Before I became a father I used to gush to my parents about how amazing Rigby was. “It’s almost like she’s a human,” I’d say. “When she barks, she’s not just barking, she’s communicating! If you pay attention you’ll see she’s telling you she’s hungry, wants her toy, or needs to go outside!”
My parents would nod politely, but having had children (and grandchildren) of their own, they weren’t nearly as impressed by the awesomeness that is Rigby as I was.
“Wait until you and Heather have children,” my Mom told me one day. “You won’t talk about that dog nearly as much!”
I was annoyed by my parents’ attitude about Rigby back then, but when Maddie came along I did stop talking about Rigby so much. In light of all the incredible, adorable, sweet things that Maddie did, Rigby’s talents no longer impressed me as much.
“She’ll eat french fries all by herself now,” I’d brag about Maddie. “Just put ‘em in front of her and she’ll go to town! She’s cruising like a pro now, too. She’ll be walking in no time. It’s incredible! She’s not a baby anymore… she’s a big girl!”
Maddie brought me so much joy and pride in everything she did. When she passed so suddenly I was left with nothing but memories of all the amazing things she did.
But then Annie was born, and though she was a baby at first, she eventually lived longer than the 514 days Maddie was given. Soon she was doing incredible things Maddie never did, like running, singing songs, and saying stuff like, “Dada, wanna play with me?”
As wonderful as this is, it also troubles me. Now, when I think about the seventeen month old Maddie in comparison to the nearly three-year-old Annie, Maddie suddenly seems more like a baby. Often, when I’m alone, I can’t help but cry over this. I want to remember Maddie the way I saw her then, as a big girl, but the older Annie gets the harder that becomes.
I’ve been tormented by these thoughts until just last week when I had an epiphany of sorts that made me feel a lot better. I was home alone with Rigby, and for the first time in a long time I was able to focus all of my attention on her like I did when we first got her.
I watched Rigby leap from the couch to the ground with the dexterity of super hero, I watched her run around the house with a bone until she found a place to hide it that Annie would never find, and I paid attention to each of her barks long enough to figure out what she was trying to say:
“There’s a bird out the window, Dad! Look!”
“Hey! My toy is stuck under the seat cushion, Dad! Help!”
“My bowl is empty! I need more food!”
By the end of our afternoon together it was very clear to me that Rigby was every bit as amazing today as she was all those years ago. Though my perspective may have changed and made it harder to see what I saw before, it was very much still there.
I don’t watch videos of Maddie all that often – because doing so means being prepared to become a weepy and emotionally drained wreck – but I watched them that night, and it was beautiful. Maddie was dancing to music, playing her little red piano, laughing at me being silly… and I could see that she was still the amazing big girl that I remembered back then. It was an incredible, healing moment, and I have Rigby to thank for it. Now that is a dog worth gushing over.