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Life In Slow Motion: Lessons From A TCK’s First Pet On Moments And Memories (Part 2 of 2)

Myra Dumapias's Pet Dog Papi (Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias)
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In Part 1, Myra Dumapias wrote about how she fell in love with her first pet dog, Papi, and her memories of him growing up as a member of her family. In Part 2 below, she talks about the lessons Papi taught her.

The way our pet dog Papi lived his life taught me profound lessons as a Third Culture Kid (TCK).

Papi showed me:

Don’t be afraid to be yourself and let your purpose come out.

Being lost in our instincts and intuition, unlike how our society often plays it to be less valuable than Western science, can be more valuable. At times, instincts and intuition allow us to release more of ourselves and they are not to be hidden or be ashamed of. When Papi’s herding instincts came out, it deepened our appreciation for him and added to the dimensions of his personality. Papi integrated his instincts in how he played with us and protected us. When we allowed Papi space to be himself, it added to our bond with him.

Pets -- Myra Dumapias's beloved pet dog Papi (Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias)
Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias

As TCKs, we know that we never had much time to make friends, but we bonded from being exactly who we were. As adults now, don’t delay being who you are and don’t be afraid of it. Cherish those who understand or appreciate you for being yourself. Don’t chase those who only make you fit in the environment just to conform. An environment is only made richer when we each are uniquely who we are. Your purpose, which you discover when you are yourself, can benefit others.

Live with mindfulness of each moment and keep things simple.

As my son mentioned in our talk last night remembering Papi, dogs live simply and are always in the moment. Humans are distracted day-to-day by deadlines, social media, important events, increasing income, creating then paying off bills, updating our cars when our last one was fine, etc. Papi enjoyed simple things like relaxing to soak up the sun and car rides. His only focus was being loyal to my son and the rest of the family.

Myra Dumapias's pet dog Papi on a car ride. (Ⓒ Myra Dumapias)
Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias

While Papi showed consciousness of accountability or guilt, and sometimes demanded to be noticed, he was never mad back at me for times I got mad at him. Papi forgave the instances where we didn’t make enough time for him. Papi’s priority was simply enjoying more time with my son as his primary buddy and the family in each moment he had with us.

TCKs learn the importance of bonding while growing up because we say goodbye to dear friends so many times. As adults, remember to cherish bonds and connections in each moment before they pass. Increasingly, we seem to be discovering it is toxic to have pride in being busy. Remember to stay human with needs for connection and let go of pressure to make or have more when it compromises this human need.

Don’t be afraid to form intimacy and be vulnerable until the very end.

Being close to someone can be scary because the process usually involves a great deal of vulnerability. The other person can choose to reject or criticize you.

Whether in friendships, romantic relationships or leadership roles, people experience this vulnerability. Papi provided a bond where it was safe to be our complete selves, mistakes, ugly days and all and still be loved. Papi provided a space where it was safe to be vulnerably intimate. He grew so in tune with what was happening in our family despite our mistakes. Having a pet can teach us that.

While dogs have the survival capacity to protect themselves from potential harm, such as abusive persons, their unconditional love thrives among those they trustingly bond with. I may have never let my guard down completely with most friends I have made in my life so far.

Myra Dumapias's pet dog Papi. Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias
Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias

With Papi, however, I could count on being myself and Papi remaining loyal to me. As an only child, Papi may have been the closest I’ve had to a sibling, if siblings love unconditionally.

With all the grief TCKs experience in a lifetime and especially during the developmental years, we deserve to experience a love where it is safe to be vulnerable. Having a pet can teach us that. Many of us TCKs may have experienced being loved for just being ourselves in international communities.

I remember growing up surrounded by adults and kids grieving friends or family members they had to leave behind or who left them behind. In such spaces, people often connect on a deeper, vulnerable level with a shared connection of loss. I hope my TCK readers have experienced safe vulnerability. May you share it as adults.

The main lesson: love purely.

Out of all the lessons Papi taught me, the overarching lesson is this: Love purely. In the way Papi only wanted more time with us through all the above ways he loved us, it brought out the pure love I felt I had as a child growing up with constant transnational goodbyes. Even though I knew the pain I would likely experience again and again, again and again I tried making new genuine connections. I would also hold on to those connections until the very end.

From my childhood to early teens, it seemed to be OK if my personality was not perfect. My friends and I all forgave each other and grew together. It was only later in my last two years of high school I learned that even some friends weren’t as loyal or patient as I had known.

Papi reminded me that it was OK to not be perfect and that I would learn. His patience allowed for me to grow into a more graceful dog mom.

As an adult, after a major move away from a community I thrived in, I learned that people can suddenly disappear, can sabotage your reputation, aren’t always genuine and can be fickle. If treated well, a pet won’t do that.

Papi reminded me that it was OK to not be perfect and that I would learn.

In one relationship, I learned a narcissist can be so manipulative that they go so far as enforcing their own version of reality and try to alter others’ memories. I also learned later that community narcissists exist, cause damage when they feel their ego threatened and also try to alter memories.

Pet memories

As a TCK, memories are all I have. Papi’s loyal love was a refuge for what I have experienced after my move.

There were times I’d witness our dogs wait at the door my son left out of and stay there waiting in anticipation or with vigilance from elsewhere in the house. If humans were to do that or otherwise be as loyal as dogs, we would be considered “losers.” However, who are the ones who truly lose out?

When I hear people speaking about regrets at funerals or on their deathbed, a common theme is regret for not spending enough time with loved ones.

As a TCK, memories are all I have.

As an empath myself, I prefer connections where people are willing to be genuine and vulnerable. This is not synonymous with tolerance for abuse. As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, I gravitate toward people who are sensitive and instinctively or intuitively pick up on energy that is not genuine. I learned to recognize energy from liars and manipulative people.

Part of dogs’ instincts are to protect themselves from harm or people that are not trustworthy. One can be vulnerable yet protect themselves.

What does pure love mean? A pet will teach you.

Pure love just means not being afraid to be genuine enough to fulfill a deep desire to give it your all and risk getting hurt by people you choose to trust. Papi, like most dogs, cannot fake or hide love, excitement or interest. If more people were genuine this way, there would be less hurt along the way of navigating who suits us and who doesn’t. Having a pet can teach us that.

Myra Dumapias's beloved pet dog Papi (Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias)
Photo Ⓒ Myra Dumapias

At the end of some days, I feel frustrated I wasn’t so productive. After having Papi in our lives, however, the person that I was when I was a child with multiple goodbyes and the person I remain as an adult comes out again and again. I am a human being who also just wants more time with loved ones.

All the community organizing and activism I get involved in is founded on how not all of us have the freedom to be themselves and enjoy time with loved ones. My family at times have not always had this option. If I didn’t need to work, waiting for my loved ones and freely showing excitement when we can spend more time together is an attractive way to spend my days.

However for now, we still live in a world where struggle and managing our time among multiple commitments seems to be the adulting default. I haven’t yet figured out how to live more simply, given that I still have to make some level of money to enjoy life and spend time with loved ones. However, let me impart a simple message I feel Papi left me with:

“Waste time with me. I promise, although you think there are more important things to do, you gain time instead of lose it. You will know this difference when you look back at memories: the moments you fully soaked in, no one can take away from you and will forever be with you, like I will.”

Dedicated to our loving Papi (06/11/2006 – 08/27/2022). You are always welcome home with us.

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