Not just a mouse.
A dead mouse.
Not really freshly dead, but not exactly shriveled up and odor-free, either.
And not just an almost fresh dead mouse, but a dead mouse who may have ingested rat poison that the landlord used in our newly rented home while the house was between tenants.
And there’s more.
Because Rory-the-mouse-eating-dog is not just a dog.
She’s a service dog-in-training. A 6-month old puppy who just passed round 1 of her service dog tests. This is one brilliant dog. (Mouse consumption notwithstanding.)
However, she has become the gold-plated dog. The dog who costs just that much more with pet insurance and personalized training sessions to meet my daughter’s particular needs.
The dog who oozes the promise to give my 18-year-old her independence – in about 2 more long-short years.
So here we are in the story: Dog eats dead mouse. Mom/driver is not home. And you know this scenario, because these situations only happen after an excruciating long day. The kind where you at least remembered to eat the banana on your way out 10 hours ago. Where you scrounged for a few apple chips. Where there was some water intake at some point but I know my PCP and probably The Surgeon General are not particularly happy with me.
It’s 8:30pm and I’m on my way home. Dinner. Quiet. Collapse. In that order. That is the plan. HA. It’s when parents believe this, dream this, need this, that we can’t possibly achieve the plan. It will never happen.
It didn’t happen.
So this is the panicked call from my daughter in short: Dog ate mouse. Dead mouse. Rat poison?
Now you also need to know that the dog doesn’t eat the dead mouse during normal vet hours; she waits until 10 whole minutes after closing. So the ER vet advises: get the dog to the ER vet hospital where vomiting will be induced.
Dead mouse + rat poison → dog vomit.
My resourceful, calmly panicked daughter finds out what to do to get a dog to vomit. (Check with your own vet.) She administers the fluids and waits while I am driving and hoping and trying not to share the same very real fears of my daughter but, of course, I am fearful. For the dog. For her. For our finances. For the guilt I am feeling over thinking about finances “at a time like this”. And I am exhausted. And still driving.
20 minutes. 10 minutes. 5 minutes . . .
I approach the house, bluetoothing <Hey Merriam Webster: new word alert!> my daughter on her phone to get the dog ready to race to the vet. Because, of course, the dog won’t vomit.
Now, here’s the secret – not the point of the story but the secret – that every dog owner who needs their dog to urgently vomit must know: It’s not the liquid alone that will work (not all the time, anyway). It’s a combo package: liquid and …
Because 1 (one) block from the house, that dog starts projectile vomiting all over the back of the car. She covers it. Floor. Backs of front seats. Fronts of back seats. And of course the seat itself. She misses nothing. She’s on a roll. She covers every inch. Every seam. Every crevice.
People within a two-county radius probably heard my daughter screaming that the previously digested mouse is now emphatically undigested and "swimming" straight toward her in this newly created river of dog liquid.
This is my daughter: “My thighs hurt!! I can’t sit!! The mouse is underneath me! But I’m okay!! I’m okay!!” and of course: “EWWWWW!”
Followed by more dog hurl.
Me? I’m driving. Singularly focused: Get dog to vet. Getdog tovet. Getdogtovet.
My daughter is calling the same ER vet. “Hold, please <endless line buzz> . . . Oh, the vet-on-duty just said there was no need for your dog to vomit because the amount of poison ingested by the mouse would be so small.” No joke. All vomit. All over.
“But,” says my daughter with her quivering thighs, “I just called a little while ago and you told me to make her throw up.”
Answer: “Well, you don’t need to bring the dog in any more.” (Now, just for the record, the next day, the dog’s real and actual doctor said yes, please get the dog to vomit vermin. So there. Justice in the world exists even for dog-eating-vermin with loving-panicked owners and loving-but-exhausted moms.)
I pull into a convenience store and my daughter proceeds to wipe out the car, dead mouse and all. (Apparently, we carry paper towels in our car for just such occasions.) And yes, the mouse is relegated to its own bag, jic (just in case) there is a need for the mouse autopsy. What do I know? Saving the dead mouse seems relevant.
I also know enough not to help. Partly I am just certain that if I move from the driver’s seat, exhaustion will shove me over the cliff. I will lie prone near the gas pumps mumbling “dogmouseprojectle”. I stay in my seat reciting my new mantra: Getushome. Withdog. Getushomewithdog.
But, I also know that this is one of those mean mother moments that my daughter will grow from more by my not helping, not taking over, not just getting it cleaned up faster or better or whatever I may not be clearly thinking. I know enough to know that I don’t want to clean up vomit and dead mouse any more than she does, but if I do, she won’t. And she needs to. And she did – while crying from relief, laughing at the insanity, and collapsing from her own exhaustion. Rory is no longer vomiting, by the way. Rather, she seems quite content to not help and just supervise with her puppy dog eyes as she plops herself down on the seat. (Yes, now dog is covered, too.)
In the back of my addled brain, I somehow know that life with a service dog, living independently one day a long-short time from now, will mean handling the vomit and the vermin that come her way.
While my job was to be the driver (she cannot drive), my bigger job was to let this be my daughter’s journey and to let her lead the way. GPS be damned.
And that is the point of parenting.
For many around the world - but certainly not all – the month of December has turned into this chaotic time warp. And time, as we once knew it, has turned into “Apple time” – you know when the time for installation and upgrades alternates (versus counts down) from 75 seconds to 43 days to 27 minutes and so on and then . . . TA DA! Done! What the hell? Who counts like that? And how did the holiday time become some sort of “iTime”?
The rush into the holiday season has turned into a crush of the holiday season. Every place is more crowded. Every person moves faster. (And if they aren’t, they should be!) Every decoration is bigger, more glamorous (or more gaudy). Every thing is wanted, not needed; and every thing that is needed is unaffordable. Exceptions are made that should never be made but are made anyway. Just this once . . . or maybe, twice . . . It becomes harder to breathe, much less be happy, jolly, merry or whatever the season calls for.
Families that should never visit for more than a few minutes arrive for the day or sometimes several such that it rolls into another unit of time, commonly referred to as “a week”. Relatives say exactly what you wish you couldn’t hear but expected to hear and it still irks you anyway. Sometimes they don’t say anything but somehow you know – you just know, dammit – that they are thinking it and probably saying it to each other when you’re not within earshot! And that irks you as well. And you walk around irked – which by the way is a really cool word and you may borrow it or just have it. (I won’t be irked, but I’ll need that word back in a little while. You’ll have to share it.)
Friends who should visit can’t because their own families are visiting and they are dealing with their own festivities, aka holiday madness. They are calling you instead of visiting. They are ranting about all the things that their relatives are saying (or not saying) that are irking them.
Are we having fun yet? Who knew a single short season could be so irkful? Irkulous? (And yes, I’m riffin’ now.)
But we hare having fun. Because, thank goodness, there is the wonder of small children with their eyes still sparkling, reflecting the lights of whatever holiday you observe. If we do a good job, we hide the chaos from them. We hide the worries. We hide the financial-what-have-we-just-done panic. We hide the work projects that demand our attention because their deadlines, of course, are at the end of the month. We hide how we feel about our favorite relatives because they are (mostly) favorite, just not necessarily right now. In general, we actually just hide from our children. It’s safer that way. Let them enjoy the season on their own. Let them ooh and ahh.
And then, unless Hannukah goes even later, the chaos screeches to a halt and stops. Or so we believe.
If you celebrate Kwanzaa, this is your week to celebrate – possibly with some of the issues noted above.
But, many of us have the hanging week. The dangling week. The week that is sandwiched between Christmas (and sometimes Hannukah) and numerous other holidays that are celebrated in countries around the world at this time . . . and . . . New Years which is celebrated by everyone around the world at this exact time.
For parents, our kids have no school and this is our week not just to return and exchange gifts in long lines in stores and post offices; not just to visit family (see above); not just to clean up the decorations and find places for all the gifts; but to spend quality time with tots to teens.
Quality time. Together. Family. Our own family.
In the age of technology – of movies that no one has to agree upon because we can all watch separately on our separate devices, where board games have become boring because tech has re-engineered our brains for constant color, faster pace, and more to do, to score, to level up, to win – this concept of family time is hugely challenging.
So we spend the week trying to avoid the guilt of demanding our kids be with us or subtly avoiding our kids all together. We send them to play with their new toys. We make play dates with friends. We continue the visits with relatives who are still here and we try to coax our kids out of their rooms to visit and take the pressure off our own visiting which then, of course, increases the pressure.
And then when school starts again, when work requires that we return, we go back to our regularly scheduled programming of runaway moments and lost opportunities to make real connections. We are often a lot more weary and are scratching our heads at all the ideas for what we could have done for fun but never did.
Why didn’t we?
You can still do it.
You can still find 2 board games and play for 15 minutes each. (Don’t demand hours. Ask for 15 minutes per game. A good game will last longer by default and no one will want to leave. After 15 minutes, anyone can choose to sit out and wait for the next game. But add a rule: no tech while waiting. Watch. Read a book. Hang out. Pretend there is no wifi. Deal with the panic of 15-30 minutes of no pings, rings, or dings.)
You can still agree on a movie by agreeing on several movies. Everyone picks 2 and each then narrows it down by agreeing on 1 of each person’s choices. Then schedule movie moments (afternoons or evenings) that can only be rescheduled in dire emergencies. Dire. Make snacks. Divert all other tech. (For the purposes of this exercise, microwave popcorn does not qualify as a “high tech” item.)
You can still toss everyone into the car and head to a museum – everyone chooses their fave (art, science, history, zoo, . . . ). The key? Set a timer for an hour. Big family? One museum every two weeks. Everyone goes. One hour. If, after an hour, people want to stay, only by unanimous agreement (teens included), you can choose to agree to another 30 minutes. After that, time is up – else you risk sudden meltdown and mutiny. Much better to leave with everyone (or most everyone) wanting to come back.
You can still toss everyone back into the car and head to a park, playground, hiking/skiing trail – again, everyone chooses a favorite. If you have mixed ages, get creative about what people are allowed to bring along. But leave the tech off. In fact, bring tech only if you have a crew likely to split up on trails; then tech is safety (unless, of course, the preferred tech requires an extension cord). Whether your weather is snow and cold or warm and summer, get the heck out there. Take a walk. Together. Even the grumpy kids will walk, particularly if they have a target in space or time. Maybe they’ll go faster, maybe slower – but make an effort to occasionally go their speed; talking is optional with grumps but walking together is not.
The holiday sandwich is not always likeable. It’s not always easy. It doesn’t always have the right ingredients so that everyone can enjoy.
Sometimes, in the chaos of “iTime” we need our routines to appreciate unscheduled time.
If you are a believer in “2016 Sucked”, then you are in luck. 2017 has arrived just in time. And the best way to make 2017 even better is to talk, spend time with your kids. You may not be able to change the world but you can alter your small part of it.
Resolve: A little less tech. A little more talk. A little more time.
Then go find something to do. Together.
That may be the only political fact we can depend on. (Check that out with Politifact.)
Conversationally speaking, of course, politics are great. Usually.
But the general rule is: Don’t engage.
Stay clear of political chatter if it appears at the family reunion or holiday dinner with relatives who clearly were born on the other branches of the same (?) family tree. It's not worth pruning your tree over politics. Honestly. There’s a lot more to life. A lot. Take a few more breaths. Attempt a polite change of the impolite political topic. Then focus on quietly counting how many times you blink per minute before doing the mental math to convert this to blinks per hour, per day,... whatever it takes. Because the reality is that the quiet meditation that preempts an argument often beats a lifetime of stony family silence.
And stay clear of political chatter with friends whom you love dearly. Love them more than their politics. Sometimes silence with a smile is indeed a virtue. They are adults. They are your friends. (And that’s way better than relatives!) There is no political battle worth damaging a friendship in order to “win”. Reflect for a moment on how you got to be such great friends to begin with. Surely, it went way beyond and around politics. So, maybe you just have unusual and diverse thinking friends? Treasure those differences.
So that leaves your children. And the truth: Politics suck. Tell your kids. Tell them your truths. Then – and here’s the key to being the best parent ever – ask them their truths. And …
Ask. Ask with genuine interest and not disgust or horror ... think back to those relatives hanging out on the other side of that family tree … that should help get you in the right frame of mind here.
Listen again. Did you hear them or just think you heard them?
Trust again. Your children will have important ideas and fascinating perspectives. Some you will know and recognize. Some will surprise you.
Ask again. Certainly, there is some point you can ask them to clarify or expand upon.
If you don’t agree, then teach them – not about “correct political opinions” – but that “not agreeing” is a safe place to be. There should never be a war over politics in your house. There should only be respect for a difference of opinion. And those differences of opinion need not ever be substantiated to your standards – political discourse should never be a matter for a family tribunal.
Toddlers, preteens, teens, and young adults are still forming opinions. (Hell, some of us are still revising our own!) Our kids may be determined and stubborn but they are thinking and debating – sometimes aloud, but oftentimes silently behind the scenes as they watch and listen and take it all in. Trust that. Allow that. Be proud of that.
When you ask them to support their opinions to the best of their ability, remember that this should not involve tactical offense and defense. If your political discussions are more like political competitive sports, then they will end in political silences that will extend outward like a political cancer, silencing other topics as well.
Who wants to talk if the result is being browbeaten, teased, or taunted?
And yes, these family conversations about politics can be easy when everyone just has the same central core of beliefs still. But they can be awkward (mildly put) if you have one of “those rebellious” kids who is determined to disagree just because they never (outwardly) agree with you. But, at some level, isn’t that their job: At (almost) all costs, don’t agree with the parent units?
Show them that disagreements are safe and can be welcome. And that there is always room for anyone to ask questions, to change their mind at any point along the way.
Politics actually begin at home and move outward – locally, nationally and globally. That’s why political discussions begin at the beginning – you talk politics around your children until they ask to be included in the conversations and then you talk politics with your children. You talk about house rules; and you talk about laws. You talk about dictatorships (and the variations on that in your own home); and you talk about elections. You compare. You contrast. You talk about differences. You talk about respect.
You research the local candidates who aren’t all over the news and you ask them what they think. (How accurate is what we find online? Where and what are the truths? How important are the "little" local elections?) If you have the energy and enthusiasm to be politically involved and active on any level, you tell them what you can and treat them as your constituents – because they are. You vote with your children – you actually take (and sometimes, drag) them along. The mechanics of voting can be intimidating. Show them how NOT to be intimidated – or, better still, what to do if you (or they) are intimidated!
And you listen.
You listen better than politicians typically listen.
And you talk politics better than politicians talk politics. Because you are responsible for teaching the next generation about their rights to their opinions and their rights to voice those opinions and the rights of others to form their own conclusions. It’s about inclusion. It’s about learning to decipher truths in the quicksand of quick talk and soundbites and backstabbing and innuendo and all the doubletalk that tries to distract us from listening and prevents us from understanding.
And it’s about teaching our children how (and why) to have a fair debate. At the dinner table. In the car. With people we trust. Who will listen. And not speak over us. But consider and reconsider. Before presenting their viewpoint louder and longer and not necessarily any better. Interrupting isn’t right – even if you (think you) are right. Family time is where it starts.
Let’s face one undeniable, entirely un-political fact: we need more time together.
Where we talk. Where we listen. Without tech.
Because politics suck.
But we shouldn’t avoid these important conversations with the most important people in our lives: our children.
I’m sure that the politicians will have something to say about this. But you should say it first.
Where is death one year later?
The truth is I don’t know.
My nephew died. It’s been a year. Emotionally, it was yesterday. I screamed so loudly and fell to my knees when his brother called that day and said ... I actually cannot recall exactly what he said. Odd how you think you'll never forget. But I simply couldn’t comprehend the words coming through the phone. Nothing made sense. My body knew what my mind refused to know. The impossible. At an impossible age. For impossible reasons.
Danny had died of a seizure. How insane was that? Enough that I couldn’t get off the floor. He couldn’t. I couldn’t. Only now as I write this do I understand why I laid there until they picked me up. I recall feeling puzzled that anyone could move at all.
Time was standing still. But in reality it was only still for him.
Danny died too young. Maybe this is true for everyone – whether they still need a few more hours. Or days. Or years.
Too young. Too soon.
But he died having conquered so many fears. Having lived more than the three decades that declared his true age. Having reached a pinnacle in his career – a career that he defined, that he quite literally wrote the book on.
He had colleagues – older and younger – who were in awe of him and still liked him. He had students that he inspired into majors and careers that they might never have pursued.
Hell, he started a blog before I knew what the word meant or how to find it online or whether it “was safe” to even read one. He owned a website long before everyone claimed a domain name just in case they’d need it later. He was forward thinking about where technology and student journalism would meet.
He traveled around the whole damn world having overcome a fear of flying so severe that most others stay grounded and never know the cultures and dramas beyond their 200-mile radius or outside the politics of their own country. He was terrified and he flew anyway. While the destination was the goal, the need – the craving – to know more was the motivating factor to get him there. So he went.
Maybe he had more places to go and more to give but he managed to get to a “there” that many of us never even know to dream about.
He discovered. He wrote. He lived.
Every minute of his life.
Death, I’ve learned, can bring us closer. Death, I’ve learned can divide us. Unexpectedly.
And coping with death, I’ve learned, is that personal. Danny's death drove many within our family to different ends of despair. I miss him. In that painful, indescribable way. And I also miss many who loved him but who are now no longer in touch. Thankfully, they haven’t died, but they are, sadly, nearly as gone. There is no describing those levels of grief either.
One year later. Danny still hasn’t called me. That’s not unlike him. If you had been related, if you had known him, then you knew: he might not return a call, a text, an email for a year. Maybe more. And because I loved him, because I just knew that he loved me back, I didn’t mind. On any random day, his number might have popped up on my caller ID. “Hey, you?!”, I would have said without a sharp intonation, without a threat of where-the-hell-have-you-been. I would have just proclaimed, “Hey, you?!” as a peace offering of sorts and continued on as if I’d spoken to him last week. We would have chatted and caught up and we would have made plans to see each other. Of course, I would have known that the likelihood of him actually showing up was very small but I would made those plans just the same.
The thing is that now <sigh>, well, it's just ... I see Danny in crowds – impossible. I see him in articles that he is quoted in – forever possible. I see him in random pictures that pop up unexpectedly even though it’s not always him – but dammit, it could have been (and sometimes is). At times, I laugh at his audacity – it’s just like him. At times, I cry at his insensitivity – how could he not know how much his absence hurts my presence?
And, true confession here: I am still certain he will call.
I’m just not surprised he hasn’t.
Not because he’s died. It’s because he’s still Danny. He’ll always be. And so, he may call still – that’s what my heart chooses to believe even as I am certain that I sat with him at the funeral home and looked at his picture over his coffin. Stunned. “Where the hell are you?” I had thought. “So not funny,” I had thought. I’d have been furious if he had jumped out from behind the nonexistent curtain. But I would surely have hugged him hard. And I’d have been afraid to let him go again without making plans that he would keep this time.
That was Danny.
As he will always be.
And that is me. I’ll just let him know this time that I’m pissed he hasn’t called in so long but that I’m glad to have a chance to tell him about his amazing cousins, about what we have all been up to, and then I’ll ask him what he has been doing. He’ll likely reply as he always did, “Not much.”
Not until he died did I really hear about his life.
Talk about serious deflection issues! (I'd like to talk to him about that.)
My phone is ringing now as I try to finish what he started: this blog. That’s the kind of timing he has.
Just in case, I’m ready.
It’s still not him.
Maybe the next call.