A Good Boy. (Sometimes)
By: Janet Watkins
As I type this, my 10-year-old beagle is pawing at me and bringing his poop-eating mouth as close to my face as he can. He’s panting and saying without words: Walk me. I’m tolerating it because my phone is by my side, and if I can keep him in place, and lean back a bit, and move the laptop to the side, and grab my phone, I can probably film him for half a minute—long enough to get some content. Luke has an Instagram page. I update it every week. It’s an embarrassing thing to admit to, but I do it for our kids. At least that’s what I tell myself.
In August, a few days before our youngest left for college, we had the same conversation I’d had two years’ prior with our older child—the one where I try to figure out, in this era of instant contact, how much space to give once we drop them off.
“How often do you want to hear from me?” I asked.
“I don’t know. You can call me whenever you want.”
“How often would you actually want to answer?”
“I don’t know. Just text me.”
“OK, I’ll send memes, and you can respond when you feel like it.”
“You should send me pictures of Luke.”
Luke! Why didn’t I think of that?
Empty nesters need a project, and @tuesdayswithluke became mine. I’d stay in touch, through the dog. Send love, through the dog. The kids would send back proof of life with heart emojis. It’d be heartwarming. Moments of togetherness.
I started carrying my phone around, waiting for the chance to catch Luke doing something adorable. Tilting his head to the side while begging. Falling asleep so soundly his head slid off the edge of his bed.
At first, I texted a photo of Luke to both the kids each Tuesday. I called it Tuesdays with Luke—like the book, but without the dying man and meaningful conversations. It was simple. Private. But I took so many pictures I lost track of which ones I’d sent. If only there was a platform where I could upload pictures, and the kids could see them. If only such a thing existed…
When I sat down to open an Instagram account for Luke, I felt completely ridiculous but also a little excited. I could hear Steve’s voice in my head: It’s a DOG, Janet. I was creating a social media account for a dog. I think I needed the stupidity and the sweetness of it. I’ve read all about how social media corrupts us, how we should all get off it, how we shouldn’t chase likes. But the children.
Luke became a Dog of Instagram, and for the past 10 months, wherever the kids have gone—to college, London, on road trips—Luke has popped up in their feeds. There’s Luke napping. There’s Luke begging. Oh, look, he’s riding in the car. Mom and Dad took him somewhere. Heart emoji, heart emoji, heart emoji.
Luke is a great subject because he’s handsome. Luke is a bad subject because he doesn’t cooperate. He has a purity about him that means he does what he wants when he wants regardless of what you want. So, when I pull out my phone, he doesn’t pose; he tries to lick it. Our 20-year-old says this is good, that if @tuesdayswithluke became sophisticated, it’d kill it. “It’s camp, Mom.” We can’t take it seriously because we know: It’s a joke wrapped in an empty nester’s love. It’s not going viral. It’s for an audience of two.
Still. A few months ago, I took Luke on a needlessly long dog walk trying to capture him peeing on a fire hydrant. I thought a video of that would bump @tuesdayswithluke up a notch. He’d be like the dogs in the cartoons, or in the Banksy art, where a dog waters a hydrant with the words “You Complete Me” floating above. It’d be an epic, hilarious, artistic Tuesday with Luke. Our neighborhood has lots of hydrants, so I thought it’d be a quick and easy shoot, but Luke trotted on for almost three miles without giving me what I wanted. I’d just about given up when finally, a few blocks from home, he veered off the sidewalk, sniffed, and lifted his leg. Good boy! I filmed. Waited for Tuesday. Posted.
The kids, not for the first time, didn’t get it. “I don’t understand why you posted a video of him peeing,” one said. “That’s gross.”
The week before, I’d posted a close-up of him begging for a walk, with his big brown eyes staring intently at me. “I’m just a boy, standing in front of a girl, asking her to walk me,” I wrote. It was a banger of a caption, but I’m still waiting for someone to laugh. Our 20-year-old has been to Notting Hill but apparently hasn’t seen the movie.
The kids may not get my humor, but they do love @tuesdayswithluke, and they tell me it brings joy to their friends as well. Friends of friends at Virginia Tech follow Luke. A local friend asked to do a cameo. A kid at a college in Chicago “needs” me to keep posting every week. “They eat it up,” our 18-year-old told me.
So, when Luke needed a bath this summer because he’d rolled in compost, I asked our 20-year-old to grab her camera. When I realized Luke likes watermelon, I asked our 18-year-old to feed it to him so I could video that, too. When I went to London in the spring, I asked Steve to snap a photo so we didn’t miss a week. I probably have more images on my phone of Luke than our kids at this point. Maybe that’s what happens when the kids grow up, and the dog stays home.
The quality of my photography is poor. And sometimes I nearly forget to upload something. I wonder if @tuesdayswithluke has run its course, but the kids say it hasn’t, so I keep grabbing my phone.
Someday, Luke will chase his final rabbit, and I’ll write his obit. But presumably, he’ll live on in the cloud. Sticking his nose out the car window. Staring at the camera with his big brown eyes. Sweetening the thread between a mother and her growing-up children.
A good boy. Most of the time.
Janet Watkins, a writer and editor, is the co-founder of Pie & Chai. She just ended a 10-year career as a nonprofit director. She lives in Fredericksburg with her husband, her dog, and her college-age kids when they’re home on breaks.