I’m just a girl, writing with two dogs by her side, looking for… an audience. It is my hope that this is the first of many pieces that you stop to read. Fingers crossed.
And, yes. I am alluding to Julia Roberts iconic line, “I’m also just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to love her,” from the 1999 film, Notting Hill. For the record, I know very well that I am more than ‘just a girl.’ I’m an educator, who is writing with two dogs by her side, and I have a story to tell.
It is March 2021 after all. How could I not acknowledge the way in which the COVID-19 pandemic brought me to Empathic Paws without a reflection on March 2020?
During that unprecedented month, I was instantaneously thrust into a realm of isolation. In the figurative sense, I was holding myself together with duct-tape; raising and loving my son. Then forced to give that sacred TLC from behind a mask, quarantined, while living under the same roof, an impossibly daunting feat.
March 27th a 102.7 fever accompanied by classic COVID symptoms & a PCR COVID test.
April 1st. Positive COVID results. No joke, April Fools’ Day.
I pushed on. I balanced being a mom, teaching English to high school seniors from the confines of my kitchen table, and continued my doctoral research. No one really told me that it was OK to do anything different. So I stayed as close to my normal routine as I possibly could, otherwise, the metaphorical duct tape would peel right off.
There weren’t many people that I could physically embrace for love and support, besides an 11 year old and our two large breed dogs. Sure there were FaceTimes, text messages with heart emojis, GIFs of Dr. Fauci, and front-porch wave hellos. But that’s not the same as fulfilling the need for tangible love and support, especially during a pandemic.
There did come a point in time that I met the CDC’s designated period of contagion. Even still, I found myself experiencing the monotonous and debilitating COVID symptoms of racing heartbeats, extreme dizziness, and utter exhaustion. Serendipitously, it was during a physically and emotionally repetitive late-April day, that I was reminded of the power of unconventional and unconditional love, which came by way of laughter. Real, belly-laugh, laughter.
The laughter was inviting and pure. I lifted myself up off the couch to see what all the laughter was about. Outside the kitchen window, I saw a boy and his two dogs.
I saw two dogs and their boy.
At the start of the pandemic, I worried something awful that COVID was going to rob my son of his childhood innocence. Little did I know, there were two, four-legged beings there to protect it all along. My son was blithely laughing. The source of his happiness – our two dogs, Judge and Daisy, and some dirty Under Armor® socks (a story for another day).
An observation of cross-species love and support was my antidote.
With laughter as my background music, I sat down and opened my laptop. Out of the 500 open tabs within my Google Chrome browser, I closed 499. I navigated the mouse over the desktop folder, “Leadership Peer Reviewed Articles.” I clicked and dragged a digital compilation of three years of research to its new home; a transitional folder entitled, “Stuff to Purge.”
There still was that lone tab waiting to learn of its fate. I clicked and arrived at the Google Doc, “Dissertation – HS Leadership_IB.” Did I really want my contribution to academia to be a 200 page document examining high school leadership and the International Baccalaureate program? I moved the mouse to File, navigated to Move to Trash, and executed one last click.
An exercise in digital prioritization enabled me to commit to the turning of a new page. With one click, I discarded three years of writing, research and pseudo-supportive comments about the dissertation process: if you think you know what a dissertation entails you’re wrong, just pick a topic get it done, and my favorite, you’re not going to save the world.
Flash-forward to present day.
A lot can change in a year. A lot can change and remain the same; all for the better.
As for that whole dissertation-cleanse; to the surprise of many, including those aforementioned pseudo-supporters, I do in fact know what the dissertation process entails- having crafted and defended three new chapters. Maybe it has to do with selecting more than just a topic to write about, maybe it’s because I was inspired by an area that I cared about, the human-animal relationship. I still hold the belief that my academic contribution will be one that has the ability to positively influence the social-emotional wellbeing of students – even if it ends up being just one student, and not the world at large. And that’s OK by me, for that one student might very well be the person to save the world.
Remnants of COVID still linger and attempt to creep-up here and there. Thankfully, I am one of the fortunate ones to hold the official, yet ever-so-vague, Post-COVID Autonomic Dysfunction diagnosis. I am able to navigate this 2021 “long hauler” way of life and for that I am grateful. One dose of the vaccine down. One to go.
And Laughter continues its coveted, omnipresent-reign in our house. Oftentimes, at the expense of another innocent pair of Under Armor® socks. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I am well aware that my year-long personal and professional journey would not exist if it wasn’t for my son’s laughter and our dogs’ love. They are the trio that brought me to a state of empathic pause and this new page, is my ode to them.