Last winter, before sweet and lovable Floyd came into our lives, we had a false start with a another puppy, named “Fender”. We made the very difficult decision to give up Fender after only two weeks due to the aggressive behavior he displayed toward Milo and other toddlers. This is the tale of that eventful week…
Wednesday, February 12:
I had my tarot cards read tonight, which is out of character for me, my most recent foray into anything of that sort being an impulsive bike ride at the age of twenty to a psychic whose shopfront I had noticed thanks to the pink neon hand in the window. I arrived to find the door locked and the shop closed— a possibility I had not anticipated, supposing, I guess, that any soothsayer worth their salt ought to have just known I was coming— and thus pedaled on back to my dorm room, abandoning the occult in favor of the biology homework awaiting me. Now, a decade and a half later, I found myself at the table of the inimitable Carrie May, tarot card-reader by night (appointments only); event planner, garden designer, fundraiser, paralegal, and water aerobics instructor by day.
Why the change of heart? Simple: it wasn’t my idea.
It is my great privilege to be a part of a girls’ group that has been going strong for fourteen years (I suppose at this point now I ought to change to saying “women’s group” but somehow that does not sound like quite as much fun; we were girls together in college and I hope we will still be “the girls” to each other long into our golden years). In our earliest permutation we were a book club comprised of recent college grads living in the San Francisco Bay Area. My attendance in those early years was spotty and then I left to move across the country with Aaron, then my new fiancé. Aaron and I picked up a couple of dogs, married, produced children, moved a few more times, and sometime over the course of those seven years, my San Francisco book club friends had given up any pretense of book discussion, reimagining themselves as a supper club, meeting bimonthly in the name of female friendship, food and conversation. A few members have trickled away over time, others have joined, and some, like me, have left for years at a time, only to pick up where they left off upon return to the Bay Area. It is a special thing to be a part of such a group which is why, when the promised surprise was revealed in the form of Carrie May and her cards, I stayed put, resolving to take my turn with a sense of humor and an open heart.
The entire experience turned out to be unexpectedly touching, entertaining, and even (dare I say it?) informative. It helped that Carrie May is a hoot— bawdy and amiable and legitimately skilled in that at times she did indeed seem eerily prescient. To my thinking the most likely explanation for her clairvoyance is that she is adept at wording readings in ways that can map onto many different lives and, deftly drawing on small clues her clients unconsciously give, she is able to tailor her insights in increasingly personal ways. Yet if she is explicitly aware of this, she keeps her own cards close to her chest: while she might not have managed to make a convert out of me, she was quite convincing of her own sincerity when she said several times, “It’s not me talking, it’s the cards.”
For me personally, the true value ended up being the opportunity to take time to think about my friends and myself in turn as we deliberately turned our collective focus on each other one-by-one, dwelling on the unique loads we each are shouldering. Listening to Carrie May talk, knowing what she did not, we exchanged wordless eye contact each time she got something dead on… and sly grins when she was just a tad off. When Carrie May said during my reading, “You spend your days surrounded by other people’s problems,” I got a chuckle out of my friends by replying, “Oh, no, they’re mine. I’m sure of it.”
When Carrie May said that I had been through a “minor Hell” in the past year, these supportive friends of mine nodded, murmuring their agreement. It is true that 2013 was a doozy for Aaron and the kids and me, running the gamut from joy to sorrow and back again, but I already knew this; I did not need Carrie May to confirm it. However, what I was profoundly struck by was the realization of how much each of us is carrying: our mid-thirties are proving to be a very “real” time in our lives. We have marriages, some holding, some crumbling, some still to come, and babies—some living, some lost, some still longed for— jobs, mortgages, financial strains, health concerns, parents, siblings, extended families, and the balancing act of countering our setbacks and grief and stressors with achievements and hope and pleasure. It is all so heavy… and yet we are the lucky ones! Educated, mostly employed, generally healthy, and if not completely established at present, not delusional to anticipate a reasonable level of stability in our futures: we know we are far better off than many others in this wide, wide world, and still not a one of us is slipping through unscathed. “Fraught” is the word that comes to mind. It isn’t that our loads are too much to handle— or that, given the choice, we would trade in the responsibilities we have acquired—but we find that now we have so much on the line, our every day, our every decision, is fraught with this awareness.
Thursday, February 13:
I took care of my friend’s two-year-old daughter, Ellie, today. At one point Ellie tripped and fell on her face in our living room and our new puppy responded by jumping on her back, growling and tearing at her shirt. I had to face my growing concerns about whether or not this was the right dog for our family. “Fender”, so named for the Fender Stratocaster guitars played by Aaron and his late brother, Adam, had begun showing some worrisome behaviors soon after we brought him home, however, feeling hesitant to be the one to pull the plug on the much-appreciated joy and laughter the puppy was bringing our family, especially for Wyatt, I pushed doubts aside and stepped back into the dog trainer role I had stepped out of four years earlier when Duncan was an infant.
Growling when approached while chewing a bone was met with my resource-guarding protocol. Snarling and snapping while being groomed or handled when he preferred not to be—Think you’re going to move me off of your laundry pile, lady? Think again, Fender declared, his bared teeth looking disconcertingly out of place in his fuzzy little face— meant initiating a positive reinforcement-based desensitization process. But it was the persistent and steadily increasing aggression towards toddlers that was the final straw. Poor Milo was chased, growled at and bitten just trying to cross a room. For a two-year-old, he is a pretty easy-going kid with lots of dog experience; he more or less ignored the pup and took it all in stride: “My yike Fender… when him not have teeths,” he said as I dressed his latest dog-inflicted wound.
Although preposterously petite, Ellie is a little spitfire and, like Milo, a youngest sibling who is accustomed to picking herself up when she falls. She was much more concerned that Fender might have damaged one of the three tutus she was wearing than she was about the scratches on her back; still, I removed him to his crate for the rest of her visit. That afternoon, as Milo and I were headed back to our house to put dinner together while Wyatt, nearly eight, was at choir practice and Duncan, “four-and-three-quarters-and-almost-five”, was taking an art class, I called Aaron and told him what had happened. Though the puppy had been mostly his idea, he did not hesitate when he said, “That’s it, we cannot keep this dog. He needs to go back right away.”
Unfortunately, it was at this very moment that the choir director’s teenage assistant called to say that Wyatt was being disruptive during rehearsal and needed to be picked up immediately. Angry, frustrated, and disappointed, I trekked back over to the community chapel where I had only dropped him off half an hour earlier.
“Really, Wyatt?” I said upon learning he had been sent into timeout twelve minutes into the rehearsal and then, once returned to the group had gone right back to the behavior that had gotten him in trouble in the first place. “You can’t just behave yourself for twelve minutes? Twelve minutes! I expect more from you. Honestly!”
He narrowed his eyes at me and then turned silently back to the sheet of paper he was using a black permanent marker to cover with dozens of frowny faces, each one dripping tears onto the head below. Of course it was unfair; I realized that even as I lit into him. This kid is holding so much in—in a very short span of time he has has lost his uncle, two family dogs, three great-grandparents, and said goodbye to three homes and schools and sets of friends, giving away most of his toys with each move. He tells me that if he didn’t have “such good self-control”, he would “tear the whole house apart some days”. That afternoon, I had picked him up from his brand new school where he has yet to make a good friend or be invited for a play date or birthday party, rushed him home to our new house for a snack and homework, and then hurried him off to practice with his new choir, all the while distracted and upset over Fender’s fate, sharing my concerns with Wyatt, who defended his dog, saying, “Mommy, it’s not his fault! He’s just a baby and he doesn’t know better. He doesn’t mean to, really!”
The director would not let me leave him in rehearsal unless I was able to stay and supervise, which seemed a little excessive to me considering his “crime” had been to make quiet, but distracting noises while the director was addressing the group (it was clear he had successfully managed to get deep under her skin) but I couldn’t stay because I needed to pick Duncan up soon, so I pulled him out of practice and drove, seething—at Wyatt, at the choir director, at the whole situation—over to the cottage where Duncan’s art class was meeting. I kept Milo strapped safely in his car seat, handing him some board books to keep him occupied, but I made Wyatt get out and run laps around the dirt track while I made The Call.
“Lark?” I said as she answered, “This is Lindsey… I’m so sorry, but Fender’s aggression is getting unmanageable…”
I had contacted her a week earlier, sharing my concerns, and she had recalled that he had growled at her while being handled a couple days before we took him home. At the time, she took note of it as an odd behavior for such a young puppy, but as it was the only instance of growling she had witnessed, she discounted it as an inconsequential anomaly—in eleven years of breeding dogs, the only puppy she has ever had returned to her was showing signs of flagrant aggression for a week before he went home.
Wyatt must have caught sight of my face through the windshield as he rounded the end of his first lap and intuited what was occurring. He came running over to the car, his howls of protest dampened by the closed doors, “NO, MOMMY, NO! DON’T DO IT!”
Lark had only a few minutes to talk, so instead of addressing Wyatt’s needs, I locked the car doors and plugged my other ear to listen to what she was saying.
“Unlock the car, Mommy!” Wyatt shouted, banging his fists on the doors and windows.
No, I mouthed to him, shaking my head, and waving him off. The sight of the emotion on his face—the look of betrayal, his eyes brimming with tears—cut me to the quick. I’m sorry, I mouthed. No.
Lark, her reputation on the line as a responsible breeder of family-friendly pups, agreed to take Fender back right away—she would assume the responsibility of rehoming him to an appropriate owner— the only caveat was that I needed to bring the puppy to her at her ranch, which is almost a four-hour drive from our home.
Friday, February 14:
I had promises to keep: a daytime Mommy-and-me date with Duncan (“with no brothers”) and the preparing of a special Valentine’s family dinner (“with chocolate dessert”).
Saturday, February 15th:
I had been promising Wyatt that I would take him to the Chinese New Year Parade since the year before when he learned all about China and Chinese culture from his Chinese-American homeroom teacher. Part of my reason for not heading to Lark’s that morning (the only time when Aaron could have come with us) was that I did not want to break this promise; but an even bigger reason for my hesitation was that I was kind of hoping that we were wrong about Fender– that given a few more days, maybe I would have a breakthrough with his training and he would stop going after Milo. I think I knew this was not rational, which is why I called Leslie, a dog training friend of mine with far more experience than I have. I trusted Leslie to tell me if I was overreacting to give up on Fender after only two weeks. In my conversation with her, she gave me the confidence to follow my instincts, reminding me of what a puppy destined to be a good companion dog should ideally be like at ten weeks of age: squishy, wiggly, friendly, sleepy, a little fearful of new stimuli but quick to recover and forget; not focused, driven or aggressively opinionated. Talking to her also brought back memories of what we went through in our six years of living with (and loving and ultimately having to euthanize) our previous aggressive dog, Dylan. That was what I needed. Fender was very cute and very smart and absolutely not the right dog for a household constantly overrun with small children.
The afternoon was consumed with the carrying out of an elaborate plan of my devising: first, we drove to the BART station and ate Chinese food as a family at a nearby restaurant. Then Aaron and Milo walked home (Aaron reported that it was a very slow mile-and-a-half walk, as Milo refused to be carried for most of the way) while Duncan, Wyatt and I met up with a friend of mine and her two sons. The six of us– two moms and four wildly excited young sons– rode the train into the city, armed with camp chairs and warm layers and lots of snacks to take in the parade.
The final dragon passed our camp chairs more than two hours after the opening firecrackers and I knew we ought to call it a night at that point, but earlier on, before I realized quite how long the parade would be, I had promised dim sum in Chinatown, so we chased the tail end of the parade through downtown and to Kearny Street and ate unrecognizable dishes on the sidewalk while catching the middle-to-end of the parade a second time. (If we weren’t about to give away their brand-new puppy, I might have reneged on some of these promises.)
Just past bedtime, kids exhausted and grimy, eardrums ringing from firecrackers, we hopped on the wrong train home and had to make two transfers to right that wrong: “Look kids, we get to ride every single BART train tonight!”
Sunday, February 16:
Morning rolled around and I loaded the kids and pup into the car, kissed Aaron goodbye, and set out on my longest solo drive in a very long while. It was an accomplishment of sorts just committing to this excursion: embarrassingly, I have been struggling with a phobia of driving lately, an aftershock of being hit by a drunk driver last year, magnified by my brother-in-law’s unexpected death in August—no, his death had nothing to do with automobiles, but my increased awareness of the fragility of life brought back the terrifying near miss of the accident in a way that impacted my ability to drive. Now, armed with skills acquired through three months of cognitive behavioral therapy and daily driving practice, I was ready… enough.
The first couple hours of driving went pretty well. Fender and Milo gradually dropped off to sleep while the older boys and I ate a dozen clementines, filling the car with the invigorating scent of citrus, and listened to an audiobook about modern day children going back in time to meet Abraham Lincoln in his youth and early presidency. The only interruptions were from Wyatt occasionally reminding me, “Mommy, just so you know, I’m still planning to never speak to you again,” and Duncan’s periodic need to ask rapid fire series of questions: “Mommy, pause story! What does ‘gangly’ mean? Then why didn’t she just say ‘tall and skinny’? Does Abe not have any muscles at all? Did you know I have muscles? I’m actually super, super strong? Are we going to get dessert tonight or not? Okay, story on!”
Just as I allowed myself to start thinking, “Hey, this isn’t too bad,” reflecting on all the other California treasures now available to us within a couple hours’ drive, Duncan began to complain of his need to pee and Wyatt was suddenly dying of hunger and Fender began whining, while Milo, who had been sick with fever the night before, was still fast asleep, snoring softly. How could I possibly meet everyone’s needs? Fender’s paws couldn’t touch the ground in public lest he contract parvovirus—a deadly illness he would not be immune to until he completed his puppy vaccines— and we couldn’t leave him alone in the car in case he got overheated or frightened or destructive, thus it was in his best interest for us to get to Lark’s ranch as quickly as possible. Also, I wanted to drive as far as I could while Milo was still asleep because once he woke up he would start demanding, “BUCKLE ME OUT CARSEAT NOW, MOMMY!” as he is prone to do. Nevertheless I could not make Duncan hold his bladder for the rest of the drive or ignore Wyatt’s requests for food. I did not want to risk searching for a good place to stop on my phone while blazing down the highway.
I turned off the book to puzzle out a plan. While I find audiobooks a wonderful diversion, I also have trouble keeping myself from becoming entirely engrossed in them. Once, listening to Les Misérables on a long drive by myself, I managed to go half an hour past my destination before I even noticed I had missed my exit.
“Mommy, story on!” Wyatt commanded from the way back.
“Hold on, Wy, I need to think,” I said.
“Think with the story on!”
“I just can’t, Wyatt.”
“First you make me give Fender back and now you won’t even let me listen to a story that makes me happy?”
“It’s like you’re just thinking of ways to make me upset…”
Deep breaths, Lindsey. Deep diaphragmatic breaths. That’s it. Okay. You can do this. Focus. Let go. Wait… am I supposed to focus or let go? Shit. I can’t remember… Deep breaths. [Yawn] Yikes! I’m getting sleepy. What if I nod off and hit the median?
It was into the midst of this internal dialogue that Duncan lobbed the following question: “Mommy, do wolves have horns?”
“Pardon me?” I said.
“Wolves,” he repeated, “Do they have horns?”
“Not even little ones?”
“Are you sure?”
“Really, really sure?”
“Duncan, wolves do not have horns, I promise! Please shush, I’m trying to drive here!”
“But one more thing! How about bumps?”
“What are you talking about? I’m on the highway, Fender is whining, you need to pee, Wyatt is hungry, I don’t know where to stop—I need to focus!”
“But, Mommy, Mommy, I just need to know: what about bumps?”
“What about bumps?”
“Do wolves ever get them on their heads?”
“You mean, like, from an owie?”
“Oh… yes, I suppose wolves sometimes get bumps on their heads.”
“Duncan, I don’t know! A rock could fall on them. Or they could get a rash or get into a fight and have an injury that gets infected. Lots of different reasons.”
“How big do they get?”
“I don’t know. It depends on what caused them. Honey, just look out the window or something. I need to concentrate! We can talk about wolves later.”
“But, Mommy! Mommy, why? Why do wolves get such big bumps on their heads?”
Talking with Duncan can have a disorienting effect. In the right frame of mind (and most often in retrospect) he is hilarious.
Sometimes I just need him to be quiet.
“Dunky, please! No more wolves! No more bumps! Look, there’s an In-N-Out. Why don’t we go there?”
Duncan and Wyatt began cheering and chanting: “In-N-Out! In-N-Out!” And I could hear Milo behind me, still half asleep, joining the chant drowsily, “Innn…nout…. innnnnnout…”
Food and bathroom and a futile effort to get Fender to pee on a wee-wee pad and a dose of morose dirty looks from Wyatt, which I did my best to take seriously despite his ketchup moustache and goatee, as he snuggled his soon-to-be former dog, eating french fries in the back of the car, and we were back on the road again. We made it to Lark’s ranch by mid-afternoon and spent two hours split between letting Wyatt linger tearfully with Fender, and supervising the cradling of and cooing over Lark’s newest litter of puppies, and also playing with the puppies’ goofy mother, who was so eager to get back to her own family after a month of birthing and caring for her puppies that she jumped into our car and sat in the passenger seat, tail wagging, tongue hanging, like, “Okay, guys, I’m ready! Let’s go!” Lark had reserved the pick of this litter for herself to add to her breeding stock, but in an effort to make up for our experiences with Fender, she was giving her pick to us. If we wanted to, in a month we could come back and choose one of these pups to be ours. It sounded good on the phone, but now I felt like a traitor—the dog I had spent the past two weeks training and caring for and envisioning a future with was watching us from a separate pen as we considered his replacement.
And then we just drove away, Fender sitting alone in a pen, cocking his head in innocence and curiosity as we abandoned him to uncertain fate. This was not how it was supposed to be. We went with a reputable breeder this time around instead of a shelter for the ease and security and convenience of having a healthy allergy-friendly family puppy right now—this was something Aaron wanted, and in the half a year since the devastating loss of his brother, I have tried to honor any idea or request of his in the direction of love, frivolity or pleasure. He needs light and life in heavy doses and this puppy was supposed to be a salve to his beleaguered heart, not a source of further stress and sorrow. I was thankful the skies were clear and the country roads were empty because it was hard to see through my tear-blurred eyes.
Wyatt’s school was on February break that week, so we did not need to rush back home. Instead I had decided we would spent that night at a nearby beach town. Our overpriced hotel room had only one bed for the four of us, but there was the surprise of a private outdoor hot tub on the porch, so naturally the kids were naked and into the tub within minutes of that discovery. I was a moment too late in noticing that they had collectively decided to hop the fence to pee on the lawn in the buff rather than come in and use the toilet.
“Guys, wait! What are you doing?” I said, glancing up to see three sets of round pink-cheeked bottoms scrambling up and over the fence. By the time I arrived to yank them back into our area, the deed had been done.
“Don’t worry, Mommy,” Wyatt said. “Almost nobody saw us.”
I thought we would walk to the beach boardwalk for dinner—the front desk staff said it was “about a mile” away along the trail out back of the hotel, which sounded nice after our day of driving—but Milo was tired and feverish again, demanding to get into his “‘jam-jams”, so we ended up staying put, ordering loaded baked potatoes and sticky carrot cake from a barbecue joint willing to deliver to the hotel, and watching the Olympics instead.
Monday, February 17th:
We slept deeply through the night, thrown haphazardly across the bed. I wish there had been a camera on the ceiling to document the way we awoke Monday morning. Only Wyatt was positioned in a traditional bed-sleeping manner: head on pillow, body under the covers. Milo was sprawled across two pillows along the headboard, his toes tangled in Wyatt’s hair, his pajamas unzipped all the way down the front, one hand thrown up and over his tousled head. I found myself with my head at the corner below Wyatt’s feet, my body positioned horizontally across the foot of the bed, like the family dog. Duncan was shirtless and snuggled very close beside me in a little ball, almost completely under the covers, his hands under my tank top and around my back, the better to hug me with. I contemplated extricating myself to take a few minutes to be alone before everyone awoke. Right on cue, Duncan’s eyes fluttered open. In a morning-hushed voice, he whispered his first words of the day.
“Mommy, are there rainstorms in Mexico?”
“Yes,” I whispered back, kissing his warm forehead.
“Really? Real rainstorms? In Mexico?” he was sitting up now, covers thrown off, looking at me intently, red hair sticking up in tufts.
“Um, yes?” I said, thrown by the enthusiasm of his response, wondering whether it was “rainstorm” or “Mexico” that he had an inaccurate conception of.
“Wow!” he said, “Wow! What do Mexico rainstorms feel like?”
“Ah… well, it’s often warm in Mexico… and a rainstorm is when lots of rain falls at once…. so I guess a Mexican rainstorm would be like lots of big fat raindrops falling on a warm day.”
“Oh…” Duncan said, his brown eyes shining. “I wish someday I can be in a Mexico rainstorm.”
I laughed but had to admit that once I had put it into words, it did sound nice. I imagined myself out on the beach, rain falling fast and hard, the noise of the storm and the surf drowning out everything. No dead brother-in-law. No abandoned dogs. No fear. No pain. Just rain.
And so then we got up and ate instant oatmeal and powdered hot cocoa from the “full continental breakfast included with room”. The boys splashed away in the hot tub again while I packed up. I hoped nobody would end up with a spinal cord injury when they started jumping off the porch railing into the water. I dragged them out one-by-one to brush their teeth and get dressed for the day. Once packed and checked out, I should have just hit the road, I suppose, but it seemed a shame to come all the way there and not even step foot in the ocean. I decided we would walk to the beach to play and have lunch before tackling the drive home.
The “almost a mile” walk was pretty, but ended up taking us close to two hours. This was partly due to the trail being twice as long as I had been lead to believe and partly due to the fact that the kids are terribly inefficient hikers. They want to investigate every rock and bird and lizard and tree root; they think nothing of wasting energy and time in backtracking. There were also two playgrounds and a bridge over a waterfowl-bedecked estuary between us and our destination, each of which required skillful extraction and prodding to move on from. By the time we got to the beach, we had to “hurry up and have fun” for about twenty minutes before grabbing lunch and hiking back to our car. (I bought some jelly beans after lunch and used them to lure the children along on our return trip.)
We were on the road just after 3:00PM. With any luck, Milo would conk out for a long nap and we could push right through those hours of highway driving and be home in time to eat dinner with Aaron.
No such luck.
I figured the hot tub horseplay, hiking, playgrounds, and beach ought to have been more than enough to send Milo swiftly and smoothly into dreamland. Instead, he decided to be a living nightmare—and a noisy one at that— for the first three solid hours of our return trip: “My penis not can breathe!” he complained (a frequent protest of his to being trapped in his car seat). “Help, Mommy! My penis not can breathe! HELP MY PENIS, MOMMY! My peeeeeenissssss very not comfy! It not comfy! NOT COMFY, MOMMY! It not can breathe! HELP MY PEEEEEEEEENIS, MOMMY! HELP IT! HELP MEEEEEEE OUT DIS CAAAAAAAAR!”
I tried plying him with snacks and songs and stories. At last, out of desperation, I saw a sign for a drive-thru Starbucks and pulled off the highway to try to pass whipped cream-loaded caffeine-free Frappuccinos off as “milkshakes”. Twice Milo dumped his down his front and I had to pull over to address his wails by mopping him up with baby wipes and someone’s t-shirt. He would not relinquish his grip on that plastic cup. Between the Frappuccino bath and the rest of the snacks, he was a sticky mess, and this was not acceptable to him:
“My so gicky,” he cried. “My hands gicky! My face gicky! My tummy gicky! My cup gicky! Help, Mommy! MY SO GICKY! MY SO GICKY! MY SO GICKEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! BUCKLE ME OUT!”
Once he actually tricked me into getting him out of his seat:
“My pee-pee in my pants, Mommy,” he announced.
I was confused because I was pretty certain he had a pull-up on.
“Nope, my not wearing pull-up,” he promised. “My have pee-pee in my pants… and my have poo-poo in my pants. So much poo-poo. It yucky! It squishy! My yegs all wet all over place!”
I pulled over into a rest area and braced myself for what I might find. He was still pretty sticky from earlier, but not only was he wearing a pull-up: it was completely clean and dry.
“Milo,” I admonished, “You tricked Mommy!”
“Yeah!” he agreed gleefully, “My so gicky!” (‘Gicky’ being his word for either ‘sticky’ or ‘tricky’, depending on context.)
He was apoplectic when I went to put him back in his seat: “Nooooo!! Not in, buckle me OUT, Mommy!”
Traffic was picking up and Milo was not settling down and Wyatt needed to poop, so eventually I gave up my hope of getting home in time for dinner and stopped for Italian food in Gilroy, aka “Garlic Capital of the World”. I am not usually a soda-drinker so the kids were scandalized when I ordered an enormous Coke to go to try to boost my caffeine-level for the remainder of the drive.
“Isn’t it un-legal to drink and drive?” Wyatt wanted to know.
I made the kids run wind sprints up and down the sidewalk before we got back into the car. Catching sight of my reflection in the windows of the restaurant, I realized that the air pockets between my actual breasts and the bra cups they used to fill when Milo was still nursing were not, as I had hoped, unnoticeable. I made a mental note to get some better-fitting bras and a full-length mirror in the near future.
Milo and Duncan were just starting to nod off as we pulled up next to our house around 9PM, but there was no way these kids could get into bed in the state they were in. Duncan was still wearing his swim trunks from the beach that morning, which were bloody and dirty from a fall he took on our rushed dusty hike back to the car. Sand and chlorine, dirt and sunscreen, Frappuccino and blood and boogers and lasagna all washed away down the drain and then, scrubbed and brushed, sweet-smelling and pajamed, we laid them down to sleep in their own beds.
Tuesday, February 18:
The dog crate in our bedroom is still “Fender’s crate” and I am struggling to hold in mind the reasons I chose to give up my “fourth baby”. I cried when his tennis ball rolled out from under my dresser. Without him here to growl and snap, it is easier remember the tender moments: Playing fetch with him in the kitchen in the middle of the night as the rest of the family slept. Stroking his fleecy fur as he sat on my lap in a cozy, quiet mood. His waggy greeting when I took him out of his crate in the morning. The way he ran up and put himself down for a nap in Wyatt’s room at 8AM each morning and at 8PM each night. And especially, Wyatt laughing and laughing at Fender’s antics as they played together.
This morning, the kids trickled into our bed one by one. Wyatt was the last to join us. He lay down next to me and presented a healing scratch on his hand.
“This is all I have to remember Fender by,” he said somberly. “Just one of his hairs is worth more than every LEGO creation I’ve ever made. If you asked me to, I would smash them all to get him back.”
God, life is fraught.
Beautiful. Sweet. Rich. Full. Funny.
All at once.
It is now 2:00 in the afternoon. The kids are in various states of partial nudity. My plan to do something special for Milo’s half-birthday is slipping away. They are gorging on screen time and I am wearing my bathrobe—the same blue fleece one my parents gave me when I went off to college in 1996—drinking a carafe of coffee in my unfurnished house, eating black jelly beans and purple cabbage, writing it all out before memory fades.
Carrie May said things would get a little worse before they got better. Perhaps this is what she foretold?
Postscript, September 15, 2014:
Fender: It took Lark eight days to find a new home for Fender. She got plenty of initial interest by posting his cute photo on her website with the word “Available” underneath, but it took a little time to find the right forever home for him. Lark kept me up to date (because I checked in obsessively by text and email) and I rode those waves of hopefulness with each new interest… and then crashed back down and got reacquainted with my guilt as one after another didn’t pan out. At last Fender found a new home with a couple who had an adolescent resident dog, “Toffee”, but no young (human) children in their home. Lark reported that it was a tense first couple days getting the dogs to settle in together but, after Fender accepted that Toffee was in charge, everything seems to have evened out. I received an update from Fender’s owners just the other day. They wrote: ‘I’ll start out by saying that the best thing that ever happened to us, was that you “returned” Fender! [Note: I felt a twinge of embarrassment at reading the word “returned”, as if I had treated a living animal like an unwanted shirt…] He and Toffee are truly sibling dogs and romp and play all day… He’s a delightful, quirky little guy… We are empty nesters and having both dogs has added tremendously to our lives. Maybe this is the atmosphere Fender needed… He is happy and healthy and we couldn’t be happier with him. I hope this helps your oldest son to know: Fender is thriving and we love, love, love him!’
As glad as I was to hear that Fender was loved and thriving in a happy home, I started to feel defensive: why was he such a dreamboat for them? Had I completely misjudged this dog? So I wrote back, thanking them for the update, and casually asking how Fender was doing with young kids these days. They replied: “He hasn’t really been around too many little kids since we got him, except in public… We take the dogs everywhere–to parades, the beach, downtown, off leash parks. [In those settings] he is great with people, including kids, and other dogs… Fender and Toffee go to dog daycare every week to socialize with other dogs. Fender is a very calm and gentle guy. He’s very dramatic in his mannerisms and is just kind of funny and goofy in general. He loves getting petted but just goes on his way afterward. He has LOTS of energy! It can be tough to have a puppy with small children. We had three of them in three years–children, that is.”
This reply makes me feel better and worse at the same time. It seems like a perfect home for Fender, but as a former dog trainer I can’t help but worry that there is still a lurking danger should they find themselves with young kids in their house. They say they are empty nesters… could grandchildren be imminent? As long as they are aware of Fender’s potential threat to small children in their house, they can make it work out– send him to dog daycare or secure him in a locked room when kids will be in the house. I have heard from Lark that they have a wonderful local dog trainer who has helped them with both of their dogs, so at this point I probably need to back off and let them seek help from their trainer should the need arise. I like seeing the photos of Fender with his canine “sibling”.
Wyatt: Wyatt got his act together and was able to continue singing with choir. He even surprised us by winning an award at the end of the season for doing the most consistent work in his music theory workbook between rehearsals. The final performance of the spring knocked our socks off. We were so proud to see Wyatt up there on stage. He hammed it up performing with just eleven other boys, ages 7-10 in front of an audience of hundreds. We could not really hear his voice distinctly in the mix, but we were glad to see him smiling and enjoying himself, especially as he had worried about stage fright on our way there. My favorite piece from the concert was performed by the combined children’s choirs, a huge group of boys and girls ages 7 through 18; it is called “Shosholosa”. Here it is (the older kids sing the opening bit on their own; Wyatt’s part comes in at 0:50):
After February break, Wyatt made a good friend at school– she is an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative kid who we are all fond of and we are so glad that she and Wyatt found each other on the playground. They have a wonderful friendship (although things can get a little intense when they start talking about magic and alchemy and the like). His friendship with her has made all the difference for him at school, becoming a springboard for making other friends. The other evening he let us know that now at lunch time he has “more than two whole tables of friends” to sit with. He is singing in choir again this year with the same group, hoping to move up to a higher level by the end of the school year. According to him he is being “mostly good” during rehearsals. He says he still misses Fender
Floyd: A few weeks after bringing Fender back to Lark, I returned to temperament test the entire litter of puppies the kids and I had met when we were there. I was a bit out of practice– I forgot just how sleepy puppies are at that age and so I messed things up for myself by playing with and petting them before beginning testing. Most of them fell asleep and I had to try to rouse them for the evaluation. Some of them were so sleepy, I ended up having to wait out their nap. But all in all, it seemed to be a very nice group of puppies. It is hard to get a complete sense of their adult personalities at such a young age, but there are some traits that do emerge that early. I immediately ruled out the two pushier, more alert, more highly inquisitive pups. Yes, they might be the more interesting, intelligent and trainable dogs of the litter, but I was specifically looking for a delightfully dumb, mellow-mannered, soft and squishy family dog. I nearly chose one quiet runty little puppy, the one Wyatt had liked the best, but then I ruled her out, deciding she would not be a good match for our noisy household. I also ruled out a spunky and barky, barky, barky pup with a drive to escape the pen. That still left three very nice puppies to choose from. After more than two hours with the litter, I picked a middle-of-the-road male puppy. He was a good-looking dog, but did not stand out in any particular way in terms of personality. He was floppy and friendly and content to be just another dog in the pile. We named him Floyd and he has been (almost*) everything we hoped he would be. In the six months we’ve had him, I have only heard him growl once: while trembling and backing away from his reflection in the full length mirror in my friend’s bathroom. I love our Floydy without reservation. I don’t even mind the daily burden of caring for his amazing coat– my relationship with this dog is one of the simplest pleasures of my daily life. [*I say Floyd is “almost” perfect because he does have a few downfalls. First, he’s not very bright. Training him moves reeeeally slowly. Second, he is just not a good jogging partner. On my early morning runs, I end up having to choose whether to run by myself and get a good workout, but end up with a hyper puppy later in the morning, or dragging Floyd along at a plodding pace. And third, Floyd’s insatiable appetite is determined to be the death of him. Just yesterday, I had to force him to puke up a dozen chocolate chip cookies that he and Milo conspired to get off the dining room table. While I was cleaning up that mess, Floyd went back in the house and helped himself to a huge piece of cinnamon-sugar challah from the kitchen counter. Last month I had to make him throw up a pluot pit before it got far enough along in his digestive tract to cause an obstruction or internal injury; along with the pit, up came a pink crayon, bits of a wooden toy robot, and a piece of paper from the recycling bin. We can always tell when Floyd has gotten into the crayons or sidewalk chalk because his poops look like Easter eggs…]
[Note: some names have been changed in this story.]