My twelve-year-old son has just got a dog. It was his father’s idea and Lily lives with them. But last week I suggested Lily come for a sleepover because I thought it was time I met my son’s new best friend.
They say it’s good for a child to have a dog but dogs are a foreign country to me. Having a Labrador x Kelpie puppy in my house is outside my comfort zone.
I always had cats. My father who’s lived in the bush most of my life reckons dogs are for working although he cried when his Short Haired Pointer died. My mother and grandparents whom I lived with growing up didn’t like animals inside the house but I was allowed to have a cat. I snuck Ginger into my room once but Mum reckoned Ginger smelled and made me put her back outside. My grandmother used to give Ginger pasta and lentil soup and when I suggested tinned cat food she’d just scoffed. ‘She’s a cat. She’ll eat the scraps.’ We had chooks too but they were for eating and so were their eggs.
Italians aren’t great with treating animals as family members. Even though this theory is probably nonsense I think of it when I remember how my grandfather got rid of Ginger. I’d looked for her everywhere for days and it was only years later I discovered she’d been driven out to the boondocks of Melbourne and left there. They told me Ginger must have run away yet something never felt quite right about that explanation.
But when my son’s new dog Lily bounded into my life and into my kitchen last week I fell for her right away. I liked how my son was with her, affectionate and confident. Lily slept in my son’s bedroom on a special mat on the floor but when I went in there during the night to check up on them both, Lily was on the bed and I didn’t have the heart to move her. I’ll just wash all the linen and put it through an extra hot cycle. I’ll need to vacuum too.
The next morning we got set to take Lily for a walk. She needs two a day apparently because she’s so frisky and not content to lounge about on a couch or play computer games all day. She isn’t very interested in eating either. Clearly she is more Kelpie than Labrador.
‘I’ll take her’, I say to my son.
‘She has to be on the leash Mum. You can only take her off it when we’re in the bush.’
‘Okay’, I say, taking the leash in my right hand and patting Lily on the head with my left. Her ears are so soft.
‘She pulls pretty hard’, says my son. ‘You got to keep the leash short otherwise she’ll take off.’
‘I know, I know.’ I say, like I’ve had dogs all my life.
But my son is right Lily does take off. Like a rocket. I run to keep up with her and it’s fun at first, invigorating. Look at me with a dog! But Lily gets faster and faster.
And then I see it. Up ahead there is a man with a small white dog and Lily is heading straight for it.
‘Stop! Lily Stop!’ I shout uselessly into the wind, pulling on the leash like a drunken equestrian.
I watch myself flail, tumble, shriek and finally fall on the pavement with a thud like it’s all in slow motion.
Lily is licking the back of my neck and the other dog owner is saying, ‘Are you alright there?’ and my son is hissing under his breath, ‘Get up Mum. You’re soooo embarrassing.’
I lie there on the ground mentally checking through my body for injuries, my thoughts floating about madly…
To fall from grace: Done that. Didn’t we all originally.
To fall in one’s own and others’ estimation: I’m not a perfectionist but I do have a diligent inner judge and jury, so if others are not disappointed in me I sure am.
To fall out with friends: It used to happen a lot as a teenager and seems to have started up again in middle age.
To fall in love with the wrong man: Been there done that all too often but still can’t figure out if I attract the wrong kind of man or the wrong man just sees me coming.
To fall into a pit of despair: The Black Dog and I have been in an on and off relationship for years.
To fall pregnant: Yes did that a few times and only one child to show for it. Enough said.
To fall upstairs: An American expression meaning to be elevated above one’s station. A version of the Imposter Syndrome that most people I like possess to some extent.
To fall upon something: I discover less by accident now. These days I search things out more and don’t expect anything to fall into my lap.
To fall through the cracks: Those people who live disenfranchised and outside-the square, the ones our government cares less about.
To fall asleep: What I do easily but then wake up 3 times during the night. Menopause? A bad pillow? Worrying about falling over for good?
My eighty two-year-old mum fell over recently and hasn’t been the same since. Her body is fine but her confidence is shot.
The man with the small white dog is trying to help me to my feet, and my son is standing there dumbstruck. I feel a little embarrassed but mostly I’m annoyed with my son for not being more sympathetic.
‘But Mum,’ my son says once we’re on the move again and he is now holding Lily’s leash. ‘You are sooo not used to dogs.’
‘No kidding,’ I say.’
‘And you gotta admit it was kind of funny the way you were running and shouting and then how you fell over. It looked really bad.’
To fall seven times and stand up eight: One of those neat Japanese proverbs about never giving up no matter how rubbish life gets. So while I can still look forward to the first coffee of the day, to my son’s face when he’s sleeping, to falling in love again, to the next Almodover movie, I won’t be giving up anytime soon.