A Spot in My Heart

By Diane Stark

I cuddled the bundle in my arms closer and gazed into his big brown eyes. I rubbed my hand over his soft head and smiled when he sighed contently.

“You know why we don’t have any grandchildren yet?” My father-in-law said, pretending to scowl at my bundle and me. “You’re wasting all your maternal instincts on that dog.”

I glanced down at Mugsy, the cocker spaniel mix I held in my arms, and then grinned at my father-in-law. “You might be right, but look at him. He’s so cute!”

My father-in-law patted the dog on the head and said, “Yeah, but I’d like to have a few human grandbabies at some point.”

I shrugged and said, “Well, sure, someday, but for now, Mugsy is all the baby I need.” I stroked his head again and cooed, “Aren’t you my baby? My sweet baby.”

But just three months later, my father-in-law’s wish came true. I discovered I was expecting my first baby – well, my first human baby.

During the pregnancy, I researched the best ways to help the family dog adjust to the addition of a new baby. As my due date grew closer, I gave Mugsy extra love, knowing that my life was about to get extremely busy.

But “busy” couldn’t begin to describe it. My baby boy seemed to need me constantly. He was always at my breast, or on my hip, or in my lap. Mugsy would often sit on the floor and gaze up at me with longing as I rocked The Interloper to sleep. “That used to be my spot,” his eyes seemed to say.

Although Jordan had infringed on Mugsy’s territory, the dog remained curious about him. When Jordan cried, Mugsy’s head would turn to the side as if to say, “That’s a really odd-sounding bark.” And when Jordan learned to roll over, Mugsy waited expectantly for me to give the baby a Milk-Bone, just as I did with him.

As Jordan grew, he needed me less and less. Mugsy would follow me around the house, waiting until I put the baby down, and then immediately want to take back his rightful place in my lap. The three of us spent many afternoons, constantly trading spots, trying to keep everyone happy.

I think Mugsy was as excited as I was when Jordan finally learned to walk. Overnight it seemed, Jordan had become a toddler, no longer content to sit in my lap. It saddened me that my baby was becoming independent, but Mugsy was right there to comfort me. “I’ll always be your baby,” his snuggles clearly conveyed.

Over the next three years, Mugsy enjoyed the best of both worlds. He and Jordan had become best friends, constantly wrestling around in the grass and playing fetch together. And in the evening, when Jordan was content to sit on the floor with Legos and Matchbox cars, it made room for Mugsy to enjoy his favorite spot once again.

Mugsy was a happy, happy dog, but all good things must end. When Jordan was almost four, another interloper came on the scene. It was a girl this time. And Mugsy’s favorite spot was again occupied by someone else.

My time was stretched even more thinly with the birth of my daughter, Julia Grace. I had two small children to care for and my lap was almost never empty. I cringe when I recall how many times that poor dog heard the words, “Not right now, Mug, I’m busy with the baby.”

But as all babies do, this one eventually grew up too. Two days after her first birthday, she took her first steps. But Mugsy didn’t seem to celebrate the victory this time.

As I watched Julia toddle around, I told Mugsy, “You’ll have your spot back soon for sure.” Days later, I patted the couch next to me and said, “Come here, boy.” Mugsy barely seemed to have the energy to jump up next to me. And he’d developed a strange cough that concerned me as well.

A trip to the vet delivered the news. Mugsy had congestive heart failure, common for a small dog that had lived a decade and a half. I was devastated. We’d gotten Mugsy when I was still in high school, and when I went away to college he came with me. He’d ridden shot gun on countless road trips and been my constant companion throughout my teen years. He was there through best friends and boyfriends, homework and heartbreak. He’d licked the tears from my face on those tough nights following my parents’ divorce. And now, we’d go through one more heartbreak together.

A few months later, my first baby quietly died in his sleep. He had just regained his favorite spot on my lap when we discovered he was sick. I made sure he spent as much time there as possible in those last few weeks. I wanted my little dog to know how much I loved him and how greatly he’d be missed.

And above all, I wanted him to know that even though my human babies had temporarily taken his spot on my lap, he would always hold a permanent spot in my heart.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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