Ritual Time with Pets - The Times that Bind

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In a world that vaunts personal “independence,” it’s easy to neglect those family rituals proving that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

When I was in my teens, my parents’ home pulsed with activity. But no matter how packed the day’s itinerary, my sibs and the folks and I always gathered for dinner. Fortunes found or lost were shared (or not). Moods were conveyed by an arching brow or lilting sigh. Rifts were mended by the interweaving thread of togetherness. And our family dog, Paco, the toy poodle, soaked it all up.

Unfortunately, dinner is not a binding ritual in my present-day household. I’m a 9-to-6er and my wife has her own business. She walks through the door long after I’ve chased the last grain of rice off the edge of my plate. But that hasn’t stopped my wife and our doggie and me from building alternate rituals of togetherness.

Like that dirt path around the reservoir in Franklin Canyon just off Mulholland Drive. Lilly, out Boston terrier, pulls us toward the edge of a backwater pond where turtles sunbathe on humps of gnarled wood and iridescent koi slink along the shallows. The three of us stand close. We watch. And listen.

Blip. A pollywog breaks the pond’s surface tension. Lilly’s ears perk up.

No need to speak. It’s all being said.

Swinging by Target or Macy’s are mundane errands made magical when Lilly tags along. Once Lilly stops trembling because she knows she’s not being dropped off, she easily settles into our collective adventure. Children get to practice introducing themselves to our pet (with their parent’s permission, of course, and Lilly is always a good sport). We haven’t quite yet gotten Lilly to comment on our taste in fashion and household wares, but, hey, you never know.

The topper is our nightly 3-way cuddle on the living room couch. Susan and I quietly read our books while Lilly nestles between us in the hollows she “dug out” from her plush blanket. Her eyelids fall to half-mast. This beats fetch and tug-of war and neighborhood strolls when she checks the news that’s fit to sniff and send and receive her pee-mail. It beats everything because this is her time to quietly absorb our three-ness. We may be separate individuals but we are also inseparable parts though we may not always be in the same room at one time.

Without these rituals, my wife and I might lose sight of what it is we work so hard for every day.

Mom and dad were wise about family.