Caregiving, Reflections, StaceyFH

March 24, 2021

Puppies and hockey and having the choice

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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  • They are so needy
  • They need so much exercise
  • They chew on everything
  • They make too much noise
  • They make a mess of the yard
  • They ruin the floors
  • They leave their hair everywhere
  • They guard my house by slobbering all over intruders with kisses
  • They’re like having another child
  • They cost a fortune in food and vet bills
  • They’re a full-time job
  • It’s too hard on everyone when they die
  • I’m allergic

Dogs. They drive me nuts.

Four years ago, these were all the things that EVERYONE in my life was listing off to me when I told them I was thinking of adding one to our family. Every single statement is accurate.

But you know what I’ve realized about life, about being a wife and about being a grown-up in general? I don’t have to listen to anyone but my own damn self. I’ve only got one life. And if I want to have a dog in my life, I’m going to have one. Or even two.

We had our pug Matilda from the time she was just a wee pup before Jake was born until she was about 11. The twins had grown up with her, had pretty much ignored her.. as they did with most things and people in their life, but she was adored by Jake and I. My ex loved her too, but he was easily irritated by her, especially because he got most of the work that went along with her – namely, scooping the poop.

Mattie, as we called her, was our first baby. We were just moving into downtown Toronto and my sister Steph was living not too far away in the Riverdale neighbourhood. We had both wanted pugs desperately since we were introduced to a friend’s in university. After having no control over the decision until now that we were truly independent and out of school, we both made the impulsive, but long-desired decision to buy a pair of litter-mate pug puppies together. Steph, Jon and I drove from Toronto to Welland, where we were introduced to the most adorable litter of pups and their pug-parents. We fell in love instantly. Steph picked her Penelope and Jon and I picked our Matilda (only to realize ages later that we had somehow swapped them around and really had the other’s pups but it all worked out for the best). None of us will ever forget that long drive back home. Completely ignorant dog-owners. Jon took his turn to sit in the backseat with the two pups while Steph and I rode in the front. I will never ever forget, looking in the rear-view mirror at him, now shirtless and trying not to cry, while he held two puppies who had worms crawling out of their arses. ‘No! We can’t give them back! They’re our babies!’ I think our ignorance saved those puppies ultimately, because had we known all the stress they would cause in our lives, we probably wouldn’t have kept them.

Back then, we were living in a teeny one bedroom apartment in a building that was attached to Maple Leaf Gardens, in Toronto while we both worked for a bank downtown. It was the ultimate downtown life and it was made even more special by the fact that the Leafs were still playing at the Gardens. For a Canadian hockey fan (me) and for the *ultimate* hockey fan (my ex), it really was a dream come true. Back then, scalpers were still selling cheap tickets after the game started so we could often grab seats in the greys for $15 if we were okay with missing the first half of the first period. I understand that at the time, it was the last remaining NHL arena where the players did not have private underground parking, so they would have to come and go from the street.. with us common folk. This meant that once you knew the practice and game schedule, autograph-seekers like my ex, could just mill around the doors and be guaranteed some face time with the players. You know what makes that a hell of a lot easier? A puppy pug.

Who can resist a wriggly, curly tailed, snorty ball of love? I’ll tell you – NO ONE on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster in 1998. Jon not only managed to chat and get autographs from nearly every player on the team, but most of his Team Canada players as well, whenever the visiting opponents came to play us. I couldn’t have cared less about the autographs, but I will admit that it became kind of a cool thing to get on a first name basis with these guys we obsessed over every Saturday night. Pat Quinn was coaching that year and there were some greats who we loved to watch: Mats Sundin, Steve Thomas, Tie Domi, Korolev, Mike Johnson, Steve Sullivan, and Bryan Berard, with Cujo, Glen Healey and Potvin in net. I’m not going to lie.. I had to look them up just now on Google – I’m old and my memory is failing. But I do remember we loved watching them that year. A lot.

Can you imagine how much you’d get sued if you accidentally hit a player with your vehicle? This is something that I got close to learning first-hand when I drove out of our underground parking, was approaching to make a left on to Church St., but then got tragically distracted by my bouncing puppy in the front seat. I realized a fraction of a second too late that I was already at the stop sign. Slammed on the brakes, only to love-tap – okay.. really, I bumped.. a guy who was crossing the street. He turned quick and slammed both hands on the hood of my car, likely to curse me for nearly killing him. I felt his death stare under those dark eyebrows of his and realized I recognized him.. and what do you know?! He recognized Matilda! It was Tomas Kaberle, the Leafs’ second-highest scoring defenceman in franchise history. He waved me off. He wasn’t happy though and I was just grateful I didn’t ruin his season.

That turned out to be the last year that the Leafs ever played a regular season in the Maple Leaf Gardens, as they moved down to the Air Canada Centre in 1999. Matilda joined us for that momentous occasion as well, as we lined Carlton St. to watch the parade as they travelled down to the ACC – a mix of the veteran Leafs as well as all the guys we now pretended were our BFF’s. Not to brag, but I do remember more than a few players who gave us our own shout-outs from their float, or by foot, as they passed us (truthfully, I’m pretty sure they shouted “Matilda!”, not “Stacey and Jonathan!”)

This love for hockey is an ingrained part of my life as a Canadian. It’s always been part of the fabric, part of my memories. I was athletic when I was young, hard to believe, but true. I think I only owned figure skates until the age of 6 or 7 when I switched over to Bauer’s to play ringette. Steph and I were rinkrats and spent every weekend either playing, or waiting around for my dad to play or coach. We knew all the nooks and crannies of the old Bowmanville Arena on Queen St., and knew exactly where that hole was in the girls’ washroom floor that looked down into the boys’ changeroom below. The smell that wafted up from there is something you can’t forget and the thrill of finding an intact hockey stick that had been chucked under the stands, was a find that we would benefit from when playing road hockey later. I remember beating all the boys at some type of game where we’d whip hockey cards at the wall and the winner would get to scoop them all up. Saturday nights just didn’t feel right if you didn’t hear the Hockey Night in Canada theme song and Don Cherry and Ron MacLean bantering back and forth. And what was a Leafs game without the magic fingers of Jimmy Holmstrom playing the organ..

Admittedly though, I had a love-hate relationship for hockey and for that, I’ll blame my ex. His love for hockey trumped everything in our relationship. His love for Gretzky has him bordering on criminal stalking, but that’s another story. Any love I had for the game, for the culture or for the players, was really overshadowed by my frustration for the fact that Jonathan’s obsession for all things hockey and really all professional sports, always won out. If we had plans when there was a game on – guess which would win? We travelled to other cities with only a small amount of money to spend – I had a love of theatre, but do you think we got to see a show? Nope. I’ve only ever been to New York City once and we brought an old friend along. I was desperate to see Miss Saigon or Les Mis on Broadway. You know where MY money went? To two different games (I think it was a baseball and a football game), that I never got to go to. The boys went and I stayed behind. Same with my one and only trip to London, England. Football beat out any chance of me catching a show. Remember that little apartment next to the Gardens? When I rolled over in our bed, my nose would be to the wall and guess what it was up against? A poster of Wendel Clark, no lie. When we were planning our wedding, we had chosen the date and announced it to the family – one side of the family tried to convince me I had to change it because the Rugby World Cup finals would be on.

And what bothered me the most about all that is that no one ever challenged the unfairness of it all. So I was the bitch for always whining about it in our relationship. I grew resentful that the sound of the tv was always blaring on Sundays as I’d have to hear the British commentators screaming about a *really* exciting Liverpool FC game that ended nil-nil (eye roll). I was resentful that my love for sport was disappearing because it was never presented as an option, as it was always understood that it was indisputably the most important thing in our household. It trumped me. It trumped my kids and it trumped our needs and wants. There was no fairness or balance.

So when Matilda passed away and talk came up of having another dog, it was usually stomped out. I was pushy and maybe a bit sneaky and managed to adopt a pair of dogs when we were living in Calgary. Jonathan was not happy about it, but he didn’t have a choice when I dug in my heels and brought them home. Sadly, we couldn’t make it work, it wasn’t a fit with our boys and their special needs and unpredictable noises and behaviours and we had to give them back to be re-homed with a better-suited family. Jonathan got the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so’ and that was that. No more puppy love.

But still I pined for one. By 2014, our marriage was over and the day he moved out was probably the last day I watched Hockey Night in Canada and it was definitely the last time I watched an LFC game. If there was anything good that came from the devastating tsumami that was our separation, it was the fact that I wouldn’t have to hear those f*cking broadcasters yelling anymore. I loved that silence. I relished my new freedom of having the remote control. But I wanted to fill that silence with the sound of pug snorts.

It took me a few years to adjust to life on my own with the boys and by then, I was desperate to have the company of a pup again. In 2017, we found the perfect contact in Milton, Ontario (thanks to my cousin Nathalie!) and we adopted Winnie the pug. She turned out to be a Jack Russell terrier disguised as a pug and is the most over-friendly, over-hyper non-snorter ever. I adore her. She’s all of the things listed at the opening of this post, but she’s also the lifeblood of our little family. She is beloved and I can’t imagine life without her. We added Rosie the golden retriever to our brood last September when we adopted her from my in-laws when they had to downsize to a condo. She’ll be 10 and she’s an old gal, but she’s all love and eyes that guilt you. They drive me nuts for their neediness, but to have two souls who follow you from room to room, just so that they can watch and wait and hope for a single pat on the head – there is no one or nothing more loyal. They love us when we’re loud and upset and impatient and they love us when we’re silent in our grief and pain and loneliness. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and the sound of their breathing reassures me and brings me comfort.

I’m not sure what made me decide to write about dogs and hockey, but somehow they fit together in my thinking. They are both parts of my life that have always been so important to me, have both been members of my family, whether I wanted them or not. At this stage in my life, without having the husband, there is great satisfaction that both hockey and dogs are choices that are MINE to have in my life or not. I got the snarky comments and the eye rolls when I got Winnie. But after a week or two whenever my ex would visit the boys and see her, I’d see that look he’d get when he was playing with her. He misses Matilda and he’s missing out on puppy love. She is worth every ounce of stress she’s brought to this house, because the love from a pup is like nothing else.

And now that I’ve got my pups, I think I’m ready to choose to welcome some hockey back in as well. Apart from only following during the playoffs, Olympics, or a Junior tourney, or following the climb of a good friend’s son into the NHL.. I have really stayed away from it. But I miss it. I miss Saturday nights and holding my breath when the Leafs play the Canadiens. I miss crying at the end of every season because we can’t freaking break the curse. I’m looking forward to watching hockey again because this time, I am choosing to. And when I do, I’ll have Winnie snuggled along my thigh on the couch and Rosie on my feet.

It feels like life is exactly as it should be.

Stacey aka WillowjakMama

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  1. Lynda says:

    Lovely piece that resonated with me. I too got hockeyed/(sported)-out by a fanatic ex. All of your stories mirror my experience: sport over theater always, travel centered around sports, weekends dominated by the couch coach. I also have fanatic brothers who “went to the dark side” because of their common love of all things sports. Thankfully, my brothers eventually came back into my life.

    We also share Steve Thomas and Ty Domi. Steve and my brother Dave (Thomas) played minor hockey together. I grew up playing with Steve’s little brothers while the big boys played their oh-so-important “all-star” games. And my brother-in-law lived with us during try-outs, pre-season and early season games with Ty and the Peterborough Petes. He played many a game of snooker in our basement with Scott. Of course, I was just the wife of Scott’s older brother, but I feel like I knew him. Unfortunately, Scott did not make it to the NHL (and the way hockey treated him like a piece of meat is another source of my resentment towards hockey).

    We are also kindred spirits in our dog history. My ex doesn’t like dogs, so we didn’t have dogs. When found myself single in a seriously empty nest, I got my big, so-ugly-he-was-cute big guy, Nitro. He passed 3 years ago and thinking about his sudden death still brings me to tears. I miss him every day. We now have an aging miniature poodle who is a pain because he is so needy, but like you I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    Thank you for sharing little snippets of your life. As you know, I love you, I love your family, and I love your writing. Keep your stories coming, please <3

    • Stacey aka WillowjakMama says:

      It’s always so fascinating to me to discover how relatable our little struggles are, but we don’t usually talk about them, so we never know! I NEVER guessed that you would have had those hockey links. Thanks for opening up that bit of your life to me too and please give that poor ole’ pup of yours a hug from us.

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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