Their Life with a Dog
After I left for college, my parents needed a new object of love and attention. So they bought a Scottish terrier.
I was shipping off to college on the East Coast, and my West Coast parents needed something to ease the flight of their only child from the nest. While some books suggest that empty nesters take up a sport or new hobby together, my parents decided to buy a Scottish terrier instead.
We already had a dog, a big, cuddly Lab who couldn’t get enough attention. But, he had been around only a few years less than me. My parents needed something new to signify the beginning of this chapter in their lives. They, especially my mom, needed something to pour love and attention on; the way they did for me.
So just before I graduated from high school, my parents picked up a puppy. He was tired when he arrived, and wrapped up like a burrito in a blue fleece baby blanket that used to be mine.
I named him Atticus, after Atticus Finch, the hero of To Kill a Mockingbird. The name signifies balance and wisdom. But I got it wrong. Two days before my AP Government test, I was home alone with him for the first time. My friend came over to study, and I left Attie upstairs, sleeping in a laundry basket in my parents’ bedroom, while Garrett and I caught up on the last hundred years of U.S. policy.
Twenty minutes into our studying, the tortured groans grew too loud to ignore. I ran upstairs. Not only did I not think it impossible for a six-pound creature to produce such sounds, but I did not realize that such a small creature could produce so much poop.
His 5 by 10-foot steel pen had been knocked over on its side, and was broken in two. Atticus was in the bathtub in my parents’ bathroom, and everything, I mean, everything, was covered in dog poop. The shyness that looked so promising in that laundry basket had been replaced by his true personality: outspoken and mischievous, hot and cold.
This, you could say, is where we began to butt heads.
I called my mom at work to protest. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I told her. “I have two days to study for my AP test, and you leave me with this dog… who just pooped everywhere, and won’t shut up?”
“Oh, honey, it’s okay, he’s just a baby,” said my Mom, known for her temper. “I have my lunch break in half an hour, and I will come home and clean it up.”
This from the same woman who yelled at me for an hour straight after I used the wrong bat in Little League tryouts. I was slightly jealous.
From then on, it was “Atticus this, Attie that.” He was the king, and I, the beloved only child, had become the Joker; there to entertain my parents with the last of my high school achievements, and to be scolded when I broke my curfew or lapsed on chores.
My first Thanksgiving home from college I found our house adorned with Scottish terrier paraphernalia. There were mugs, pictures of Atticus on which my mom had written, “I woof you,” and calendars that depicted dogs in all their glory, running through grassy meadows and wearing cowboy outfits. A six-foot long Scottish terrier blanket was draped over my bed.
I soon realized that the dog was only the beginning. My parents had filled their empty nest, and then some. It was no longer what team I was pitching against or what time my curfew was. It was, “when are we going to take the dogs for a walk?” “Did you want to see that movie tonight?” “Where should we go on vacation?”
While Atticus consisted of a large part of it at first, my parents soon began to have a life. They have more friends, they go out to restaurants I dislike, and go to book club meetings.
Through Atticus, who really symbolized the start of their life after me, they’re happy. I find it difficult to see my parents moving on, but I guess they find it difficult too.
And, although he has caused me headaches, fits of jealousy, and two pairs of Nikes, Atticus made my departure from the nest a little easier for all of us.