Reed was 5 years old the summer we welcomed our border collie, Pepper, into our family. Alongside his big brothers, he raised his right hand and took the oath administered by their dour-faced mother. "Repeat after me. 'I - say your name - do solemnly swear...'" Three boys in unison parroted "I - say your name - do solemnly swear..." Ignoring their feeble attempt at humor and distraction, I, the dour-faced mother, continued, "...that I will willingly and happily..." "...Will willingly and happily..." "provide food and water for my puppy, Pepper Lackey....without having to be asked or nagged...by my parents....Furthermore, I will take turns with my brothers...cleaning up the...poop in the backyard. Amen." Having been sworn in, they whooped out the back door to chase and be chased by our newest family member.
The week went as planned. "Mom! Pepper's water is getting low! I'll take care of it right now!" "How many scoops of dog food does Pepper like?" "Bryce! Reed! Pepper pooped! Come help me pick it up!!" My thought, "Ahhhhhh. They get it! They are embracing the responsibility of pet ownership! Add some chores and allowance, and they will turn into fine contributing members of society! What a wonderful mother I am!" Little did I know that in a few years I would find Pepper's water bowl filled with dry leaves on a fine fall afternoon. Mm. Mm. Mm.
During the summer of the new puppy, Jonathan and Bryce took it upon themselves to convince little Reed that his pet care skills were still lacking in each and every way. "Gah, Reed! Don't get the porch all wet when you're filling Pepper's bowl! She doesn't like wet cement!" "Reed! That's way too much dog food! You don't want Pepper to get all FAT do you?!" With stars in his eyes, he took every criticism and instruction doled out by his big brothers to heart. "'Bout this much, J-Sha?" "Brycie, come show me how to hold the water hose when I fill up the bowl!"
Then came the afternoon that "the brothers," as Reed fondly called them, were both at baseball practice. He and I sat in the backyard loving on Pepper. "Hey, Reed! Why don't you get Pepper some fresh food and water?" Grinning with the pleasure of being honored by the request, he carefully carried out the tasks. I strolled into the house and returned with a popsicle for us to split. Sitting at the picnic table licking away at his popsicle, Reed beamed at me and said, "You can SURE say this about me! I am really good at dog work!" The moment was so precious that I fetched my camera from the counter in the laundry room and led the boy and his dog to the shade on the side of the house. And, took a picture that captured the sweet moment.
I want to go back there. To the warmth of the grass in the late afternoon shade. To the little boy so proud and happy. To the puppy so loved and well fed.