Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Strangers Among Us

Lately I've been feeling like a boarder in my own home. The beings I used to live with are morphing, and I'm not sure how much longer we'll all be able to live together peacefully.

Our dog, Bailey, is fourteen-and-a-half years old. His body's been failing him for a while. He struggles on uneven ground, stumbling often and sometimes falling when his back legs go out from under him. He doesn't do stairs anymore. He can't see well and is mostly deaf. But he'll still occasionally bring a toy and drop it into my lap, and is happy to nudge me with his nose when he wants some attention and love.

Our sixteen-year-old is eating constantly. He comes home from school and has a big salad, then eats the equivalent of two dinners and dessert, with room for a snack later. He's now taller than I am. When he speaks to me from down the hall, I often mistake him for my husband. He'll be taking his permit test on Friday.

Our thirteen-year-old is on the cusp. He's still my baby, but he's fighting that. He tussles with teen issues while maintaining a foot in his younger self's world. He's recognizing he can't be both teen and child, but sometimes the teen angst can be crushing and it's easier to revert to child mode, when things made sense. Like girls. We butt heads a lot.

Not so recently, Bailey started barking at the sixteen-year-old. We theorized it was Jacob's dark sweatshirt that threw the dog off, perhaps reminding him of a contractor or other stranger that came through the house, uninvited by Bailey. But then he started snarling and growling when Jacob would come upstairs and into the living room, so we thought perhaps Bailey couldn't see him well enough without the lights on and, since Jacob looks and sounds so much different than he did a few short months ago, Bailey thought he was an intruder. We decided to keep the lights on and Jacob would walk slowly so as not to startle the dog. But then Jacob would be sitting in the dining room looking at his phone and absently petting the dog, and the dog would be fine and then suddenly start growling at him for no reason. We decided Jacob should just keep from extending his hand to the dog at all, just in case. But then yesterday, Jacob was studying and came downstairs with me to do something, and when he came back upstairs right behind me, while I breezed past the dog, Jacob was stopped on the stairs and Bailey was crouched and snarling at him. It made me so uncomfortable that I pulled the dog by his collar into the living room, sent Jacob up to his room, scolded the dog (which did nothing), and then "banished him" to the basement while we had dinner upstairs.

There are a lot of growing pains in our house. We're all adjusting to our changing bodies and emotions as we age, and doing our best to continue to be kind to each other. But as my husband and I discussed, while we may be uncomfortable sometimes, it's not right that any of us should feel threatened or endangered living in our own home. We know Bailey can't see, hear or smell well anymore, and we know Jacob's hormones have changed almost everything about his body. But it doesn't mean Jacob should be afraid to be in the house with the dog.

I don't know what the answer is. I refuse to let things be until there is a dangerous incident, when Bailey finally decides that Jacob is a true threat and goes after him. I'd never be able to live with myself if that happened.

For now, we keep them separated. But it's not a big house, and it's winter. We can't keep Bailey in the yard, he's too old to find him a new home, and we know he's not a vicious animal. At least, he never was before. But he no longer seems to know Jacob, and little by little, I feel we no longer no Bailey. Everything is changing.