My dogs need haircuts. They’re a mess and have been now for a while. Looking at them is a reminder of one more thing I have lost. It’s also a reminder of the things I have gained.
I used to cut their hair. It was never anything fancy. I’d just set the blade on the trimmers for a specific length and trimmed away. I kept a couple of sets of trimmers on hand because they would inevitably heat up and became too warm for the dogs’ tender skin. With five dogs, the job of trimming them was usually something that unfolded over a couple of days. Last year, I went so far as to purchase a quality set of professional dog sheers to speed up the process. Most recently, they were used to trim my scalp.
I look for ways to save a few bucks here and there. A twelve-dollar set of clippers from ROSS is a fraction of the price of one canine haircut. With good care, they will hold up a couple of years and the savings work out to a good chunk of money. It’s also why I trim my own hair. Paying a barber to do it once or twice a month is not something I am willing to do.
When I add up the bill, my self-haircuts and dog trimmings save about $1,000.00 a year. Along with the savings, at least with the dogs, I get a nice sense of satisfaction helping them change from a scruffy looking mutt into something clean cut and soft. I swear, our dog Toby does a total personality change each time he gets his hair cut. It’s like he turns into a much younger version of himself and becomes more social and upbeat. He goes from grumpy to happy in a matter of a few minutes.
Betty is usually first up and is easy to trim. She is one of our three white dogs and is more laid back, so the trimmings get off to a good start. However, she also has a lot of knots that have to be cut out with scissors, and she needs to have her head and eyes done by them as well. My wife and I have an agreement, I do the sheering and she does the face shaping.
Half way through Betty’s cut, Athena, her mother makes it clear she wants her hair done. She begins to strut and do her “runway” walk before giving me an earful to let me know she expects to look pretty. She has her share of knots as well but, she soaks up the individual attention. Just do not try to trim her tender legs with anything other than scissors. She also loves a nice shampoo and a freshly clean coat to wear after and appreciates a walk around the neighborhood to show off her good looks. She is a classic diva.
By the time I finish up with Toby, I am done for the day. The clippers need cooling down and my two brown mutts, Mini and Peanut are looking at me with worry and concern. They’d prefer to keep their locks and run around the yard chasing one another than getting a wash and cut.
Mini will be first up on day two. The best way I can describe her coat of hair is it is a mixture of Don King meeting the Bride of Frankenstein. It is as unique as she is timid. When I finish with her, she always looks the most different of the bunch because she seems to morph into a completely different looking breed. She will run the yard excitedly looking for anyone who wants to play.
Peanut is always the last to be trimmed and more or less has to be tackled to get his sharp prickly hair on the back of his neck mowed to a shorter and more friendly length. He is miserable to cut. In fact, he is not one to put into any new situation as we all found out last year. I took him to my vet last spring to get fixed and he proceeded to destroy an exam room before breaking from his leash and running amok in her waiting room knocking over plants, chasing a poor cat, and thinking of nothing of trying to encourage a calm 100-pound dog to follow his lead.
The next day, I received an email from my vet asking me to make sure he is medicated on tranquilizers the next time I bring him in. His 16 pounds of fury are not to be taken lightly. He will give me five minutes of his time before he goes Bruce Lee on me, so I work quick to make a few passes down the length of his back before calling it a job.
Unfortunately for me, and perhaps whoever gets the job to trim this brood’s hair, I am no longer up to the task. I now must conserve my energies when it comes to doing things that involve the use of my arms and hands. The physical discomfort they cause me along with the increased weakness and decline of fine motor skills means I now get to pay someone else to do something I use to do. It’s not the money I pay out to get them trimmed that I mind. Rather, it’s the feelings that come from being reminded of another task I once performed go by the way side that remind me of another loss.
On appearance, I look younger than my 60 years. At least I get told this by people, most of whom either are looking for a better tip or who wear thick glasses. I remain lean and in fighting shape only I haven’t any arm strength left to throw punches at the world. I can still run like a man nearly half my age, pedal my bike up the steepest roads Ventura County has to offer, and have a solid core. Just do not ask me to lift much. Heck, don’t ask me to do much that involves the use of any motor skills like lifting my arm to wave hello, put on a t-shirt, or scratch my back because they will only elicit a grimace and serve to remind me there is a part of me that is damaged to the point my arms are functioning at a level much older than their years.
This past weekend, I had to accept the fact my wife is more capable of assembling our new patio furniture. I could help where needed, but if the job were left up to me, we might end up having evening drinks sitting on the concrete.
My gym work has gone from the use of heavy to moderate and then light weights to now mostly no weights and the decline has unfolded over a mere eighteen months. I do a lot of funny looking rehab exercises and band work that take up a lot of time and when I am finished leave my arms feeling pretty much dead and useless. Oddly, I can do things like push a mower around the yard easier simply by incorporating more use of my legs than I can handle a pair of dog trimmers, opening a jar, or write with a pen. I not only have to accept help from others, but now must ask for it from time to time which I find embarrassing.
There was a time in my life all of this would have left me tied up in knots of stress, riddle with anger at the world for what seems unfair. Now, it is just a part of who I am.
I am learning to live life in a different way from my past. My arms may no longer have the use they once did, but I am also no longer angry at the world, eaten up with anxiety or depression, or feeling the need to be more than anything other than my flawed self. I have reached a point of acceptance of me which is a huge relief. I no longer compare myself or my accomplishments to others and then become consumed with thoughts of outdoing them. I just live and try to enjoy what I have rather than focus on what is missing.
I feel richer these days and it has nothing to do with financial wealth. My life is incredibly gratifying. I found love in a woman and at a time in life I never thought possible. We have managed to meld our two separate lives into one, share our deepest thoughts, soothe each other’s worries, and enjoy what is before us. My two browns and her three whites, with or without nice haircuts, have become the best of friends as well while at the same time bringing my wife and I plenty of laughs and joy.
The other morning, after I warmed up at the park for a run, I found it unusually challenging to tie my shoes. My fingers did not want to comply with the task at hand and I was momentarily reminded of what might one day become the new normal for me. There is no way of knowing for sure so why worry about it now? The air was crisp and cool. The grass was freshly mowed. The park was empty. I had it all to myself. It’s how I feel about my life. I have it all to myself simply because I have finally learned having it all means no longer wanting everything to be just right to my liking.
If having the full use of my arms again meant going back to life as it was, I’d decline the opportunity in a heartbeat. My life is here and now and from where I sit, the view looks great. Sometimes it takes losing the things you are used to having in life to realize just how much more you have before you to enjoy.
Jim is a life long resident of California and retired school teacher with 30 years in public education. Jim earned his BA in History from CSU Chico in 1981 and his MA in Education from Azusa Pacific University in 1994. He is also the author of Teaching The Teacher: Lessons Learned From Teaching. Jim considers himself an equal opportunity pain in the ass to any political party, group, or individual who looks to profit off of hypocrisy. When he is not pointing out the conflicting words and actions of our leaders, the NFL commissioner, or humans in general, he can be found riding his bike for hours on end while pondering his next article. Jim recently moved to Camarillo, CA after being convinced to join the witness protection program.