Flashback Friday: The Poopsplosion

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

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

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

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Emi and Ella, at work…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh. Well, then.

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Bunny Di.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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?

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.

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“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.

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All that glitters is a PAIN IN THE *$$

You never want to assume that your children are lying to you. I mean, when their toothbrushes aren’t wet and their breath could melt a refrigerator, yet they insist that they brushed their teeth, it’s pretty obvious that some fibbing is going on… But still, you’d like to think that your kid is the kind of kid who wants to tell you the truth, whose answers you can trust, rather than always jumping to the conclusion that everything out of their mouths is bullsh*t.

Well, there’s having faith in your kid – which can be a beautiful thing – and then there’s just plain stupidity. Our own girls fall somewhere in the middle of the lying continuum: telling the truth most of the time, but certainly not all; being just conscientious enough to spill the beans but cunning enough to practice some tale-telling; being afraid of the consequences of being caught in a lie but also being scared as hell to get in trouble for the original infraction. Aw, man, I love parenthood.

So, when I found a pile of glitter on one of my darling daughters’ bedroom floors (I shall refrain from naming her to afford her some modicum of privacy, but really, there are only two of them so your imagination can totally run wild), my first assumption was that it had been dumped there. I mean, this isn’t a strip club; glitter is not usually peppering our floors, except after art projects and the wearing of particularly “fancy” dress-up clothes, so it had to come from somewhere – namely, my little Darling.

Upon questioning, however, she insisted – absolutely insisted – that she had no idea how the glitter found its way onto her floor. Maybe a dog had knocked it over? Perhaps it had spilled out of a craft bag? Could it be that the tooth fairy left some behind? No matter how many times I tried to poke holes in my Darling’s reasoning, her denial remained ironclad: she did not put that glitter on her floor. No ma’am. No how.

Seeing that I was getting nowhere and I had no actual evidence that she’d been the glitter dumper, I decided to let it go. Maybe, in all of our post-Christmas comings and goings, the glitter really had just fallen to the floor somehow. And maybe, also, I shouldn’t be so quick to assume the worst of my Darling, but should instead take her at her word. No more Judgey McJudgerson. In fact, perhaps, in the past, she has felt compelled to lie because I have automatically found her guilty before trying her of the crime. New year, new leaf: I will believe in my children. Teach them well, and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Or something.

Monday was one heckuva day – nothing bad, really, just one of those days when your calendar is like a Jenga board, with all of the appointments and To-Dos fitting just so, lest the tower topple. It was in the fifteen minutes between my final piano lesson and Ella heading to swim practice that I first noticed the glitter in the living room. It didn’t seem like much – a small trail in the middle of the room – but it caught my eye, so I asked my Darling about it, the one whose floor still bore a pile of glitter (vacuuming her room was not amongst my Jenga pieces, thank you very much).

And I received the same response: Nope. Not her. She had no idea how the glitter had gotten on the living room floor. Was she sure? Yes, she was sure, damn it (except that she didn’t really say “damn it” because then this story would have a far different ending). And so I again began to doubt my parenting, again chastising myself for assuming the worse of my Darling – after all, the puppy had recently been upstairs. Maybe she’d gone into my Darling’s room and had brought a trail of glitter with her into the living room. I should blow it off, anyway – you know, and let the children’s laughter remind me how I used to be. A bit of glitter? How charming!

After swimming (which was really after two swimmings, because Ella forgot something vital at the pool and we had to go back again to retrieve it after dinner; those top Jenga pieces were tottering, let me tell you), as the kids were on their way upstairs to get ready for bed, I passed through the living room and noticed that there seemed to be more than just “a small trail” of glitter. At that moment, however, I didn’t have time to stop and examine it, much less clean it up, because of bedtime and lunch-packing and teeth-brush-monitoring (see above: saying teeth are clean when they are not) and reading and tucking in and laundry putting-away.

It was not until after the girls were snuggled into their beds and my laundry basket had been emptied and the lunches had been packed that I realized just how damn much glitter was in the living room. It was everywhere: spread across both rugs, on the coffee table, on the reclining chair, wrapped up in a blanket (which I didn’t know contained glitter until I picked it up to refold it and flung microscopic shimmer across the couch). It was as though a unicorn had thrown up violently all over the room. An angry, particularly sparkle-tastic unicorn.

Because the dogs had been stuck in the kitchen for most of the day (see above: Jenga-busy), I had wanted to let them out and have the run of the living room for the rest of the evening, but there was no way I could do that with the amount of glitter on the floor. Indeed, there was so much glitter, I couldn’t walk across the floor without dragging pieces of it with me. There was absolutely no choice: I’d have to vacuum.

Jenga tower: down.

As I ran the vacuum over… and over… and over every square inch of the living room, I contemplated my Darling’s insistence that she had nothing to do with this mess. On the one hand, it seemed absolutely impossible that the glitter found its way into every corner of the living room without some kind of divine intervention. And yet… She had looked me in the eye — more than once — and stated in the strongest possible terms that she was not responsible for the explosion. Could she really lie that deliberately? MY Darling?

After a good twenty minutes or so of vacuuming, I was satisfied that I’d picked up the vast majority of the glitter. Crossing the room to unplug the machine, however, I was nearly blinded by the light reflecting off the floor: glitter – still! – everywhere.

And then I saw what was happening: the pieces of glitter were so small, they were not being adequately picked up by the vacuum. Compounding the problem was the fact that what makes glitter, well, glittery is that it shimmers only some of the time, depending on how the light hits it. So, while vacuuming, the floor looked like this:
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Clean. Shimmer-free. Lovely.

But when the light hit the floor from another angle, it looked like this:
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UNICORN VOMIT EVERYWHERE.
And this is AFTER twenty minutes of vacuuming.

After twenty more minutes, I was through. Yes, it still looks like a Pride parade went through, but we’re pretty strong gay marriage supporters in this house, so I guess that comes with the territory. After putting my Jenga tower back together and completing the rest of my 493 To-Do items, I crashed, not giving the sparkle a second thought.

In the morning, there was the usual mad rush to get off to school, so I didn’t have the opportunity to ask my Darling if, perhaps, there was anything more she’d like to tell me about the abundance of glitter in the living room – if, perhaps, her memory had failed her just the teensiest of bits. It wasn’t until the kids were due home from school that I was tidying up another area of the living room – one that was seemingly untouched by the shimmer explosion – that I found them: the caps to two vials of glitter.

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Exhibit C: the evidence. Shiny, impossible-to-vacuum evidence.

My friends, Jambi may be an awesome service dog-in-training, but I can assure you that none of us has ever taught her how to pry open the lids of glitter bottles, toss the contents all over the living room, and then leave the caps lying on a table that’s taller than she is. No, this had to have been done by a human, and the most likely suspect was the aforementioned, I-swear-it-wasn’t-me Darling. And to think I’d spent all that time cleaning… It seems they can take away my dignity, damn it, Whitney.

At bedtime, I sat her down, prepared to have a really difficult conversation about the glitter, fully prepared for her to push back with all her might and continue to insist she had nothing to do with it. Or, as Nick put it, to do what it took to “break her.” I opened by asking her if she had anything more to tell me about the glitter in the living room. Before she could even answer, I decided to pull out the big guns: I told her that I’d found the caps, and would she care to change her story?

Well, little Miss may have been able to lie straight to my face when I had nothing tying her to the crime, but when faced with cold, hard facts, she crumbled faster than my Jenga tower. After ‘fessing up and apologizing for lying (I’ll take my therapy money back, thanks), she still seemed unsure as to why flinging glitter around the living room was such a big deal. My spending the better portion of an hour cleaning it up didn’t seem to bother her, nor did the fact that we’ll be discovering glitter in our food for the next two months. Actually, that may have made the whole episode seem more appealing. Explaining to her that it was bad for the dogs – dangerous, even – to have that much glitter around also did not seem to move her.

And so I did what any noble parent would do: I lied.

You know why else it’s a problem?

“Why?”

Because if you continue spilling glitter all over the floor, magicians won’t have any left for their acts.

*long pause, followed by a statement made in a wide-eyed whisper*
“I’ve never seen a magician use glitter.”

That’s probably because you and your friends are using it all up.

*solemn nodding* “You’re right. I won’t ever do that again.”

I’m glad we can agree on this.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, may truly be the greatest love of all.
On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t throw away the therapy money just yet.

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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A dog poops into a store…

Jambi — our CCI puppy-in-training — is supposed to be going on regular outings with us in order to introduce her to as many people, places, and situations as possible. Because of our recent traveling, she hasn’t been out and about and “working” quite as much as usual, so I decided to rectify that today and bring her with me to the grocery store.

She and Langston had been playing outside for a good twenty minutes prior to our departure; the moment I let them in, I put on Jambi-Zombie’s cape and Gentle Leader and ushered her right into the car. She looks so spiffy when she’s working, does she not?photo-46
Thankfully, she never requests gum or candy at the checkout, unlike certain other beings I know…

Although the grocery store is less than ten minutes from our house, and although she’d just been outside, I decided to allow her the opportunity to do her business anyway, after an unfortunate incident a couple of months ago at Target where we neglected to give her the chance to pee and I wound up stealthily cleaning up urine in aisle 7 while Ella and Annie raced Jambi back outside to empty her bladder. Lesson learned.

I brought her to the little grassy median right outside of the store and told her to “hurry” (CCI code for “do your thang”), but she only gave me a funny little glance (see photo, above). I then walked her around a tiny bit, continuing to tell her to “hurry,” but when she sat right down I got the message: all systems empty. But thanks for the stroll.

We jauntily walked into the breezeway where I grabbed a cart, then proceeded to head to the automatic doors – which, naturally, parted graciously for us – and maybe it was the extreme change in temperature lately, or maybe we just hit the store during temperature regulation time or something, but the moment the doors opened, this big ol’ blast of air (conditioning?) burst toward us. I’ll admit, it was a bit unexpected, but having been to the store approximately 3847 times (in the last year, alone), and at least a half dozen times with the Jam-Beast, I thought nothing of it.

She, on the other hand, was thrown for an enormous loop by the sudden blast of air, and clearly thought that something terrible awaited her by the salad bar just beyond the doors, so while my right arm and the cart continued inside, my left hand and the leash were yanked backward, resulting in a lovely suspension ballet right there in the breezeway. Jambi began to reverse so furiously, paws frantically scraping against the tile floor (which provided her no traction, so the gears just kept on spinning) to get away from the Very Scary Door, that I was forced to leave the cart right where it was (exactly in the very middle of the entrance – or, in other words, pretty much the most inconvenient place imaginable) and back up with her.

Sure, I could have just dragged her along like a spooked horse — claws (which are actually quite short, but which she’d extended as far as humanly [doggily?] possible in order to protest the Very Scary Door) digging into the tile grouting — but, given that she’s supposed to learn to navigate things like this, and also that everyone in the breezeway was now staring me with the Special Dog, I decided to help her work through her fears. It took several treats, trading in my voice for that of some angelic fairy/elf, and a little physical encouragement, but after five minutes, we made it safely inside.

This would also be a good time to mention that, naturally, I was in a hurry. We were out of fruit at home, running precariously low on toilet paper, and I’d neglected to purchase anything for dinner when I’d visited the store a mere three days ago, so this trip was essential, but I had to cram it in between unloading and re-loading the dishwasher, working out, mowing the lawn, editing photos, answering emails, showering, and attending a committee meeting, all before the kids got out of school. According to my calculations, I had exactly one hour for this grocery run – but that shouldn’t have been a problem, because aside from the fruit and Charmin (actually, we buy Wegmans generic, but whatever) and some salmon, my list was quite small, and I assumed the store would be relatively empty on a Friday morning.

WRONG. The store was teeming with people, each of them inexplicably stopping right in front of whatever item I needed to place in my cart (is everyone in Rochester out of TP and eating salmon tonight??), making it very difficult to weave through the throngs under normal circumstances, but especially difficult with Jambi. She stayed right by my side, however, obeying my commands, and so we pressed on, weighing bananas and thumping melons, smiling politely at the other shoppers who passed us with an, “Oh, isn’t she beautiful!” or a, “Look, that doggy’s working!

All seemed quite well, until Jambi began panting. At first, I assumed that she was still nervous after her run-in with the Very Scary Door, so I just ignored her. As the panting became more labored, I gave some consideration to the idea that maybe she needed to poop (because this whole panting thing is what she’d done before dropping a deuce right outside of the security line at the airport; lesson learned), but dismissed that idea because a) she’d just freakin’ had the chance to relieve herself only a few minutes before, b) taking her outside would require going back through the Very Scary Door not once but twice, and c) even if she did have to do something, we truly were only going to be in the store for another ten minutes or so, and surely she could hold it.

I can probably just stop this story now because you know where this is going.

I was debating the merits of Gala versus Macintosh apples when I felt the tug on the leash… turned around… and caught Jambi mid-squat, with pieces of poo falling from her butt. (Coincidentally, the poop was full of apple chunks, because she’d recently eaten a few that had fallen from the trees in our backyard; how very discerning of her.) I hissed at her – “Jambi, don’t!” – which shocked her, causing a few more apple-poop bits to plop onto the floor.

In an attempt to hide the evidence, I threw myself onto the ground, dropping my purse as close to the poo as possible (guess I should probably wash that now), while maniacally – but calmly, so as not to draw attention to the incident (’cause there is nothing more awesomely embarrassing than a Special Dog taking a dump in the produce aisle) – rummaging through my CCI fanny pack for a plastic bag and some paper towels. So that she couldn’t do more damage, I attempted to get her to put her butt down on the floor by whisper-screaming, “Jambi, sit!” “Jambi, sit!” “Jambi, sit!” over and over (a training no-no, I understand, but there was apple poop at my feet, people), but she just gave me the same funny little glance as before (again, see above), so I gave up and just finished cleaning the mess.

Once the floor was good, I speed-walked her outside — and, naturally, she had absolutely no problem with the door either time we went through it. Yet again, when she reached the grassy knoll and was told to “hurry,” she sat right down and gave me that funny little glance (see above).

Not so funny anymore, Beast.

The rest of our shopping excursion went off without a hitch (save for me practically slipping a disc in my neck from craning it in her direction every 6 seconds to make sure she wasn’t dropping apple poop anywhere else), and we then found ourselves in the shortest – but, of course, the slowest – checkout lane. Jambi’s demeanor is typically fantastic when we’re out and about (crapping aside); she’s extremely laid-back and easy-going, and so – especially given the wait time – I wasn’t surprised that she curled up at my feet and dozed right off.

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She was also probably exhausted from pushing apple poop out of her butt.

As I finished loading the last of our items onto the conveyor belt, a lady approached me from behind, asking about what program we were a part of. I told her about CCI and our involvement with them and, as is often the case, the woman told me what a “great thing” we were doing. (I’m not sure the produce employees agree, but whatever…)

She then leaned toward Jambi and said, “Oh, look at her. She’s so sweet! I bet she’s just an absolute dream everywhere you take her.”

I smiled very sweetly back and said the only thing I could think of: “Aw, you have no idea.”