Saturday, April 28, 2012

My First Auction

Our city held an auction today. The auction featured over 400 bikes and a bunch of household stuff like VCRs (those went for a whole dollar each), rusty chains, and a snowman decoration for the lawn. It's all property that has been held by the police department for the past year. I'm not sure of any details beyond that. I'm guessing a lot of it is stolen property that was never claimed. I went to the auction more out of curiosity than anything else. P didn't ask for a bike, and hasn't indicated any interest whatsoever in owning a bike, but my goal (naturally!) was to get him a bike. I headed to our local fairgrounds and registered for the auction at 8 a.m.. It was something like 40 degrees and the auction was held inside an uninsulated metal building with all of the overhead doors left open. Suddenly, my cute floral flats were starting to seem like a pretty bad idea.

I was given bidding number 128.  I dug a pen out of my purse and started writing down the numbers for bikes that I thought might work for my husband. I also picked out a couple of women's bikes, although I wasn't specifically focused on getting a bike for myself since I already have one. Some of the bicycles were really nice - good brands like Trek, Cannondale, etc. Some of the bikes were rusty beyond all recognition. A couple bikes had biohazard stickers on them, placed there by the police department. I tried not to think about that too much. ("Mommy, is this dried blood on my new bike???") I also spotted a couple of possibilities for my daughter. She has a bike as well, but I thought it might be a good idea to get the next size up for when she gets a little older.

At 9:00, I made may to the bleachers and found a seat. I looked around and made a few observations about the predominantly male crowd. One, I seemed to be the only bidder without a trucker's hat advertising a taxidermy shop and/or hunting/fishing stuff (or even my preferred gun manufacturer). Two, I haven't worn a hole in my back pocket from putting my can of chewing tobacky there. And three, I was the only one wearing floral flats.  Since this was a first time at an auction, I thought I'd better get the scoop from a more seasoned bidder. As luck would have it, Grizzly Adams was sitting next to me and seemed to know what he was doing. Guys with mega beards are always super friendly - I think it's in their handbook or something. He explained to me how the bidding works and gave me a rough idea of how much the bikes usually go for.

Then, I basically just froze my ass and feet off while waiting for the numbers I had on my list. I saw bikes go for $2.50 to $100.  It was a tricky affair.  My biggest fear about the whole thing was not being able to understand the auctioneer. The truth is, I was totally unable to understand the auctioneer. Fear confirmed. I listened carefully and heard, "C'MON, FOLKS. BEEDA BEEDA BEEDA BEEDA SOLD!"  I was afraid that I'd bid on a bike and then head to the check-out table only to hear, "Okay, ma'am, your total for this bike with no chain and one wheel is . . . $547.50."

I bid on the first bike on my list, but the bidding quickly got out of my price range. I made a couple more attempts, before ending up with a $5.00 bike for my husband. Hey, at least he can't yell at me for spending too much money. About an hour later, I scored a bike for my daughter. It looked practically brand new!  I had my eye on a bike for myself, but they still had another 150 to go before getting to that one and, since I could no longer feel my feet, I thought it best that I called it a day.

It was an interesting little adventure. Now that I know how it works, I may go next year as well. You just never know when you might need a Leann Rimes CD (seriously, that was one of the item's in today's auction) or a ten-year-old hard drive.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Missing Child

Etan Patz. He was the first missing child to be featured on a milk carton. He was just six and a half when he disappeared, after walking two blocks by himself. Etan's story is fresh in my mind because it has been in the news lately, after authorities re-opened the case to pursue some leads regarding the child's remains.

Etan disappeared in 1979 after walking two blocks to the bus stop by himself. It was only two blocks, after all, and he had begged his mother to give in. I can picture this scenario perfectly, in as much as I live with a six-year-old myself. My daughter is yearning for a little bit of independence. We gave her a little taste of it on Saturday and quickly regretted it.

After yoga class on Saturday, I had a bunch of errands to run and took the kid with me. She conned me into buying her a shortbread cookie and an orange soda along the way. When we got back home, her dad told her that two of her friends had come by to see if she could play. She asked if she could go out and find them. Her friends can ride two-wheelers without training wheels - A cannot. We told her that she could take her scooter or Big Wheel after lunch and go up to her friend's house. It's just two blocks away so we thought she'd be okay (the other friend lives a couple blocks farther and we specifically told her she could not go there - it's a busier road, too). I stood in the yard and watched her pedal up the street on her Big Wheel. I turned and went back inside once I could no longer see her.

"I don't think I'm ready for her to be riding around the neighborhood by herself," I told my husband.

He shook his head. "Me neither."

We don't want to be "helicopter parents." We know she needs a little bit of independence, but it's hard. At times I do think her friends seem to be ahead of her in the maturity and decision-making departments, too.

A played at her friend's house for a while and then both of them came back to our house. The girls played in my daughter's bedroom for a while. I, in the mean time, came up with the ill-conceived idea of taking my dogs to the dog park. I hadn't been in years. P talked me into taking just one of the dogs, as two would be a lot to handle. I decided to take Gretchen.  I drove her to the dog park and as soon as I took her inside the gate, she pinned a beagle. So, realizing how stupid my plan had been (she's been off-leash with other dogs in other circumstances, but it was still a dumb risk to take), I turned around and drove her home.

When I got back to the house, P asked me if I knew where A was. The girls had been going back and forth between the two houses. "I'm going to take Kaiser for a walk," I said. "I'll make sure she's there when I walk by."

A few minutes later, I walked by the friend's house and learned that the girls were not there. I felt a tiny bit of panic rising up in my chest. "You know, they must be at my house and P just didn't realize they were playing out back or something," I told the friend's mom. I turned on my heel and walked Kaiser back to our house.

"She's not there," I told my husband. "You have to get in the car and find her."

I shouted into the back yard and checked the basement. I started calling the home of the second friend who lives farther away, in case the girls had gone there. No one was home. P drove to the park (many blocks away) to see if the girls had headed that way. They weren't there. At that point I didn't even know if the two girls were still together - maybe they had separated. I tried to stay calm but my anxiety bubbled over and I started to cry. I called P over and over on his cell phone. "Please don't come home until you find her," I told him.

I knew I was over-reacting but I couldn't help it. It was just two blocks! Two blocks . . . Etan Patz . . . two blocks. It is because of children like Etan Patz and Adam Walsh that I know what can happen to six-year-olds who are out of sight for even a moment. My hands were shaking as I waited for the phone to ring. Finally, it did. My daughter and her friend had gone to the home of another classmate. A was on her way home on her Big Wheel. My fear turned into relief.

I stood in the yard with my arms crossed. P stood next to me, his arms crossed as well. We watched our daughter, so tiny, pedaling towards us. The plastic wheels of the Big Wheel scraped against the asphalt. She slowed down when she saw us. Part of me wanted to scoop her up and hug her. Part of me wanted to lock her in her room until she leaves for college. "In the house," we told her. "Now." She glumly climbed off the Big Wheel and went inside. She knew some shit was about to go down.

I don't remember exactly what we said next, but there was a lot of "You didn't have permission to go there" and "What were you thinking?"  We sent her to her room to think about it. A few minutes later, I went in and gave her a hug. I told her how scared and worried I'd been.

"I'm sorry, Mama." She hugged me around the neck.

We honestly don't know what to do next. Do we keep her home all summer? Give her one more chance? This parenting business is not for the faint of heart, I tell you what.
She's gonna be the death of me . . .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sweet dreams, Fritz

My former foster dog, Fritz, died yesterday. He was 12 1/4, which is about as long a life as most Boxers can expect. I had secretly hoped he might be immortal, but alas . . .

I have fostered a gazillion dogs, give or take a few, but Fritz has remained close to my heart since his adoption. He lived in our home for nearly one year. As tempting as it was to pull him off the market and just keep him with me for the rest of his days, I stuck firmly with my belief that someone out there would give him a home of his own. I have been wrong about so many things in my life, but I was right this time. There was someone out there, and she gave him that forever home. As an added bonus, I gained a wonderful friend in the bargain.

I called Sue yesterday to see how she was doing. She told me that Fritz had died peacefully, surrounded by Sue, her sister, and her best friend. Her Buddhist beliefs have given her a unique perspective on Fritz's death. Sue is comforted in the knowledge that she has always known Fritz, will always know him. Their separation is only physical. "He loved me more than any dog I've ever had," she said.

"I just wish you'd been able to have him longer," I said, sniffling away.

"I'm okay, I really am." She told me how hard it had been to come home and to see Fritz's things all over the house, but was at peace with his passing.  Fritz had lost all of the strength in his back end and had been falling regularly. She knew his body's warranty had expired and that it was time to say good-bye. He knew it, too.

My eyes welled up. "I don't know if I am okay," I told her.

"Claudia, what can I do to help you through this?" Sue asked me. I could hear the sincerity in her voice.  Here I had called to console her and she ended up giving me the long distance pat on the hand.

Every day, my Facebook news feed is filled with horrors. A dog named Justice set on fire a couple weeks ago (he died of his injuries). Horses shipped off to slaughter. Elephants killed for their tusks (still! in 2012!). Sharks killed for their fins. And don't even get me started on what goes on in the factory farming industry. Examples of animal cruelty at the hands of humans are endless. But, for this one dog, for Fritz, I know he is okay. I know that he was loved. There are good people out there, people who take in old dogs, even knowing that the end may come much too soon. G'night, Fritty Cent . . . I'll miss you, too!

Cheers to all of the Sues and Fritzes out there.

The link to Barking at the Moon is no longer valid in my other blog post about Fritz, so here is a new link:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mah Dogs iz Crazy

I think it's time the world knew that . . . my dogs ain't right, man. At every meal, Gideon leaps vertically into the air while Gretchen spins in circles. I have worried about Gideon, in particular, because I'm convinced he's going to smack his chin on the counter one of these days. Or maybe he'll come down wrong and blow his cruciate (a common injury in Boxers). I wonder what my two knuckleheads think will happen if they don't repeat their respective rituals?  Like maybe one of these days I'll just cut them off and tell them, "No maniacal jumping? No freakish spinning? No food for you!"

This video also reminds me: I need to stop eating ASAP. Seriously. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to raise a grateful child?

A source of frustration around our house lately . . . nothing's ever good enough, soon enough, or awesome enough for our shortest resident. I'm hoping it's just a phase, but the phase is wearing out its welcome. From what I've read, my daughter's behavior is normal for her age. Kids are biologically programmed to think mostly about themselves until around the age of eight or so, when they start developing the ability to empathize with others. I'm looking forward to the day when my daughter's cognitive development reaches this stage. The whining and the complaining and the eye-rolling - egads. Also, she has added a syllable to the word "Daddy." When he doesn't give her what she wants, she yells, "Dad-eeeeee-uh!"

This is not to say she is not a good kid. She's a great kid - smart, outgoing, affectionate, and funny. However, we seem to be falling into a trap common in families with just one child. Despite our best intentions and efforts, she's a bit spoiled. Her dad and I have been trying to figure out the best way to instill a sense of gratitude in our daughter. We try to lead by example, of course. We also use the "children are starving in Africa" line on her regularly. I can't say that she's losing a lot of sleep over those African kids, though. She informed me that she is willing to send them some of her food. I told her that she is missing the point - I just want her to eat what's on her plate (even if it is green) and be glad she's got a plate full of food. Alas, the lass is falling a bit short in the gratitude department.

Here are a couple of examples of recent issues:

1. We purchased three six-day "park hopper" passes for Disney World (to the tune of nearly $1,000). The passes (plastic cards) arrived in the mail last week. Each card has a different Disney character on it - Pluto, Goofy, and Mickey. I am not sure how much it matters when we get to the parks, but the card that is technically designated for my daughter (since the others are adult passes) is the one bearing Goofy's likeness. She immediately threw a fit. "I want the Mickey one!" I, of course, lobbed back a "we don't have to go at all, you know!" and so on it went.

2. The weather was pretty iffy on Sunday afternoon, so I told the kid I'd take her to the jumpity-jump place after church. I even invited one of her friends along. I told her I would take the girls over there at 2:00. At noon, the whining began. "Why can't we go noooooow?" I should also add that I had taken her to a children's festival the day before. When we got to the jumpity-jump place, her friend got lucky with the games and somehow turned a handful of tokens into over a thousand tickets. So, needless to say, she was able to cash them in for a much bigger prize than what my daughter was able to get. Instead of congratulating her friend, my little princess scowled and stomped around and basically redefined the term "sour grapes."

I don't know. I'm at a loss. I mean, short of dropping her off at a soup kitchen to work a shift every weekend or selling all of her shit on Craigslist, how does one make sure they are raising a kid who understands the importance of gratitude? Am I over-thinking this?

Two sweaty girls at the jumpity-jump place.

At the kids' festival on Saturday

Friday, April 13, 2012

Can People Change - REALLY Change?

I've pondered this heady question for a couple decades now. I'm sure I should really leave the question (and the answer) to psychologists and other mental health professionals, but that doesn't stop me from wondering. Can people change in fundamental ways, or only in small, incremental ones?

One of my new guilty pleasures is watching the show "Tabatha Takes Over." I am simultaneously fascinated by and frightened of Tabatha. If you haven't watched the show (or are unfamiliar with Tabatha Coffey), she's a hard-edged Australian chick with a background in the salon industry. She is typically dressed all in black, right down to her impossibly high heels. Initially, the show focused on salon take-overs, where Tabatha would come in, point out to the business owner and staff what they were doing wrong, and whip everyone into shape. She doesn't mince words and although some people find her abrasive, she seems to be very effective in what she does. She has a particular way of holding up a metaphorical mirror to people and causing them to see how their personality flaws, bad habits, and stupid ideas are killing their business.

This year, the show branched out into other types of businesses. In a recent episode, Tabatha descended on a doggie daycare/grooming facility called Barkingham Palace. The business is owned by a couple named Tee and Tania. Although Tee came across as hard-working and well-liked by the staff, Tania was a whole other story. She walked around in sundresses, put on make-up and munched granola in her office, and complained about the smell from the dogs. The staff seemed to despise her.  Tabatha sat her down several times and attempted to explain that Tania's management style would be the death of the business.Tania would just sort of sit there blinking back at Tabatha, seemingly unconvinced that she could possibly be the problem.

I kept thinking, "This is her core personality, she cannot change."  I mean, sure, someone can change a habit. Put the towels over here instead of over there, because it doesn't make sense to have them over there. The average person can handle putting the towels in a new spot. But if a particular person historically believes they are more important than everyone else (and therefore should not be expected to pick up dog poop along with the rest of the staff), I suspect that sort of trait is hard-wired.

Tania did make some halfhearted attempts to be a better manager but was only modestly successful. At the end of each episode, Tabatha returns to the business in six weeks to see how everyone is faring. On this particular episode, she reluctantly acknowledged that Tania was still Tania and that she (Tabatha) was truly concerned for the future of this business venture. She didn't seem to have a lot of hope for its success. I had to agree with her assessment. 

Over the past twenty years or so, I've made a number of changes in my life. My poor husband wisely never says a word as I continue to lose and gain dozens of pounds, over and over again. I changed religions about five and a half years ago. I became a mom seven years ago. I gave up soda. I got involved in a rescue organization and made a whole new group of friends. I changed jobs. I got a tattoo. I got into yoga.

I haven't changed in any fundamental way, though. And it is worth noting that I've had roughly the same haircut since . . . well, since I've had hair. Even when I try something different with it, it still looks approximately the same as my seventh grade yearbook picture. C'est la vie. But back to my point - I am still the same neurotic, sarcastic, animal-loving, clumsy, list-making, liberal, insecure goofball I've always been. There are parts of my personality I'd love to change. I wish I were more tolerant of change in general. I wish I weren't so awkward in social situations. I wish I didn't always have that weird expression in photos. But even Tabatha can't change me. I don't expect to wake up one morning and decide that maybe Fox News isn't that bad after all or that perhaps I should think about playing an organized sport. Nah.

If I stick with my theory that humans can't radically change who they are at the core, I don't know where that leaves reformed skinheads and the like. What about rehabilitation? Can pedophiles be rehabilitated?  Or do they just learn to stop acting on their compulsion because society tends to frown on that? What do you think?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Au Revoir, Valentino

I took Valentino to his new home last night. A lot of people ask me questions like, "Isn't it so hard to leave them?" and "How do you do it?" Well, after a dozen years as a rescue volunteer, it's certainly gotten easier. Valentino just needed a good home. He didn't need anything that only I could provide. I helped him to regain his health; my job was done. That is not to say I don't love him and I won't miss him - I do and I will.

Valentino was adopted by a couple with four other dogs. They are both physicians (she is a pediatrician and he is an ENT), which is not really relevant to their ability to care for a dog, of course, but I suppose it's nice to know that they have the means to address any health issues that may arise. Prior to adopting Valentino, their canine family included two male Boxers and two mixed breed dogs. One of their Boxers developed a tumor in his jaw a couple years ago, so they took him to a specialist and had part of the jaw removed. They are devoted to all of their canine companions and seemed genuinely excited to add Valentino to the pack.

When I arrived at their home last night, I hopped out of my Mom-mobile and met Kelly at the door. I had Valentino on his leash. I looked around at the (large) neighboring homes with their perfect landscaping and brick exteriors.  "I locked my car doors," I told Kelly. "This looks like a pretty sketchy neighborhood."  She laughed and told me that one neighbor invited her to come over and use their pool any time she wants, even if they are not home. Hell, I don't think my neighbors would even bring over my mail if it were delivered to them by mistake.

I have to say that Valentino integrated seamlessly into the resident pack. Kelly and Todd did the introductions carefully, but it only took a few minutes before Valentino was galloping around the spacious, fenced back yard with his new friends. When the dogs came inside, things continued to go well. Valentino made all the right gestures, such as licking the other dogs under the chin and mouth (in doggie language, this is a "hey, I'm a nice guy and I don't need to be the boss here" statement). Kelly showed me the doggie toy chest (which was, literally, a large wooden treasure chest) and explained that one of their dogs only likes a certain kind of ball. They can't find it locally, so they have to order the balls from England whenever he runs out. Yes, I think Valentino will be juuuuust fine. I had half a mind to ask if they'd like to adopt me as well.

When I left, they gave me a couple of little Easter gifts for my daughter. Like I said, these people are genuinely good eggs. I did wait until I was about to leave to let them know of one of Valentino's fun little quirks, which is that he likes to lick his junk (loudly) in the dead of night. I was hoping that would not be a deal breaker. As for us, our house is a little quieter and less chaotic, but we're fine with that. Four dogs is a little much for our smallish house - I prefer to keep our doggie population at three (our two plus foster dog Kaiser). I only took in Valentino because I saw his sad photo while he was at animal control (when he weighed all of 33 pounds) and felt called to be his caregiver for the time that he needed me. He doesn't need me anymore. He's got four brothers, a fancy dog bed, a huge yard, and a winding mahogany staircase to gnaw on (hmmmm . . . I'm not sure if I explicitly mentioned to them that Valentino has been known to chew wood). I'm so glad my boy got his happy ending.

Valentino keeping vigil while my daughter sleeps

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A's Letter to her Birthmom

The kid has been asking a lot of questions about her birthmom lately. Now, you might think these would be hard-hitting queries related to adoption and very difficult decisions and the like. But, you would be wrong. Here is a sample question (I am not making this up):

"Mom, does J . . . use shampoo?"

"Um, yes," I replied. "I think she is as concerned about her personal hygiene as, you know, most people are."

She nodded. "And does she play an instrument?" She went on to ask if J has any pets and what colors she likes.

I explained that although I can give her basic info about her birthmom (such as: she's pretty, she's generous, etc.), I do not have a lot of details about her ability to play an instrument and other such trivia.  I suggested she write a letter and ask her questions.

This evening, she did so. In pink ink. So, J, if you are reading this . . . there is a letter from a curious six-year-old headed your way via snail mail.  I hope you are prepared to discuss your shampoo (and possibly your conditioner) and any pets you may have. :-)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Winding Down

We're headed home this evening, so yesterday was our last full day of vacation. My sister's two older kids are now on spring break, and they left yesterday morning to visit their father up in Pennsylvania. I decided to give my sister a little break from motherhood and offered to take the baby for the day (I took my own child as well, of course). It's been a while since I've had a baby in my care, but I figured maybe it's akin to the old adage about riding a bike. The thing about my nephew is . . . aside from being so adorable that women at the mall have a minor cardiac event when he smiles at them, he's also a very happy, easygoing kid. I know babies sometimes go through fear stages where they don't want anyone but mom or dad to hold them, but at this point I think my nephew would hang out with Charles Manson as long as he was properly stocked with bottles and diapers.

So, off we went. I did forget how long everything takes with a five-month-old baby in tow. Also, I forgot just how unremarkable my upper body strength is. Despite taking a gazillion yoga classes and all that planking over the past year and a half, my biceps are an embarrassment.  I could barely lift my nephew in his baby carrier. Of course, in my defense, he is a big kid and his skull is pretty sizable. Anyway, we headed to Tyson's Corner, as I was convinced there is a Disney Store there. When we arrived at the mall, I unloaded the stroller, grabbed the bag o'baby stuff, and hoisted the baby and his carrier onto the stroller. My daughter was cold and asked me to help her zip her hoodie. I, being the stellar mother that I am, zipped it up and, in my haste, managed to get her chin caught in the zipper. Lots of tears followed. When we got inside, we learned that the Disney Store is closed for renovation. So, it was in that vulnerable moment that my daughter spotted a Build-a-Bear. Fifteen minutes later, she had a purple Hello Kitty (who was sporting a pink sequined dress . . . you know, like cats do).

I picked up a couple of bath bombs from the Lush store, and then we headed over to my grandma's house to have lunch with my stad and grandma (but not before I unleashed some unmotherly adjectives at my nephew's stroller in the parking lot - I guess I also forgot how to fold a stroller). Once we reached our destination, we had a really nice visit. A was thrilled to see her beloved Granddaddy and hang out with him for a little while. My grandma pulled out an ooooold high chair and rigged it with cushions and towels and whatnot for my nephew. He happily sat in the chair and flung his toys on the floor while we had lunch. He doesn't sit up on his own 100% yet, so my grandma tied a dog leash around his rib cage to make sure he didn't slip out. She suggested that maybe I shouldn't mention the dog leash to my sister.

After we left my grandmother's house, everyone was still in a good mood so I decided to stop at another mall (Fair Oaks) on the way to my sister's house. I am in search of some shoes for my daughter to take on our Disney trip next month . . . something sort of like Keens or Tevas, but less ugly. A sandal that's good for walking long distances on hot days, in other words.

My stad had given my daughter a mylar balloon during our visit. I, without thinking, opened the back of my sister's SUV (to retrieve the unruly stroller) once we arrived at the mall. The balloon, as if waiting for its opportunity to be free, flung itself out the open door and was out of reach in a split second. I watched as the balloon drifted up into the heavens. Shit! More tears.

Since rush hour was kicking in and we had nowhere in particular we had to be, we hung out at the mall for a while and had pretzels and whatnot. My nephew kept himself busy by casting spells on random ladies at the mall. At Gymboree, the staff was on him like white on rice. The ladies asked me if he is always so happy and smiley. I said that I'd just met him a few days before but that yes, my impression is that he is perpetually cheerful. Realizing that it may have sounded as though I'd just abducted him, I did explain that he is my nephew and that I was giving my sister a break yada yada yada.

When we got back to my sister's house, I confirmed that I'd brought back the right baby and declared myself off duty (but not before implying that my sister and her boyfriend had done "it" in every room while they had the house to themselves all day).  My sister has a huge bathtub so I ended the evening with a quiet bath, using one of my new bath bombs. My sister even set her ipad to play spa music and lit some candles for me. A girl could get used to this.

But, the party is just about over. See you on the flip side.