Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ode to Sam

I initially posted this back in January and am re-posting it today to honor our sweet furry family member, Sam, for one last time.  Last Wednesday night, Sam began having severe seizures all through the night.  By the following morning he couldn't even walk and we had to make the decision to let him go.  We are absolutely heartbroken.  He was 13 years old and he was a loving, sweet and loyal member of our family.  We love you Sam!!

You feed me when I'm hungry,
You keep water in my dish,
You let me sleep on anything,
Or in any place I wish.

You sometimes let me lick your hands,
Or even lick your face,
Despite the fact I've licked myself
In every private place.

You taught me how to come when called,
You taught me how to sit,
You always let me go outside
So I can take a ...........stroll.

I've been with you through oh, so much,
Through laughter and through tears,
I hope you live to be a hundred......
(that's 700 in doggy years!).

Author Unknown 

Yesterday morning.  
"Wo-of!"  Sam's low, hoarse bark begging to be let out.  It's early.  Like, dark early.  I stumble blindly to the door kicking legos, pull-ups, matchbox cars and pillow pets (damn you, gremlin-like spawning pillow pets!) out of my way.  

As I reach the door, squish!  I step, no, I should say I gave my foot a bath, in dog vomit.  Blah!!  The dog has thrown up...again.  In his defense, at least this time he aimed and succeeded at vomiting on the tile instead of the carpet.  Score for Sam! 

This February, Sam will be 13 years old.  Just to impress you with my quick thinking math abilities, that's 91 in dog years.  Sam is 100% purebred mutt.  If he were a wine, he'd be a 2 Buck Chuck - blended from unidentified and really cheap grapes but in the end just what you want.  

Eleven years ago as a starry-eyed newly wed, I went to the shelter to"just look" at the available dogs.  Now, Max did not grow up with animals in his home, while my house was a revolving door for dogs, cats, parakeets, fish, rabbits, hamsters and turtles.  We had been living in our newly purchased home for just a few months and it felt empty.  Homes come with dogs, right?  Well this one didn't and I needed to fix that.  So, while I had no intention of adopting a dog without my beloved husband's knowledge and input, I figured it really couldn't hurt to "just look."

Here's the problem.

I'm a ridiculous softy when it comes to homeless, lost, and/or abandoned animals.  It quite literally breaks my heart.  If I see an animal far from home I will stop at nothing to ensure its safe return to the loving family who is most certainly torn apart by the absence of their beloved pet.  Unfortunately, this has led me to once (possibly twice) save a dog from its own front yard.  In my defense, it was very heavily wooded and the dog kept following me.     

Thorns may hurt you, men desert you, sunlight turn to fog;
but you're never friendless ever, if you have a dog.

Douglas Mallock 

That day at the shelter, I wondered around reading the descriptions of Buddy, Toby, Rover and Fido.  Each description assured me that this was the dog for me.  I was trying hard not to make eye contact with any of the dogs for fear that I would 
        1.) begin to sob uncontrollably and then be admitted myself 
        2.) adopt every dog in sight and live the rest of my life alone while I 
             bitterly morphed into Cruella De ville 
        3.) actually have to make a CHOICE as to which dog I wanted to bring         
             home thereby sentencing the rest of the dogs to premature death

Somehow, I met just one pup's eyes.  Sam.  And that was it.  I looked at him and he looked at me with these big, brown, gentle eyes.  His description said, "loving dog, family couldn't keep him, needs good home."  This was our dog. 

I talk to him when I'm lonesome like;
And I'm sure he understands.

When he looks at me so attentively,

And gently licks my hands;

Then he rubs his nose on my tailored clothes,

But I never say naught thereat.

For the good Lord knows I can buy more clothes,

But never a friend like that. 

W. Dayton Wedgefarth 

I did not bring Sam home that day.  Instead, I called Max and told him to stop by the shelter on his way home from the airport the next morning.  "Check out Sam, and see what you think."  Around 1 PM that day my phone rings at work.  It's Max.  He's in the lobby.  He has the dog.  

I run down the stairs and out to the parking lot to our car.  There is Max.  He's pale.  Kinda sweating.  And looking really annoyed.  He tells me that when I told him to "take a look at the dog" what I really meant was "adopt the dog immediately".  (He's not wrong.)  Unfortunately, as soon as Max starts the car and drives away from the shelter...Sam throws up...in the car...a lot. 

Since that day, Sam has been far from a perfect dog.  He has had accidents in the house, vomited more times then we can count, chewed gates, molding, and doors to pieces, and cost us large amounts of money in his health care and Motel 6 hotel bills.  There was even the time he dragged me down the side of a mountain and into our friend's hot tub in pursuit of a squirrel.  But none of that matters.

The dog barks backward without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.
Robert Frost

Sam is family.  He has watched us as we have navigated through the "what the hells" of pregnancy, newborns, and sleep deprivation.  He has been there when the kids were sick in the middle of the night.  He's gone for walks with me and the stroller skillfully avoiding tail entanglement with the wheels.  He has been nothing but our faithful companion during our childbearing years when, with the birth of each child, he gracefully took a step back.

So, yesterday morning.

My foot. Sam's vomit. Max silently cleans it up. We turn to Sam who looks at us with those gentle, brown eyes.  He's skinny these days.  It takes him a few attempts to get up from his pillow.  He moves slow, careful, like he navigates each step.  We go to him.  Pet his head, rub his ears.  Tell him he's a good boy.  And hope we have given him as much as he has so unselfishly given us.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

The slow death of consistency and good parenting

Before I had my first baby, I had loads of theories about how to raise a child.  And I was super confident in those theories and how I would expertly apply them to my role as a parent.

I would boldly proclaim, "Children need consistency.  You just have to be consistent with your expectations.  You either pay the piper now or later.  So consistency is the key!"  I would often state this whilst standing on some sort of transparent soap box.

Watching Super Nanny only made me more obnoxious.  How could these parents not see how inconsistent they were being with their children?  No bedtime?  No rules?  No consequences for bad behavior? No sticker charts?  I didn't even have my first baby and I already knew more than these hardened parents of multiple children.

I was confident.  I was smug.  I already new the biggest secret to successful parenting.  And I was going to rock as a parent.

I love how life has a way of humbling us to teach the real lessons. 

When Ella was born, I read Baby Wise and intended to have a sleeping-through-the-night baby in just a few short weeks.  And because we were parents to just one baby whose every breath, movement and fart had our ever loving attention, she was sleeping through the night and in her own bed by 7 weeks old.

Pat, pat.  See, I would think to myself, it's all because we are consistent.  It probably had nothing to do with the fact that she would have done this all on her own anyway. 

Now when Keira came along, I was slightly more interested in my own sleep so she slept in our bed for the first 5 months of her life.  But that was just a blip, I assured myself.

In other areas, I was confident.   For example, when one of the girls didn't listen, I would patiently give a warning, then put the repeat offender in time-out. For Ella and Keira it worked like a charm.  Especially for Ella who was born to please.  

And when we would get together with our friends who had two run-around-in-circles-throwing-things-and-nearly-breaking-every-bone-in-their-bodies boys, I would look at the girls quietly coloring or putting a puzzle together while sitting down and think to myself, consistency really is the key.   

Pat, pat.  

And then Sawyer was born.  A boy.  A passionate, stubborn, only take yes for an answer boy.  A boy who at just 2 weeks of age threw his first full-blown temper tantrum, while swaddled, complete with foot stamping and if he could have spoken, talking back and probably cursing.  And all because I had requested that he take a nap. 

So Sawyer slept with us, in our bed and usually nursing all through the night for the first 9 months of his life.  And until the age of 3, we had spent most every night trying to convince him to stay in his bed when it's bedtime. Okay, so night-time consistency was out the window.  But I still had all my daytime tricks.  

Time-out, for example.  The sure fire solution to making your child repentant.  Or sticker charts, because what child doesn't love stickers?

Sadly, he never got the memo about staying put in time-out so he could deeply reflect on the actions that got him there.  I could not get Sawyer to sit on the time-out spot on the stairs for any length of time.  So I moved his spot to outside the bathroom door.  And I began locking myself in the bathroom.  He really hated that. 

He ate the stickers from the charts or flushed them down the toilet.  Since the charts never made a dent in his behavior anyway, I figured it really wasn't worth the effort and/or possible toxins from the stickers.

So here I am.  On the other side of consistency.  Sawyer is now 3 and I had convinced myself that when this day came, I would suddenly have a little boy who when I said, "No, Sawyer, please don't touch that" in my ultra calm, I-have-it-together mom voice, he would say, "okay, mommy."  

This really doesn't ever happen unless he just doesn't care.  And I lost my ultra calm mom voice years ago.  I actually think he might be allergic to the word, "No."  Oh, and also the words, "Not now, later or maybe." 

Don't get me wrong.  Sawyer is one sweet, big-hearted little boy just brimming with a charming personality.  He's got all the potential.  It's just the "accepting the things he's not allowed to do" that is the problem.  

Last week, we went to the pool for swim lessons where Sawyer has to wait for an hour during the girl's lessons before his begin.  I spend most of this time pleading, threatening, cajoling Sawyer to sit quietly and play with his cars.  He spends the majority of this time evading, tantruming, running or attempting to drown himself.  

So this time, I bribed him.  I told Sawyer that if he played quietly with his cars at the pool, I would pay him 25 cents for listening to me.  He did and I paid up.

Is this wrong?  To pay your kid to listen?  Am I teaching him the value of money instead of the value of listening and being good for its own sake?  WAIT!  Don't answer that.  I really don't want to know. Because, yesterday it also worked at the grocery store and I felt blissful, serene and once again in control.  

Different personalities call for different strategies.  I have learned so much from Sawyer.  Never judge others.  Don't be a smug parent.  Having one child cannot be compared to having a third.  Sometimes you have to do things for the good of the whole as opposed to the good of one person.  If you pay your kids for good behavior, you can also fine them for bad behavior.  And the biggest....boys are different from girls.  Really different.  Sawyer may be my biggest parenting challenge now, but I have no illusions that the girls will be the most challenging when they turn 13.  Ugh.

I don't have the answers.  I am probably making loads of mistakes.  I can be consistent but I am also inconsistent, quite frequently.  I have no doubt Super Nanny would give me her most disappointed British look. 

But I try...I try really, really hard.  


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This is not my life

I'm going to New York City tomorrow.  A weekend with my college roommates and life-long friends.  The four of us.  No kids.  Just a beautiful place to stay and a city full of things to do.

This is not my life.  I assure you.  When we vacation, it usually involves a trip to Ohio, crying, whining, and fighting kids and a very long plane ride or cross-country road trip.  And sometimes a dog.   

But apparently, 2011 is just my year.  London, iPad 2, NYC....I guess next year I will go completely gray, break my other foot, watch my laugh lines become actual wrinkles, have to put up with the children calling me gimpy gran, and Max will be relocated to Kansas (not that there's anything wrong with Kansas.)

So I will enjoy the last bit of "This is not my life" and have some fun in the city with my girls.  Do you have these kind of friends?  The ones you have known longer than your husband?  The ones who knew you when you were a political science major and still liked you after every election?  The ones who came to Appalachian Poverty awareness rallies at 8AM on a rainy Saturday morning just to support your cause?  (Even when what they really needed was to be sleeping it off.)  

This will sound completely corny, but there was something magical about our years spent pursuing higher education together.  I'd love to say it had something to do with our academic amazingness, or study groups, or the library, or creating something very scholarly and groundbreaking, or anything like that.  But no.  No offense ladies.  We were all good students but it was something else entirely.

It was Athens, Tiffin Hall, the Dr., running, Halloween, step class, Friday nights, 1705, the gorilla, football ga...I mean watching the Marching Band perform, jello shots, Memorial Weekends, Grand Canyon spring break trip and not talking for 36 hours straight, Jeff Hill, Palmer Fest, food with our initials on it, Aztec shower curtain, exam week, Thursday nights, Cat's Eye, The Front Room, "It's me Franco!" Saturday mornings, laughing together, crying together, and gold bricks. 

We may not see each other every day, talk regularly, or keep up with the details of each others lives the way we used to, but there was something about those years that have stayed with me since.  A closeness that time, distance and lack of regular communication will never touch. 

This weekend will be fun.  To be honest, the four of us could literally have fun in a cardboard box.  All we do is laugh anyway when we are together.  It doesn't matter where.  And while I would totally be willing to hangout with them in a cardboard box in Kansas just to see them, I'm not-so-secretly thrilled that it will be in New York instead. 


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Coded Surprise

My blog has become like my journal.  My "daily" journal where I record all sorts of adorable, you must write that down things the kids have done, said or written in permanent marker on a window sill.

The journal where each entry begins with, "Wow, the last time I wrote in this I was still pregnant with my first baby."  I have the best intentions when it comes to the written word.  It's my follow-through that apparently never developed past a 2nd grade level. 

And now my blog is falling prey to my grade school inconsistencies.  But, I think all of that is about to change.  Ooohh, that sounded quite lofty.  I mean to say, it might change.  I think.  At least, I'm really optimistic that with a certain package I hope to receive in the next week, I will try really, really hard to keep up with my weekly posts. 

Here's the story.  It's my birthday on Thursday.  Woo-hoo for birthdays!  And Tuesday night I received a text message from my husband at 10:30 PM.  He's away on a business trip.

Check your e-mail.

Okay.  I run downstairs to check my e-mail.  What is he e-mailing me about that he couldn't just call me about?  Will he be traveling on business indefinitely?  Does he actually hate my new haircut?  Does he know about those cute tank tops I secretly keep buying every time I go to Costco?

Waiting for me in my inbox I see:
Subject:  Happy Birthday & Mother's Day

Inside this message is a code.  Perhaps you will find it, perhaps you will not.  All we can say is that we love you and appreciate everything you do for us.  Decipher the code and you will find your gift; it does not ship for one to two weeks.  

If you have already figured out what my gift was, please stop reading as I don't think we have anything in common.  For those of you still left, here's what happened.

"Hey babe.  I got your e-mail.  So, can you give me a hint?"

"No. You can figure it out.  It's all in the e-mail.  It's easy."

Does this man, who I have known for 17 years, know me at all?  I am not a code-decipher kinda girl.  I will take the most simple, straightforward puzzle and turn it into a complicated, tangled mess in my head.  These things just get under my skin and drive me batty.  For obvious reasons, I did not sleep well that night as the coded e-mail went round and round my head.  During one waking dream I fancied myself as a female Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.  I just let the words float around my head hoping they would suddenly fall into place, spelling out my gift.

That didn't happen.  So 7:30 AM, yesterday morning.  The kids need to go to school.  They need to eat breakfast.  Someone needs to brush their hair.  But all I can think about is that blasted e-mail and all the words.  It was maddening.  So I brushed off one hungry kid and called my mom.

"Help me, mom."  I pester her for help until the hungry sounds of my kids prompt her to hang-up the phone so I will feed them.

I ask one of my hungry children, "Hey sweetie!  Do you know what Daddy got Mommy for her birthday?"

Without even pausing, my 5-year-old looks me straight in the eye and says, "He got you a trophy of a running girl."  We are in serious trouble with that girl.  Making up answers is just way too easy for her. 

I stare at the e-mail, willing it to tell me anything.  It doesn't.  It says the same thing over and over again.  I send a text to Max,

7:29 AM   
Losing my mind.  Hint on how to decipher please, pretty please?

         Negative.  You can figure it out.

7:30 AM  
I'm not that smart, you meany. 

8:15 AM  
If I guess right, will u tell me?

        Yes, if you can decipher, it will be obvious. 

9:09 AM  
I'm going crazy. 


My mom and sister have already advised me to give it a break and come back to it later. Since that is never going to happen, I am thrilled when my friend Heidi comes over for a visit.  A fresh set of eyes is surely all I need to crack this code. 

12:35 PM
Is this a clue that only I would recognize?

         No.  The clue is something we all did in grade school and it involved the 50 states.  Once you figure out what the grade school exercise was, then look at the e-mail again.

The 50 states?  Maybe a song we learned to memorize the states?  So I Google "grade school song to learn states" and spend 20 minutes singing the e-mail to the tune of Do Your Ears Hang Low?  Still nada.

As Heidi is studying the e-mail, I say brilliantly, "Maybe Max meant that song we learned in grade school about how a bill turns into a law!"

Heidi suddenly blurts out, "Capitals!"

"Right!" I agree excitedly.  "The bill goes to the Capitol, or something like that, so that means...."  I stop abruptly as I have no idea what that could possibly mean to the code.  But Heidi is furiously writing down letters,

I........P......A......IPA is not a word.  I know that much.  Too bad, she really seemed to be onto something.


Heidi jumps up and screams, "You're getting an iPad!  You're getting an iPad!!"

Just like a girl, I start jumping up and down, clap my hands and hug Heidi, all at the same time.  "Aaaack!!  I'm getting an iPad!  I'm getting an iPad!!"

It was a total girly girl moment.  You would have thought I was Kate Middleton on the day Prince William proposed.

But, it wasn't Prince William.  It was Max.  It was my almost birthday and almost Mother's Day.  It was a code decipher surprise thing.  And it was AWESOME!!