"You always have to take it to the edge of Chaos!!" sputtered my husband to me during a frantic get-the-kids-ready-for-school-and-out-the-door morning... this, in response to a "family" decision to bring home a long-awaited new family member that had been missing for many years from our life -- a DOG.
"Don't Do It!" was the answer I got from several friends when socializing this possibility with them. Why? My friends were not animal haters. Several of them were dog owners themselves.
The responses were meant for me personally, with the undercurrent of, "Um... dogs take a lot of responsibility." "You have to be HOME. Like, ALL the TIME."
Their cautious responses, in fact, were entirely due to what they seemed to know about me. I'm not exactly an introvert or a homebody. If I'm not flying across the country or the world to give a talk or set up a research project, I'm out singing in my local hard rock tribute band. Or setting up my new nonprofit, which involves collaborations (and, therefore, meetings) with several different universities and organizations. This, already, with a husband, two kids and fairly little to no free time.
Why add more chaos to an already very-full life?
Well, first of all, I have to admit -- it started with GUILT. My 8- and 6-year-old kids have been begging for a dog. We've been staving them off for two years, and I grew up with dogs. I've always wanted my kids to grow up with a pet in the house (never mind that I am slightly allergic to them).
But I'm also not totally reckless. My husband's strong response (and his assertion that if I embarked on this foolhardy idea, he would bear ABSOLUTELY no additional responsibility) made me realize that I had to truly reflect on whether I was bringing more chaos to the family and myself -- and if I was, why?
The truth is, I don't see it as chaos. I see it as embracing the fullness of life, and testing our resilience to desired change.
I think we were rather fed a lie as we grew up, about what "adulthood" meant. The model that I was fed was that growing up meant getting married in my 20s, having kids, having high-paying 9-5 jobs and never working on the weekend -- the way it USED to be.
It just doesn't seem to be the reality for most that I know. Many of my friends are single parents. Nearly everyone works, way more than 9-5. Many are self-employed and work off-hours, by choice or because secure salaried jobs, even in academia, are hard to come by. The cost of living is such that there are few stay-at-home moms, and those who do stay at home are far from doing nothing -- they choose to use the opportunity to pursue their passions -- which in many cases is raising their children, a full-time pursuit. Time seems scarce for most of us, and it causes us to question our decisions regarding pursuing anything "extra" -- even if it's something we care about.
But how many of us were pregnant with that second (or third or fourth) child at an "inopportune time"? Or had a loved one with dementia that we chose to help take care of at least part of the time, even though we had kids and full-time jobs? Or had a crazy opportunity pop up that forced us to pursue a dream that we secretly always had -- even though it meant a major change in our families' lives?
Do we regret it? Did it stop us from living fully? Did taking this new bit of "chaos" on mean that we completely shirked other passions or responsibilities?
Probably not. Perhaps those decisions delayed other things. Maybe it was a really difficult change, and we wondered how we were going to get through it. But we did, and we were stronger for it, and we learned how to better prioritize what was most important to us and focus on those things and people that brought us the most peace and happiness.
If we think our life stops when we have kids and a job, if we don't pursue our passions no matter how ridiculous they may seem, if we don't stretch ourselves to accommodate that rescue dog who needs a home or a family member or friend who needs our help, we miss out -- big time. Because what we get in return when we embrace this "chaos" is LIFE, in all its fullness and all its glory.
As for our family, our newest member is Ewok, an adorable 5-year-old Shih Tzu rescue dog -- potty trained already (because as I said, I am NOT reckless), short-haired (which means no allergies for me), and the mellowest and cuddliest creature I've ever met. Thanks to Ewok, I get two walks a day, and even my husband seems to enjoy the benefits that this little bundle of chaos brings to our family. We should all reap the benefits of chaos -- and embrace it when it comes.