Mixed Emotions

When I received the voicemail from CCI about Jambi, it didn’t even cross my mind that something was amiss. By contrast, it was wholly shocking a year and a half ago when we got a call only eleven days (!!) after Langston had been turned in. We’d been sure he was going to do well in Advanced Training – he was such a pleaser, so smart, so loving. We hadn’t anticipated that it would be the loving part of his personality that would get him dismissed; indeed, he adored and missed us so much, he became crazily anxious not being with us (and, um, got into a fight with another dog and then bit the trainer who stepped in to intervene – oopsies!). It was clear that Lang was meant to be our forever dog and we welcomed him home with open arms.

With Jambi, it was different. We felt in our bones that she was a good egg, that she was cut out for the life of a service dog. Her exceedingly calm demeanor and unflappable nature, her cuddliness and sweetness, her intelligence and desire to please; this dog was going places, damn it! And so when the call came yesterday, it never occurred to me that Jambi had been released – it was far too early for her to have been placed (she wasn’t slated for graduation until February), but surely nothing was wrong.

As I reached the part in the voicemail where our puppy program manager said she had “great news” to tell us immediately, I turned to the girls and told them that I was all but certain that I knew what the news was: Jambi had been selected as a breeder. An hour later, my suspicions were confirmed.

Up until now, I’ve only mentioned that CCI puppies face one of two possibilities: to be released from the program (which the vast majority are because perfection is a very difficult standard) and become someone’s pet, or to graduate and become a working dog in some capacity – a hearing dog, a service dog, an assistance dog, a therapy dog, etc. There is, however, a third possibility. A very small number of pups are selected as CCI breeders, taken out of Advanced Training, and sent off to California, near CCI’s headquarters, to begin a life of leisure (and humping) with a volunteer breeder/caretaker family.

In order to ensure that the dogs are properly and safely bred, that they’re well cared for, and that certain genetic characteristics are passed on from dog to dog, CCI breeds all of its own puppies – Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, or crosses of the two. I’ve been saying for over a year now to anyone who would listen (or at least who I thought might be even mildly interested) that I thought it was highly likely that our Beast would be chosen as a breeder. Not only did she have a terrific personality, one I thought CCI might like to, you know, pass along, she was also small for a Lab – something helpful when you’re navigating tight spaces, trying to fit under airplane seats, squeezing onto subway cars, etc. Plus, she’s gorgeous.

7.24.14 out and about

Jambi’s most recent progress report reiterated what a fantastic dog she is – attentive, quick, calm, super smart, not easily distractible, not fearful, highly motivated. She was doing incredibly well in Advanced Training, easily well enough to have gone on and graduated… so well, in fact, that they decided that there should be more dogs like Jambi.

Having suspected that this would be her fate long ago, I wasn’t shocked to hear the news. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel conflicted. See, we really really wanted her to become a service dog. That’s what makes it all worth it – the training, the pooping in the middle of stores, the heartbreak of growing close to her only to return her. The idea that Jambi could someday change someone’s life makes it all worthwhile.

If she can’t, however – if she’s just not cut out for it – then flunking out didn’t seem to be the end of the world, especially since we’d planned on her going to live with my sister-in-law (and new brother-in-law; more on that soon). She would be in a loving home! She would be with people who would continue with her solid training foundation! We could still see her! These did not seem like such bad options.

To have neither feels a bit… hard. Jambi didn’t quite make it. She’s not coming back. We’ll probably never see her again, ever. Sure, she’ll be with a new, doting family – but will they appreciate her adorable grunting noises the way we did? Will they love the velvety feel of her perfectly cold, wet nose? Will they know that she lives for ice cubes and will come running the moment she hears one jostling about in the freezer?

And then there’s the whole breeding thing; it just seems so impersonal. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am with a guy she’s never even met, whose butt she’s only just begun to sniff – what if she doesn’t like it, this mating thing? And then when she’s pregnant (but she’s so young!) and uncomfortable and has squalling puppies all around her, pawing at her and nipping – what if she doesn’t really enjoy being a mom?

It’s not easy when your babies grow up and fly the coop and get knocked up all within the space of a few months!

With our first CCI dog, Diamond, I actively hoped against her becoming a breeder; it wasn’t helping enough; it felt like all of the time and effort and love we’d put in would go to waste. I preferred that she flunk out than become a breeder. This time around, I no longer held those views. Maybe it was having worked with CCI longer and seeing how important all of the dogs are, maybe it was seeing two of our pups get released, or perhaps it was because I’ve had the feeling for so long that Jambi would be selected as a breeder. Whatever it was, I wasn’t hoping she wouldn’t be bred, so receiving the news wasn’t the punch in the gut it would have been a few years ago.

And, when you think about it, being chosen as a breeder is actually a pretty fantastic thing. CCI hopes that Jambi will have 5 or so litters, which amounts to 40 or so puppies. It is essentially impossible that none of those puppies will go on to become service dogs, and far more likely that several – maybe even a dozen – of them will. That means a whole lot more people’s lives will be forever changed for the better than if Jambi had become a service dog herself. (And they’ll be damned cute, too.)

playground pup

If changing lives is why we raise CCI pups, it seems that we’ve hit the jackpot with this one.

Nevertheless, it’s still hard. Even though we know that this is a wonderful thing, a true honor, it’s still not what we’d originally hoped would happen, and changing emotions on a dime isn’t really my strong suit. (Unless I happen to be watching a good Budweiser commercial, in which case I can go from smiling to sobbing in a matter of seconds.) Knowing that we won’t get to see her again hurts. Wondering how she’ll take to being an incubator is tough.

But I’m going to look on the bright side. With luck, her new breeder/caretaker family will be amenable to connecting with us through digital media so we can watch her grow, be a part of her pregnancies, and ooooh and ahhhh over her new puppies. My mother-in-law pointed out that Jambi’s exceedingly sweet and adoring nature means she’ll probably be a tremendous mama. And, if we play our cards right, down the road we should be able to raise one of Jambi’s puppies as our next CCI dog — which is pretty freakin’ incredible.

And so, to Jambi… We knew you were destined for great things, Beast! We miss you so much, but this is such awesome news; you’ll be amazing and will bring such joy into so many other lives. And if we ever make it out near you in California, I expect an uncontrollable full-body wiggle as a greeting, deal? Deal.

jambi and the girls

 

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Puzzles and rabbits and cookies. OH MY.

Yesterday, the girls had a dentist appointment. When they both checked out clean and cavity-free, I (naturally) decided that we should all go to Starbucks to celebrate. Annie chose a vanilla milk and Ella a kiddie Frappuccino, to be consumed immediately, but I told them that they’d have to wait until after dinner to eat their Rice Krispie Treat (Ella) and fancy flower sugar cookie (Annie). Both agreed, spiriting away their treats to enjoy them for dessert.

While they ran amok and did homework, I tidied up around the house, most notably after Langston, who seems to be having problems again. I’m still not sure if he’s angry with us (we were out of town last week, so maybe he’s pissed?) or if he just can’t handle any kind of change (see again: out of town), but he’s been a bit of a pill lately. The Friday before we left for Kiawah, I came home to discover that he’d eaten a mango and an entire cantaloupe off of the counter; I knew, because the pulpy cantaloupe guts were littered all over his dog bed, soaking it so thoroughly with juice and grossness that cleaning it up seemed hopeless. Eventually, I gave up and just tossed the entire bed.

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Yesterday, I’d come home to a pile of puzzle pieces strewn all over the kitchen floor. See, they’d been in a plastic ziploc bag on the counter (they’d come in a box too large to be stored in the living room) – a bag that just might have contained something edible rather than crappy pieces of decorated cardboard. But, one never can tell simply by looking (or sniffing), so a thorough tear-through of the bag is necessary to confirm.
And the winner?

Bag: 0
Puzzle: 0
Langston: 0
Me: 0

WE ALL LOSE HERE.

I hadn’t had an opportunity to clean up the puzzle before taking the girls to the dentist, so I put Lang in the kennel while we were gone. When we returned, I decided to have a go at the picking-up whilst the girls ran amok and did homework (see above), so I sent the dogs outside to roam and not make an even bigger mess. After putting away the last piece (back into another plastic bag that will be stored elsewhere, thank you very much), I had just started to make dinner when I glanced out the windows into the yard and noticed that Langston was… eating?… something.

At the very least, he was chewing on something – a stray sock or a mitten were the most likely contenders – and I knew that I had to get outside quickly to haul him in before he ingested it and it got stuck in his intestines and he needed to be rushed to the vet and to have a million x-rays and then to have emergency surgery and, shit, we have a really busy weekend weekend, we do not have time for nonsense. I’ve learned from past ingestions, however, that if I startle or shame Lang, he will try to hide the evidence by scarfing it down even more quickly. Nope, not consuming a knee sock. *gulp* Empty mouth. Nothing to see here.

So I walked casually out the back door, letting the dogs know I was approaching, and called them to me in a breezy voice that definitely did not betray that I wanted Langston to drop whatever was in his mouth rightthisinstant. Normally, this works well, but this time Lang did not come. Instead, he dropped whatever was in his mouth, looked at it intensely, and then picked it up again. I caught a brief glimpse when it hit the ground and knew that this was no mitten; this was alive. I took long, determined strides toward him, panic creeping into my voice as I told him to DROP IT. LEAVE IT. DROP IT RIGHT NOW YOU JERK.

This, of course, prompted him to try to hide the evidence, and he did his damnedest to swallow the creature whole as fast as he could. I reached him just as his snout closed shut, so I had to literally pry it open with my fingers, with the… whatever it was… still resting between his jaws, un-swallowed, as I held his mouth open and shook the thing loose. After a moment or so, out slid a baby bunny, wet and slimy and horribly man doghandled, onto the new spring grass. The poor thing was still breathing slightly, but I knew there was no hope.

Lang had gone effing Watership Down right in the middle of the backyard, the a-hole.

Dumbfounded, I hustled him back inside as he threw furtive glances back toward the mangled bunny. I have to leave? But this was just getting fun! Not trusting him even one little bit with the dinner food on the counters, I made sure to usher him out of the kitchen and to close the gate behind me. After tending to the bunny (RIP, little hare), I made my way back inside to continue the dinner prep when I heard… something… crinkling?… in the living room.

As I swung open the gate and walked up the stairs, there stood Langston – barricaded from the kitchen, but quite happy – crinkling up a pink paper sack as he scarfed down the last remnants of Annie’s prized Starbucks fancy flower sugar cookie, which she had nestled on the living room chair.

Three for three, buddy. Way to go.

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New bed. Feeling shame. At least, he’d better be.

I didn’t touch him (save to guide him right back into the kennel), but I think I blew out my voice yelling at him. Let’s just say I’m glad I don’t have a choir concert coming up. Or a speaking engagement. His misbehavior put me in a foul mood for the rest of the night, with even the girls apologizing to me for his indiscretions (I’m sorry that Langston was such a pain, mama! Do you think maybe you could smile a bit?).

Returning to work this week after preparing to be done has been hard for me. I still love the teaching part – I’m thrilled to be with the students for a longer period of time, and while I’m at school, I feel like I can accomplish anything – but I’m finding it more difficult to balance the rest of things when I’m not in school. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s just been hard for me.

And, apparently, for Langston too.

It was hard for Annie for a little while last night as well – after learning that Lang had eaten her special dessert – but it all worked out fine for her in the end. Because we also had brought home a flourless double chocolate chip cookie (for one gluten-free chocoholic mama), and after realizing that I had essentially ruined her dessert by foolishly placing Langston in the living room, I offered her my cookie. She tried to defer (“No, really Mama, it’s yours, you should eat it!”), but I insisted. She said it was delicious.

So, I got to clean up a 100 piece puzzle, bury a broken bunny, tend to a crumby mess in the living room, comfort my heartbroken child, AND THEN I DIDN’T EVEN GET TO EAT MY OWN DESSERT.

THAT’S FOUR FOR FOUR, JACKASS.

Sometime soon, maybe I’ll get some sleep and then maybe this dog nonsense won’t bother me so much. In the meantime, at least the girls have good teeth!

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I’m a good boy! Say I’m a good boy!
Wait, is that food?

 

 

 

Lightweight

I love my job – today, the periods were shortened to thirty minutes each (from the usual forty) because of the talent show, and when I reminded my seventh graders of this, one kiddo burst out, “Why is it that the best classes are shortened??” – and it’s been going really well. The logistics have been tricky, and I’m behind in basically every other area of my life, but it’s all been good and worth it.

With that said… great googly moogly, I am SO FREAKIN’ TIRED. There’s just too much to squeeze into each day, and, in order to actually spend a few moments with my children that don’t include screaming over hair-brushing or standing at the thresholds of their bedrooms and uttering some form of, “How is it possible to create such a huge mess in so little time?”,  I wind up doing the majority of the “extra” stuff after the girls go to bed. Which means that I, myself, routinely don’t manage to turn my own light off until at least 1:30 a.m.

I’m usually a morning person, but when that alarm goes off before 7:00 and it’s my fourth consecutive day getting only five hours of sleep, I’m do not have a wonderful feeling that everything is going my way, let me tell you.

I don’t nap. I don’t know why, but I just don’t. I realize that this is a foreign concept for many people (especially my husband), but, as appealing as the couch seems and as cozily as I nestle my head, napping simply doesn’t happen for me unless I’m coming down with some major illness. Or a man cold. Likewise, sleeping in a car or on a plane are out of reach for me, too, no matter how much green eggs and ham you throw in. And falling asleep while watching TV or reading a book? Fuggedaboudit. I am broken when it comes to sleeping anyplace other than my bed, or any time other than when I climb in for the night.

A few weeks ago, Nick asked if I’d like a glass of wine with dinner. I agreed, and then decided to throw caution to the wind and have a second with dessert. (I know, crazytown – but it was Friday night, so you’ll forgive me for really letting loose.) At bedtime, we decided to split up reading with the girls; Nick went to Ella’s room and I settled next to Annie as she opened up her latest Princess Posey tome. She began to read to me (thank God she now pronounces the heroine’s name correctly; she used to call her “Princess Pussy”), and I think I heard the first few words… but I’m not quite sure, because the next thing I remember, I was wiping drool off Annie’s pillow and trying to making up an excuse about how I’d been listening, I was just doing it with my eyes closed. When she finished the chapter and turned off the light, I kissed her goodnight as always… but then asked if she would mind if I just stayed put for awhile. I mean, I was already cozy and warm, and it’s been such a chilly winter…

I awoke around 9:30 p.m. and peeled myself out from underneath her covers. Instead of migrating to the living room to pull out my laptop, however (with hopes of editing some photos, or maybe laying out yearbook pages, or researching lessons, or writing plans, or answering emails, or any of the other myriad items on my To Do list), for the first time in… well, I honestly can’t remember, so it must have been forever… I trudged up to my own bedroom. Nick was already lounging on the bed – technically on my side – but, being so tired that I quite literally couldn’t keep my eyes open, I merely grunted a greeting his way and crawled into bed on his side, sound asleep the instant my head hit the pillow.

Good grief, two glasses of wine and I had passed out faster than free samples at Sam’s Club!

I awoke with a start – comically, like you see in the movies, practically sitting bolt upright from a dead sleep – when Nick (who had also nodded off) got up to use the bathroom, and it somehow registered inside that, Holy crap, I actually went to bed before midnight... and I accomplished NONE of what I needed to that night. Slightly panicked, I glanced at the clock – 1:30 a.m. (great balls of fire!, I’d been asleep for four hours?!) – as I realized that the dogs had not yet been let out for the night. In fact, if Nick and I both had dozed off (or, in my case, passed out cold), the dogs hadn’t been let out since… oh… 6 p.m. or so, and asking them to “hold it” until 9 a.m. was probably a bad idea.

It was then that it dawned on me that I was… damp...?… absolutely everywhere. Because, in my complete and utter exhaustion, I had gotten into bed wearing all of my clothes — including my thick socks, jeans, long-sleeved shirt, and a sweatshirt — and, after lying beneath the sheet, duvet, and comforter for four hours, I had basically sweated myself into oblivion. I managed to shake myself awake enough to remove my (damp) clothing, clean up a bit, and get into some pajamas, and then went downstairs to let the dogs out to do their business.

I did what I always do – open the sliding glass door in our playroom (which is otherwise closed all of the time) to let them romp straight into our backyard – and began to wake up slightly as the chilly night air snuck in. Joey came in almost immediately, as usual, and gobbled his treat as I tucked him into the kennel. Jambi returned shortly thereafter and wandered upstairs, but Langston… Sweet Jesus, y’all, that dog can pee. We are talking, I kid you not, three or four minutes straight and the stream still continues. It’s truly like nothing I’ve ever seen – where does he store all of this liquid? Is he a magician? A sorcerer? – and, quite frankly, sometimes I get bored and check back in with him later.

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Joey was all, Why the hell are you putting my in my kennel in the middle of the day? For a photograph?? Are you nuts? 

As Lang continued to pee… and pee… and pee... I remembered that the dishwasher needed to be run, so I went up to the kitchen and turned it on. While there, I was greeted by the many other things that I’d intended to do that night – tidying up the kitchen, going through the girls’ school folders, making juice for the morning – so I figured, hell, as long as I’m up, I might as well take care of this stuff, too!

Who knew that a four-hour nap can be so energizing?!

After about ten minutes, I heard Langston nosing around in the garage, so I let him in through the kitchen; he and Jambi went back upstairs to the bedroom to wait for me (and their treats). At last, my burst of energy faded, and – feeling satisfied that I’d finally checked off several To Dos – I settled into bed for good around 2:30 a.m. and slept straight through until the girls woke us at 8:30 the following morning.

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They don’t usually share a bed, but they’re cuter that way, no?

TEN, ladies and gentlemen. I got over TEN hours of sleep(!), which is almost double what I normally get, and, good grief, I felt like a new person. There was a spring in my step as I showered and got ready, then made my way downstairs around 9:00 to help the girls with breakfast.

Nick had already beat me down to let the dogs out, however, and was engaged in a lively… discussion… with Ella about some infraction that she, supposedly, had committed.

“Why would you have opened that door? You know you’re not supposed to use that door!”

“I didn’t open it, Daddy!”

“But it’s wide open! It’s freezing down here!”

“I didn’t open it, really. It must have been open when I came downstairs to play.”

“How on earth did it get open? Do you think Joey got out of his kennel and opened it?”

“No, that’s crazy. But I didn’t open it. I promise.”

“Well, if you didn’t open it, why didn’t you at least close it?”

“Because I didn’t know it was open.”

“You didn’t know it was open?? It’s ten degrees outside! This playroom is like ice! How did you think it got so cold down here?”

“I don’t know! I knew it was cold, but it’s always colder in the playroom because it’s near the basement, so I just thought it was regular cold.”

“IT’S TEN DEGREES OUTSIDE!! IT’S ABSOLUTELY FREEZING IN HERE!”

“I just thought it was normal!!”

And that is how I made a horrifying realization: my daughter’s sense of temperature is clearly warped.
And also… in my flurry of “accomplishments” the night before, while waiting for Langston to finish his epic pee, I had inadvertently left the sliding glass door open. All night. When it was ten degrees out.

Whoops.
On the bright side, at least no bugs got in!

I immediately ‘fessed up to my mistake, thereby clearing Ella of any wrongdoing (although, seriously, I don’t know why she didn’t think anything was amiss – it was cold!). I then apologized to Nick, both for leaving the door open (but I did take credit for extracting myself from our nice, warm OMG IT WAS SO WARM AND HOT AND WARM LIKE A DAMN SAUNA AND I NEARLY SWEATED TO DEATH bed in order to let the dogs out, thank you very much) and for drinking enough to knock myself out cold.
That finally got him chuckling.

“Uh, Em. You can’t be serious.”

What do you mean?

“You had two not-at-all-big glasses of wine last night. You drank them an hour apart AND you ate a full dinner and had dessert in between.”

Yes, and…

“And I know you’re the cheapest date in the world, but even you cannot get so drunk on one-and-a-half glasses of wine that you black out at 9 p.m.”

Well, it doesn’t really take a lot to…

“How do you feel this morning?”

What?

“How do you feel right now? Are you hung over?”

WHAT?! No. I’ve been hungover exactly once.* I feel just fine.

* true story. I’m sort of proud and sort of mortified by this at the same time.

“So, yeah. No. You did become even remotely drunk last night. You don’t need to apologize for passing out, are you crazy??”

But then how…?

“I believe it’s called tired. As in, you’ve been staying up SO DAMN LATE recently, your body absolutely couldn’t handle anymore. Sure, the wine may have mellowed things out a bit, but this wasn’t you drinking too much. This was you realizing, somewhere in the back of your mind, that you could let things slide for just one night, and your body finally giving out because you’re exhausted. Actually, I think it was one of the best things that could have happened to you.”

Oh. That might explain why I feel so good this morning after getting so much sleep.

“It might.”

And it might explain why I fell asleep in Annie’s bed. And why I fell asleep on your side of the bed with my clothes on. (GREAT SCOTT, THAT WAS DUMB.) And why I slept for FOREVER.

“Yeah.”

Which would also explain why I forgot to close the sliding glass door, which essentially lets me off the hook entirely…

“Not even remotely.”

Fair enough.

I’d like to say that, since my Friday night snoozefest, I’ve treated myself better and have gotten to sleep at a better hour each night. I’d like to, but that would be lying, so I won’t. I have made it to bed before 1:30 (several times), however, and I have proudly fallen asleep before 9:00 on more than one Friday night since then. DO I KNOW HOW TO HAVE A ROCKIN’ GOOD TIME ON A WEEKEND OR WHAT!

Maybe, someday, I’ll learn how to better balance all of this stuff and I’ll finally figure out how to get more sleep, but until then, at least I’m happy. Happy at my job, happy that the girls are happy, happy that my kids let us sleep in on Saturdays, happy that my husband knows I’m not a lush, happy for wine, and happy that no wild animals snuck into the house and made nests in the heating vents.

Silver lining, people. There’s always a silver lining.

 

It’s like living in my very own Stephen King novel

We all knew there would be an adjustment period when I began this long-term subbing job. It’s been forever since I had a regular, weekday position (the girls’ entire memory, in fact), so it was a pretty good bet that there would be some bumps in the road.

If I’m being totally honest, Ella and Annie aren’t too fond of me teaching. It’s not the end of the world, but they liked it better when I didn’t have to rush off each morning before they head to school, when I didn’t have to rush them in order for me to get off to work, and when I could be available to come into their classrooms more often. Still, they seem to appreciate how much this means to me – and, again, it’s not like their lives have been impacted all that much – so, overall, they’ve weathered the change really well. For his part, Nick has fallen into the swing of morning-dog-feeding and kids-off-to-school ushering and Math-Fact-Helper-ing quite nicely; or, at least, if he’s had a complaint, he’s been wise nice enough not to mention it to me.

For my part, I love my job. I mean… LOVE it. I love using my brain in ways that I haven’t for years. I love the material that I’m teaching. I love how supportive and funny and helpful my new colleagues have been. I love how involved and hardworking and genuinely kind my students have been (which, as anyone who’s ever taught middle school knows – or, hell, as anyone who’s ever survived middle school – knows, is not in any way a guarantee). I love watching my students’ faces light up as they successfully navigate a scale on the keyboards, or their fits of giggles as they rehearse a rhythm-versus-beat skit based on Harry Potter puppets, or their surprised appreciation as they hear how Holst’s The Planets actually sounds pretty damn rad. I. Love. It.

Admittedly, I am a little tired. Actually, I’m freakin’ exhausted. I mean, it wasn’t exactly like my life before subbing was un-full, where the time I now spend teaching and planning and grading and staff-meeting was spent getting manicures and sipping Starbucks, you know? No, even then, my schedule was pretty close to maximum capacity, and “squeezing in” twenty-five hours of teaching (and that doesn’t include lesson plans or grading or researching or any of the other gazillions of tasks that teaching requires) has meant that I am up very, very late accomplishing everything. So, yeah, I’m really damn tired.

But I’m really damn happy. And that makes it all so totally worthwhile.

There is, however, one member of our family who has not taken kindly to my new position, and that would be… Langston.

20140304-134037.jpgAre they still “puppy dog eyes” if he’s not technically a puppy anymore?

Yes, the Gooch, our big ol’ baby of a boy who, a year ago, lasted only eleven days at CCI’s Advanced Training before becoming so anxious, he – in the trainers’ words – “snapped,” bit a dog and a trainer (good times!), and was promptly returned to our eagerly waiting arms.

In short, he missed us so much, he couldn’t handle being away. Which might have been a clue that perhaps he wouldn’t appreciate my being gone every single weekday morning (and often well into the afternoon).

At first, we didn’t know what was up; all we knew was that I’d arrive home to discover an enormous mess in our kitchen (where Langston is gated when we’re not around). Chewed-through school papers, food stolen from the counter, cords gnarled to an indistinguishable mess. We tried giving him peanut butter-filled Kongs or additional toys to hold his attention, but each day I would come home and find myself gathering up tiny pieces of shredded something off of the floor. Do you think Annie’s teacher can give us another copy of her spelling list? How many jelly beans were left in that bag? Dude, were you trying to create confetti??

lang oops2This time, he tore through the plastic baggie holding our Box Tops (’cause you never know what tidbit of taco seasoning might have been be left behind) and also devoured an entire box of crayons. AN ENTIRE BOX OF CRAYONS. Let’s just say that, despite the abundance of snow, our backyard is not exclusively white anymore.

We were all, WTF, Langston? Why on earth are you suddenly behaving like a toddler throwing a tantrum?? And then, a few days later, it dawned on us: He was having a tantrum, because he is pissed as hell that I’m gone. He misses me, and instead of explaining this in a reasonable fashion – like, say, with a Hallmark card and putting old photos of us up on his Facebook wall – he decided to destroy the kitchen. How darling.

Although we (finally) understood his frustration (after all, I am pretty rockin’ – who wouldn’t miss me?), it was simply unacceptable for him to be going Mr. Destructo all the time. Short of stripping the kitchen of every single stray item, there was only one choice: to put him in the kennel with Jambi whenever we’re not home.

He was thrilled.

lang oops
“Are you sure this is necessary? Maybe if you were home more often, this wouldn’t be a problem, no?”

A couple of weeks ago, Nick and I had just settled into the living room couches after the girls had gone to bed, with Langston and Jambi following us and hanging around by the coffee table. Lang approached the spot where I was seated and sidled up ever-so-close, slyly slipping one paw onto the cushions. “What, me? Nope, that’s not my paw. I’m not trying to sneak up next to you… La la la…” I then invited him to join me, assuming that – as usual – he would hop up and seat himself at the foot of the couch while I curled up at the head… but no. He not only cuddled in next to me – he crawled right on top of me, laying his torso entirely across my lap.

Miss me much, Gooch?

Seeing that Lang was getting some good lovin’, Jambi wiggled herself over to us, hoping for some of the same, but – y’all – I could not reach her. Not because my arms aren’t long enough, but because Langston was physically body blocking her so she couldn’t get close to me. Every time she attempted to reposition herself so I could pat her head, Lang shifted himself and shoulder-checked her out of the way.

Despite ourselves, Nick and I couldn’t help but laugh, because his intentions could not have been more clear. “Back up, bitch. She is MINE.” Aw, my number one fan. It’s like living with Kathy Bates.

I have six weeks left to go in this long-term gig. When it’s over, I am definitely going to miss it (although I will certainly appreciate the opportunity to get more than 5.5 hours of sleep a night).

Langston, on the other hand, will not complain.
But you can bet I’ll be keeping extra close track of my painkillers until then.

lang oops3

One more for the road

Nick and I moved to Denver in 1997, just after graduating from college. Colorado is a great place, and we eagerly participated in all of the standard Coloradan practices: hiking fourteeners, following the Broncos’ every move (including whatever John Elway’s son was up to in Pop Warner football), consuming burritos with copious amounts of green chili, enduring – even celebrating – the uniquely Denver-ian weather (one April day, we took in a Rockies game where it first snowed and then became so hot, we had to change into shorts), scoffing at the Trust Fund hippies in Boulder who wore dreadlocks and Abercrombie backpacks, sagely warning visitors against the very real effects of altitude sickness (while being proudly cocky that we’d become so acclimated to Denver life, we no longer became ill when we’d return from an out-of-state visit), consuming too many three-shot margaritas at Rio Grande, taking off into the mountains to ski or camp in the Rocky Mountain National Forest, chortling at the (then-relatively-new) Denver International Airport with its odd, white, nipple-peaked design, eschewing a map so long as you could see the mountains (WEST, people!), and finally — after 3.5 years — adopting a dog.

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Very spiffy in her new bandana.

She was a not-quite-one-year-old Beagle/Lab mix and – knowing we were going to move back east that spring, but wanting to take a bit of Denver with us — we named her Madison, after Madison Street (on which we lived). She had been mistreated prior to our adopting her (the vet said that she was so dehydrated, it was only due to sheer will power that she was still standing), but she had the sweetest demeanor imaginable. We instantly fell in love.

Maddy became our constant companion, accompanying us to pet-friendly restaurants, friends’ parties (where she’d join the pack of dogs already there), and on road trips. Because we didn’t know when we’d next be back in Colorado, we decided to tour the area before leaving, from Breckenridge to Mesa Verde to Wyoming and back.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

Maddy-bug was an excellent traveler – quiet and patient, but eager to explore. Despite her smallish build, she was tireless going up and down Colorado’s many peaks.

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Earning her ‘Mountain Girl’ nickname.

When it was time to drive back to New York, we meticulously researched dog-friendly hotels (which, in pre-Google 2001, was a form of internationally recognized torture: you actually had to call places and ask. The horror). And so, armed with our handy dandy AAA Trip Tiks (holla!), we began the trek across the country, with Madison taking her place in the footwell on the passenger side (the rest of the car was entirely full of our stuff — all of our most important belongings, especially the box with the wedding paraphernalia for our upcoming nuptials, the ones we didn’t want to send in the U-Haul because we wanted to keep them safe with us).

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Posing by one of the most awesome mistakes ever. 

We first drove through Kansas, where we narrowly avoided being hit by a tornado (no joke). In Missouri, while Maddy lounged in our hotels, Nick and I ate amazing Kansas City barbecue and saw Mark McGuire hit a home run in Busch Stadium in St. Louis. We then moseyed into Tennessee, planning to stop first in Memphis and then make our way over to Nashville.

The two days we spent in Memphis were fantastic. We reveled at the bizarrely American experience of somberly visiting the National Civil Rights Museum (and feeling awe, sadness, and gratitude as we stood in the hotel room where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated) one day and then frolicking on over to Graceland and taking in the shag carpeting and Elvis’s many sequined jumpsuits. We ate more delicious barbecue and took in some excellent street music before collapsing in our hotel that final night, ready to head over to Nashville in the morning.

And that’s when we got the call.

When the hotel phone rings at 6:00 a.m. and you didn’t schedule a wake-up call, you can pretty much assume they’re not calling to offer free breakfast in bed. The desk clerk informed us that there had been several auto break-ins the night before, and that our car had been one of the unlucky ones. The good news was, although the other cars had had their windows smashed and had been obviously ransacked, our car was intact and it looked as though all was okay — but perhaps we should come take a look, anyway.

We roused ourselves as best we could and, knowing that Madison hadn’t done her business that morning, took her with us as we headed down to the parking lot. At first, all seemed well; the car looked unharmed. The moment we opened the doors, however, we realized that the thieves had not skipped our car – they’d simply been able to get in without breaking any windows by playing with the code on the keypad and unlocking the doors.

Since we were only staying for two nights in the hotel, we’d taken the bare minimum with us; everything else was still in the car. Clothing was everywhere – they’d gone through our suitcases and discarded whatever they didn’t want, casting things off and scattering them around like drunken sorority sisters – making it seem as though very little was missing.
Um. Not so.

By now, it was closer to 7:00, and the sun was already high in the early summer sky. Several police officers were on the scene to document the damage and were asking us questions to determine just what was missing. The cop who was assigned to us was probably a very nice guy… except that I don’t really know, because we could hardly understand him. Not only did he have a very thick Southern accent, he also had a bit of a speech impediment, thereby making it even more difficult to understand what he was saying. (Not that we were contributing much ourselves — being roused at 6 a.m. in a strange city, being on the road for a week already, and, you know, having all of our stuff stolen, we weren’t really at our best.) Communication was… difficult.

We began trying to rattle off the stolen items, but it was a bit like Who’s On First because everything had to be repeated, except without the cute Twitter #hashtags.

#Canyoutellmeexactlywhat’smissinghere,ma’am?
Pardon me?
What. Is. Missing?
Well, they took our CDs.
#Theytookyourseeds?
No. Our SEE-DEEs.
#HowmanyCDsdidyouhave?
I’m sorry, could you repeat that?
I said, How. Many. CDs. Did. You. Have.
I don’t know.
Third base!

Still, we pressed on, listing item after item… clothing, CDs (our entire collection – nearly 2,000 discs), original documents (birth certificates, social security cards), Nick’s early adoption photos, our wedding rings, the entire wedding box filled with every contract or magazine clipping I’d put together so far, my wallet, Nick’s travel guitar… All of the MOST IMPORTANT ITEMS that we “couldn’t risk” leaving in the U-Haul. 

We’d rattle off yet another missing item, the cop would try to confirm what we’d just told him, we’d ask him to repeat himself because we didn’t understand what he’d just said, he’d repeat himself more slowly, we’d repeat ourselves, and then finally he’d write it down. Listing each stolen item, I became more and more distraught — stealing our clearly amazing wardrobe I could kind of understand, but why on earth would anyone want the handwritten “We’ll Miss You” notes my students had given me, or the freakin’ Graceland souvenirs that could be purchased just down the block?? And then we discovered the missing item that put me over the edge: the bag of bags.

Knowing we’d have to pick up after Madison on our journey, we’d arduously collected plastic bags for months, stuffing dozens of them into another grocery bag so we could keep them all together. And they’d taken them. They’d taken the bag of bags. Now, not only were our wedding rings and my driver’s license in someone else’s possession, we couldn’t even pick up Madison’s poop because some hoodlum jerks had stolen THE BAG OF BAGS.

It was the discovery of the missing bags that prompted us to remember that Madison was there. Up until now, through our wailing and teeth-gnashing and Who’s on First wrangling, she’d been completely silent, so we kind of forgot about her. By the time we snapped out of our fog of disbelief, the Memphis sun had been blazing down — on a bare hotel parking lot — for a good hour, making the pavement feel like lava. Or, at least, I imagine that it felt like lava, because of how poor Madison was behaving.

She had clearly figured out that the white parking line was cooler than the blistering pavement, and had carefully positioned her paws one in front of the other — all four in a row — so that they were on that white line. But the heat must still have been getting to her, because she was lifting up one paw at a time (which was the most she could do; two would cause her to topple over) to give herself some relief. Another time, this might have been adorable — aww, look, it’s like some kind of puppy ballet! — but when we realized that we were effectively burning her feet off, we quickly took her back indoors. Thank God she didn’t have to poop, because, you know… NO BAGS.

(You’ll notice the lack of photographic evidence of our cross-country excursion; naturally, our camera was stolen too, and cell-phone cameras were, like, not invented yet.)

Eventually, we settled things with the cop, reorganized what was left of our belongings, and took off east again, very grateful that the car itself hadn’t been harmed, but grumpily flipping through radio stations because all of our music was gone. A week later (after stops in Atlanta and Charleston), we reached our final destination in New York. And Madison was still at our side, feet soothed, additional plastic bags procured.

And so it has been for the past 12 years — off on adventures, our Buggo at our side. We’ve taken her with us to 25 states, acquired two other pet dogs, two daughters, have raised three service dogs, and have lived in three homes since then, but the adventure has continued. Until today.

Today, we said goodbye to our Madison. To our constant companion, our long-ago Therapy Dog. To our Golden Girl, who endured the Memphis heat, puppies nipping at her ears to get her to play, children climbing on her, and countless other indignities — all patiently (albeit sometimes grudgingly – that dog forgot nothing and let you know it) and without complaint (well, except when we brought the kids home from the hospital; Maddy never forgave us for that). There was something about her incredible personality that made everyone who encountered her feel better, loved, calmer. She never tired of being petted or cuddled, but somehow you were the one who benefited from it; friend after friend visited us and would invite Madison to sleep with them. More than one guest threatened to pack her in their suitcase and spirit her away with them.
She was, very simply, the best.

Thanks for twelve-plus amazing years, darling Mads. You are the very sweetest, most endearing dog imaginable, and you’ll always be our first baby. May your days from here on out be filled with mountain smells, delicious treats, ducks to chase, and endless windows to look out of and watch the world go by. We adore you, and will, forever.

madosh
Godspeed on your new adventures, Maddy. xoxo