Pawthor’s note: Even though these stories were written years ago, it takes a long time to edit them, make four different versions for Substack and my blog, chop it into seven parts to put on Facebook and Instagram, and then paint all the pictures for it. Mom didn’t notice that she rewrote the same part twice until Monday, and then it was far too late to fix it!
The first half of this post tells the same story as the last half of last week’s post, but the tellings are different. We polished last week’s version a month ago. We finished up this week’s version a few days ago. If you read the two versions together, you’ll find that Mom’s more of an interpreter than a translator. She writes what I tell her in wildly different ways depending on her mood.
I’ll also be posting all three versions of the story on Facebook – (1) the original from 2019, (2) last week’s version, (3) this week’s version – along with more behind-the-scenes peeks into our collaborative process.
Mom and I agree that runs aren't for lollygagging, but we disagree about walks. In Mom's world, a sidewalk is a contract and the walk itself is about steady, constant movement. If she had her way, we would walk out the door and then just keep walking in straight lines until we arrived back at the door again.
No wonder she never gets excited for walks. What's to look forward to when all you see is the sidewalk in front of you? Mom would have no curiosity at all if she didn't have me to remind her to take an interest in the marvels happining around us.
Unlike Mom, I want people to notice me, so I sniff all the neighborhood gossip, leave bulletins of my own, and bark hello to every neighbor I see (and many that I don't). I walk with my head up and down at the same time so that I can smell the future down the street without losing track of the scents of those who passed before.
Mom walks so slow that you would think that I would be the one reminding her to hurry, but besides the occasional jiggle to let her know that the neighbor's cat is home, Mom does most of the leash-pulling. She'll keep walking no matter what's running on the wires above us or who's barking through the fence. She pulls me back when a squirrel challenges me to a race, and she pulls me forward when I find a pee spot or food wrapper. I have to tense up and make myself an anchor if I want to finish a toast or post before she pulls me away. But if I'm prepared and root myself to the spot before Mom notices, then she's the one that eventually goes boing and spins around at the end of the leash.
My birtday gift was supposed to be about togetherness, which meant it would be another disappointment if I couldn't trick Mom into being present.
As our departure grew near, Mom became even more distant. She bobbed as listlessly as a birthday balloon at the other end of the leash while her mind drifted to worlds I couldn't imagine.
I ran ahead until the leash snapped Mom back to earth and she tugged me back to her side. I walked beside her patiently until the next curiosity hooked my nose and grounded me, or hooked her mind and pulled her back into the clouds. Mom wouldn't notice that I was anchored to a new spot until the leash pulled her back down to earth, and she pulled me back to her side.
We yoyoed down the sidewalk with only the leash tying our parallel universes together. But a yoyo is a lonely substitute for fetch. What trap could I set to lure Mom back to Earth?
Like a dog who gets screwy without an assignment, Mom spent evenings planning my birthday trip like it was her job.
Our adventure would be full of choices, each leading to more choices, and more after that, until we arrived home safely again.
Mom would squeeze all the adventure out of the trip before we even embarked if she made all the choices ahead of time from inside the Stuck House. With all the trip's mysteries already solved, Mom might follow her wandering mind and get stuck in its darkest corners like a Roomba until the end of time.
Bam! The solution hit me between the eyes like a rogue tennis ball: I would turn it into a game!
Like a labyrinth turns getting lost into a game by putting structure to chaos, I could influence Mom's sense of direction by giving her a sense of purpose. All I had to do was reward her with points for keeping an open mind and keep the wrong kind of distractions (like expectations) out of bounds.
"I bet you can't take this whole trip without rules and schedules," I challenged. "You're not scared of taking this vacation like a dog, are you?"
“I don't honestly know.” Mom heaved a sigh deep enough to hold all the world's sorrows.
"No fair trading your laptop for the driving wheel," I prodded. "That's cheating."
"How are we supposed to know if something is worth exploring if I don't research it first?Even spontinaity takes planning."
“You don't plan routes, Mom, you plan checklists. I want to actually explore, not just run past things as fast as we can."
"The faster we go, the more we get to see." Mom sat higher to demomstrate the loftiness of her wisdom.
"It's not a race to get back home again," I reminded her.
"Fine. We'll take the back roads and the scenic routes," she surrendered. "Even though it takes longer. And costs more. And we won't get as far. Yeah. We can do that."
"And we have to actually stop when we get there," I said. "No fair taking a picture from the car kennel, or just driving past and reading the sign out loud. It's important for a dog to leave his mark on the world."
"Okay. I promise. We won't ever drive for more than 3 hours without getting out and exploring."
"Nuh-uh,” I stopped her. “That's how checklists begin. What if something interesting happens after just one hour and it's not time to stop yet? We'll miss it." I paused to let the FOMO sink in. "I never want to go longer than three dog-hours without stopping."
"I know what a dog-year is, but what's a dog-hour?"
"I don't know. It's something I just made up to prevent schedules from ruining my birthday again, so it can be as long as I want," I explained. "We’ll stop whenever something good happens, but we won’t go so slow that we miss the good stuff to come."
"You've got yourself a deal." Mom held out her paw to shake. "Instead of the interstate, we'll drive the state highways. When we have to go to the bathroom, we'll stop in forests and go behind trees. And when we're done, we'll explore for a dog-hour or 2 before getting back in the car."
"And I want to spend just as much of this trip on paws as we do in the car," I added.
"Okay, I promise. We’ll make sure we never hike or run less than a minimum of 10 miles a day and…" She looked at me. “...I mean, we’ll try to do a run and a hike every day.”
"Unless we don't feel like it."
"Unless we don't feel like it," Mom agreed in a liar's tone. "Luckily I'll be traveling with the best life coach in the world. My transition won't be that difficult because my job will be to transcribe the field notes from your observations as a life coach." She looked away slyly, "...unless I don’t feel like it."
“Nope. That’s one job that you can’t skip. You’re going to transcribe your lessons every day so you can remember our adventure forever.”
With the groundrules set, I thought there was nothing else to worry about. Little did I know that there would be one more ordeal before we hit the road, and this time I would be the one retreating from Mom's trickery.
On the first day of our adventure, Mom and I woke up at the usual early hour, in our usual house, in our usual bed. Mom wanted to get a little bit of home stuck in our soles before setting out for unfamiliar lands, so we visited our favorite trail one last time.
We started running in the dark so we could meet the sunrise on top of the mountain. When we arrived, Mom did something strange: she stopped.
We stood on top of the hill watching the sun rise across the bay. I waited for Mom to tell me that one day all this would be mine, but she was lost in thought again.
"Is that where we're going?" I asked to break the trance.
Mom squinted, either to see Utah better or just because the sun was in her eyes. "Eventually, but first we're going that way." She turned left and waggled her arm toward the next hilltop.
I couldn't see anything special on the horizon, even after my eyes shook off the sun. I needed a hint. "What's that way?"
“The motel where you almost got us kicked out because the neighbors complained about your barking, for one… But lots of other stuff too.”
“Oh.” I had forgotten that travel is scary sometimes, like when Mom leaves you alone in an empty hotel room and you don’t know if she'll ever come back.
At first I thought it was excitement that made Mom hurry down the hill, but as it turned out, she just wanted to make sure there was time for a bath before we hit the road.
"No fair! It's my birthday!" I begged as she clamped her legs around my waist and unclipped my collar.
"You don't want to start your big adventure smelling like corn chips, do you?" she teased as she rubbed Head & Shoulders for Men into my manly head and shoulders.
I was concentrating too hard on pretending that her lathering fingers were just giving me butt scratchies to reply. I left my body in the bath and floated out the window with the steam and into the clouds.
It took Mom a while to sign the borrowing papers and move all of our stuff into the car-house we’d be living in for the next two weeks. I kept busy collecting butt scratches from strangers and trying to learn about the odd squirrel who held court in the back of the room.
It made a noise like an underwater turkey, especially when I got close to its cage.
"What are you?" I barked when sniffing didn't tell me what I wanted to know. "Are you a snack?"
"Get away from there," Mom growled. She fetched my leash and pulled me back to the pile of papers she was scribbling on.
I leaned as close to the puzzling creature as my leash would allow. "I didn't know that turkeys and squirrels could make babies."
"It's a guinnea pig." Mom switched the leash to her spare arm so she could scribble more comfortably.
"It doesn't smell any more like a pig than a turkey to me."
The car-house was different from My Car, and I wasn't sure if I liked it. It didn’t have any of my favorite places to sit, like the copilot’s seat next to Mom’s driving chair, or my fainting couch in the back.
I tried sitting on my butt like a human in the seat where the empty bottles and cans usually live. It was okay as long as we were in traffic, but it was too hard to nap there with all the twisting and turning once we hit the open road. When I got tired of all the swooshing back and forth, I sat on the floor between Mom’s seat and mine.
With a chair on each side of my cozy nest and no windows to distract me, I lay my head in Mom's lap and closed my eyes. She scratched behind my ears with her spare paw as the car-house chugged into the unknown.