Mother Guilt


I’m Italian. I was raised in the Catholic Church.

Ergo, guilt is my middle name.

When my kids were little, I learned all about “mother guilt.” I got most of my exercise by beating myself up over what I did or didn’t do for my kids. I was too strict, or I let them get away with murder. Guilty!!! I was overprotective. But I didn’t watch them closely enough. Very guilty!!!

Dinner was…gasp….frozen pizza. Take away my mothering license!

Then the kids grew up. None of them are serial killers. All three are productive members of society.

I kind of let myself relax.

But now…I am suffering from a profound attack of momma guilt.

I’ll tell you why.

Two years ago we adopted a sweet little crazy pants puppy who we named Lennie. He was good company for our old dog, Tucker the Wolf King. All was well.

A year ago, though, old Tucker crossed that rainbow bridge, and Lennie was left with no one to play with except for Papa and I, two toddlers, two “cousin” dogs, a great neighbor dog and the occasional friend met on a walk.

We felt sorry for him. Also, if truth be told, we were hoping that a second dog might run off some of his boundless energy. So we reached out to some of the wonderful rescue groups out there, and we looked at a bunch of dogs. We thought we’d open our house to another canine in need of love and attention.

This time around, though, we had at least some idea of what we were doing, so we set some parameters.

“No more puppies,” we said to ourselves. “And no more hound dogs.” We had learned the hard way that puppies chew everything from your slippers to the living room rug. We knew that hounds would run away and not come back if they caught the scent of an animal outside. We were determined to avoid the mistakes of our pasts.

A few weeks went by and we started getting messages from a dear friend about a sweet, adorable, loving little labrador/basset hound mix. He looked so cute! He really needed a home.

So.

We decided to adopt a hound puppy.  Best laid plans and all that stuff.

His name is Bentley, and we have been in touch with his foster Mom for a couple of weeks. She’s crazy about him! We’ve been so excited to meet him. Two weeks before his arrival, I bought new toys, a pretty new collar with his name and our phone number. I even talked about him to Lennie.

I thought that everything was great until last night. I went to bed thinking, “Tomorrow we get to meet our little Bentley! Hurrah!”

Then I had a dream about Tucker. My sweet, beloved Wolf King. I dreamed of him so vividly that I could smell the familiar scent of his head. I could hear his mumblepuppy voice, and feel the soft soft fur of his ears.

Tucker!

I woke up, thinking, “Oh, Tucker! We aren’t replacing you! We’ll always love you! You were our boy, our Wolf King, our best friend.”

I laid awake for at least an hour, wracked with guilt.

Finally I fell asleep again, but awoke a little bit later wondering what that sound was in my ear.

The sound was Lennie, sleeping with his head on my pillow, breathing right into my ear. I turned toward him, and he licked my cheek in his sleep.

Guilt-o-rama.

If we brought a new dog home, would Lennie feel less loved? Would he wonder why we thought we needed another dog, if we already had him? Would my sweet boy feel inadequate as a pet and need years of therapy to get over the betrayal by his Mom?

Guilt. Guilty McGuiltington. I barely slept.

This morning, early, we headed off to meet the transit van that was bringing Bentley to New England. Lennie was left at home to wonder what was up. Tucker was in my heart, looking at me with big brown accusing eyes.

There was a lump in my throat.

But there we were, committed to the new guy. He got out of the van, waddled his way over to us, greeted us with a huge doggy grin and shook his long velvety ears.

My heart turned over, I fell in love, and some of the guilt slipped away. The rest would be up to Lennie.

We made our way home, Bentley snuggled in my arms, and introduced our boys to each other.

And holy hound dog. Whaddaya know.

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“We’re gonna be the best of bruvvers!”

Within an hour, they had sniffed each other’s butts, bitten each other’s ears, shared the same water bowl, chased each other under various bushes, wrassled on the bed and the sofa and fallen asleep side by side.

I think it’s going rather well.

Now I look at Lennie and I feel guilty that I didn’t get him a baby brother months ago.

Sigh.

I tell ya, as a mother, you just can’t win.

 

 

Nonni, the Wolf King, and Matching Ouchies


Oh, boy.

The poor old Wolf King is really getting creaky in his old age.

And poor old Nonni is getting pretty creaky herself.

Usually we’re able to cope with our stiffness, our sore knees, our achy backs. He takes regular anti-inflammatories. I take wine in the hot tub. We both use ice and heat. And we try our best to more or less take it easy.

Today was the third rainy, misty, cool day in a row, and the morning was pretty sleepy for me, the Wolf King and even for Puppy Lennie (aka: ‘The Devildog”). There was some reading and writing (Nonni), some repetitive chewing on a plastic bone (Devildog) and some sleeping with chin on paws (The Wolf King.)

But after lunch, I started to feel guilty about not accomplishing anything today. This is a common Nonni theme, and its actually a good trait. It has prevented me from becoming a complete blob of useless goo with roots from my butt into my couch cushions.

So the guilt struck, and I got up. I put Devildog on his leash and we took our usual walk around the block, which took about 20 minutes. Then we wandered about in the back woods for a bit, until my arm started to throb from all the pulling on the “no pull” leash.

I put Devildog back inside the fenced yard, and decided to do some gardening. I forgot that the gate that leads from our deck into the fenced backyard was open. I heard Devildog barking, calling to me, but I ignored him as I pruned and dug up some overgrown perennials.

Then his voice changed, and I heard the unmistakable woof-woofing of the old Wolf King.

Crap!

This meant that the old guy had made his way slowly down the deck steps and was attempting to drop his royal doody in the backyard. He was annoyed, to say the least, by the Devildog who was dancing around him and trying to nip his butt and his ears.

I dropped my garden tools and opened the gate into the fence area. After I fought off the ecstatic jumps and yips of the deliriously happy Devildog, I grabbed the Wolf King by the collar.

Shit. No leash.

I didn’t want to leave the two of them fighting and jumping while I took the time to walk all the way around the yard and into the front door to take down his leash and bring it all the way back.

“Well,” I thought. “He’s too old and achy to run away like he used to. I’ll just let him out the gate and into the open front yard.”

So I did. I called him. I held the gate open.

The Wolf King looked at me, and tilted his old head. I could read his thoughts as clearly as if he’d spoken.

“Are you KIDDING ME? You are opening the gate to freedom, and letting the mighty Wolf King into the wild world?” He shook his head and shoulders, I swear, like a fighter getting ready to take on his next bout.

He shuffled toward me, stopped at the open gate, and shot me a “so long, sucker!” grin. And out the gate he went.

I’m sure he thought he was running. His front legs were moving forward with some regularity, but those weak back legs sort of stumbled along as if the connection from his spine to his hips was no longer secure.

Even so, he looked like a dog determined to escape and live on the run.

He made it about 30 feet from me. He got as far as my rock garden, where he turned to look at me again.

“Isn’t this ridiculous?” was the thought I read in his cloudy eyes. He gently laid himself down on the grass and waited for me to come get him.

I took hold of his collar, more for old times sake than out of necessity, and we walked slowly toward the front door.

“You got away, you sneaky hound, you,” I said to him. “You sure outsmarted me.” He knew I was making it up, but he was smiling as we reached the front door.

The Wolf King made it up the two front steps, and into the hall. Then he took a big breath, and looked up at the six steps that would take him onto the main floor of our split level house.

I did what I’ve been doing for the past few months. I took hold of his collar, and put one hand on his backside. “One, two, three,” I said, “Up we go.”

Alas. I had forgotten that the Devildog was back inside. As the Wolf King was taking his shaky, achy steps up, the little guy was wiggling with joy that we had come home. Lennie jumped down two steps, where he met the old man on the way up.

And the Wolf King slipped.

His back end simply let go, and he fell back one step. I caught him, but he is a BIG boy, and my back gave a shriek as his full 95 pounds landed on my midsection.

Before I knew it, I had lost my footing, too. I was able to stop myself from falling, but I did a completely ungraceful slow motion descent onto my big old Nonni butt, right in the front hall.

I hit the floor, but managed to hold onto the fluffy haunches of my beloved Wolf King, who found himself in the ignominious position of sitting on his mistress. We both made some “holy crap” sounds, and we both stayed perfectly still for a minute.

While Devildog ran up and down the stairs next to us, barking something that sounded mysteriously like “This is so much FUN!! Whatarewedoing??? I love it!!!”

At last, slowly, I was able to lower the back end of the Wolf King to the floor and to ease his big front end off of the stairs and onto the floor beside him. He rested his head on my chest for a second, and we both caught our breath.

Then I stood up, achy and creaky myself, and put the Devildog outside for a minute. I slowly went back down to Tucker, kissed his puppy-soft head, and asked him, “Do you want to try again?”

Brave soul that he is, he stood up, his back legs splayed and shaking. I put a hand on his collar and a hand on his backside.

“One, two, three,” I said through tears. And up we went. Slowly and carefully.

We made it.

And now we sit, recovering. The Devildog is back to his bone. The Wolf King has some ice on his hips, and has had his painkiller.

Nonni has some ice on her back, and is sipping her own pain killer.

Getting old sucks.

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Devildog truly loves The Wolf King

Let’s take a brief time out……


I can't help it......

I can’t help it……

Sadie, aging far more gracefully that some of us.

…….I’m old.

Let’s just take a brief respite here, shall we?  We may be on the very brink of World War III.  Paris may be burning. The climate is wrecked, the Presidential candidates are a bunch of crazy assed ego maniacs.

I know.   The world is a mess.

But let me digress for just a moment, will you?

You see, in the midst of world crisis and the possible annihilation of humanity, I have a bigger problem.

My dogs are currently producing the kind of flatulence that can peel paint, etch glass, melt solid metal and cause human eyeballs to combust.

Holy methane.

It all started when Sadie began to decline and lost the muscles on her face. This was, of course, closely followed by Tucker having a bleeding mass on his spleen and needing emergency surgery.  Within a week, we went from being the parents of two healthy, hearty dog-food-eating mutts to the grieving parents of two dying little canine angels.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that both dogs came through their ordeals and have lived to poop another day.

But:

In order to reach their new levels of health, they have had to endure several trips to the Chinese Herbalist/Acupuncturist Vet.   This woman is like a young, gentle wizard. She looked at their tongues, felt their pulses, asked about their preferences, and put them on a regimen of Chinese herbs.

She also suggested that, if I really wanted my furry children to be healthy, I should cook for them.

So I do!  Home cooked chicken, rice, oatmeal, squash, carrots, liver, beef……The dogs are absolutely thriving!  Thick, shiny coats! Happy dispositions! Extra energy!

And farts that could clear a stadium in two minutes.

Paul and I have started to sleep in a room with two kind of air freshener, an open window no matter the temperature, scented lotion on our hands and faces…….  And yet we wake up every night from the gagging gaseousness of the doggie output.

What the hell.

If we shut the door and keep them out, they both wake us up by whining, scratching, yipping at our door.   If we let them in, we are doomed.

We have been feeding them probiotics, feeding them several small meals as opposed to one or two large ones, giving them yogurt, walking them before bed, washing their rear ends with scented soap…….

To no avail.

And here is what I have come to believe.

If the US Army could somehow manage to capture and then disperse this toxic smell, every terrorist in the world would curl up in a ball and scream “Bring me lavender!”

Sorry to end suddenly, but its time for me to smear on some Vicks under my nose, insert the nose plugs, and rub rose oil on my pillow.

Mind over Momma


Sadie, aging far more gracefully that some of us.

I can’t tell if I’m dying or not. What do you think?

So I should know by now that my old dog Sadie is practically a mind reader. She is more sensitive to human emotion than most mental health professionals could ever hope to be.

I should know that by now, right?

I mean, ever since she came to us, some 7 years ago, Sadie has been reacting to my slightest emotional expression.  If I cry over a sad movie, she lowers her head and stars to shiver, gazing up at me with her big sorrowful eyes.  If one of us raises our voice to yell at a bad move by one of the Red Sox, she slinks downstairs to hide behind the furnace.

When we laugh, she wags her tail and pants like a puppy.

When I’m scared or worried, she comes to sit beside me, leaning her solid body against me to give what can only be described as a doggy hug.

So when Sadie fell ill with a mystery disease, and began to experience everything from diarrhea to excess thirst to a caved in skull, we thought it was the beginning of the end.

We started to talk softly around her.  There was a lot of, “Oh, poor old girl!  Poor baby. Oh, my poor baby girl.”  We started to think that we should give her extra love, extra treats, extra hugs and brushes and walks.

Over the past three weeks, our fluffy old girl began to really slow down.  She was sleeping most of the day away.  She stopped wagging her tail and spent hour after hour hiding behind the couch.

Her stomach got worse, her symptoms increased. We talked about euthanasia. We consulted with the vet.  We tried to spend quality time with our beautiful old girl.

She kept getting weaker. She no longer stepped out onto our deck as we arrived home, singing and jumping around in her joy at seeing us again.

And last Friday we debated whether or not we should go away for the weekend with our friends. They had invited us to spend three days out on Martha’s Vineyard in their new boat.  I really, really, really wanted to go, but I felt guilty.  What if the old girl gave up the ghost while we were away?  Paul and I talked it over, then decided that it would be OK to leave the dogs in the tender care of our youngest son, Tim.  We knew he’d be careful and would appreciate Sadie’s fragile state.

But we forgot that Tim is only 23!  He isn’t thinking “end of life care”.  He apparently came in the door full of life and youthful energy.  He brought a friend.  They cooked, they went into the hot tub, they listened to music. I’m sure they laughed a lot and hung out with friends and drank beer.

They gave Sadie her medicine, but I guess they forgot to pity her or sniffle over her. I don’t think they ever remembered to say, “Oh, you poor old girl…..”

So, yep, you guessed it.

As we drove down the driveway after our weekend away, both dogs raced out onto the deck, both barking and singing and howling with pleasure.  Sadie danced around, her tail going a mile a minute, her big furry face filled with a happy doggy smile.

She’s been full of energy ever since.

I should have figured.  As long as I keep thinking of her as a spry old broad, she’ll keep acting like one.

Way to go, Tim!  Way to go, Miss Sadie!

Dear Tucker


Still as handsome as you ever were.

Still as handsome as you ever were.

I hope you’re feeling better, big dog!  You really scared us when you got so sick the other night. We thought you had hurt your back, like you did a few years ago, remember?  Dad called you inside, but you didn’t come. You didn’t even stand up.

Good dog, Tucker, good boy.   You always come when we call (unless you have gotten out of the fence to play Wolf King, of course.)  But that night, when we called you, “Tucky! Come, come inside!”, you only looked at us.

Finally we were able to lure you in with some cheese, but you moved so slowly, so painfully.

We thought it was your back.

We didn’t know.

It was a long night; you didn’t want us to touch you, and you wouldn’t eat anything. We had wrapped a pain pill in your favorite American Cheese coating, but you wouldn’t take it.

Good dog, Tucker.

When we finally got you to your vet in the morning, we were sure that she’d just do the usual acupuncture treatment and you’d be good as new.

We didn’t know.

But she did. She took one look at you, splayed out on the floor, panting.  She shook her head, and that’s when I started to get scared.

It was a long day, with a lot of long and scary words in it. “Splenectomy”, “hemangiosarcoma”, “chemotherapy”, “metastasize”.  Emergency.

Good boy, pup.  You’re a good dog.

You’ve been our boy for almost eleven years.  We picked you out of all the others in the pen that day, remember that? We picked you, or you picked us, coming to sit beside where I crouched, putting one little paw on my knee. You looked me right in the eye.  You didn’t jump up, or bite my fingers.  You looked at me, and you tilted your head and my heart melted and we brought you home.

Such a good dog.  Our good boy.

The surgery went well, they tell us.  You are out of the ICU.  We have to wait for pathology reports, but they’ve prepared us to hear bad news.

You’re such a good dog.

We miss you at home!  Miss Sadie misses you.  She has walked from room to room for two days now, looking for you in your usual resting spots.  She goes outside to the deck, then comes right back in. She stays by my side, whether to get comfort or to give it, I can’t say.

We need you home.  I don’t know what the future will hold for you, Tucky Pup.  All I know is that it is way too quiet here without our Mumblepuppy greeting us with a big “Helloooooooow” and grumbling as he settles on his bed.

Good boy.  Good dog.

Stay.

Please stay.

Sadie, you old phony……..


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I may not be the smartest person in the world, but I certainly never thought I’d be outwitted by a dog.

Huh.

Miss Sadie, I’ve got your number now, you old fake.

Yesterday I woke up on the late side.  My old girl, Miss Sadie, was sound asleep on the floor by my bed.  This is not unusual; she seems to consider herself my elderly bodyguard and she usually sleeps next to me.  What happened next, though, was definitely out of character.

I got up, as usual, and creaked and groaned my way into the bathroom.  Now, the usual routine is that once I get in there, I hear Sadie’s long black toenails clicking their way toward me, followed by a long sigh and a “whump” as her big old butt hits the closed door.  This time, I went through my morning ablutions (great word, huh?) and showered.  When I came out, my old girl was still sound asleep beside the bed.

Odd.

I went into the kitchen to make breakfast.  I usually have to scoot both of my dogs out of the kitchen at least three times while the coffee drips and the toast pops. Not today.  Tucker hovered around, hinting about how delicious that rye bread smelled, but there was no sign of Sadie.  I went to look for her, and found her curled up behind the end table in the living room.

Very odd.

Now I was getting worried.   I coaxed her out with a piece of cheese, and stroked her warm fur.  “You OK, sweet pea?”, I cooed. “You feeling alright, old girl?”  She licked my fingers and looked up at me with her huge brown eyes.  Poor old doggie, poor old girl!  Her big fluffy tail thumped a few times on the floor, but she quickly laid herself back down.

I thought maybe her arthritic leg might be hurting her.  Maybe it would be a good idea to take a short walk?

Gently, kindly, I put the leashes on both dogs, and walked them very slowly down the front steps.  Sadie walked sedately by my side down the walk and onto the driveway.  She followed along all the way down the street, not pulling on the leash or trying to chase squirrels.

Wicked odd.  My worry increased, my heart sank.

Dogs don’t have very long lives; I know this.   I know that mine are getting old, but it breaks my heart to even think about that fact.  Tucker doesn’t see well any more.  He has back cramps and weak back legs.  He goes for acupuncture.  Really.

Sadie doesn’t hear well any more.  She doesn’t notice visitors until they get right to the door and knock.  She jumps up and barks if I drop a book.   She moves slowly around the house.  She rolls onto her side to show her belly if you try to pat her.

In short, I have begun to see myself as living with two elderly and slightly pitiful old canines companions.  I am very tender with them. I don’t make many demands. I feed them glucosamine and fish oil tablets wrapped in American cheese.  I swab their ears to keep them clean.  Every night I gently brush their teeth and massage their gums.

So when Sadie seemed particularly pitiful yesterday, I chalked it up to her advanced age.  We walked around the neighborhood, slowly, enjoying the warm air and birdsong.  I was heading back toward home when I realized that Tucker had “done his business” but Sadie still hadn’t.  H’mmmmm.   Maybe the problem was constipation?  It can happen to older people.  I mean, “older dogs”.

Anyway.   I decided to let Sadie off the leash so that she could rustle around in her favorite spot in the woods for a few minutes. Maybe she’d feel better, poor old thing.  I leaned down and unclipped her leash.  She raised her head slowly. Her tail swished once. “Thanks, Mom.”, she seemed to say.  Then she slowly and unsteadily made her way into the woods.

Tucker and I headed toward home, knowing that the old girl would catch up to us once her job was done.  We walked along the street, then headed down the driveway.  Slowly.

No Sadie yet.

I got all the way to the end of my driveway, ready to start up the walk toward the front door.  I looked across the yard, but didn’t see my poor old girl.

“Sadie!”, I called. “Come on, Miss Sadie!”

I waited for a moment.

And here she came!  Running full speed across the yard, her big plume of a tail arched gracefully behind her.  She leapt over the tiger lillies, arched over the irises, sped across the grass. He eyes were shining, her mouth was open in a wide doggie grin. She came on full speed, and when she got to us, she ran a full circle around Tucker and me, barking and leaping.  Dancing.

Laughing at me and my worries.

I’ve got your number now, you old fake of a guard dog.

Either all that moping around is a total act, or that was one hell of a restorative poop.

Frog Fights and Teachable Moments


Oh, the best laid plans!

bull-frogs-sing-to-the-skies-the-dark-rift-draws-nigh-all-reptiles-vibrate-the-oceans-and-seas-to-protect-earths-magnetic-field

Yesterday was the first really warm day of the year; we haven’t seen 70 degrees in Massachusetts since October.  We really, really NEEDED this great weather!

And its the day before the stupid, accursed, pointless, boring, way-too-long standardized math tests.  We will be trapped in our classroom for HOURS over the next two days.

So I did what any self-respecting classroom teacher would do: I took the kids outside for some “Ecosystem Review”.

They all knew, of course, that “Ecosystem Review” meant “Let’s get outta here!”, but they pretended to play along when I told them to record their observations and to write a piece of poetry inspired by the experience with the water ecosystem.

They tried to act semi-studious as I herded them out the door after lunch, toward our outdoor classroom.  “Remember”, I told them, “You need to record your observations of the environment today.  Record what it is that you see, hear, feel, smell.”

“So is this extra recess?”, one eager little boy inquired with a joyful grin.

“No!”, I assured him, giving my best serious teacher frownie face.  “This is SCIENCE.”

We headed out into the gorgeous mid day sunshine, feeling the heat on our faces and the warm breeze in our hair. We semi-walked and semi-raced down the grassy hill toward the pond and the pretty spring gardens.  I sat on the wooden benches in the shade as the kids ran out onto the boardwalk that circles the little pond.  I heard them chattering and calling as they ran around, pointing to various bugs, plants and piles of litter.

I wasn’t really paying that much attention to the kids voices at this point: I had instituted “teacher ear”, a sort of “organic app” that allows us to filter out everything other than words pertaining to poop, sex, vomit or guns.   Its a kind of survival technique that we use in the classroom.  Don’t tell anyone about it, OK?

Anyway, there I was, sitting in the warm sun, face raised to catch the full benefit. I was hearing the humming of the bees and the wind in the flowering trees.  All was well.

My “teacher ear” was gently filtering the language of the kids.  This is what it heard:

“What’s that lump?”

“Do you think its a frog?”

Yep! Its a frog!”

“OH, MY GOD! A FROG!!! IN THE WATER!!!”

“Oh, my God!”

“What’s he doing?”

“They’re playing LeapFrog!”

“For real????”

“Yeah, one frog is jumping on the other frog’s back!!!”

Just as my brain began to register this newest bit of information, one of my most savvy, most sophisticated boys let out a gasp of amazement, and I heard him shout, even as I was coming to my feet to head them off,
Oh, my God!!! They’re MATING!!!!!”

common frogs mating

There was a cry of general disbelief and confusion, then the pounding sound of 46 feet racing around the boardwalk.   I stood up and hurried onto the walkway, trying to catch up to the kids.   As I reached the spot where all of them were huddled, looking into the water, I wondered what to say.

“Boys and girls”, I began.  “I think that we………” I didn’t get very far before the excited voices of the kids cut into my “explanation”.

“I think they’re DOING IT.”

“Doing what?”

“Playing leapfrog.”

“No! Mating!  They’re making baby frogs!”

“Gross!” “Awesome!” “Cool!” “Disgusting” “What???”

“Boys and girls,” I tried again, sounding at my most serious and most seriously intimidating. “We are scientists, and this is nature at work.” I thought desperately about how to get the kids to see the serious biological issues of the day. How should I explain this?  What should I say?  I looked into the pond, where I saw one large green frog solidly planted on the back of another, slightly smaller frog.  The top frog’s front legs were firmly wrapped around the other frog’s midsection, and I swear to God, both of them were smiling.

I gulped and turned toward the class.

 “All of nature has the goal of reproduction….” I began, somewhat lamely.

“I know!!”, one boy interrupted.  “And all the boys try to get the girls!”  There was a general outburst of snickers.  “Yeah. Why does that happen?”, asked one serious and intelligent little girl.

“Well, see….” I began.

“Really”, answered one of her male classmates. “Why do all the boys try to get all the girls anyway?”

“OK”, I began again, “We are using scientific words here, like “male and female” instead of ‘boys and girls’. You are wondering why in so many species, the males try to fight for the female’s attention, right?”

“Yeah,” said one little lady, with a little frown. “I mean, on all those animal shows, the male lions fight for the females, and the male deer do it, too.  What’s that about?”

I stood sweating in the hot spring sunshine with 23 pairs of innocent eyes fixed on my face, looking for some answers to one of life’s most pressing questions.  What was I supposed to say?   I started to panic as various answers flew through my flustered brain. “Ask your Dad!” was one possibility, but that didn’t seem like the wisest response.  I figured I’d have to fake the serious scientist bit, and tell them about the male of every species wanting to pass on his genetic heritage.  I took a breath and wiped the sweat off my neck.

“Ah, so, see, the male animals are hoping to pass on the, um, the genes, and the, um, their, ya know, they want to be the ones who have their…..characteristics, and, like…..”  I stammered along, with literally no idea of where to go next.

I was saved from total fake-outery, though, when a shrill voice began to scream, “Another frog!!!  Another frog!!! Its a fight!!!!”

Everyone raced to the edge of the boardwalk, me included, peering into the murky greenish brown bubbles of the little pond.  Sure enough, another bug eyed green frog had appeared on the scene, and seemed to be determined to beat the living crap out of the frog in the “topside” position. As we all looked on in amazement, Mr. Newcomer opened his mouth as wide as he could and attempted to tear the head of Mr. Happy-on-top. There was a collective gasp from the mesmerized kids, and someone said reverently, “Whoah!  That dude means business!”

For the next thirty minutes, the entire class watched the drama unfolding before us.  No one seemed to give a hoot about genetics or natural selection.  But they were completely captivated by the mating ritual in the water. I’m not at all sure of what they learned, but I’ve never seen fifth graders demonstrate better focus and attention. I can still hear those excited voices, echoing over the water.

“I think the males are the ones who sing out of that big bubble on their throats.”

“But they’re all singing.”

“So which one is the female?”

“I still think they’re playing leapfrog.”

“Dude. That’s just dumb!”

“Well, why do you think they gave it that name then? It’s definitely leapfrog.”

“Naw, he’s trying to kill the other guy!”

“Frog kissing frog on hims head.” (This from a student who speaks little English).

“This is the coolest thing ever!”

“What, frog sex?”

“Duuuuude!”

“It isn’t sex. It’s mating.”

“I think that might be the same thing.”

That was the part where I rang the bell.  Really loud.  “OK!” I said in happy teacher voice. “Time to go inside!”

Next year, I think I’ll check out the pond to make sure its all G rated before I take the kids outside to observe nature.

THAT is a mighty mouse…..


It all started at about 11 o’clock. it was the first day back after a week of school vacation.  After a week of getting up at 9 and enjoying a leisurely breakfast at 10, I had found myself swaying groggily by my bed at 5:30 AM.  I’d managed to make and drink a cup of coffee before rushing out the door to school.

By 11 AM, I had put away the “American Revolution” and taken out “Water Transformations”. I had corrected a math test, answered emails, run morning meeting, met with the Librarian, set up bins of “Memoir” books, taught a lesson in spelling, taken the kids to chorus and picked them up again.

I was starved.

I was ready to eat anything that wasn’t made of plastic.

So hungry.

I got the kids ready to start our math lesson on “Customary Units of Length” and I casually pulled open my “Snack Drawer.”  Now, this is a drawer in my teacher desk where I usually store a couple of items that just might help me make it through the day.   I usually have a roll of rice cakes, a jar of Sunbutter and a whole bunch of coffee and tea.

I have never had a problem with these items in this drawer.

Today was different, though.  I looked into the drawer as I gave the kids directions about how to convert inches into yards.  I had just remembered that the day before vacation I’d placed a plastic container of salted, spicy dried peas in my Snack Drawer.   Yum-o-rama; just what the doctor ordered!!!

I am a highly skilled, highly paid professional teacher, as many of you know.  I am fully capable of pulling out a drawer, rummaging around for my snack and sneaking a handful of deliciousness into my mouth while I coach kids on how to convert feet into miles.  So I talked about feet per mile, blah, blah, blah as I rooted around for the container of peas.

Ahhhh, there it was! My fingers felt the familiar firm plastic of the dried pea container.  As I lifted up to my desk, my slightly preoccupied brain suddenly wondered, “Why is it so light?”  I gave it a shake, but I kept on talking. “So you can see, boys and girls, that when I convert from feet into miles, I am going from a smaller unit to a larger one……”

I looked at the container, and my voice trailed off into silence.

There was one corner of the little plastic box that was completely missing.  Chewed right off the box.  There were no whole peas left inside, although there were a few pathetic bits of pea skin and salt rattling around in the bottom.

I gasped a little, and every student was suddenly actually tuned in to what I was doing.

Not wanting to upset any of my delicate charges, I dropped the chewed box into the trash and leaned forward to peer into my Snack Drawer.

It’s a little messy in there, but even so, it was pretty clear that there had been an awesome rodent party going on while I was away on vacation.

I found myself looking at the remains of shredded peas, some bits of salt, a pile of tiny yellow plastic bits that turned out to be the chewed edges of my Sunbutter jar.

There was also a prodigious amount of teeny weeny mouse poop spread all over the drawer.  They looked like the world’s smallest sausages, all carefully arranged around the bits of plastic and tiny salted pea snacks.

I looked a little bit closer.

Along with the poopie piles, there were also a whole bunch of tiny black spheres spread out in the bottom of the drawer.

What the……..????

I moved a few things around.  Nope, they didn’t get into the packet of hot chocolate.  They didn’t touch the tea.

Wait…..what’s this……?

I started to laugh, and I couldn’t stop.

I lifted up a brand new, full bag of Starbucks Espresso ground coffee.  One corner had been chewed open, and a stream of coffee was pouring out.

I had a sudden image of the poor little mice, feeling all happy and festive, partying in the drawer full of spicy peas. Feeling all Saturday Night, dancing with the lady mice and pooping up a storm. I could just see the Alpha mouse, chewing away for all he was worth at the silver wrapping on the coffee bag.

“Just you wait, ladies” I can practically hear him gloating. “You’re gonna just love what’s in this awesome shiny bag!  Smells like a human, so its gotta be gooooooood.”

I can see his sharp little teeth finally penetrating the metallic shield and his mouth filling with an unexpected and most unwelcome pile of coffee grounds.

“Gah!!!!!!!!” I can just hear him scream, as he chokes down the pile of bitter, dry coffee bean flecks. “What the hell is THIS?”

The other mice must have cracked up and pooped themselves into a real uproar as they watched him try to clear the awful pellets from his mouth.

It must have been a hoot.

I looked up at my expectant students.

“Um”, I said. “I think there may be an incredibly hyper mouse racing around in our basement today.”

Then I made them go back to converting yards into inches and vice versa.  We got through the rest of our day without any more excitement.

But I can’t get the image of that caffeine crazed mouse out of my head.

Apodemus_sylvaticus_bosmuis

And did I mention that there wasn’t one single nibble on the package of rice cakes?   Who knew that mice were so smart.

The Eyes of the King


IMG_1542

I am the Wolf King.  I am a mighty, mighty hunter.

I fear no thunder, no fireworks, no Boom Monster in the cold winter night.

I am the Wolf King!   Hear my howl!

Man Who Walks Me and Woman Who Feeds Me know all about my howl. They have heard me on the nights when I’ve escaped, pursuing the elusive squirrel through the woods. They have reveled in the sound of my howl as I called to the moon from exactly two feet outside their open bedroom window.

And they know my howl when I wake up in the night and I want to walk from the living room to the bedroom. When I want to travel the long lonely way down the hall.

They hear. And they obey.

There was a time when I owned the hall.  In my youth, I could walk up and down from the bedrooms to the living room with barely a pause.  I was bold, in my youth.  I loved to hear the tickety-clicky sound of my fabulous toenails on the laminate flooring. There were nights when I strolled back and forth all night long, patrolling the darkness, the sound of my toenails proclaiming that all was safe.

But then, everything changed.  The Wolf King was humbled.

It all started when Man Who Walks me decided to add a device called “Fan” to the room where the Dust Eater lives. Naturally, I already have an innate aversion to the Dust Eater.

I am a dog.  I sometimes shed.

OK, in the warmth of spring, I shed enough to knit a couple of new dogs every other day.  But still.  I do not appreciate the times when Woman Who Feeds me swoops down on my resting place with the screaming suction of the Dust Eater.  As that evil wand devours every bit of dust, dirt and (sadly) my butt hairs, I whimper in fear.

I do not like the Dust Eater.

But when Fan joined him, and stood in the doorway to the Dust Eater’s room, I knew that I had met a new enemy.

You see, as the years have passed, the mighty gleaming eyes of the Wolf King have grown somewhat dim.

I can’t see shit in the dark anymore.

And so one gloomy night, as I wandered down the hall, I heard the whirring growl of the fan suddenly coming at me from the left.  I turned my head, but all I saw were shadows.

I jumped about 4 feet in the air.

And I mean all four of my feet. In. The. Air.

Now that was a howl for the record books.

And as I came crashing down again, the tickety-clicky turned into “screeeeeek” and my ass went left while my head went right.

Ouchie.

Since that fateful night (which I think of as “Attack of the Killer Fan”), I am no longer the brave protector of the hallway.  I no longer patrol all night.

Now I fall asleep on the comfortable cushions of my couch. I snooze and snuggle in the blankets that Man Who Walks Me always drapes over my shoulders.  I fart and twitch and do all those wonderful doggie things that my kind enjoy as we rest.

But around 5 AM, every single day, the heart of the Wolf King awakens. I rise from my comfortable bed, aware that Man Who Walks Me and Woman Who Feeds Me are far down the hall. They need my protection!  Plus, there’s an orthopedic dog bed in their room.  I place my front paws on the laminate floor.  My eyes try to adjust, but the floor seems to have no color, no solidity, no firmness.  What if I slip again?  Me no likey the ouchies!

I leave my butt on the couch, and my front paws go sliding around on the floor. I frown, I shake my head, making my ears flap-flap-flap.  I try to howl, but only a pathetic whimper emerges.

Slowly, shakily, I get to my feet and tickety-clicky across the living room.  I stand at the entrance to the hall.  All is darkness. All is shadow.  The Dust Eater sleeps, but I cannot tell if the Fan has returned.  I take two steps forward….click, clicky…..I whimper “heeeeeeew”.  I pause.

All is shadow.  I reach deep inside, to where the spirit of the Wolf King hides.  I call to him.

I take another step….tick…tickety….I whimper louder……”HEEEEEEEEEW”.

This goes on for about an hour

……ticky….click…..heeeeeeemmmmmmm…..clicky….tick…tick…….h’wwwweeeem……click….tick……HOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

At last, at last, my cry of desperation is heard.  Man Who Walks Me emerges from the darkness, hair askew, pajamas sagging.  He mumbles something gruffly, and flicks on the hall light.

Hey! Look at that!  No monsters, no fans, no slippery icy surface!   It’s our hallway!

I lift my head and focus my Wolf King eyes.  Proudly I saunter down the hall, tickety-clicky,tickety-clicky,tickety-clicky.  I sink into my comfy orthopedic bed.

I consider howling, but think better of it when I hear the sounds coming from Woman Who Feeds Me.

All is well for another night.

Logic is so overrated


 

My baby and her baby.

My baby and her baby.

Sometimes I think it is really important to ignore logic. Sometimes it is just absolutely necessary to let go of what makes sense and to embrace what makes our hearts sing.

I am a person who has spent way way way too much time doing what is expected and what seems like the “right” thing.  I never check out a new library book until I have returned all of the old ones.  I never, ever open a new box of cereal if the old one still had a few pieces of stale wheat flakes in it.

I don’t think of dessert unless I have eaten my vegetables and whole grains.  I separate my whites and my darks when I do the laundry.

I have never once, as far as I can remember, ever done something that most people would call “foolish” or “crazy” or even “silly”.

But I am delighted to tell you that my daughter is a freer soul than I am.  She is deeply in love, and about to be married.  She and her honey have been planning a wedding that will be fun and happy and filled with laughs.  They are SO not worried about having the napkins match the flowers.

They have been together for a little more than two years, and they have blended the families of her cat and his dog.

In the past few months, they have shopped for, found and purchased their first house.  It’s an amazing, beautiful place, but it is O. L. D.  It was built sometime before 1900, and it has been abandoned after foreclosure for more than three years.  They moved in this week, and the place is full of boxes, bereft of furniture and definitely dirty. It needs tons of work!  Our Sam will be able to fix it up and make it a gem, but right now, it is not exactly in prime shape.

A logical, predictable “good girl” would put off getting a puppy, no matter how much she and her fiance wanted a new little someone to love, to cement the “ours” in their new life together. A dependable “good girl” would push away her yearning, and her boyfriend’s pleas, and would be sure to paint the upstairs bedroom before getting a little doggie to add to the household.

And this is why I am delighted to announce that my daughter is NOT one of those “do what you’re told” women.  She bought her big old house.  She dumped all of her stuff inside, and she immediately listened to her heart.

Introducing the “as-yet-unnamed puppy” that has just entered my life.  He is a rescue dog, a beautiful baby boy.  He is loved and wanted by his mommy and daddy, and his “Puppy Nonni” can’t wait to meet him.

Here’s to the women who shrug off the rules and to the Mommas who raised them.

Perro Negro. Or Sambra. Or Ragazzo Or Guilt Free Indulgence. You pick the name!

Perro Negro.
Or Sambra.
Or Ragazzo
Or Guilt Free Indulgence.
You pick the name!