picture of Luna

She used to walk with us into the woods daily. I’d sit at the sliding glass door and wait as patiently as I could, but body wiggles always gave away my excitement. My brothers and I would clamor on top of one another to be the first to exit after she slid the door open. I’d bolt for our trail in hopes of fresh elk poop and some chipmunk chases. Those little stinkers taunt me like no other. I don’t know why she doesn’t like to walk with us much anymore. She’s been a slow poke lately—stairs are the worst.

I suppose it started about a year ago. Mornings seemed different, the house quieter without as many people in it. I’d find her lying on a mat on her bedroom floor, legs and arms twisted in strange ways. The TV on the wall instructed her moves. I was surprised to hear my favorite stretch being encouraged—humans call it downward dog. (I pretty much do this every time I get up. Just sayin’.) She’d shoo away my sniff and lick attempts. So, I just curled up in the corner atop a pile of clothes and watched her move slowly as I breathed along deeply. I didn’t understand why she was lying about and not out exploring the woods with us.

When the house was full with kids and friends, my mom had more help with stuff. She didn’t need to bend and lift as much. Those were the good old days. Corn dogs and cereal bits abounded! I was the center of attention, the bell of the ball! Each kid and their friends wanted licks and my ears never felt such happiness!

But things are different. Not bad, just different.

“I’m not giving up on Mom and our hikes. She’s a strong woman.”

Now, Mom leaves early for work after scrambling to get dressed, feeding us, and grabbing something from the toaster. Most days, not all, she’ll pat my head and say something like, “Be good Lulu! See you later.” You would think mornings would be calmer without the kids around, but she seems to not like that annoying sound her phone makes in the early morning. When I hear it, I hop up on the bed and go straight in for her mouth. Oh, sweet, sweet morning breath! She usually swats me away and just rolls over—probably why she’s always running late.

Later. Much, much, later, she arrives home almost slower than she was in the morning. I greet her at the stairs with so much enthusiasm my small yelps escape. She allows me to lick her face as she scratches my ears. My favorite! She does this to my brothers as well, although I know she loves me the most.

After overhearing numerous phone conversations this past year, I’ve learned the reason my mom doesn’t take us for as many hikes—it’s called back pain. Now, from what I’ve heard, back pain in humans really sucks. I’m wondering if it’s as painful as pushing out 10 puppies? I never have back pain. Maybe she just needs to walk on all fours? Or, instead of hunched over on a toilet to pee, she should squat like me. It couldn’t hurt to try.

From what I can gather, my mom “has tried everything” to stop the pain. Strange things I’ve never heard of: acupuncture, chiropractor, pilates, massage, yoga, physical therapy, salt floats, meditation, injections, stem machines, inversion tables. Her latest was something I know she was really excited about, but it doesn’t seem to be working—stem cell therapy. Paws crossed!

It’s hard to see someone you love hurt so much. All I can do is find wherever she is in the house and stare up at her with adoring eyes and send my love. I know she feels it when she talks to me softly. I don’t exactly understand all that she’s saying, but the way she speaks makes my heart swell. I know I’m her favorite because I’m the only other girl in the house and she allows me to sit on the couch behind her knees while watching TV. She doesn’t let my brothers do that. Sometimes, while I’m there, she’ll tell me about her day and I’ll sigh deeply in understanding then rest my chin on her thigh. She loves that move.

I’m not giving up on Mom and our hikes. She’s a strong woman. I’ve watched her move furniture, throw raucous parties, discipline crazy kids, change a car tire, haul wood, and shovel more snow than necessary. She’s always playing some kind of upbeat music that makes me wish I could dance around the kitchen like she does, even if these days she’s doing it slower and less often. Her friends stop by regularly to say hello and they talk kindly to one another. Sometimes there are tears, but mostly I hear laughter. So I have hope.

Last I overheard, she’s learned there is no “red flag” in her back that needs an operation or anything. Rather, the lower back is where she stores all her “emotional trauma.” Hell if I know what that means, but the word “trauma” sounds pretty bad. While icing her back on the couch yesterday, I was able to snuggle in right next to her. She was clicking away on the laptop and stopped on a page with an ocean and palm trees. Her face was filled with an emotion I couldn’t recognize. She suddenly paused, left the couch to grab her wallet, then clicked and clicked even more excitedly.

After she shut the laptop, I was able to slink in closer for my famous neck nuzzle where I stay motionless and hold my ground until I’m told to stop. She laughs at this move; it’s not for everyone. I was nudged to leave when her phone rang. She likes to talk on speaker so I was able to hear it all.

She’s leaving for a while to some place called a “yoga and wellness retreat.” The nice woman on the phone asked her tons of questions; I’ve probably learned way too much and have a newfound respect for my mom who happily cares for so many. Sounds like it’s time to take care of herself.

She will leave us for a little while, but I know will return as she always does. The love she has for us dogs and our family is a beautiful thing. She deserves to swim in that ocean and rest on the beach under a palm tree like the laptop picture. And when she returns, hopefully happier and with less pain, we will hike again. I just know it!