It started when my son lived with his father.
In 2010, I moved to Florida. My son decided to stay in Georgia with his dad. While I understood his decision, I had a hard time coping with my prematurely empty nest. In fact, I sobbed during that drive south on I-75. It was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do, harder even than filing for divorce or telling my children our family was splitting up.
His dog, Pancho, the three-legged Australian Shepherd, came with me. And that’s really when it started. We began talking through Pancho. I frequently texted pictures of the dog to my son with the message, “I miss you” or “Wish you were here!” It was a way of safely telling my kid how I felt. After all, there was no way he would ever rebuff a message from Pancho.
My son came to live with me at the beginning of his junior year of high school, and I have to say that the past two years have been a gift. I got a second chance at being a mom, and for that I will always be grateful.
The funny thing is that we never stopped talking through Pancho. Let’s say my kid was going out for the evening. “Where ya goin’?” I’d ask in my “Pancho” voice, which was slightly deeper and mimicked the cadence of Goofy’s speech patterns. Or when I came in late from teaching, I’d ask Pancho, “Did he feed you?”
It was a stupid thing to ask, of course, because that dog would look me in the eye and lie himself silly. He’d practically pretend to collapse from hunger. “Hunter didn’t feed you? What’s wrong with him?”
Before I could even ask the question, my son would say, “He’s lying. I fed him at 9.”
The conversation went both ways. When I went out of town, my kid would text me a picture of the dog. “He misses you” was the standard caption.
I even built a pool in our backyard because Pancho wanted one.
My son has been in Costa Rica with his father this week, a final vacation before he leaves for college. This morning, I sent him this picture.
The message said, “I’m so glad you’re coming home today.”
I’m not sure how to tell Pancho that our boy is leaving for college this week. I’m worried that he won’t handle this well. He might mope around the house for the first few days, but at least he’s got some things to keep him busy — his dachshund shepherding job and his pet therapy gig at the local VA nursing home.
He’s probably going to cry on the drive home from Tallahassee. I’m afraid Pancho is really going to miss this kid.