Iowa Writes

KAROLYN SHERWOOD
"One Smart Puppy"


Acres of tall corn sway in the yellow August wind as I drive alone through the Iowa countryside on my way to buy a puppy. Adding to my excitement, I find my favorite Bruce Springsteen song on the radio to accompany me. My phone rings; it's my sister. When I tell her where I'm headed, she's shocked. She didn't know I wanted a dog. Oh, but I do.

When she asks why, I say, "So I have someone to take care of."

Acres of tall corn sway in the yellow August wind as I drive alone through the Iowa countryside on my way to buy a puppy. Adding to my excitement, I find my favorite Bruce Springsteen song on the radio to accompany me. My phone rings; it's my sister. When I tell her where I'm headed, she's shocked. She didn't know I wanted a dog. Oh, but I do.

When she asks why, I say, "So I have someone to take care of."

Growing up, I was "that girl." Not the cool, independent Marlo Thomas That Girl, but the unfortunate opposite. I was the girl who ditched my friends when a new man came into my life. Yeah, sorry about that. At 18, I met a man who, at 21, became my husband who, by 28, was the father of my children. Not just a couple of children, we had four sons. I had five men to take care of, so that's what I did. It's who I was.

After 15 years, that marriage ended, and my work load doubled overnight. I had my children, plus a house, plus a job. If I had a nickel for every time someone said. . .  Life was busy, and I was happy. I was the all-important hub of our fast-spinning merry go round.

At 40, contrary to the 1986 Newsweek report that I was more likely to be struck by lightning, I met and married a wonderful, supportive man, slightly older than me and retired. When my youngest son left for college, my husband and I wanted to travel, so I quit my job and decided to pursue my dream of writing. Got laptop? Will travel! For three years, I packed, unpacked, wrote, packed, unpacked and wrote in exotic locations around the world.

Recently we decided to rein in our travels a bit. Life slowed down and became almost. . . boring?  My boys are now independent men in their 20s. My husband is quite self-sufficient and constantly encouraging me to write, but I still have too much free time. That's when the shock hits: for the first time in 28 years, no one needs me.
I'll get a puppy, I think, a small breed that I can hold in my lap while I type. So over the hills and through the cornfields I go.

When I arrive at the breeder's home, I'm surrounded by puppies. They jump and wag and lick and bark and play. I'm overwhelmed by how much work this is going to be, a continuation of the last 28 years of being a mom and a wife. At 49, it occurs to me that I've built my identity around taking care of others. If I buy a puppy now, as a bandaid, because I've never learned to put myself first, how will I ever figure out who I am on my own? Might I find a new hobby? Take up tennis? Learn bridge? The breeder thinks my smile means I've made my decision, and indeed I have.

After two hours of playing with the puppies, I walk away empty-handed. I will get a dog one day, but for now I realize I don't need a puppy, what I need is to pamper myself for a while.

On my drive home, I call my sister and proudly tell her my news.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


KAROLYN SHERWOOD

Karolyn Sherwood graduated from the University of Iowa in the 1980s.  She has four grown sons and lives in Des Moines with her husband. She is currently working on a novel.

This page was first displayed
on January 03, 2013

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