Monday, September 28, 2015

Hot Cross Buuuuuuns!

My daughter had her first clarinet lesson on Friday. On Friday evening, as she and I watched the latest episode of "Project Runway," she showed me how to put the clarinet together. I must say she assembled it very deftly. I was glad to see that she must have paid attention during the lesson she'd received at school. Then she proceeded to play "Hot Cross Buns" for me. Oh my.

After a few attempts, the dogs started to pace and act anxious. "Why don't we call it a day?" I suggested. "You have all weekend to practice."

She practiced on Saturday and again on Sunday. On Sunday evening, the dogs came to me and asked me if I could drop them off at the nearest kill shelter. "We'll take our chances," they said.

I'm glad the kid showed so much enthusiasm for practicing the clarinet over the weekend. She did it voluntarily, and she is not a child who does anything voluntarily. Plus, I could hear that she was making progress with each repetition of the song. I have to think her band instructor will be impressed at her efforts. I mean, she hot cross bunned like nobody's business.

But oh, those squeaky notes! Imagine that you're walking along, blissfully singing "Hot Cross Buns" (as one does) and that right as you're hitting the word "buns," you step on some glass in your bare feet. "Hot Cross BUUUNS!" The last word comes out in a shriek. Then, imagine that you've kidnapped a small woodland fairy who has an exceptionally high-pitched voice. Just as you are choking the life out of her (as one does), you force her to use her last breath to (rapidly) squeak out, "one a penny! two a penny! hot cross buns!" That's the best way I can describe my weekend to you.

We try to get her to practice in her bedroom (vs. the living room) as much as possible.  As P and I listened to "Hot Cross SQUEAK!" on Saturday afternoon, he finally announced, "I'm going to the liquor store - do you need anything?"

"Um, yes. Just bring me everything, I guess."

One of her friends spent the night on Saturday so we received some respite from the clarinet at that point. They were too busy playing Minecraft and whatnot. The girls apparently stayed up until 2:45 a.m. (and miraculously made it to church on time yesterday).  I guess I could have tried to force them to go to bed earlier, but they're in fifth grade. I figured they're old enough to understand the consequences of less-than-stellar decisions. After church, we took them out for lunch at Subway and then to an orchard to pick apples. Honestly, I couldn't believe they were still upright at that point.

If you'd like to come over for a visit this coming weekend, I'm sure there will be a concert for your listening pleasure. I'm sort of hoping we move on to "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or something like that, because my buns cannot get much crosser.

I got a kick out of this goat standing stoically on a bridge in the goat enclosure. I imagined that he doesn't let other goats cross the bridge until they solve a riddle.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Oh, the things you can lose!

I honestly don't know how big families do it. And by "it," I mean . . . everything. When I come home from work each day, I have to check the kid's backpack to see a) what she smuggled to school that day b) if she has any homework. Then, assuming she remembered to bring her insulated lunch bag home, I have to make her lunch for the next day. I tried letting her pack her own lunch the other day but when I looked in the bag, all she had packed were some Cheezits, chocolate almond milk, and a cookie. Nice try, kid.

On a typical evening, we have to stay on top of her to do her math, do 20 minutes of reading, take a shower, and eat her dinner. Add in a couple of "pick your shoes up" and "leave the dogs alone - they're busy," too, and you've got a typical evening at our house.  I tell her that the dogs are too busy to play with her in attempt to get her to focus on her homework and whatnot.  On Tuesdays, she also has choir rehearsal.  Starting next week, she will also need to practice her clarinet.

Ah, the clarinet. She was SO excited to get her instrument.  Last Friday, I took her to a music store after work.  The guy behind the counter brought out a black case and opened it so that we could see the spiffy new clarinet. Here is how little I know about clarinets: I had no earthly idea that they come apart. When I saw the clarinet in the case, my immediate thought was that it had been mugged and dismembered in a dark alley (and then placed lovingly into little velvet compartments). My daughter immediately started pulling pieces out and admiring her new instrument.  She came perilously close to dropping one of the pieces. The music store man frowned at her, "Better not touch until you've had your first lesson," he said.

"That's right," I agreed. "No touchy."

In addition to entering a rental agreement with the music store (to the tune of $30.00 a month), I had to buy a book, a music stand, etc. If she loses the clarinet, I get to pay the music store something like $798.00.  If that actually happens, she won't see her iPad again until her children are grown.

A few days before we picked up the clarinet, I took her to see our optometrist. I had been getting annual exams for her but then the doctor said she didn't necessarily need to come in every year (unless I noticed an issue). So then I guess I lost track of how long it had been. Her last eye exam was when she was in first grade.  Over the summer, it was actually my stepmom who noticed that A was holding books and such pretty darned close to her face.  I'm not that observant, apparently. So, I decided it was about time I dragged the kid to the eye doctor.

She did not particularly want to go.  We sat in the waiting room together while I filled out paperwork.  The questions on the patient information paperwork didn't seem like they were meant for a kid. "Are you still single?" I asked her.  "And you're still not Asian as far as you know?"

She rolled her eyes. "Mo-om!"

As I was filling out the rest of the forms, she found a spinning rack of kids' eye wear and started trying on some of the frames. "Mom! Look!" She flipped her hair and put her hand on her hip, smiling as she looked through the clear glass of the designer frames. "These. Are. So. Cute." she whispered excitedly.  Then she tried on at least ten more, forcing me to look at her each time. All of a sudden, the idea of wearing glasses seemed very appealing to her.

A few minutes later, we were in the exam room.  She was given several tests. On one of them, she had to determine, visually, which of four "bumps" was raised. She flunked that test. "Crap," I thought to myself.  Dr. K gave her a bunch more tests and also played the ever-popular "Which looks better? This one or that one?" game with her.

"Do you think you need glasses?" he asked her.

"Um, I don't know," she responded.

Then he looked at me. "She could benefit from reading glasses, but  . . . speaking as a parent, I wouldn't say that they're an absolute necessity."  He then had her leave the room so that he could talk to me privately.

Basically, in a nutshell, he said that I should keep an eye on the situation. If she starts complaining of headaches and starts holding her books even closer, it might be time for some reading glasses.  He didn't want to say any of that in front of her because, sensing that she really wants glasses now that she sees how stylish some of them are, he didn't want to talk about symptoms. In other words, if she knows that headaches are a sign of needing glasses, she'll be plagued by them for the next few weeks. Dr. K did note that whether we get glasses or we don't, her eyes won't get any better or worse either way.  She may outgrow the farsightedness, too.

So, I'm still thinking about it. My main concern, honestly, is the fact that she is likely to lose them. Kinda like the clarinet.

Next month, her orthodontist is removing her braces.  In exchange, she'll get a retainer.  So, in case you aren't keeping track or are just very bad at math, that makes three expensive items she could potentially lose:  the clarinet, the glasses, and the retainer. If you add all three together, I think you could get a decent used car. Or at least a really nice moped.

I remember being in junior high and from time to time some hapless kid would accidentally throw out his retainer with his lunch tray. I recall seeing a boy digging through the garbage in the lunch room, desperately looking for the apparatus (and probably thinking, "My mom is going to kill me!")

My daughter has a terrible track record with losing stuff, so I have reason to be concerned about such things. I don't think I've ever once visited her school without finding something of hers in the lost and found. Every time I buy her a new jacket or sweater, part of me wonders if I should just drive over to the school and deposit it directly in the lost and found. Cut out the middle man, as it were.

Now . . . who would like to invite a sweet fifth grader to their home to practice the clarinet?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

I can do this (I think)

My wee baby sister made me aware of an upcoming event: Word Day for Farmed Animals (#fastagainstslaughter). It's an awareness event sponsored by Farm Animal Rights Movement. The challenge is to fast for a full day on October 2nd. My sister did it last year. This year, I will join her. I have taken the pledge and if you know me . . . once I say I'm going to do something, odds are pretty good that I'll do it.  If I were you, I wouldn't call me that day because I might be a little crabby after a few hours. It'll be a challenge, for sure. The last thing I think about when I go to bed at night? What I'm going to have for breakfast the next morning. What I think about after breakfast? How soon I can have a snack. Seriously, I'm shameless. It's no wonder I have to maintain a Weight Watchers membership.

I've noticed that people seldom want to chat with me about my choice to go vegan last year (or even my adherence to a vegetarian diet for the 25 years before that). I assume it's because they already know why but don't want to be confronted with it. They don't want to hear about how factory farms operate and they don't want to hear about inhumane (and even illegal) treatment of farm animals. They don't want to hear that animals delivered to the slaughterhouse typically have not had food/water in 12 hours.  And that's okay - I'm not here to be a party pooper.  And you know what? I get it. I really do. I continued to eat dairy for years and years because I didn't really want to think about it too much and didn't want to be inconvenienced.  I'm not here to be sanctimonious. Is there anything worse than a preachy vegan? My goal, simply, is for ME to do my best to walk gently through this life, leaving behind as little destruction as possible. I can't impose my thinking on anyone else. I saw a sticker that said, "Vegan means I'm trying to suck less."  I also have a sticker on my refrigerator that says, "Eat like you give a damn." So that's what I'm trying to do - give a damn.  We all have our causes that we care about. Recently I was at a farmers' market and there was a booth there that attempted to raise awareness about how bad golf courses are for the environment. I'm sure they are, but I just can't think about one more thing . . . can't embrace one more cause. Again, we all have our thing. You know what, though? I really suspect that when it comes to caring for our planet (and the animals that live on it) . . .  that everyone can do a little something if they are so inclined. I really like the Meatless Mondays campaign. Skipping meat for one day doesn't seem so outrageous, does it? I have been amazed at all of the recipes I've learned to make in the past year and a half. Yesterday I made black bean soup for my family and they ate every single bite. And this morning I made chocolate chip pancakes (yes, vegan) that were also a hit.

I have a little confession to make. When I was a kid, I remember referring to bovines as "moo-moo cows." As in, "awwww, look at all of those moo-moo cows in that field." Because there is a slaughterhouse in the town where I live, I regularly see trucks filled with doomed animals. When I see one of the trucks, under my breath I always say, "I'm sorry, moo-moo cows." (Don't laugh!) When I see the truck that's already empty, I think, "Aw, they're already dead" because I assume they've already been dumped at their final stop. I can't do anything to stop all of that, really, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that I didn't contribute to it.

So, I will put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and fast on October 2nd. On October 3rd, I will make myself some yummy food and will feel just a little more grateful for it than usual.  Compassion: it's what's for dinner.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Making (no) sense of things

Celebrate we will
Because life is short but
sweet for certain
(Dave Matthews)

Sometimes I look at my daughter and, for just half a second, I think, "What if she . . . wasn't?" What if she simply wasn't here? My brain can't fully form the thought. I've tried, but her presence - her spirit -  is simply too big to picture a life without her. She makes me laugh so hard that my eyes water. She makes me so angry that I have to count to 10 so that I don't throw her iPad in the driveway and run over it with my car. She makes me so proud that when she's in swim class or choir rehearsal or even just playing video games at Chuck E Cheese, I secretly hope that someone will ask me "Which one is yours?" so that I can give them an incredulous look and respond, "Why, the best one. Of course." I mean, duh. Sometimes, my daughter slips and calls me, "Mama" (I'm usually just "Mom" these days) and I think my heart might explode in my chest. I can scarcely remember a time before this curly-haired dynamo ruled my days.

I won't get all pro-life-y on you here. I'm not a pro-life person but nor am I a staunchly pro-choice person. I think that when you find that you cannot have kids the old-fashioned way (and suffer four miscarriages), it certainly colors your view of such things. As such, there are times when I can't help but think about my daughter's birthmom and the hard decision she made. A decision that means that her heart will always be just a little bit broken, in a way that's not fixable. The world, though, is just a little more awesome because of her sacrifice and selflessness. This is the dichotomy of adoption - happiness and sadness all wrapped up in one story.

I think about how happy my daughter makes my parents (plus: her aunts, uncles, cousins, and everyone who loves her). I think about how many friends she has and how she loves to hug everyone. She has the gift of making everyone around her feel special. I think of her fashion sense. I think of how she lies about dumb things. I think about her impossible-to-comb curls and her beautiful green eyes. I think about how she spends most of her morning singing inappropriate song lyrics and admiring herself in the mirror instead of getting ready for school. I think of all the places we've gone (the three of us, as a family) and the adventures we've had. It's good. It's all so very, very good.

A few years ago, a woman named Sam started reading my blog. I can't recall how she found it. She left comments on my blog that were funny, sharp, and insightful (and on one occasion she busted me for some clumsy wording I had used, which came across as being slightly offensive - and she was right). Eventually we connected on Facebook. She lives several states away from me and unfortunately, I've never met her in person. I like to think that if we lived near each other, we'd get along famously. (Well, until she came to realize how annoying I am.)  Yesterday, Sam's five-week-old baby died of SIDS. Amirah was a beautiful dark-haired girl who probably would have given her older brothers a run for their money in the spunk department.

What does one say? I mean, if there is one occasion when the English language fails us, it's this one. Like everyone else, I offered my condolences to Sam and her husband, though the words did not come easily. I cannot begin to imagine how they must feel. I suppose they probably feel leaden or maybe shell-shocked. Just how does a parent start to process and grieve the death of their child? I can't even offer a guess. My hope for them is that they find the strength to move forward. As parents to two young boys, there's really no other way. I hope they find a way to cherish and honor the five weeks they spent with their sweet baby girl. I'm sure they will do just that.

I know that people always want to take a lesson from everything that happens. They want to say things like, "Everything happens for a reason."  I can't imagine taking any sort of lesson from the passing of a newborn. If there is a reminder to be had, it's simply the oldie-but-goodie: take nothing for granted. Life is precious and short and sweet. And sometimes bad things happen for no reason.

Sam, I am so sorry that you will never have a chance to tell your daughter to brush her teeth or to stop dilly-dallying. Or to try to stop her from singing inappropriate song lyrics that she heard on Top 40 radio. I'm so sorry that you'll miss out on the good things and the not-so-good things that the future might have held for your daughter.

As for me . . . I will try to yell at mine a little less and to praise her a little more. And yes, never to take her for granted.

Monday, September 14, 2015

5th grade

Last week, I asked my daughter how it feels to be a fifth grader. This is her final year of elementary school, so there are six grades below her (4K through fourth) and none above. Big fish in a little pond and all that.

"It feels weird," she said. "The other day I told some Kindergartners to stop throwing stuff because they were going to hurt someone. And they actually did it! They stopped throwing stuff."

She was drunk with power, I tell you.

In additional to being at the top of the social order, fifth grade in our school district also means the introduction of band.  Kids interested in being in the school's band are invited to pick an instrument and start learning. "Mom, I want to be in band but it's really expensive. It's $54.00 for the year."  It's cute that she thinks $54 is the most she's ever cost me. She takes me for at least twice that much on an average trip to the mall.

"Give me the papers and I'll take a look," I told her.

After she went to bed that night, I reviewed the band-related paperwork. She had written down her instrument of choice (the clarinet) and had misspelled it. We're off to a great start! After giving it some thought, I decided we'd better go with a rental through one of the local music stores (vs. through the school). I'm definitely not buying a clarinet outright. My girl is not known for finishing what she starts so until she can prove to me that she's the world's most dedicated clarinet player, we're going to go the rental route.  We also have to get our hands on a required book and a music stand. Oh, and cleaning supplies because if there's another thing my kid is not known for . . . it's cleaning stuff.

Her dad is concerned because our daughter is also about to start weekly choir rehearsals. Our little songbird got into our local city choir. Aside from the time commitment, there is also a pretty significant financial commitment. I just received an email the other day letting me know that we need to buy character shoes from a dance shop. I had never even heard the term "character shoes" before. I'm excited about my daughter having this opportunity, but the emails are making me a little nervous. There are a lot of BOLD WORDS and ASAPs and DUE DATES and FORMS. I talked to a friend who has been involved with the choir for years and she made me feel a bit less apprehensive. You guys know how structured and anal-retentive I am, so if an email makes me nervous . . .

Anyway, I think that between band and choir and homework . . . the kid is gonna be busy. I know she's a big fifth grader now, but I'm not entirely sure she can handle it. Earlier this evening, she burst into tears over her math homework. Her math homework makes me cry, too, but that's a whole other story. Keeping her away from her iPad will be key. There's no way she can practice her clarinet, do 20 minutes of reading, complete her math homework, take a shower, and complain about the dinner I make for her . . . all in a single evening. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Maybe this is the year when we'll see a massive spike in "personal responsibility."

In other news, we volunteered at a fundraiser for the rescue on Saturday. I handed the kid a camera and made her the unofficial photographer for the event. She did a pretty good job, but when I got the camera back, many of the photos were either of dog butts or of herself. Kids these days, I tell  ya.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

"Good times, bad times, you know I've had my share"

Everyone loves a good narrative, a tale of humanity gone right. The best stories, it seems, are the ones where the protagonist overcomes some sort of adversity. Think of surfer Bethany Hamilton, who went on to do great things even after a shark gnawed her arm off.  Think of Stephen Hawking, whose brain does great things even though his body cannot. (By the way, I just watched "The Theory of Everything" and it was very good.) The world is full of triumphant tales of amazing people, those who attended the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" school of thought.

Sometimes I look back on my childhood and ponder my own lack of resilience. Although I do have many happy memories from my childhood, I also have a lot of residual sadness. There was a divorce, there were financial issues, and I had (and still have) medical problems.

My youngest sister has been scanning (and attempting to preserve) some old family photos. She's planning to work her way through some of our mom's aging photo albums. She recently shared the photo below with me. This photo is the very definition of bittersweet for me. The sweet part is that I'm pictured smiling, that I'm with my sisters (two of the people who are on my very short list of "people for whom I'd take a bullet"), and I'm at one of my favorite places (Myrtle Beach). The photo was taken in 1982. I was 12. Look at my hands. My condition (vitiligo) was every bit as bad as I remembered it to be. Extrapolate that data, what you can see on my hands, and apply it to my whole body. It was that bad. At times, I hated to leave my house. I felt safe with my family, though. Hence the smile.

It was sort of jarring to see the photo, to have it all come rushing back to me. I wish I could say that I bear no ill will towards people who stared at me at the mall. I wish I could say that I forgive the lady at the Hallmark store who said, "What happened to you?!" Do I forgive the kids (classmates of mine, I assume) who spray-painted obscenities about me on the sidewalk in front of our home while we were on vacation? No. All of those people can suck it. Seriously.

I think this is why I live in fear of raising a mean kid. So far so good, though. My daughter attempts to befriend every person she meets. Plus, I'm so glad she doesn't have to deal with weird medical issues and whatnot. She's beautifully, blissfully, perfectly normal. I try my best not to let her become aware of my rock-bottom self-esteem. That's not a legacy that any mom wants to pass on to her child. Fortunately, she thinks she's awesome (seriously, she put a sign on her bedroom door proclaiming her awesomeness) - and she's right. I hope she always feels that way about herself.

I decided to show the photo to my husband. He has seen a few photos of me as a kid, but I didn't think he had seen one that specifically showed my skin at its worst. I pulled it up on the computer and invited him to take a look.

"You, um, didn't have any boobs," he said.

"I was 12, you loser."

"Oh. Well, that's more alarming to me than your skin, to be honest. I'm not used to seeing you without boobs."

That's my guy.

The other thing about the photo is this: why did no one stop me from wearing a purple shirt and white shorts with red piping? Heavens to murgatroid!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

I could've done without a few things . . .

For someone who can't really go out in the sun and who isn't very outdoorsy . . . I sure love summer. I'm sorry to see it go.  I love our end-of-summer hurrah at the cabin every year. I call my cabin-owning friend every spring and ask if we can use it. I'm always afraid he'll say, "Nope, sold it." But he always says, "Sure!" I think he just likes for people to get use out of it. We feel very fortunate to have the opportunity. I sometimes fantasize about me and Mr. M owning a cabin like it someday, but then I remember that we don't know how to fix anything and are doing a pretty shitty job with the home we already own.

We left for our vacation on Friday the 21st. I don't have my van anymore, so we had to take two cars. The only way we could have fit everything in one car was if we had strapped both dogs on the roof, and I really think the ASPCA tends to frown on that. Anyway, I left first and had the dogs with me. P had to pick up the kid at her summer program and bring her in his car. I got the easier part of the deal because Chatty McTalkington can think of a lot to say during a four-hour drive. Since the dogs were not feeling chatty, I mostly listened to podcasts and stuff.

I arrived at the cabin about 40 minutes before the rest of my family did.  It was getting dark but there was still good visibility. One reason we try to get up to the cabin before nightfall is that there are no lights anywhere. We have to take miles of dirt roads just to get to the cabin. When it gets dark . .. I mean to tell you it gets dark.  I unlocked the door and turned on the lights. Yep, everything looked the same!

I brought the dogs in and then proceeded to unload my car, dragging suitcases and coolers and such across the deck and into the cabin. There was no running water at that point because my husband would need to turn it on when he arrived. I've never bothered to learn how (the hot water heater also has to be started and apparently this involves fire, so it's really best that I just stay out of it). Because I knew there was no running water, I really had no need for the kitchen sink at that point. So, it took me a while to notice the massive spider who had taken up residence there. Sweet Jesus! I had never seen a spider that large. I think no one had been to the cabin for several weeks because I noticed a lot of dead bugs in the window sills and such.

Unsure of what to do, I posted a photo of it on Facebook. My hope was that one of my friends would be able to identify it. I was hoping for something like, "Oh, that's a Cabinus Friendus Spider! They are so helpful - I bet he'll even help you unpack!" But no, my oh-so-helpful friends said things like "You should just leave." Others suggested I just torch the place and head back home.

I am not a squeamish person but holy cow, this bugger was huge. With legs extended, it was about the size of my palm. It stayed absolutely still. Every time I walked near the sink, I imagined that it was waiting for me to trip and fall into the sink, so that it could proceed with its homicidal plans.  Unsure of what to do while I waited, I poured myself a vodka cranberry while I worked on a plan. Fortunately, no water was needed for that.

When I finally heard my husband's car, I met him in the driveway, pulled him aside, and discreetly told him about the beast in the sink. My main concern was that if my spider-fearing daughter saw it, she would be sleeping in our bed until she was in her 30s. He went into the cabin and made the spider go away. Honestly, my preference would have been to relocate the spider into the surrounding woods and I feel bad that the situation didn't play out that way.

Once we were unpacked, we watched a movie and then went to sleep. The next morning we awoke to hurricane-force winds. It was just crazy. I don't know when I've seen winds like that. I wasn't going to miss my chance to go to the farmers' market, though, so I threw my hair in a clip and headed out.  The farmers' market is about 1/2 hour from the cabin.  I grabbed some vegetables and stuff, picked up a few supplies at the store, and then headed back.

The next few days were similar: weather = bad.  Saturday was so windy that we didn't go anywhere near the lake. Sunday was cold and rainy. We decided to make the best of it and go to a local county fair anyway. When we paid to get in, they didn't have correct change. The lady said, "Come back later for your two dollars, okay?" I think that's how you know you're in a small town.  We only stayed at the fair for about an hour. We let the kid ride a few rides.  She came off one ride, pointed at a smiling blonde girl and said, "This is my new friend!" Seriously? In 90 seconds she made a new friend? She wasn't bluffing either. The girl said "hi" every time we passed her for the next hour.  That's my kid - friendly with a capital F.

After standing around in sweatshirts (with the hoods up) and wiping rain off our faces for a while, we gave in and left. We collected our two bucks on the way out and headed back to the cabin. We couldn't complain too loudly about the sucky weather. We were on vacation, after all.

The next day (Monday), the kid and I wanted to do something, so we decided to go thrift store shopping.  We poked around at a Goodwill and bought some junk. We also worked on some ideas for her Halloween costume (rock star, naturally).

And would you believe that it was cold and rainy on Tuesday, too?  I debated not getting dressed at all, because I knew I wasn't going to see any human being that day who wasn't related to me. I spent the day working on a puzzle and reading. Oh, and cooking. With so much time on my hands, I made cookies, a cake, and tried out a few other recipes, too. I made vegan potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and a few other things during the course of our eight-night trip. Remember how I mentioned that I needed to bring all of my groceries with me because I wouldn't be able to get what I needed in such a remote location? I was wrong. Near the farmers' market, I found a newly remodeled co-op. It was huge. Wall-to-wall vegan, organic, locally produced food. I stand corrected - big time.

Finally, Wednesday arrived and we were all pretty excited because our friends were arriving with their kids. We were desperate to see someone who didn't share our last name. We practically ran to their van when they finally pulled up. Their arrival also brought great weather. The rest of the week was a lot of fun. The eight of us took a day trip and rode a ferry. We went out to lunch. We played games. And the grown-ups consumed a fair number of grown-up beverages. There was at least one rowdy game of Balderdash. Oh, and fish were caught (and then tossed back from whence they came).

On Saturday, we drove back home and I began to tackle the massive mountain of laundry that followed us home. I know I say this every year, but it really is a great vacation. The lake is beautiful, the surrounding forest is beautiful, and my family is, um, tolerable.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Delaying the Sunset

I'll bet he was the cutest puppy ever. I squint at him sometimes, trying to imagine a smaller version of my Gideon. Before his smooshy mug turned totally grey, he had these really distinctive eyebrows. I think it was those eyebrows that first made me fall in love with him. They gave him character. I'll bet he was naughty when he was a pup, too. Even now, if I fail to latch his crate door properly, he breaks out while no one's home and gets into trouble. As far as I can tell, his first act of mischief after he escapes is to jump up on the kitchen counter and overturn my fruit basket. I always imagine that after he flips it over and sees apples rolling across the kitchen tile, he must think, "Oh, shit. I forgot. It's just fruit."

Before he came into rescue (back in 2006), Gideon was apparently hit by a car. His left foreleg was shattered but never repaired. He compensates by walking on tiptoe on that side (since the left leg is shorter as a result of the fracture). Many of his teeth were knocked out and he was very, very thin. He was basically a train wreck when he came into rescue. When Giddy came to our home as a foster dog, it was just a couple weeks after Lucy had died. My husband was not ready to think about a new dog at that time. I thought Gideon would be a good candidate because he was nothing like Lucy. I knew there was no way we would look at him and compare him to our beloved brindle girl.

Although I'm sure that my husband has some measure of affection for Giddy, it's always been clear that he's my dog. Life with Giddy has not always been easy. Like many Boxers (a very people-oriented breed), he doesn't particularly like to be alone. Separation anxiety can be a challenge. My current foster dog (Kevin) has it as well. After living with us for the better part of a decade, I guess Giddy finally figured out that we do, in fact, come home from work each day as promised. Or else he just ran out of anxiety, I guess. He doesn't seem as stressed in his crate these days.

Other habits die hard, though. He still jumps vertically into the air (or at least as much as his old bones will allow) at mealtime. He still punches the sliding glass door when he wants to go outside and then, when I finally get up and open the door, he turns and retreats into the house. "Psych!" I imagine him saying. He's a messy eater. His farts make one's eyes water.  Goobers fly out of his jowls and land on my walls. What's not to love?

And yet.

He is my puppy, though we don't know his true age.  We just know that he's old (he sometimes speaks cryptically of his two tours in 'Nam). He lets me kiss his smooshy face, at which time I gently poke his tongue back into his mouth because I'm always afraid it will dry out. Since he really has no teeth to speak of, there's nothing to hold his tongue in his mouth. His vision seems to be getting worse, too. My daughter was giving him the crust of her toast one day and he sort of nicked her finger. "Giddy bit me!" she yelled. I explained to her that his depth perception is basically shot and that she just needs to be more careful.  I think his hearing is going too, although it's hard to tell because he's never really bothered with the whole "coming when called" thing.

A few months ago, I noticed that his left rear foot turned under ever so slightly when he walked. I continued to take him for walks and told myself that he was fine, just fine. Sometime the tops of his toes would start to bleed (from scraping against various surfaces). I started experimenting with different types of booties. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, his condition began to deteriorate further. Before too long, I noticed that his whole back end was losing strength. I took him to the veterinarian, but there wasn't much to be done. It's probably degenerative myelopathy, which is somewhat common in the breed. Either that, or it's just old age. All I know is that my boy is not getting around too well these days. As much as I've often wished that my home was filled with beautiful hardwood floors, suddenly I find myself feeling grateful for the carpeting. We live in a ranch-style home, so there aren't a lot of stairs. He has to negotiate just two steps to get from the deck to the back yard.

Last week, we had our annual cabin-by-the-lake trip. I knew in my heart that this would be Giddy's last trip to the cabin. At the cabin, there are seven steps from the deck to the yard.  I was pretty sure I'd need to carry him up and down. As it turned out, he could sort of amble down the stairs on his own. Coming back up was a no-go, though. After a day or so, he and I worked out a solution. He would put his forelegs on the first step. I would then interlace my fingers and lock them under his belly. Then, he walked up while I carried the back half. He and I are now hoping to be invited to someone's family picnic, because we are going to DOMINATE the wheelbarrow race.

Watching Gideon struggling on the steps and sliding across the wood floors at the cabin really brought his condition into sharp focus for me. A couple of times, I saw him fall over when he was trying to poop. I ran over and helped brace his back end. I kept his snow boots on him the whole time we were at the lake. They frustrate him because then he can't use his back feet to scratch his head/neck/ears. His feet just sort of spin around in mid-air, connecting with nothing. But, watching his feet slide out from under him is even worse.

Because we don't have the luxury of a fenced yard at the lake, I put my dogs on tie-outs when they
need to go potty. I attach a cable to each end of the deck. When I say we were in a remote area, I am not exaggerating. There are black bears, wolves, and other such creatures. I can't have my dogs running off into the woods. Anyway, because he can't feel his back end anymore, Giddy kept tripping over the tie-out cable. I told my husband, "I think I'll stop putting him on the tie-out. I mean, where is he gonna go?" Shortly after I uttered those words, Gideon took off. My elderly, toothless, disabled Helen Keller of a dog decided to seek his fortune, I guess. On a dead-end dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

As soon as I saw that he was making a run for it, I started jogging after him. I knew he wasn't going to make it too far. It was tragi-comic, watching him struggle to run, his rear legs all akimbo.  It was like one of those cartoons where a dog starts running with his front end, which leaves the screen, and then the back end follows a few seconds later. I was sort of chuckling to myself because out of four legs, he's only got one that's in working order. One. And he still made a run for it. That's my boy!

I caught up to him and hooked my finger through his collar. "Where were you going, dummy?" His tongue was hanging out the side of his mouth and he was panting heavily.  He had made it about a city block away from the cabin and I wasn't totally convinced he could make it back. I knew I couldn't carry him that far. It's times like these when I wonder why I didn't fall in love with a smaller breed. Gideon is not a terribly large dog but he's not, you know, a Chihuahua.

We made it back to the cabin, slowly but surely, and the rest of the week was pretty quiet. I took a lot of photos of my Giddy during our vacation because I know our days together are few. I don't know how many we have. I do know that we are on a one-way street now. His condition won't improve. For now, though, he is still showing me that there is joy in his days. I will not need to make a decision until his joie de vivre slows to an imperceptible trickle. When his time comes, I will be with him all the way. I will whisper in his ear that he is the goodest good boy in the whole world. When he crosses over, I hope he finds my Lucy Goose. Maybe she will ask him, "Did the lady tell you about the time I ate all of their Halloween candy while they were at church?" And maybe he will respond, "Yes, but that's nothing. Let me tell you about my great escape . . ."