Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Year of the Dog

When I divorced my children's father, I took the kids, the barest of furnishings, and my dog. I left much behind, including assets. It's the kind of decision most people never understand having to make until they themselves must do it. I was criticized by people close to me for leaving the house, the 401K, the wedding china. I was even asked by the movers if I was sure what I was taking was all I was taking as they loaded up about half the space of a small truck. I was okay, I said. I had my kids and my dog, I said. Friends moved us into my sister's rental home, and we settled in for a new life, my kids and my dog, and we were as okay as we could be, but Buster missed Dakota, as he had spent about a decade with her in our former life.

I culled through the belongings I had and sold many of them on Craigslist or at a garage sale to help pay bills.  I watched shards of that former life go away and pondered both the grief and adventure of it all. I put my daughter in therapy to coach her through shock and change, and braced myself for the rebellion of my youngest, who was too young for therapy. I did not miss the big house nor the man in it. I did not miss the many belongings (except for a pasta bowl set, which I had really liked). And it was ok, because I had my kids... and my dog-- yet he was growing more and more depressed.

Worried Buster would not survive without his mate, I eventually returned him to my children's father. I had volunteered to take Dakota too and care for them both, but it was an all or nothing choice when he refused to let go of her, a choice I could understand. My dog was so suddenly like the baby brought to the court of King Solomon. You know the story-- the mother, out of love and the desire to preserve life, would rather give her child to another than divide and therefore kill. My dog, whom I had adored for all his quirks--who had an obsession for peeing on my ex's belongings, would sleep perched on the pitch of a dog house roof, wore an extremely comedic expression on his wrinkled face, killed a beaver in our backyard and bore the scars, hated snow, and loved to steal my daughter's rag doll-- was no longer mine. Yet unlike the baby that was eventually restored with his birth mother in that old tale, Buster would never be able to come home with me. And I was fine, I said, because I had my kids and I did the right thing for the dog. It gave me comfort to know he was happy with his mate. But two or three years later, Dakota having grown older and passed, Buster died too, and I grieved as though he had been with me all along. By then I had remarried, was caring for my husband's old husky, and had relocated hundreds of miles away. I had never regretted returning Buster to his former home, but his absence loomed larger than ever. While I would swear to my husband that we weren't getting another dog when our husky would pass (her hair, her random shitting about the house), I found myself shopping online in my spare time. I would visit the adoption center on Saturdays. And this Christmas, I found a litter of puppies up for adoption, told the kids I would think about it, and then a month later, after wringing my hands over the impracticality of bringing home a new dog to train, I learned a puppy in that precious litter was still available, and adopted him. It was a hard decision. It was also the right one.

Toby is my dog, a dog that lies in resigned hopelessness when I leave for work in the morning. He functions as a therapy dog for my son, company for my daughter after school, and a sentry to my home. He has been easy to train, sweet, forgiving, and devoted. And he has been excellent company on mornings like this one, when my husband is occupied elsewhere, my kids are gone with their dad for the summer, and I am feeling the absence of my husband's husky, Sydni.

Nearly two weeks ago, we called a mobile veterinarian to help Syd pass from suffering and old age into the great beyond. My husband wrote his ex-wife and his daughters with the news of his decision. In veritable prose, he described Sydni as going to a place where she could again climb fences, chase rabbits, and snatch salmon from wild streams. Like saying goodbye to Buster that first time, I knew then and still know this was the right decision, one that provided relief. But this morning, I thought about her stable, fuzzy presence, the charm of her contented smile when she napped, and her ceaseless giving of her "fur babies," which my kids and I would roll between our fingers when we plucked loose her shedding coat. When I was struggling to adjust to life in a new city in a new family arrangement, I would stroke her and tell her everything I wasn't telling others, and she would silently take it all in, letting me tickle her ears and play with her tail. I can say now though, that I am ok-- that our old husky lived to make sure we would all be okay, and having seen that, and the entry of a new puppy to our home, she was ready to go.

I am a practical person, one for whom there is always, as a college girlfriend once said to me, a means to my madness. I do nothing without a solid reason for doing so. I make careful, well-deliberated decisions. But I am a fool for dogs.

I love dogs. Loved them before I was even allowed or able to have one. I love the furry bodies, wagging tails, and insistent noses. I love that dogs have facial expressions with eyebrows that raise, furrow, relax. I love that dogs are so forgiving and so friendly. I love ears that perk and flop and puppy cankles and toe feathers and drippy jowls. Much to be said for dogs. My husband and I are both aware of the power of a dog, especially dogs that survive the end of your previous relationship, sit with you when you are sick, and  help you in your tasks (chewing on your socks while you are trying to put them on).  We love the heavy sigh the puppy gives when he settles down to sleep, the manner in which he drops his rope toy into our laps for play, or the way he obligingly lets us put his gentle leader on his nose for walks. Oh, much to be said for dogs.

It has been the year of the dog for us, seeing one die peacefully at home, her fuzzy head cradled by my husband, my hand feeling her side rise and fall for that final breath; and for bringing home one mellow, sprawling puppy who thinks playtime is 3:40 in the morning, and who, as he rests at my feet even now, provides a restful, comforting presence, and one of hope. We are going to be okay. We are okay.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Laundry is a Love Language

My manager recently said to me, in a gesture of reassurance, that she understood I might think my job is thankless. "No," I said suddenly, "Laundry is thankless." I have a tedious job, one that can be isolating, and sometimes the recommendations I make are stetted, the editorial term for disregarding a suggested change, but I never feel unappreciated or unimportant. I see projects roll from copies of text and art into final, polished digital displays or printed work. I see the means to an end, every day. Laundry, however...

As mothers know, laundry is ceaseless. Washed and folded today, soiled and crumpled tomorrow. The young people sheath themselves with sanitized, dried, and pressed cotton in the morning, and by evening, the clothes are dingy, crusty, stained, reek of body odor, smack of yard dirt, and need rewashing, which we do-- again and again. I thought about this and my manager's conversation with me about the importance of my work as I packed my children's clothes the other night for summer with their father. I had grouched at my daughter for folding recklessly and inconsistently, and I came after her with scolding, instructions on re-folding, and  assistance. When the children went to the porch to look for July 4th fireworks, I stayed behind, folding, stacking, and smoothing, suddenly graced with the realization that this is the one time my laundering is not an act to be taken for granted.

When my children unpack their clothes at their father's, they will see my handiwork in the neat stacks of t-shirts and shorts, undies and jammies. The clothes I blessed one last time with purposeful, nurturing hands-- hands that cradled Tiny and Chicken Little as newborns, cleaned drains and changed dressings post-surgeries, sewed Halloween costumes, and stirred pots of gumbo, polenta, and sauce. They will see how tidy and tucked into their luggage are all the essentials they themselves might have forgotten. I will be there in clothes that smell like the detergent I use and folded in the manner in which they are familiar. The children won't think about it as keenly as I might, but I can rest in the assurance that I have provided one last gesture that goes noticed at their father's house long after my good-bye hugs and kisses have evaporated from their skin.

Thankless? Not this time.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


My son was devastated to have lost another critical Lego piece to our nine-month-old border collie.
"That's what happens when you leave your stuff lying around," I said. Tiny objected.
"But I thought he was well-trained," he cried.
"You're well-trained, and you do crazy stuff all the time."

We have pondered the curious sight of my son's smurf-blue poop (a certain someone sucked down a blue sharpie, no kidding), his bizarre tendency to flush household items down the toilet as a protest against visiting his father (couldn't he just draw a picture full of angst like other kids?), and his occasional exhibitionist behavior (for no reason whatsoever). In fact, my son isn't at all a far stretch from the aforementioned puppy, whom we have taught to respond appropriately to a myriad of commands, including "Toby, don't lick your wiener." He needed only a little time to figure out the ban on wiener-licking in my presence. My son needed a greater deal of training, however, for his wiener-issue last year, but he now responds well to "Tiny, quit flashing your wiener." Licking and flashing aside, both critters, despite receiving plenty of affection, structure, and nurturing to coach them into being socially acceptable, occasionally indulge in random miscreant behavior. Because it's fun. Because they can. Wieners aside, they share a common bond.

They are both brilliant thieves. The pup gleefully steals Legos, socks, underwear, Kleenex, and blankies. This year, my son's booty included a Kindle, a watch, miscellaneous Lego guys, and ten dollars. Each time, we stepped up Tiny's training.  And just when I thought he was untrainable, the cycle broke, and Tiny restored himself with a sense of respect for other people's things... most of the time. Toby recently skulked into the living room with a stolen peanut butter and jelly sandwich, flashed it before me, and then lay down in complete shame and resignation. Of the two beasts, he is by far the easier one to train.

Despite the struggle to thwart thievery, Tiny is a leader in the manner in which he returns items (most of the time). We hope his approach inspires his four-legged friend to do the same. Normally, stolen items are returned pretty much in the manner in which they were snatched-- whole, unbroken, unsoiled. Right now, our fuzzy fella gladly returns the Legos he steals, but 24 hours later processed in a pile of poop in the backyard.

We take our training one day at a time chez Catiche. Wish us luck.