Monday, October 31, 2011

The Contract

Did you ever make a major decision in your life and later wonder just how you were going to manage it?

I didn't feel this way when I moved away from home when I was twenty-two. I didn't feel this way when I followed Mike out to the Pacific Northwest. I didn't feel this way when I married him either. I felt really solid with those decisions. Good thing too.

I did feel out of sorts and overwhelmed when Nickie was born. I wondered just how I was going to take care of this little being, but I never once remember thinking I needed the 30-day escape clause on that contract.

Today, I wanted that escape clause, that one like I used when I spent $500 on cheap dinnerware I didn't like because the salesman was so good. The buyers remorse was strong with that purchase. I woke up as if I had a hangover. What did a single girl in her twenties need with an eight place china setting with a platter and a gravy boat? Really?

Just what did we get ourselves into when we brought Teddy home last Sunday? Mike is still struggling with sleep issues. In the last month, I have just moved out of the grief stage of his illness and into managing the things he couldn't. The house looked pretty good. The yard was improving. I was cooking meals and actually having time for myself now and then. I even finished a quilt top.

I was a little lonely though too. I needed more exercise than I was getting and I had to love on other peoples' dogs to fill that space like the fool that I am. A lady came up to me in the dark on Friday night and said she badly needed a dog and I knew just how she felt.

I guess I really was ready. Nick was ready too. He's been slowly taking up the mantle of care for this puppy he picked. Oh, don't get me wrong - Mike and I are doing most of the work. It doesn't help that Nick is afraid of Teddy's sharp little teeth and that Teddy is nippy, as a puppy usually is. Nick's bond isn't strong yet, but I expected him to have doubts when reality set in. Going to Dairy Queen today helped. Nick laughed so much as Teddy ate the cone he held out. Teddy already loves Nick and Nick loves Teddy too, mostly when he's asleep. The walk after the ice cream was a good one and Nick liked that Teddy stood on his feet rather than mine when he got tired. We say we feel like penguins when he does that.

What was hard, today, was hearing Mike say we'd made a mistake, that we were in over our heads. He's right. I've basically moved into the downstairs guest room to try to alleviate the noise for Mike and Nick. Mike just can not afford to lose sleep, even over a sweet puppy like Teddy.

The fact that Teddy is only two months old isn't helping. You should have heard him howl over separating from his litter-mates that first night. He makes really interesting vocalizations, but they can be piercing. I vowed not to come in and comfort him while he was crying, but it was so draining to sit by and listen to that anguish.

Crate training has been easier. Teddy whines quietly when he needs to go out about every two or three hours or so. Oh, that's been pretty draining itself since I had set up too many appointments and errands before we got him and I haven't been able to sleep during the day. Five to seven hours of sleep a night isn't so good when it's chopped into two it three hour slices.

I keep thinking it will be easier when that schedule runs out. Will it ever? I'm not sure. Stuff keeps coming up. Tomorrow, Nick gets his first retainer and it's Halloween. I volunteered to hand out candy and hot drinks in front of church. Tuesday, Nick has an appointment we made for him to talk to a counselor about Mike's illness and other general stresses. Friday, I'm supposed to make pies for a bake sale. Will I ever sleep again?

I miss being in my own bed too. Mike reminded me that it would be a few months before I could bring Teddy's crate upstairs. They told us that a dog can wait to go outside about one hour for every month of his life. That's why Teddy can wait in his crate about two and a half hours now. That's four more months, at least!

Plus, there's everything that goes with training a dog not to destroy our house. We need to train Teddy not to trip us with his leash. We have to keep him from herding the cats. We need to give him jobs and keep him occupied. What will I do when someone gets sick and we can't go for that long walk? I hadn't thought of that. Oh, it's a wonder anyone keeps a puppy.

Are we too busy, too overwhelmed by our own activities, struggling too much with our illnesses to take good care of a dog? We may be, but after our walk, Nick was chattering to Mike about what Teddy was doing with his ice cream as Mike sat on the couch with Teddy's sleepy head in his lap.

We won't be perfect dog parents, but we'll muddle along. It's too late to go back on that promise, not to the shelter. I'm talking about the promise we made to Teddy, the day we looked in his eyes and said we were bringing him home.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Being out and about with a puppy is a bit like being the princess at the ball. Everybody, and I mean everybody, wants to stop and chat, well, and pet the fuzzy little puppy too.

It's gotten so that Teddy stops at every group of people so that they can admire, pet, and feed him the treats that I provide. Teddy loves children too, and runs with even more enthusiasm when he sees them. Karate practice is a huge hit for him.

When I'm out with him, I forget about how many messes I've already cleaned up and how little sleep I'm getting. Nick forgets how he nips and how quickly he needs to take him outside, in the drizzling rain, after he eats.

This really is going well. It helps that I'm crate-training him tonight rather than putting him in the downstairs bathroom like I did the first few nights. Oh, I was still in there with him every few hours, but he wailed as though he was dying when I left. It was awful. Separation from his pack was a true punishment. We were both crying over it.

I've gotten him used to the crate by feeding him in it and taking him on lots of rides to get to short walks. We'll have to work on the length of walk he can manage. It feels like his walks are more of carries. My jacket is getting kind of stretched out in the damp weather with him in there. He is only a little guy after all. I'm kind of excited about that though, because the walks won't be such a shock to Nick and we'll all be healthier for it as Teddy grows.

I have the crate on the desk in our guest room and the guest bed all made up with my pillows and nice sheets. Teddy can see me and is settling in after a short round of crying. I'm hoping that will abate as he feels more confident about staying with me. It's too bad my mattress feels like a concrete slab.

So Teddy's acting pretty comfortable with Seth's crate. It won't be long before he's too big for it, but for now, he's snug as a bug in a rug and I'm trying to get some sleep before the next round of going outside.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Changes at Home

I have done six loads of laundry in the past two days.  I've stood outside at 3:00 am in the drizzling rain.  I haven't slept well.  I've been up and down, saying, "No bite," or "No chase," or "Uh oh!"  This riddle isn't too hard to solve.  We have a new puppy in the house. 

Oh, don't get me wrong.  I wanted a dog.  I've wanted a dog for the past five years.  I had to make do with loving other people's dogs whenever we crossed paths.  See, our last dog, Sophie, died in a tragic accident and Mike held himself responsible.  Before that, we'd had a dog, Indiana, that we're still talking about, the one who came with us on our honeymoon.  Both of these dogs were very special. Sophie was my sweet dog and Indiana was Mike's lifetime dog. 

On Sunday, we went to an adoption fair, expecting to begin to look at dogs.  Nick wanted to have his own dog, so we had told him that he would get to pick the next one.  Well, we had veto power if we thought it might not fit our family, but basically this dog would be his.

We walked out of that fair with a two-month old Golden Aussie mix.  Oh my God, he's cute.  He's blonde and looks like a classic Golden Retriever except for his fuzzy fur and eyes that are a little rheumy.  He's smaller than both cats, which is good since they can still give him the what for if he chases them.  We've got to nip that in the bud since he'll try herding them like sheep.  No, honey, we don't have any sheep for you.

Nick wanted to name him Spike, but we vetoed that and let him have his second choice, Teddy.  Teddy is a sweet boy who, when he's already a little tired, will immediately fall asleep if you rub his belly.  I tried to take him for a walk today, but he ended up zipped into my jacket after a few hundred feet.  That distance will grow quickly and that's what I'm counting on, for Nick, Mike, and I need to get some walking time.  Still, it was nice to get out for a bit and meet other dogs and their people.  Teddy drew quite a few admirers already.  Who doesn't love a puppy?

We're working on house training, cat manners, and the basic differences between wrestling with your brothers and playing with people.  Seth and Buddy, seem to have accepted Teddy much better than I expected.  I'm sure it helps that he's small and we aren't letting him chase them.  Today, I sat with a sleeping puppy cuddled up next to me and Buddy jumped into my lap.  Teddy woke up enough to see him there, put his nose into Buddy's soft fur, snuffled, and sighed a happy sigh.  I know the poor boy misses his brother and sister, so it was a good moment, a very good moment.  I tell you, have needed a dog for so long now and Nick says that he feels very lucky.  Teddy loves to snuggle with him and play with him in the yard even though he has to stay on his leash because of the busy road out front. 

I have so much to do this week, but I'm looking forward to telling Teddy, "Want to go for a ride?" and seeing his ears go up in anticipation.  I hope for more puppy-pile naps with him and the cats on the couch.  I'm so grateful to have a little guy who'll go with me on the trails during the day.  I know that Nickie is going to love his dog, especially when he's house trained and can go into Nick's bed at night, but I'm going to love having him with me while everyone else is away at work and school.  We are going to walk all over this county. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sitting With My Son

I have been at home for the second day now, with my sick boy.  Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm actually catching his virus too or if I'm just feeling the empathy just a little too deeply.  It usually becomes evident if I do have it.  You know, my nose runs and I sneeze all over the place.

Nick sounds like he's barking. It's time for him to go to the doctor.  I hate feeling as if we're at the beginning of one of those nasty runs, the ones for which my adrenaline rises just talking about it too long, the ones that are about my job of keeping him breathing at 4am after three or four days of not sleeping.  Have I ever told you how hard that is?  Well, yeah.  I guess I have.

You'd think that after two days of just being home, I'd be caught up on things like housework.  You'd think.  Nope, when Nickie is sick, I sit on the couch with him, sleeping when I can and watching reruns of iCarly and Spongebob.  Nick is into a whole new kind of animation these days.  Did I already complain about that?  You know, the shows with the intentionally ugly animation?  I did?  Sorry.  I really hate those shows because they aren't just visually ugly.  They're psychologically ugly too.  Maybe it's a boy thing, that he likes them.  Maybe it satisfies some budding need to turn me away from him.  Nick doesn't mind that I grab my book during those shows and phase out, but he wants me to stay close. 

I'm cruising through the list of banned books that I'd gotten from the library.  A lot of them are young adult books, but I've enjoyed them anyway.  I appreciated the courage of the main character in 'The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things' by Carolyn Mackler.  If I had a girl, I'd have her read it.  I don't hold any hope that Nick might read it, but I wish he would since it has some good lessons about sizeism.  You know, I hate that word, sizeism.  It's just so awkward, but we have to have a word for the awful thing that people do to each other and themselves in the name of hating body fat.

I also read 'The Chocolate War' by Robert Gorimer.  This was an intense book about about hazing at a Catholic school.  It didn't follow the classic fairy tale arc, so it was hard to accept the emotions that came with reading it, but it was so compelling, I couldn't put it down.  What a story!  This fiction reads like nonfiction and Gorimer has an amazing grasp of the psychology of dialog.  Whew!  I'll have to get another book or two of his from the library. 

I could see how these books became challenged, probably in a high school curriculum.  Parents didn't want their high school kids reading about sexual feelings.  Holy cow, don't these people know that kids are out there doing all that and need to read about it because it's real life? I'm not talking about pornography here.  These are stories about how uncomfortable a kid can be the first time she kisses a boy with wandering hands or how a boy feels when he calls another boy a homosexual. So much of what I read has sensuality erased as if it doesn't exist.  When was the last time you read a cheap detective novel and the main character just woke up with a woodie?  You haven't, have you?  Neither have I, but I tell you, it would have been a relief, as a teenager, to learn about these things in a book before I had to experience them in real life. So, I applaud these young adult books from my banned books list. 

I'm not sure if it was on the banned book list, but 'Burned' by Ellen Hopkins was also of that ilk.  What an amazing tale about a girl raised in an abusive, yet religious home.  I like when my fiction reads as if the author knows in her bones what she's writing about.  The old adage is: write what you know.  If Ellen Hopkins didn't experience this, she is brilliant at research.  To be honest, I don't want to know if she experienced it or not.  Too many people out there are writing revenge memoirs, the ones in which they punish their fathers or their mothers for their bad behavior.  This kind of fiction is the way to go.  It sings its agony and its joy. 

I'm proud to be reading from my list of banned books.  I'm moving more slowly, or more honestly, I'm completely stopped, at the Koran and the Bible.  They're not my usual kind of literature, though I almost took a comparative religions class once until I heard that the professor was an atheist and taught it all with sarcasm.  I'm not a big fan of sarcasm. Oh, I'll get through them some day, but I'm not sure I'll be a font of information when it comes to comparing them.  When I was a kid, I read the Bible enough to know popular passages, though I never read it from cover to cover.  I recall that I tried once, but got lost in all the names of Genesis.  Reading the Koran feels the same.  In light of their common background, it doesn't surprise me.  I should try harder with the Koran since I have so little experience with it.  Does it count to read it at night when I can't sleep?

Sometimes, I try to read the classics that I missed as a result of studying engineering instead of liberal arts.  Occasionally, I love the books, or parts of them.  It was fascinating to learn how a whaling ship actually rendered the fat of the whale before coming into port.  But, I'll tell you that I checked out 'Moby Dick' three times before I got through all of those disks.  With other classics, I figure I'd appreciate the book more if I were in a class where relevant connections or changes in language could be pointed out. I'm trying anyway. 

Right now, I'm listening to Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice.'  What a crazy wonderful book!  It's only slow going because I can't leave it on when Nick and Adrian get home from school.  It isn't actually worse than what they've seen on television, but drugs are thrown around in a funny way in the book.  I can appreciate the humor of an LSD trip in text without ever wanting to experience it in real life.  I doubt eleven-year-olds are ready for that kind of discrimination.  I'm also moving through it slowly because the language is so rich that I'm backing up to repeat good parts more than I usually do when listening to a book. 

So, read on!  Banned books week may be over, but if you read more banned books, you ensure that you retain some of your freedoms the other 51 weeks of the year.  There are banned books for every reader, from serious to Maruice Sendak.  I'm not kidding.  Maurice Sendak has a banned book.  Isn't that sad?

Maybe there are a few good things to be said about ugly animations on television.  I definitely get more reading done when they're on.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Still Learning

By 7:56 this morning, a Saturday, I was sitting in the gym at North Seattle Community College. The noise from the crowd already indicated a level of excitement for the day to come. I was there by myself, attending the Chief Seattle Council 2011 Program and Training Conference. There was every kind of person waiting for the opening ceremony.  I'd like to have talked to some of the older men, the ones who may have spent thirty years or more as Scout Leaders.  I'd like to have heard their stories.

I'm glad that Mike encouraged me to sign up fun stuff. I decided on a class about safe wilderness outings, new scout orientation, kayaks and canoes, and skits and songs.  It was a good day.

I came home, wanting to tell Mike as much as I could about the good ideas I'd heard.  I learned about a troop that, instead of focusing on achieving Eagle Scout, rewarded instead, the boys who had camped more than 100 nights in the wilderness.  The presenter said that it wasn't much of a surprise that the ones who had camped this much were usually the ones that achieved Eagle anyway.  The Scout Master's theory was that any boy who'd spent that much time out in the wilderness, getting to camp, cooking and cleaning up after himself and others, setting up a tent and sleeping in it, was prepared for what the world was going to offer him.  When I close my eyes and add up trips, I can get up to about eighty nights in the wilderness.  I haven't counted car camping or sleeping in the camper that my dad bought for my mom because she hated the whole thing so much. At about eighty nights, I suppose that I'm mostly prepared for what life will throw at me, though I have more to learn.  I'll be doing those next twenty days with Mike and Nick.

I stopped by at the Dutch oven station between classes and talked to the woman there.  I found out that I needed to store Mike's Dutch ovens with a paper towel across one side, holding the lid up just a bit, so that they wouldn't get rancid as quickly.  Other than that, the woman said I was doing it right.  Cool!  She also said that she'd just read that the best oil for seasoning them was flax seed oil.  I can give that a shot.  I'd been using lard, but apparently the polymerization isn't as complete with lard.  I like when chemistry crosses into camping.

Today, I learned where we can rent canoes in the area, but what I'm worried about is how I'll do trying to sleep out on the ground at night when I haven't done that in a while.  Will my cranky old bones get used to it after a couple of nights? As the men told their stories about their trips and showed their photos, I started to feel that old ache to be out on the water again.  When the man asked if anyone had taken multiple-day trips in a canoe, I raised my hand.  He said, "I imagine you have some stories to tell then."  I realized that I do.  Mine are the stories of how I fell in love with Mike.  Most of that happened on the water, in our canoe.  Did you know that after five years of paddling with Explorer Scouts, we paddled our canoe in Maine with our dog for our honeymoon?  Oh, those were golden days and I was right there in them as I looked at these pictures of men and boys paddling on the Puget Sound.

Now that I'm home, I'm suddenly tired.  I had a good day. In February, when Nick moves from being a Cub Scout to becoming a Boy Scout, I'll be a little more prepared.  My Dutch ovens will be well seasoned, Nick and his friends will be able to practice paddling nearby, and hopefully they'll have a safe and exciting time exploring the dizzying array of wilderness that we have all around us here in the Pacific Northwest.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, October 14, 2011

Look Out-I'm Talking About Religion

Sometimes I'm not sure any more if I really can call myself a Christian. This is what I've been talking to Mike about, calling it my 'crisis of faith.'

I go to church most Sunday's. Hell, I even sing in the choir. I try not to think how hypocritical that makes me. I'm relieved that Mother Theresa had doubts that plagued her and she still did good work. (I want to read that book too, the one about her doubts.) I'm still trying to believe, still trying to do good things.

I just joined a group of women that are reading a book called 'Love Wins,' by Rob Bell. So far, I've read the preface and we've read the first chapter. I introduced myself at the first meeting as the person who came because I like when people read to me.

So far, the book has provided me with some relief by asking what Jesus could I be rejecting, for example, the one that "is antiscience, antigay, standing out on the sidewalk with his bullhorn, telling people they are going to burn forever?"

I grew up going to church, but it has always burned me up that I was supposed to believe that anyone from another religion than mine was going to hell because they had been born to another religion and didn't convert. Really? What about the beauty, the common commandment to love, and the compassion that seems to be the underlying theme of any of the major religions?

My crisis is also about suffering. What about all this damn suffering? My own little family has been struggling for months now with one thing after another. How is that about the love and compassion of God? Is this the wrath of God?

Maybe I'm just tired, too damn tired to write about anything except my doubts.

Thank you for listening, jb

Dumb Luck

There's something to be said for dumb luck. 

Nick got home late tonight from an overnight trip down at Mt. St. Helens.  Have you noticed that I haven't been able to write anything in the last couple of days?  I just couldn't do it before now.  Who wants to read a blog about how I managed to distract myself while he was gone?  Okay, well, I'll tell you anyway.  

Yesterday, I defrosted the freezer with my earbuds in and my iPod volume set to high.  I realize that I have way too much quiet music downloaded on it.  When Charles Brown sang 'I Want to Go Home,' my heart ached, though I tried to ignore it. 

After Mike got home from work, we went to the Snoqualmie Casino and played blackjack for a while.  People-watching at a blackjack table is my favorite thing about spending time in any casino. Las Vegas wins the prize for the greatest variety of people.  I also liked that I hadn't totally forgotten how to play.  The guy to my left was hemorrhaging money by playing $50 a bet and betting badly.  He was sitting at the table with a 'friend' who refused to help him and laughed each time he lost another load.  The dealer was slowing down and trying to help him, but this guy just needed more time and someone to teach him the rules of the game.  I had a short winning streak, but it didn't last and I walked away having lost $15.  I figure that's a good price for the entertainment and a little distraction. Blackjack was much better at distracting me than defrosting the freezer.

Today, I went to an optional meeting, took the cat to the vet for something he didn't really need yet, rewrote my article for the local newspaper, and talked on the phone to another one of the lonely moms for over an hour.  I sent a couple of texts to Nick's phone even though I knew Nick wouldn't dare turn it on since he wasn't supposed to have a phone on the trip at all.  Mike and I had insisted he take it in case of an emergency.

Tonight, when Nick got off the bus, I could see that he'd had a great time.  He was bouncing and ready to tell me everything that had happened.  They spent the night at Tootle High School and watched a movie about the eruption.  The girls were spying on them as they settled down to go to sleep.  The next day, they took a two hour hike, and spent some time at the visitor's center.  The visitor's center at Mt. St. Helens is amazing. 

But there's a dumb luck element to Nick's story.

Mike and I had spent a lot of time working with the school nurse and Nick's teacher to work out the details of this trip.  Nick has a life-threatening allergy to tree nuts and carries an EpiPen with him wherever he goes.  Up until now, he hasn't been allowed to be in the care of any adults who weren't careful about his allergy and willing to give him an EpiPen injection if it was necessary.  You'd be surprised how many people, my well-loved sister included, who have handed him food studded with nuts despite current discussions about it.  There's another whole set of people who can't tolerate the idea of needles.  Now that he's eleven, Nick is beginning to learn how to manage this on his own. He also carries Xopenex everywhere with him in case his asthma bothers him, like when he's hiking. 

The last time Nick was in the emergency room for breathing issues from having eaten a small part of a walnut, he was three or four years old.  The doctors and nurses struggled to keep his airways open.  One nurse even questioned if it was safe to give him another injection of epinephrine, considering his heart rate, and the doctor barked at her that if his airways didn't open up, his heart rate would be irrelevant.  That kind of conversation kind of stays with a parent.  Nick's allergy doctor won't test him using the usual contact method any more, saying it's safer to test his blood instead. 

For this trip, the school nurse and Nick's teacher told us that they would handle Nick's allergy issues.  We discussed how he should have his fanny pack containing his EpiPen and his inhaler with him at all times.  We talked about training the people who were in charge of him.  Nick's teacher, sounding like the calm in the storm, told us that Nick would be okay, that he would help Nick to review the ingredient lists on his food.  They basically told us that we had to choose between going to this overnight field trip with Nick and the three-night camp in the spring since so many other parents also wanted to go.  

We carefully packed Nick's things the night before the trip.  Mike and I talked about the necessity of the phone, despite the rules against it.  I showed Nick where I'd packed his EpiPens and his inhaler in his fanny pack and reiterated that it needed to stay with him at all times.  I showed him where I'd packed a spare set of EpiPens in the front pocket of his backpack.   It was hard, but we took the teacher's advice and his assurances and let Nick go. Then, Mike and I distracted ourselves the best we could, believing that we had all the bases covered.

Now, here's the dumb luck part. As Nick started telling me more details about his trip, I got a shot of adrenaline of my own, a natural one that I'm still trying to work out of my system three hours later.  Did you ever get that, like when a car cuts you off in traffic and you realize you almost died in a car crash, or when your friends who think it's funny, jump out at you when you aren't expecting it, except you're in New York after midnight and you believe for a moment that you're actually about to get mugged or worse? Sometimes, it takes a while to work that kind of adrenaline out of your system. 

Nick told me that he got onto the bus without his fanny pack.  Not one of the teachers checked to make sure he had it with him.  His gear was stowed, including the extra EpiPen I'd packed for him in his backpack along with his dinner.  Since he didn't have dinner, he ate whatever he hadn't eaten at lunch and went without anything else.  But he could as easily have eaten something someone else had given him, something that might have had nuts in it.  And how long would it have taken for the bus to pull over and find that stowed EpiPen?

Today, on the hike, if Nick's asthma had bothered him, he would have been stuck wheezing and feeling light-headed. No one asked if he was carrying his inhaler then. His asthma isn't as scary as his tree nut allergy, but it definitely affects how he can move upward on a hill and the inhaler makes a huge difference in how he feels.

Nick carried his spare EpiPen in his pocket since he wasn't allowed to carry his backpack in the visitor's center.  That was smart of him.  He was with a woman who never asked about his EpiPen, who most likely had not even been told that he had an allergy.  She should have been told where his EpiPen was and been trained how to use it.  Precious minutes are lost to lack of oxygen when people try to deliver an EpiPen injection without first removing the safety cap on the opposite end.  If Nick had been lying on the floor, not breathing, she might not have had any idea what was wrong, let alone that there was an EpiPen in his pocket.  It would be like dying of thirst in the desert with a quart of water in your canteen.

It was sheer dumb luck that Nick didn't need his EpiPen on that bus, that he didn't need a responsible adult to get  him through an emergency the next day.  We were lucky to have packed that spare EpiPen and lucky to have a boy who was smart enough to go without a meal rather than risk eating something unknown that someone else gave him.  Maybe there is some kind of grace in this world, despite my doubts.  I'll tell you about those doubts someday.  I'm just happy we got our boy back, happy and tired, at the end of his field trip.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hiking with Cub Scouts

I'm upset. 

We took the Cub Scouts on a hike today.  It wasn't a long hike to Franklin Falls, but it was beautiful, so if you find yourself on I-90 and you have some extra time, get off at Exit 47 and take a walk to the falls.  There are some old growth trees there that I wish I'd had time to really look at. I mean, these were 600 year old trees, standing right there with us.  The bunch berry and deer fern looked like someone had planted them.  The ravine was pretty too, and when we got to the falls, there was just enough sun to make a rainbow in the mist. 

So why am I upset?

There were eight boys and five adults.  At the beginning, Mike talked to the boys about trail etiquette.  He asked them to hike quietly so other hikers might see some wildlife.  Well, I don't think anyone expected that to happen.  Ten and eleven year old boys?  Right.  Then, he told them that for safety reasons, they should stay together and stop at any forks in the trail. 

We were only a few hundred feet down the trail when I heard the whistles go off.  The boys were screaming, "Emergency! Emergency!" and blowing their whistles as they jumped up and down on a big rock in the river. 

No, the noise didn't upset me.  I expected it, in fact.  Except for the 'emergency' bit, I think that making noise outside is what boys should do.

After they were done screaming and jumping on the big rock, they took off down the trail, all of them except for Nick.  He walked with Mike, just ahead of me.  I walked along and talked with Adrian's mom.  Now, Nick has trouble with elevation gain because of his asthma, even a little bit of elevation gain.  We had given him some Xopenex and he was feeling pretty good, but he still slowed down for anything uphill.  I was proud of him today.  He didn't complain much and he kept his feet moving, even when it was hard for him.  And the four of us got to the falls without any problem, except for one.

All of the kids left Nick behind.  Every one of them, even Adrian.

Near the falls, they took a fork in the trail, luckily the correct one, and were there at the falls, messing around in the water, when we arrived.  Now, the safety part of staying together and not taking a fork in the trail is important for longer hikes.  Since they didn't have maps, they could have gotten lost by making that one turn on the trail.  That's not very smart when you're hiking with a group of people and you're not carrying a map.  Still, they're learning and they're kids. I wish they'd have been kids who could follow directions, but they're kids.  I don't think even their parents understood the ramifications of them flouting this important issue when they're hiking in the wilderness.  How lost can you get in the Cascade Mountain Range?  Pretty lost.  The only thing that might save you is that it's hard to bushwhack through the forest around here.  Still, some of the trails go on for miles and miles. 

No, that wasn't what upset me the most.  What broke my heart is that not one of the boys were friends enough with Nick to hang out with him at the back of the pack.  Nick said that if it had been just him and the boys, he'd have gone back to the car and gone home.  I don't blame him.  I wanted to go home myself. 

I started daydreaming that they were a little older and one of the boys had his parents' car.  They were going hiking somewhere and Nick fell behind on the trail.  They left him there, in the middle of nowhere and Nick had to call us to come pick him up.  I could see that happening.

I know that I don't get to choose Nick's friends these days.  We're in that awkward phase in which Mike and I still have some influence, but it's falling away.  I see myself watching how Adrian treats Nick like a best friend when they're alone together, but sometimes he ignores Nick when the 'cool' kids are around.  Will their friendship last through very much of that?  I worry about Adrian too.  If he hangs out with these kids, will he get caught up in doing something that he regrets?  

I trust Nick.  I really do.  He has common sense.  He doesn't want to get into trouble or get hurt.  When Nick and Adrian are together, I trust them too, for the most part.  What I worry about is what will happen with them when they're with people who push the limits and expect them to as well.  The funny thing is that I think I already know how this daydream will play out.  Nick will be slow to decide and the kids will leave him behind to do whatever they're up to.  Nick will find a way home.  Adrian will stick with the crowd and run into trouble a couple of times and, hopefully, figure out that friends aren't people who try to make you do dangerous things.  I just hope Nick and Adrian's friendship can withstand the stress of that difference between them. 

Both boys will eventually figure out who their real friends are and stick with them.  Eventually.  Oh, that's one of the worst things about being eleven - all those years of jockeying between people to find your true friends.

Okay, so I won't know how the future is going to work out for Nick, but what I saw today hurt.  It's hard to be left behind by people you thought were your friends.  It's hard, too, to watch your boy getting left behind and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Showing Up

Nick and Adrian got home from school at 1:45 this afternoon and are settling down for a sleepover now.  Today, I've spent the afternoon being the girl with action figures and the evening playing 'Dread Pirate.'  I won and ended the game as the dread pirate, by the way, a first for me.  Argh.  I had asked the boys if they wanted to go jump at the Sky High trampolines this afternoon.  I'd asked if Nick wanted to go to karate early in the evening.

"No, we want to stay home," they said each time, almost in unison. 

"Will you play with us?" Nick asked.  He'd asked the same thing yesterday, but I was running behind and didn't stop what I was doing.  Today, I promised myself I wouldn't make the same mistake again. 

Thirteen years ago, Mike and I said goodbye to our beloved vet, Dr. Carsch, who was selling a flourishing business.  I couldn't understand why he was getting out when the dogs loved him so well and people were flocking to his office.  When we asked him why, he said, "My kids are young.  You only get a few years with them, you know."  After googling him just now, I know that he's gone back into business, helping independent vet clinics to make a better business plan.  It all sounds very exciting and I can see that he's still successful.  I'm glad that his decision paid off, but more important than that, I hope he got the time he wanted with his kids while he could.

Dr. Carsch left two years before Nick was born and I've tried not to forget what he'd said.  Even though I don't work in an office any more, I get busy.  I'm volunteering at school and also with Cub Scouts.  I have too many unfinished quilting projects.  I'm hanging out with friends, commiserating about parenting, and trying to have a nice lunch or get some exercise.  I'm in the middle of a good book.  I need to cook, check my email, clean and, oh, I have all kinds of reasons I can't play right now. 

Playing really is different than it used to be.  When I was just an aunt, I rolled around on the floor with my nephews and niece and played like a little kid.  I admit, it is harder to sit on the floor these days.  I think that if I did it more regularly, it would be good for me, the same way yoga hurts until you're done with the stretch and then you feel better. 

As a mom, there's the added feeling of needing to go somewhere to be quiet once in a while.  I need my quiet time, even though I'm generally getting enough of it while everyone is off at school or work.  I've settled down into my routine and I'm enjoying a better balance now.   I'm even looking forward to getting to my projects, so I don't always want my time to be interrupted.

On Thursday, Nick's school had a Walkathon to raise money for teacher grants.  This money does the kids a lot of good and the kids spend the afternoon getting lots of exercise.  I kept telling Mike that I wasn't going to volunteer this time.  I had volunteered five years in a row and they could manage without me.  I wanted my afternoon.  I had a plan.  Nick had been watching television during this conversation and I didn't even think he'd heard a word I'd said. 

"Nick, do you want Momma to come to the Walkathon tomorrow?" Mike asked.  I could have kicked him.  I really didn't want him to take the decision away from me. 

"Mom, you could come, but you don't have to.  I'll be okay," Nick said.  He looked very mature, but there was a look in his eyes.  I tried to ignore it.  I woke at my usual 4:15am and though I managed to get back to sleep, told myself I'd need my time to catch up on sleep after the bus came or I'd be too tired for the rest of the day.  I got up again at 6:45 and made Nick a good lunch before he went off to school. At 7:55, the rest of the day was mine.

I looked at the clock at 11:45.  I remembered that look in Nick's eyes.  I tried to get busy with the binding on a quilt.  I looked at the clock at 12:07.  I looked at the fabric in front of me, the allure of it fading before my eyes as I pictured Nick's brave facade and remembering Dr. Carsch's words. Within the next twenty minutes, I was at the volunteer table, asking to work near the track for the older kids. 

In the end, Nick had walked 4 1/2 miles and never slowed down the time I took a break from my post and tried to walk a lap with him.  At the end, he pushed himself to go six laps more than he had the year before.  I was proud of him, but what made it worth going was the look on his face when all I did was show up. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, October 7, 2011

For the Love of a Cat

Just about time for bed, I poured myself a glass of milk and, as usual, remembered that I hadn't given Buddy his evening pills.  Now, Buddy is officially a miracle cat, twice over.  More than a year ago, I visited my grandma and called her vet to come take a look at Buddy.  Buddy adored my grandma and had appeared on her doorstep without any front claws four years before she had to move into assisted living.  It was a miracle he'd survived the coyotes that hung around her place back then.  My grandma and the rest of us had agreed that when Buddy needed a place to go, he could come live with us.  We only had one cat, Seth, and a hamster.  I wanted the vet to give Buddy sedatives for the airplane and the shots he needed to be allowed to fly.  Plus, I wanted to know why Buddy bled now and then.  I couldn't believe that no one had tried to figure out that problem. 

This very nice vet came to my grandma's apartment and looked Buddy over.  He told me that Buddy had a heart murmur and might not survive the trip home.  He also said that it was likely that the poor guy had cancer in his lower intestine, that caused his bleeding.  He gave him his shots, wrote a prescription for tranquilizers, and signed a certificate.  He petted Buddy as he lay in my arms and before he left, the man looked me in the eye, and said, "Good luck.  I hope he makes the trip.  He really seems to like you."

Buddy wasn't happy, but he survived the trip home.  Fur was all over my clothes and baggage, even in my mouth, by the time we made it home.  I wish I could say that poor Buddy could relax then.  Seth, our other cat, made those next three weeks miserable by growling and blindly clawing under doors.  It was three weeks before I let them meet face to face.  By then, Mike and my friend, also a vet, was telling me to let them work it out together.

Just as things were beginning to get settled down, Buddy started bleeding again.  I took him to see my friend who said that since he was so young, she'd like to see and echo cardiogram about the murmur.  After three more trips, all very upsetting for Buddy, a specialist told me that he had a congenital heart problem that had caused his heart to enlarge, fluid to build in his lungs, and he probably had colon cancer though they hadn't done tests for that.  This vet said that Buddy wouldn't live much longer than six months and would be lucky to make it to a year.  In the meantime, my friend fiddled around with his food and Buddy finally stopped bleeding. 

That was thirteen months ago.  The joke around our house is that Buddy has lived past his expiration date, his second miracle.  We all love him.  He has the biggest heart, emotionally as well as physically.  He jumps up to join anyone who goes into the toilet, just to say hi.  I suppose that since he lived with a fragile old woman for seven years, he learned that she could reach down to pet him easier from the toilet.  Buddy plays with the boys with his toys, lying on his belly to grab what is being whipped past him.  His favorite thing to do is for me to recline on the couch with a blanket over me and his pillow in my lap.  Then, he'll lie on his back on his pillow and stretch his paws up to my face to pat me whenever I stop rubbing him with two hands.  God forbid I want to read my book with one hand while I'm petting him. He likes to have his head and chest rubbed in a way that annoys Seth when I try it on him.  His eyes dilate as we stare at each other during these love-fests.  Then he'll jump off, walk around a bit, and do it all over again.  Sometimes, I brush him with this rubber Zoom Groom thing that he loves.  His fur has gotten very sleek. 

This past weekend, I thought it was the end for Buddy, that his digestive problems had finally beat out his heart problems.  He'd started vomiting more.  It got to where it was just foam coming up two or three times an hour.  Poor Buddy cried out sometimes just before it happened.  What could I do?  It was only going to upset him more to be trundled off to my friend's office to get more tests.  She and I agreed that we only wanted to manage his comfort and anything that might be solved that was simple.  Mike told me there wasn't anything simple about this.

Buddy wasn't eating.  He wasn't drinking.  In between bouts of vomiting, he'd lay flaccid on the floor.  He didn't want to be in his little bed.  He didn't want to lie on his pillow on my lap.  I found myself lying on the floor with one hand near him sometimes.  Touching him seemed to hurt too much, but I didn't want him to die alone. 

I sat with him for the whole weekend.  I slept in the recliner, hoping to hear him if he cried out in the night.  I tried to prepare myself to find him dead under the coffee table when I woke up.  I hardly slept.  I didn't accomplish anything.  It was awful.  I was a mess.

On Sunday, I'd finally missed so much sleep that I caught a cold.  I sleep through my colds and while I was lying there, Buddy came to sit on my lap for a bit.  When I woke up, he was there.  His fur looked pretty ratty.  I could see where he'd lost weight.  His face was pinched and thin.  He jumped off before I could pet him.  On Monday, I noticed that he was drinking a little.  On Tuesday, he ate a little and kept it down.  On Wednesday, he played with my ear buds as I wound them up to put them away.  (I still can't find them.) That same afternoon, he put his paws on Seth's head and fell over with a thump to wrestle.  Seth wouldn't wrestle with him. 

Tonight, I was looking for Buddy to give him his pills.  Both cats were missing.  Seth had gone back to wrestling with Buddy, but I wondered if something was wrong.  I looked on the beds.  No cats.  The nest in the middle of the fabric on my sewing table was empty.  There were no cats under the coffee table or on the washing machine.  I went downstairs, calling, "Buddy, here kitty baby." Nothing. The fear rose in my chest again.  Would I go downstairs to find Seth standing over Buddy's lifeless body? 

I went down and turned on the light in the den and both cats looked up at me as if they were boys who'd been caught with the key to the gun cabinet.  This was not a cat who looked like he was dying.  I stood quietly for a minute and they both went back to their game.  They'd cornered a mouse. 

I moved something, the mouse ran out, and we all chased and grabbed.  Over and over.  At one point, this poor mouse stood panting as the three of us had it cornered and stared at it.  He was cute, with big soft eyes.  Seth patted him on his head.  Buddy stood ready for him to bolt, his tail twitching.  After I yelled a bit, Mike came down with a bucket to throw over him. That didn't work.  We lost him and he ran behind the futon. It was Laurel and Hardy meeting Tom and Tom and Jerry.  I finally got a small clay pot over him by the wood stove, a nice hand thrown pot that a friend of ours had made.  Mike got a paper plate and flattened it.  I slid it under and picked it up the whole thing, carrying it like it was a turkey in a roasting pan. I almost made it to Mike.  I had told him he was going to have killing duties.  All of a sudden, the mouse popped out of the tiny hole in the top of the upturned pot.  I threw the whole thing in the air and it came crashing down.  Mike did a soccer shuffle to keep the mouse from running upstairs.  The cats were on him again.  By this time, the poor guy was stunned and it was easy to put another clay pot over him, this one without an escape hatch.  The poor guy was ready to accept any refuge.  Another paper plate slid under, the whole thing dropped into a little aquarium we'd used for tadpoles, and he was caught and in Mike's killing hands. 

Mike ran some water into the aquarium, got it part way full.  I couldn't watch so I went back into the den.  The water stopped running and Mike came in and handed me an aquarium with a wet mouse, a clay pot, and a soggy paper plate in it. "I can't do it," he said.

"I'll take him down the road," I said. 

I took him to a wide place in the road, got out, and opened the lid.  He looked up at me.  He wouldn't budge. No, I was not going to keep a wild mouse in a cage in the house, cute or not.  I had enough cute pets.  And who knew if he had any diseases?  I tipped the aquarium and he reluctantly stepped into the grass and stood watching me. 

When I got home, Buddy and Seth were racing up and down the stairs and alternately stalking quietly over to the corner of the den where they'd had the most fun with their mouse.  They still haven't settled down.  I even had to go make sure there weren't more mice.  No more mice.  Thankfully.  Buddy took a break for a large snack and a drink and rumbled back down the stairs.  I think he's gained all his weight back.  As I write, he's been up and down the stairs three times, sounding more like a 50 pound dog than a dying cat.  Each of them has taken turns looking in the fun corner and crying loudly, as if I'd taken their toy away.  Miracle number three.  Buddy's not dead yet. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Someone to Read Me a Story

I volunteered to be a Reading Buddy for a kid in Nick's school again.  I wasn't going to volunteer this year, but I couldn't help myself.  I like this program, which is run by a woman who has preschool children.  At every meeting of the volunteers, she reads a sweet book to us, her voice taking on a different tone than when she's talking about funding.

On Wednesday, we had a meeting in which we sat in small groups and talked about why we liked being a Reading Buddy.  One person must have rehearsed it in her head before saying it.  She liked "having even a small part in igniting the passion of a child toward becoming a lifelong reader." That is so perfect, so quotable!  Another woman, a former teacher, said she likes seeing the incremental changes.  Hell, I can never see the incremental changes. 

But at the end of last year, my Reading Buddy jumped up on a stage that had been stored in the room and began to read, one arm reaching out, the other holding his book.  He hammed it up even more when I put my iPhone on the video setting.  Did I ever tell you that I love my iPhone?  Well, I don't have the right to take a video of this boy, but he loved it and I haven't posted it on uTube or anything.  All of a sudden, he was an orator, Martin Luther King Jr. with his 'I Have a Dream' speech.  Or maybe he was JFK saying "Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country."  What a transformation from that clock-watcher I had sat with all year. 

I have selfish reasons that I sign up every year to be a Reading Buddy.  I like when someone reads to me.  It always makes me think of Mrs. Winkler, my fourth grade teacher and the only person I remember who ever read to me as a child.  Oh, she read to the whole class, but I just knew that she loved me.  She read 'The Wind in the Willows,' a book I hated.  She also read 'A Wrinkle in Time,' 'Charlotte's Web,' and a handful of other wonderful classics.  I remember doing math and social studies in her classroom, but she took the time to read a chapter to us every day.  Getting comfortable in my seat in the back of the room and listening to her resonant voice was my favorite part of the day.

At first, I was amazed that Mrs. Winkler would read to us at all, that anyone would willingly read to a child.  My experience was listening to my older sister refusing to read 'Go, Dog, Go!' aloud because she said she  hated that book.  I had grown up thinking that extended to reading any book out loud.  I loved when Mrs. Winkler settled in to read and, amazingly, it looked like it made her happy too.  At the end of the school year, Mrs. Winkler gave every one of us a book of our own.  I chose one about Ben Franklin and I still have it on my bookshelf.

Sometimes, I stand outside Nick's door for a moment to hear Mike's voice as he reads when it's his night to take Nick into bed.  Oh, how I wish I was the one snuggled down under the covers, to close my eyes and listen to that story.  By the door, I can't quite hear the words, but Mike's voice is deep and soothing. It's the same reason I finally got through 'The Iliad' and 'The Oddessy.'  I had gotten an audiobook from the library with Ian McKellan reading.  Oh, I loved the repetition of the words "the wine red sea" when they were read by Ian McKellan.  I totally recommend it as a method to work your way through the classics.

And yes, I am even comforted when I am read to by a child who struggles with a word here and there.  Sometimes as we sit next to each other in that little room, I close my eyes and I am once again sitting in the back row of my fourth grade class, listening to my teacher read, just for me.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Meaning of Things

I had some time to do quilting today.  That was a miracle, considering that in the past few days, Buddy was so sick that I thought he was going to die, I had a cold, and Mike had a night of absolutely no sleep and missed work today.  After Nick went to school, Mike and I went to the junkyard together.  Yesterday, we'd had to cancel our babysitter because I didn't feel well, but going to the junkyard actually felt like a date.  Okay, it wasn't a high-end, dress-to-the-nines date.  I could have told him I had things to do and stayed behind.  I could have read, quilted, or gone to Elliot Bay Books to get more Moleskine notebooks.  I didn't.  Mike had been up all night, so instead, I went with him to the junk yard. 

Mike and I could use a fancy date too, but the important part was that we were alone together.  We talked, we laughed, we worried out loud, and we were quiet. I read the directions to him to get there, tried hand him the right tools as he pulled the part he needed.  We laughed walking back to our neat little Prius, surrounded by beat-down cars including one that had a bumper sticker that said 'Redneck Stripper.'  Our bumper sticker says 'Paddle faster.  I hear banjos.'

After that, Mike had to stop at the auto parts store.  Exciting, huh? I walked over to the grocery store to pick up some things so he could make his mom's special mac and cheese for dinner.  On his way back to meet me, he bought a salad for me from Taco Time.  He'd been listening when I'd said I was hungry. 

These were all very ordinary events, even boring if you think about them a certain way.  But I was thinking about it while I stitched my quilt tonight.  I'm making an ordinary fence rail quilt.  It's pretty, but very simple.  I'll probably give it away because, as I worked, the recipient settled into my mind.  To make a fence rail quilt, you take strips of fabric.  You stitch them together and cut out squares.  You arrange the squares so that the first block of strips in the row are up, the second block is across.  You sew them so that they rock back and forth this way all across the quilt.  It's quick to put together and now all I have to do is put on a border and quilt it.  You see, simple. 

Tonight, as I said goodnight to Mike, I noticed the quilt that lay over him.  I had appliqued a circle onto it that fell just about where his belly button was and a star laid across his heart.  I really do think that there is meaning in ordinary things.  It's hard to say why a little salad would feel like red roses or how a quilt lying over someone who's half asleep would feel like a thin layer of love used to protect him. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Waiting for Chinese

I'm at my favorite Chinese restaurant, waiting for my takeout order. I love this place, the Peking Chinese Restaurant next to the McDonald's in Redmond, WA.

(They're quick! It's ready!)

When Nickie was just four years old, I used to bring him here for lunch. He loved coming here. The waitress would seat us, all the while chatting to Nick as if she'd known him longer than his four years. 'Joyful Boy,' she called him.  Even when he was throwing a fit, even when he spilled the tea I'd poured and sweetened for him, even when he'd pushed rice off three sides of his plate, he was a welcome visitor there.  I haven't come here with Nick in a long while, but whenever he's with me as I'm picking up takeout, he'll say, "Can we stay here and eat, Mom, please?"  If Mike wasn't usually at home with a cold waiting for us, I'd like to say yes. 

We don't get Chinese food very often, but when Mike or I catch a virus, we crave hot and sour soup.  "It's the volatile oils," Mike will say as if I'd never heard him say that before.  We've been together long enough that we have these things we repeat to each other.  Most of the time they're lines from some old movie or a Seinfeld episode, but not always.  Isn't it awful how I can never think of those other phrases when I want to, like a good joke I'd heard that's just beyond my tongue? 

We always order the same thing at Peking, lemon chicken for Mike and beef and broccoli for Nick and I.  If we're too busy or tired, we'll order rice to go with it, but most of the time, whoever is at home will make sticky rice while the other picks it up. 

Here's what I think about when I take my one piece of lemon chicken, completely covered in sweet lemony goo, 'Would I even like authentic Chinese food?'  I know that this food that I'm eating isn't really a part of Chinese culture.  What I'm eating is an American twist on Chinese food and after all of these years of twisting, the turn away from authenticity has got to be complete.  The people that own and run my favorite Chinese restaurant speak and write the orders in Chinese.  I wonder what they eat at home.

Just before the summer Olympics in Beijing, Mike told me that he might be sent there for a couple of weeks on a business trip.  Now, Mike hates traveling, but I love going to new places.  So I checked to make sure our passports were up-to-date, asked Nick's principal for permission to take him out of school, and enrolled in a class for conversational Chinese.  I was going to be ready to go, no excuses. 

On my first day of class, I learned that Chinese is a challenging language to learn.  I figured out that it was easier for me if I thought of  it as singing songs, since calling your mother 'ma' could result in calling her a horse if your tone dipped the wrong way.  I managed to teach Nick to say "Ni hao.  Wo jao Nick!"  We both practiced the little things I managed to retain from week to week.  I have to tell you that learning a language at 51 is way harder than learning it in high school.  Even after managing a few conversational phrases, I'm embarrassed to say that neither one of us ever had the courage to lean on that counter at our favorite Chinese restaurant and say, "Ni hao!" 

Unfortunately, we didn't end up going to Beijing after all and though I was disappointed, it was a relief that I wasn't going to have to mangle their ancient language in front of people who knew and loved it.  I think about that sometimes, as I'm tasting Mike's lemon chicken, the dish that I'm sure has been mangled beyond recognition by any self-respecting person from Beijing.  Yet, I love cracking apart a new set of chopsticks and chowing down on an authentic Chinese-American tradition. 

Thank you for listening, jb