Flashback Friday: The Poopsplosion

Since I just wrote about our newest CCI puppy, Jitter, I thought perhaps now would be a good time to relay one of our all-time favorite CCI puppy stories about Diamond, the first puppy we raised.

Diamond was a great pup and we thought she was awesome. If she had one flaw, it was her penchant for counter surfing, a habit that we accidentally taught her by leaving her alone in the kitchen with one of our other (counter-surfing) dogs, who showed Di the ropes. Diamond would happily grab anything off the counter: leftovers, a pan of brownies that was awaiting book club, a freshly frosted cake for a friend who’d just had a baby… We had to be extra-vigilant.

This story takes place in April, 2011. Because we were visiting Minnesota right before Easter, we dyed eggs at home a few days prior to our trip. We dye a minimum of 18 eggs apiece, winding up with dozens of brightly colored hardboiled eggs, which are typically stored in the refrigerator until I remember to throw them away.
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Annie, concentrating hard…

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Emi and Ella, at work…

Except, of course, for the hours in between dyeing them and storing them (I don’t know why there’s lag time, but there always is), when they’re kept in their cartons on the dining room table.

Diamond had been with us for over a year and a half by this time, and we had learned not to give her any opportunities to access the kitchen counters. It didn’t even occur to us, however, that it might be a bad idea to leave 54 hardboiled eggs in the middle of the dining room table (I mean, if we were okay with this from a food safety perspective, clearly anything goes in our house).

Turns out? Dining room tables are easily reached by counter-surfing dogs.

We found the mangled egg cartons on Friday. One might think that consuming dozens of vinegar-soaked hardboiled eggs wouldn’t go over well, but Diamond didn’t act any worse for wear at first. Then, the mosaic poop began – legions of it. For 24 hours, Di positively Jackson Pollocked the backyard with rainbow eggshells. By Saturday afternoon, though, the poopsplosions were over, with Diamond behaving completely normally. Which was a good thing, considering we were getting on an airplane – all of us, including the dog – for Minnesota that evening.

My sister-in-law, Emi, had been visiting and was headed back to Minnesota that same night. Due to a flight problem, we all wound up on the same plane, which was lovely in terms of traveling camaraderie, but a bummer because our flight change caused us to land well past the girls’ bedtime. Knowing they would be super tired, I was adamant that we hustle off the plane ASAP so we could carry their still-sleeping forms into the car and then off to Grandpa Bill and GranMary’s house.

Which might have been well and good had they actually fallen asleep during the flight. Instead, they remained awake, with glassy, thousand-mile stares that told us they were likely to have exhaustion-induced meltdowns at any point. The flight was otherwise uneventful; even Diamond, who had flown with us before, did a bang-up job… except for the excessive panting.

But, hey. We figured she was just hot. Dogs pant when they’re hot, no?

They do. They also pant when they’re backlogged with Easter egg poop and know that popping a squat in the bulkhead section would probably result in, at the very least, some rather unhappy glances.

By the time we got off the plane, Diamond was in obvious distress, while Ella and Annie were seriously flagging, so we doubled down our efforts to hightail it over to Bill, who was waiting to pick us up. Emi and I each grabbed a girl and a stroller (they were too old for strollers but we brought them anyway); Nick took Diamond; we divvied the luggage up like sherpas; and off we went.

When the tram-train thing that was supposed to take us to the end of the terminal pulled into the station and just sat there for a moment, we were annoyed but didn’t worry. When it sat there for a full minute, annoyance turned to frustration. When the message was broadcast that the tram-train thing was no longer operational, frustration turned quickly to rage and despair. The girls were drooping, Diamond was frantic; we needed that tram.

(Our rage and despair were nothing, however, compared to the faces of the people who were on the tram-train thing when it became un-operational and were unable to get off of it. Yikes.)

Seeing no other options, we began hiking the length of the terminal – which, no joke, was about a mile from end to end. Emi and I were in the lead, moving as quickly as the strollers would allow, with Nick and Diamond following closely behind…

…until, suddenly, they weren’t. We heard a “HEY!” and I turned back to see them a good 25 yards behind us, rushing into a bathroom(??!). Seriously pissed (we were in a HURRY, for God’s sake), we backtracked to see what on earth he was doing.

Five long minutes later, they emerged, the picture of utter defeat. “I don’t know what to do!” he maniacally whispered. Seeing our puzzled – and furious – glances, he explained, “Diamond just shit all over the moving sidewalk!”

Oh. Well, then.

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Bunny Di.

After holding it in for the entire flight and then waiting as the tram-train thing broke down, Di could apparently no longer contain herself – literally. Nick said this became apparent when the people behind him on the moving sidewalk began gasping and saying things like, “Oh, dear God!” Unbeknownst to him, Diamond – still trotting along – had begun leaving rainbow-colored poopsplosions on the sidewalk, causing the other travelers to jump out of the way to avoid them.

Funny/horrible thing #1: Although everyone was horrified, no one felt they could say anything to Nick… because Diamond was wearing her service dog-in-training cape… and, apparently, they thought Diamond was Nick’s service dog… and how do you politely explain to someone who needs a service dog, “Um, sir, I’m so sorry, but your service dog is crapping all over the moving sidewalk”?

Funny/horrible thing #2: Because the sidewalk was, indeed, a moving sidewalk, there was nothing that could be done about the Easter egg poop – no way it could be cleaned up in time – and so it just… wentaround… as the sidewalk ended and mechanically went back underneath.

With (literally) a mile to go to the exit, Nick decided that the best option was to take Dizey into the men’s room and tell her to do her thing; at least it would be contained and he’d be able to clean it up. He chose the handicapped stall so that they’d both fit, which turned out to be wise because the moment he told her to “hurry,” she looked at him as though he had three heads (Hurry? INDOORS? Are you insane?)… and so, remembering that a little movement often speeds things along, Nick began walking Diamond in tiny little circles around the stall to see if her could get things going.

Omg. This is one of the best mental images I’ve ever had, of them circling the handicapped stall with him stage whispering to her to “hurry” and her thinking he was nuts.

(It should be noted that, during this time, I became so upset about the girls still being awake, I offered each of them five dollars if they could fall asleep in their strollers before we reached the car. I PAID MY CHILDREN REAL MONEY TO GO THE EFF TO SLEEP. 

It should also be noted that BOTH OF THEM FELL ASLEEP. If you need parenting advice, don’t hesitate to ask.)

When it became apparent that Diamond would absolutely not disgrace herself by crapping on the bathroom floor, he came to find us. I became rather less pissed and rather more desperate to give Diamond the chance to finish her business.  It was at this moment you could (almost literally) see Emi switch into high gear. She dropped the bags she was carrying, physically grabbed the leash from Nick’s hand, and took off running – calling back to us that she’d meet us at the car – not stopping until, many minutes later, she’d reached the terminal exit where Diamond could finally relieve herself in peace.

Accordingly, Diamond sat down and glanced at Emi as if to thank her for the lovely jog.

We saw no more rainbow mosaic poop, and Dizey had an entirely uneventful Minnesota visit. She would go on to make it through 4.5 of 6 months of Advanced Training; counter surfing was not the reason she was let go, although I understand that she has taken her forever family on a few adventures in this department.

We imagine that the cleaning crew who dealt with the moving sidewalk is still telling the tale of Diamond’s adventure in the airport, too.
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The girls and Diamond in Minnesota. ALL SMILES.

Throwback Thursday: I swear

For the past month or so, our girls have had a bit of an obsession with swear words. They’re not using them in everyday conversation (not that I’m aware of, anyway), but it’s clear that they have recently been introduced to a whole bunch of “bad” words (at school? with friends? I honestly don’t know…) and they’re finding this knowledge fascinating.

We haven’t had an issue with curse words (aside from a small misunderstanding a couple of years ago) since the girls were little – but, hoo boy, that was a good time…

It was 2008 and Annie was approximately 18 months old when, as I was changing her diaper, I heard her mutter something that sounded like, “fuggin’.” There was a definite g-sound in the middle of that word – not a k-sound – so it was a bit ambiguous; perhaps I’d misunderstood. Knowing that if I made a big deal out of any word, and especially if I freaked out over it, it would instantly become more attractive to her, I decided to approach things delicately.

Um, sweetie, what did you just say?

“Fuggin’!”

Hm. Wow. Where did you hear that word?

“Daddy say, ‘fuggin’ diaper.'”

Well, then. Not so ambiguous anymore.
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Annie, 18 months

I attempted to reason with her and explain that that wasn’t a nice word, but given that she was so little, it wasn’t easy to “reason” with her. The first time she said fuggin’ while we were out and about, it caught me so off-guard, I responded quickly and animatedly — which, as everyone knows, is the surest way to guarantee that your toddler will continue his or her inappropriate behavior. After all, what’s more fun than getting a rise out of your parents? NOTHING, really.

“Reasoning” with her hadn’t worked, nor had becoming upset, nor had reprimanding her; if anything, they made things worse. So I decided that the best course of action would be to ignore her entirely when she said that word so that it would lose its appeal all together and she’d just forget about it. My plan worked… but it would take a good four months.

In the meantime, Annie tested out fuggin’ everywhere she could. She said it while we were running errands. She said it while picking Ella up from preschool. When cashiers at the grocery store would smile at my adorable cherub all buckled into the seat on the shopping cart and ask her name, she would smile right back and say, “My name is Annie. FUGGIN’!!” When a single utterance wouldn’t do, she took to repeating the word over and over – at top volume, of course. One time, we blasted into the children’s section of the library with her running ahead, yelling FUGGIN’! FUGGIN’! FUGGIN’! at the top of her lungs.

And all the while, I looked like an absolute lunatic because I was (seemingly) doing nothing to prevent or remedy the situation. Yup, that’s my kid – the one screaming obscenities. Doesn’t bother me a bit. Isn’t she darling?
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FUGGIN’!!!

Parenting is a blast, y’all.

After months of receiving absolutely zero attention for her potty-mouthed antics, Annie gave up. Fuggin’ left her vocabulary as quickly as it entered; I didn’t hear her or Ella utter another swear (or almost-swear) word for years.

The allure of these illicit words is clearly growing, however, for both of our girls. Just this past weekend, our neighbor (who is a year older than Ella) rather gleefully informed us that Ella and Annie know all the swear words. “Yeah!” her little brother chimed in, eyes wide. “They know the d-word and the h-word and the f-word and the s-word and the c-word and the h-word and…” This would have been charming in and of itself, but it was made even more so because the conversation was had in front of our four and six year-old neighbors – and their parents.

Our daughters are awesome role models. So glad you moved next door.
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And one of Ella in 2008, age three, for good measure.
Would this face ever say anything inappropriate??

Nick and I quickly ended the conversation, telling the girls we’d discuss this later, but part of me wanted to clarify things a bit. How were you using these words? Were they actually a part of your conversation, or were you just naming them – like calling out Jolly Rancher flavors? Were you quizzing one another? Did you say them to our young neighbors?? And wait a minute – how did our other neighbors know for sure that you knew what the swear words were… unless they knew them all, too???

(Also – what do you think the c-word is? ‘Cause I didn’t learn the “real” c-word till I was, like, twenty.)

Eventually, we had a talk with our girls and explained that we absolutely understood the allure of saying these words. “But mom,” they said, “they’re just so funny!” There’s something thrilling about it; I get it. (I distinctly remember being in second grade and learning all of the words to “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” from the musical “Cats” [I’m sure that this level of geekdom surprises no one] where one of the lines is, “Have you been an alumnus of heaven and hell?” I had a friend at the time whose mom [or grandma; that part of my memory is fuzzy] absolutely despised swear words and remember thinking it would be an absolute hoot to be over at my friend’s house and sing that line from “Jellicle Cats” right in front of her mom – so that then I could respond innocently, “But Mrs. So and So — it’s just a line from a song in ‘Cats’!” and watch her eyes bug out when she realized I wasn’t swearing but practicing art. MAN, did I know how to push boundaries!)

So, I understand about curse words; I really do. I know that my girls will test them out, that they’ll say them with friends, that they’ll whisper them in corners. I also know that they’re both such straight arrows, sharing swear words with friends is pretty daring; it’s not like we caught them stealing or smoking underneath the bleachers.

Still, we explained, there’s a time and a place for those words — and saying them in front of our four and six year-old neighbor is not okay. They agreed and said they wouldn’t.
So far, so good… although I know that surely we’ll cross this road again.

Shit, man. Kids say the darndest fuggin’ things.

Throwback Thursday: Animal Lover

(If you’ve tuned into this blog because of my post about standardized testing, welcome! Although I’m passionate about that cause, I don’t write about it very often… but if you’re looking for stories about parenting, chocolate and wine, traveling, or people [that’d mostly be me] getting into ridiculous situations and blunders but still trying to find the humor in everything, then I hope you’ll stick around!)

The other night, we were watching TV and this commercial for Scrubbing Bubbles came on. In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll give you a play-by-play (you’re welcome): you hear delightful bathtime sounds coming from behind a mostly-closed (bathroom) door which, when opened (by the mom-lady) reveals two young girls using the bathtub to “wash” what can only be described as this… filthy thing. Okay, it’s a dog of some sort — a tiny, disheveled, exceedingly bedraggled-looking dog that snarls at the mom-lady as soon as she opens the door. (Her horrified gasp when she sees the creature staring back at her is maybe my favorite part of the commercial.) There is mud and dirt and soap absolutely everywhere and the girls are begging, “Can we keep him? PLEASE?”

Anyway, the dad-guy comes in and scares the mom-lady with his horrified gasp (actually, maybe this is my favorite part of the commercial…), and it’s mayhem everywhere, but no worries! Scrubbing Bubbles is what you need for this type of mess – cut to the clean bathroom (which the mom-lady has wiped down, of course, because stereotypes), all is well, the end. I pretty much love this commercial, not only because it makes me laugh… not only because I – like most parents – can relate to this chaos… but also because it reminded me of a little, um, encounter I had in my own mom’s bathroom with my own… thing… many years ago.

I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. I also had no problem getting dirty as a kid (who’m I kidding – even now, if I can only find one stain on a sweater, I declare it good to go). Add to those qualities my ADHD impulsiveness and, well, let’s just say I probably didn’t always use the best judgement when it came to critters and such.

There was the time in kindergarten or first grade when, walking home from the school bus, I found a squirrel carcass in the road, picked it up by the tail, and proceeded to bring it home to show my mom, unceremoniously plopping it on the kitchen table. There was also the time only a couple of years ago when I opened the garage door to find myself face to face with a raccoon. Not wanting to be attacked (it was hiding behind the storage bins and could have made a run for me at any moment), I called Nick from my cell phone – he was in the living room at the time – and told him to come and get rid of the raccoon. Well, that’s easier said than done; while Nick hit tennis balls its way and poked at it with a hockey stick, this fellow hissed manically and jauntily ran across every shelf, knocking over anything that got in his way like Steve Martin as Ruprecht the Monkey Boy in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Meanwhile, I’d nicknamed him Jasper (after the pet raccoon in a Little House on the Prairie episode) and kept calling out helpful advice like, “Please be good to Jasper! Don’t hurt him! Jasper just wants to be free!” At one point, Jasper essentially hurtled himself at Nick, practically foaming at the mouth, before finally scurrying out the door.

So, I have a very good track record with wild animals.

One fall (I think it was fall, although I could totally be making this up; the season isn’t important so let’s just go with it) many moons ago, Nick and I were visiting my mom’s house down in Westchester. I remember spending the night at her house, which means we were still living in Denver at the time and had just come back east to visit, either for a holiday or for wedding planning. Anyway, as we pulled into the driveway, I noticed this… cat… loping across my mother’s lawn.

You guys, this poor little fella was not in good shape. He seemed young – maybe young enough to still need his mama – but it was clear that he hadn’t been with his mama in a long time. He was filthy, with no collar, as though his owner hadn’t been taking very good care of him. He was unnaturally thin and his unusual spotted/striped fur was patchy – like maybe he had a disease? – and his tail was completely devoid of fur until the very end, where it poofed out in a little fur explosion. He was… meowing? Sort of? and seemed very hungry, so I immediately took pity on this sweet creature and concluded that we needed to show him a bit of kindness.

My mom and Nick, heartless miscreants that they are, wanted no part of rescuing this darling kitty, so I had to take him on all by myself. Now, I’m not entirely crazy, so I knew better than to just pick him up – rabies and whatnot – so, after donning a jacket and a pair of my stepdad’s work gloves, I gathered the pathetic furball into my arms and brought him into the house.

I remember two specific things about that moment: a) that he was a lot heftier than I’d anticipated (I didn’t know cats were so sturdy!) and b) that my mom’s dog, Jazz, began losing her mind the instant I set foot inside. Jazz, a beautiful Shetland Sheepdog, had many wonderful qualities, but being quiet wasn’t really one of them; still, she surprised me with the ferocity of her barking. I mean, frantic, maniacal, WHAT IS THAT THING YOU HAVE BROUGHT BEFORE ME barking.
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In true TBT fashion, this is not only a throwback photo of Jazz but of Nick and me, too, circa 1990-something. I could’ve removed the sticky notes that my mom added, but they’re my favorite part…

I was all, “Jazz, this is just a cat… A poor, abandoned kitten… Chill out…” and she was all, “WTF ARE YOU DOING I WILL DESTROY IT.” Fearing for the safety of both the dog and the stray, I decided to take my little lost lamb into the bathroom and lock the door. Once inside, I set it in the bathtub and leaned in for a closer look. I don’t know much about cats, but this one had obviously been through the wringer. His ears were pointier than I expected them to be, with little caps of black across their tips, and his face had this extra? fur that came down from the sides, like jowls. And he kept making this… noise? that was not exactly purring but more like low growling.

That seemed odd, but given that I have absolutely zero experience with cats, what did I know? He was obviously emaciated, so I knew I needed to feed him. I left him in the bathroom with a saucer of milk (my mom was thrilled with this decision) and called animal control to ask if there was somewhere we should bring him in because his owners must be missing his sweet face, duh. The woman with whom I spoke informed me that a) the whole cats-like-milk thing is a myth and I was probably hurting him (why are we perpetuating this terrible myth?? Poor buddy!), and b) that many cats are, in fact, outside cats, so the best thing to do would be to let him go so he could return to his family.

But you guys. What if he never made it home? He had certainly been out on his own for quite a while; what if he needed me?? Alas, my mom pointed out that, noble as my efforts were, Jazz and this wandering being couldn’t coexist; since Jazz had been there first – and since it was, you know, my mom’s house and she wanted nothing to do with it – I had to let him go.

And so I brought my growling little bundle out onto the back porch, put some tuna in a bowl (cats and tuna aren’t a myth, right? RIGHT?), and reasoned that if he was truly hungry enough, he’d be back for more and then I could sweep him up and bring him into an animal shelter. IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING, SET IT FREE! IF IT COMES BACK…

We never saw it again.

We did, however, see his likeness several months later. I can’t remember exactly where we were, but I know it was back in Colorado, in the mountains, in some kind of nature-y shop. Nick and I had stopped in because we thought we might find a suitable gift for his dad among the bird feeders, bird books, and wind chime-y things. As Nick was paying for our purchase, I picked up an animal guide and began flipping through it.

And that was when I saw him. Or, at least, when I saw a photo of an animal that looked exactly like the one I had carried into my mom’s bathroom:
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(It wasn’t this exact photo, but you get the idea…)

YES. THAT WOULD BE A BABY BOBCAT.

BECAUSE I BROUGHT A BABY BOBCAT INTO MY MOTHER’S BATHROOM AND ATTEMPTED TO GIVE IT MILK.

Well. That might explain the pointy ears with the black tips… and the mangled, matted fur… and the black puff at the end of its tail… and why he was heavier than I’d thought he’d be… and the unusual fur pattern… and the growling… and OMG I HELD A DISEASED BOBCAT AND IT GROWLED AT ME.

It might also explain why Jazz reacted as though I was bringing something more menacing than a kitten into the living room. Because, I don’t know, dogs have a really good sense of smell and can tell when you’re holding an animal that could SWALLOW THEM WHOLE??

I screamed for Nick, which kind of scared him, but he came over anyway and looked at the picture. For a moment, he was silent. Then he said something like, “Thank God you put on gloves when you picked that thing up, otherwise who knows what might have happened?” 

I married him anyway, despite the sarcasm.

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In addition to the dozens of deer who live near us, there have been some random fox sightings in our neighborhood. If anyone would like to get up close and personal with one, just let me know; I appear to have the magic touch. I’ll even buy new gloves for the occasion.

Throwback Thursday – Grandpa’s Hats

For a good many years now, at the urging/request of my grandmother, my mom’s side of the family has created personalized calendars that are given out at Christmas. In addition to the usual calendar fare, Shutterfly allows us to place photos on any dates we’d like, meaning that each family member’s face triumphantly appears on his or her birthday.

While I’ve always enjoyed the calendar, Ella and Annie took a particular shine to it this year, delighting in each person’s photo and commenting on which months receive the heaviest birthday traffic. (I printed off photos for the members of Nick’s family, too, and stuck them on the corresponding squares; June, December, and January are particularly heavily-birthdayed months.)

They were particularly smitten with the weeks when several people have birthdays in a row (and the coincidental dates when people actually share birthdays, something you’d think wouldn’t happen all that often in a relatively small family because there are 365 days on which to have been born), with these last two weeks in January being the first of the clusters.

“Mom – Alex’s (their cousin) birthday was Tuesday, Grandma’s birthday was yesterday, and Lisa’s (my aunt) and Adam’s (my cousin) birthdays are next week! That’s crazy!”

It is! But it’s actually even crazier.

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My grandfather loved hats. He would have laughed mischievously at the thought of me calling him a connoisseur of hats – that’s a bit of a stretch – but he certainly enjoyed them. Baseball caps, cowboy hats, visors, woven ones with wide floppy brims, straw hats, light-up headpieces with glowing lettering across the front… you name it, he had one.

Ever true to his creative, do-it-yourself-but-kind-of-on-the-cheap nature, he had nailed flat pieces of wood to the dining room walls at the lake, on top of which he’d attached clothespins – each of which held a member of the hat collection. Although this newfangled storage system appeared in the later years of his life, the hats themselves were around for much longer. I remember playing with them as a little girl, fascinated with their feel on my head and the way they smelled like him. (Not an Old Spice kind of smell – more musty and fisherman-y and turpentine-y — but grandpa through and through.)

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Summer 1977; one of my all-time favorite photos of anything, ever.
Would that every child could be looked at by their grandparent like this.

In the summers before the old lake house was razed and the new one was constructed – the last two summers of my grandfather’s life – Ella and Annie, too, became unofficial members of Great‘s Hat Club. It gave me such a kick to see them wearing his caps and seeing them all enjoy one another’s company so much. I only wish that they remembered it – remembered him – as clearly as I do.

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 Ella, at the same age I was in the above photo, wearing one of Great’s hats.
His avant-garde hat holder is clearly visible in the background…
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Annie – seven months – with my aunt Lisa, joining in on the hat convention.

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While sorting through things in the basement (let us all share a moment of silence for this miraculous occasion, shall we….?), I came across the hat my grandfather had worn when he was in the Navy. He didn’t talk with me much about his days in the service – then again, I hadn’t really asked (something I regret deeply now) – so I don’t really have much of a frame of reference for this regal topper, but it makes me smile each time I see it, imagining bygone days when my grandfather piloted planes that scanned the ocean for German U-boats, when he and my grandmother exchanged letters and television hadn’t been invented. Plus, all these years and miles later, that hat still smells like my grandpa.

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See, it wasn’t just Grandma and her sister who have birthdays in January – Great did, too.

“He did? I can’t believe it!”

Yep. HIs birthday was today, actually. January 22nd, 1921.

“So how old would he be?”

I see that you don’t get along so well with The Math either.

“What?”

Never mind. He would have turned 94 today.

“We should put his picture on the calendar!”

Long before Photoshop became popular, my grandfather loved toying with photos on his computer, swapping family faces and chuckling at his exploits. As soon as I get the chance, I’m definitely going to print out his photo and put it on the calendar. It’s kind of creepy… but Great would totally have approved.

Throwback Thursday: Never lose hope!

You know the saying: when you’re a parent, the days go by slowly but the years go by fast.  This was never more true for me than the girls were really little – say, under five years old. I would look back on each passing year absolutely astonished that so much time had passed and they were so much older… but in the thick of things, some of those days really did drag on agonizingly slowly.

I fully understood why some animals eat their young.

It was just… hard. Everything had the potential for turning into a disaster. Meltdowns could occur at any moment. It took thirteen hours to get out of the house to run to the grocery store and an additional forty-three minutes to buckle them into their carseats. I know there are lots of parents who looooved those early years, but for me? They were awesome. They were hilarious. But they were really effing hard.

Mercifully, as the years changed and the girls got older, a lot of things became easier. When kids are young, you never, ever have a moment to yourself, not even – nay, especially even – if you’re in the bathroom.6 of 52What is this ‘privacy’ thing you speak of?

Admittedly, I still receive very little privacy and I am a ninja when it comes to multitasking while on the toilet, but it’s gotten better. Annie and Ella can entertain themselves. They are capable of reaching higher and making their own sandwiches and changing the channel on the remote, so I actually can have a few minutes of peace. Granted, it’s not like I’m using that time to read or practice yoga, but having a little breathing room is a godsend.

When your kids are young, there are moments – lots and lots and lots of them – when you need to be right there beside them. They are simply incapable of managing on their own, whether it’s in a swing (that day when they learn how to pump is the day you win the lottery, my friend) or at the sink.ridingsolo  ridingsolo2 (1)
I’m pretty sure there was a rule that all children under a certain age had to be accompanied on the carousel, but even if there hadn’t been, you don’t want your kid to be the one who falls off and makes the ride come to a screeching halt, so there you are.  Beside them. Spinning. Around… and around… and around…

You look longingly at the parents who can send their children to the playground by themselves and you practically break down and cry at the thought of not having to join them in the bouncy house.
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Ahhhh, wading pools… Adorable inflatable death traps.

But then, little by little, they become more capable. You can step back as they navigate the  dress-up exhibit at the museum. Birthday parties become drop-off parties (thank you, sweet baby Jesus). You gingerly test their ability to use the restrooms by themselves in public places. And then finally, you can send them into the pool – the real one, not the inflatable pool of death – without even putting on your own bathing suit (oh happy day!). Do you believe in miracles? YES.

When your kiddos are young, they’re messy, so their clothes need changing constantly. Even as they become slightly less messy, they still want to change their clothes all the time – well, mine did, anyway. Three outfits a day, minimum, and that doesn’t include dress-up. It is maddening and creates laundry piles the size of small countries, so it is truly wondrous that day when they…

… no, scratch that. My girls are still changing their clothes all the freaking time. If yours eventually stopped, please tell me when so I can mark it on the calendar and pre-order a celebratory bottle of champagne.
115eveningdressupJuuuust your typical daywear…

And the food – oh, the food! This may come as a shock, after watching Animal Planet and all that and seeing how many wild creatures come out of the womb (or egg or whatever) with fully functioning mouths and stuff, but human children are not capable of feeding themselves. They can drink just fine (most of the time), but alas, milk does not just fall from the sky into their waiting mouths, so you need to nurse or formula-feed them. Which comes with the bottle washing! The sore nipples! The holding of the bottle at exactly the right angle so your little cherub doesn’t choke or swallow air… until that glorious moment when she is able to grasp that bottle herself. Independence!!

Then, you eagerly set out to start them on solids – how exciting! – which is fabulous and new and such a treat… for the first six months. Eventually, doing The Airplane with the spoon becomes just a wee bit tiresome, and cutting food into itty bitty morsels becomes grounds for insanity. But I can tell you with certainty that it does not last forever. One day, your darlings will be able to eat like grown-up people – they’ll even cut their own meat! – and you can say goodbye to sippy cups and skinned grapes forever.
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Annie held her sippy cup sideways until she stopped using it. I didn’t like the cups, but her akimbo hold was pretty damn cute.

Shall we discuss getting small children dressed? Let’s just say it would probably be easier to squeeze a goat into a wetsuit than it is to get a wriggling child into his onesie. Babies, of course, cannot help at all (have you ever gone back and dressed an infant once your own children have grown beyond infant-hood and you just sit there waiting for the wee one to slip his arm through the sleeve the way your 13-month old does but all he does is lie there, thrashing about, and it finally dawns on you that he is actually incapable of putting his own arm through the sleeve? Is that just me?), but it is not necessarily better when your toddler learns to dress himself because it takes FOR.EVER. and he will need to do it HIS. WAY. which often does not resemble your way even in the slightest.
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Ella (3) is “helping” me dress Annie (1) before going into the snow. The amount of time spent getting ready definitely exceeded the amount of time we spent outside.

As your toddlers become pre-schoolers and, eventually, grade-schoolers, the dressing thing becomes way less physically demanding. (Note that it does not necessarily become easier.) They can put on their own clothes! They can zip their own coats! They can tie their own shoes! There will still be clothing battles and tears and meltdowns, and it might still take you thirteen hours to get out the door, but at least you can be sitting in the car waiting instead of trying to thread a belt through toddler-sized belt loops.

And then, perhaps more than all of the other things that can make those early days creep by so slowly, there is the sleeping. SLEEPING WAS MY BIGGEST ENEMY. If they woke up too soon, it could spell disaster. If they fell asleep too soon – say, in the car on the way home – it could spell disaster. If we slept anywhere other than home, it could spell disaster.

(I noted in my previous post that Nick and I were militant about sleeping, especially with Ella. That was partly because we were first-time parents and didn’t know any better, but it was also because Ella was a notoriously specific sleeper. If we put her to bed between 7:00 and 7:15, she would sleep through the night until 7 a.m. the following morning. If we put her to bed at 7:30 (or later) – just fifteen minutes more! – she would awaken at FIVE A.M. every single time. So, we had a curfew – because of our fifteen month old. It was super fun. Have I mentioned that sleeping was my biggest enemy?)

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They look adorable, but don’t be fooled. 

Our biggest nightmare was when the clocks turned forward or back because, as parents of young ones know, children do not use the clock to determine when to get out of bed. No, they just wake up when their bodies tell them to, regardless of whether it is an hour earlier or later or even three o’clock in the morning, and then they get you up. When those clocks fall back in November and people talk about an “extra hour” of sleep, you want to punch them square in the nose because you know that it will mean an extra hour of being awake… and then an extra torturous hour at bedtime when your children are exhausted (because their bodies tell them it’s an hour later than it is) but you don’t want to put them to bed quite yet because you know that if you do, they’ll continue to awaken at an ungodly hour the following morning.

Basically, “falling back” can suck it.

Well, y’all, I was afraid to mention it earlier because I thought I would jinx it, but it’s been five days in a row and I’m confident enough to say: THE END OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS WAS JUST FINE THIS YEAR!! I have no idea what time Ella and Annie awakened on Sunday morning because we told them that when they got up, they needed to play quietly and not bother us… and they did. I actually awoke before my alarm to find the girls chilling out in their rooms. HALLE-FREAKIN’-LUJAH.

And then – and then! They became tired that night earlier than normal, so they went to bed earlier than normal (which meant Nick and I had more time to ourselves that night)… but they did not awaken super-early on Monday morning. No! They awoke only slightly early, which meant they had extra time to get ready for school (amen), and then they went to bed a wee bit early that night, too. By Tuesday? Fully adjusted.

AND SO, my friends with young children. Don’t lose hope. Eventually, your littles will dress themselves. They’ll brush their own teeth (but don’t count on nicely brushed hair). They’ll make their own beds (when you nag them). And, one very, very fine day, they will even take “falling back” in stride and that mythical “extra hour” you cherished in college will become part of your life once more. Keep the faith!!

As for your children still being cute when they’re older and maybe still being one another’s best friends? Yep. That happens, too.
Most days.

hug

Throwback Thursday: I remember the love

Whenever I think of September 11th, 2001, I am – like everyone else – immediately transported back to that morning. Nick and I had recently moved to New York from Colorado, and our apartment was absolutely fantastic. With its two bedrooms and two baths, it was pricey by any standard other than those found around enormous metropolises, but man, did we get bang for our buck — parking, storage, hilarious and helpful old-school Italian landladies, a washer/dryer right in the apartment (those stacking miniatures that could hold three socks and a sweatshirt without overloading), and best of all, it was in a tremendous location thirty minutes from Manhattan in the heart of a darling little village right on the train tracks.

I do mean right on the train tracks. When a Metro-North train pulled into the station, we could be inside the apartment and still make it out the door, down the stairs, onto the platform, and into the train on time. This did mean that there were commuter trains going past our windows at nearly all hours of the day and night but really, it didn’t bother us. In fact, we scarcely even registered that they were there.

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That Tuesday began like any other, except that Nick was preparing for a job fair so he was getting all gussied up. It was, of course, a picture-perfect September morning, topaz blue skies unblemished by clouds, warmish but not hot, the just-right segue from summer into fall. (It still strikes me as odd that I took stock of the weather at all. I can’t recall what the weather was on other important days, but I so vividly remember staring at the expanse of blue later in the afternoon that day and being dumbfounded that the world had fallen apart on such a beautiful day.)

We were going about our routine when my mom called around 9:00 – unusual for her, as she is truly a night owl – to ask if we’d heard the news that there was an accident and a plane had struck the World Trade Tower. In an attempt to save money, Nick and I didn’t have a television (and internet news wasn’t really happening yet), so we turned on the radio in an attempt to get more information. There was confusion – was it a small, personal plane? How had the pilot not seen the tower? – until the second plane hit, and then we all knew that this was no accident; something was terribly wrong.

Although we didn’t have a regular television, we did have a miniature one that fit right in your hand, so I pulled out its antenna as far as it would go until I was finally able to find – and keep – a televised broadcast of the unfolding attack. It was on that itty bitty set, no more than 3 inches across, that we watched the towers fall, disappearing into enormous gray clouds at the bottom of the screen.

I remember covering my mouth in shock and horror. I remember crying. I remember the desperation and frenzy as we attempted to make contact with the great number of people we knew who lived and worked in the City – including my father and stepfather – only to be met with maddening recordings informing us that all lines were busy. I remember the relief and hysteria upon finally hearing their voices, which was echoed by the relief and gratitude that we heard in the voices of our out-of-town friends and family who had been desperately trying to reach us to see if we were okay.

I remember the silence; for the first and only time during our tenure in that apartment, the trains stopped running.

Twenty five days later, Nick and I were married in a small, charming stone church thirty minutes from Manhattan. In the few weeks since the attacks, the United States had – understandably – discussed little else, and we had briefly considered marrying privately and celebrating more formally later. Ultimately, we decided to go ahead with the big day as planned; it would be a shame to change things up so late in the game, we reasoned, but more importantly, we figured that we could really use a reason to celebrate.

wedding photo

That everyone came is the most humbling experience I’ve ever known. On one level, it’s always pretty amazing that people are willing to show up and support you. But this? This was different.

We all remember those This Can’t Be Happening weeks following September 11th – the omnipresent sense of uncertainty and fear that crept into every area of life, unfurling like fog in the night. We were on edge, tense, scared. For many of us, the mere thought of pursuing “normal” life was overwhelming; traveling – by plane – was inconceivable. And yet, that’s what our guests did. Very few of our friends and family lived locally. To get to us, they had to travel – a good 80% of them, nearly half by air. That they had the courage and strength to get on those airplanes and highways remains utterly awe-inspiring to me.

As for those who were local? Well, these were the folks who lived and worked in Manhattan, the ones who could smell the still-smoldering ruins from their apartments, the ones whose vistas were now missing two anchors, the ones with apartments on the train lines like us, the ones who were surrounded, every minute of the day, by the aftermath of the attacks.

So, yeah. Our wedding guests pretty much kicked ass.

We didn’t talk about September 11th during the wedding, deciding instead to focus on why everyone had so generously come together, but we didn’t have to. It was everywhere – the faces of the people we had lost or who were still missing, the news “crawl” that began on CNN, the feeling that nothing would be quite the same again. But at the wedding, there was joy. There was music (lots and lots of music). There was laughter.  There was seriously delicious food and seriously raucous dancing.

Maybe it was because we’d all been followed around by clouds for the past twenty-five days, but we were here and it was fun and we were celebrating and there was singing and eating and alcohol and holy crap did everyone let go and have a freakin’ blast.

The most poignant moment of the night didn’t come during the ceremony, however, nor during any of the letting-loose afterward. Instead, it was a surprise moment that perfectly honored the somber-but-celebratory mood, forever linking our wedding with September 11th in the most wonderful way possible.

Given the musical theme running through the wedding, Nick and I had informed our guests that we would not kiss if glasses were clinked but rather when an entire table stood up and – in unison – sang a song containing the word “love.” It didn’t take long for people to get into the spirit of things and we found ourselves serenaded by the likes of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You” – all cute, all light, all sweet.

By several hours in, one of the few tables not yet to stand was the one at which my grandparents were seated. This was reasonable, perhaps even expected – requesting octogenarian participation was maybe reaching a bit. But then my grandfather stood and, in his booming voice, began to sing “God Bless America”.

God bless America
Land that I love

Within a few words, his table had joined in. Within a line, the entire room sang together. By the end, everyone was standing, hands on hearts, as the band accompanied us. It was, quite simply, one of the most moving and beautiful things I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of.

———–

No other tables stood after that.

When we decided to go ahead with the wedding, I knew that it would be somehow joined with September 11th. I never anticipated that one of my strongest memories of one of our country’s darkest days would come from our wedding reception, nor that it would be so lovely.

Despite our collective haze and shock, there was something special about the place we found ourselves immediately post-9/11, something connecting and almost comforting. While I certainly wouldn’t wish for another terrorist attack to bring us all together, there are times when I wish we still could feel that camaraderie, unity, and collective determination to rise, rebuild, and heal.

I will never forget, but I will also always remember. I will remember the sky and the silence, the “Missing” posters and the fighter jets overhead. I will remember the way so many people joined together, at Ground Zero, at makeshift triages, across bridges and over dinner. I will remember those incredible family members and friends who chose strength over fear, joy over sadness. I will remember the hope we shared, the laughter, the hugs.

I will remember the singing.
I will remember the love.

Throwback Thursday: Grandpa’s voice

I don’t believe in reincarnation. I’ve never seen a ghost. I’m not so sure about angels. But I absolutely believe that people who have left us can communicate with those of us who are still here – not necessarily because it’s true, but because it makes me feel better to think so.

(Kind of like how I believe that Starbucks is a panacea for any number of ills. Can this be proven true in a science lab or a court of law? Doubtful. But it makes me feel awfully damn good, so does it really matter? I THINK NOT.)

My grandfather passed away seven years ago this September. We’d just moved to the Rochester area, and I’m pretty sure that I spent more time with him (and my grandmother) in those few months before he died than I had during my previous 31 years. It was delightful.

This is not to say that my grandfather was “delightful.” I’m not saying he was the opposite of delightful, but “delightful” really isn’t a word that anyone would have used to describe him. He wasn’t exactly the pull-you-on-his-lap, tussle-your-hair, call-you-“Squirt” kind of grandpa. (My extended family, and everyone who knew my grandpa well, have all spit out their beverages at the mere thought of this.)

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My grandfather with Ella, who has “borrowed” one of his many hats.

He was a good many other things, though – wickedly clever, music-loving, handy, creative, gruff and grumpy, witty, smart, difficult, funny – and that 2007 summer was delightful. He loved technology and kept abreast of any number of “modern” conventions that eluded so many other octogenarians; after becoming an early American Idol devotee and watching Ryan Seacrest close each show with a hip, “Seacrest out!”, Grandpa began signing emails to me with “Taylor out!” Likewise, the very last communication he had with all of us – a brief email – ended with “TTYL”.

I can’t begin to summarize him here; he and his personality and my relationship with him don’t fit into tiny, tidy boxes. I will say that, when Ella was born, we originally started off referring to him as “Great Gramp,” but after only a few months, he requested that it be shortened to simply “Great… because that’s appropriate, don’t you think?” Simply put, I miss him.

We routinely take the back route to the lake, a road that brings us past a well-stocked, open-air fruit and vegetable store. Last weekend, I’d been asked to stop by the store on our way down to see if there were fresh peaches. As I sorted through the quarts and pints, an elderly gentleman — easily in his eighties or nineties – approached and began talking to me. At first, I thought he was just making conversation (“Have you got everything you need?”) but when he began talking to me as though he knew me (“Will we be paying for the peaches up front? Did you get them all? How many do we need for dessert?”), I realized that something wasn’t quite right.

I’m still not sure what exactly was going on – whether he had some form of dementia, whether he was just confused, or whether he merely had mistaken me for the girl working behind the register (she was a gorgeous young brunette, so it’s entirely possible) – and I didn’t want to be rude, so I cheerily answered his questions as kindly but vaguely as I could (so as not to further confuse him)… but it was so freakin’ hard because he sounded just like my grandpa.

greatandannie
Great with Annie, summer 2007.

Yes, he looked vaguely like him too – the square-ish face, the familiar jowls, the wrinkles around his eyes – but it was his voice that nearly did me in. It wasn’t bad, really – it was just completely unexpected, because, aside from videos, the last time I’d heard my grandfather speak was when Annie was nine months old.

And it wasn’t just a close facsimile; this gentleman sounded exactly like him. The nuances, the cadence… For the first time in forever, I was hearing my grandfather’s voice. It was strange and startling and completely overwhelming. I paid for the peaches, bid the man goodbye, got back into the car, and promptly burst into tears (which my children totally appreciated).

Nick was wonderfully supportive of my little breakdown, telling me he’d be weirded out, too, and that I wasn’t an utter nutball. There was a pause before he added, “That was totally your grandpa saying hi, you know.” I looked at him as though he’d lost his mind – um, I don’t know how to break it to you, but grandpa’s been gone for, like, a long time now – but he simply smiled and continued. “We’re on the way to the lake. He and Phoofsy stopped by here a lot. So it’s the perfect place for him to just pop by – not literally, of course – and let you know that he’s still thinking about you. “

This cannot be proven, but I have no doubt that Nick is right. Of all the traits my grandfather possessed, being complimentary wasn’t one of them; not to your face, anyway. Instead, he would regale his friends with tales of your accomplishments and they, in turn, would come to you and say, “Wow – your art opening was really something incredible. Your grandfather told me all about it.” (Okay, so I never had an art opening – don’t be absurd – but if I did, I’m sure he wouldn’t have told me that he liked it. Everyone else would have on his behalf.)

So it makes perfect sense that my grandpa would be checking in through someone else, even if it was just to say hi. Or to talk about peaches.

And if it wasn’t him reaching out from the great beyond? Well, that’s okay, too. I grinned from ear to ear for the rest of the ride (after I’d stopped crying and assured the girls that I wasn’t insane) at the mere thought that it could be, and that’s all that really matters.

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One of my favorite photos of Great and Ella – he’s “threatening” to take a drink out of her sippy cup. The look on his face pretty much sums him up.