Second only to riding a motorcycle, where the rider’s attention must be sharply focused in order to avoid death or dismemberment, having a puppy requires an exceedingly high level of concentration. With the ever-present danger found in a young canine’s all-too-small bladder, her impossibly rapid digestion of puppy chow, and the attraction of shoes and table legs for chewing, if you look away, you are sure to miss something that you really can’t blame on the “baby.”
When my children were toddlers, I watched them–not like a hawk, more like a hen. They never went too far and rarely behaved in a way that I would have deemed unsafe. (This, of course, is a conclusion drawn from my inductive reasoning that because they never got truly hurt, they were never truly in danger. Truthfully, they might have been on the brink of death and dismemberment lots of times and I was simply unaware.) I had four toddlers and now I have four teenagers, so sounds like a parenting win to me.
Puppies are a whole other category of watchfulness. As I write this, our 10-week-old puppy looks quite like she does in this photo:
Quiet, calm, peaceful: the polar opposite of her wakeful state. But there’s something to seeing a sleeping puppy that brings an extra sense of serenity. (Many feel this same sense when watching a baby sleep. I imagine kittens and turtles might move some watchers to take a long deep breath as well.) It’s not only the respite from the chaos of play, eat, pee, poo, repeat, but also the invitation to “just watch.” That’s it and nothing more.
How many times are we able to singularly focus on just one thing? In a culture where multi-tasking is expected, the opportunities to be fully attendant to one stimulus is rare. Our endless to-do lists and agendas mandate that we stay on task.
I am grateful that this puppy doesn’t allow for that. Since it’s impossible to even draft a set daily schedule for a young canine, it’s better to just surrender. And in that surrender, a real present presence can be found.
The new year often encourages people to make changes. One that I hear a lot of is “be more present.” Some vow to meditate, to train their minds to achieve authentic concentration. Others resolve to savor every moment without distraction. I’ve tried making these promises to myself. Mediation is hard; moment-savoring is too loaded with distractions. But over the last many days, I’ve felt myself really watching, in the way I would on my vintage Honda 360 years ago. This tiny creature is a gift, reminding me (forcing me) to be present with just one thing.
Even when she makes this face: