Sunday, June 28, 2009

Please say you didn't

Oh, but I did. I sang.

You know that old joke about not being able to "carry a tune if it had a handle on it?" I'm fairly certain that joke was written specifically about me. No one in my family can sing. It's sad, because we're all big music lovers.

Yesterday, the kid and her dad and I attended a rousing summer party/cook-out given by some friends from our church. Their daughter is friends with our daughter, which worked out well because A had someone to play with the whole time.

I started out slowly, sipping some punch that was lightly spiked with rum. Eventually I started mixing random liquids that were set up on a table outside the party tent. I realized I made one of my drinks way too strong, so I squeezed an orange wedge into the cup because, you know, that always helps. After the sun went down, the hosts fired up "Rock Band 2." There was a drum kit, two guitars, and a couple of microphones. And a huge screen. The kids at the party were the first to try out a song, belting out a downright decent version of "We Got the Beat," singing the lyrics as they scrolled across the top of the screen. A was dying to take the microphone and sing but we pointed out to her that there was just one little problem: she can't read.

Various partygoers got up and sang or banged out a tune. As I was watching someone flipping through the song list, "Alex Chilton" by The Replacements went by. I exclaimed, as did a librarian (the hip kind, not the dowdy, wool-skirt-wearing kind) standing next to me. We conferred for a few minutes and it was clear we both a) loved the song and b) knew the words. I should add that the librarian is pregnant and therefore was not drinking. It seemed I had consumed enough for the both of us (and her baby), though.

Moments later, microphones in hand, we were singing "Alex Chilton," accompanied by kids on the guitars and drums. The kids didn't know the song, but played admirably. In fact, I am pretty sure most of the partgoers were equally perplexed by our music selection. But, we sang it loud, we sang it proud. My new librarian friend and I chatted about Paul Westerberg for a while until eventually P and I decided we should be responsible parents and go home. (He drove.) I gave the librarian my card and demanded that she Facebook me. I also may have proposed to her at some point. It's hard to say.

Anywho, it was a fun evening. I returned a call to my mother when I got home, and mentioned to her that I sang. Into a microphone. In front of other people. She paused for a moment. "Oh . . . you sang?" Her voice held a mixture of surprise and sympathy. I'm headed to a picnic this afternoon with some of my therapy dog friends and I just want to reassure you that neither alcohol nor microphones will be in attendance. I'd hate to keep embarrassing my mother long distance like that. Little does she know, I came very close to performing "Monkey Gone to Heaven" as an encore last night.

Speaking of music, lately I have really been digging The Phenomenal Handclap Band. I doubt their music is going to bring about peace in the Middle East or anything like that, but it's fun.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

And this bird you cannot change

Greg is a good student but he runs around a lot and makes fun of the other kids.

This is an excerpt from a report my stad received when he was in elementary school. His mom saved it and at some point passed it along to my parents. I think it's sitting in a box somewhere at their house.

I have not received that exact report on my child, but I think we're getting close. It's something to strive for. Earlier this week, I did receive this little gem from her teacher:

A had a hard time listening and following directions. She did like playing with playdoe [sic] and shapes. Disruptive to others at nap. Please have A wear shorts under her dresses, she has troubles not showing her underwear.

Great, she's a troublemaker and an exhibitionist. I've learned, though, that there is a fine line between teaching a child to follow the rules and squelching a free spirit. My daughter is a bright, loving, night owl of a child who has no time or patience for social norms and rules. She changes her clothes several times a day. She walks out of her underwear and leaves them where they lay (she gets this from her Aunt Craggy - hi sis!) She gallops in public and talks to strangers. She dances whenever and wherever there is music, even if it's just the "Dragon Tales" theme song. She has no interest in schedules or puzzles. You might say she's got a lot of joie de vivre.

I'm learning, however, that her new teacher doesn't dig joie de vivre. Or talking during naptime. I understand that it does cause a problem if my child is disruptive when other children are sleeping. If I spent my day dealing with pre-schoolers I'd surely want them to nap, too. So, I had a talk with the kid. Again.

"I need you to play or read quietly during naptime so that you don't bother the other kids, okay?"

I could tell that, as usual, she was wearing her ornamental ears and not the functional pair - the oft-mentioned "listening ears" that they want her wearing at Kindercare. I decided to try a different tactic and made her shake on it. She shook my hand and nodded solemnly while agreeing to try harder during naptime.

"Having integrity means doing what you say you're going to do, and when you shake on something you have to do it. Do you have integrity?" I asked her.

A nodded again. "I have tegrity," she replied and went back to making herself a moustache out of a yellow Bendaroo.

There's a part of me that would love to home-school her and let her be who she wants to be. But, our financial obligations dictate that I have to maintain gainful employment. So instead, I try to walk that line. I want to raise a polite child who has respect for others, but who is also a free-thinker and not a conformist. I envy her and wish I could be that free spirit. I have a friend who has an in-ground pool and occasionally she invites us over for a swim. Each time I visit this friend's house, I notice that the pile on her dining room table grows ever larger. I have actually never seen the surface, truth be told. And to be honest, I really admire my friend's ability to frolic in the pool while the clutter expands inside the house. I would be the type to say, "Just five more minutes and I promise we'll go swimming." And really, that's no way to be.

My daughter works on me and my goody-two-shoes ways as much as she can, though. I was trying to work on a website the other day, but she pulled me away and made me play the hand-clap game "Miss Mary Mack" on the couch instead. She requires me to dance to the theme song for "Bob the Builder." ("Can we fix it? Yes we can!") She pulls my hand until I agree to skip across the parking lot, into the grocery store. "Mama, can you do this?" she'll ask, hopping on one foot and contorting her face with her hands.

I can, and I do.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We Ain't Hitched?

P and I have been married over 12 years now. A few weeks ago, the HR person at his place of employment advised him that he had to provide proof that A is his kid and that I am his wife. Failing to show such documentation would result in us getting booted from the medical insurance. We fork over something like $6,000 a year out of pocket for the insurance, so I find it amusing that they think we'd pay that kind of money illegitimately.

I handed my husband a copy of our daughter's birth certificate (when you adopt a child, the birth certificate is re-issued after the adoption is finalized to reflect the names of the adoptive parents as well as the child's legal last name - ours). We also have a separate court document that proves she's ours. If she's not ours, that kid owes us a lot of money. Ha! I also gave him a copy of our marriage certificate. I felt a little bit iffy about the marriage certificate because I noticed it had no seal on it. However, it had never caused a problem before (we had used that same certificate to buy a house and adopt a child) so I figured it would be fine. After all, who would go to the trouble to forge a document like this and then hang onto it for 12 years?

As luck would have it, the certificate was not, in fact, accepted. The HR person notified P via email that we had not shown proof that we had filed the certificate with the court in Fairfax County, VA, where we were married. I went into complete and total panic mode when I saw that email. What? We were supposed to file something? The momentary thought that we were not legally married - well, it was like a bad sitcom. A completely unfunny one at that.

Then it occurred to me that if every couple had to file paperwork after their wedding, virtually no one would be legally married. I dug through filing cabinets and boxes, looking for some official-looking wedding-related document. Then I remembered that I have a plastic Rubbermaid tote full of stuff from the wedding itself. I had to dig out the entire closet in the office/guest room to get to it. The good news is that I found a watch I lost last year as I was digging.

I opened the bin and found the ring bearer's pillow, extra copies of the invitations, honeymoon planning brochures, and lots of other goodies that I saved from the festivities. I also found a form that indicated that we could send it in and receive an official copy of our marriage certificate. Oops. It would have cost me a couple bucks to do it in 1997, but lots and lots of bucks to do it online (and have it sent by second-day air) in 2009. I immediately placed the order, of course. I also ran across a sheet explaining that the officiant (not us) had to send in the paperwork to the county within five days of the service. I was relieved to learn that we are, in fact, legally married. I didn't want to have to explain to my daughter that she is illegitimate. Now that I think about, it, though, a second wedding would have thrilled her. She is always handing me flowers "for your wedding, Mama" and picking out dresses I can wear to my wedding (usually frothy yellow numbers that would make me look like death warmed over). She gets mad when she sees photographs from our nuptials, because we didn't invite her.

Since I had my wedding stuff out, I thought the kid would get a kick out of it, so I called her in and showed her the bin and all the relics therein. She, however, was interested in only one item in the bin: the knife we used to cut our wedding cake. I don't know what to say about that . . .

Sunday, June 21, 2009

There she sits buddy just a-gleaming in the sun*

*Bonus points if you know the song without Googling it. Your entry doesn't count if you are related to me.

Did I tell you I bought a bicycle on Craigslist? Yessirree! I wanted a bike, but I didn't want to go to Dick's and spend $300+ on one. If I did that and then didn't ride it, I'd feel like dung. $50 didn't seem like quite such a commitment, however. A guy on the other side of town spends the winters fixing up bikes as a hobby and then sells them when the warm weather rolls around. I called him a few weeks ago and he said he had several women's bikes in his basement, ready to ride.

I was interested, but decided I'd better take P along with me in case the innocuous bike tinkerer turned out to be a psychopath. Since the bicycles were all in his basement, I had a disturbing vision of this Boo Radley type saying, "Come right down heeeeere . . . " and then the last thing I see is the business end of a hatchet. So, we made it a family excursion and headed across town to the bike man's house.

Well, the bike man turns out to be about 5 foot nothing. And a chain smoker. When we got there, he was walking a geriatric semi-dog that was no larger than my shoe. So yeah, I could've taken this guy with my eyes shut. But, better safe than sorry, you know.

I chose a red Schwinn touring bike. It has no kickstand, but rides just fine. I've taken it out on several excursions around the 'hood and hope to hit a nearby bike trail soon. The warm weather took its own sweet time arriving this year - I turned on the heat as recently as two weeks ago. I also entered a local charity ride that takes place next month, so that should give me some motivation.

In my early 20s, I owned a red Giant racing bike. I did a lot of biking back then, and I've really missed it. There is something about cycling that really appeals to me. I don't know if it is the fact that it is a largely solo activity, or if it's the wind in my ears, or perhaps I simply enjoy the mind-clearing benefits of repetitive pedaling. When I lived in Virginia, I used to park my car in Old Town Alexandria and then hit the Mount Vernon Trail, which winds along the Potomac. I listened to my music ON CASSETTE thankyouverymuch. There were two ways I could go. If I went south towards Mount Vernon, the path was shady but hilly. If I went towards the District, the path was flatter but sunny (which would sound like a good thing unless you're like me and you once got a sunburn selling Christmas trees). I usually alternated. I liked riding to National Airport (I still have trouble calling it Reagan National) and then watching the planes for a while.

One time, I was cycling south towards Mount Vernon. I encountered a largish hill and had to stand up on the pedals in order to make it to the top. A more experienced cyclist passed me on the hill, but then turned his head back and said, "Good job, you're strong." I tell you, to this day it was one of the best compliments I ever received. I want to remember what it feels like to be strong. Oh to be 21 again, pedaling along the Potomac, with no credit card debt to speak of, no mortgage. The world is too much with me now (with apologies to Wordsworth). I gotta pedal my way back to my peace.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

As my daughter grows and matures, it is fun to watch her language skills continue to develop. She has an excellent vocabulary and often startles me with how much she knows. Many times, though, she'll pick up a word or a phrase and then use it frequently, but not always completely . . . correctly.

The other day she walked up to me as I was working online in the office/guest room. She moved in very close until we were almost forehead to forehead. Affecting a serious tone of voice, she looked at me through her lashes and said, "Mama. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

Me: I don't know, sweetie. What are you thinking?

Her: (brightening a bit) What?

Me: No, I mean, what are you thinking so that I can tell you if it's what I'm thinking?

Her: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Me: Ummm . . .

Then later in the evening we repeated almost the same conversation but with a different ending.

Her: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Me: I don't know, what are you thinking?

Her: What?

Me: Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Her: I'm thinking that the giraffe . . . might give us a ride down the road.

Me: Okay, that wasn't what I was thinking at all. Sorry.

The other term she's picked up is "Cheers!" She knows that you hold up a drink and offer a toast. Now we have to toast about eight times a day. Often she hands me a plastic cup from her kitchen. The cup usually contains a plastic strawberry (which I know for a fact has been in the dog's mouth). She raises her own cup. "Mama, you have to cheers."

Sometimes I am distracted and I set down the cup without pretending to drink from it. This makes her scowl. "Mama! You forgot to cheers!"

"Oh, sorry!" I'll say and then lift the plastic cup. Clink!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Weekend Highlights

This weekend we blew through two festivals. The kid and I headed out of town Saturday morning and stayed overnight in a hotel.

Here are the highlights:

On Friday night, Gideon's penis got stuck in the "out" position. Not all the way out, but about 2 to 2 1/2 inches. It would not go back in and he didn't seem alarmed about it. However, I have heard horror stories during my rescue tenure about stuck penises. I fretted over it for about a half hour until P suggested I haul the dog into the bathtub and try using the shower head (which is connected to a hose). I figured he knows more about wieners than I do, so I decided to give it a shot. I grabbed Giddy and placed him in the tub. I then aimed the shower head at his junk. I felt terrible because at first the water was far too hot. I switched to cooler water and before long his penis was back where it belongs. Crisis averted. Speak of it never.

On Saturday, the kid and I stopped at a mall to look for a Father's Day gift. She announced that she had to use the potty. "Does it have magic flush?" she asked as we walked into the public restroom. We entered the first stall and I spotted the sensor on the wall. Ugh. Normally I try to carry post-it notes for this sort of occasion, but I didn't have one in my purse this time. Unable to think of a better option, I covered the sensor with the palm of my hand.

"Okay, you can go," I told her. She hopped on the potty and then told me I had to stand outside. She doesn't want me looking at her poop (and I know this because she is always screaming, "DON'T LOOK AT MY POOP!"). I pulled my hand away from the sensor and the toilet immediately flushed, a violent sort of WHOOSH that did leave one with the impression that it could easily take a small butt right along with it. The kid hopped off the toilet in a flash.

A then instructed me to remain in the stall with her and to cover the sensor with my hand. However, I had to agree to keep my eyes closed. So, picture me standing behind a toilet in a public restroom with my hand flat against the wall. With my eyes closed. While my kid pinches a loaf. Good times, good times.

On Saturday morning, the kid and I went to a huge farmers' market, where a safety fair was also taking place. The whole area was very, very crowded and there was a lot going on. A got to climb onto a fire truck, sit in a police car (and that'd better be the first and last time she does that), and pretend to drive a city bus. She kept getting excited and running off, which was frustrating me to no end. Call me overprotective, but she's going to have to put up with my crazed abduction fears until further notice.

After she'd run off a half dozen times, I'd had enough. I scooped her up, held her on my hip, and had a "talk" with her. Just then, a woman came up alongside me and said, "Hi, I have a degree in childhood development and I just want to tell you that it's great that you were speaking to your daughter so positively! So many parents are so negative. Keep up the great work!"

Now, I don't know what this woman thought she heard me say, but in actuality, I was threatening my child (and her children and her children's children) in every way I could think of. Something like this: "If you run off one more time, somebody is going to put you in their car and take you away forever. And then we'll never see you again. You don't want that, do you? And stop crying about your balloon. I told you eighty times it would pop if you kept poking it." I'm sure I threw in a few more Mom-gems.

Normally, I actually do try to speak with my daughter in a positive manner. I was paying attention when Super Nanny said that it's important to get down to the child's eye level and speak to them rationally. But when it comes to my kid endangering her own safety, the gloves are off. Since Miss-I-Have-a-Degree seemed to have heard something entirely different, though, I just smiled and nodded.

On Saturday evening, A and I met a friend of mine for dinner at Red Robin. As usual, the kid announced that she needed to use the bathroom, because she is pretty determined to see the inside of every public restroom from here to Poughkeepsie. I waited outside the stall since that seems to be the new protocol. When she was done, I lifted her up so that she could wash her hands. I flipped the faucet handle upward and waited. Little did I know, this was the one public restroom in the free world that actually has hot water running through its pipes. In my 39 years, I have never been in a restroom that featured water warmer than 70 degrees. Until now. My poor baby thrust her hands under the faucet and immediately began to cry. I quickly sought out the cold water and made her put her hands in it for a few minutes. Yes, here she is, folks - mom of the year! Boils her child's hands in hot water at the Red Robin. :::sigh:::

On Sunday, the kid and I worked at the rescue's booth at a dog festival. It was a beautiful day and there was a great turn-out. Many of the other rescues had spin-the-wheel games for a buck and A won a bunch of prizes (including a whistle - grrrrrr). When our shift was over, we packed up and started to head back to the car. A few of the other volunteers were sitting in chairs behind the table. My daughter walked up to one of them and, inexplicably, rubbed my friend's left boob. Then she walked to the next seated volunteer and did the same to her. Finally, she waved and started to walk away from the tent. I stood there, somewhat dumbfounded. "Sweetie!" I called after her. "When you say good-bye you can just, you know, touch their shoulder or something." I didn't know what to say. I can't think of any reason why the good-bye ritual would include bosom-rubbing (except maybe at a frat party). Now my friends from the rescue are left to ponder, "What is that woman teaching her child?!"

Saturday, June 13, 2009

But do they accept the baby?

New dress made by her personal stylist

After my daughter was born, we had to wait six months until her adoption could be finalized in court. During that six-month period, we were required to complete several follow-up visits with the social worker from the adoption agency.

At one of those visits, the social worker came to our home and perched on the couch. I sat on the floor with the baby as she rolled around and played on a blanket. The social worker flipped through a file folder and asked me some random questions. The one that sticks in my mind the most was: "Does your family accept the baby?" I almost laughed out loud but bit my lip instead. It seems a ridiculous thing to ask but yet, I know there are people out there who cannot accept someone who does not share their DNA.

Fast forward four years to June 2009. A and I noticed a box on our front porch as we pulled into the driveway on Thursday. A few minutes later, she hopped out of the van and ran full speed towards the front door. She squatted over the box and flipped it over. "It has my name on it!" she squealed. I recognized my mother's handwriting on the label.

The box contained a handmade dress (one of many, many ensembles my mother has made for her curly-haired granddaughter over the past four years), a nightgown we had sent my mom to repair (the seam "broked all by itself"), and two hardback books that Meemaw had picked up at the store.

Does my family accept the baby? How to explain that not only does my family adore "the baby," but . . . most days I am pretty sure they (and even many of my friends) actually like her better than me? (It's okay - I am pretty irritating). Sometimes my mom or my sisters will call and if I answer the phone, they will just ask to speak to my daughter directly. They send her fabulous gifts for her birthday and for Christmas. They hop a flight to visit her whenever they can. My mom is convinced that A somehow got her curly hair from her. We talk about how A bosses other children around like my middle sister always did when she was a kid.

Accept the baby? Well, just barely.

Friday, June 12, 2009

La Question du Jour

With summer upon us, we'll be faithfully attending every fair and festival we can find. Funnel cake or bust, man. Mediocre bands and deep-fried-something-or-other, here we come! (Please don't tell Holly, my Weight Watchers leader, about this little outburst, 'kay? Let's just keep it between me and you.)

So, here is the question. How can we convince this person:

That peeing in one of these:

Will not, in fact, kill her? Sure, most of us find it at least mildly disturbing when we have to use one. It may cause some slight damage to her psyche if my little buttercup does the same. She may develop a roaring case of OCD as a result of expelling her fruit punch into a big hole filled with the unspeakable, but in the end, she'll probably live through it.

So far, she is not sold. She'd rather have her bladder explode. When my sister was in town for the marathon last month, there was a party of sorts at the finish line, complete with beer, brats, and a band. There was a long row of porta potties nearby. A decided she had to go, so I walked her over and opened one of the available potty booths. She leaned in slightly, frowned, and said, "No." I opened the next one. No. And three more after that. The kid made it clear that each one horrified her more than the one before it. In her defense, I do suspect that long-distance runners have a tendency to develop some pretty wicked intestinal issues after completing a marathon, but I'll keep the details to myself.

We had the same problem last year at the state fair and other events. She'd say she had to go and I'd show her what her options were. She'd shake her head and decline. I'd suggest she could just close her eyes and pee really fast. She'd walk away.

Any tips? How does one convince a four-year-old of the merits of something that, when it comes right down to it, truly has very few selling points?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Ideas, they come to me in the wee hours. Sometimes they are unmistakably bad ones, such as "Hey, I should rip up the carpeting to see what's under it." Occasionally I get an answer to a problem that's been plaguing me. When my friend Kevin died, I couldn't find a way to write about him until the words finally came to me in the darkness. A few nights ago, I woke up at 3:38 a.m. with the thought that I should sign up to be a speaker at church. Talk about "coming out of left field."

At our UU fellowship, the pastor is in the pulpit every other week. We share her with another congregation. On the in-between weeks, the program committee typically arranges for a speaker from outside the fellowship. I can't tell you how much I learn by having different speakers each week. At one service we learned about yoga and meditation. Another week we learned about oral histories from a Native American speaker. Sometimes the presenter is someone from our own fellowship. There's quite a talent pool there as well.

When I woke up the next morning, the idea was still firmly in my brain (often they are gone by sunrise, and that's probably a good thing). In spite of myself, I created a brief outline and sent it off to the program chairperson to get her input. My proposed topic, which is still relatively sketchy at this point, is "Breaking and Repairing the Human/Animal Bond." I figured I could draw heavily from my ten years in rescue, of course. I planned to work in an angle about animals and spirituality as well. My big idea sort of peters out after that, so I guess I must have fallen back to sleep at some point.

My outline was accepted and before I knew it, I was booked to speak in October. The only problem with this scenario is that . . . I am not a good public speaker. I am not being modest here - I just turn into a big goober when you put me in front of a crowd. I act like I just hatched out of a pod and have never been out in public before. I volunteered to speak, though, because I've somehow convinced myself I've got a worthwhile message to impart. If I get through this, I may just keep my promise to try kayaking before I die.

To my UU friends who may actually be at this service in October . . . whatever you do, do not attempt to make eye contact with me under any circumstances. I will whip out my disk-shooting spaceship* and aim straight for your forehead. Don't test me.

*If you have a cat, you have to get one of these. Dogs are fun, too, but they tend to run off with the foam disks and eat them. Cats just look spectacularly annoyed.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Saturday Morning Drama

(Attempted) Murderess

I rolled out of bed at 6 a.m. yesterday so that I could make it to my Weight Watchers meeting at 8 (yes, it takes me two hours to get my act together - you got something to say about it?). I let the dogs out into the back yard and then headed to the bathroom. As I wandered back down the hallway, I heard Fritz barking outside. I am not one of those dog owners who allows her dogs to bark at 6 a.m., so I rushed to the sliding glass door and started to call them in. I saw all three dogs freaking out over something on the ground, pawing at the grass and barking. My heart sank. Oh no.

I threw on my flip-flops and ran off the deck, waving my arms frantically and screaming, "Leave it alone!" I didn't yet know what "it" was, but I did feel confident that whatever it was, it surely was not enjoying the scene as much as the dogs were. I spotted the young bird on the ground, frantically trying to flee from the momentarily distracted dogs. I ran around in my pajamas, trying to shoo the dogs inside. I think I stepped in poop about eight times. The boys, Fritz and Giddy, actually listened and went inside. Gretchen, however, was not giving up so easily. She grabbed the bird in her mouth and sprinted across the yard. I yelled out every command that any dog has ever learned just in case one of them might register. "Drop it! Leave it! Down! Sit!"

Finally, she dropped the bird. It lay motionless on the ground, the brief weeks of its life having just flashed before its eyes. I grabbed Gretchen by her skull-and-crossbones collar and led her inside. Boxers are not natural hunters but apparently they are natural . . . torturers. Or something. I stood there in the dining room with my heart pounding, grateful that I have privacy fencing and that it was unlikely anyone had spotted me galloping around in my pajamas, braless, shrieking at the dogs. They might have heard my maniacal screaming, but at least I spared them the visual on that one.

I fed the dogs and tried to figure out what to do. I finally summoned the courage to look out through the door. The bird was now sitting upright in the dirt (our back yard is in a sorry state - dogs and grass, it seems, are mutually exclusive) and did not seem overly stressed. He appeared to be waiting patiently for a bus. I grabbed a shoe box and an old washcloth and tiptoed across the deck and over to the bird, while the dogs watched with rapt attention. I scooped him up and put him in the box. He didn't put up a fuss at all. I looked him over and the only obvious injury appeared to be to one of his feet - it looked like one toe (?) was possibly broken. I put the open box in the garage and put a paper towel over it.

When P finally rolled out of bed to find out why I had been screaming a half-hour earlier, I asked him to check and see if the bird was still alive. You probably saw this coming but yeah, the box was empty. My feathered but flightless charge could hop like a pro, as it turns out. P recaptured the wayward bird and this time we put the lid on and weighed it down. There were two small holes in the box. Before long the bewildered captive began flinging himself at the lid and poking his beak through the holes.

I put the box in my car and after stopping at my meeting just long enough to weigh in, I drove the bird to our local wildlife sanctuary. I am beyond grateful to have this facility nearby, as I've needed it quite a bit. Our back yard is the size of a postage stamp and hosts exactly one tree (a large, well-established tree). We've tried many times to plant a second tree, but apparently young saplings have certain requirements and "daily flood of urine" isn't one of them. As for animals, we do absolutely nothing to attract wildlife to our wee yard. We don't hang feeders or anything of the sort. We don't plant vegetables. And yet, someone insists on giving birth in our yard every year. We have a deck that's about a foot off the ground, which is perfect for labor and delivery, I guess. It's so low to the ground that we can't get under there, but small mammals sure can. One year it was opossums and last year it was rabbits (and those are just the ones we know about). When Karl was alive he was always shoving his nose under the deck and pulling out baby whatevers. Sometimes he killed them outright and sometimes he only put a good scare into them. Many times I have taken injured and/or petrified juvenile furballs over to the wildlife sanctuary for rehabilitation and release. I really don't know what I'd do if the sanctuary wasn't there. Now that Karl has died, I've seen countless rabbits in the yard this spring - I wonder if word has spread that ding-dong-the-black-dog's-gone. They are probably copulating under the deck as I type this.

I can't help but wonder if some of these animals are just getting really bad real estate advice from their agent or something. Seriously, of all the houses on this street, they choose the one with THREE dogs in it? The birds should have been safe up in the tree, but it seems something went terribly wrong. In addition to the not-yet-ready-to-fly bird the dogs found in the yard, there was another, more macabre, discovery. On the deck railing, which is probably just 7 or 8 inches wide, lay a dead bird. It's feet were in the air. I assume it fell out of the same nest and had the misfortune of slamming into the railing on its way down. I quickly scooped it into a bag so that the kid wouldn't spot it when she got up.

As for the living bird, the wildlife rehabilitator told me that she thought he was in pretty good shape - just too young to fly. I am hopeful that he'll get a happy ending. He seemed pretty feisty for a bird who had just been in a dog's mouth an hour before.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When a black and white world turns grey

As it is for most kids, the world was very much black and white to me when I was growing up. This is wrong, this is right, and never the twain shall meet. I grew up in a liberal household and for the most part, was free to develop my own philosophies. My mother is a pro-choice Democrat, progressive in her religious views, and I'm sure her political and philosophical leanings had an impact on my own intellectual development. Nothing was shoved down my throat, though. I felt confident on my own that I knew what was what.

The murder of Dr. George Tiller earlier this week brought the abortion debate back into the spotlight once again. I gathered from reading various news reports that even many of the most ardent pro-lifers were quick to distance themselves from the alleged killer. Killing a man in his place of worship, I think most of us would agree, is particularly low.

So, where do I stand in the abortion debate? I am not on the proverbial fence, but rather, just to the left of it. My belief is that abortion must always be legal. I believe that a desperate woman with an unplanned (and perhaps unwanted) fetus in her womb may possibly do incredible and irreparable harm to herself if she has no legal options. Coat hanger abortions, back alley abortions - people will find a way. This was a reality prior to 1973, when the Supreme Court decided that safe and legal was better than the alternative.

Having said that, however, I'm not opposed to legislation that restricts the time frame in which a woman can seek an abortion. Each year, the threshold at which a premature baby can be saved creeps slowly backward. While 24 weeks seems generally to be considered the cut-off for viability, infants as young as 22 weeks have survived. It seems reasonable to me that if a pregnant woman truly feels that an abortion is necessary, it should be performed within the first trimester. I say this with no medical background whatsoever. If there are circumstances under which a late term abortion is warranted, perhaps I am just ignorant of what those circumstances could be.

My perspective on this topic is obviously colored by the fact that I am unable to bear biological children (or at least I stopped trying after four miscarriages). No one is more acutely aware of the preciousness of a baby than a woman who cannot have one. If you think the public in general gets mad every time a baby is left in a dumpster or a public restroom, try asking a group of infertile women how they feel about it. In an ideal world, maybe more women would choose adoption when faced with the prospect of birthing a child that she is not financially/emotionally/physically able to raise. There is a stigma there, though, and I understand that. Some women do not have adequate access to counseling, medical care, and other types of support, and part of the problem lies there.

My daughter's birthmother had a few options when she unexpectedly became pregnant. She was with a man who did her wrong. She thought he loved her. She thought he was a good guy. What woman among us has not invested herself in at least one bad apple? I know I attracted a few back in the day. A's birthmother found herself in a difficult position, and she chose the hardest possible path: she chose adoption. This was not the easy way out by any stretch. This was spending nine months of her life caring for and loving a baby that she did not have the resources or support to raise. This was opening herself up to the scrutiny of everyone she knew (and strangers, too). Her selfless decision changed my life.

Because of my daughter, I can no longer think about the abortion debate the way I used to. When I was younger, it was in a bubble all by itself and it had no external reference points attached to it. But now it does. What was once black and white is now firmly grey. I feel the same way about the death penalty, though that is a topic for another day. I used to be in favor of it and now I'm not. This grey world is in many ways harder to navigate than the old one, the one where I thought I knew what I was talking about. Life is messy. It refuses to be tied up in a bow.


Please note: I have turned off the comments on this post. I know it is very risky to write about abortion and I fully expected to receive comments on both sides, but I'd like to move on to other topics now. Merci!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Yeller Thing

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I spent my entire adult life trying to become a mom so that I could be the proud recipient of some macaroni art. I soon learned that the old adage "be careful what you wish for" is true. I've got art aplenty. The Louvre has nothing on me. Well, if the Louvre were filled to the rafters with construction paper, glue, and glitter, that is.

My daughter brought this home from school last week. Just in case your eyes are not transmitting the proper information to your brain: it's a piece of paper that has been crumpled up and then glued to a popsicle stick. I turned it over in my hands a few times.

"What is it, sweetie?" I asked.

"It's a yeller thing," she replied, with a look that told me that she was losing patience with my woeful lack of intelligence and/or observation skills. She held the crumpled paper to her mouth and yelled, "Hey, Gretchen!" into it. Lucky Gretchen. The day that A claimed Gretchen as "her" dog was either the best or the worst day of Gretchen's life, depending on how you look at it.

My best guess is that the project started out as some sort of megaphone, but something clearly went awry somewhere between the design and production phases (and it definitely never made it to the Quality Assurance team). The real question, though, is what do I do with a "yeller thing?"

As a project one weekend, we assembled and painted a wooden art board for the kid's room. It has a bunch of clothespins poking out of it, so as new artwork comes through the door, I usually hang it there. When that becomes full, some of the art moves to a Rubbermaid tote in the basement. Many of the projects that come home from school are pretty cute, such as a spider made out of a paper plate. However, many times she brings home a sheet of paper that is hosting a single swirl of blue marker. And that's it. Occasionally she'll even hand me an objet d'art that has some other kid's name on it. Yet it's clear that she expects me to treat all of the "art" with great reverence and respect.

What's a mom to do? Surreptitiously syphon some of it out of the house and into the recycling bin? Will she be in therapy as an adult? I wonder if Whistler's mother had this problem.