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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • February 23, 2013 in Columnists

    Learning to love: Opening the closed door to my heart

    “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”
    Josh Billings

    “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.”
    Roger Caras

    I have a horrible confession to make, and it shames me so.  I did not love my boy, Papi Papidopolou as much as my other dogs at first.  Not even Gracie Mae, my newest fur baby.  I have no clue why.  He’s charming.  He chases his tail.  I liked him just as much as the rest, but I did not have that almost crazed maternal connection I had with my other three, and I despised myself for it.

    Was it because he’s bigger than the rest?  Was it that his fur is wiry?  Was it because he seemed a bit like my husband’s dog more than he was mine?  It made no sense at all to me, but my heart wasn’t budging.

    Keep in mind that I was the least favorite child of two sides of my family and I was made aware of it in ways that ranged from subtle to ostentatious.  They’ve written about the scars that favoritism leaves on children – both the favored and the unfavored.  Since I anthropomorphize my pets (and some of that is not me projecting my human sensibilities on them; they’ve been with us for millenia, and we’ve rubbed off on each other), the anguish of knowing I was doing to one of my doggies what had been done to me was devastating. I wept over it, I hated myself, I writhed emotionally as if caught in a leg trap of my own internal making.  What sort of monster was I who could look in those tender brown eyes and feel less?

    I have never been one to take lying down something in myself that needed evolution, and this was just unacceptable.  What could I do about it?  Thank heaven he actually did not know — I never showed it in any way.  I kept it all on the inside, where it could harm only me.  I know the harm it does, when the less-beloved is aware of it.  I remember being in my tender, little kid body, as sweet and cuddly and cute as any other little kid, knowing that some unknown thing was wrong with me that nobody could love me the way my brother was loved, the way I knew other little kids were loved.  (Since that time, I have realized that what I could not have known then — that way too many other gorgeous, intelligent, lovable little kids were no more loved than I was.  But that was then.)

    It seemed to me that the cure had to be similar to what I did about my assumption that I could not be liked:  I would simply behave as if I was likable and see what changed.  I would behave with Papi the way I did with my other fur babies and it would become true. After all, behaving as if I was likable — as if I expected people to like me — actually had worked.  I projected confidence and welcome and happiness and people responded.  Before too long, what I had faked became truth, and I had friends who to all appearances were generally delighted to see me and who lit up my day.  If I could do that, after a lifetime of feeling absolutely unlikable and unlovable, surely I could find a way to open up that closed door in my heart that just wouldn’t seem to pry open with will-power alone.

    Step 1:  Papi goes into the sports bra.  All my doggies snuggle up in the sports bra, because all the rest of them fit.  They go right next to my heart, like little human babies, and I wrap my arms around them and kiss their little heads until they go blissfully to sleep.  How to get a dog twice the size of the others into a sports bra?  I had underestimated the dog!  I pick Papi up and point his little tushy in, while holding said garment open.  He angles himself just so, until only his little head is out and that resting on my shoulder.

    Step 2: Wrap my arms around the little warm body in the sports bra:  He’s still little enough I can wrap him up like a baby.  I hold him closer to my heart, feeling his warmth and the way he relaxes into me.

    Step 3: Play tender music:  Music has always been able to worm its way through passages to my heart.  Get me crying while holding the fur boy close and I will associate this feeling of tenderness with the little man.

    Step 4: Rock him and kiss his little face and head while snuggling:  Here’s where all the elements come together.  He’s in the bra.  My arms are wrapped around him.  The music has me in tears.  I am pressing kisses onto his little head as he snuggles as close as he can get.

    Step 5: Miracle occurs and the door to my heart bursts open!

    Papi Papidopolou, rescue doggy and mama's heart's delight

    Papi Papidopolou, rescue doggy and mama’s heart’s delight

    As it turns out, more of love has to do with the physical than I expected — or perhaps it is only the pathway cannot be forced or reasoned into behaving itself, but it can be enticed and it can be educated.  I am not the heartless, favoritist beast that I feared I was, and my gorgeous little Papi Papidopolou is not doomed to be the less loved doggy.  He deserves to be — and is — as passionately, crazily adored as are Yoda Mouse, Emily Roo and Gracie Mae.  Papi Papidopolou is my heart’s delight, my puppy treasure, my sweet angel love, and I can stop feeling as if something out of my past somehow stunted a part of me that deserves instead to flourish, bloom and grow.

    P.S. He’s in the sports bra right now, getting his sweet little head kissed as he gives me puppy licks even as my other three are curled up in their cushy beds, waiting their turns…



    • This is so touching. I had a similar experience with my cats, Angelo and Milo. I strongly preferred Angelo. We were on the same vibration. Milo was often an annoyance to me – pushy and insatiable for attention, and up in my face all the time. And one day… I realized that I was not as welcoming to him, and it made me feel sad and guilty. And at that moment, I decided to just accept Milo’s exuberance and try to develop a relationship with him on his own terms. And I did. And I grew to love that cat so deeply, and appreciate his quirks. I was crushed when he died. I learned something from him, though… accepting someone on their own level, for what they are, is so much more fulfilling that rejecting them for being what they’re not.

        • Maya North

        • February 23, 2013 at 11:29 am
        • Reply

        I know I probably completely anthropomorphize my creatures, and I never treated Papi the slightest bit differently, but *I* knew it and remembering that feeling of unloved-and-second-best, it was so devastating to realize that I was doing it to a little one who had nothing at all wrong with him. Now this love is perhaps even more joyous because the pathway to it is newer–and perhaps I have healed something in me because that channel had gotten sealed shut somehow. I am so glad you grew to love Milo for who he was–so that when he did pass, you knew you had loved him full-bore and 100%, as both you and he deserved. XXXOOO

      • Kelvin

      • February 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm
      • Reply

      You’ve really touched on something here, Maya. I think this happens a lot. It happened with my Beagles. We welcomed two Beagle brothers into our home in 2002. Tyson loved to cuddle and be petted. His brother Theo did not. Theo also barked a LOT and he ate POOP. I don’t think I loved him any less but it was clear that I LIKED Tyson more. I think this happens with kids too. Parents always say they love their kids equally and that may be the case but they may not LIKE them all equally because we all have different personalities. But the fact that Tyson loved to cuddle next to me resulted in me showing a preference for him and I regret it When I would come home and there was trash strewn across the living room, I’d automatically blame Theo because he was the noisy one, the distant one. When Tyson passed away last year, I learned something stunning. Tyson had been the troublemaker! Whenever we leave and come home, nothing is torn up or out of place. We’ve even deliberately left the trash out to see if Theo would touch it and he doesn’t. I felt so bad that I’d been blaming Theo for YEARS and it was his alpha male brother Tyson! Now Theo and I have bonded so deeply. He cuddles with me. He’s stopped eating poop! And I regret that I showed a preference for his brother for sooo long. I’ve been treating him like a prince trying to make it up to him, showering him with love. Okay, this has went on long enough. Great column, Maya! Thank you! Hug lil Papi for me!

        • Maya North

        • February 24, 2013 at 1:07 am
        • Reply

        Aw, Kelvin, I know it’s the most horrible feeling. I just felt like the most heartless monster and what was worse, I know heart-deep what the less-wanted one feels like. I am just glad that you finally connected with Theo and you are making this part of his life heaven–as I bet he is doing for you. You are welcome, my angel friend. He will spend his snuggle time in the sports bra in your honor–Yoda got first dibs tonight, so he’s the one in there now… Big hugs!!!

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