Published on May 2nd, 2016 | by Kendra Lubalin0
IT’S TIME TO GET A DOG: Kendra Lubalin on Siblings with Different Needs
My daughter loves puppies more than chocolate cupcakes and Beenie Boos. Combined. She loves puppies as much as she still loves to shove her hand down my shirt when she’s tired, getting as close as she’s allowed to that part of me that offered tiny-her soothing. Our neighbors have a dog, Nina, who is puppy-like in the soft way that she will curl up on your lap and lick your fingers, suddenly and curiously sniff your face, or roll squirmily onto her back, legs agape, offering her belly with no embarrassment.
My daughter loves Nina so much that it has become uncomfortable for everyone involved. Before she’s allowed outside we remind her—say hello to the people, too.
On a sunny Saturday morning, my hands in warm soapy water, sponge poised, I look out the window and notice Nina with our neighbor on our dead-end road, running in circles with a puppy. A yipping, bouncing, black puppy whose ears flop up and down like plane wings, whose paws are comically disproportionate to its whirling body. Of course I call out to my daughter.
She has the door open and is bounding down the stairs before I can get out “Wait!” and “Shoes!” and “Street!” As I’m running through the living room, soap dribbling onto the wood floor and floral rug, my daughter reappears on our porch laughing with pure delight, bright eyes locking onto mine. The puppy runs straight through her legs and into our house.
Neighbor’s new dog, I wonder? His mildly concerned face as he jogs up our steps says no. There’s a collar though….so lost? The bark is excited—no danger. It’s not scared, I decide. It’s cute. So cute. My daughter squeals past, arms out—should I intervene? No, she’s ok. All this whirls though me, a cascade of overlapping assessment. Two seconds at the most.
But the puppy is faster than my mind. Past the living room by then, through the playroom and into my son’s bedroom.
I hear my son scream. Crisp, high, pure, cresting into waves of shrieking cries. I teleport, mother cheetah, I’m there. He’s backed into the corner of his room. He’s trying to dig his way into his wall, hands like claws, nails leaving marks in the paint. His eyes are not registering me. They are wide on the lunging, barking dog that has him boxed into the corner.
I follow his frantic, panicked stare with my own eyes. As my shoulders drop, I absorb that the puppy is literally grinning, its panting tongue is lowling out one side of its mouth. It has one ear folded forward and one folded back, in that impossibly cute way that droopy, too-big ears can bend. It keeps jumping up with its front legs, not onto anything, just tiny excited hops, like a baby goat might do, for pure joy.
I read these clues, these subtle gestures, my brain taking in the data—ear, tongue, size, energy—and spitting back out a narrative about mood and feel, a read of the situation. Intuition, subconscious.
My autistic son sees strange sharp white teeth, and hears the loud harsh bark of an unanticipated wild creature suddenly in his room. He has different clues. He misreads the signs.
My daughter has melted to the floor, a puddle of love containing a puppy. The puppy is delighted to find an outlet for its tongue, and immediately takes to licking her arm as she strokes its head.
I grab my son, whose head almost reaches my shoulder now, hoisting 60 lbs like an empty bag. Lifting the car off my child, desperate to free him from where his own mind has him pinned. He wraps his legs around me, his body is shaking. He’s trying to climb over my shoulder, out of this place and time.
I hold him, my words in his ears trying to paint a new picture. Handing him clues like breadcrumbs, helping him find his way here to where we live—friendly, lost, small, see how gentle? I stroke his back firmly, rooting him to me. You are safe, you are safe, you are safe.
“It’s time to get a dog.” It’s meant to be a passing thought, but it slips under the nail and becomes lodged there, a splinter worming it’s way under my skin. “It’s time to get a dog.” For my daughter and her longing heart. For my son and his mind like a hunted deer. For both of them.