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The Yankee Express

A Mother’s Love

Rosie takes a turn with the Santa toy

By Amy Palumbo-LeClaire

Something was different. Something wasn’t adding up. I’m never up at 5 a.m. Nor do I shuffle down the stairs carrying a bright yellow container. Luke lifted his nose and sniffed out the truth. My dental retainer case would be the last to reach my suitcase. “Where’s Mom headed?”
“I’ll be back, Luke. I’ll be back. I’m going to miss you so much.” I kissed his head and embraced a bittersweet moment. I was headed for sunny Florida—no dog included. Would he be okay without me? Would the men of the household provide him with weekly playdates, surprise excursions and the daily assurance that he can sit outside on the front step as long as he’s a good boy? 
“Daddy and Ben are going to stay with you, Luke.” He lifted his nose, skeptical. 
Would they remember Luke’s shows? 
I gazed out the window on the way to the airport. The sky was dark, unforgiving. I wasn’t supposed to be awake this early. The song “Don’t Cry Out Loud” by Melissa Manchester, blared from the radio.  Would Luke learn how to hide his feelings and keep it all inside? A lump settled in my throat. A dog will not leave our sides. Yet here I was leaving mine for a cheap stretch of sunshine.   
A smooth flight led to an even smoother transition to the outdoors. Blue sky greeted me with a holiness that rallied New England greys. I felt optimistic about Palm Sunday and my pre-Easter vacation, while my parents pulled up to the sidewalk. We drove further away from home routines. Leisurely beach days gave way to dancing nights, poolside family reunions and sunny spirits. I followed Luke on his Instagram site (@livingwithlukevalentino) and sipped pina coladas. Luke offered up a virtual smile from his perch at a picnic table at Charlton’s Treehouse Brewery. “Love you, Luke.” I sighed. Life was good. 
Until it wasn’t
The report rained down on me like a New England storm, four days following my kitchen departure. 
“Luke gets a D- today for his behavior with Rosie.” Daddy’s text was flat, lacking in tone.
Oh no! Luke has been an A student since he learned how to come when called at 8 weeks! Luke aims to please and is the most well-behaved of all my dogs! What happened? The tale of a dog unable to hide his feelings in the absence of his mother came to me through a series of elaborate text messages and one sorry phone call. Here’s the story.
I had scheduled a playdate for Luke and Rosie at our house. Nothing new there. Rosie’s Dog Mom, Kara, was one of Luke’s favorite people. An energetic and kind-hearted schoolteacher, Kara typically manages playdates with a special dose of curriculum. She encourages turn-taking with outdoor toys, allows for competitive games of fetch, and stands by for rounds and rounds of Chase in the yard. Doodle and Golden, Rosie and Luke, gallop freely around the perimeter of my yard. Their collaborative speeds (and the energy!) is both fascinating and remarkable to watch. They exchange roles with profound dog communication. Luke jumps on Rosie’s back. Rosie snarls then grabs Luke’s favorite toy, a squeaking Santa, to assert her status. Luke remains patient but hits a wall after some time “You’ve had him the whole time, Rosie. My turn!” He barks at his friend’s cheek again. She bounces off him and tests her limits, crossing into a neighbor’s yard. “We’re supposed to stay with our moms, Rosie.” Luke sits like a king with a dirty face and waits for her to come back. 
That cold March Monday was different. 
Luke approached the mailbox, paused, and sniffed. Was he hoping to find a letter from me—a message to say that, perhaps, I was on my way home? We’ll never know for sure. Nevertheless, he turned to the street and did the unimaginable. He raced towards a truck and apparently the decision was conscious!  “Get back here, Luke! It’s not worth it!! You have too much going for you!!” Warrior Rosemary lunged at Luke and bit his ear. Hard.  “Get back into your yard this instance!” Her bark was grave, furious even.
Luke barked back. “Leave me, alone, Rosie!! You have your mom. I don’t!” Thankfully, the driver, aware of looney Luke’s behavior, slowed to a crawl. Unfortunately, a dog feeling abandoned wasn’t through feeling sorry for himself. He dashed away, finally landing at the fox den beneath our neighbor’s shed. “At least they’ll love me here.”  
The scene of a suicidal Luke played out viscerally in my mind as the story was told. My heart sank. Luke needed his mother. The men in my household did a tremendous job caring for him, even walking him three times per day. Still, something was missing. I needed to call my pup. ‘Put Luke on speaker phone!” (I was afraid Facetime might be counterintuitive) “Hi Luke! Are you having a good day?” I spoke in the doggie voice he knew and loved. “Mummy’s coming home soon!” I envisioned the tilt of his curious, blockhead while he reconciled my voice through the phone. A call was okay, though pale in comparison to our in-person reunion.
“Luke!! I missed you so much! I dashed into the kitchen, tossed my bag aside, and planted myself on the floor. Luke grabbed his red-hot chili pepper, whimpered (overjoyed), and circled my lap. “Not gonna’ lie, things have been rough, but I’m so glad you’re back!!!” We settled down on his family room bed just like old times. Luke licked my face, chewed his bone, and fell back into old habits. 
A Mother’s love is irreplaceable.