For The Love Of Your Dog

I love your dog.

Really.

I do.

The way he rests his golden muzzle on my knee as we sit and chat over a cup of coffee is so endearing.

The way his fur sheds in a perfect concentric circle around my ankles (I have always wanted a pair of Uggs) is considerate.

And the way he makes a bee-line for my crotch as soon as you leave the room? A sure sign of brilliance.

Um.

Oh, hi, there, boy.

Look! A ball! Over there. Gogetitboy! Gogetityougoodboyyougooddoggogetit!

Um.

Wow.

Hey, boy, that’s a little too intimate for our first get-together.

Whoa, you’re a persistent bugger, aren’t you? 

Okay fine, to the left, that’s good, that’s good. Now, to the right…You’ve done this before, haven’t you boy?

Really, I do love dogs.

But I should be restricted to other people’s dogs. I should be forced to wear a house arrest anklet that goes off near PetCo.

Having a dog in my own house brings out my complete and utter incompetence. I have no idea what to do with an animal living in my house. I feel like I’m living with a ticking shitting time bomb. I sit and stare at the animal as it licks its genitals.

Look at you. You are an animal. You are in my house. You are an animal in my house licking your genitals. This is so weird. Wait, stop being a freak! Everyone has a dog. Why are you such a weirdo? Only a weirdo can’t have a dog licking its genitals in her home. 

When we decided to get a dog for the kids I could hear the great unspoken collective voice of all my friends and family: “She can barely wipe her own ass, how is she going to have a dog?”

But my husband and I talked it over at length. Why should the whole family be deprived of a dog’s love because I am Dogis Incompetentis? I promised to be engaged, patient, involved, Not A Quitter of the Family Pet.

First we went to the local animal shelter to check out the dogs. After a short visit we were told that it was not wise to rescue a dog if you have young children in the house. I think they said something like, “We can’t guarantee that Fang won’t tear out your 2 year old’s jugular because 2 year olds look and smell like big juicy hotdogs!”

Then we tried to rescue a pug from a local Portland pug rescue organization. We filled out a 5-page application.

No, we haven’t left a box of kittens by the road.

No, we haven’t had any sparring chickens in the backyard.

No, we aren’t criminals, perverts, lacto-ovo-vegetarians, supporters of wheat grass movements, growers of peaches, pubic hair or viewers of Glee.

We went to a rescue event and showed off our pug interaction skills. We even went through the at-home interview with a prospective pug. But the interview was at 6 pm and every single one of our children melted down in succession because, well, it was 6 pm and they all wanted to pet the dog RIGHT NOW NO ME I WANT TO HOLD HIM! NOMEWHYDOESN’TTHEDOGLOVEMEWAHHHHHHHH. The childless pug interviewer was dismayed and deemed us unworthy of being able to handle a dog.

So we put out word in the pug community (oh, yes, there is a pug community) and found a breeder who was looking for a family with whom to place an older puppy. All it took were the words “potty trained,” “crate trained,” and “such a sweet, sweet boy!” Before I knew it we were on a family road trip in the Silver Bullet on the way up to the armpit of Washington to meet the pup.

As soon as we met the pug it was a done deal. He was so damn cute. The curly tail. The dear little snort. The kids were in love. My daughter said, “I’ve never felt so understood in my whole life, he just really gets me.”

The first few weeks were filled with puppy love. But then we realized that the dog, named Ozzie Jellyroll Crunch, was pretty much running the show. He was peeing all over the place, and finding interesting places to poop (indoors).

We started working with a trainer.

I recall her cocking her head and saying, “Wow, he really doesn’t seem to be motivated by any of my usual tricks!” (Subtext: This dog is an asshole) and, “He sure is stubborn!” (Subtext: And he’s stupid to boot!)

We’ve had Ozzie for about a year and I’ve come to the conclusion that he is:

1. A Sociopath: An Axis II personality disorder characterized by “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.”

—–>evident by his constant desire to urinate on my bed, on clean laundry and the carpet.

—–>evident by his obsessive need to chew up the children’s toys despite the gajillion dog toys and chewy bones at his disposal

2. An Anarchist: a person (or in this case dog) who promotes disorder or excites revolt against any established rule, law, or custom.

—–>evident by his insistence on chasing the cat

—–>evident by how many library books he has chewed up

—–>evident by his nose being firmly planted up the ass of any creature at his disposal (including cats and children)

So, when I snuggled into bed late last night and was met by the damp and pungent odor of dog pee on the comforter I silently cried You muthaFUCKING Dog! But I have pledged to Stay The Course of Canine Insanity so despite his diagnosable issues, I will stay the course and hope my shrink will hook me up with a good pharmaceutical pacifier.

The Small Embroidered Dress

As a small child I loved my mother’s hands. She had long, elegant fingers and smooth, rounded fingernails that she often painted dark red. I loved how gracefully she folded her hands in her lap when listening to someone speak, and how animated they became when she was telling a story. Her hands could describe the depth of her affection, the size of the sky, the amount of love in a kiss.

My mother as a child

Those hands could arrange flowers, write a letter in long, slanted loops, help me glue sugar cubes together to make a school project. When I was sick, my mother’s hands smoothed my hot forehead, made long strokes up and down my back, caressed my flushed cheeks. And when I was well, her hands would tickle me under the chin and arms until I erupted in laughter. Those same hands held me up when I was weak from chemotherapy and reassured me after the complicated birth of my daughter.

Hands for holding

I was lucky enough to have my mother and her beautiful hands for forty years. And in the final weeks of her life I was able to hold and kiss them and tell her what a gift she was to me and everyone who knew her.

A few weeks ago I came across a book did a double take because the picture on the front cover so closely resembles a picture I have of my mother that was taken when she was a young girl. The girl pictured on that book is Lola Rein Kaufman. I have not been able to stop thinking about her since that day.

Lola is a survivor of the holocaust. When Lola was a very young girl, her mother was murdered by the Gestapo. Lola’s grandmother made the decision to entrust her granddaughter to the care of a Ukrainian woman who was forced to hide Lola in a dirt hole beneath a barn for many months.

For the entire nine months that Lola was hidden in that dark hole, she wore a small white dress that her mother had lovingly hand embroidered with flowers. Lola survived the holocaust and now lives in New York, has grandchildren and a home that she describes in the book The Hidden Girl (with coauthor Lois Metzger) as full of light.

The dress that Lola’s mother adorned for her is now part of an exhibit called Silent Witness in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The following is a fascinating talk that Lola gave with Lois Metzger in April 2009 at the New York Society Library.

Since learning about Lola I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother’s hands. I’ve been wishing I could somehow share my mother’s hands with Lola and comfort that part of her that will always be fragile.

The only way I know how to do this is through words, and by sharing the story of Lola and her dress. I hope that you will connect with her bravery and be inspired to use your hands  to create love and art and all good things. Lola’s story moved me to write a poem.

LOLA REIN’S DRESS

The embroidery at her neck
is the steel rail laid as blind hem
along the countryside.
The green chain of stems
sewn at the sternum
is the suture knitting a wound
linking red flower mouths,
and the bluebottle skin of bodies
packed in cattle cars.
Her mother’s fingers bind silence
to the child’s lips as they crouch
between the mud walls of a barn.

When she draws the line
of history, she traces her
mother’s backstitch,
the fine needle of memory
that passes through cloth,
hands sunk into the grain
of yellow fabric, boning
the ribs, cracking
the lice. She remembers
the ditch of hunger, the walls
of shoes, the broadcloth
of burning sky, and always
the dark hole in a vegetable cellar
where a small girl hides
in a hand sewn dress.

Brought To You By The Letter F and The Bob

F as in to fly, to fall and/or to fuck up. F because I feel like I’m frequently on the precipice of flying, falling and and/or fucking up.

This morning as I was looking for a place to set down my steaming cup of creamy sugar laden coffee, I realized that there was no uncluttered corner in which to set it because I have lost all control of my house. There are school projects next to the sink, a collection of tiny oddly shaped painted clay bowls on the kitchen counter, a plastic dinosaur next to the microwave and a marble on the stove. It’s like Amelia Bedelia has moved into my head and turned me into her developmentally delayed puppet girl. If it is possible for a person to go from maturity to immaturity and then just kind of fester there, look no further.

Part of me finds this current state of affairs a surprise because, really, there was a time that I had a clean, organized home. I knew where shit was. I cared what people thought of me. I baked and cooked meals in my tiny apartment and invited my parents over for brunch. I had an impeccable bob. I managed to apply to graduate school, get accepted, complete assignments while working full-time, write papers, conduct friendships and relationships, and maintain a level of sanity that seems completely impossible to me now.

In retrospect I think I was playing the role of Impeccable Bob Wearing Good Girl which morphed into Super Achiever Bob Wearing Good Girl which then turned into Must Achieve Even More Bob Wearing Good Girl. Somehow all of that then turned into 1400 square feet of clutter, hooker hair, and an oven that is a receptacle for toys in time outs. Essentially our toaster oven has become the mainstay of all culinary experimentation and I wash my hair on an infrequent basis.

I just want to be a happy homemaker and wear a Bob for all my days!

Can I blame this on child induced dementia? Or a half scrambled post chemotherapy brain? Am I having a gasp midlife crisis? I don’t know. I don’t want a corvette and I don’t want to have an affair or run away from home for more than a day or two. All I know is that as a kid I felt like more of an adult than I do now. I loved to hang out with my mom and her friends, I dreamed of domesticity and of writing books. I wanted a house in the burbs, to be a scrapbooking, station wagon driving, hair sprayed, manicured mama. And, honestly, this is what was expected of me by my parents.

But now as I find myself knee-deep in diapers and carpools and fighting children and trying to do my part in keeping a marriage healthy, I find myself feeling like someone else should be in charge. I keep looking around for the adult or the responsible person holding a clipboard.

I question those old dreams of tranquil domesticity and wonder if I fit into the life I’ve created for myself. I love my children, I adore my husband and I wouldn’t want to take any of that back. But I question whether there is room for this emerging self who is different from the person I’d anticipated I would be. Can I accept that I am not the typical mother, that there might be a hamster family living under our sofa I don’t have the typical Pottery Barn home? That I am so different than my mother was? Part of me says yes, I must, and part of me feels like I should be doing better, doing more, fucking up less.

It always seemed that my mother was happy in her role as mother and wife. It seemed that she had it together. If she was alive now, I would seriously question her about this. She was a really lovely painter. Why didn’t she paint more? Why didn’t she do all of the creative things I know she dreamed about? Was she afraid to break out of her own Impeccable Bob?

My mother in 1963, Queen of the Bob

I thought that by now, in my forties, things would feel more settled and well-defined. I thought that I’d be content with what I was doing, that I would be confidently running the show, that I would be content and baking banana bread for the neighbors. I thought that I would be flying much more than I would be falling and fucking up.

Instead I am trying to figure out what exactly is making that sound emanating from under the sofa. I am befuddled and muddling along, hoping to find my way by just putting one foot in front of the other and just praying that I don’t mistake the dog for a turkey when I attempt to make dinner tonight.

Creative Distraction Techniques For Public Meltdowns

The other day I was at Target again when my daughter started freaking out again in that special, high-pitched way that kids on the spectrum tend to do when thrown off their routine. As soon as she got upset the toddler joined in which made the Middle Guy see this as his opportunity to whine loudly for candy.

I looked away from our scene for a moment and saw several people staring at us, which made me start fantasizing about distraction techniques. I thought these ideas might come in helpful to other parents:

Fall on the floor and begin speaking in tongues, slap closest person on the forehead and say, “You’ve been healed!”

Take handful of Goldfish Crackers and throw them in the air while singing “I’m Singin’ In the Rain!”

Carry boom box. Play Celtic Pride, The Music That Inspired a Dance Phenomenon. Start River Dancing.  

Yell, “Free puppies on aisle four!”

Carry a Polaroid camera and take pictures of people who are staring at you. Yell loudly, “This picture is for my wall of assholes! Say CHEESE!”

Carry a tub of guacamole and chips. Offer to onlookers while saying, “Dip? Dip? Dip?”

Start throwing on random items of clothing while yelling, “Do I look cute?!”

Wear black sunglasses and carry a Neuralyzer. Tell strangers  you are just going to give them a quick eye exam.

12 Things 2011

2011 was a year filled with sweetness

Adventure, laughter, silliness, jumping, bubble baths, learning, dressing up, making new friends, traveling, playing, being goofy, and growing together…

 Wishing everyone a new year filled with love, health, happiness & prosperity!
photo credit: Marc Liberts

A Moment Of Contentment

This morning I’ve been wondering if it’s possible to love your kids too much? The Littlest was sitting on my lap head butting me when for first time ever he grabbed my neck with his little paws and said, “I luff you” and then banged his head against my cheek. I just wanted to bite him and pinch those chubby cheeks and eat him all up.

I live in this tiny disheveled house packed with little people (well, the husband is regular husband size) and little animals and big dust bunnies and while I often feel like I’m going to go crazy, there are times that I feel like my heart is going to burst. Did the Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe have similar moments of neurotic love madness?

Being sick all winter break and having sick kids to boot has made for a very interesting “staycation” or “mucuscation” as I like to think of it. My normally prickly 8-year old daughter has been snuggly and sweet to her brothers in between her bursts of Aspergerish world observations. If you have a kid on the spectrum, you know the incredible value of such moments of peace and togetherness.

My regularly reluctant to lift his nose out of a book 7-year old has been incredibly helpful. And my 2-year old, oh, my heart, has been at the pinnacle of cuteness with a dash of Mussolini and Messiah complex mixed in for good measure.

It is true that I am one babushka shy of being that old lady in the shoe. The house is a disaster with post-holiday new toy messes throughout various corners of the house. There are remnants of our slime making project still stuck to the kitchen table, and sticky, sticky lip gloss fingerprints all over the bathroom. But for this moment, I don’t care, because my heart is full.

Being stuck on the sofa has given me the opportunity to watch the Littlest do little dances every time he hears a song. (Sure, sometimes he’s dancing to a Lexus commercial, but whatever. The kid has moves.)

It’s also given me the opportunity to see how amazing the Middle Guy is with our pets. He walks the dog. He lets the kitten wrap herself around his neck and fall asleep. It is so wonderful to see this gentle and patient part of him blossoming. (This is a kid who regularly throws things across the room when frustrated.)

Watching all of this, I feel, well, content. And I’m not one who feels content on a regular basis. My brain is usually in the oppressive thought loop. It could be the codeine in the cough medicine, or the fevers that come and go, or the fifth cup of coffee, but I suspect it has to do with slowing down and doing nothing but observing these little people in my life. There are no carpools to drive, no school lunches to make, no homework to struggle over. Just time to be.

So for today, I am at one with this paper strewn desk, at one with the cheerios crushed in the carpet, at one with the tufts of dog hair on the floor, at one with the hooker hair and unshaved legs. And it feels pretty damn good.

You Regret The Vasectomy

It is true. I have second thoughts about my husband’s vasectomy.

Why would I want a fourth child? At any given moment my head feels like it’s going to explode. Adding another child to our family is totally irrational. It is absolutely nuts. Like, Duggarnuts nuts.

It’s not that I didn’t want my husband to have the vasectomy. I did. I was totally on board with the snippage. With the thought of free to be you and me sex. I supplied the Ibuprofen, the pre-surgery hand-holding, the frozen pea treatments for the swollen scrotum.

But now I’m having regrets.

It’s not as if my life needs a fourth child or that I’d necessary be a great mother to a fourth child. My life is plenty full.

I’m writing a book of poetry. I’m doing this blog. I’ve got three kids. I’ve got a husband. And a dog. And a kitten. And a father who is flirting with most of the single septuagenarian ladies on the west coast.

(In the last two minutes, I’ve removed the kitten from my computer keyboard, I’ve removed the mouth of the dog from the corner of a book, and I can hear the toddler throwing Legos into the fireplace.

We have a microwave that has a broken keypad so you can only microwave things on the casserole setting. When you press “open” on the DVD player, it opens and then immediately closes. If the house could sell itself and get cleaner occupants I’m sure it would.

And, there is most definitely something living in the back of my minivan and subsisting off of Goldfish crackers.)

All of this, and the fact still remains that I am sad about the decision we made. I saw a new mom holding a tiny bald peanut baby in Starbucks yesterday and almost burst into tears. I saw a new mom doing the new mom bounce with her little one at the grocery store and it pretty much did me in.

I know I am incredibly lucky. I have three healthy, beautiful kids. Yes, I kvetch about them and often feel like everything is about to come unraveled, but I do feel lucky.

And yet there, in the back of my head, there is a small insistent voice: I want one more. And another voice: How selfish! Move on with your life! Concentrate on other things.

I guess I just have a hard time with endings. I have a hard embracing the present as it is without tinkering, without wanting to make it more full, more chaotic, more more.

So, there will be no more little tiny babies. No more pregnancy ultrasounds, no feeling a baby move inside, no dreaming up names, nursing a newborn, experiencing those first newborn days with my husband and kids. No more tiny onesies, size N diapers, or the sweet smell of newborn breath.

It is time to move past the Pea In The Pod (okay, let’s be real: The Motherhood Maternity) chapter of my life.

And it is hard. Much harder than I thought it would be.

You Were The Perfect Mother For Me

On the one year anniversary of my mother’s death I am sharing a letter I read to her shortly before she passed.

Dear Mom,

Did you know that I’ve saved all of the cards and notes you’ve written
to me over the last twenty years? Since I feared that cancer would
take you away from me one day I’ve kept all of your written words so I
could have them to comfort me.

You’ve always made me feel like a special person, like someone who has worth. You did such a great job of this that for a long, long time I didn’t feel like I could exist in this world without you to help me feel good about myself.

I thought of not having you and a stone would grow in my heart, weighing me down, filling me with dread and apprehension. You have always been like a
lighthouse that I could depend upon to steer me through rough seas.
You have been that reassuring light that meant: “You are safe, you are
steady, I am here.”

And boy, did I ever need that over and over. There were many years that I had to rely upon you and your light to get me through very hard times. Hard emotions, hard relationships, internal strife, money issues, self-esteem issues, etc.

You were always right there, on the other end of the phone line giving advice and reassurance, helping me see things from a different perspective and
offering the benefit of your own experiences.

I know that being my mother has not always been an easy task.
Sometimes I pushed you away because it was the only way I could figure
out where you started and I began. Sometimes we disagreed and said
hurtful things to each other. I know my decisions have not always been
ones you would have chosen for me. Despite all of that, you have
always stood by me and I’ve always known that you love me and are
proud of me.

Through you, I’ve learned to stand on my own two feet, and even figured out how to roast a chicken! You have given me the gift of a strong backbone, and the ability to laugh at my own foibles.

I have always been so impressed by how many people love and call you
their friend. You have dear friends who go back 40 plus years, people
who have traveled across the country to spend time with you and tell
you how much you have meant to them. Your friendship has truly been a
gift to so many. This is another attribute I aspire to.

You have taught me how to be a good listener, to empathize, to support and
appreciate all types of people. I will never be able to fill your
shoes, but I hope to keep in close contact with my aunts, uncles, and
cousins just as you have always done. I really believe you are the
glue that has kept our family so close.

Thank you for taking me and Marc on vacations and for tolerating us
when we were fighting and when we didn’t appreciate our good fortune.

Thank you for being so accepting of your siblings. Because of you I
have a wonderful relationship with Marc, and Dad, and I really think
it is because you taught me to be tolerant and forgiving. Please know
I will take good care of Dad not only because I know you’d like that
but because I really love him and enjoy him.

Thank you for my first very creamy and sugary drink of coffee, for my
first sip of wine, for all of the big family dinners, and for the
nightly 6:30 dinners when we would argue, yell, debate and laugh.

Thank you for instilling in me a love of Judaism, and for always being
a second mom to my girlfriends. Thank you for taking such good care of
Mom Mom because it really taught me to appreciate the next generation
and gave me a wealth of memories of her. Thank you for taking me to
Brazil as an adult, and for going on my first honeymoon with me.

Because of you I love to travel and explore new places. Thank you for
supporting me when I decided, out of the blue, to pack up and move to
New York City. I’ll never forget that rainy, rainy day when you and
Dad were there watching me graduate. Thank you for helping me get through having cancer.

And most of all , thank you for being there for the births of my children. Thank you for loving my children like they are your own. I’ll never forget the six weeks you spent with me and Ruby, and the countless hours you walked and rocked and adored all of your grandchildren. I have loved sharing stories about the kids, and laughing about them and being so proud with you.
Speaking of people who love you…what an amazing grandmother you have
been to Ruby, Lucas, and Theo! You have helped them build so many
memories that they will always have: making corncakes, having
sleepovers, trips to the beach and movies, drawing and painting,
laughing and playing.

I want you to know that though I will be lonely without you, though I
will grieve long and hard and will miss you every moment of every day,
I will be okay. I will look for you in the flowers, in the butterflies
and in rainbows. If there is a cat who comes through our backyard, I
will think of you and hope it is you peeking in my window and checking
in on me and my family.

Whenever I eat buttered sourdough toast or a good donut, make fried matzoh, or have a good, hot cup of coffee I will think of you.

Whenever I hear the giggles of my children or have a good cry I will think of you. Those times when I have a nice, long chat with a close friend, or talk to one of my favorite cousins on the phone, I will think of you.

When I walk through the mall, or eat something delicious in a restaurant, or travel somewhere new, I will think of you. When someone annoys me, I will want to tell you, and when something amazing happens I will think about sharing it with you.

Listen for me, because I will be talking to you and dreaming of you.
When the kids do something new and interesting, I will think of you,
and when I spend time with dad or Marc or Stacy, I will think of you.

When I plant poppies in the spring I will think of you, and imagine
you with Pop Pop. When I read a good book, or listen to waves of the
ocean rushing in and out, I will think of you.

Thank you for all of these gifts you have given me. You have been the perfect mother for me, and because of that I will go on, and so will you.

I pray that all of these memories we have built together will carry you gently off to your new life. I pray that you will watch us and laugh with us and
shake your head at our antics. Please know that you will always be
with us, in our hearts, and in our memories.

I will love you always.