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Love as an Acceptable Risk

Love as an Acceptable Risk

By Mir Kamin

Life is about risk management. No risks mean no excitement; too many risks mean danger. When very few adults have mastered the balance here, how can I expect my teenagers to know how to do it?

While neither of my teens are particularly physically adventuresome, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to emotional risk. My son is happy to do a metaphorical swan dive into any situation requiring of his emotion and attention. He leaps first, asks questions later. My daughter, on the other hand, brings a whole new meaning to the concept of being guarded. Before she will try, she calculates the chances of success. If she doesn’t feel the odds are heavily in her favor, more often than not, she’ll simply opt out. I worry about both of them, because I’m not sure either approach is healthy.

To love is to risk. Everyone knows that, right?

When you give your heart to someone, you’re opening yourself to the possibility of heartbreak. How do you decide whom to trust with your love? How do we teach our children to make good choices in this arena?

I often joke that dogs are essential in a household with teenagers, because at least the dogs are always happy to see you. Part of the reason I like little dogs (besides the fact that they don’t eat a lot and, therefore, don’t leave horse-sized turds around) is that they have longer lifespans than their larger counterparts. Because that’s the only problem with dogs—they don’t live as long as humans. Deciding to own a pet means opening yourself to the heartbreak of them shuffling off this mortal coil before you’re ready to let them go.

Let me clarify: Licorice and Duncan are fine. Pretty much. Right now they’re fine. Ever since we all adapted to Duncan’s integration into our household and made peace with the fact that he was quite a bit older than we originally thought, we have enjoyed being a two-dog family. Licorice is the dog who wants to be in your lap and lick you all over. Duncan is the dog who wants to be near you, but maybe not have you bother him, but also if he decides it’s time to play, he’s much more of a “hearty romp” kind of animal than Licorice. And both dogs are maybe about 7 years old (because they’re both rescues, we can’t know for sure), with their average breed lifespan being about 13.

We took this as acceptable risk. Twice. We love these goofy dogs and will continue to love them for as long as they’re around.

But… Duncan is unwell. We knew he had some health issues when we got him. We thought we could nurse him back to health with love and good food and vet visits. The good news is that I think he’s happy most of the time. The bad news is that the vet is pretty sure he has some sort of chronic neurological condition that is causing him intermittent tremors and muscle weakness and maybe even seizures. After a series of vet visits to try to figure out what’s going on, our vet laid it out: We could spend hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars to figure out what, exactly, is wrong with him. The chances of it revealing anything treatable were pretty slim, though, so unless he suddenly gets worse, they don’t recommend it. “He could live with this for a long time,” the vet said. “Or… not. There’s really no way to know. Let’s monitor and keep him comfortable. The goal is to keep him out of pain.”

Now I’m left trying to prepare the kids, and myself, for what may be a very different timeline than we thought we’d bargained for.

Unacceptable risk? I can’t bear to view it that way. I realize that as I’m talking to the kids about it, I’m reminding myself: “Duncan had a hard life. He was picked up as a stray as an adult, and is blind likely due to some prior illness, and he wasn’t treated very well in his post-shelter home, either. That’s why he’s cautious, and sometimes grumpy, and why he sometimes bites. He’s scared a lot. He loves us but isn’t sure that humans are entirely to be trusted. He deserves a better life than he’s had. That’s what we’re giving him, for as long as we can. Because he deserves love. We will make whatever time he has left the best life a dog can have.”

It will break my heart when his life is over. I adore him, grumpiness, nippiness and all. I take solace in knowing that the remainder of his life will be spent in relative luxury (well, for a dog, anyway), surrounded by humans who love him. We will provide for him because he deserves it, because all creatures deserve it, and he happens to be the one that came to us. We’ll love him as long as we can. Hopefully he has a lot of time left, but if he doesn’t, we’ll deal with that when the time comes.

Sometimes you make a choice knowing it will break your heart. Sometimes that‘s the acceptable risk. That’s why they say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all; we are reaping the benefits of loving this silly furball, right now, whether we realize it or not. We have to remember to appreciate our time together, even if it ends up being too short.

Now, how to turn that into a lesson that translates into how much of yourself you allow other humans to have… well, we’re still working on that part.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • […] I’m over at Alpha Mom talking about how love is always a risk, and so sometimes you really do just sign up for having your heart broken, and maybe that’s […]

  • Cheryl

    April 22, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Aww….sweet sweet Duncan. He is living with the absolute best family he could, You are all a blessing for him and his time with you will truly be filled with lots of unconditional love – and nippiness is just his way of loving you back!

  • Lucinda

    April 22, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Early on in our dating, when I was still feeling very cautious after a couple bad relationships, my husband reminded me that without the bad times and the hurt, we can’t truly recognize the good times.  I took that to heart and decided the potential reward of loving this man was worth the risk of incredible pain. It’s a lesson I hope to pass on to my children (along with a multitude of lessons about recognizing a good egg in the first place).  Pets and people–they can break your heart but hopefully only because they have filled it beyond capacity first.

    • Emily Huston

      April 27, 2014 at 6:22 am

      Well, I do have a puppy when I was too small and used to share my food with her. She was so cute and loving. She comes on running and hugs me just to greet me. But one day, God take away my puppy. I felt so alone on that very day as if someone has snatched my happiness. But then my mom made me understood that god to need a good heart person and animals to made their house as heaven. 

  • Frank

    April 22, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    In college our group had a saying: Its better to have loved and lost… than to be eaten by a pack of wolves. But then again, we were an odd bunch.
    I have always been a yin and yang person. Good with bad, joy and sorrow, etc. and the balance has always fascinated me. The deepest hearache helps up to appreciate and enjoy the greatest love. The risk is that this balance exists. But the realization of this fact I think really enables us to move forward. The good thing is that it is true in both micro and macro. It can help move on from the (relatively) simple like, ay, losing a game; up to the Major stuff. Thats why you take stock often, and fine the time to appreciate, feel, and love.

  • Kendra

    April 22, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    It sounds like Duncan evaluated what was going on and decided loving you guys and letting you love him was an acceptable risk too. My dog Molly was like that and I have to say I have never felt more loved by an animal than I did by the animal whose love I had to earn. And Duncan really is too cute not to love.

  • Nelson's Mama

    April 22, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    Oh, Mir.  They will break your heart…every last one of them.

    My sweet Nelson has been sick too.  🙁

    • Mir Kamin

      April 22, 2014 at 6:09 pm

      Oh no!! I’m sorry… I hope he’s okay. Hugs to both of you.

  • Kristie

    April 22, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Our dog, a 60 lb shepherd/lab mix who we got as a puppy on my son’s first birthday when my husband ran over her with his ambulance on the highway, has seizures. She just turned 14 and is doing very well. I hope Duncan has a good long life. 🙂 Thanks for rescuing him and Licorice. Our six dogs are all rescues, and I volunteer at our city shelter and at a rescue organization. I love to hear rescue dog stories!

  • Peggy Fry

    April 23, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Yes, it’s always a risk. Yes, it’s worth it. I lost my husband 10 year ago this month. Just got through a major flashback/despair episode where I realized that I still somehow blamed myself for not Fixing Everything. (I’m a superwoman, right?) Had to come to the realization AGAIN that it wasn’t my battle, and I didn’t fail him. I just was the witness. As hard as it gets when everything that was good tastes of ashes, I have never EVER felt it wasn’t worth it. I am remarried now, and really pretty darned happy. I’ve had and lost dogs and cats and they are all worth loving. And people are worth loving most of all. I tell myself that Heaven wouldn’t be complete without my animal loved ones there to greet me. It woudn’t be Heaven without them!

    • Mir Kamin

      April 24, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      What a wonderful attitude, Peggy! Thank you for this. You totally made me smile. 🙂

  • Kristen

    April 23, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    This is such an interesting one for me to read, because I’ve had to prepare my children for their sister who has a chromosomal anomaly (Trisomy 18) that is usually lethal. We had no idea if she was going to die in the womb or in the delivery room or if we were going to take her home. We’ve been blessed beyond measure that we got to take her home and she seems to be doing very well at the moment. But trying to find the words to tell a 4 year old that their sister may go to Jesus, or may not has been incredibly challenging.

    • Mir Kamin

      April 24, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Oh, Kristen. I bet “incredibly challenging” is an understatement. Much love to you and yours; I’m glad your little girl is doing well and hope that continues.

  • Jamie

    April 23, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    I volunteer for one of our local Boxer (dog) rescues and this is so true of anyone who takes in a foster dog or adopts a rescue. You never really know what you’re in for, you just promise to give the sweet critter a better life than the one they had before. We’ve had some really miraculous transformations of dogs in our rescue’s care and lots of happy families who’ve adopted our Boxers. That begs the question “who does this (mistreats, starves, dumps, etc.) to animals?!” but that’s for another day.

    Hope all ends up okay with Duncan!

    • Tracey

      April 25, 2014 at 9:14 am

      We got a Boxer (as a puppy, not a rescue-although considering the home she came from, it was probably pre-rescue) and I have never loved a dog so much. She is the sweetest, most fun dog ever, to the point where I think about how she will (hopefully) live only ten years and THAT IS SO SAD. Mir, I’m sorry your little doggie is not well. 🙁 Hopefully he defies expectations and graces you with his grumpy, nippy, wonderful self for many more years.