Category Archives: dog

Here Kitty

Today’s a big day. I’ve got butterflies in my stomach.

Or perhaps I should say mice.

Because, after long last, it’s kitten day. The day we pick up our young, grey adoptee, Wally, from a local rescue. (A place, I might add, whose qualifications for adopting are so stringent you’d think we were getting a six-month-old baby.) It’s taken two weeks for the whole process to go through, but we’re done now, approved, prepared. We’ve got the carrier, the litter box, bell toys, Trader Joe’s scratch pad–I think we’ve covered everything.

But really nothing will prepare us. I’m terrified. I know what a kitten is. Oh, they’re cute, fetching, lovable, and all that. That’s what gets them in the door. But they’re also middle-of-the-night head pouncers, mewling meowers, tchotchke smashers, stinky poopers, furniture destroyers, and skin shredders. I hope we can handle it. Not to mention afford it!

Right. The money. Why, you ask, did you elect to do this now, with your finances in their current state? Pets are expensive.

My short answer is, blame Mike. About a year ago, in a moment of weakness, he promised MJ a kitten if she’d start pooping in the potty. We were desperate; bribewise, candy wasn’t doing it. Cut to the present. The kid is trained. Goodbye diapers. It’s a damn miracle. And I didn’t want to be those parents that made conditional promises and then hoped their kids would forget.

So I reminded her.

Which is why Mike’s short answer to the above inquiry is: blame Jessica.

In any event, a cat is coming. The house will never be the same. Mina will never be the same. Our couches will never be the same.

But Myra-Jean will believe us when we give her our word.

A small price to pay, right? Small and furry. And able–God, please–to poop where we ask.

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Hoop Screams

Who would’ve thunk it? The last vestiges of my sanity, stolen by a hollow, round object with orange and white stripes.

No, not a barber’s pole.

A hula hoop. It’s everywhere. Like the makeup brush, the play money, and a few other things I’ve written about here, it’s become totally ubiquitous. But Jesus. Those other items were small. This is different. You can’t have a hula hoop underfoot. It’s seriously unsafe. And you shouldn’t have to see one all the time. It’s a special treat–like cotton candy. You don’t want to eat it more than once a year.

But that’s exactly what I’m doing. Figuratively speaking. For everywhere I turn, there the damn thing is. Like a dog, but with no tail. Or fur. Or–anyway.

I’ve come to believe that the thing is possessed. It moves of its own volition. I never see Myra-Jean play with it. Never. Yet there it is, on the couch. And now it’s in the bedroom. Oh, hello, asshole hoop in the shower. And today? I found it on the kitchen floor, when yesterday I remember very clearly throwing it behind the dresser.

Because yes, I’ve taken to hiding the damn thing. Not quite being ready to trash it, I drop it, instead, behind large, mid-century pieces of furniture. Usually with a great deal of cantankerous muttering. I know, it’s the vertical equivalent of sweeping it under the rug, but I can’t help myself. I’ve also tried sweeping it under the rug. That doesn’t work either.

If I were a different sort of person I’d drill a hole in the wall, put up a nifty hook, and hang that sucker out of the way. I’d make a laminated label, too. A colorful one. In a cheerful font. “Hulas, etc,” it might say. In case other hoop-like objects came later. And there my striped nemesis would remain, coming down only at appropriate moments. Like a well-behaved object of whimsy should.

But I’m not a hook-maker. And I don’t know how to laminate. I don’t do organized. I try, but certain objects elude me. Like this one.

And most others.

At moments like this–when, say, a hula hoop has become the repository of all of my rage and frustration–I wonder whether it isn’t a good thing that I’ve gone back to work. Because I get crazy. It’s the chaos. I don’t “ride it” well. Staying at home is all chaos. Houses are chaos. Dogs are chaos. Kids are chaos. (They’re also, if they’re almost four, sort of psychotic. But that’s another conversation.)

Suffice it to say, work is the easier place. Yes, I miss MJ when I’m there–it’s like a hole’s been drilled out of my side, cauterized, and stuffed with wet hay–but at least when you pick something up it stays there. Things have places. Also, I get breaks, and wear nice clothes, and, holy Christ, lipstick! Remember that? And best of all, the toilet gets cleaned by someone else.

But tonight I’m here. And as I prepare to curl up with my laptop, and Breaking Bad, and my dear girl sleeping in the next room…the hoop gets a pass. I’ll pick it up tomorrow. Or she will. Or it’ll transport itself to the roof.

One thing that’s guaranteed?

It’ll move.

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To Do or Not To Do

Who says grownups don’t have homework? We’ve got a shitload. And there’s no blaming the dog if we don’t get it done.

I’ll speak for myself. I can’t catch up. If life were a graded class I’d be scrambling for a D.

These days, with work added in, I feel unbelievably swamped. Because everything now must be squeezed into the four days when I’m home. Or the parts of those days, that is, when MJ is not demanding my undivided attention to make up for my absence the rest of the time.

Which boils down to about, oh, forty minutes a day. Into which I try to squeeze the numberless quotidian duties of a modern mom, wife and homeowner. Plus:

The fundraising. It’s always on my mind. Always. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Or the committee chairmanship. How, I ask myself, will I raise thirty thousand dollars for my kid’s school? How? I lie in bed at night worrying. Plotting. Despairing. When I finally fall asleep, I dream about car washes, bake sales, ebay auctions, bank robberies. Only the latter is effective. Because it’s carried out by three-year-olds, with sticks for guns. Riding on bananas. Who’s gonna say no to that?

Then I wake up. And we’re still at zero.

Anyway. Then there’s this blog. I love it. But it’s an obligation, too. Self-imposed, but aren’t most of them?

Next: the garden. Jesus Christ, what a time suck. A while ago, in a fit of impatience and shortsightedness, I had Mike tear out the sprinkler system. Now everything has to be watered by hand. Every other day. Because it’s 150 degrees out there. Plants wilt easily. So do people. It’s a drag. And it takes seventeen hundred hours. I hate it. But I hate looking at bare dirt, too.

Next: the lunches. If we don’t pack those the night before, the morning is a disaster. Even under the best of circumstances our days begin frantically. God forbid we should add in one more task. Especially one involving mayonnaise.

Then there are the phone calls. To friends, family, insurance companies, tax assessors, veterinarians, doctors, handymen,  exterminators, board members, possible fundraising connections, old acquaintances whom I’ve been promising to call for years and haven’t and now they hate me.

And don’t forget the straightening. And straightening. And straightening. And dishwashing, laundry, bathroom cleaning, garbage emptying, sheet changing, doghair sweeping, toy picking up, dusting, organizing, mealmaking and melted-crayon-scraping.

Once all of the above is done (hah!) there’s the book club assignment. “Gone Girl,” at the moment. I like it. But I hate it more. Especially as it has to be done by Wednesday, and I still have 100 pages to go. Each of which will drip with venom, duplicity, and perfidy. Good for the outlook! Next book: “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

Speaking of positives. There is one homework assignment I love. It’s the postcards to Myra-Jean. These are crucial now. They are the sole reason she no longer bursts into tears when I tell her I’m going to work. They actually make her glad. Glad I’m going, so she can look for them. It’s that easy. Or so it seems. It probably isn’t. But it’s helping.

And guess what? I like drawing them. I do it the night before. It relaxes me. Crayons are a cooperative medium. Unlike life.

Anyway. I imagine her face as she finds them, her tapered finger pointing as she sounds out the letters “O-W-L,” her delight at the image of a favorite planet, her soft smile as Mike reads my words. This makes me happy. I need no dog here. Nothing to snatch away this highest and most pleasurable of tasks: the lightening of my daughter’s day. I love it.

And it makes me feel better about everything else that’s been left undone. At least I’ve got my priorities right.

That and thirty grand will get me a decent night’s sleep.

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Dog Gone It

They say you should let sleeping dogs lie. But when it comes to dead ones? I’m afraid the truth will out.

I’ve been avoiding letting MJ skype with my mom and step-father. Their dog Otis died two weeks ago, and I hadn’t found a way to tell her yet.

What’s the connection? It’s simple. Whenever MJ skypes with someone, the first thing she wants is to do is “talk to” their pet. The humans are sort of an afterthought, honestly. It’s the animals she wants to see. A Skype call with my mom and step-father, then, always featured a visit with Otis. Usually passed out on his rug. Still, it was MJ’s favorite part of the call.

But now Otis is gone. MInd you, he lived to a ripe–and then some–old age. By the end he’d grown stiff, deaf, and completely incontinent. Coming with our family to Nova Scotia this summer was his canine swan song–even if he shat in the car the whole way up. His last weeks on earth were happy and sun-soaked, frail and skeletal though he was.

We grownups knew he was at the end. Sometimes, when he was lying in the grass napping, we’d have to shake him lightly to see if he were still alive. It could be quite hard to tell. MJ, who doted upon him, was oblivious. It never occurred to her for a moment that, when she said good bye to him on the morning we flew home, it would be for the last time.

He was put down two days later.

Since then we’ve been agonizing:  to tell her or not? The latter seemed the better choice. With all the changes afoot, it seemed cruel to toss in an additional blow. “We know you’re upset about your mom going back to work, but–remember Otis?”

Finally, though, we broke down. A couple of mornings ago MJ asked, for the third time, to skype with my mom. We’d been putting it off, changing the subject, making excuses, but we knew it couldn’t go on. We lived in the modern world. We couldn’t hide behind a telephone. MJ wanted to see her grandparents. And, even more, their dog. We had to tell her.

Mike and I exchanged meaningful looks. This was going to suck. First of all, it was way too early for such weighty conversations. I’d barely made my first cup of tea. Secondly, Myra-Jean had never known anyone who died before. This was going to hit her hard.

MJ was sitting on the bench next to me. She’d decided to start a puzzle while she waited for the computer to boot up. “So, honey,” I said gently, putting my arm around her, “before we Skype with Nana Bonnie Mike and I need to tell you something.”

Deeply engrossed in her new undertaking, MJ barely looked up. “What?”

Mike, who was standing in the kitchen, took a step closer. In his softest, kindest voice, he said “It’s about Otis.”

“Oh.” She didn’t look up. She was piecing together a picture of a dinosaur. It was standing in flowers and wearing a derby. Hatosaurus.

I nodded at my husband. Let him be the one to break the news.

Mike cleared his throat.”So when animals get very old their bodies slow down.”

“Oh.” Another piece.

“Yeah. And then, well, they get sick, and have problems, and, um, eventually they just, um, pass on.”

I shot him a look. Pass on? She’s going to think it’s a game of hot potato. “He means they die.”

MJ looked up, her face implacable. “Oh.”

I remembered–vaguely–something I’d heard her teacher say. “Die means they stop moving and they never start again.”

“Otis is gone, honey,” Mike added, tenderly. “He won’t be able to Skype with you anymore.”

MJ nodded slowly and looked down at her work. There was only one piece missing. Finding it beneath her leg, she placed it carefully in its spot. We waited, solicitously watching her lowered head. After a moment she looked up.

“Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie?” Here it came. The death question. Oh God. OhGodohGodohGod.

MJ smiled. “I am a puzzle genius.”

There was a beat. “But honey. About Otis. How are you with all of that?”

Myra-Jean shrugged. “I’m great.” Hopping down from the table, she began putting her puzzle away. “Can I please have a glass of milk?”

And that was that.

Mike and I are praying it’s developmental and not sociopathic.

In the meantime? Our little genius wants a cat.

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Happy Meal

Happiness is:

  • Hating your new co-workers a little less.
  • Coming home to find your daughter still awake, even though it’s an hour past her bedtime.
  • Being so excited to see her that you almost break your nose on her head as you embrace her.
  • Her being so happy to see you that she doesn’t even notice the collision.
  • Lying next to her in her wee bed, your feet hanging over the endboard, talking about her day.
  • The way she says, over and over again, “Mama. You came home.”
  • Her new painting–almost miraculously beautiful–of Mina and an octopus.
  • Finding that not only has your husband prepared dinner, but the plate waiting for you is covered with paper towel then plastic, so you will not ingest hormone-disrupting chemicals after microwaving.
  • Knowing that, since said husband is going out, you can eat the aforementioned plate at the table like a zombie while binge-watching “Orange Is the New Black” on your laptop.

It is incremental improvement, even when this seems impossible.

It is knowing that you don’t have to work tomorrow. Or you do, but at home. Your favorite place of employment.

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Loaf Lost

If we were a restaurant, we’d have been shut down by the health department today.

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Yes, it’s a meatloaf. Don’t laugh.

That’s the final version. There was an earlier incarnation, which tasted mystifyingly raw inside, even though it had cooked for an hour and a half. I ate a small slice, and got so freaked out I fed the rest to the dog. It was creamy, like polenta. I don’t know much, but I know meatloaf isn’t supposed to have the “mouth feel” of creme brulee.

So I put the remaining half back in the oven. Because Mike would need dinner, too, when he got home. And I was not feeding him turkey pap.

An hour later I remembered to get it out.

“What did you do to it?” Mike said, when he saw it.

I shook my head. “I don’t know, exactly.”

“Oh, well. I’m sure it’ll taste great,” he said, in that game way people do when they know they are about to step off of a culinary cliff.

Later, after he’d eaten all of it–good man!–we talked about what had gone wrong.

“It just wouldn’t cook,” I insisted. “It was in there forever. It tasted like oatmeal. And then it got burnt.”

“Was the oven temperature right?” Mike asked.

“Yes.”

He shook his head. “Then I don’t know what to tell you.” There was a pause. “Did you follow the recipe?”

“Yes,” I snapped, rolling my eyes exasperatedly. Then I thought about it. I’d used a bit more ketchup than was called for. And a bit less meat.

I mentioned this.

“How much more ketchup?”

I counted in my head. “Maybe four times?”

His eyes widened.

“It was a mistake!” I stammered. “I read the recipe wrong. And then I forgot–and I had to–anyway. Maybe five times. Do you think that could’ve been the problem?”

“It’s a lot of extra liquid.”

I cocked my head. “Ketchup is a liquid?”

He ignored this. “Of course it tasted creamy. It was soaked.”

Whatever. What’s done is done. But I’m renewing my vow–first made after the Mark Bittman chicken debacle two years ago–to never again cook a recipe that calls for a meat thermometer. It’s not worth the pain, the humiliation, or the attendant mild nausea.

As for our home-restaurant? The one Myra-Jean is now calling “Food?” We will simply go vegetarian. Or vegan. Or better yet, raw. I suspect I have a knack for that.

Reservations, anyone?

Little Pitchers, Big C

“Mama, come on! Play doctor with me!”

“One second.”

I tapped hurriedly at my computer. I was trying to list something on ebay while simultaneously keeping MJ company. She’d been patient, considering she’d been asking me to put the laptop down for over fifteen minutes.

“Give me…one…more…minute,” I muttered, as I tapped out a description of the hideous kids’ top I was trying to sell. What’s a euphemism for “I wouldn’t put my child in this if she were naked in a nuclear freeze?”

“To die for,” I wrote.

Mama!”

“OK, OK,” I said, not glancing up from my screen. “Are my patients ready?”

“Yes.”

“Doctor’s tools?”

“I laid them out.”

Done, finally. “I’m coming right now.” I hit enter, waited for confirmation–Congratulations! Your item is for sale!–and shut my laptop. Standing up, I smiled gamely. “I’m ready.”

Then I saw the waiting room. Otherwise known as the row of small chairs MJ drags in from all over the house to prop my patients on. There were, like, fifteen. Each one containing a stuffed animal, fluffy and impatient-looking.

“Jesus. That’s a lot of patients, Myra-Jean.”

“Yeah.”

“I have errands to run.”

She looked at me sweetly. “Just do these guys and we’ll be done.”

I took a deep breath. We could start, I guessed, and see if she got bored.

Hah.

Sighing, I walked to my office. The couch. “Bring me number one.”

MJ–who moonlights as the ambulance driver–hopped onto her plasma car, drove it all of three inches to the waiting chairs, and grabbed a small brown horse. Pivoting the car slightly, she drove it another half a foot and dropped her passenger on the coffee table.

I picked it up. “Hi, little horse. What’s your name?”

MJ replied squeakily: “Lisa.”

I petted my client’s mane. “Hi, Lisa. And what seems to be the trouble today?”

“I have a stomach flu.”

“Oh, dear. Let’s start by listening to your heart.”

As I tucked the hard plastic of the stethoscope into my ears, I drifted onto auto pilot. I was on script now, and frankly I could recite my lines in my sleep. The ailments never varied; neither did the treatment. Patients came in with one of three things: the stomach flu, a fever, or a cough. They got their hearts checked, blood pressure taken, ear mites removed (a mysterious process involving  waving a strand of yellow straw around their heads), and a stool sample taken (don’t ask). Then they were declared cured. They left, another one took their place.

What a grind. I can imagine just a little bit what doctors under managed care must feel like. I often consider going into dentistry. But then I remember my patients have no teeth.

I was interrupted in these musings when, three patients in, something woke me out of my stupor.

It started with a dog. A small one, with dirty-white and brown fur. At first her visit seemed routine. Myra-Jean pulled up in the ambulance. The dog was thumped onto the coffee table. Her voice, when she told me her name, was as pipey as always.

“I’m Mina!”

In my mind I was way off at the mall, choosing a new suit for work. I said my next line absently. “What brings you in today, Mina?”

Myra-Jean smiled brightly. “I have cancer!”

I looked up quickly, pushing my stethoscope off of my ears. On the other side of the room, Mike glanced up from his reading, eyes wide.

“What did you say?”

“Cancer!” So cheerful. She might have been saying “ice cream!”

I shot a glance at Mike, then twisted my lips uncertainly. “Um, I don’t handle things like that.”

“Yes you do,”  Mina/MJ squealed blithely.

“No, I don’t,” I told them pointedly. I looked directly at MJ: “Honey, where did you hear about cancer?”

My daughter smiled, clearly satisfied that she had stumped me. “Awigas told me.”

Ah, Awigas. The imaginary friend. Denizen of San Francisco, outer space traveller, expert on all things, and recipient of any and all free-floating responsibility.

I nodded sagely. And said nothing. I really didn’t know what to say.

Fortunately Mike chimed in. Thank God. With perfect eloquence and kindness he explained to Myra-Jean that cancer was a serious sickness. That she probably knew about it because she’d heard us talking. Because we knew people who had it. That it was so serious it didn’t really belong in a game. That if she had questions about it she could ask, but that Mommy wasn’t comfortable making light of something so grave.

Myra-Jean nodded, appearing to understand. I hoped things hadn’t gotten too serious for her.

“Anyway,” I added, more cheerfully, “if Mina really had cancer she’d need a specialist. And I’m just a general practitioner. So let’s give her a stomach flu instead, OK?”

MJ didn’t miss a beat. “My dalmatian doll is a specialist.”

Needless to say the doctor’s office had to shut down early. The physician needed a break. There were some unhappy customers left in the waiting room, but I assured them they’d get seen early tomorrow. They always do.

As for Mina? Her diagnosis is still in question. Mike and I know what we think it is…

But MJ, Awigas, and a certain spotted canine I know? They have a different idea entirely.

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