My Boy and His Dog

Being a coach’s kid brings with it a unique set of rewards and challenges, not any more or any worse than those faced by any other kid, just different.

On the one hand, there are terrifically fun perks… My kids know more than a handful of NFL football players as family friends. My kids have traveled to gorgeous resorts for week-long family vacations called bowl games. My kids have a backstage ticket to some totally awesome sporting events because of their daddy’s occupation.

Of course, there is always the other hand, too… There is the accepted understanding that we live season to season and moves away from friends and schools and teams and homes can and will occur, and when they do, they happen very, very fast. There are the friends who love going to the games with you one week, cheering our team onto victory, and then making fun of you at school the next week after a tough loss. There are the not-friends that never mind being very vocal with their opinion of your dad, his ability to do his job, and how much they hope he is fired. Soon! There is the usually empty seat next to Mom at most all school functions, sporting events, recitals, shows, concerts, parties, and programs.

We don’t blame him.  Coach is a magnificent daddy!  He loves coaching, and we love him doing it.  Without a doubt, we can’t imagine him doing anything else.  Furthermore, SonShine dreams of coaching just like him, and hopefully beside him, some day in the future.  We know he hates missing a single moment, yet even the youngest coach’s kid learns quickly: there are only so many hours in a week to prepare for the next game or to touch base with the next recruit, and in this day and age, there are no shortage of ways to work. We all understand that if Coach is not working, someone else is ready and waiting and eager to replace him.

Having a loyal companion makes the highs a little bit sweeter and the lows a little bit more bearable on the roller coaster ride that is childhood, especially for a coach’s kid. My SonShine has been blessed to have a steady, loving companion by his side his entire childhood:

BRAVE BELLE the WONDER(ful) DOG

Belle was born on April 1, 2002. Six weeks later, we took SonShine to pick one of the litter, and Belle simply picked him. Three weeks after that, he celebrated his 4th birthday by bringing his new, yellow lab home. He was really into Rescue Heroes at the time, and all he wanted that year was a dog that would play out rescues and be heroes with him.  And, man, could they play! I remember watching him with Belle and thinking to myself, “His toddler days are done, my baby is now all boy.”

SonShine received Brave Belle the Wonder Dog for his 4th birthday in 2002.

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VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

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Today, November 24, 2014, I watched my boy take a step out of his childhood.  I watched him becoming a man.

Belle has been getting old (with the rest of us around here…), and in recent months her breathing has become more labored and noisy.  Her appetite, sleep patterns, and demeanor were the same, so we put off a trip to the vet as long as possible, knowing what he would most likely say when we broke down and went.  Today we had to go.  Belle was nice and lazy this morning, as all 94 year olds deserve to be!  But after lunch, the kids went outside to play.  Belle, as usual, went running out to join in the fun.  Within minutes the kids were yelling for me, saying that something was very wrong.  Belle was clearly in respiratory distress, wheezing deeply to intake any air at all, so much so that her entire torso was contracted deeply with each inhale, and it sounded like little or no air was actually filling her lungs.

The vet couldn’t fit us in until 4 pm, so we encouraged Belle to rest, laying her down in the house, and the breathing fit calmed down significantly.  When it was time to load her in SonShine’s truck for the trip into town, even the walk out to the garage had her struggling again.  Her anxiety increased and her breathing decreased the moment we arrived at the vet’s office.  We could tell by his reaction that it was very serious, and I think the kids and I knew what was coming.

X-rays and ultrasounds confirmed it: Belle’s lungs, filled with masses, simply had no room for oxygen.  Her coloring was very blue; she was suffocating in front of our eyes.

For what I think was the first time ever, I had a friend in the football office interrupt Coach’s meetings to let him know that I needed him to call immediately.  He did, and he agreed, we could not let Belle stay in distress.  We promised that we’d make her comfortable as long as possible in hopes that he could be there in time to put her down, the five of us together: Coach, Me, Angel Girl, SonShine, and his Brave Belle.

Our vet gave her something to help her relax, and we got her to lay on the floor again, the kids and I petting and talking to her to keep her calm. For two and half hours, SonShine lay on the floor with Belle, Angel Girl and I sitting above her.

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We cried a lot.  We talked about all the memories we have made with her.  We commented on the fact that my kids have never known a home without her.  The don’t know or remember a life that doesn’t include her.  We knew without saying how strange it will be without her, and how much we will miss her every day.  We decided she needed to be buried at our lake place two hours away – a place very special to us, and a place where we can always come home to Belle no matter where football takes us.

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Coach arrived a little before 7, and by 7:30, Belle was gone.  I watched my little boy lie with his dog, tears streaming down his face, and I watched my young man carry her lifeless body out.  He looked just a little taller to me in that moment.

I rode home with SonShine.  Knowing how upset he was, I offered to drive, but he declined.  On the way, I asked him, “Are you sure you want to go with Dad tonight to bury Belle?”

“Yes,” he replied quietly, but without hesitation.

“Are you saying that because you feel like you have to or because you want to?”  I asked further.

“Because I want to,” he said in a voice just a little deeper than I usually hear.  And I noticed that his jaw was set just a little firmer than before, more like a man than a boy.

That’s when I realized that a chapter had just ended, a door to SonShine’s childhood had just closed.  Without Belle, his childhood companion, he was no longer a child.

Rough days will do that, make us grow up in a moment.

I’m so glad he had the most faithful of friends to grow up with!  What a gift that I can close my eyes and see them together all through those years: playing in the many yards we’ve had, laying in the bed she was never supposed to jump upon, sleeping on the floor next to his bed every night, dancing on her two back legs with him and sharing her hugs while he laughed or celebrated something great, fetching tennis balls and rawhide bones for hours, swimming in lakes and pools, tackling and wresting with him on the ground, them simply growing up.  Together.  What beautiful, beautiful visions to treasure!!  I am so grateful to have them all, and I am so thankful to Belle for helping me raise my precious boy into such a tremendous young man.

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Goodbye, sweet Belle.  You were a brave, wonderful friend!

With hugs and love,

Ashli 🙂

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VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

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