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heart in hand

Through 2008, I had a column in Ladies Home Journal titled "My Life As A Mom." This was one they rejected, and I really don't know why. The story chills me to this day.

I Still Can't Believe This Happened

My daughter Jane often says, only half jokingly, "You love Beau more than you love me." And though it is impossible that I could love my miniature dachshund more than I do my eight-year-old daughter, if you saw how it is with me and this dog, you would understand where she gets the idea. I am sure my husband thought the same vis a vis himself, and in his case, well … the dog was certainly a lot cuddlier and happier to see me.

Yet the other day I almost lost Beau forever, and it was 100% my fault, and I’m still in shock. I was taking my stepdaughter Emma, 20, to the bus so she could return to her apartment in New York after a visit. She and Jane and I were waiting for the bus in a Park’n'Ride lot in White Marsh, Maryland, about an hour from our home in Pennsylvania. Actually, we’d been in the car all day so we were out stretching our legs and letting Beau get some air as well.

As the time for the pick-up approached and no other riders appeared, Emma checked her ticket and realized she’d mistaken the time. The bus had come and gone five minutes before we even got to the lot. Bamboozled, we piled back in the car and headed up to Pennsylvania – Emma’s dad said he would drive her back that evening for the later bus. So I dropped the two girls off with him and headed home, only to realize that the dog wasn’t in the car. I called to say I was coming back – except Crispin said the dog wasn’t at his house either.

That is when I realized we left him in the parking lot.

I made a U-turn in the middle of the road and began to race back to White Marsh like a madwoman. It had already been an hour and it would take me an hour to get back there. I was alternately screaming and crying and trying to make phone calls. Ordinarily someone who is too cheap to use the cell phone’s $1.25 directory assistance service, I called it eight times in the next ten minutes. But neither the police nor the Animal Rescue could help me. I thought maybe I could reach an animal lover at Ikea – it was across the street from the parking lot – who would go over and look for the dog for me. But I could never even get out of Ikea’s automated voice mail system.

The sweetest, gentlest, most loyal and loving dog in the world, abandoned BY ME, his utterly devoted human mother, in a parking lot? With no tags or other identification? (No excuse, but we live on a farm in the country.) The reality could hardly fit in my head. Yet I had to call my 20-year-old son Hayes, whose Christmas present Beau had been four years ago, and tell him what I had done.

Hayes is interning at Merrill Lynch in Washington DC, and I reached him at his office. I was quite hysterical when I explained what had happened, and he was stunned.

What Ikea was it, he asked.

The one in White Marsh, I screamed. In Maryland. We’re never going to see him again!

A few minutes later, my son the hero called back to tell me the dog was in the security office at White Marsh mall, which was across the street from the Park’n’Ride. Would I even have known to go look there?

About a half an hour later, I had Beau in my arms. He had been seen walking toward the highway by a woman and her daughter. These dear people picked him up and spent a while trying to figure out what to do with him. Take him home and put up signs around the area? They could tell he was a well-loved and loving fellow and feared what would happen if they took him to the animal shelter. But no one they could find getting into their car in the Park’n’Ride had lost a dog. In the meantime, they ran into a mall security guard who suggested they leave him with her.

And that was where I found him. What a thin thread of good luck and miracles brought me to that little office behind the China Buffet.

Since this happened, a few people have told me they had similar screw-ups with their actual children, but I can’t imagine they felt any worse than I did. How could I have been so careless? Am I out of my mind? What horrible mistake will I make next?

And of course, this isn’t all about the dog.

Just a week before this incident, Jane and I had gone on a beach vacation with my friend Kim and her daughters, 12, 10 and 8. I have been teasing Kim for years because she is such a nervous Nelly; this really comes out at the shore, where she spends the whole time swiveling her head from side to side, trying to keep an eye on all the kids at once. She is anxious about every kind of danger, from evil strangers to random accidents, and I am very much the opposite. Kim would never send a kid to the restroom by themselves in a public place; I do this very thing all the time. I rarely worry about germs, or the Internet, or even bike helmets, and so far I have escaped the bad luck that would make my whole parenting style seem like a disaster waiting to happen.

I have always known that I err on the side of too little caution. But along the way, I have raised two very independent, self-reliant boys. Hayes is on his own in DC and doing fine; 17-year-old Vince is at the moment traveling with a friend in Europe. Just last night, my aunt and uncle were praising Jane for her independence when she headed off to find the bathroom in a restaurant all by herself. I don’t know if I could change my ways even if I wanted to.

The night after we lost and found Beau, Jane and I were cuddled in my bed reading Misty of Chincoteague with the dog between us. I paused for a moment and ran my hand down Beau’s sleek black body from his floppy ears to his ever-wagging tail. For the tenth time that day, I burst into tears.

There really is no need to cry anymore, my daughter told me kindly but firmly.

I looked at her through my tears. I hope not, Jane, I thought. I hope not.

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