the bully, or the loner, or pretty much any combination of the messed up Breakfast Club kids at any one time. And on those days we leave the park shamed with me yanking him the whole way home, threatening to never take him back to the park. And maybe for a few days I won't, but then, inevitably, I cave and I find my feet pulling us in that familiar direction all the while my mind is fooling itself with thoughts like "oh, we'll just walk past the park, it's just such a pretty neighbourhood to walk through."
The thing is: as much as my dog might enjoy the park, I enjoy it just as much. And when it's not a part of my almost everyday, the days just don't feel right. When I return after an absence, I'm sincerely ecstatic to see the familiar faces of the people and dogs I know or don't know.
It wasn't always like this. For the majority of my dog-owning years, there wasn't a park nearby, and my Simon and I existed in a world of two. About a year before my sweet old beagle passed away, I set foot (make that six foots) in a dog park for the first time. It was the middle of winter and we found ourselves in a new part of town, with an unfamiliar future, in an apartment with awkward corners and unpacked boxes.
In spite of this, the minute I walked through the door at the end of the day - dropping my bag by the phone, swapping the day's uniform for a pair of old jeans, and quickly nuzzling the soft, sleepy beagle curled up on my bed - everything felt as it should. I would clip on his leash and off we would go to walk, sniff, wonder, and gaze wistfully into warm glowing houses. The more time I spent with him out there, the less any of those nagging questions seemed to matter.
And so, on those dark cold evenings, I found myself giving in to the pull of my old dog to the little parkette across from our building. Every night we would wander about, just a little while longer each time, both of us with our own reasons for wanting to stay outside, but thankfully, in total agreement that we would (he and I, we were a family of equals). I remember watching a guy throw the ball for his dog on many of those early nights. I, a little envious (of what, I don't know), Simon, maybe a little reminiscent of his younger days. I remember a group of mostly women standing beneath a canopy of trees - small dogs circling them as they talked and laughed.
In no time, my dog and I would come to know these people and dogs and they, too, became a familiar part of my everyday. Anything and everything could go wrong in a day, but I could always count on being welcomed into the little semicircle of conversation under those trees. Interesting conversations were had, great memories made, and amazing dogs and people were met.
I've moved on from that little park now - across the city to a bigger park where I throw the ball for my own speed-demon dog. But I think of it every so often - my first dog park, a place and time that has come to mean so much to me.
And tonight? Tonight - to celebrate the fact that my dog was not an asshole at the dog park today - Boomer gets to dine on spaghetti (and not just because I'm almost out of dog food).