Our ritual had been the marvel of neighbors and school staff
alike. Every day for the last year and a
half, someone in our household walked our black labradoodle, Georgie, to the
long lawn at the front of the local elementary school. Then we took her off the
leash and threw the ball for her until, exhausted, she lay down rather than
make one more run.
The front of the
school is not a quiet spot. Cars come and go. People pop in and out of doors.
Other dogs walk by. Still, Georgie's focus never wavered. And—here's the
kicker—if we threw the ball in the street, or even onto the sidewalk, she
would race to the edge of the lawn and stop, waiting for us to retrieve it.
But Georgie turned 2 in August, and something in her
seemed to shift. She began to lunge at squirrels, growl at cats. Then, on
Monday, I'd just let Georgie off the leash on the school's scrubby lawn when a
Siamese cat crept up behind her. The next thing I know, my dog's off like a
flash, chasing the cat back down the street, across driveways and straight up
to the gate behind which the feline disappeared. Then the dog dashes back up to
me and sits at my feet, panting, as if to say, "Okay, now I'm ready for some ball throwing."
But that's how it is in life—you get used to something,
you put a great routine in place, and then something happens and you have to
make a change. Now Georgie and I no longer walk around the elementary school.
Instead, we take the southern, hilly route around our neighborhood—across
Palms, down Federal, up Woodbine. … I know it by heart, because it used to be my
route with two other diminutive, unruly ones—my little kids.
Once upon a time, I had a double jogging stroller. It was a
two-time hand-me-down, the fabric already a faded blue by the time we acquired
it. In the mornings, I'd get my oldest ready for kindergarten and my
preschooler and toddler ready for their days. Then I'd strap the two younger
ones into the double-wide, and off we'd go for the back gate of the elementary
school (yes, the same one where Georgie's been chasing tennis balls). After we
deposited L. in class, we'd head back out the gate, across Palms, down Federal,
up Woodbine, the baby girl and the preschool boy lounging in their blue slingchair
seats while behind them I pushed 60-plus pounds of child, aluminum and rubber
up and down the hills of West L.A.
Motorists would toot their horns and flash me thumbs up.
Other moms passing by would shake their heads in pity. My kids, bored and squirmy,
demanded songs. So I taught them the theme songs to The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and snippets of "Bye, Bye
Miss American Pie." Whatever I could scrounge up from memory that caught their
Finally, after 35 minutes of this, we'd get home. And here's
the kicker—I'd have to continue to amuse them for the rest of the day.
But these days, the blue stroller's on its fifth home. The
kindergartner's in 8th grade. The preschooler's in 6th and the baby loves
her 3rd-grade teacher. And when I got home with Georgie today, I let her off
the leash. She flopped down to sleep, and I sat down to write this essay.