There are many reasons why I hate this house. But there are a few reasons why I love it. One of them is the hill in our backyard that makes for the perfect tobogganing experience. Sometimes at night, we hear the laughter of children enjoying the snow-covered knoll, not realizing it’s on our property, or maybe not caring. No odds, because we don’t care either – whoop it up, kids! But next time, pick up your chip bags, ya little bastards.

This Sunday was Max’s first day on the slopes of Chez Murphy. The whole family had fun, but none more than our three-year-old. You know, the kid with the beard. The one who poops in the yard and sweats through her tongue.

We started to deck out in boots, hats and mittens. Splash, our Portuguese Water Dog, knew what this meant – the great outdoors was near. She’s no dummy; she’s been fetching beer from the fridge since she was five months old.

Dogs smile with their tails, and her fluffy appendage was grinning from fuzzy butt cheek to fuzzy butt cheek. Andrew has only to say “where’s my fun pants?” (that’s code for snow pants), and Splash starts to lose her furry little mind, growling eagerly and encircling him with her leash in her mouth.

Andrew and Max were the first to test the speed of our new foam sled. They flew down the hill with Splash racing along beside them, occasionally heaving her four-pawed self toward the sled to derail them.

"Wheeeeee x 3"

When it was my turn to slide down with the boy, Splash stayed at the top of the hill with Andrew. But when Max and I came to a stop at the bottom and looked up, Splash was racing toward us full-tilt, tongue flapping in the sun-kissed winter wind. Half a second before she got to us, she veered to her left, avoiding us by a hair. After the exhilaration of the descent, El Mutto’s antics supplied an unexpected final rush. Well, not really that unexpected. That’s so her. So full of life. A reminder that life is nothing if not fun.

I wrote this little ditty about her once…

The Ultimate Loyalty.
The kind that waits for you on the doormat,
the bathmat,
every mat everywhere
from now ‘til my final loving pat.
She destroys all my abandoned socks,
and all my loneliness,
and all my doubts about true love.
Suddenly I have compassion for anything that breathes.
In every bird and spider and llama, I see her eyes.
All these gifts,
wrapped up in one black and white furball
who, in return,
asks only for a walk, a rub, and a cookie.

Max, in all his childlike wonder, has shown me the meaning of life. When we take him out of the car, the first thing he does is look for the moon. “Mooooooon?” he says, like an uncertain cow, as he points toward the radiant orb in the sky. The light of the moon. The crunch of snow underfoot. The taste of fresh pineapple. He’s discovering the simple joys of being alive. And I get to watch.

But he’s not the first one to show me these simple joys. Splash was my first teacher of this lesson of lessons. (Well my ‘rents were the first, really. But Splash came along when I needed a cosmic reminder.) In a world that feels more like a race than a journey, with people accumulating more and more and feeling less and less, Splash’s humble requirements keep me grounded. A walk, a rub, and a cookie. A dog’s life – how intrinsically simple it is. At this very moment, she lies next to me on a couch big enough for eight of us, secretly hoping for a scratch or a treat, but content to just be here, with me. Quiet companions. I type, and she snores, occasionally raising her head from my thigh when she hears a car go by – could it be him? When I turn off the television and the lights, she’ll know – it’s time for one last tinkle in the garden and then bedtime. Sometimes when she’s tired, she heads for the bedroom and stops halfway and looks back as if to say “you comin’ or what?”

Since Max came along, Splash has inevitably taken the backseat – literally. She used to ride shotgun. At red lights, people in nearby cars would point at us and laugh, realizing the proud passenger was a dog and not a person. Now she’s confined to the backseat, partly because the front seat is full of baby crap, and partly because she chooses to be back there with Max and his delectable food-covered face. Jackpot.

She doesn’t get the exercise she used to or deserves, but we’re trying, and when Max gets a little bigger and less insane in the membrane, we’ll take more outings together – all four of us. Good times are ahead. Like any dog’s life, hers will be too short, so it’s our duty to make these 10-15 years as rich as possible. She doesn’t ask for much. If only the people next door felt a fraction of that sense of responsibility. On Sunday, as Splash frolicked freely in the backyard, their dog watched on longingly from his 6-foot leash, as always. Just another lawn ornament, begging to be stolen.

One thing is for sure – there is no shortage of love here at Chez Murphy. She sleeps with us every night. (Yes, Dog Whisperer, I know that’s unwise, but bite me.) We wake up in the morning and turn to see sleeping Splash, four perfectly straight paws pointing skyward. Without my glasses on, I see a furry, upside-down table. I’m no morning person, but how can I be cranky when I wake up to such a ridiculously cute sight?

If you’re petless, you probably don’t understand. But I won’t count you out. My dad didn’t have a dog, not since I was a toddler. (R.I.P. Skip the Irish Setter). But he loved all creatures. (Here I go again about my dad. Sometimes I think this blog is more about him than it is about Max. I guess it’s the thread of parenthood, stringing us together.) I think dad saw the purity in those big, brown, fur-trimmed eyes. More than once I caught him slipping her treats. A couple summers ago, we were all at my brother’s for dinner.  Splash was tied to the back deck, staring at the windows and doors, whining to come inside where the people (and the food!) were abound. We just ignored her; we’d be going home soon. But a couple of times, I caught a glimpse of dad through the window, kneeling down to give her a gentle pat on the head or a drink of cool water. He recognized her. He saw her for what she was. The purest soul on the property.