Every morning before we leave the house, no matter how rushed we are, Zane and I stand in the doorway and tell our dog Maisy and cats Zena and Pounce something very important, if not profound:
Stay off the phone.
We cannot turn the key in the door to begin our day unless we have said the words. When I've forgotten, the rest of the day feels 'off', as if I'd left the stove on or something. Our words are not just a brief reminder of the rules of the house, but a benediction of sorts. It's our way of telling our critters, and the house, that we will be back at some point.
Where did those words come from? The first three lines came from my parents. Each and every time they went out and left us at home by ourselves, they'd give us these three rules. At the time, they were most particular about us staying off the phone; call waiting didn't exist, and if they needed to call us, they did not want the phone line to be busy. Hearing those words each time my parents left became a little comforting after awhile, even if we didn't always follow their warning about staying off the phone or not leaving the house. Even when my brother and I left home, I know that my parents continued to give their concise instructions to the dog.
The last two lines became attached to the first three because my friend Evil Laura* would say them to HER dog Emily before we left the house. Evil Laura's parents would say those words to her, and her sisters, before they went out for the evening. I was happy to find out that my family wasn't completely weird after all, and Evil Laura's ritual was added to mine.
And the ritual was complete.
My husband thinks I'm crazy for giving instructions to the pets, and maybe he is right. It's not as though they can understand what Zane and I say, but maybe our tone is all they need. I've thought about my need to say my little bit before I leave the house. Does my little compulsion mean that I'm loopy in some way? Probably. Do my neighbors think I'm odd? Most likely.
But there are quite a few instances of similar rituals in the many cultures of our world. There are the rituals that people do before hunting, in order to assure that food is brought home. There are the rituals that people do before going on spirit quests, or long journeys. There are the rituals that signal births, deaths, and everything in between. And we all seem to have our rituals that ensure "luck", such as blowing on dice before they are thrown, or kissing a chicken foot before pulling the arm on the slot machine. Don't even get me started on all the rituals that are alive and well in sports.
So why not a little discussion with the family pets?
*Evil Laura is not actually evil. It's just that I have two friends named Laura, and the other one is really, really, really good. Yes, alcohol was involved.