lorraine_cannistra-and-leahI’ve always liked the concept behind nicknames.  That certain people call you names different than you were given at birth, out of love and affection.  I’ve had plenty over the years.  Some are embarrassing from when I was small.  Nope, not even going there.  They are staying a secret.

Several of my friends called me “All Terrain Lorraine” when I was in college.  They liked the fact that my wheelchair could be pushed over most surfaces, even if that meant I was in for a bumpy ride.

A particular friend of mine from college has called me “quiche” for the last 30 years.  It started a few weeks after the two of us met.  Quiche Lorraine.  Get it?  Yeah, I know.  Sometimes I groan too.  But he has used it with an abundance of affection over the years.  It didn’t take long for it to stick.  And eventually, it grew on me.

When I was in grad school, I was hit by a car when I was waiting to cross the street in my wheelchair.  It was in the parking lot of my apartment complex and the poor guy who hit me was trying to back out while in an SUV.  Turns out I’m too low to see.  A concussion and a few stitches are what I got out of the deal. Personally, I think the whole experience was much tougher on the driver than it was on me.  When various friends of mine heard about the accident and knew I was okay, they started calling me “speedbump.”  That one made me laugh.

More recently, I have acquired another nickname that is very special to me.

As most people know, I have a service dog, and she is absolutely the light of my life.  Leah and I have been through a significant amount of adversity in the last few years, and these days I can say that the bond we share is stronger than I have with most people.  The thing about Leah (and Marshall before her) is that they always accepted me exactly as I am.  There has never been any pressure or expectation from my service dogs that I should do or be something different.  They have never seen me as “less than.”

Therefore, it has been easy to bond with them because they have always seemed to know who I am in my soul. My dogs have always been my family.

At the end of most days, Leah and I snuggle in my bed and we talk.  Hopefully, all the animal lovers out there will understand what I am about to say without thinking I am hallucinating.  Sometimes when the two of us are laying there together like that, she lets me know what she is thinking or what she needs.  Not in words, exactly.  But if I really tune into her and ask her a question, she has her own way of letting me know the answer.

For the 18 years that I have had service dogs, I have referred to myself as their “mommy.” It seemed to make sense.  I am single and have no human kids of my own, so my dogs have been my children.  People commonly refer to their animals as “fur babies,” right?

Well, a few months ago, one night when I was snuggling and talking to Leah, she communicated that she didn’t like me thinking of her as my child.  She let me know that she is my partner, she is my sister, she is my best friend, but she had no interest in being my kid.

The more I thought about it, she is absolutely right.  The relationship that I have with Leah is anything but one-sided.  She takes care of me just as much as I take care of her, and Leah helps me in many ways that I can never repay.

So, the new understanding, in practical terms, meant that we needed a new name for Leah to call me since “mommy” no longer encompassed my role in her life.  And I was clear that I wanted her to have a name for me that nobody else called me so that she would never be confused.  After a few days of having it tumble around in my head, I decided to expand on the “L” in my name and make it “Ellie.”

Once I got in the habit of calling myself “Ellie” around Leah, the dynamic between us significantly changed for the better.  In recent weeks, she snuggles closer, she seems to trust me more. And she always wants to know where I am.

By the way, I call her “sweet pea” most of the time.

Sometimes a nickname makes all the difference.