For all of my fellow dog bloggers, here’s a challenge for this month, inspired by one of my favorite dog sites, http://www.dogshaming.com (sorry, since I am not “techy”, I can’t get the “add a link” thingy to work in that cool way the rest of you can – pffft!):
Please post a photo (or two or three) and tag it “Dog Of Shame” (so we can find each other) of your dog’s worst crime against, say, your new love seat or roll of toilet paper or shoes. Even if you have the perfect pooch, perhaps that pooch has a past and evidence of that past will qualify you to join the challenge.
In this case, nobody wins or loses anything, but we can have some fun. And while you’re at it, have a look at Dog Shaming (especially on Fridays when they post adoptable dogs).
And let me know when you’ve posted. It will be so nice to know I’m not alone.
I found this piece the other day in some old papers. It was written four years ago, before Mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. As I re-read it, I realized how much our mothers’ memories of us continue to remind us not only of who we are but that we are. For better or worse, mothers are the spoke of the wheel of our lives.
Sweater, n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly. ~Ambrose Bierce
My mother last saw her “real” father in 1931. She was five and just starting kindergarten. He was about 30 and on his way to jail.
I don’t know what you understand at five, although I suspect what she did understand about her father disappearing, the shame she, her brother and their mother felt, and the fact of growing up fatherless in the Depression became the weakened taproot from which her emotional life grew. Or perhaps failed to fully thrive.
My grandmother went to work to support my mother and her older brother. My uncle got a paper route at seven to contribute to the household. When they lost the house, they moved from Louisville into my great-grandfather’s big house in Indianapolis, where my grandmother’s younger sisters lived until each of them married and moved away. Sometimes, my mother was sent down to an aunt in Evansville for a summer or part of a school year.
The 1930s were tough enough for most people, but how a divorcee with two children managed to sustain a delicate balancing act between homelessness and getting by in an era when women of my grandmother’s social class didn’t work — outside or inside the home — is beyond my comprehension. What I do understand, however, is that something had to give, and what gave was the luxury of time: time for my grandmother to nurture her children and time for her children to be children. My mother tells me that my grandmother was very critical and exacting. She couldn’t afford to run anything but a tight ship because there was no margin for error.
They moved around from relative to relative, from town to town, meaning that my mother was the new girl in class at the beginning of every school year, never acquiring the knack of the outgoing newcomer. When my mother was 14, my grandmother married my grandfather, Lou, an industrial psychologist, always in search of a tenured position at a scattershot of universities. More moving, until they finally settled in Chicago where my mother became part of the sophomore class at Sullivan High.
Lou was teaching at a local university, and, although my grandmother (whom we called “Honey” because that’s what we’d heard Lou call her) had “retired”, the past had already cemented how Mother and her brother related to life: Mom always waited for the other shoe to drop; her brother was always going to be one step ahead of any falling shoe.
She finally had three years in the same place, in the same class of students (among which was my dad, although Mother didn’t like him much then). She went on to the Art Institute of Chicago Design School, graduated, and went to work for a children’s clothing manufacturer as a designer. For a year.
After the war, when my dad got out of the Air Force, they met again at a dance. My mother was engaged to orthopaedic surgeon, several years her senior and several inches shorter. Dad and Mom met again at the dance, and, while I think my dad was pretty smitten with her, she fully intended on marrying Dr. Harry. At least up until Honey had a heart attack and had to stay in the hospital.
Dr. Harry was a busy surgeon who often ended dates with Mom by giving her cab fare to get home as he rode off in another taxi to the hospital on an emergency. My dad, on the other hand, wooed Mom by going to the hospital to visit with my grandmother every day. It struck Mother one day that life with Dr. Harry would mean interrupted meals and lonely taxi rides while life with Dad would mean kindness, stability and devotion.
Life with Dad would also mean a first apartment with a Murphy bed and a first child (my sister). A first house in the suburbs and a second child (me). A second house in which we would grow to be a family, fight tooth and nail, cry our eyes out, laugh even in the worst times, have a basement that flooded with every rainstorm, and eventually grow away from.
Every time I focus on all the ways that my mother has driven and still drives me crazy, I remember her story of continual survival. There was “The Accident”, the time a drunk driver hit my parents’ car head on when I was in fifth grade. Mother went back and forth through the windshield enough times to change her face forever, had broken more bones than I thought anyone had in their body, and awoke in the hospital with a priest giving her the last rites. With all that, she still summoned the courage to have my sister and me visit her in the hospital when she knew she was unrecognizable to us. Although she came home after four months in the hospital to reclaim her role as our mother, the many surgeries it took in the ensuing years to give her back a nose, lips, teeth, and a forehead were something she seemed to take in stride. Or maybe it just seemed that way to us because children are both self-centered and lack the ability to see their parents as anything other than, well, parents.
Now, as she is morphing into an old widow who can no longer balance a checkbook or hear the “ping” of the toaster or the whistle of the kettle, relying on me to do things for her I thought she could do for herself, I remind myself that it was Mom who took on running Dad’s restaurant when he had his first heart attack and by-pass surgery even though she didn’t know how to write a check. It was Mom who balanced that with visiting my sister in another hospital across the city. At that time in our life as a family, we were contentious and divided, and I found it easy to decline her request to come home from my tiny cabin in the Rockies to help because I’d grown tired of coping with “their” dysfunction.
My mother isn’t easy. Being around her, then and now, is often like being nibbled to death by ducks. She is sometimes insatiably needy and not terribly reflective. She was and is as critical and judgmental as she claims her mother was, but she doesn’t see it. She still asks me “Do you have something on your head?” when I go out the door in the cold weather, and “Who are you going out with and what time will you be home?” on the rare (and getting more rare) occasion that I make social plans.
I react reflexively to her smothering; I don’t understand why she doesn’t get that I’m a middle-aged woman now. When I take a breath and think, I realize that this is the way she shows her love. I wish sometimes she showed her love for me in the way she showers affection on her little dog with the dragon breath that has more clothes than I do. But then, I don’t sit in her lap and kiss her with my tongue, nor have I ever been a big fan of PDA with my parents. Perhaps it’s simply that she loves me in the way I allow her to. And each day, I try to show my love for her in the ways I am able. It’s like she’s a PC and I’m a Mac.
She shows her love for me every day. It’s in the phone call that comes at 7 p.m. every night — “what’s new?” she’ll ask, and then tell me, as she does each night, that she took her dog for a walk, what the dog’s poop looks like, and what old movie she’s watching on TMC. She will buy me something I don’t need, and then give me the bill for it. But, at 84, she slept on a mattress on my living room floor (the guest room was being renovated) when I was so ill with pneumonia. I couldn’t move.
She chose me, for reasons I do and don’t understand, to live near as her life winds down, and I’m privileged to share that with her on the days I’m not overwhelmed by it.
Every time I want to pluck out my eyes in frustration when she argues with me about what day it is, I try to imagine what it’s like being her: nearing the end of life, losing your hearing and eyesight and connection with the world, not knowing the things you once knew so well, the misplaced memories of things and people who made up your life. She trusts me to be there for her now. She’s not embarrassed that I know most of her most intimate health issues. She knows it’s okay with me that she’s changing with age, so she doesn’t have to work so hard with me the way she does with others to appear to be her former self.
I contemplate a life in the near future without my mother in it, and I know it will be lonelier, even as I grow weary of elder care. It will be, as a friend once said when his band broke up, “a horrible relief.”
I wonder, how will I feel when it’s past 7 p.m. and the phone no longer rings?
This collage is a combination of elements of my own landscapes, vintage photographs restored and hand colored, and “drawings” created in Photoshop when I was learning paths. The bunny in the boy’s hand is a transformed photograph of a vintage bunny given to me by my great aunt after I was born (gasp) 57 years ago.
I have been sick for a week. All the photos this week have been taken with my iPad, and mostly in my bed. Dogs make great hot water bottles when you are shivering with a fever. Time goes by slowly when you’re sick but seeing Willow’s snapshots and how much her body has changed from teeny puppy to small dog, time also speeds by like a bullet. Or a terrier running through the garden with your sock in her mouth.
I haven’t been able to do much to find an outlet for their rambunctious spirits. Therefore, three pillow cases, two wool socks and one lovely cream coverlet have become victim to what looks suspiciously like puppy gnawing rather than damage done by gigantic lunar moths from another planet. I’m telling you this on the q.t. I can’t complain to my trainer because none of them are supposed to be on or in my bed. Ever.
Martha has slept on the bed for 16 years. I’m not about to take that away from her now because the Bed Thing is spoiling the other two. It’s come one, come all, I’m afraid. Gah.
We did have the most amazing murmuration of starlings this week I’ve ever witnessed. Thousands of them swooped around the fields of my farm and around the garden like a symphony of notes of a Rachmaninov concerto. Incredibly choreographed by some instinct, they went to ground, then swooshed up in formations in the air around the house and fields until they finally flew away. I managed only to catch a quick shot of part of their last swoop. Oh, for my Nikon, a wide lens and a perch on the ridge line of my roof.
Because I have my usual holiday bronchitis and am too tired to type, I’ll post another of my early photo collages that I’m sure must have some deep psychological link to my love of a little dog that ate a pillowcase and chewed another hole in our quilt last night.
Happy Thanksgiving All! To those having duck, well, sorry.
I think I may have mentioned somewhere here that Willow is the Spawn of Satan.
I awoke this morning with a sinus headache that would have killed an elephant. The medication for that makes me a bit loopy (okay, dopey) but it worked, and off the dogs and I drove to our weekly private training session with the World’s Most Amazing Dog Trainer, hereafter more simply referred to as MPS (my personal savior, to whom I have given over not only my puppy but, after today, my soul). He is my Cesar.
MPS is teaching me to teach Willow leash manners and a chain of command strategy upon which we will build so that we might override with training the strongest prey drive I’ve ever seen in an animal not on the National Geographic Channel. The method is gentle but firm, all about teaching her impulse control through obedience. But before sessions begin, MPS believes that she benefits from a short time to exercise her so-called restless spirit by allowing her to run and play with a giant fluffy white LabraDoodle in a fully fenced area of about an acre. Fully fenced except for the teeny space about the size of a toddler’s hand between the galvanized steel gate and the moss covered cedar gate post through which she made her escape this morning.
You know that feeling of watching the horrific event unfold in seemingly slow motion but also at the speed of light? And the equally awful awareness that seeps into your consciousness that you are helpless to catch the puppy running at a break neck pace toward the neighbor’s sheep pasture because in your slowness and haste the humans are crashing into each other and bashing the gate closed with each attempt?
We are running like sprinters wearing clown shoes over slimy leaves toward the sounds of sheep baas, small dog yips, and cloven hooves pummeling the ground. MPS has leapt over the fence already. I can see as I skid to a halt at the fence a tiny white dog herding unsheared, dirty brown terrified sheep, and a man in a formerly pristine black Patagonia fleece now covered with sheep muck chasing the little white dog chasing the sheep.
Willow! Willow! We call. Her name could be anything. This is The Best Thing she has ever experienced in her life. This is the E Ticket at Disneyland for hunting dogs. The Grail. Discovering Atlantis.
For the man, the sheep, and the woman who owns the sheep and who has now come to the pasture with a shotgun, this is most definitely Not The Best Thing.
Willow has culled one ewe from the herd and has her cornered. The ewe butts her a few times but the dog is not dissuaded. Willow is, however, standing her ground, and MPS quite nimbly swoops in and scoops her up by the collar. I hop (okay, I don’t hop, I scramble, my days of leaping anything taller than a twig long past) the fence and grab Willow from MPS. She is unharmed, the sheep are unharmed even if unnerved. We apologize to everyone and take what seems like our first breath since the Great Escape.
Back at the training barn, the correlation between her chances of survival and the need for more accelerated training is glaringly obvious. Willow is moving in with MPS for a month. I made a commitment to this dog the day I brought her home. For her safety and the safety of anyone else, she needs a truly experienced hand. Although I have always trained my own dogs, were I to let my ego rule, Willow will never be the kind of dog she deserves to be: alive, safe, obedient and a good companion. As a client of mine once said of his personal manager, “he might be Satan but he’s our Satan.”
Ironically, her breeder sent me an email yesterday with photos of the available puppies from three new litters. Since Willow was doing well in her training, he wondered, did I have any jealous friends who might want a puppy just like her?