I am in the empty nest. Finally. It happened. Delayed by a year due to COVID, as of a few weeks ago, all my chicks have flown and the house is quiet. I share it with my one year old aussie labrodoodle Charlie, who was a gift to our household during the first months of the pandemic, providing emotional distraction and support to counter the anxiety, sadness, and loneliness felt by my children as their paths were sidelined and they found themselves home.
Charlie has not disappointed. He is loving and fun and always ready to play or cuddle and can switch gears appropriately. My children have taught him how to hug. Literally. This started when he was a wee pup and it continues to this day. The unfortunate consequence is that he has developed the bad habit of wanting to hug as soon as someone arrives through the door, which looks and feels a lot more like jumping up (which most people don’t like so much) – but if you make it to the couch and rest back, the hug will engulf you, his legs on either shoulder and his head resting next to yours (with the occasional lick and sniff of course.)
So now with the children gone. The house is quiet. Charlie and I have our daily routines and frankly he seems a bit depressed. He does not have the perspective of how they were stuck home wanting to be at away at college or properly launched and living independently away from home. He just knew the time when they were here, and now his humans are gone.
He has taken to resting on the bottom step or the top step, just waiting and looking. What has been perhaps most mystifying, is that when I get home at lunch time for our walk or at the end of the work day, he does not move. He does not get up to greet me, he just waits there. I have to encourage and cajole and ask him to come down for his walk. It has been strange.
For a bit, I chalked it up to the emptiness of the house and perhaps that is it. Recently however, the lack of enthusiasm and jumps and hugs coming my way has made me a bit resentful, and even sort of sad. I have even caught myself feeling jealous when Charlie greets my girlfriend at the door with the same sort of unbridled love and joy that he would show my children. I have a feeling that I never quite noticed that I did not get the same sort of greeting.
This past week, on one such regular quiet day, I got home and made my lunch, leaving Charlie to his own devices at the top step. After eating my lunch, I sat down on the couch and leaned back, the way my son would when getting a Charlie hug. I called to Charlie and within a moment, he was up on my chest, little legs on either shoulder giving me some kisses and snuggles.
I realized something. All I needed to do was ask. All those other days, Charlie did not know that I wanted a hug. I had never asked him for one before.
I realized that there is a truth here that applies to all relationships – human and otherwise.
Often we can be in our own heads about someone or something they are or are not doing. We might feel resentful, jealous, bewildered – and asking ourselves why? Why are they not getting up to say hello? Or invite me to the party? Or the book club? Why don’t they love me? Do they not even like me?
And I realized that maybe, when we are in our head and wondering all those wonderings and making all those assumptions, that we need to ask ourselves, did we let them know we were interested, lonely, wanting, needing that hug? To somehow communicate of interest, curiosity or desire? Did we remember to ask?
I know that I may come across to many as a whole put together happy human. And for the most part, that is true – but I have that soft underbelly just like the rest of us – and sometimes, most times, I just need a hug.
Next time, I have to remember to ask.