What characterizes childhood?
Is it the bedtime stories? The ability to take midday naps without getting yelled at? Using your imagination to make simple objects something extraordinary? The field trips to zoos and apple orchards? Spending the day outside running around with friends? Or falling asleep on the couch and being carried into your room? Perhaps it’s being tucked in by a parent and feeling the overwhelming sense of warmth and security.
What characterizes the end of childhood?
Is it getting your first job? Moving away from home? Going away to college? Getting your heart-broken by someone you swore would never hurt you? Getting your driver’s license? Buying a car? Losing a loved one? Buying a house? Having a kid? Is it travelling the world? Seeing and experiencing hardships for yourself? Perhaps though, it’s the death of the family pet.
I have fond memories of my childhood. My imagination ran rampant, it still does. But as a child it’s different, it’s more.
There was this long stretch of grass right in front of my family’s apartment with a couple of trees and this huge rock. It’s similar to, though not nearly as cool or large, and definitely not as famous as the one in Central Park. Either way this rock was implanted in its spot and at the top there was an irregularly shaped indent where rain water would collect after a storm. My fellow children and I would create a “witches brew”, which of course consisted of mud, leaves, grass, pebbles, and of course twigs to stir. What really strikes me though is the memory of how one of the trees aforementioned, would always play a part in our imaginative games. The tree often became the center of a great big castle where sword fights and other big dramatic scenes would happen. Other times, the roots played an integral part in setting a boundary between dueling lands.
One day in the early years of elementary school, I came home to a big surprise. Coming off of the noisy, long yellow bus with black/gray/greenish toned seats, I was met with a group of older kids in a circle/semi-circle my sisters included. Unsure of what was going on I approached and discovered that hidden behind the kids was my dad and the cutest little puppy ever! While I was at school my parents had bought a German Shepherd puppy that was only a few months old. I was ecstatic, because I had never had a dog before! We had some difficulty naming him in fact, we went through a couple before we found his forever name. When I met him his name was Bud/Buddy, then my dad decided he didn’t like that name so it was changed to Major, still that just wasn’t quite right and his name was changed for the last time to Rambo.
The next memory I have of him is from later that day. We were in the living room of our apartment and I was petting/brushing him completely mystified and overjoyed by this little ball of fur with a wagging tail and large ears that would form a cross on top of his head. While gently brushing him he fell asleep and little K.D. was just full of cuddles that day. He was just the cutest thing.
A few years later, for a school project I had to create a short documentary, I chose “How to train a dog”. (Luckily, he was already trained. shhh 😉 ) The video, which is only about 4 minutes long, features me; proudly displaying a book about how to train and care for German Shepherds, making my cute puppy do “tricks” i.e. sitting, laying down, leaving something alone for pieces of saltine crackers, and shows me outside playing with him and another dog that lived in the complex. It’s all very embarrassing but apparently also very cute.
I grew up with my dog. He’s been a constant presence in my life since that day long, long ago. Now, he’s old and he’s experiencing leg/hip problems that are getting worse everyday. A couple of days ago, I saw something I haven’t been able to unsee. Because of the problems he is having, walking down stairs is very difficult for him and so he’s been very scared to go to the bathroom. In an attempt to get him to walk down the three stairs from our deck to the backyard I was out in the yard calling his name and clapping trying to get him to come to me while my parents and sister were trying to corner him in a way that would only give him one place to go, down the stairs. Throughout all of his pain and suffering he hasn’t lost his puppy face; which is why standing in the yard looking up at him I nearly burst into tears, there was absolute terror in his eyes. Every time I see him now I see terror even when it’s not actually there.
Since then, he has fallen down a lot, he won’t go outside and he hasn’t eaten any of his food in almost two days. He no longer has control of his hind legs which makes him swerve like a drunk person when he walks. Although he is on pain medicine, him not eating is troubling and he’ll probably have to be put down sooner rather than later.
I don’t remember a time where he wasn’t a part of our household, our family but it’s almost time to let go. It’s not fair to him, and it’s not fair for us to watch him struggle and suffer through a life where he can’t do the things he enjoys.
His passing will mark a significant end to my childhood, although the case can be made that it already has. I’ve gone away to college. I’ve had my heart-broken by someone I love. I’ve lost loved ones, and now this. If I had known that growing up meant having to experience these things. I would have done everything in my power to slow things down.