There’s a song by Paul McCartney from the late eighties called "My Brave Face" that I like to listen to on occasion, which just visited me over my headphones. My brave face, HA! That was some kind of Un-Brave face I put on just now, as the toothpaste-tube sized jet took off from the GSP airport. But I was sniveling away at the thought that I was, once again, flying home after driving down to South Carolina with my college sophomore son (so, yes, this is my second anniversary of sniveling).
This trip came with a twist this time. His dog, MY dog, well, really HIS dog - simply named Bear, is a lovable, toddler-like Golden Retriever and is living with him and his golf teammates for a little while - or perhaps longer - in his off-campus apartment.
And what does this have to do with being a hockey mom? And wait - didn't I write something like this exactly one year ago? Not quite, as this year’s topic is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but wait for it anyway….it is simply titled, “the benefits of having a dog (or a pet) while you’re a student-athlete.”
Before you start the eye-rolling, just “Bear” with me here... As much as I tried NOT liking my college housemate’s “mixed breed”....some sort of labterriershepardhounddogpoodle-kind of dog, he made her very happy and for some reason, he always appeared glad to see me. He was a constant source of comfort after a hard practice, the loss of a very close swim meet, or the pile of books I had to pour through and write papers from. He kept all of us on schedule and simply asked for love (and of course food and water). Our cozy, yet oddly-slanted apartment was kept clean thanks to Nutmeg, as we took any and all of his accidents in stride and my housemate kept him well-groomed. Nutmeg forced me to really get to learn how to interact with a pet other than a cat, which is a different subject entirely. I loved the family cat we grew up with, but seriously, when it was time for Muffin to be left alone, IT WAS TIME.
Dogs are so, so different, in other words, if they want to be left alone, it’s a scaled-down version of solitude which involves staying in partial view or earshot from their human. My son’s Golden Bear keeps him smiling and content, and when his classes and golf season start in a few weeks, I know the smiles will remain. His teammates have embraced Bear (literally too! Free hugs!) and are all OK with that “fifth roommate.” Frustrated from not chipping or putting well? Exhausted from carrying your clubs 18 holes in 90-degree heat after taking 3 classes? Bear still loves you and is glad to see you, no matter the time, the hour, or the situation.
Now, people will question whether this big change and living situation is “fair” to Bear. We made it clear to our son that it would take a village to keep Bear happy while maintaining the healthy, active and fun lifestyle he had at home. Bear has spent 11 months and 3 weeks of his life with his sister, Pumpkin,
who is owned by our daughter, and who will eventually take her from our home to college as well. Buddies, playmates or sparring partners, Pumpkin and Bear wag their tails in unison at dinnertime, look like matching bookends when napping together and sit politely in the car when going to weekly training class.
They have been a great team, but Bear has several new jobs with our son: Manager of His Human - Official Best Friend - Unofficial Team Mascot - Guardian of The Universe (which we all know as our son’s apartment) - and many more.
If it also seems like it's unkind to separate Bear and Pumpkin, that was always the plan. They are individuals, just like our daughter and son. And so far, so good!
Bear left his sister, mastered riding a total of 13-plus hours in a somewhat rugged-riding Jeep (except for the first 30 minutes into it...I won't share the details except it involved a plastic bag, an old golf towel and Wet Ones). He slept for the first time in a large travel crate in a hotel room between our beds. He quizically patrolled the new apartment while adorably interacting with the boys. And he spread out on the wood floor and slept like he’s always lived there (never mind the fancy dog cot we purchased, but doesn't that always happen?)
Meanwhile, Pumpkin is also just fine since she has her tennis ball, her little tire, and best of all, her loving human.
Bear has not been introduced to the golf coach yet, but in the past, other golfers have been able to juggle (or should it be “swing?”) between owning a dog and living up to the responsibilities of college and college sports.
Student-athletes have been doing it for a long time, and it should be no different today. In this age of social media resulting in poor communication and interaction skills among young adults, doesn't it just make sense for them to have a pet to play fetch with outdoors or have a cuddly partner while studying on the couch? Or receive unconditional love and emotional support when times are challenging or don't make sense?
Look it up anywhere, but you'll see that studies show year after year that pets improve our physical health (lower our blood pressure for one) and mental well-being. So, for the time being, we will hope that Bear's exciting and semi-permanent trip to the South will keep our son on schedule, focused, happy, and secure. Can Bear contribute to some great golf scores and better grades?
We are certainly optimistic, but in just a short time there we have observed signs of our son's maturity, responsibility and happiness resulting from his effort shown at keeping him fed, watered and groomed (not to mention the tidy apartment from his daily vacuuming).
Sure, I already miss that fluffy, feathery tail making clockwise spirals down the stairs when coming back inside for dinner. I will also look forward to the return trip home for the holidays when Bear reunites with Pumpkin and they play in the snow together. Best of all, our son returns with him - and that's when the sniveling will pick back up again...but this time for joy.