Seventeen is hitting me harder than any other birthday so far. This isn’t the fake seventeen as in lip gloss and “what kind of bestie are you” quiz and how to rock this season’s long layered hairstyles. This is no magazine seventeen because magazine seventeen is really aimed at thirteen.
This is the real deal seventeen.
That’s the seventeen she’s turning today.
Which is ironic, since in so many ways, she’s been very adult for quite some time.
It’s impossible to talk about Winnie without bringing up dogs. Dogs and Winnie, Winnie and dogs. They just go together. She’s raising her fifth one now. She’s brought countless others into our lives on short- and long-term sits (not to mention Oswin, the never ending sit).
Which is impressive, I know. I see firsthand how much work it is, it’s a constant demand on her time. It’s time away from her friends, it’s time juggled to get all her schoolwork done, it’s time away from sleeping (that last one being a biggie since Oak thinks 6:50am is the absolute perfect time to get up every morning. Every. Single. Morning.) And she gets up with him. Every. Single. Morning.
But that’s not even what I think is most mature about the whole thing. She showed me that at age 13.
That’s when she started raising service dogs. But the maturity she demonstrated wasn’t even about raising dogs.
It was about forgiveness.
See, she got her first dog to raise just after she turned 13. Henna was not only our first service dog puppy, she was our first dog as a family. To say it was an adjustment for all of us is an understatement. But we were excited and motivated and we all tried our best, especially Winnie.
But it wasn’t enough.
It was never enough.
Winnie struggled, we all struggled. Winnie was trying her best, we all were.
But each class was tough, it was an exercise in frustration and we came to dread each weekend, because that meant there was dog training class on Sunday afternoon. And dog training class was not going well. (I don’t want to be so crass as to say that it sucked but let me just tell you that it sucked.)
I knew in my heart Winnie was cut out to train dogs – since she was a toddler she had a fascination with all things animal (though she was more into horses back then, then it was cats - big cats - the bigger the better). But the fascination wasn’t with the cuteness or cuddliness of the animals – it was with the science of them. Their diets, their habitats, their genetics, and the rationale behind their behavior.
So training a dog? Yeah, she’s got this.
So when all this trouble with dog training came up, I was really thrown for a loop. As in tears-rolling-down-my-cheeks-sobbing-quietly-into-my-pillow-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of loop (true story).
As in a lot of yelling and blaming on my part kind of loop.
And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT.
(even now when I think about it I cringe and feel all icky inside)
But that was the message we were getting, that Winnie was doing it all wrong, that we were all doing it all wrong, and the message went so far as to say that Henna was about to fail out of the program and Winnie was to blame.
But something told me there was something not-quite-right about the situation, with the not-quite-right part NOT being Winnie.
Turned out I was right.
A particularly bad training session happened the day after I gave birth to one of my surrogate babies. From the hospital I’d made arrangements for her to get to her training session but without me there as a buffer, the whole thing really hit the fan.
When I got word of it the next day when I got home from the hospital (because Winnie and Doug knew better than to tell me while I was in the hospital, thank god for small favors), I was livid. Livid. L.I.V.I.D. Hell hath no fury like a woman on a post-birth hormone high whose 14 year old daughter has been wronged.
Not to mention on the receiving end of my misdirected blame for the better part of a year.
Cutting to the chase, the situation was resolved and we’ve enjoyed happy, successful and rewarding service dog raising ever since. Winnie is excelling just as I thought she would.
And in no way was Henna a failure. She was evaluated as the top 5% of service dog puppies and selected to be a breeder. She had a litter of puppies and then because of a medical complication, left breeding and now works as an explosives detection dog in Connecticut. By all accounts, she is a smashing success.
And so is Winnie.
She demonstrated the epitome of grace under fire back then. Despite the hard times, she kept at it and persevered and made the best of a pretty rough situation.
I can now, in retrospect, say that she was more mature than I was back then.
See, she didn’t blame anyone. She took full responsibility for her actions and did her best, day in and day out. She walked the walk while I only talked the talk.
Once the whole situation was sorted out and resolved, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Our family had been living on the brink of crisis for so long and now that was behind us. Life was good.
Except I couldn’t take back all the yelling and blaming I’d done, no matter how much I wished I could.
All I could do was apologize and hope for the best. So I gave Winnie my most heartfelt apology.
And she forgave me.
To this day I’m still grateful for that (though I’m still not sure I deserve her forgiveness).
She forgave me, even when I still find it hard to forgive myself.
(Deep breath, it’s a process, it all just one big long process, right?)
And that’s when she showed me what a mature, responsible and compassionate young woman she is. That’s when she showed me how adult she is.
Happy Seventeeth Birthday, sweet girl. You’re amazing. I couldn’t be luckier to have you as my own.