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Birthday Boy

I was supposed to have a really fun adventure on my fourth birthday. A Friend was going to join Mom and me for a hike on a very pretty mountain, but we never found the trail.

You see, Mom’s sense of direction comes from mapps that live in the sky. The sky mapps watch us drive and then call the Witch that Lives in Her Phone to tell us which way to go. But for some reason the sky couldn’t see us that day.

I sat in the back seat, staring at the sky and wondering how it could be so cruel as to ignore me on my birthday. How could you miss the drama of that little road pacing from one side of the mountain to the other, and the even bigger drama happening inside the car stalking up and down the mountain looking for a place to pull over? As far away as the sky is, it would have to be deaf not to hear Mom shouting at the phone to tell us where the smell we were supposed to turn.

It wasn’t a very fun birthday.

It was time to sit Mom down for a talk.

Mom speaks Human, and I bark, but being in love means that you don't need words to understand each other. All you have to do to understand someone is to pay attention, and if you love them then paying attention isn’t hard.

I can tell what Mom is saying just by the groan of her voice, a look on her face, the way she slams something on the table, and the the sound of her pawstomps. It’s like her thought bubbles pop and I can smell them in the air. You might call it extra-scent-sory paw-ception, but Mom says that’s too much of a mouthful.

When I came home with Mom for the first time, I was making an promise that I was going to give her as much love as her heart could hold. Sometimes she might not need so much to keep her heart full, but there are days when life can squeeze the biggest heart dry.

Lately Mom’s heart was on empty all the time, and no matter how much love I poured over her, it just seemed to flow out of the hole at the bottom.

“You're spending too much time working,” I told Mom when we were back home and she had stopped slamming things.

"Nonsense! We just spent a whole day..." Her voice trailed off before she had to describe what we'd spent the whole day doing instead of hiking.

"We just wasted a whole day worrying about wasting your only day off this week," I described for her.

“You’re right. I can’t remember the last time we had an adventure.”

When Mom took me home for the first time, she was making a promise too. She was promising to use all of her superpowers like money, cars, and knowing how doorknobs work to give me as much adventure as a life could hold.

An “adventure” is when you experience new things while moving quickly and boisterously. But lately we hadn’t done much advenuring or exploring, just patrolling and searching for things to be upset at.

"We rush through our morning patrol, then I have to guard the house while you guard your desk all day. Even when you come home we don't have time for fun because we have to hurry to bed to get a good night's sleep before tomorrow's patrol. That's no life for a human."

We looked at each other. I didn't need to say it: we were both breaking the promises we'd made when we adopted each other, and it was all Mom's fault.

“Tell you what,” Mom said, as a thought took hold of her. She lifted her chin and straightened her spine. “We may have missed your birthday, but how about I make the year that you’re four the best year a dog has ever had?”

“Don’t forget to make it a great human year too…” I reminded her. Sometimes Mom gets annoyed at me for having fun when she's grouchy.

Because I was four, Mom said that she was going to take me to visit all four states in this country: California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. California was home, but the rest of the states had never seen an Oscar before.

"We'd better get a move on if we're going to see all of those places this weekend," I said.

"We won't be able to see all that in a weekend. We probably couldn't even cover all that area in a week... not that I could ever take a week off of work anyway. Not after What Happened Last Time."

My first car ride. I threw up. Don't worry, I don't get carsick anymore.

"Then how will we be home in time for our next patrol?" I asked.

"That's easy," Mom said. "I'll quit my job. You said it yourself, being kept on such a short leash is no life for a human. We'll spend a few weeks exploring new places, running, hiking, and letting adventure find us."

I liked the sound of adventure, but I didn't like the idea of it sneaking up on me. Today's surprise adventure was a perfect example of the dangers of nature. “But Mom, what if you get lost again? You couldn’t even find a mountain on my birthday and you were driving all over it the whole time. What if you can’t find Utah?”

"If we don't find Utah, then we'll just stay in Nevada and have fun there.”

“What if we go so deep into Nevada, Utah, or Arizona that we can't find California again?” I asked.

"There's been too much worrying in this family lately. We're not going to worry on this trip. Whatever happens and wherever we go will be where we’re meant to be. That way we'll be guaranteed perfection."

Mom and I agree that runs are not for lollygagging, but we disagree about walks. Mom thinks that a walk 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.

That’s not what a walk is all about! A walk is for curiosity, sniffing all the neighborhood happenings, leaving bulletins of your own, and barking at the neighbors. If she didn’t have me to remind her of all that, Mom would miss out on the good stuff.

When Mom and I go for a walk, she walks along all relaxed and lost in thought, staring at the sidewalk a few feet in front of her. Me on the other hand, I have to be ON! I keep my head up and down at the same time so that I can smell the future from down the street, but also smell the past and who walked on this ground before I got here.

I would miss all the excitement if I hiked without stopping like Mom does. I would never know the joy of discovering the site where someone dropped a fast food wrapper, or when a squirrel runs by on the wires overhead. If I smell something important, I have to be tense and make myself an anchor, or else Mom will pull me away before I even find out what I'm missing. But if I'm prepared for something interesting to happen and can root myself to the spot before Mom notices, then she's the one that goes boing, and spins around at the end of the leash.

You know how some dogs get a little screwy if they don't have a job to do? Mom is that sort of dog, and once decided to stop working, she started finding ways to turn our everyday routines into work. She still went to work every day, and then she came home and spent the evening project managing the places that we would visit on my birthday trip.

"Are you going to be okay without rules and schedules?" I asked.

Even the thought made her a little flustered. “I don't honestly know,” she said. Then she gave the laptop her attention back before the thought made her scream in horror.

“...Cuz you always ignore me when your laptop is around. I don't want you to just trade your laptop for a steering wheel."

"What a silly idea," Mom said. "The whole point is to go where there's no internet."

"And then what?"

"What do you mean, and then what?"

"I mean no internet is what ruined my birthday in the first place." I paused to make sure she had plenty of time to feel bad for ruining my birthday before my next thought. "I don't want to rush through all the states like we do on a run. It's not a race to get back home again."

"Okay, okay. We'll take the back roads and scenic routes." Out of the far side of her mouth I thought I heard her say, "Even though they're slower."

"It's not just that," I coached. "I don't want to sniff everything through the window as we blow by like you do on our walks. I want to really get up in there and fill my nose with adventure."

"Okay. I promise. We won't ever drive for more than three hours without getting out and exploring..."

"Nuh-uh,” I stopped her. “That's a human way of adventuring. What if something interesting happens after just one hour and it's not time to stop yet? We'll miss it! 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 that I just made up, so it can be as long as I want," I explained. "That's the point! It means that we're not going to be on a schedule. We’ll just stop whenever something good happens, but we won’t go so slow that we miss the good stuff in front of us."

"Okay. Deal. Instead of the interstate, we'll drive through the forests. And when we have to go to the bathroom we'll stop at trailheads and go to the bathroom behind trees. And when we're done, we'll explore for a dog hour or two 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 told her.

"Okay, I promise. We’ll make sure we never hike and run less than a minimum of ten miles a day and…" Then 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."

"When have you ever not felt like hiking?" she asked.

"Never so far, but I'm turning over a new leaf!" I said. "I want to keep my options open."

"Do I get to take time off from typing up your stories, too?" she asked hopefully.

"Not a chance!" I said. "You need to transcribe my field notes every day so that you can remember the lessons we learned. It would be a shame to have all that adventure and forget everything it teaches us."


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