If you follow us regularly, you know that our posts are filled with the crazy and lovable antics of a big ol’ bunch of elementary and middle school kids and a block-headed yellow lab. I want to warn you that although this post will have some beautiful nuggets of kid/dog wisdom, it is filled with some heavier content about the cycle of life and death, the choice that some women make and the reality that some are forced to face. All in all, this post is a bit more about me (Jen Rankey) and my journey as a teacher, 40-something woman and dog mom.
As previous posts tell, Cisco went to the farm to breed a few months ago. He spent about two weeks “working” that required him to miss the first few days of school. The ensuing conversations with students were simply priceless. From the first grader that asked if Cisco drove the tractor at the farm to the middle school boys that giggled uncontrollably when I mentioned that Cisco was “working” at the farm, each conversation brought forth the excitement towards the possibility of Cisco “siring” a litter of puppies! Once we found out that Mossy was pregnant the teachable moments flew through the roof. The middle school students learned all about genetics and probability as they researched puppy possibilities. Punnett squares where filled, bulletin board were covered with predictions and genetic background and films were created documenting the excitement….we all had “puppy fever”! I realized quickly that I had the most severe case of “puppy fever” and I simply couldn’t wait to see Cisco’s puppies!!
Here is were it gets a little personal….feel free to fast-forward if you would like (I do not mind at all!). Mossy’s due date came and went. I sent daily messages to the farm…Hunter and Amy are incredibly kind to put up with my anxious, puppy-fever induced questions. In retrospect, I think I knew something was off but I talked myself into the fact that Mossy was waiting so that the pups would share a birthday with me. Turns out, I was right on both accounts. On October 21st, Mossy went into labor and delivered her smallest litter (two pups). The pups made up for their small numbers with unusually large sizes. So large that Mossy was unable to deliver them safely and both died. By the grace of God, Hunter was there and could help Mossy so that she did not perish as well (she is happy and healthy). A few days later I got a message from Amy stating that she had some good news and bad news, which would I like first….Bad news please. She told me what happened. My first question; “Is Mossy OK?” was answered with a relieved “Yes, she is fine.” My second question; “What is the good news?”….”Your students were right in their genetic research, they were both Yellow” At this point, my heart sunk. For a brief moment I forgot that 450+ students (along with their teachers and parents) were waiting for this sad, sad news and that is when I started to cry. The tears came for multiple reasons that seem to be a bit deeper than informing the community that Mossy lost the pups.
Here is the thing, I have never had the desire to have my own children. I love kids, I have dedicated much of my adult life guiding kids through education and honestly enjoy kids more than most adults. I remember moments as a child when I proudly stated that kids were not in my future. Of course everyone said I would change my mind but it never happened. This is very much counter-culture for a middle-class woman from a loving family. My next step was to have kids, why else would I have been born a woman? For a while, this became my “thing”…I was the revolutionary gal who chose not to follow social conventions. Then it became my cross to bear…”no, I do not have kids.” “Yes, I am physically capable of having children but I have chosen not to do so.” “No, it is not because I have not found the right partner. It is just not in the cards for me.” “No, I am not worried that I will not have anyone to care for me when I am old.” and so on and so forth. This is a strange place to be personally but I can’t imagine I am alone. I watch friends and loved ones that want nothing more than to have a child struggle due to a variety of issues and have pangs of guilt that I have made this seemingly selfish choice. But then I wonder if this is a choice I am making or a situation that has chosen me. Either way, it is an interesting spot for a 40 something female to deal with in certain circles in the US and it is something that has shaped who I am and what I believe today. My lack of desire to have children did not translate to Cisco…I wanted him to create puppies BIG TIME! Against most advice, he stayed in-tact so that he could breed come hell or high water. The news of Mossy and Cisco’s pups hit me in a place that I wasn’t ready for….the maternal side of me, the side that cries at those damn ASPCA commercials and that can’t go the the Humane Society because it simply breaks my kid-less heart.
That is right, I do have a maternal side, I just mother dogs. They are a part of my daily life and I cannot imagine my home without at least one fur-baby. Now that Cisco has become my partner-in-crime at work, I can’t image teaching without a dog at my feet. So the news of the pups took me down. Some of you may be rolling your eyes and muttering, “seriously, they are DOGS…there are a million of them out there…you need to let it go.” and I do get it, dogs are just that, dogs and I am in no way, shape or form comparing puppies to humans. I am just communicating the feelings that are spinning through my head. I am a dog person and I will not apologize for that and I am not a mother to my own flesh and blood and I will not apologize for that either. So, needless to say, this event has brought some “stuff” to the surface for me.
Now back to delivering this news to the Trinity Community. Hmmm, how in the heck do you tell a bunch of kids between 5-14 years old that the puppies died? Well, when you work in an Episcopal school, you ask the chaplains (Thank God I work in an Episcopal school)! They devised a plan to deliver the news to the kids the following week and I just had to tell the faculty and then the parents the same day the kids found out. The catch for me was the “next week” part. I was asked about puppies at least 10 times every day and I am simply not good at “playing dumb” but I did my part until the news was delivered. At that point I felt a weight lift and the beautiful Trinity community came to the rescue! Kids cried, adults cried and Cisco snored! Here is the thing, we assign these very human emotions to dogs that simply do not exist. Cisco had NO IDEA why he was getting hugs, snuggles and new toys from the students (but he LOVED every minute of it). Unlike his human counterparts that are destroyed with the loss of an offspring, dogs are not wired that way and I can’t help but be a little jealous. Cisco’s heart was not heavy like mine, Cisco didn’t question what happened to the puppies like his student friends and Cisco didn’t skip Greet the Week because he couldn’t face the fact that the puppies were gone. Cisco continued to serve his students by allowing them to stroke his big block-head while asking questions about life and death that are just easier to deal with when it is a puppy that they never met. They asked questions that they simply can’t ask when a human dies, questions that made me think on a very different level and made me realize that death is something that we really avoid talking through with kids. I think it may be because we don’t have the answers and we don’t like saying “I don’t know” to questioning kids. Their questions ranged from very pragmatic to faith-based inquiry. All in all, this moment, much like the moment of potential puppies, became a rich and beautiful teachable moment. Cisco will head to the farm to “work” again soon and we (the TES community) will grab on to another teachable moment without fear of potential loss.
Peace, love and puppies,