Archive for August, 2011


Guide Dog.

August 31, 2011

Once upon a time, a rather long time ago, a little boy watched a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  In it, there was an Abominable Snowman who longed for a companion, sweetly saying ‘I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him…’

And one day the boy grew up, and got a dog.  And named him, of course, George.  And then he met a grown-up girl.  Luckily for the girl, both the boy and the dog loved her.  And the threesome became a family.  And thus George predated our human offspring.  He was our first.  George was a Rottweiler and parents with children either crossed the street to avoid him or, if they knew the Carl books, would cross the street to seek him out.  ‘Look!  It’s Carl!’  He was such a sweet, amazing soul that when it was clear his cancer was causing too much pain, I’m not sure who cried more, me, my husband or the veterinarian.

And now we have Coco, a puppy from a local shelter who is a pinch of this and a dash of that.  Mostly, she is full of love.  But this time, the dog is the dog.  The third young creature in our family competing for time, affection, direction, and attention.

There are things I know about Coco.  She likes to sit on my feet.  She likes to wiggle her back end with delight whenever the kids come home.  She likes to roll in deer poop.  Some of these things I find delightful, others, not so much.

I know Eleanor feels out of control when she puts the collar on the dog, attaches the leash, and announces that she is going to work on training the dog.  Verbalized commands: Heel!  Sit!  Down!  Good Dog!  Non-verbalized subtext:  I may be the youngest, but I still have power.  I can still be in charge.  I am capable.  Coco willingly obeys.

I know Cole is learning to see his own behavior and how it is transmitted to others.  When he jumps and shouts to burn off extra energy, it is amped up and reverberated by the dog. He has gone from denying culpability to accepting accountability to asking for responsibility with Coco.  Now I often find him curled on the floor, calmly stroking Coco’s fur and crooning gentle words to her.  Coco contentedly connects.

I know my husband is in a relaxed state when he sits quietly and, almost absent-mindedly, reaches out to touch her silky soft ears; or when he takes Coco outside in the transient moments of dusk to play and frolic with her.  Coco buoyantly fetches.

So as much as I know about Coco, Coco clearly knows far more about each of us.  But does she know I much I dislike it when she licks? I find myself thinking ‘she’d be a great dog if only she didn’t lick’.  The irony is not wasted on me:  the less I pet her, the more she wants attention, the more she licks, the less I want to pet her…a downward spiral that ends with my hands thrown up in the air.

Coco is asking me to pause, even for a few seconds.  To simply be.  Pet me.  Take a moment out of the scheduling and foreshadowing and managing to not multitask but unitask.  Pet me.  And please don’t mind that I lick.

Today, for the first time in their lives, our children head off for school together.  One to begin his last year in elementary school, the other to start the first day of it all.  Lunches are packed, hugs are given, kisses for luck applied to each forehead.  Smiles abound, nerves unsettled, tears swiftly coursing rivulets down my cheeks.

The final images of fingers waving goodbye are fading after these first 15 minutes of solitude.

So here we are, Coco and I.  The two of us are a bit bewildered, a bit overwhelmed, a bit in awe of just how silent a house can be.  My musings are interrupted by a low whimper and whine, and I glance down to check that it is, in fact, coming from the dog, and not me.  Stillness descends once again, and the quiet of the house allows us to hear that autumn is whispering in the leaves.  Time for change.  Time for new beginnings.

I reach for her leash.  The dog and I are headed out, just the two of us.  To carve a path through the shaded woods and along the stony shore.  I’ll stop to pick up rocks, individual memories, striped, smooth, jagged with barnacles.  Slip a few in my pockets, solid reminders of a life’s work that I can reach and touch and reground myself in whenever the recollections begin to rise and float away like the spray of the ocean’s wave.  And predictably my reverie will be interrupted by warm chocolate eyes begging for a thrown stick, a kind word, a warm hand.

Coco is a dog.  We adopted her from a shelter.  But who is rescuing whom?  I’ll keep you posted.



August 19, 2011

There is a tiny grove of young maples along a road I often travel, planted by children from a nearby school. I sit up a bit straighter as I come around a gentle curve, anticipating that first glimpse before whipping by at the posted limit of 50 m.p.h. The trees are harbingers of seasons: diminutive, nearly fluorescent green buds in late winter; bright, vibrant, verdant leaves in spring. Since mid-July, however, I have avoided them. Not enough to drive an alternate route, but enough to keep my eyes askew so I cannot see the truth.

The leaves are changing. And so is my life.

I am no longer the mother of an infant, toddler or preschooler. In less than two weeks Eleanor will join Cole at elementary school and life as I have known it for the past decade will end.

Denial is a swift river, traveling, let’s suppose, at 50 m.p.h. And despite my best efforts, I can see it, my reluctant peripheral vision perceiving the bright reds spreading across the branches. I can feel it, the inevitable pouring from my tear ducts at random and inopportune moments. Yesterday, luckily, it was during meditation and no one was aware of the symmetric puddles I was filling on either side of my yoga mat.

Some of the women in my book club adventure annually with their families by rafting the rivers of the Pacific Northwest. I remember such a trip from my own childhood, the water’s dance of rush and calm. And as the start of school beckons us ever closer, I find myself gathering that dance of memories in salt waters and on dry lands. The rapid exhilaration of a fast boat ride on choppy waters. The tranquil sloosh of oars dipping, propelling our canoe. The cacophonous shouts of friends splashing in the shallows for hours. The pacific awe of watching dolphins leap, spin and play mere meters from our bow. The equable reverberations of kaplink, kaplank, kaplunk in our blueberry pails. The potent flood of childhood joy while pirouetting across the lawn at dusk. The peaceful repose of our children’s faces when sleep finally claims them, lying on a row of cots, a camping trip on the porch.

This journey of weeks and months and years has layered strata of reminiscences, forming the epoch of juvenescence. The river I raft takes me through the canyon walls of each recollection, and the footprints left on the sandy shores are imprints of my children’s growth and change.

So now, how to harvest and savor these times? How do I impress them into memory foam? Another member of book club has such a mattress, and it remained in her garage for months until the intense odor finally released and floated away. How to contour the lumps and bumps of cherished times while allowing the bickering, whining and grumpiness to outgas? How, in the expanse of the everyday, can we catch and commit to our minds the sacred seconds of love and connection?

In the weeks ahead the trees of the maple grove will begin to drop their leaves. I will drive by listening to music of my own choosing, not that negotiated by the junior member of our familial constituency. And it will be time, as Mr. Bowie reminds us, to ‘turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes’. Maybe I’ll stop. Gather leaves colored ginger, cerise and chestnut. Take them home to carefully press and preserve. Will it be enough to keep my heart filled even when the back seat is empty? I don’t yet know. But I’ll keep you posted.

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