growing older

In Which I Adjust My Expectations...Again

Most of my Facebook friends will know I’ve been having some struggles and concerns with one of my little dogs. Magic, the older of the two at age 12, has been “inappetant” (in veterinary jargon) for the past year. He refuses his food, goes long periods without eating, and last summer developed a severe case of gastroenteritis (inflammation of the intestinal tract) as a result. He was actually hospitalized for three days in a specialty veterinary hospital about 40 minutes away from our home. He was discharged looking thin and haggard, and acting his age for the first time.

When he came home from that hospitalization, I made it my mission to feed him three meals a day. I followed him around the house with dishes of roast beef, grilled chicken, baby food, buttered noodles - anything I thought might possibly tempt him. “Just try it,” I would coax, scratching him behind the ear with one hand and offering tiny bites with the other. All this babying worked for a while, but right around Christmas time he started resisting food with a vengeance. He was either sick of his menu, sick of me constantly haranguing him, or maybe just plain sick. The less he ate, the more worried I got. How long could a dog go without eating? He began to look droopy and listless, walking around with his beautiful plume tail dragging on the ground. He shivered convulsively every time we went out in the cold, and cried to be carried around in my arms.

Per my usual, I went into full blown crisis mode. We made numerous visits to our vet, and then back to the specialist we’d seen in the summer. We tested blood, we tested urine (what can you do to dog pee that would cost $356? I wonder.)

All the results were normal. Which was good, but...

Meanwhile, Magic still wouldn’t eat. Even the “cookies” and “spicy treats” he had always eaten before were being refused with his characteristic turn of the head and slinking away. I was at my wit’s end.

I texted a friend who has much experience with animals. “Try something completely different,” she suggested. “Like a vegetable or fruit.” I remembered how much Magic liked canned green beans (ick), but I found a can lurking in the back of the pantry. I heated them up, rinsed off the salty broth, and offered him one with bated breath.

He grabbed it so fast he nearly ate my finger with it. After a few beans, I started sneaking bites of dog food into the mix. Before long, he had eaten an entire dishful. Since that day - as long as I offer a green vegetable as an “appetizer” - he’s been eating almost normally.

I say almost, because his appetite is not the same as it used to be. I always fed my dogs three small meals a day - it’s easier for little dogs to digest smaller portions more often. But now Magic doesn’t want to eat until about 1:00. He’ll have a few “cookies” for breakfast, but that’s about it. He needs things with a little bit of spice, which makes me wonder if his olfactory senses aren’t as keen as they used to be. 

He is, after all, 12 years old. In people years, that puts him around 70. With age, his needs and desires have changed. I’ve been expecting him to act and behave in the same way he did when he was young. Worse yet, I’ve been trying to force him to.

One of the most difficult of life’s lessons is learning to adjust our expectations. We often expect we will want the same things we did ten, twenty, even thirty years ago. We expect to sustain the same levels of excitement, anticipation, and interest we had when we were young. We expect to look and feel as good as we did in the “prime” of life, when in fact we have gray hairs and wrinkles around the eyes and a little too much weight around the middle. 

Sometimes it takes a long while to come to terms with those changes. We fight it every step along the way, with miracle creams and body shaping garments and frequent trips to the hair salon for highlights. We travel and join groups and do yoga and lunch with the ladies. 

But after a while, it all seems a little frantic. After a while, we get tired. 

I’ve adjusted my expectations for my own life many times in the past 10 years. It doesn’t mean I’ve “settled” for not looking or being my best. It means that I now know I don’t have to wear a size 6, don’t need to have perfectly smooth skin, don’t have to say “yes” to every request to help or work or go out for the evening. It means I pick and choose more carefully the ways I spend my time because I know it (and my energy!) are limited. 

So now I’ve adjusted my expectations for Magic as well. If he only wants to eat once a day, then  I can live with that. If he wants vegetables and cheese instead of cooked chicken or even his dog food - well, if that’s what it takes to make mealtimes pleasurable for him, then I’m fine with it. At his age, life should be as pleasant as possible, which doesn’t include a nerve-wracked woman chasing him around the house shoving bites of food in his face. 

I’m happier and healthier when my life is aligned with my expectations. 

I think his will be too.

How about you? Do you adjust your expectations on a regular basis?