Of Dogs and Grief
First off, I’m so excited to read that some of you have asshole dogs. I mean, I wouldn’t wish an asshole dog upon anyone, but if you have one, well, we can all sleep well at night knowing that our asshole dogs are most certainly not a reflection on their owners or caretakers. I guess some of them just get the asshole gene! Come to think of it, I know some asshole people, too…
Anyway! Step one in the Dog Training Class is having Duncan associate a clicker noise with a treat. Unlike obedience training, this asshole doesn’t have to do anything to get the treat. Just hear the clicker, I guess. So for the last week, I’ve been LITERALLY sticking my fingers in… uh, processed meats, freeze-dried chicken liver, and most recently, wet cat food, in an effort to keep his asshole attention when I click the clicker. OF COURSE the wet cat food is his favorite. I should have just started with that shit…
I tried little tiny treats, but a) he’s not interested after, like, three of them, and b) he tries to eat my damn fingers (and he has sharp teeth). So I did this thing where I caked something delicious into a Kong opening, but then he all assholed out and kept trying to take it. Then I caked something on the edge of a teaspoon (SHARP TEETH), but then he kept trapping the spoon part in his sharp mouth. The winning method (ta da!) was using the handle end of the teaspoon and dipping it in cat food for him to lick off. Click > lick. Click > lick.
This is only week one, so I assume I’m laying some kind of positive Pavlov reinforcement. Hopefully.
So that was your dog training update this week. I go to class tomorrow night with him, where he gets to be in the same building (but separate rooms, THANK GOD) from three other asshole dogs.
In other TOTALLY UNRELATED news, I made a Facebook group (Invite only? Closed?) for parents of small children (like, under 12 or so) who have lost one/both of their parents. I think we’re up to 13 members? I’m hopeful that we’ll develop a kind of small, nurturing, supportive community where people can have discussions, ask for advice, or just openly grieve.
I know that sometimes I feel like the Grief Window is closed. And that if I am seen grieving that I am assumed to be weak, or “not over it” (never will be), or wallowing in my sorrow, or doing whatever in a way that is hampering my ability to “move on” and “remember the good times.” Or some shit. When sometimes, you just wanna fucking grieve.
If you’re interested in joining (the only qualifier being that you have a small child, and you yourself have lost a parent), send me your email address to email@example.com and I will email you an invitation.
Going for the Gold
In the latest saga of Operation: Take Back My House, I’ve offered to take Duncan the Dog to dog training classes for the next five weeks. CUE EYEROLL.
Here, this will take the edge off:
Maybe I’m just glutton for punishment? In need of a hobby? Maybe I’m afraid of going two months without any kind of weekly commitment (adult music class is off until the Fall, and drinking, sadly, doesn’t count).
My mother in-law and I took Duncan to a dog training class last night. The class is specifically for dogs with something called leash reactivity. Basically, Duncan cannot properly go on a walk without lunging and barking at anything that moves near us. I sought out the training. MIL footed the bill, since my wife’s parents are going to be providing his “forever home” (if you will). This was an alternative agreement to them bringing a choke or electric bark collar into our home, which sure blah blah effective blah blah, isn’t for us.
Annnnd, since they are taking their time building a couple of gates in order to provide a secure and enclosed yard for Duncan at their farm house, he’s still hanging out with us until they get their shit together. Which, honestly folks, could be five weeks. BUT! I will say that one asshole dog is WAY better than one asshole dog, three additional cats, two parents, and loss of access to 1333 square feet of your house.
Without going into the class details, Duncan is an asshole on a leash because he’s afraid, and being an asshole is his response to fear. Lucky us!
After class, my MIL declares that she wants him to go, thinks he can totally benefit from the class and (wait for it), although she is a believer in everything the trainer has to say and train, she wants ME to take him, and she’ll come over occasionally and at her convenience to practice the training with him. I wish I could write that in a way that it didn’t sound like I had just been suckered into training their dog for them. But… err. I don’t think there’s a way to write it.
I don’t FEEL suckered, but that’s also because I’m a pushover. And I like animals. Even, apparently, asshole dogs. SIGH.
She, at least, went out today and bought him (and me) some “tools.” Treats, an interactive food bowl/toy/thing, and whatever else the lady said last night we would need. Said dog trainer lady, as much as I wanted her to insist that MIL attend the class, was like, “Meh, whatever. As opposed to obedience training, we’re actually trying to rewire this emotional-processing part of his peanut brain, which isn’t specific to who trains him. It would be NICE if you could come, but he’ll benefit from it regardless.” Or something like that. It also could have been her appeasing response to MIL’s crazy-eyes.
I kind of understand why she bailed? I mean, they live an hour away. We’ve talked about that. An hour is a long time each way on a Wednesday night. And, to her admission, she does not have the patience or, um, lack of shrillness (is there a word for that?), to do a kind of dog training that has been compared to “watching paint dry.” Plus, as they live on a five acre farm, she really doesn’t have any place to practice with him because, well, no one comes around for him to bark at.
Then why does he need the training?
Bob asked the same thing! (He says, “Hi.” As always.)
Because sometimes this asshole dog will stay at our house when they go on vacation. Sometimes he might come on vacation with them and need to be walked. Sometimes strangers or neighbors may want to talk to you over your fence (he has anxiety about that as well), and maybe you don’t want to be seen as “those people with that asshole dog.”
As it is, I might buy some kind of costume to wear while we’re out training, because he’s such an embarrassment, and my neighbors know me. Maybe I can get a shirt that reads, “This is not my dog. I’m trying to medal in Karma.”
PS – For all that he is an asshole, he’s actually a nice dog. He has good table manners and likes to play fetch and sleep. He obviously came from a broken home (literally broken – we took him in the night before his owners were being evicted from their house.) He’s really just an asshole on a leash. Or, you know, when he wakes up at 5:55am to pee, but that’s just payback for having a kid who has always slept until 8am. Right?
For those of you following along at home, after seven days, seven nights, three planes, five hotels, one stomach bug (or altitude sickness), countless trips to McDonald’s and Cracker Barrel (and one Bob Evans), even MORE countless continental breakfasts, about thirty bruises, and driving 2,018 miles, going no more than 60mph, I’m back home.
My first moment fully alone came on Thursday afternoon, when I drove the big moving truck solo. The parents were in the smaller truck, and I got the chance to listen to Midwestern country radio stations and call my wife and RR without having to talk in a hushed voice. I missed them so much.
On Saturday, we WILLED both trucks up and down the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. The big truck quit three times, but was revived each time long enough to keep going Eastward. We pulled into their home in Virginia at 7:15pm, and then drove the hour to MY home, where I barged into the front door, past the dogs, and into RR’s room (where my wife was delaying bedtime), when then I scooped her up and she clung to me in a giant monkey hug. I kissed my wife. Home safe.
It was a long trip. 11-12 hours a day, driving. Most of which was spent next to my mother in-law. There are stories of ice and pickaxes, and sharing a hotel room with both of them (awkward), and mostly being exhausted every night, but getting up every morning to two OTHER exhausted (and much older) people, where then I had to crack the whip and move them along.
Seriously. They may have stayed in our house until June. They weren’t kidding.
That said, they’ve been at their house all day today. Potentially actually moving in. Potentially actually staying there tonight. I have no words.
I’m wrapping up things here at work before being off for a few days. March 15 is this coming Saturday, and the plan is to be spending that day with good friends and the familiar and comforting sights of DC tourism, alongside my wife and RR.
Last year, we spent March 15th on the cusp of a weekend trip to DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. It wasn’t a conscious decision to make plans for this weekend, but in hindsight, I’m glad that I did.
It took me years to move past September 16th as just any old day, and not that Day My Father Died. I never forget, though. Two years seems to be an unreasonable request to operate as if March 15th is any old day, and not the Day My Mother Died. I’m cutting myself some slack.
I still have so many feelings. I’m still so sad some days. Most days. I imagine I feel how she must have felt on September 16th, when she was so sad that my then eleven year old self wouldn’t have any more experiences with my father that weren’t just memories or stories from other people. I still hear people tell me about how nice and generous he was. I feel sad that RR will never know how much her grandmother loved her, aside from the brief memories and stories that I will share with her. I’m sad that I’m out of memories and stories, too. Again. Crap.
I will hug my family and my friends. I will be thankful for every day that I have with them, and that they have with me. Two years feels both like yesterday and forever ago. Yet I’ve done this before, and I will reluctantly do it again. I admit that it was easier when I was eleven, though.
Resiliency (aka Carsickness!)
RR has thrown up exactly three times in her whole life.
Once, she was really little – maybe a few months old? The second time about a year ago after overindulging in grape tomatoes. The THIRD time was this past Saturday, on a gravel pull-off on the side of a winding road that was leading us to The Maple Festival.
To her credit, the road looked like this:
And really. Could you blame her?
She’s not a carsick kid. In the car, she usually only chats about needing snacks, or something that’s fallen down where she can’t reach it, or for you to turn the radio volume up, but she’s content to look out the window and just ride along.
Somewhere on one of those turns (you’re getting carsick looking at it, aren’t you?), she complained that her tummy hurt. Well, first she said it was hungry, so she had an apple and some apricots. She may have been confusing hungry, though, with nauseous. Fun with feelings!
Finally, she started crying. That… cry. That… “something is WRONG MAMA!” cry. M’s dad pulled over at the nearest gravel patch. I unbuckled her, M hopped out of the car to fetch her out, and as soon as the door closed… well, you can imagine.
RR cried afterwards, mostly because she was sad that she was now WET. M’s coat, M’s hair, RR’s hair, RR’s … everything was covered. We were all relatively calm, and opened the back of the car to clean everyone off with baby wipes and towels. I gave M my jacket and we put RR’s spare pink jacket on her with no shirt on underneath. M’s dad had some old rags in the back. We calmly got everyone cleaned up.
She quickly fell asleep in the car and napped until we parked next to the All Things Maple Festivaly, only a few miles later.
She woke up with a start and a smile. The color returned to her face, and she told us that she felt better. Only about ten minutes later, she was sipping on a Capri-Sun, munching on some popcorn, taking a bite out of my BBQ sandwich, and playing balance beam with another little girl nearby.
The face of resiliency looks like this:
I’ll also add that my wife should get major resiliency points, too, for spending the afternoon with bits of digested apple in her hair. Oh, and the washing machine gets two points deducted for having to take two loads to get everyone’s clothes clean.
Last night, after running out to pick up dinner, some groceries, and dog food, I looked up to close the station-wagon’s back door and saw Orion’s Belt in the sky.
We got to the Cabin in the Woods Friday night, bringing with us clothes, toiletries, and food to last us until Sunday afternoon. As we gleefully scoped the cabin out, we investigated the hot tub, which was on, hot, and bubbling invitingly. Since it was placed out on an uncovered deck, we plunged in without hesitation, and gazed up at the stars. Onion’s Belt. The Big Dipper. So many stars above us.
We had no wi-fi and little cell phone reception (only available in said hot tub, ironically). Below is some photographic evidence of the blissful and dreamy time we had.
One of these days, we’re gonna sit around wondering what to do with all of the time on our hands. It’s not today or tomorrow, but it might be one of these days.
One case in point: RR has been going to a music class from 9:15am-10am every Saturday since she was six months old.
Here. Do you need a reminder of what she looked like at six months old?
Anyhow, there were a few breaks for holidays here and there, but this class has been a constant presence on our lives. The CD’s fill five out of six slots in the car’s CD changer. The songs are woven into our existence. We have made genuine friendships with other parents as well as the guy who teaches the class. We begrudgingly adapted to the 9:15am start time change from 9:30am, and subsequently spent the next year RUSHING out of the house every Saturday morning, wondering how fifteen fucking minutes could matter so much in our on-timeness.
The past six months, however, have been trying. Mostly because RR is a ball of energy, and the class, although sprinkled with dancing and moving around, is a lot of sitting in a circle. And, well, that’s not RR’s bag. So we didn’t re-enroll for the next session, and starting in a few weeks, we’ll reclaim out Saturday mornings for the first time in three years. Three years!
That said, she’ll (hopefully) store up all that energy for the afternoon gymnastics class, of which will become the sole scheduled activity for RR.
And eventually, M’s parents will move out, take the dog with them, and we’ll not only reclaim our time, but our space as well. In the meantime, our cabin getaway is this weekend. And then M’s mom leaves next week for six weeks (!), which is one less person in the house for six weeks. And one day, we’ll laugh and say something like “Do you remember that time when your parents lived with us, and we had five cats, two dogs, and one three year old running around?! That was a hoot!”
Food and Religion
Wow, am I glad January is almost over.
About two weeks in, I realized this was the Worst Month Ever to Whole30. But I committed. So here I am on Day 26, with a plan to indulge in something non-Whole30 Friday night (Tacos with SHELLS?) or Saturday morning (pancakes?). I haven’t decided, and no one else but me cares, really.
Another reason for the Whole30 this year was this looming appointment I have with my gynecologist, who is best known for her Conversations About My Weight every time I see her. Even after I dropped 50 pounds, she’d “like to see me weigh less.” So, of course, after the holidays when I added ten more pounds to the number that she saw in October. Well, up a creek, as they say. I haven’t weighed myself since I started on Jan 2, but my appointment with her is on Thursday, so we’ll see what kind of progress has been made. Gah. Stress.
Ooh, on another front, I’ve been going to church. I KNOW! Let’s see. I’ve visited the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, and most recently this weekend, the Episcopalians. I was leaning Lutheran until I hung with the Episcopalians on Sunday, so I’m going to go there for a few weeks and see how I like it. Super Plus Bonus points for having an amazing choir, a robust presence of children, and getting communion from a lesbian priest.
They were a bit over the top, though, those crazy Episcopalians. So many people in the procession. So many robes and shiny crosses and chalices and shiny shiny big, loud, kneeling church! The Lutherans were more low-key, both in size and in practice, BUT I didn’t connect with the pastor as well as I did with Lesbian Priest. The Episcopal kneeling was kind of challenging – kneeling while balancing ones-self while holding the program and reading the prayers. That’s a lot of multitasking on a Sunday morning. I thought it would be more like the Catholics, but it kind of wasn’t? I totally needed the program to know what on earth was going on.
The Presbyterians had a nice choir and a lovely pastor, but there was really no “down time.” It was all pray, preach, sing, over and over. I like a little quiet reflective time in my church. Plus, when they did pray, it was kind of slow and droning. C’mon people – it’s church! Perk up!
I’ll keep you posted. Fun religious times!
A Cabin in the Woods
That sounds kind of like a horror film, hm? Anyway.
In nine days, RR will be three years and seven months old. In all that long time, my wife and I haven’t spent a night together without her. Sure, there have been trips when one of us has been away (conferences, sick/dead mom, etc.), but in three years, and nearly seven months, if we’ve spent the night together, RR has been close by.
Apparently grandparents do things like… watch your kid while you go away for a weekend. WHO KNEW THIS?! And furthermore, if you knew this, why didn’t you TELL someone?
So one weekend in February, we’re headed to a cabin about 45 minutes north of town, but by ourselves. Just me and my wife. It’s like a hybrid Valentine’s Day/Anniversary mini-vacation. We’ll go up after bedtime on Friday, and come home Sunday afternoon. I’m ridiculously excited. The last time we went away together was March 2010, just a few months before RR was born when we went to the beach for a week to celebrate our anniversary.
Alone time, especially in the wake of having people at your house ALL THE TIME… well, I just can’t fathom it. “Whaaaat?! No way!” as RR would say.
Speaking of people in your house all the time, the in-laws have been spending a lot of time fixing up their new house. Which would be totally more exciting if they did this while we were home, but they do this all during our 9-5’s. Somehow, someway, they make it home before we do every night. Curiouser and curiouser…
It’s a lot. It’s hard to be your best self all the time. Sometimes, I just wanna come home and not be my best self. It’s exhausting.
But then again, M’s mom hugged her last night when she got home from work, and I was kind of (really) sad that I can’t hug MY mom anymore (sad trombone) so I suppose all of this family time is good. Plus, RR hugged both of them last night before bedtime, which was the Very First Time she’s hugged her grandfather. Slow to warm, that one.
It’s day 15 of the Whole30, so I’m technically halfway through. Notable discoveries include the fact that I’ve learned that I like brussel sprouts and it is feasible that I can actually tire of eating eggs every morning. Thank goodness for Primal Fuel and smoothies. And bacon.
Also, exercising willpower is actually a THING. As in, the first five days, it was hard to pass the rice at the dinner table, but yesterday it was actually pretty easy to carry down a huge tray of leftover sticky danishes and pastries for another office to devour. Oh, and I’m beginning to like the taste of black coffee.
In other news, my Christmas lights are still hanging from my gutters. Gotta get on that.
Hey January. I have mixed feelings about you so far. Let’s hash this out, hm?
Whole30 update. It’s day 8. I’ve managed to have meals at two restaurants (a Cracker Barrel and an Outback Steakhouse) and managed to eat cleanly (enough) both times. Screw you, biscuits and bloomin’ onion! (Not really.. I mean, I’ll see you later… just right now’s not a good time for me and you. You are delicious and handsome as always.)
Let’s just put this out there: I don’t know how Whole30 people do this with people in their house (in this case, my father-in-law) who are simply unsupportive of the Whole30. Or, shit, anything having to do with making choices that don’t involve saying yes to pizza and ice cream. Let’s also point out that 99% of the time, I am a go-with-the-flow person. You wanna do that? Sure, let’s do it. Wanna go there? I’ll drive. You may never meet a more amenable person.
Except if I’m in the middle of Whole30-ing myself. It’s a commitment, yo. It’s only 30 days. That’s the fucking point. The reason, for me, that it “works” is tied directly to the strictness of not only the food, but the timeline. “Works” not necessarily to lose weight (although that helps), but to manage my tenancies to overindulge if given the opportunity, and to manage the avalanche of over indulgences that often follows.
If for booze and dessert alone, doing the Whole30 again was necessary. I cannot drink a double bourbon seven days a week. I cannot have dessert every night after dinner. And without reminding myself that I have the choice to not do these things, I simply don’t have the willpower to resist.
January initially felt like totally the wrong month to be doing this. Wrong as in, the hardest. The fact that two more adults and three cats are living in my house for an undetermined amount of time is a breeding ground for beer and pie therapy. One of these people also actively refers to the Whole30 as “That Stupid Diet” in the same tone that he speaks about Obama while watching Fox News.
But then again, January seems to be the perfect time. It’s almost like, a militant training ground for willpower, which is something I struggle with during the Whole30 Off-Season. I mean, c’mon now. I sat right by the man while he crunched popcorn (popped on the stove in Crisco) and sipped a frosty Pepsi. Was I totally irritated? Yes. Did I cave? No. Did I leave the room? I thought about it. But did it make it easier to cut RR a piece of that weirdly sweet brown Outback bread last night, spread butter on it, and pass it on down, and not want to shove the whole thing in my mouth? Yeah, a little. Progress.
I mean, I’ve already lost custody of my couch naps, my recliner, my remote control, and walking around the house naked. What’s one more comfort, right?
I’m also coping with my mother in law, who insists that she’s doing the Whole30, too, but totally isn’t, as she orders the salad covered in blue cheese dressing and candied pecans.
January isn’t just about food, but how M and I are coping with our new roommates in general. Oh, and how RR spent the last week of December and first of January being a totally unrecognizable child – partly due to being out of school for two weeks, and also having grandparents around. Thankfully, this week, she has resumed to being a much more reasonable kid now that she’s back in school.
In roommate news, they closed on their new house yesterday. They don’t plan to move into it for a long while (floors to be sanded, furniture to haul across the country, etc.), but it’s something. It certainly is something.