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.

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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.)

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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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This Part Sucks

Today, we returned our third CCI puppy for Advanced Training. After seventeen months with us, we’ve given her back with the tremendous hope that she eventually graduates and changes someone’s life. We know that what we’re doing is good and worthy and helpful and all that jazz… but right now? It hurts a helluva lot.

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Jambi in her hilariously adorable matriculation cape – see the yellow tassels?

Everywhere we go with our CCI pups, someone we meet says the same thing: “I could never do that because I could never give a dog away.” Everywhere we go, someone asks the same question: “Isn’t it hard to give the dogs back?”

The answer is yes. Yes, it is hard. It’s enormously hard. You grow more than a little attached to a dog that has been a part of your family for almost a year and a half, a puppy you got at 8 weeks old, a pal and sidekick who went absolutely everyplace with you. It isn’t quite the same as when a pet dies, but yes – saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy.

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One last hug before she was on her way…

Today at matriculation/graduation, I noticed that another puppy raiser was wearing a homemade pin/button made out of Scrabble tiles. It read: This Part Sucks. I teared up and laughed at the same time, turning to her with an emphatic, “Damn straight”

So, therefore, we come to the other question that someone asks us everywhere we bring our dogs: “How can you do this?” That answer to that is easy.

We do this because of the little girl today – eight years old, maybe – who received her dog at graduation. When the Lab who would change her life walked across the stage to greet her, the girl’s face lit up brightly enough to be seen in the very back row, and she threw her arms in the air with ecstatic jubilation.

We do this because of the woman today – in her sixties, maybe – who received her dog, the one that will help her now that she’s had a stroke. But before this? The woman raised FIFTEEN puppies for CCI. Now, she has finally received her own assistance dog. Funny, how the world turns, isn’t it?

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Poor, long-suffering Jambi…

We do this because of the man today – in his forties, maybe – who proudly walked across the stage to greet his dog using his cane instead of his wheelchair. His wife said that even though he and his dog had only been together for a few days, already her husband was more confident, more secure, stronger.

We do this because of the parents today who said that their hope – now that their children had assistance dogs – was that people would approach their previously isolated sons and daughters more readily and they could make new friends. We do this because of the dog who will be working in a crisis shelter, providing comfort and much-needed joy to victims of domestic violence.

We do this because we get to have an adorable bundle of puppyness live with us for over a year. We get to snuggle with this bundle, receive kisses from this bundle, and scratch this bundle behind its ridiculously soft ears. We get to bring this bundle with us absolutely everywhere – to restaurants, on airplanes, to movies, to the grocery store, to the girls’ classrooms – and spread the word about what an incredible organization s/he’s training for.

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Chillin’ with her best bud, Langston, and our other dog, Joey, the night before we left.

We do this because we get to bone up on our obedience training skills. With each dog, we learn more about how to be good dog owners and caretakers and – we hope – to become better each time around. We do this because we get to work with all sorts of teachers and dog sitters, and to introduce them to the world of service dog training.

We do this because we want Ella and Annie to grow up learning what it means to be responsible for raising a pet – feeding, walking, training, keeping healthy. They get to experience the unconditional love that only a dog can give. We do this because they get to learn how to give back to others, even when it’s difficult. We do this so that they can understand that the world is bigger than what they see around them and that they are so very fortunate to have the lives that we live. We do this to show them how important it is to help those in need. We do this to show them that this is what life’s really all about.

We do this because it makes us feel incredibly good. No matter how our days have gone, no matter what mistakes we’ve made, no matter what we haven’t yet accomplished, at the end of the day when we’re raising a service dog puppy, we can know that at least we have done something right. Some good has come out of each and every day that our pups are with us, because there is the chance that these little furballs will change someone’s life for the better, forever.

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Proudly wearing their Jambi the Zombie t-shirts immediately before turn-in.

We do this because, when all is said and done, that’s really why we’re on this planet in the first place: to love, to laugh, to learn, to find joy, to spread joy, and to help out whenever we can. Sometimes, doing so is easy. Other times, helping those in need is really, really hard. Giving back a dog that we’ve grown to love is miserable – but that doesn’t make it not worth doing. On the contrary, sometimes, the more difficult something is, the greater the return.

Jambi (which rhymes with zombie; this is important) was an absolute delight to raise. She was playful, gentle, loving, and unusually calm. She had patience beyond her years, a wonderfully sweet disposition, and was unflappable even when faced with the loudest, craziest situations (often involving our own children). She was so overjoyed to see us after we returned from being away – even if only for an hour – that her entire body wriggled with elation; we called her Wiggle Butt. She also earned the nickname of Miss Piggy because she had a habit of snuffling like a pig whenever something interested her. Jambi had the best cold, wet nose of any dog I’ve ever met. I really miss that cold, wet nose tonight.

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My constant companion for seventeen months…

We have no idea how she’ll do in Advanced Training (which is typically six months long); most pups do not make it all the way through to become service dogs because they need to be perfect, and perfection is a difficult standard for any of us to attain (even me). Jambi is pretty damn near perfect, but you just never know. For now, we’ll cross our fingers and hope like crazy – that she isn’t lonely or homesick, that she makes fast friends with her new kennel-mates, that her trainers adore her as much as we do, that we’ll get another puppy to raise soon, that Langston isn’t too depressed over her departure (this is a real fear for us – no, seriously), and that the rest of our hearts heal soon so that we can focus again on why we do this in the first place.

(Hint: it isn’t the abundance of dog fur all over our house.)

Most of all, we’re crossing our fingers and hoping like crazy that she makes it – that she’s just the right material to be a service dog and that she’s able to change someone’s life forever.

Well, someone else’s life, that is. She’s already changed ours.

We love you, Beast! Go on and wiggle your way into someone’s heart – and also learn to turn on lights and pick things up from the ground, too, while you’re at it. You were the very best; thank you so much for being our girl and for teaching us all that you did.
xoxo

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Note: We are always looking for people who would like to become CCI puppy raisers, especially in the Rochester area (we’re the only ones! Come on now!!). I know, I know… you think you can’t do it. You could never give up a dog. I’m here to tell you that, yeah. This part sucks. It really, really sucks. But when you see that graduate cross the stage with the dog that is finally allowing her to feel human, to be confident, to be independent… You know you could give up a dozen more pups to help other people lead happier, more fulfilling lives. This is the good stuff – why we’re here on this planet in the first place – I promise you. Won’t you consider it?

Way down south in Dixie

We really did have a delightful time while we were away in Kiawah. Last year, our April break had been quite early, so the ocean wasn’t swimmable yet and, despite being rather far south, the coastal air was even a bit too chilly to do much pool swimming. Hence, high on the girls’ list this year was being able to get thoroughly wet.

Mission: accomplished.

Our first afternoon was gorgeous; not too hot, not a cloud in the sky, and an ocean at our fingertips. Er, toes.
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Thank you, iPhone panorama.

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Ahhhh, late-afternoon sun…

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This fellow was still alive. Nick returned him to his home, accordingly.
And Ella, with her video camera, taking it all in? Fantastic.

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I still can’t stop with the ocean-from-behind shots. They’re my kryptonite.

The following morning proved equally delicious. We spent pretty much the entire day at the beach and the pool.
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The tide was suuuuuuper far out, leaving us with an enormous stretch of beach upon which to play.

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If you click on the photos, you can see them bigger… That’s a bit more fun, just sayin’.

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My girl was so ready to take on that ocean.

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Yes, this means I waded out while still holding my good camera, just to catch her glee as she skipped over the incoming wave.

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It was worth it.

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Getting ready to bodysurf, something they learned how to do during this trip…

Not pictured: me, bodysurfing for the first time. To hear Annie tell it, “Mommy bodysurfed for the very first time ever – and she had the LONGEST RIDE OF THE DAY! It was a least FIFTY feet!!” I’m not one to brag, but I’m also not one to lie… It’s true. I rocked it.

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Jambi wasn’t so impressed with the Atlantic – she’s the weirdo Lab who doesn’t like water – but she gamely tagged along for the ride anyway. Not that she had a choice.

Alas, we couldn’t spend all of our time at the shore – partly because we needed to do things like eat, partly because there are other things we love to do when we’re in Kiawah, and partly because the weather took a turn for the cold. Still, we found plenty with which to occupy ourselves.

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Miss Annabelle awaits her entrée.
I love how her fork is turned the wrong way.

 If there’s a flat surface, we’ll bike on it.
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Go, Papa, go!
Because of the basket, I totally hear the Wicked Witch of the West music right now.

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Don’t worry – she wore a helmet. We just took a 20 foot spin because I asked Nick to take a pic of us on the tandem bike.
Check out her camera-ready grin.

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I was taking pictures of the rest of the family arriving on their bikes, so 
I told Jambi to sit.
She did.

We’ve been talking about visiting a local plantation for years, but wanted to wait until the girls were old enough to appreciate it at least a little. A couple of weeks prior to our trip, Ella serendipitously brought home a book titled Show Way, a marvelously-voiced story that segued nicely into talking about plantations (“The characters in the book are even from South Carolina, mom!”). Coincidentally, the cooler weather provided the perfect opportunity to make a day trip, and it was just as we’d hoped. To quote the girls, “Who knew a plantation could be so interesting?”

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I guess I really do have a thing about shots from behind…
Grand Meg and Nick did enjoy the gardens at Magnolia Plantation, though. We all did, actually.

Plantations aside, we also just hung out… a lot. It was good.

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Annie attempted to pass off Uncle Taylor’s hat as her own.

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He got it back before he left.
For what it’s worth, this is our first sibling shot in quite some time. Holla!

Sure, we go to Kiawah for the weather. And the beaches. And the pools. And the spanish moss-lined trees hovering, canopy-like, over the one-lane road out to the island, just waiting to grow stealthily and wrap us all up in Southern hospitality. We go for the humidity in the air, enveloping us in velvety warmth. And the fresh fish and sweet tea, brimming with enough sugar to make the tooth fairy weep. And the ever-present sound of the ocean, rushing in and filling the world with a pleasantly rumbling echo.

This was taken off of our balcony on the night of the blood moon.

So, this may seem like the world’s least-exciting video… but that’s kind of what I love about it. The white-noise-rumble of the ocean in the background, the wind through the trees. It’s unexciting, sure… but it’s also peaceful and calming and relaxing and basically heaven.

Yes, we go to Kiawah for all of those things. But most of all? We go to be with family. To be with my dad and stepmom. To spend time with my brother and his boyfriend, Gary. And, best of all, to give Ella and Annie the opportunity to enjoy their Papa and Grand Meg, their Uncle Taylor and Gary.

It’s one thing to think your own kids are awesome (when they’re not driving you to drink fuzzy navels while you prepare dinner. Not that I would know). It’s another to see your friends and relatives enjoy them. But it’s a special kind of deliciousness to behold your dad and stepmom and brother and his partner (and also my fantastic cousin, Laurie, and her husband, Keith – who live in Charleston – although I don’t have any pictures of them this time around) just absolutely adore not only spending time with your children, but genuinely liking them as human beings.

I know that they like hanging out with Nick and me (to a certain degree, anyway), sure. But they cannot wait to be with Annie and Ella, to play games with them, to be silly with them, to get down on the floor and pretend with them, to ride bikes with them, to feed them treats that would otherwise be forbidden, to joke with them, to read with them, to listen to them, to laugh with them. They allow the girls to crawl into bed with them at ungodly early hours in the morning, to steal their sunglasses and shoes and pose with them, to ruffle their hair and call them goofy names. They cheerfully tolerate them putting on countless dance shows and singing exhibitions, asking the same questions for the thousandth time, and never giving them a moment’s peace.

Watching my family love my children for exactly who they are is… well… incredible.
And that is why we come to Kiawah.

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Gary’s GoPro captured Ella with him underwater… along with Ella’s underwater camera, filming them both. A two-fer!

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I just love these two photos – one taken by me, poolside…
… and the other taken by Gary from within the pool.

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You totally know that I’ve asked for a GoPro for Mother’s Day.

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Okay, so – truth be told – the weather at the end of the trip made things a little tough. You hate to complain about the weather on your vacation (I mean, it’s a vacation, after all, and it’s damn lucky you’re even on one), but when you go someplace so that you can swim – or at least enjoy being warm – and it winds up being much too cold or rainy to be outside, it’s a wee bit crummy. Next year, our spring break is monstrously early again (thanks ever so much, Easter), and we may try to head a way down south in Dixie a little later in April (even if it means pulling the girls from school for a few days; shhhh…) so that we’re more likely to encounter warm weather.

No matter what, though, these folks’ll be there.
And that’s the bestest part of all.

Especially if we throw some in sweet tea, too.
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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.

 

Throwback Thursday: Adorable Puppy! YOU KNOW YOU WANT ONE.

Exactly one year ago today, we welcomed our newest CCI puppy, Jambi, into our lives.

3.06 jambi arrives!
FYI – her name rhymes with ZOMBIE, not Bambi. This is important, folks, because rhymes-with-“Bambi” in a western New York accent is not a pretty sound.

It was love at first sight for Ella and Annie.

3.06 jambi arrives!2
Awaiting them when they got home from school…

And Langston, who’d returned to us from Advanced Training only a week earlier? Well, he needed no convincing to allow her into his life (and his bed. *ahem*).

jambi arrives16

jambi arrives19
jambi arrives25

 

Everyone always asks us how we do it (once they get over the adorableness and coolness of seeing a real live dog out and about in the library or at Target). How do we love these dogs as though they’re our own, and then give them away? My answer is simple: We are amazing, selfless, and basically role models for everyone around us. Duh.

After I’ve explained that, I go on to tell people that, once we saw what these dogs could do – once we saw how they could help people, how they can change lives, how they can give kids and adults alike hope and courage and freedom that they never dreamed possible – we couldn’t not do it. Does it suck, giving the dogs up after they’ve been part of our family for a year-and-a-half? Yes. It does. It hurts like hell. But that hurt is absolutely nothing compared with the joy that these dogs can potentially bring to others. On one of those scale-thingies (I suck at The Math, so just use your imagination), it’s not even close to being equal.

Of course, it’s not all sacrifice. Not by a long shot. Aside from having a cuddly, delicious, soft, apple-eating puppy in our lives, we also get to experience what it feels like to help someone else – and, I’m not gonna lie, that feeling is so incredible, it actually makes me feel almost selfish raising these dogs. I get to have a puppy AND feel this stupendous? This can hardly be legal.

When we got our first CCI puppy almost five years ago, my cousin – whose mom, my Aunt Lisa, has raised CCI puppies for years – commented to me that doing so was one of the best gifts we could ever give Ella and Annie, because raising CCI dogs changed her life. (She’s now an Advanced Trainer out in California, so I guess she knows what she’s talking about.) That wasn’t what we set out to do when we started down this path, but if that’s what winds up happening, then go us! Unintentionally instilling values, FTW!

We are currently the only family in Western New York who is raising puppies for CCI, and while that’s a somewhat neat distinction, I’d like to change it. My new goal is to convince at least one other local family to become puppy raisers before we turn Jambi back to CCI in August.

It’s worth it, I promise.

jambi arrives14

 Come on… You know you want to…

Thin Ice

So many people have kindly been asking how I’m doing.

And I always answer the same way: I’m okay. Some days are better than others. Thanks for asking.
But that’s only part of the (long) story.

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Previously, on Homeland (except I don’t mean Homeland, I mean in our lives, but in my head I hear Mandy Patinkin’s voice saying it. Anyhoo. Carry on)…

About a year ago, Ella broke her left foot, quite badly. She wasn’t doing anything crazy – just happened to fall off of her scooter exactly wrong – but every single one of the myriad doctors, nurses, and technicians who looked at her x-rays would literally gasp at the severity of the break, usually expressing how shocked they were that she wasn’t screaming bloody murder (always a comforting statement). She had a temporary cast put on, but we were told we’d need to revisit soon thereafter so another pediatric orthopedic surgeon could examine her foot and give his opinion.

When he took a look – again with the x-rays, and also just, you know, looking at her foot – he told us we had a decision to make: he could cast it again now and, because the foot itself didn’t look crooked (always a good sign), keep our fingers crossed that the bones would fuse together and heal properly – as children’s bones usually do – and that would be the end of it. But… if they didn’t fuse together and heal properly… if, because of the severity of the break, they healed poorly and all wonky… she’d need surgery in about a year — big, invasive, painful surgery with a nice, long recovery time. So, that was option one: cast it and hope for the best (the most likely outcome) – but recognizing that if things didn’t go well, we’d be headed down a rough road in a year or so.

Option two was to simply do surgery right then, which would probably guarantee that her foot would mend correctly. The surgery would be less intense than the one she could possibly need in a year, but would still be, you know, surgery — which would mean putting her under, plus a much longer recovery period than just putting her foot in a cast and allowing it to heal on its own. Since that was the most likely outcome anyway, this pre-emptive surgery was just an exceedingly overcautious measure… but it would be easier on her than the potential fix-it-up surgery.

Both options sucked. What on earth should we do? Make Ella go through surgery just in case? Or take things more slowly, assuming her foot would heal as it should – requiring only a few weeks in a cast – but potentially screwing her over even more in the future? THANKS SO MUCH, PARENTHOOD. THIS IS FUN.

Nick and I were unprepared to have the doctor lay it out like that, to put the decision to us. We choked. We sputtered. We were totally lost. And so, while the doctor went to gather his technicians to remove Ella’s temporary cast, I left the room, too… and called Bill. He wasn’t a doctor, but he’d had a lifetime’s worth of experience in the medical field. Surely he could help us through. (He did.)

10.23 in school

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It’s been been nearly seven years since I was in my own classroom, and man, have I missed it. I love, love, love being home with my daughters (when they’re not maiming one another or painting the bathroom walls with nail polish or wearing my lingerie as dress-up clothes during a playdate; TRUE STORY), but I miss teaching. I miss the students. I miss having my own classrooms and the cheesy teacher posters (“Shoot for the moon! If you miss, at least you’ll land among the stars!” “CAN’T is a four letter word!” “YOU DON’T SCARE ME – I TEACH!”) and even telling the kids that if they use the xylophone mallets one more time before I say go, they’re to hand them over for the rest of the class.

I’d so hoped to be back in the classroom full-time this year, what with Annie in first grade all day, but it just didn’t happen. (Although, with all that’s been going on this fall, can you even fathom if I’d been teaching all day, every day?? Oh, Universe/Karma/Fate, you foxy vixen. I’ll say it: uncle! You knew. Well played.) And then came the chance to sub, and it has been SO GOOD! Back in school again! With kids again! Arriving in the classroom to discover that the teacher didn’t realize that a qualified music sub would be in, and has left a movie, instead; oh hellz no! We will be doing recorders and yes, I CAN teach them to sing that canon in a round, thank you very much! SO VERY GOOD. Once or twice a week, I’m in that classroom, and a little bit of magic happens. LOOK AT ME, I AM SO HAPPY!!

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As school started this fall, Ella needed new shoes and we bought sneakers without incident, but when it came time to buy flats, she could find none – none! – that fit. I took her to (I am not kidding, and yes I actually counted) ELEVEN stores, from WalMart to Nordstrom, and she tried on every single damn pair of flats available, and NONE OF THEM WORKED. At first, I assumed she was just being exceedingly fussy and picky (I believe I may have actually muttered to her something along the lines of, “Sometimes, shoes don’t FEEL GOOD, but you just WEAR THEM ANYWAY!” because that’s always an awesome strategy), but finally, many tears later (both hers and mine; she’s eight, so she has an excuse; I’m just a crier), it dawned on me: her once-broken left foot was wider and shorter than her right. So, in fact, she wasn’t being fussy or picky; truly NOTHING fit.

Patted myself on the back for quite a nice long time after that one, I did. AWESOME JOB, MAMA.

Long story short, I finally tracked down some wide, impossible-to-find shoes that cost as much as the ones I wore for my wedding, and they fit and she was thrilled and the angels sang and chocolate poured forth from the heavens. But the shoe fiasco reminded me that it was nearly a year since Ella had broken her foot, so I’d better schedule her follow-up appointment with the surgeon, especially because they fill up so far in advance, I knew I’d have to book something immediately if I wanted to get her in anywhere near the twelve month mark.

Naturally, they’re not open on weekends, and afternoons are dicey because of piano lessons and Annie, so I chose a weekday appointment, smack dab in the middle of the day so that Ella would miss lunch and recess but as little actual instructional time as possible. Because of TESTING and COMMON CORE and ELA and MATH PROBLEMS THAT I CANNOT DECIPHER BECAUSE THEY SAY THINGS LIKE, “USING AN ARRAY, EXPLAIN WHY EQUAL GROUPS HELPED MIGUEL FIND OUT HOW MANY APPLES TO BRING TO THE MORTUARY.” Third grade is not what it used to be.

Anyway, I made the appointment and, knowing that this office tends to run at least an hour, if not two hours — TWO HOURS — behind, I was in constant communication with the surgeon’s receptionist, the school’s secretary, and Ella’s teacher, keeping the appointment time in flux so that she’d be there to learn how to help darling Miguel with the apples. PRIORITIES, PEOPLE.

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OH! Subbing is SUCH A JOY! Sorry for the excessive caps lock, but it is. I LOVE IT!! Have I mentioned that? No, really. I do.

But, sheesh, the scheduling. If I teach first thing in the morning, Nick needs to get the girls off to school. If I teach at a school that ends after my own kids’ classes end, I need to find someone to watch them until I can get home. All doable, but still… scheduling. If I teach on a day when I have piano lessons starting at 3:00, I need to either only teach a half-day or cancel my first piano lesson. Add to that mix Nick being out of town on a relatively frequent basis, and it’s been a hell of a thing keeping it all straight and figuring out when I am available. There have been days when I’ve received an email — not a first-thing-in-the morning, OH MY GOD WHO DIED? phone call, but just a friendly email — asking if I can sub… and I look at it, and everything in my brain gets a little wavy, like that time I was on Vicodin for knee surgery and Nick and I went to a hockey game and I asked him to get me “a drink” – you know, like a soda – and he assumed I mean an alcoholic drink and I didn’t have anything else to imbibe, so I drank that, and the booze mixed with the narcotics and suddenly I was watching the action on the ice, the teammates sliding prettily back and forth, saying to him, “Wow – the players down there look like a school of fish!”

So sometimes, my brain gets school-of-fish-y just looking at the subbing emails, and suddenly everything is so overwhelming, I can’t even beGIN to think what my schedule is next week, and I just burst into tears. Right there, in the kitchen, and the dogs are all, Was it something we did? We already apologized for eating the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (also: true story. Except they didn’t apologize). Crying. In the kitchen. Because I just can’t think straight, not even about something I adore.

————————–

The office told me they were running about 30 minutes behind, so I called the school secretary to let her know, then tended to some things around the house and let the dogs out one last time. I called them in and Langston came running immediately, but Jambi did not. Wondering if perhaps she had found another apple from the tree and was ignoring me, I set out to bring her in, but no, she wasn’t by the apple tree. Nor by the playhouse. Nor the garden. Nor, well, anywhere. Both gates were locked, so I knew she hadn’t gotten out of the yard that way, and although Joey (our jackass other dog) can both go under and climb over the chain link fence, Jambi has never indicated that she can, so I was dumbfounded. Where could she be??

I called her, over and over. I walked the perimeter of the fence to look for holes where she might have escaped. NOTHING. She was nowhere to be found. And I had to leave in three minutes to take Ella to her appointment, the one that had taken two months to properly schedule, the one where they’d tell us if all had gone well or if she’d need major surgery. But I couldn’t leave, because I couldn’t find Jambi.

See, it’s not like your own pet just running off, where maybe you could be all, She knows where she’s fed, I’m sure it’s fine! and go about your business. Because Jambi isn’t ours. I mean, she is for the next ten months, but technically she belongs to CCI; she’s just living with us. There was no way in hell I could just allow our 10 month-old service dog-in-training, who had never so much as wandered (alone) ten feet beyond our property line, to just go on an adventure through the neighborhood and assume she’d come back safely. Have fun! Smell some hydrants for me! Catch ya later! No, I had to find her — I HAD TO FIND HER RIGHT THEN — and if I couldn’t, I had to keep looking until I did.

Nick, as is always the case when something unexpectedly calamitous happens, was out of town, and although he was empathetic when I called him in hysterics, trying to calm me down and helping me to see that Jambi had to the the priority here — Ella’s appointment could, technically, be rescheduled, but Jambi needed to be found — it wasn’t long before he had to say, “My flight’s about to board — good luck!” and I was on my own. No one else could take Ella to her appointment, and I couldn’t really ask neighbors to track down Jambi; I needed to find her myself, to make sure she was okay. Minutes ticking by, Ella’s appointment slipping ever further away, I got in the car and set off around the neighborhood, screaming Jambi’s name out of the windows.

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Pinterest is a dangerous place. I don’t just pin madly; if I see stuff that I have no interest in (scrapbooking and making anything that involves a sewing machine, I’m looking at you), rather than be intimidated or self-deprecatory or vindictive or spiteful, I just move on. To each their own.

But when I find stuff that DOES grab me, hoo boy. It is ON. Hermey (our Elf on the Shelf) is going to have some mighty fine adventures this year, let me tell you, and the entire family agrees that that recipe for crockpot cilantro chicken kicked some serious boo-tay.

Such was the case when I found the pumpkins. After all these years of just carving, WHO KNEW?? There was an entire WORLD of pumpkin decorating out there, just waiting for me to bring it into my dining room. Yes, the girls oohed and ahhed over what they saw on my Pinterest page, but who are we kidding? I was the one with pumpkin-decorating fever. It took no prodding at all for me to “convince” them to go to Michael’s at 5 p.m. on a Sunday, nor did I have any trouble filling the cart with the necessary accoutrements. I CAN USE BOTH MOD PODGE AND A GLUE GUN FOR THIS DESIGN? There is a God.

The dining room was filled to the brim with pumpkins for a solid ten days, and they were GOOD days! Happy days! Each time I saw them, they made me smile, big, shit-eating, jack-o-lantern smiles. WE ARE SO HALLOWEEN-Y AND CRAFTY AND LIFE IS JUST HUMMING ALONG RIGHT NOW!!! Once soccer ended, we wound up with a free Tuesday  afternoon (a free day! OMG!), and the girls and I spent THREE STRAIGHT HOURS decorating pumpkins. I could physically feel myself relaxing with the application of each sequin. Ooooh, pumpkins. I love you so!

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I drove around looking frantically for Jambi for forty-five straight minutes, until my voice was hoarse from the screaming and my eyes stung from the crying. She was nowhere. Before I could stop them, the litany of possible horror stories invaded my thinking… She’d gotten hit by a car. Someone had come by and taken her. Her collar had fallen off and no one would know who she was and we’d never get her back. We’d never get her back. What would I tell CCI? How could I ever explain? We’d never have another CCI pup again. This was it. Our darling puppy was missing.

Ella’s appointment time had long come and gone, and after leaving a watery message for the surgeon’s receptionist saying we hoped maybe we’d still get a chance to be seen, I’d told the school secretary to just send Ella off to lunch, realizing that I sounded every bit as frazzled and maniacal as I felt. 

I finally came back home, hoping that perhaps Jambi had returned and wormed her way back into the yard. I stopped briefly in the kitchen, screaming out her name (no, I mean it, SCREAMING) in a way that would put Marlon Brando to shame.

jambi gif
I absolutely deserved an Oscar. Either that, or a padded room.

After a particularly hysterics-filled shout-out, I took a deep breath and said out loud to myself, “Holy shit. Maybe I’m actually going insane.” Wandering aimlessly into the backyard one last time, once again painstakingly walking the fence perimeter, looking behind the shed, looking in the shed (even though it was closed and locked), calling and calling and calling… I couldn’t see her anywhere.

And then, just as I’d turned to go back into the house, I heard something. It wasn’t a yelp, certainly not a bark, but maybe a little bit of whining. I whirled around, trying to see where it was coming from, and happened to notice a tiny bit of rustling behind the wisteria tree that is pressed against our house. Wedged between the tree and the house – the exact same tawny color as the tree trunk, and smaller than it by quite a bit (which would explain why she was essentially invisible) – was my girl, shaking uncontrollably, whimpering, and clearly as glad to see me as I was to see her.

She’d been there all along.

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The pumpkins were SO FREAKIN’ FUN. I genuinely loved each and every one of them, especially just relaxing (much needed) and being with the girls while we got our creativity on, and am so excited that we now have a whole bunch to add to our collection for future Halloweens, as well as a few other (fake) ones I bought on sale for next year, because heavens knows there are a whole bunch of ideas we never got around to. LONG LIVE PUMPKIN PINTEREST!!

But, oh dear god, the mess. The glue sticks that globbed onto the floor. The hot glue that burned my fingers. The paint all over the dining room table, despite careful preparations to protect it. The googly eyes and the stick-on gems and the superfine glitter — oh, sweet baby Jesus, the superfine glitter — that has seeped into EVERY SINGLE CORNER of our home. There was SO MUCH MESS, and only so many hours in which to clean it, which meant that surely I’d be going to bed MUCH TOO LATE yet again.

(For all of the tea in China [wait, is that even an appropriate metaphor anymore?], I canNOT get myself into bed at a reasonable hour. It’s not that I sleep poorly… it’s that I don’t go to bed in the first place. Just put your butt under the covers earlier, you say. And I’d agree. Except if it were that easy, I’d be under the damn covers.)

The girls helped with the clean-up, of course. They’d definitely made a good portion of the mess, so they were really good cleaners, but still a lot was left to me. The best time to do the cleaning was after they’d gone to bed, but it was just so hard. There were so many other things I needed to do — make lunches, fold laundry, answer essential emails — and then other things I wanted to do, like finally looking at YouTube links that friends and family had sent me weeks ago, or editing photos (I haven’t edited my own family’s photos SINCE MARCH, Y’ALL), and by the time I looked up, it was freakin’ 1 a.m., and the dining room was still a disaster, and it was just too much — all of it too much — and there was nothing left to do. Except cry.

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I ran over to where Jambi was, and immediately saw why I’d failed to notice her during any of my prior searches of the yard: she had curled herself into a tight ball on the ground between the wisteria tree and the house, and – being the exact same color as the tree trunk – become invisible. Hiding in plain sight for nearly an hour.

Although she whined some as I called her name, she never barked at me, nor did she leave her perch and bound up to me, which would have been typical. As I got closer, I called her again, reaching out to her, but still she didn’t budge. By now, I was beginning to think that something was seriously wrong – maybe she’d broken a leg or something? – and I leaned down to examine her hind quarters for any injuries, but could find none.

What I did, find, however, were wisteria vines — oodles of them, wrapped all around our sweet Beast and binding her in place as though she’d been tied there by a stagecoach bandit. The harder she struggled to free herself, the more the vines constricted, leaving her  absolutely stuck. It took only a moment for me to reach my hand under one of the offending ropes and snap it in two, which in turn loosened the remaining coils, and Jambi sprang loose like a magic snake shooting out of a fake peanut can. 

OMG I LOVE YOU!! I’VE BEEN HERE THE WHOLE TIME! YOU WERE CALLING AND CALLING AND I COULDN’T GET TO YOU! IT’S BEEN SO GODDAMN SCARY! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH! YOU ARE THE BEST HUMAN EVER! DO YOU HAVE ANY TREATS FOR ME??

After all that – the driving around, the shouting until I became hoarse, the sheer panic and horror, the hysterical sobbing, the wondering if she was gone forever or dead or if we’d ever again have another CCI dog – she was right there all along, not making a sound.

(‘Course, if she’d made any noise while I was looking for her… let out even the tiniest of barks… I could have found her so much sooner… But, ah well, it’s only my sanity we’re talking about here. No worries.)

I so wanted to just play with her, to let her know that I hadn’t meant to strand her all wrapped up in wisteria vines, and I tried to hug her wriggly-fish body… but then had to usher her immediately inside and into her kennel because there was still the slightest chance that Ella could be seen that afternoon. Tears dried, purse grabbed, car started, GO.

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To put it mildly, it has been a crazy fall, with typical back-to-school nuttiness combined with new sports schedules, additional homework (Miguel isn’t going to get the apples to the mortuary alone, y’all), Nick’s MBA program, my subbing… It’s a whirlwind. And so that’s a huge part of why I’ve made very sure to make time for me as often as possible. Sometimes, it’s just a Caramel Macchiato while I answer emails (Starbucks, holla!), or extra time flipping through People while I’m on the can. Other times, it’s making sure that Nick and I watch Homeland together, or going to a concert (even if I come home smelling like a patchouli factory).

Still others, it’s making time to hang out with friends, be it chatting around the soccer field or going out for dinner with rebel Girl Scout moms. Those times have been my saving grace this season; sitting with a group of girlfriends – or just one fabulous pal – talking, sharing a bottle of wine, and laughing. Oh, the laughing! GIRL POWER, PEOPLE!! TIME SPENT WITH MY HOMIES! It is so awesome and healing and just generally fabulous.

It’s taking those moments just for me that make me remember that I still AM me. Thank God for being selfish every now and again.

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I barreled into the lobby of the school (except that you can’t “barrel” into any school these days because of heightened security measures, but anyway), doing my best to look all I’m Not Completely Insane So Sorry For Phoning You 83 Times This Morning Where Might My Daughter Eleanor Be? The secretary, ever-patient with me, directed me to the lunchroom, where Ella’s class had just gotten seated. I tried calling for her across the cafeteria, but that was as effective as trying to light a candle in a waterfall, so, whooshing past the other third-graders in a mad rush to reach her before she dug into her food, I whisper-shouted to her to Hurry up! We need to leave NOW!! Um, please.

She dutifully grabbed her tray and her jacket and we hustled out to the car. While we drove, as she balanced her lunch on her lap and chattered away about her morning, I explained why I’d been late.

“But Mom – Jambi could have gotten hit by a car!” I know, baby. 
“We might never have seen her again!” I’m well aware, kiddo.
“She was by herself and stuck all that time?? Poor puppy!” Breaks my heart, too, sweetie.
“CCI might never have let us get another dog again!” Preaching to the choir, ma’am.

Once Ella was satisfied that Jambi was safe and sound, she turned her attention to the appointment at hand. What would the doctor be doing? Why did he need to check her foot again? If it hadn’t healed properly, what would happen?

I answered the first few questions, but kind of lied about the last one. “I’m not sure, honey. But I bet it’s just fine! How’s that pizza?”

I, myself – still feeling the rush of adrenaline from searching for Jambi and not forgetting my “Stella!” moments in the kitchen – had no appetite, but I ate the leftovers I’d brought, anyway. It could be a long afternoon, and I didn’t want to have an empty stomach on top of it.

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One morning, after a wonderful evening out with a friend – just a couple of hours, but so very needed and good, with each of us drinking a single beverage, talking the rest of the time about how we were both handling some fairly emotionally harrowing times – I received an email from her, asking how I was doing. The night before, I’d told her I’d been doing okay — actually, pretty fine. I felt good. I was coming out of the fog. I was feeling put together! Yay me!

But, as I answered her email, this is what I said, instead:

Today was okay. Turns out I forgot that it was Crazy Hat Day and also didn’t give Ella her allergy meds this morning, meaning I had a call from the school nurse to see if it was okay for Ella to receive the meds at school because they were having the Bus Safety demonstration, plus recess, and Ella would have turned into one enormous hive. 😐 So there was the slap in the face that, damn it, I guess I’m not as on top of all this as I’d thought. Shit.

Even when I try to take time for myself, to breathe and do right by me, something falls apart. Apparently, I truly just can’t do it all, despite my best intentions.

And then I cried.

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We got the to appointment and I took Ella’s hand as we walked into the building. Walking in, her and me; I remembered what it had been like a year ago, taking the elevator or carrying her up the stairs as she attempted to make her way on crutches. So much had happened in just twelve short months.

Ella took a seat in the waiting room – which was unexpectedly empty – and I apologized to the receptionist for the wacky phone messages I’d sent earlier. She laughed obligingly (a good sign, no?) and said that, as luck would have it, because we were late, there was a gap between appointments, and we’d be seen immediately. Ella was actually annoyed with me when I pulled her away from Toy Story II to go to the exam room.

She was weighed and had her height charted (which, thankfully, produces none of the cold sweat in her that it does in me when I see my own doctor, thanks very much), and then the doctor came in. He remembered us – remembered the severity of the break – and asked how Ella was doing. I let her answer for herself, and she told him that she was great. Aside from not finding shoes that she liked (an unforgivable crime at the age of eight), her foot wasn’t bothering her at all.

The surgeon examined Ella’s foot, turning it over slowly and carefully, and told us that although it looked good, we wouldn’t know for sure until she’d had some x-rays. And so off Ella went (no parents allowed; radiation and all), while I waited for her future to be dictated by a single black-and-white picture. I’m not sure I took a single breath while she was in that room.

Even if I could, there would have been no one I felt I could talk to at that moment. Nick’s plane had yet to land, and the person I’d called a year ago when we’d had a crisis with Ella’s foot is only reachable through a medium. And I didn’t happen to bring one with me to the doctor’s office.

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Every session, my therapist greets me by asking how I’m doing. Except it’s not the perfunctory, small-talk “How are you?” nor the weird, psycho-babble “HOW ARE YOU?” but a genuine, honest, tell me what’s up. What’s REALLY up.

Well, I began. I thought I was doing well. I thought I was doing just fine. I recounted all of the Ways In Which I Am Doing Well: The girls are good – really good. They seem to enjoy school, even when they can’t figure out how to help Miguel get the apples to the mortuary, and they love, love their extra-curricular activities. It’s been a bit wild trying to work our schedules out, but truth be told, I think that having to fit the puzzle pieces together has actually been helpful for me.

I’m subbing and I LOVE it. LOVE IT!! Nick is doing really well with his MBA. We’ve seen concerts and gone to hockey games. We’ve been doing more together as a family, from bowling to watching movies to tossing the football on the weekends, and it hasn’t felt forced or strange but really, truly good. I’ve been laughing and hanging out with friends, and Halloween preparations have been SO MUCH FUN this year. I Am Doing Well.

But… I’m also crying. Like, a lot. And it’s been just so WEIRD, because one day I’ve had such a good day — I’ve felt happy rooted all the way to my core — and I feel like I can conquer the world. And on those days, or in those hours, I make plans! I am a Pinterest fiend! I play games with the kids! I cook something new and fabulous for dinner! I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD!

And then, just like that, BAM. I’m at the very bottom, and the wind has been completely knocked out of me, and I am so Not Doing Well, I can’t even catch my breath. AND IT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY, this whiplash, this roller coaster, this back and forth. What the hell is WRONG with me??

It’s almost, I told her, as though I’m bipolar or manic-depressive, because I have friends who have battled those disorders, and their oh-so-highs, followed immediately by their oh-so-lows, seem an awful like what I’m going through. Except I’m not really bipolar… right?

I hoped the question was rhetorical.

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While we waited for the doctor to examine the x-rays, Ella and I read some of Harry Potter, which served as both a great way to pass the time and a way for me to avoid expressing my fears to her. I might have been terrified that she’d wind up in an operating room within the next few weeks, but she certainly didn’t need to know that.

He made small talk with us as he attempted to pull up the x-rays on his computer, with Ella gamely telling him about the swim team and me sending up a silent prayer to the patron saint of sports that she’d still be able to swim after this appointment. The doctor continued his chit-chat as he showed us the x-ray that had been taken the day she’d broken her foot, then a week later after it had been casted, and my anxiety quietly soared through the roof. 

Please, let it have healed well. Please, let it have healed well. Please.

And then he paused over the final x-ray — the one taken just minutes ago — and ran his finger along the computer screen, up the line of her metatarsals. “You see that?” he asked us. I nodded, unsure what he was getting at.

“You can’t see a thing, can you?” Um, no. I don’t speak x-ray.

“That’s because her bone is perfectly straight. In fact, they all are perfectly straight — all three of the bones she broke. You can’t even tell there was ever a problem.

She’s healed perfectly, and she’s good to go.”

Do we need to come back any time for a follow up? I asked, as Ella put her shoes back on. 

“Nope. And,” he grinned at Ella, “no offense, because you’re a delightful young lady, but I really hope I never see you again.” No offense, doc, but same here.

On the way back to school, Ella asked what would have happened if the bones hadn’t healed straight. And so, with those options now firmly off the table, I told her – about the surgery, about the choice her Daddy and I had made and why we’d made it, about the gamble we’d taken, hoping with all our might that it would pay off.

“Well…” She paused just a moment. “Looks like you’re pretty smart!”

I gave her a half-laugh that I hoped she wouldn’t hear the fear and disbelief behind it.

“The only thing I’m bummed about is now I don’t ever get to use crutches again. They were kind of fun!”

She returned to school less than an hour after I’d picked her up, with plenty of time to learn how to help Miguel with the apples, my healthy girl trotting down the hallway to her classroom.

It all worked out. She hardly missed any school. We had no wait at the doctor’s office. Her foot was great. Everything was good.

I should have felt relieved. Hell, I should have felt elated. But all I felt was numb.

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My therapist’s answer was as swift as it was firm: No. No, you’re not bipolar. (Good to know.) And all of this? This almost fanatical I Must Fill My Time With Something, and the trying new projects, and the feeling so wonderful, followed by the tears and the sadness and the feeling like you don’t know what on earth is going on… it’s not you. You’re not just being impulsive. It’s not your ADD. It’s not you taking on too much because you overestimate what you can handle. It’s not you letting things slip through the cracks. It’s not your anxiety. It’s not depression.

It’s grief.

And I was all, DECORATING PUMPKINS AND FORGETTING CRAZY HAT DAY IS GRIEF??

And she was all, MMM HMM.

(Except she wasn’t quite like that, but suffice it to say she’s excellent.)

Grief, it turns out, is like an unpredictable toddler: you never know if it’s going to make your day the best ever with an enormous hug and a lisped version of the ABCs or if it’s going to take a crap in the middle of your living room and throw animal crackers at you while you’re folding laundry. It looks different in absolutely everyone, and it is no better or worse, no harder or easier, for you than it is for the next person. The worst kind of grief is your own.

And also? The manic-like highs and the deep, dark lows? They actually have a name: Manic Defense. As in, you do all of this stuff (maniacally, wildly) because you want to defend and shield yourself against whatever yuckiness is going on. In many cases, it can actually be a good thing, because it’s self-protective.

YOU HEAR THAT, SUBSTITUTE TEACHING AND THEN STAYING UP UNTIL 2 A.M.?? I’m not doing it because I’m CRAZY. I’m doing it because I am apparently INCREDIBLE at PROTECTING MYSELF.

I am a grieving ROCKSTAR.

BOO YAH.

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Nick’s plane landed shortly after Ella’s appointment ended, and because he needed to change his clothes before going to the office, I met him at the house. I told him – most importantly – about Ella’s foot, about how it was completely healed, about how we never need to visit the surgeon again. Then, I told him where Jambi had been, how frenzied I’d become, how terrible I felt that she was there all along.

“Em,” he sought to reassure me, “you know this wasn’t your fault, right? You didn’t do anything wrong. The gates were locked, the yard was safe, you checked on her regularly. You searched the neighborhood. There was absolutely no way to know that she’d become tangled up in the vines, especially if she didn’t bark at you. You did everything you could. And look – it all turned out just fine!”

I know I should have felt good about that… pleased… reassured, if nothing else. Instead, I (wait for it…) began to cry.

I’M JUST SO SICK OF IT!

Sick of what?

Sick of all this. Sick of feeling on top of the world, decorating pumpkins with the girls yesterday and feeling like it was the best afternoon I’d had in forever, and then sobbing because the dining room is a mess. Sick of being so thrilled for the girls that GranMary sent them the coolest Halloween cards of all time and then bursting into tears when they open the cards and I know that Grandpa Bill’s name isn’t on them. Sick of Jambi disappearing, and instead of taking it in stride, falling apart and screaming like a lunatic in the kitchen. Sick of some stupid crisis occurring when you’re on a plane and wanting to call your dad so much but I FUCKING CAN’T BECAUSE HE’S NOT FUCKING HERE ANYMORE AND I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW THAT CAN POSSIBLY BE TRUE.

I’m SICK of it. I’M JUST SICK OF IT.

There were hugs, of course. Lots of them. And then these words before he left for work, promising to return home early because he understood that I was completely depleted, that I’d just had it for the rest of the day, “I’m so sorry that you’re so sad about my dad. But I’m not sorry that you had such a great relationship with him. And I’m sick of it, too.”

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When I told my therapist about the Jambi/Ella incident, I asked for her, again, to please tell me that I wasn’t crazy, because I sure as hell felt crazy when I was going all “Stellllaaaa!” in my kitchen. She looked at me like I had three heads.

No, of course you’re not crazy. YOU’RE GRIEVING.

Yes, yes. I know. Grieving.

You need to cut yourself some slack!

I know, I know. Be gentler with myself. And I am! Or, at least, I’m trying to be… I KNOW that I can’t do it all. I KNOW that I’m likely to forget stuff like Crazy Hat Day – and there’s comfort in that, in knowing it’s not my fault. But I’m still forgetting, and it’s frustrating… And I seriously freaked out about Jambi.

But, Emily… You thought you’d lost her.

I know. It was awful.

It sounded terrible! But think about it for a moment… You thought you’d lost her. FOREVER. You thought she was GONE FOREVER… which is not exactly a foreign feeling to you right now.

Oh yeah. Right.

And you lived in that state – that complete and utter state of terror – for almost an hour, all alone, AND you were worried that your daughter might need surgery. 

When you put it like that…

No wonder you seriously freaked out. If you HADN’T seriously freaked out, I think that would be much more crazy.

Well, I AM a grieving rockstar, after all.

Think of it as walking on thin ice. You’re not going to fall through – don’t worry about that – but it might crack around you, and you’re never quite sure when. You can make it across… you WILL make it across… but you’re going to get your feet wet along the way.

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So… I guess that’s how I’m doing. Practicing my kick-ass Manic Defense skills, inching along, trying my damnedest not to get my feet wet but knowing that it’s inevitable.

Some days, I cover a lot of ground. Others, I slide backward. My feet are prune-y, but overall, there’s forward progress. And I manage to take time, every single day, to genuinely appreciate how beautiful the ice is, cracks and all.

I’d love to sit here and be philosophical with you some more, but there are Christmas catalogs to pore over with the girls – I LOVE ME SOME CHRISTMAS CATALOGS!! And we’re hosting friends for Thanksgiving, and I cannot WAIT to find new recipes to try! Plus, it’s almost time for Hermey the Elf to appear, which means that I have a date with Pinterest tonight.

I’m okay. Today is a good day.
Thanks for asking.

Earning her keep

The fourth girl in our house is finally working her way back into our good graces (with the first three being, you know, me. And my daughters. We’re girls). Unfortunately, the apple pooping in the grocery store was only the tip of the crapper iceberg; Jambi* proceeded to pop a squat pretty much every time we ventured forth to Target or Wegmans, or pretty much any time she had to walk for more than five minutes.

* rhymes with Zombie, in case you were curious.

This is not to say that we didn’t try to avoid such incidents; we did, of course. We let her out when we left the house so that she could relieve herself and would walk her religiously – and a bit maniacally – for five to ten minutes around the outside of the building we were about to enter to ensure that she really got things moving and could expel anything that needed to go. And still, despite having peed and pooped and smelled every blade of grass between the car and the store, she would still manage to take a dump inside. It got so that every time I took her out in public, I looked as though I had developed a series of tics because of the constant, rapid-fire head turning in her direction to ensure that she wasn’t about to do her business in front of aisle seven.

Not exactly the start of an illustrious career for a potential service dog.

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Bringing her to the Y seemed pretty safe; very little walking around. In fact, very little standing up at all. Laziness FTW!

At last, we had to concede that she could no longer be free to remain in the backyard and eat the apples as she pleased. Already, we’d been calling her into the house more quickly than before – to catch her before she could consume too much fruit – and I’d been walking and running with her more often, to make up for her being outside less. This apparently wasn’t enough, however, because a) she’s a Lab and Labs are the garbage disposals of the dog world, eating everything they come into contact with, and b) the damn apple tree was REALLY FREAKIN’ PROLIFIC, so even a few minutes outside provided Jambi with a veritable feast.

Action was called for, and since it wasn’t feasible for us to leash her up every time she needed to go outside (that’s what fully fenced-in, awesome yards are for; plus also, see: two kids, two other dogs, general insanity), I decided that the next best course of action was to remove all of the apples from the ground before she could get to them. Easy enough, right? Technically, yes, except have I mentioned that this tree was like a procreating rabbit — its adorable cherubs would spring forth from its loins at a ridiculously alarming rate, completely filling the ground beneath it and providing ample bounty for would-be apple consumers. (To be fair, Nick and I have also used the tree’s apples – which are perfectly edible – for all of our juicing; it will be a damn shame when we actually have to pay for apples at the store.)

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These days, the leaves are in cahoots with the apples, acting as camouflage and making it super difficult for me to spot the forbidden fruits, but perfect sniff-and-seek treats for the hounds.

When I first began picking up, it would take only a few days to fill the entire garbage barrel to the top because the tree was dropping approximately ninety-five apples per day. Even if you like apples, just think about that… NINETY-FIVE APPLES every single day. No wonder Jambi was having trouble not dropping a deuce in Target.

Of course, it wasn’t like I could just pick everything up in the morning and then tell the tree that I’d had enough for the day; no, I had to go outside and fill the barrel every time the dogs were in the yard. A pain in the neck? Yes. But worth it to prevent Jambi from defecating in the dairy section? Heck yes.

At the suggestion of my cousin, who is a trainer with CCI out in California, we haven’t taken Jambi on any longer, indoor outings since her bowel troubles began, but she’s been doing a good job walking home with the girls from school.

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The leggings? Halloween, naturally.

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That Jambi will walk patiently beside a nutball six year-old girl is definitely winning her back points she lost while apple-pooping.

I’ve also slowly begun bringing her out to other indoor locations where we won’t be gone as long – returning books at the library, getting a drink at Starbucks (duh) – and she’s done well on those. She’s a relatively small Lab for ten months old – only fifty-some pounds and much tinier in stature than Langston – so she also continues to go with me to the Y, sitting with her zen expression and not being even the littlest bit rattled by the thumping music and weights dropping to the floor at random moments.

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If I stare cutely enough, will I get one of the treats that’s in your fanny pack? Yeah, I just called it a fanny pack. Own it.

Now that apple season is almost over, I think I’ll be able to start bringing her on slightly longer trips. I’ll still bring the poop bags and paper towel, of course… But my fingers are crossed.

Yep, she’s definitely working her way back into our good graces. When you glance forward after doing a sit-up and see this staring back at you, how could she not?

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