Dog Days

So. For a moment there, we thought we might have killed our black Lab, Langston. This dog loves, loves to run and fetch a ball, but we avoid doing so when the temps get too high because he seems to become overheated really quickly. This morning, I knew the front lawn needed to be mowed and, seeing that it was already warm and humid, wanted to get it done as early as possible. As such, I decided to skip my daily dog walk, but didn’t want Lang to get zero exercise, so I asked Nick if he’d throw the ball for our boy. He agreed.

At 9 a.m., it was hazily sunny and 77 degrees (“real feel” 82) with 60% humidity — warm, for sure, but not what either of us considered even remotely dangerous in terms of a short ball-throw. Still, they came inside less than five minutes later — which is not atypical, given, you know, that our pup is covered in a thick layer of black fur. Langston, as usual after a fetch session, was panting like a maniac, tongue lolling from his mouth, and he slurped up water like he’d never been hydrated before. All typical. We even joked – “Sorry that run was so short, dude, but we don’t want you to get heatstroke, hahaha.”

We started to go about our business – Nick on an errand, me to the front lawn – when Nick’s voice took on a different pitch as he said, “Uhhh, Em… It looks like Langston’s legs are shaking. I think he’s having trouble standing.” Indeed, he was, so we watched him more closely and saw, without question, that he was in some major distress: completely disoriented, walking into walls, staggering and stumbling, falling down to the ground. He didn’t seem to recognize his name and responded to none of our attempts to calm or communicate with him.

It didn’t take long to put two and two together to realize that, joking aside, Langston suffering from very real heatstroke — or, at the very least, he was so overheated, he couldn’t think (or stand) straight. We knew we had to cool him off, fast, and decided to guide him back outside so we could thoroughly wet him with the hose. The moment we helped him out the door, he began to wander through the lawn, with me running after him – and him becoming both confused and freaked out that a strange person (he really didn’t recognize me) was freakin’ chasing him – while he circled aimlessly (but fast; that boy can move) until I finally caught up with him and took a hold of his collar.

Worst game of tag ever.

At last, I led Lang to our front walk (cooler than the grass), where Nick soaked him with the hose… and then he collapsed in a heap. Still panting, still awake, but having no strength to hold himself up anymore. For the next twenty minutes, we ran the hose in a trickle under him, creating a cool puddle in which he could lounge, and drink, until gradually he seemed to be out of the danger zone: perking up when he heard his name, looking at us with brighter eyes (Hey – when did you guys get here?!), and thumping his tail in the puddle behind him, happily splashing us all.

When he finally reached “fine” — still hot and panting, but otherwise okay — we turned off the hose and brought him back inside; this time, he was able to walk in entirely on his own. After another half hour or so of resting, his breathing slowed to normal, his strength had returned, and he seems to be no worse for wear.

Nick and I, however – and our girls, who watched, terrified, from inside while we helped our boy get back to good – will not forget.

All of this is my long-winded way of saying:
Dog owners: please, please be super careful with your pups out in the heat. This may seem like a no-brainer – it certainly was for us (or so we thought) – but, as we learned, heat can cause trouble faster than you may realize.

It did not appear to be too hot. Langston did not run for any longer than he usually does. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary… and yet, it was too much for our boy.

Will we run him again this summer? Of course. He loves it, and we love watching him love it. But we will be more cautious. With that heavy fur coat, what seems “warm” to us can obviously be “omg sweltering” to dogs, and so even walking him – and our other pups –  around the neighborhood is going to be a careful, slow, water-filled endeavor.

I started to post this on my Facebook page, but decided to put it out here publicly hoping that if even one other person reads it and is a wee bit more careful with their dogs in these sticky, sunny days, it will be worth it. Or, heck, if even one person who has gone through a similar experience reads it and feels less alone, it will be worth it. ‘Cause it can happen to anyone, to any dog. Even ours. Even yours.

Dog Days of Summer, indeed.
Phew.

(Note: We did consider taking Lang to the vet, but knew it was most important to cool him down as quickly as possible, so we didn’t want to load him into a hot car for a 20 minute ride when he was already in obvious distress. As he began to cool down, we researched heatstroke in dogs and noticed that he was no longer exhibiting any of the danger signs, so it then seemed unnecessary to bring him in. We will, of course, keep an eye on him, and if anything changes, you can bet your ass he’ll be off… but for now, all is well.)

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Taken just ten minutes ago, with his happy tail wagging so quickly, it’s a blur beside him.

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Throwback Thursday: Birthday Girl

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June 26, 1995
Looking extra, super fine, especially my bangs.

 

For my grandmother’s 75th birthday, my mom and her sisters surprised her and flew/drove in to the lake to celebrate – bringing their daughters (my cousins and me) with them, so it would be a true girls’ weekend. (Except that I was in the throes of angsty adolescent love and insisted that Nick – my college boyfriend whom I’d been dating for only a year – accompany me. Nothing says romance like joining your girlfriend’s female relatives to celebrate her grandmother’s 75th birthday. And nothing says family time like bringing your teenage boyfriend along on a girls’ only getaway. I was cool like that.)

For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, my grandfather rented an 1860s-era replica paddleboat – one that still plies the waters of our lake (albeit not by water wheel) and serves meals to those making the journey – for all of their family and friends. I remember having a blast listening to the band play and waving to our house from the boat, as opposed to the other day around.

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We weren’t riding this time, but this is the boat. Very Huck Finn, no?

For her 90th birthday, my extended family came to celebrate. By now, Ella and Annie were around, so they participated in the festivities, too.

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Birthday card giving…

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Post birthday card hugging…

The next day, while we lounged on the dock, my grandma – whom my children (and often we) refer to as Phoofsy – took herself out in the kayak.Phoofsy kayaking one day after turning 90
 
Isn’t that how you plan to observe your 90th? On a freakin’ solo KAYAK RIDE??

 

For her 92nd birthday, we decided to nearly kill her by presenting her with a musical, spinning, flowery candle of death. She was thrilled, but that might have been because the temporary blindness messed with her reasoning abilities.
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Instead of a cake, I’d made her a peach cobbler, which is currently her favorite dessert – or so she says…
Peach cobblers hold flaming balls of death very nicely.

Until I was 31, I lived a minimum of 5.5 hours away from my grandparents – which meant that I didn’t see them more than a few times each year, and very rarely celebrated birthdays with them. Since moving to Rochester seven years ago, it has been our honor to spend all of our birthdays together – especially when flaming balls of fire are involved.

Today marks my grandma’s 94th birthday, and we have come to the lake once more to be with her. Again, we gave her cards and talked and devoured peach cobbler. Don’t worry that the repetition means that she’s lowing down, however; she is currently playing bridge with a friend via iPad.

On the one hand, I sure hope I make it to 75 and 80 and 90 and 92 and 94. But it has to be worth the ride, you know? As Phoofsy is fond of saying, “It’s no good if you can’t have fun anymore.” Thank God, she’s still having fun – be it through cobbler or kayaks, bridge or boats, family or friends.

Looking at the candles that adorned the dessert, Ella marveled that, if we switched them around, Phoofsy could be turning 49. Given that every medical professional we meet does an actual double-take upon seeing my Gram’s birth date (“OhmyGod, I thought you were only 80 at the most!”), Ella might not have been that far off. If I can kick even half as much ass at 49 as my grandmother is at 94, I will consider that I’ve lead one hell of a wonderful life.

That is, i I can survive the musical candles of death. Those things are crazy, even if, like Phoofsy, you do kick butt and take names.

Change of Heart

Mmmmm, summer.

Longer days, swimming, sun. Who doesn’t love summer??

Well, actually… me.
But wait. Lemme ‘splain.

The activity parts of summer – the beaches and the splashing, the ice cream and stargazing – I’ve always loved those. But the rest of summer, with months of days and nights with nothing to do? Not really my speed, especially once the kids came along.

When the girls were babies and toddlers, summer was nice enough as a season (yay, warm!), but – other than increasing our intake of watermelon and icy pops – little else really changed. Bedtimes didn’t get later, no one slept in, no one went to camp. In fact, summer was almost more of a hassle than the rest of the year because of things like sunscreen and bathing suits and swim diapers and preventing drowning and OH MY GOD SHE’S ABOUT TO FALL INTO THE FIRE PIT.

As preschoolers, Annie and Ella ditched the Little Swimmers diapers, but activity- and schedule-wise, summer mimicked spring except with more bug bites. Once Ella entered elementary school, things began to shift a little. Suddenly, summer became a time of NO SCHOOL! – which meant delirious mayhem – but also NO SCHOOL!, which meant bittersweet sadness. The change of routine was jarring; she missed her classmates and her teachers. For as much as she and Annie liked not being in school, they – like their mama – weren’t so good at just hanging out. Two days in, they’d be at each other’s throats, and so to ensure that all of us actually made it through summer alive, I did a lot of refereeing while secretly wishing I could just let them go at it Hunger Games style.

Plus also? They were home. All the time. With me. (Or at the lake, or on a trip, but still… Not at school. With me. ALL THE TIME.) The schedule I’d so carefully created during the academic year flew out the window, and for the life of me I couldn’t quite get back on track. I will be the first to admit that I, too, like routine, and that endless of stretches of nothing make me itchy. Despite how much I loved homemade popsicles and exploring creeks with hidden rope swings and creating – and completing – our Summer Fun List, summer was not really something that I looked forward to.

This year, things feel… different. As the school year wound down and the first day of summer break – omg! – loomed on the calendar, I felt almost none of the all-too-familiar apprehension. My entire attitude seemed to have shifted, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

Last night, after the girls went to bed, I began to think about what needed to be done for today… and realized how little needed to be accomplished. No lunches to be made. No white board notices to write. No backpacks to check. (Have I mentioned no lunches to pack?) I was practically giddy.

The pieces started to fall into place: for the first time ever, we have been running around so much during the school year that summer break is actually that – a break. A respite. A reprieve. No more rounding up cleats and water bottles to get to soccer practice on time. No more being unable to eat dinner until after 7:30 because of swimming. No more making sure that math facts are practiced and reading logs are filled in. No more arguing over hairstyles every morning. No more IF YOU DON’T LEAVE RIGHT NOW YOU WILL BE LATE WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T FIND YOUR SHOES.

It also dawned on me that, for the first time in seven years, I was coming into my own summer break. No lesson plans to write. No early-morning texts about potential jobs. No worrying about looking professional (you laugh, but omg, having to dress in “real” clothes is just exhausting). No childcare arrangements for particularly early or late subbing assignments. Whenever idiots people complain about teachers or say that teaching is a cushy job (HAHAHAHA), they always bring up summer break. You’re done at 3:00 (HAHAHA) and you’re off all summer! Trust me, no one teaches simply to have summers off; that lovely perk does not begin to outweigh the difficulties and challenges of the job.

But it is still an awfully lovely perk.

As I unloaded the dishwasher but did not make lunches (thank you sweet baby Jesus), I thought about how easy the afternoon and evening had been. Instead of trying to cram homework in before sports and dinner, we lounged. The girls forgot to put away their clean clothes last night, but guess what? They could do it this morning because – surprise! – no school! All of those things that we’ve been putting off because there’s no time, when will you do your homework?, you can’t do that and get to bed on time… we can finally get to. It feels glorious.

And so, whereas the ten weeks of torture summer used to stretch before me as an anxiety-producing collection of NOTHING TO DO, I am now very much feeling how incredible it can be to have NOTHING TO DO!! This was a very good year – a busy, exhausting, happy, fulfilling year; I wouldn’t change it, and am excited to start up again in the fall. But I hadn’t appreciated how very much we all could use a real, honest-to-god break.

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Yeah, I’m still a bit apprehensive about the whole They’re With Me All Day thing, but I’m not nearly as worked up about it as I was in the past. While I know there will be plenty of refereeing moments, Ella and Annie are just a bit older now, that much more independent (even though they still don’t sleep in worth a damn). Also, we’ve done this summer thing before, and I know that – needing a break aside – some structure will be good for everyone, so our days aren’t going to be complete free-for-alls. We have camps and trips and family visits and the lake and I imagine we will still make our Summer Fun List; but also, we have time at home to just hang out and for once, I’m good with that.

This ain’t my first rodeo. Five minutes ago, Ella declared that she was bored. She and Annie will be having fistfights by Monday. There will be tears (theirs? Mine? All of the above?) by midweek. By the Fourth of July I will be counting down the days until they go back to school. But, right now, at this very moment, summer holds delicious promise. (Remind me to check back here in a month to laugh at my foolish naiveté.)

This morning, for the first time, Ella joined me in taking the dogs for a walk, riding beside me on her bike as we traversed the neighborhood. It was raining slightly, but neither of us cared; if anything, it felt refreshing. As we neared home, Ella looked over her shoulder and flashed me a huge grin.

“Mama!”

Yes, love?

“If this were a school day, we’d never have time to go for a bike ride. And now we’ve walked the dogs and it’s not even breakfast yet. Summer is the BEST!”

By August – hell, by July – I may deny I ever said it… but this morning, I couldn’t help but call back, Yes, indeed. It is.

Right here waiting

Four-ish years ago, Annie developed a peculiar – and very difficult to describe – game that she called “Mark Off.” The premise was simple enough: Annie would ask a variety of questions, quiz-show style, to the game’s participants, who would then receive points for correct answers and be “marked off” for incorrect ones. (The consequence of the “mark off” was never properly explained, but it turned out not to matter anyway.) For proper effect, she stood on the piano bench (to be taller and more important, one would assume) and wielded a microphone to make things game-show-official.

singuh
No piano bench, but you get the general idea.

ca-razy
Actually, the game was a lot more frenetic – kind of like this.

Easy, right? Except, see, the issue was that the “correct” answers were entirely arbitrary, with points being awarded at random (a la “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) and “mark offs” being declared even we were sure we’d gotten things right.

To wit:

“Okay. The game is starting! What color is my hair?”

“Brown!”

“Yes! A point for you! {scribbling in notebook} What is Mommy’s first name?”

“Emily!”

“WRONG. MARK OFF!” {angry flourish in notebook}

“But Mommy’s first name IS Emily!”

“That’s another point gone for you! Mark off again!” {frenetic checkmark-ing}

“I don’t understand how this game works.”

“What is my friend Jenny’s favorite snack?”

“What? How could we possibly know the answer to that?” 

“MARK OFF!” {yet another angry checkmark}

“Is it cheese?”

“No! You get two points!” {cheerful tally mark added}

After a while, the questions themselves didn’t even make sense, and the “mark off”s becomes even more frequent (and hilarious).

“If a dog could fly, would it eat mangoes?”

“No, because they don’t smell like fish.”

“Yes! Ten points for you!” {ten meticulous tally marks scribbled on her paper}

“Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream?”

“Vanilla.”

“MARK OFF!!” {disappointed head shake and a final checkmark}

I’m not doing it justice here, because it was really one of those things you had to witness, but it was epic. We played battled our way through with Grandpa Bill and GranMary (they were visiting at the time), and by the time the game had (mercifully) ended, every one of us was in stitches. Since then, Mark Off has become something of a family legend, evoked whenever we need a quick chuckle or want to marvel at just how nutty our second born really is.

I know there are folks out there who are like, Good God, with the taking of a million photos and the saving of stuff, already. Dozens of drawings from the kids, ticket stubs, old notebooks… Who needs all this crap?? 

I am decidedly not one of these people. While I’m not a hoarder or anything (ask my kids, who look on with absolute horror as I flip through the contents of their take-home folders each day and unceremoniously dump almost everything in the recycling bin), I do save every card, every photo (as I’ve mentioned before), and enough odd scraps of paper and drawings to create my own landfill. They don’t just rot, though – part of why I save them is that I periodically go through them, and the memories make me feel damn good.

Ever since the Mark Off days, I have regretted that I didn’t think to go and pull out a camera and video Annie in action. It all was happening so fast, and we were laughing so freakin’ hard, I didn’t even consider pulling myself away (plus, it was such an organic moment, running for a camera might have broken the spell). But – especially considering that I really can’t do it justice by describing it, and also because each of our memories of the event is fading slightly – I’ve really been bummed that we have absolutely no record of it. I’d assumed that our recollections would have to be good enough.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a long-forgotten notebook in my bedroom, one that had once been a combination diary/to-do book but that had been commandeered by my young’uns for drawing and writing and coloring and generally making sure that I understood that “my” notebook was no longer “mine” at all.

randomnote
These are fairly typical entries.
I’m not sure why Nick has such thick legs, nor why my thigh is coming out of my stomach at a perpendicular angle, but whatever. 

After flipping through the pages, I came upon the following and it caused me to – yes, literally (for real) – gasp aloud:

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It’s a conversation between Ella and Bill, written in January 2010 (I did a lot of sleuthing through the other drawings to deduce the exact timing; Columbo, that’s me). The left side – Ella’s message – reads: “Thank you for visiting.” (Or, more precisely, THAK YOU FOR V ISITIN… but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She had only just turned five, people.)

The right side containing Bill’s response is a bit harder to see, so allow me to provide a close-up:

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Grandpa Bill
Ella and Annie – Thank you for letting us stay with you and for a wonderful time.

Beneath that is a drawing of a sun (I think?), a rectangle with squiggly lines, an I Love You heart from Ella, and an adorably small I Love You Too heart from Bill.

Which, in and of itself, was enough to make me gasp – a heretofore unknown conversation with Grandpa Bill? His handwriting, his sentiments, the memories of him and his wonderful relationship with the girls… And it just fell into my lap?

Amazing.

But when I looked more closely, I realized that this was even more amazing than I’d originally thought, because that drawing in the middle of the page? That’s not just a box with squiggles… Take a look for yourself:
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Scribble… OFF
Scribble… OFF

Yep, in his thank-you note to Ella, Bill included his own illustration of one of the best parts of their visit – Annie’s legendary game of Mark Off.

For the past four years, we’d all thought that there was no “proof” that Mark Off had ever even existed, as though it were a figment of our imagination. Now, there’s not only evidence that it happened – there’s evidence from Bill, in an adorable note written to his granddaughter. It had been waiting there for us all along; we just had to find it.

Tomorrow is Bill’s birthday; he would be seventy-one. Last year at this time, we were embarking on our hilariously catastrophic visit to Minnesota to celebrate his 70th. This year, the timing is just right for GranMary to come for a visit, so we will happily be spending the weekend with her (and dragging her to soccer celebrations and movies and heaven knows what else; thank God she’s a great sport!) – perhaps celebrating, but more likely simply wishing and remembering.

Whatever we decide to do, I know that the memory of Bill will be right there with us – we just have to find him. But that shouldn’t be too hard; he’s always waiting for us, all along.

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Photo taken during the infamous gameshow visit.
Why is Annie barefoot and Ella wearing Valentine’s socks? MARK OFF!

 

 

Throwback Thursday: When I Grow Up

june girlies being cute
 
June 2009

“I can’t wait to grow up!”

She is insistent, indignant. Her words burst forth with a combination of excitement and frustration.

Why can’t you wait to grow up?

“Because then I’ll be able to do exactly what I want all day long!”

Unable to stop myself, I recall some of the lyrics to “When I Grow Up,” a song from Matilda, The Musical:

When I grow up, I will be tall enough to reach the branches that I need to reach to climb trees you get to climb when you’re grown up
And when I grow up, I will be smart enough to answer all the questions that you need to know the answers to before you’re grown up.

And when I grow up, I will eat sweets everyday on the way to work and I will go to bed late every night
And I will wake up when the sun comes up and I will watch cartoons until my eyes go square and I won’t care cause I’ll be all grown up

When I grow up

I will be strong enough to carry all the heavy things you have to hold around with you when you’re a grown up.
And when I grow up I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown up

I empathize with her sentiment; who among us didn’t wish to grow up faster, right now!, to be an adult and not have all of that terrible kid-stuff to worry about? (In particular, I was eager to have my own phone – the corded kind that attaches to the wall – and to be able to watch R-rated movies, which seemed to me to be the height of maturity.)

“I wouldn’t have to do homework. I wouldn’t have to eat fruits or vegetables before I can eat my crunchy snack. I’d be able to have a car and a license and drive anywhere I want.”

She can’t see what I see: that she is growing up, so freakishly fast, it makes me catch my breath. She and her sister, both; they’re outgrowing their clothes, they care about their hairstyles and dress wearing clothing that “makes {them} look good,” they correctly use complex words and phrases that I didn’t even know they knew, and they are worried about hungry children in the world.

————

This is not bad, really, not at all. Nick and I are truly fortunate to have loved each age they have been – six and eight were great, seven and nine are even better, and I imagine that eight and ten will be really peachy. Just yesterday, Nick and I were chuckling and groaning over a Buzzfeed collection of “The Thirty Five Dumbest Things That Have Ever Happened” – Tweets and Facebook posts about things like people complaining about being stuck on an escalator that stopped running (??) or asking where the Brazil World Cup is going to be held (omg). The girls pestered us to tell them what was so funny, and we were hesitant at first, thinking that they wouldn’t even understand the vast majority of the references much less why they were funny… But they got it! They thought they were hilarious (which also means that my seven and nine year olds are smarter than a lot of really stupid adults, holla!). And I marveled to Nick how incredible this was – sharing these moments, these times that would not have been possible even maybe a few months ago, because our girls are growing up into real, amazing humans and it is just so very cool.

But, oh… it’s so very fast. There are hardly any words that they confuse or mispronounce anymore, and although they still enjoy being held and carried, they’re getting awfully heavy (or I’m getting weaker). I know, it’s such a cliché, the whole It All Goes By So Quickly thing, and I know that I’ve commented on it before… but it doesn’t make it any less true now than it was then.

In fact, the older they get, the more quickly time seems to speed by.

And as for that whole wanting-to-be-a-grown-up thing… Well, shit, honey. In the past two weeks alone, we have drawn up and signed our wills, started the process of getting life insurance, had the lawn mower break (while mid-mow), had the vacuum cleaner break, brought the car in for two recalls, DUCT TAPED a portion of the underbelly of said car onto the bumper so it will stop dragging on the ground, cleaned up vomit, and pondered why the overhead lights in the kitchen mysteriously keep going out despite replacing the bulbs even after having the electrician out.

On each of those occasions, I have – no joke – looked around for the actual adult in charge so that s/he can take responsibility for the deed… only to discover that, through some practical joke the universe is playing, *I* am the adult in charge. HOW IN THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN??

—————

I watch her brush her teeth, resisting the urge to step in and tell her that she’s missed a spot, and ponder the song lyrics again. I am, indeed, tall enough to reach many of the branches, but my body isn’t quite nimble enough to climb the trees the way I used to. I do, in fact, eat sweets every day and stay up way too late, but those things aren’t really working out so well for me in the long run. I don’t wake up with the sun all that often, and I’m not watching too many cartoons, but my eyes definitely go square after a “Modern Family” marathon and it is so totally worth it. (There are some benefits to being grown…)

As far as the answers to the questions, I still don’t have those – not nearly. I am strong, yes, but sometimes the weight of all of the heavy things I am carrying threatens to send me to my knees. And I try to fight the creatures beneath the bed, but I rarely feel brave.

Being grown up is not all it’s cracked up to be.

first and last days
First and last days, 2010

They are nearly done with school, my girls. This is both wonderful and terrifying, the open expanse of summer already looming ominously while simultaneously seeming too short. By the time the nine weeks have gone, they will be a grade older, even more grown up, with the days having flashed by in an instant.

———–

I hug her before she goes to sleep and then put my hands squarely on her shoulders. You need to stop growing, I tell her.

She giggles. “I can’t, Mama!”

No, I’m serious. I love that you’re getting older, I love all that we can do together. I think you’re one of the greatest kids on the planet and I’m so thankful that you are mine.

“Um, thanks.” She is embarrassed but obviously pleased.

But, seriously. It’s happening too fast. You’re getting too old. Please stop growing.

“MOM!!” She’s actually laughing now. “I CAN’T!!”

Could you at least promise me you’ll try?

“But I WANT to get bigger!”

I know. I want you to, too. Could you at least slow it down a little?

“I don’t think so.”

That’s not very nice of you.

“MOM!!

Well, can I at least have another hug, then?

“No.”

What??

“You can have two!”

——-

I feel her arms pressing into my shoulders and back, notice their weight on me exactly, trying to take this in so I will always remember perfectly how this feels.

After she’s asleep, I check on her before I turn in myself, kissing her cheek and smoothing her hair. Then I look underneath her bed – just in case – and, for a moment, feel the tiniest bit brave.

 

Look away, baby, look away

Welcome to today’s session of What Life Looks (Or Sounds) Like Through The Eyes (Or Ears) Of Someone With ADHD. Thanks for your attention! (See what I did there?)

Listening is a challenge for me. No, not just because talking takes precedence over listening (although there’s some of that, sure; it’s definitely something I’m working on, that whole You Don’t Need To Think Of An Immediate Response – Just Listen! thing). And no, not just because I’m easily distracted because of my ADHD – well, okay, that IS it, but probably not in the way you might think.

It’s not that I don’t hear things; it’s more that I hear everything. Television at normal volume often feels like it’s screaming at me. If Langston comes in after a particularly exhausting session of ball-fetching and is panting like a maniac, I hear his frantic breaths more loudly than everything else in the room. Last weekend, we went out to The Melting Pot to celebrate the girls’ – and my students’ – successful piano recital. The empty fondue pot was warming up, waiting for the mouthwatering cheese to be placed into it by our server, and the heat from the burner was causing the pot to rattle ever so slightly. Once I noticed it, it was essentially all I could hear; I absolutely could not block it out, even though I tried (I mean that literally – I held my hand coyly up to my ear to attempt to muffle the sound). It took superhuman effort to focus on the conversation we were trying to have, and only once the pot was finally full – and, mercifully, quiet – did I turn my complete attention to Nick and the girls.

I don’t want to be hearing these random noises so loudly – I just don’t really have any choice. It’s part of my wiring, a portion of the ADHD code that is who I am. A lot of times, it’s actually a good thing. I can make out someone’s voice from around a corner before anyone else even knows they’re coming and I’ll be the first to realize that the faucet is dripping, thereby saving our house from devastating flooding (go, me!). Others, it’s a real nuisance because it’s not such fun when you can’t read a sentence in your book (or on your Kindle, although I don’t have a Kindle, but whatever) because you can hear the ticking of the watch so loudly – the one being worn by the person three seats over – that it’s making you develop an eye twitch.

There are ways that I help myself tune out those extra sounds. Let’s just say that we don’t have any wall clocks in our house and Nick knows to hold any potential wristwatches-as-gifts up to his ear to ascertain whether or not I’ll be hiding them in the bathroom closet ten seconds after opening the box. (True story: our bathroom closet really does hold, like, three clocks.) I also sleep with an extra pillow so that I can put it over my head in case some random noise is keeping me awake, and I am super fun on family vacations.

I would really like to drown out the extemporaneous nonsense; I simply can’t.

It may seem like a contradiction, then, that I really prefer to do work – or make dinner, or clean, or mow the lawn – with music on, what with the music-being-a-distraction and all. But if I have the right kind of music, it actually works to cover up other potential distractions (the “right” kind is almost impossible to pin down; my Pandora list is really varied, although Nick just was scrolling through my iPhone and announced with genuine disparagement that a “shockingly high percentage of these songs are Christmas songs”). When the girls are playing and giggling and shrieking at one another – even happily – it can make me lose focus almost immediately if I have a task at hand… so I just crank up that play list and, suddenly, I’m able to refocus. Until someone’s bleeding. Or hanging off my back like a monkey. That’s harder to ignore.

These funny little “tricks” have been hard-earned over the years – trial and error, success and failure, melded into one. But one of the favorite tools in my ADHD box is the very purposeful act of not looking at someone when they’re talking… so that I can hear them better. On some level, this makes no sense, I know; why would you look away from someone who’s talking? If you’re really paying attention, shouldn’t you be taking visual cues, looking for facial expressions and body language?

Well, yes and no. Obviously, those things are really important and can contribute tremendously to understanding what someone is trying to say. But also? They’re really distracting. When someone is waving their hands to emphasize a point, my eyes are drawn to their fingers – but unlike most people without ADHD, I don’t just take a quick glance and then look toward their face again.

No, suddenly I’m noticing that her fingernails are painted a really neat shade of plum – and don’t I have one like that in the cupboard? If not, maybe I should swing by Target on the way home… Which reminds me, oh crap! I never got that birthday present! Wait, is the big day this Friday or next Friday? STOP, EMILY. FOCUS. Right, right. What was he saying again? Oh, yes. Field Day is coming up, the girls need to bring sunscreen… Speaking of which, now that I’m looking at his face, maybe he could use a higher SPF himself. Is that a mole or a freckle? Who was that actor again in the Austin Powers movie with the “molé molé molé” thing? Kevin Savage? Wasn’t he in The Wonder Years?

kevin savage mole
“My mole-stake..”

And then I’ve completely lost the thread of the conversation and instead of remembering what she was telling me about her son’s recent softball game, all I remember is that Ms. Starbucks Barista has really lovely eyebrows.

Hence, when something is really important – when I really want to hear what someone is saying, or the film dialogue in a crowded movie theater, or whether or not the woodwinds or the brass are responsible for the eighth notes in this section of the symphony – I look away. Not just anywhere, though, because there are myriad other distractions lurking everywhere, just waiting to grab my (already fleeting) attention — the blinking EXIT sign, the way the kid in line to the left is picking his nose, how the poster on the wall is missing a pushpin. Bueller? Bueller?

Thus, in order to really listen, I’ll look down at my own hands (which is also part of why I rarely wear nail polish – because the chipping and uneven color distracts me even when I’m trying not to be distracted, for crying out loud!). Or, if I’m not actually holding a conversation with someone, I’ll close my eyes. Yeah, I may miss the lead actor’s facial expressions, but at least I’ll hear what he had to say.

I have no idea if other folks with ADHD do the same thing, but I’m a fan. Concentration and focus, FTW!

So. If we’re having a chat, you and I, and I suddenly look down – or you see me working fervently to give make appropriately polite eye contact while also, oddly, glancing at my own fingers from time to time – don’t take it personally. Actually, do take it personally, because it means that I care enough about what you’re saying to really listen, and this is the best way I know how to do it. And if you’re a teacher and that highly distractible kid is looking out the window instead of staring at you? Sure, maybe she’s not listening. But, then again, maybe she is. Maybe give her another chance.

Also? You might want to check a mirror when we’re through, just in case the thing I was finding the most distracting was the salad stuck between your front teeth. You’re welcome.

 

To the point

It’s *occasionally* been remarked upon that I tend to talk a lot. (Or, as I like to put it, why use a few words when dozens will do?) Sometimes, this is a nuisance – not only for those listening to/reading what I have to say (because there are only so many hours in a day, I get it), but also because my brain simply does not think in small phrases. One of the reasons I have yet to Tweet – despite having a Twitter account so I can follow random celebrities (especially of Harry Potter movies fame *ahem*; also Ken Jennings and Eric Stonestreet are hilarious) – is that I absolutely cannot condense anything into 140 characters. Even ordering a pizza takes me a good while.

On the other hand, being overly loquacious has sometimes come in handy, like when I’m teaching and need to fill the last few minutes of a class with anything to keep the kids occupied. I might have even won several Talk-Offs (you know, those “competitions” where you and an opponent are given random topics to discuss and whoever stops talking first loses. The word “competitions” is in quotes because, people, please), and I carry a certain swagger in my step as a result of those definitive victories.

My father, on the other hand, is a man of few words – and even that might be an overstatement. He’s not one of those stoic, grunted-response kind of guys, but more someone who speaks as succinctly and pointedly as possible. This has certainly gotten him very far in business, but when I was a kid, we didn’t really have a lot of heart-to-heart conversations. (I did tend to use up all of the oxygen in the room, so there’s that.)

As I became a teenager, my relationship with my dad began to change. It’s not necessarily that we began having long, detailed conversations, but rather that I began to appreciate his way of communicating just a bit more. (In fairness, although I think he’s often practically knocked over by the steady stream of words coming out of my mouth, he has always seemed to appreciate that that’s just how I roll.)

He would write me cards for all sorts of occasions – birthdays, milestone events, just because – and, rather than gloss over them because of their lack of expanded prose, I began to see them as perfectly him: direct; to the point; honest. I called them “Dad Cards” and saved every one, tucking some of my favorites into scrapbooks and diaries.

dad card1 dad card2
His penmanship is not quite as clear as his message, but it all evens out in the end.
Somehow, this looks like it was Photoshopped – very weird!

The cards continued all through high school, college, and beyond, with more and more arriving for no reason at all other than that he wanted to let me know I was on his mind. A cute card, a few words (unlike the paragraphs I would write to my friends). Each time I received one, it was like a smile coming through the mail.

In addition to the cards, with the advent of cell phones, my dad began calling and leaving voicemail messages. Some asked me to call him back because he had a matter to discuss with me, but more often than not they simply said, “I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you. Talk to you later!” 

As email has taken on increasing importance, so, too, has my dad adopted communicating with me electronically – in brief. Every once in a while, I’ll receive a message that requires me to actually scroll past one screen on my iPhone, but the vast majority are one or two liners that convey exactly what he’s trying to say. In fact, because he now frequently sends them via iPad – a device whose keypad is not exactly conducive to typing long diatribes – his emails are consistently just a few words per email. (For example, to comment on one of my blog entries, I’ll receive an email whose subject line is the title of the blog and whose message says: “Great post” or “Never knew you liked olives.”)

Just as often, he’ll forward me an article from the Wall Street Journal with no preamble or additional writing at all. Although I usually understand why he’s forwarded me the story (Ah, yes, a discussion of Disney Cruises), I’ll sometimes have no idea if the article was meant as an encouragement or an admonishment (Wait, does he think I should be drinking Starbucks beverages daily, or is this a subtle hint that maybe I’ve got a problem?).

No matter, the underlying message remains the same: You’re on my mind. You’re awesome. And I love you.

dad n me2
Vermont, 2011

My dad and I do talk a lot more these days than we used to when I was growing up – like, actual, for real, back-and-forth conversations. Admittedly, I’m probably responsible for 85% of the words used between us, and his responses are still short and sweet – but hey, old habits die hard. At least there’s dialogue.

Still, despite our increased discourse, some of my very favorite communications – not just from my father, but from anyone on the planet – are the brief cards, emails, and voicemail messages from him that are so perfectly Dad. There’s no one (at least, no one I know) who doesn’t enjoy being remembered, being thought of. Far harder (for me, anyway) is actually taking the time to reach out and let that person know that they’re on your mind.

For a man of few words, my dad is an expert at this. He has taught me that communication comes in all forms, and that sometimes, bigger isn’t better. Obviously, I haven’t quite managed the art of this myself, but I know my dad doesn’t care. (Although if I receive the link to a Wall Street Journal article detailing the detriments of too much talking, perhaps I’ll change my mind…)

So, this post is my very long-winded way of simply saying:
I know this is a day late, Dad, but I’m thinking about you.
You’re awesome.
And I love you

dad n me3
My first birthday, 1976.
I am undoubtedly getting ready to say something to him.