Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate

Not everyone agrees about the moment life begins, and just as perplexing is knowing at what point your child reaches maturity.

With fruits and vegetables, it's easy to tell. They are mature when signs of ripeness are visible. And that is when they're at their best.

My son Collin, eldest by 20 minutes, planned to come over from Grants Pass for the 4th of July weekend. He called Thursday to say, "There will be three of us coming." He and Pattie had just adopted a Lab-Border Collie mix. The puppy was only 8 weeks old.

Rick said exactly what I was thinking: We just had our carpets and sofas cleaned. We both love animals but we know what a puppy in the house means. What should we hide? What should we protect? What would remain of our garden after the long weekend?

We sighed passively. We tolerate, actually indulge, our own two dogs who leave drifts of fur on the hardwood floors, pine needles in the carpet and, despite what we'd like to think, jump on the sofa the minute we leave the house. Both Smitty and Martha have had the occasional lapse of memory and walked through the potato patch or missed the jump over a raised bed and landed smack dab in the middle of the onions. A puppy, we knew, had potential for big time disaster, but there was no use getting worked up about it.

I went to the store and bought the same gift I've given my other two grand-dogs: a name tag engraved with their human's contact information. That gift saved Dana's dog when she dug under a fence and escaped from a friend's yard. A neighbor caught ahold of Catalina long enough to dial my son's cell number. By the time Dana got there, Catalina had escaped again, but he tracked her down in a nearby lot where she'd gotten hung up in some blackberry bushes.

So, puppy got his name tag, a bag of designer puppy food and some treats shaped like gingerbread men. When Collin and Pattie arrived, Collin said, "Thomas, meet Grandma," and it was love at first sight. Thomas licked my face and I took in a whiff of pupppy breath.

Over the course of the weekend I watched my son do everything right with this puppy, including discipline and cleanup. In fact, he cleaned up our entire yard several times and did not discriminate between puppy droppings and those of the big dogs.

Sitting outside with Collin and Pattie Sunday afternoon while Thomas played, I recognized the perfect moment. I've been waiting for the right time to have a discussion with each of my sons about the inevitable. Recently I signed my last will and testament and made a living will and I wanted my boys-particularly my oldest son who lives closest to me-to know the details and my wishes. And I wanted to know how my children felt about my choices.

In my back yard among the flowers and vegetables, while birds sang, we spoke about things we had never spoken about together before. We considered "what ifs" and various scenarios and looked into the future. And although I tried to keep it light, we had tears in our eyes by the time we'd said it all. Collin hugged me and for the first time I saw a few gray hairs in his beard. Signs of ripeness.

Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate's publisher, at mthomasandshy;@tripandshy;licate.com, 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.