Dellabee and Me

My journey as an adult – and a parent.

“He’s gone.”

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Bailey died.

We always knew Bailey was going to die. Then, when his cancer kept coming back, we knew he was dying. We focused on trying to keep him  comfortable (ie. eating, walking on his own, happy) for as long as possible. He kept hanging on. He played in our snow, slipped on the ice. He had Valentine’s cookies, and chewed stray Valentine’s cards left on the floor by the kids.

He changed a little bit towards the end. His mouth was really dry so he would get foamy. The steroids made him hungry all the time so he became an aggressive beggar. The combination of the two led to drooling, which I find to be very, very gross. I was maybe not as patient about it – “NO, BAILEY!” – but I’d like to think he understood. He was a gentleman like that.

baileycuter

The last few days I knew it was happening – he was struggling to get down the stairs, still able to but hesitant. Still eating, but not as voraciously. And generally sleeping alot. Doug had to go out of town, then got stuck out of town because of the snow. Then he returned for a day and left again to move my father down to live near us. By the time Doug returned, Bailey had fallen asleep on the floor of our bedroom, near but not on his bed. Because he seemed so weak, we moved him onto his bed. Doug slept on the floor with him that night.

In the morning, we were able to get an appointment with a local vet. On the drive over, Doug said something about how it was going to be after Bailey was gone and I told him I thought we really just needed to stay in the moment, for Bailey’s sake, and he agreed. As the vets carried him in and laid him down on the floor of what was clearly the euthanasia room, Bailey spied his green tennis ball toy in our hands and wagged his tail for us for what would be the last time. We talked to him and stroked his golden fur, telling him he was a good boy, as he was given the medications. It was so very peaceful.

baileydougocean

The vet placed the stethoscope on his abdomen, listening for any stirrings that would indicate the need for more medication. Then, she shook her head and said softly,

“He’s gone.”

We have his ashes in a box under our bed, and his paw print in plaster. We have lots of pictures and videos of him. We have his favorite toys put up in the cupboard, along with his collar. We remind the kids that we have our memories of him.

But he is gone.

baileysleep

I try to work that through my brain sometimes at night, or when I’m driving alone. He was HERE. And now he is not. There is no Bailey anywhere on this Earth. Like I’ve shut my eyes on something I only imagined, he’s gone.

I’ve dreaded writing this post ever since it happened, not only because it makes me cry (yup, crying as I type this and probably crying when I re-read it) but because I don’t want to be trite or unoriginal. Everyone who knew we adopted a dog with cancer knew this was how it would end. I didn’t want to be such a predictable blogger.

bailey ella

A dog is not a person, of course, and to compare the loss would be offensive. But the act of grieving, that is universal. We all know loss. Big and small. The ache I feel at his absence from this world is visceral. I try not to think about him too much, because the pain is so shockingly real that I’d rather pretend he is in the other room than lay out the facts for me to examine all over again. I hate to feel this…this…thing. I completely understand how we came up with the concept of negative numbers. The presence of absence.

Our vet remarked on one of our early visits, pre-cancer diagnosis, that Bailey was “a treasure.” I thought that was kinda funny at the time. But now, looking back, I see what was there all along. This gift, this fleeting puff of joy in a ginger-colored package, he was a treasure.

I’d do it all over again.

baileysmile

 

 

 

Bailey Update

In the midst of all the drama, I failed to share an update on Bailey.

In October, Bailey’s cancer returned. He had done very well throughout chemo. So we were surprised when he began to lose interest in eating. A trip to the vet for blood work confirmed that his cancer had returned. We changed his treatment and he again did great.

Right around Christmas, his appetite dwindled again. We stalled – neither of us wanting to know the truth. Eventually, we brought him in for blood work and yes, his cancer had come back a second time.

No treatment options are left. And even if there was something, we are at our financial limit.

So, we created a “hospice” plan for Bailey. We stopped feeding him the yucky prescription food he’d been eating, and began feeding him rotisserie chicken mixed with brown rice and vegetables. We put him on prednisone and got something for nausea since the high calcium in his blood makes him feel barfy. We still gave him subcutaneous fluids. We gave him cupcakes for his “birthday.”

And we discussed The End.

Doug found a vet who would come to our home to euthanize him. After watching Bailey slip and fall because he did not have the strength to manage the hardwoods, and cleaning up numerous accidents on the carpet, we felt it was Time. We scheduled the appointment for that Saturday morning. The kids stayed home from school on Friday to spend the day with Bailey. Doug and I messaged each other throughout the day, questioning our decision. See, Bailey sort of…got better. When I got home from work Friday afternoon, Bailey jogged up to me with a tennis ball in his mouth, tail swishing madly behind him.

We cancelled the appointment.

I assume it’s the combination of medications and the yummy food he is getting that are keeping him going. He is definitely slower, and weaker. His skin is flaking off everywhere, and his breathing is often heavy. But he seems happy. He is eating. He (briefly) chases the other dogs. He has not had any more accidents in the house. The recent snow and ice we had here was very hard on him – his feet slid around and he lost his balance a few times. He did eat lots of snow, though.

I know his time with us is coming to an end. Every morning, I check to see if he is still breathing – and there is a part of me that wants him to just pass on in his sleep, in his bed in our bedroom. It’d be so much easier than and less traumatic than having him put down, you know?

In the meantime, I am trying to be present with him. I give him lots of “goodies.” He has become a terrible munch-mouth if anyone is eating anything. He gets to sleep on our new couches, even though sometimes we have to help him get on or off them. He is still sweet and smart, expressive and patient with the kids. He is a great, great dog.

011

A long story that starts with a crooked red line…

In November, I left my split counselor position to work for an inner city school helping them to manage behavior issues. I was very excited, albeit nervous, about this opportunity. Nervous because the position I left was fairly easy and low-stress, not far from my home, and in the same district that my own kids attended. I was walking away from a good thing, and trading it in for stress, a commute, harder kids, and having to re-learn rules, policies, and names of staff and students. I suck at remembering names with faces.

My feelings about the whole thing, though, were much milder than I expected. I assume it is a side-effect of getting older. I just wasn’t as freaked out about it as I’ve been before when starting new positions. I didn’t even get butterflies in mah belly. Is that weird?

Anyways, I started the week before Thanksgiving on a Monday. My first few days there I was pretty busy. I was running all over the school to counsel kids and support teachers. I was meeting with kids in my office. I was badly forgetting the names and roles of the staff members I encountered. Still, I was jazzed.

Wednesday night I noticed a little sliver on my thumb. It was tender, not bad. I tried to dig it out. I had my husband look at it under a magnifying glass (because that’s how small it was) because I couldn’t get it out. He insisted it was not a sliver at all but actually a tiny cut and what I was seeing was just dried blood under the skin. Meh. I moved on.

The next morning, my thumb hurt. The not-sliver area had turned red. Mildly annoyed, I washed it with soap and applied some antibiotic ointment and a band-aid. I soon forgot about it and got busy at work. A few hours later, though, I was counseling an upset child in my office when I lazily scratched my arm and I happened to notice a weird red line on my forearm. As the student continued talking and fussing (if I’m being honest), I pushed my sleeve up and saw the crooked red line extended from my thumb, up my arm, and above the crease of my elbow where it then disappeared.

You know what this is, right? We lay-people would call this “blood poisoning.”

After another few hours of counseling kids and a panicked call to my doctor who couldn’t get me in until the next morning, I sheepishly went to my new principal and asked if I could leave early to go to Urgent Care. I showed her my arm. Her face said it all – get the hell out of here before you drop dead, she seemed to say. FYI, this was my 4th day on the job.

blood poisoning

This was my arm the morning after starting the antibiotics. The line had faded wuite a bit.

I vegetated in the waiting room of urgent care, listening to a chatty fellow describe life in the good ol’ days for about 3 hours and frantically texting my husband before I was called back to be seen. The person who checked me over was a student. When I explained why I was there and showed her my arm, she stepped back and pulled her phone out of her pocket while asking “do you mind if I take a picture of this to share with my fellow students?” I knew that meant it was kind of a big deal. So I let her take the picture but made her promise not to post it on Facebook. She then told me “this is called ‘streaking,’ and it means an infection has gotten into a vessel.” She excused herself to get her supervisor.

She came back in with him to discuss what was going on and get his opinion. They asked me questions like “how did this happen” and “have you traveled anywhere outside of the country recently.” No and no. He called it “an infection gone out of control” and said I needed strong antibiotics. Then I received a very painful shot in the butt and had to wait around to make sure I didn’t have any sort of reaction to it (I didn’t). I had to go pick up powerful oral antibiotics which I began taking that night. The next morning, my butt hurt  when I walked, my stomach rumbled to warn me of impending chaos, and every orifice of my body felt like it was on fire. I stayed home sick. The line faded by the next morning and gone by Monday.

That was my first week. The next week was 2 days long due to Thanksgiving. Easy breezy.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, my husband had to go out-of-town for the week. I had a training to attend on Monday and Tuesday so I was able to get home in time to get them off the bus in the afternoon – something Doug normally does since he works from home. I was still feeling the effects of the “powerful antibiotics” including cracks in the corners of my mouth (apparently we have good bacteria there and mine was killed off, allowing the not-good stuff to flourish) but was otherwise on the upward swing of things. Only good stuff ahead.

Wednesday morning as I was getting the kids out the door, I left through the garage in order to get to my car. As I stepped down, I turned to the side to hit the garage door opener button – and my right knee popped. The pop was followed by unbelievable pain and crunching. WTF?

I limped up the driveway with the kids and waited until their bus came. Then I limped back inside, gripped by indecision. What should I do? I hadn’t even been at my school yet that week because I’d been off-campus at a training so I didn’t think it was smart for me to call in sick. But I literally could not walk. I called Doug on the brink of tears and he helped me find this walking stick thing he had. I decided to bring it with me to use as a cane, assuming the knee would get better in a little while.

Only, it didn’t. My new school is 3 floors, an older rambling building. Part of job is to be a crisis responder and go to classrooms to help manage kids who are out of control. Our school has an elevator, thankfully, because stairs were impossible. But really, as the morning wore on, walking was also impossible. I sat in a meeting, embarrassed, with my leg elevated on a garbage can and water dripping on my pants out of a little baggy filled with ice cubes from the freezer. I was in misery. My doctor, again, couldn’t get me in until the end of the day. By noon I couldn’t take it any more and asked if I could leave to visit my friends at urgent care. My principal was unbelievably cool about it, even offering to bring my car around or call my husband – who, again, was out-of-town.

At Urgent Care my knee was x-rayed and I was given an immobilizer (black splint thing), crutches, and prescriptions for 2 different pain medicines. They also submitted a referral for me to get an MRI, and gave me a note that said I needed to be home, off the leg, for the next 2 days.

Wahhhhhh

Wahhhhhh

If you are keeping count, this would mean I was actually AT my school for about 4 hours the entire week.

Doug came home the next afternoon, which was a relief because it is frigging hard to do anything when you are on crutches. I had my MRI that Saturday, and the technician told me the radiology report would probably be done before Wednesday the following week. Also, over the weekend, I developed a progressively worsening itchy rash on my chest, neck, and face –  presumably from the pain medicine. I returned to work that Monday on crutches.

Being on crutches with a leg splint inside an elementary school is about as subtle as walking through the building with your hair on fire.

I went to an orthopedic doctor later that week. My knee was better. Still crunchy and occasionally painful, but not like it had been. Turns out, I tore the meniscus. I tore my ACL about 20 years ago and had it reconstructed, but the MRI images weren’t clear enough to be able to confirm if the repair was still intact. So I am probably going to need another MRI. I was also referred for physical therapy, and given different pain medication. I have a follow-up appointment with a surgeon next week.

Finally, the week before Christmas, I was off the crutches and feeling good. Except for one nagging thing. My rash had gone away but I still had these itchy welts on my arms. They seemed to get worse by the day, and they were very itchy like mosquito bites. But only on my arms. Then I found a few on my lower back. This had happened periodically over the past few months, mystery bug bites. We had checked for bed bugs but did not find any of the evidence indicating that was what the bites were from. In fact, I couldn’t find anything at all.

That week, we watched a show on cable called Monsters Inside Me. NEVER watch this show. Ever. Because nature is fucking disgusting. After the show I became convinced that we had some sort of parasite living in our bed that was biting us. So at 10pm, after the kids went to bed, we decided to tear our bed apart. We have a Tempurpedic. When I pulled all the sheets back quickly I found a single bug crawling around, and several blood spatters.

Bed bugs.

But WHERE?

We pulled the mattress off the bed – gingerly, mind you, since my knee is basically broken and Tempurpedic mattresses are heavy – and didn’t see anything. We pulled the bed away from the wall. At the end of the foundations against the wall, there are 2 tags that say “do not remove…blah blah blah” and around the edges of them was black stuff. Doug flipped one over and there was the bed bug family.

Ew Ew Ew. Flappy arms dance. Ew.

We pulled everything outside. Doug dismantled the foundations and vacuumed the bugs out. I bagged up everything – clothes that had been on the dresser, pillows, pictures that had been under the bed – and sealed the bags. I put the bedding in the wash, then slept on the couch for the next 4 nights. I called the pest control company with whom we have a contract, and they said they’d get someone out to inspect for free IN TWO WEEKS.

Doug steamed the foundations and mattress the next day. He bombed the bedroom and the kids’ rooms, although we saw no evidence of our little visitors in their rooms. Our room is at the opposite end of the house, and between our rooms is hardwood and tile, no carpet. We vacuumed and vacuumed and vacuumed. He steamed the carpets. We sprayed the carpets and baseboards, cleaned out our night stands and sprayed the tracks of the drawers, steamed the chair in our bedroom, and did the same in the closet that adjoins our master bath.

See, my parents were supposed to come for Christmas. Would you want to visit someone with a confirmed case of bed bugs? Me neither.

I told my mother about it and assured her that I would understand if she didn’t come. She came anyways. We seemed to have managed the bed bug thing. There were no more sighting, bites, or evidence of their stay. We continued to vacuum, spray, and wash the bedding. We learned that heat is the most effective treatment, so lots of things went through the dryer.

Last night, Doug wanted to watch a show called Infested. Why? Whywhywhy? He said he thought it might make us feel better, since they were featuring a bed bug infestation. So we watched it. And it made me feel much, much worse. The show inspired Doug to do a repeat steaming/vacuuming/spray treatment.

This morning, as I was making the bed I found a bug on a pillow that had been on the floor. We pulled the mattress and foundations out again and found another one on the bottom of the foundation. We sprayed everything down again,  threw the pillows back in the dryer, and washed the bedding again. Then I called a different extermination company.

They are coming Thursday, which is when I go back to work. My first day of the New Year.

Oh, also, ha ha, as if I wasn’t already suffering enough, I hopped on the scale a few days ago because my pants felt a little bit tight, and realized that I am 10 pounds heavier than I was at the start of November.

So, to recap, I ended 2013 by:

changing jobs

getting blood poisoning

tearing my meniscus

developing an allergy to Vicodin

getting bed bugs

gaining 10 pounds

I plan to ring in 2014 by forking over thousands of dollars for exterminating the bed bugs, probably buying bigger pants, and having surgery.

It can only go up from here.

May your 2014 be filled with joy, health, and bug-free bugs.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

With a Pretty Pink Bow

pink bow

The video for Goldieblocks has been getting a ton of buzz on the internet. It came up in my Facebook feed too many times to count as people kept sharing it and sharing it, usually including a comment that was some version of “I’d love it if girls did this to my house!”

My first reaction when I watched it was “huh?” because the music in the commercial completed contradicted the actual toy. The lyrics to the song, that has since been removed due to a little legal issue with the Beastie Boys, are as follows:

“Girls, you think you know what we want
Girls, pink and pretty’s it’s girls
Just like the fifties it’s girls

You like to buy us pink toys
And everything else is for boys
And you can always get us dolls
And we’ll grow up like them, false

It’s time to change
We deserve to see a range
Cause all our toys look just the same
And we would like to use our brains

We are all more than princess maids

Girls, to build a spaceship
Girls, to code a new app
To grow up knowing
That they can engineer that

Girls, that’s all we really need is girls
To bring us up to speed, it’s girls
Our opportunity is girls
Don’t underestimate girls

Girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls, girls”

But…these are essentially pastel-colored Tinker Toys.  Isn’t the song about rejecting the notion that girls only like pink things?

I’m confused.

I realize that this might have come up before, specifically with the LEGO Friends line that came out last year. There are 2 divergent schools of thought related to this – get girls into building toys by appealing to their girly nature, ie. pink/pastels, or create toys that are more gender-neutral. Personally, I think that we need to leave gender roles out of toys. Make things in all colors. Put pictures of both boys and girls on the box. Let the kids naturally develop interests and preferences without businesses trying to influence them for a profit.

What’s the harm in pink toys? Many people are saying they don’t care, as long as it gets the girls building things and using their brains. My husband likes the LEGO Friends because my daughter likes to play with LEGOS more now that she has a few of those sets. I suspect, though, that my daughter is actually more drawn to the fun people and animals that are included in the sets.

That is my issue. I am not anti-pink. I am anti-categorizing. Why aren’t there pink LEGOs in the non-Friends sets? Why aren’t there less pastels in the Goldieblox? Why can’t there be both girl heroes AND boy heroes? Why don’t the regular LEGO sets include the fun animals and accessories that the Friends sets have?

My son is not a stereotypical boy. While not effeminate, he is not how we expect most boys to be – athletic, boisterous, messy. He is unathletic, low-energy, and very emotional. He hates scary movies, violence, sports, and tight pants. By the way, I never knew these expectations existed until I had a son who didn’t fit them. “Boy” toys have never held much appeal for him, other than LEGOs and Nerf guns.

My daughter, though, she is a different case entirely. She is into many typical “girl” things. Her number one request at every gift-receiving opportunity for the last 3-4 years has been make-up. MAKE-UP!! She’d rather wear a skirt than anything else. She wants to let her hair get really long, because she thinks long hair is beautiful. However, she also likes bugs, and science, and getting messy. She loves being active. She likes watching Asian cinema with my husband. She is much more balanced.

Yet, the scales are getting tipped. More and more, she is expressing a preference for pink things. The fact that she never had a strong attachment to any one color before now concerns me. It reminds me of the behavior theory I studied in graduate school. Conditioning. If you pair something that brings pleasure with something neutral, eventually an association is made between pleasure and the neutral thing so it is no longer neutral. For example, let’s say I take a fun toy, and put it in a pink box, and give it to my daughter, and she is thrilled with the toy. Then if every toy I give her is in a pink box, she begins to associate pink with fun toy. Soon, pink = pleasure. Eventually she wants anything pink.

Has anyone else noticed that “boy” toys do not have a unifying color that signals “hey, this is for boys?”

There is an increasing focus on the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) in education, with a specific concern that girls do not do as well in these fields as boys. These building toys are being billed as a way to get girls more interested in these fields. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if the pink parade is actually part of the problem. In the “real world,” where is anything pink and pastel? Have you ever come across a house with a pink roof? Their whole childhoods are spent playing with things that are pretty and pink – yet those colors are highly lacking in the STEM fields. Where else in the world are things pink? Flowers, sunsets, ice cream. And maybe Miami beach houses. Check out one of the “boy” aisles in the toy section and see how many items accurately reflect real things. Weapons, tools, LEGOs, vehicles, heck even the wrestling toys look about right. I wonder how badly girls’ perceptions get skewed by playing with dolls who have heads 3 times the size of their bodies – kinda makes sense that math and engineering are puzzling. We raise them on fantasy – fairies and princesses and talking pastel ponies and glitter – but then wonder why they have no interest in or aptitude for real-world subjects.

Many toys that are marketed towards girls are heavily focused on friendship, nurturing, and relationships. Does this reflect the way women are, or are we that way because it is what we were taught was important? Chicken, or egg? I don’t know. Toys that are marketed towards boys are usually about fixing things, conflicts, and building stuff. Otherwise known as science, technology, engineering, and math. Is painting a bunch of building toys pink the only answer here?

Shouldn’t we maybe stop trying to gear toys towards specific genders and just get back to making toys for all kids to enjoy?

The best toys for kids are ones that allow them to creatively explore their environment, to express themselves, and to practice real-world skills. Unless we are going to start manufacturing pastel shingles to sell at Home Depot, and breeding purple horses, we should probably limit the pink to cotton candy and bubble gum.

Questions Without Answers

How do you measure a life? Is it in increments of time? Is it in numbers – sunsets seen, years married? Is it in lives touched? Friends made, friends lost?

For that matter, how do you define a friend? Is it just someone you see or talk to often? Is it that person whose loving presence can be felt even if they are miles away? Is it only the one who remembers to call on your birthday? Can you still be friends if you haven’t seen or spoken to someone in over 20 years?

What do you say when a mom loses her baby, when the baby dies in her arms for no apparent reason? I swallowed my shame as I silently bitched about how desperately I want a few minutes away from my kids, while hers was taken from her very grasp.

How do you comfort someone who is facing something so terrifying – Stage IV cancer – that the words escape you? My desire to avoid platitudes caused delay – I meant to send an email or post a funny pic on Facebook to make her laugh. I was actually surfing Pinterest and Google images for days earlier this week, trying to find the right saying and pic that would shock some laughter out of her. But I stalled – kept thinking I had more time, I’d get around to it. Only I didn’t.

Suzanne and I went to high school together. We were friendly but not friends outside of school. I always appreciated her sarcasm, her intelligence, but we were in slightly different social circles. We had no contact after graduation.

At least, not until a few years ago, via the magic of Facebook.

Facebook friendships exist on some sort of alternate plane. I feel closer to the people in my feed than I do to most of the people I see on a daily basis. But I know that sounds a little lame, and I feel kind of ashamed to admit it. Like married couples who don’t want to admit to others that they met online, I fear that the connections established through coax cables are somehow less than those made through actual face-to-face contact.

Suzanne was pregnant with her second child when we reconnected. I already had my 2. We exchanged comments and likes, jokes, messaged each other occasionally. We followed each other on Pinterest, and she once commented that she basically repinned everything I pinned. I enjoyed her online presence.

In the spring of 2011, Suzanne announced her 3rd pregnancy by posting an ultrasound pic on Facebook that clearly showed 2 babies. Twins!! She was adamant about not finding out the babies’ genders. People bugged her about it online, but she remained steadfast. Then an ultrasound tech accidentally revealed them to her – but she did not share the news, preferring to keep it secret until their birth.

In hindsight, if I’m being honest, my first response to the ultrasound pic was envy. Pure, honest-to-goodness jealousy. See, my husband does not want any more children but I do, and even though I have tried to make my peace with it, it often bubbles up inside me like a mountain’s hidden spring. I did not hold onto these feelings for long though, and soon I was caught up in the big gender reveal that would occur when the babies were born.

I had a dream that I ran into her in a clothing store, and as she rounded a rack of clothing her belly jutted out comically, like a football. In the dream, the babies were both boys. When I messaged her about it, she replied that someone else she knew also had a dream that she was having boys.

Her boy-girl twins arrived that fall. A few weeks later she posted a late night photo of her daughter, alert and adorable. The next day, her daughter stopped breathing in her arms.

As a friend, I was distraught for her. And because of my initial feelings of envy, I felt guilty – oh boy, did I feel guilty. As a mom, I was horrified. Losing a child is every parent’s deep dark fear, one I visited on occasion but generally preferred to avoid. She was living it. As a whole, I’d have to guess that her followers online were paralyzed like I was – what could we do? Was there anything we could do, beyond typing “so sorry” on her wall?

It didn’t matter in the end. Sue posted a status update that read something like “It really is okay that you don’t know what to say or do. I don’t know either. We can figure it out together.”

Just a few months later, Suzanne sent me a message and told me she had been diagnosed with cancer. Her story can be found here, in her own words. She kept a blog throughout her treatment, and what a crazy ride it was.

10/31/2013 – Suzanne died.

I didn’t go home for our 20th high school reunion last year. I thought about it – really, only because I wanted to see Suzanne again. Her prognosis was not good. But I didn’t end up going – we had to move to Raleigh from the Charlotte area for my husband’s job right around the same time as the reunion. I wish I had gone.

I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling right now. Do I have the right to be as torn up inside as I am? Because I am. I am so, so sad.

How do you measure a life? If it is by the amount of broken hearts left behind, then Suzanne’s life – cut short – was very, very full.

Desperate

I just spent 20 minutes sitting with my 9 year-old in his bed as he cried and cried.

He is sensitive. He carries so many burdens on his skinny shoulders. Night-time is when it hits him the hardest – recalling how he was short with his sister, thinking about the documentary about the missing bees, or even the brief flashes of a scary movie trailer. He relives it all. So much pain and fear. He hates himself for being mean to his sister. WHY are the bees disappearing, and why aren’t more people worried? Why does anyone who has been loved by someone have to die?

These are the things he said tonight. He also said he feels different from other boys, and that this difference makes him feel isolated. When I asked him what he thought was different, he said he does not like violence and rough-housing and pretending to kill people and that being “peaceful” makes him feel like a square peg in a round hole.

Here’s the thing: he IS different. He has always been different. He has never been a typical “wild” boy – always calm, not a fast mover or noise-maker. He has always played alone at recess – not because he was unwelcome, but because he hated the way the boys all played. He has rarely been invited to parties, and at 9 has NEVER had anyone at school who we didn’t know outside of school invite him over to play. I don’t know why. He is funny, gets straight A’s, cute, has decent hygiene. Why is it so hard for him to fit in?

I can identify with some of this, of course. I am sensitive too, and have always been that way. I get how the fate of the world feels heavy and pointed when you hold it in your hand. I often feel transparent, a conductor to other’s pain. This is a hard way to live, friends.

There is still so much, though, that I don’t understand. I never had issues with motor skills as a child – I could do whatever I wanted. D struggles with this stuff still – running, jumping, climbing, these things do not come naturally to him. I loved to read – I mean, I did it all.the.time. I lived for the Scholastic book order. D is a good reader but is pretty meh about books. I loved art and music – he draws stick people still and quit the violin this year. I don’t know what to do with this kid.

He loves Mine..craft. Which I don’t get, but I don’t have to because it’s his thing and not mine. Since it is an interest, I allowed him to play it – often. He watches youtube videos of it. He began making his own youtube videos – I wasn’t crazy about this but didn’t know what the harm was so I let it go. And I should have been more vigilant. Because soon a few internet trolls latched onto his videos and began making rude comments on them – comments like “what the fuck” and “please stop.” One even commented on his nipples – apparently he’d made the video in his pajamas without a shirt on.

I blocked the commenters. I changed his videos to private – I didn’t want to just delete them, but I didn’t want anyone else to have access to them. I also went through and deleted the mean comments and removed the comment option, just in case they were ever moved back to public without my knowledge. I changed the search filters on all the tablets to the strictest settings. And he is no longer allowed to upload any videos online.

I don’t know what to do here. I love this kid so much. How do I help him? I don’t even know where to start.

 

Just Eat the Cupcake

Recently, a co-worker brought cupcakes to work in honor of someone’s birthday. This lady lives near a pretty great bakery, so she loves to bring us goodies from there when she can. The cupcakes – there were 8 – were simply decorated with white frosting and plastic picks with different fall characters on them – black cats, pumpkins, I think a scarecrow? Nothing crazy.

At lunch, my colleague offered a cupcake to each of us – including the newest member of our team. However, the new gal turned down the cupcake, explaining:

“No thanks. I don’t celebrate Halloween.”

If you check the date stamp of this post you will see it is actually the FIRST week of October. You might also have noticed that these cupcakes were brought for someone’s birthday. I can only assume that the lady who bought them did so because these were what were available.

The lady who bought the cupcakes is also a religious person. So, she began insisting that she also actually doesn’t celebrate Halloween. And she doesn’t allow her children to, either. And, also, she doesn’t actually care for any Halloween music either.

My suspicion – or at least how I imagine it going down – is that if JC (or Mr. Christ, if you’re nasty) had been there he probably would have said “really, just eat the cupcake. If it bugs you, take the pick out of it. I know that you don’t celebrate Halloween, and anyways it isn’t actually Halloween today, this gathering is not a Halloween party, and I am pretty sure I heard her say these were for a birthday. Really, it’s fine. SERIOUSLY. Sit down and eat the freakin’ cupcake. EAT IT.” (in my imagination, JC always curses – it’s just better that way)

But hey, whatever. Don’t eat it. I did. And I don’t believe in ANYTHING – but you’d better believe I’d eat an Easter/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa cupcake without a second thought.

Because, you know, it’s a cupcake.

(It was delicious.)

Rants on school, grief, and a gas station encounter

A few weeks ago I was waiting not so patiently in the Wal-Mart checkout line. The return to school and its subsequent scavenger-hunt-for-specific-school-supplies had left me irritated and prickly. I could not find a composition notebook anywhere in the store – and this was the 3rd place I had looked. I was really, really annoyed by this, as between the 2 kids I was in search of 8 such notebooks.

And in case you were wondering, the spiral bound notebooks are no longer welcome in the classroom. Not sure what they did to get the boot, but right now  they are as well-received in school as peanut butter and switch blades.

In case you were wondering, I hate WalMart. I’d love to say it’s for political reasons like they don’t pay their workers fair wages or their dependence on crap made in China is interfering with free trade and also giving everyone lead poisoning, but these reasons aren’t really the truth. I hate WalMart because the checkout lines suck. Whatever amount of money I save because of their low prices is then cancelled out by the hours of life I lose standing in long lines that don’t.seem.to.move.

Perhaps related to this: why the fuck do people still use checks?? So, a sidenote:

Dear Check-writer 2013,

If the fear of new fangled technology is what’s stopping you, then consider the economics of it. Check cards are free, people. Books of checks are not. And also it takes like a nanosecond to swipe your card and then BAM! you are done. As opposed to the epic wait times you cause everyone behind you in line as you fumble around for a pen that works, can’t locate your ID, and then struggle to rip the check from the book while also trying to question the cashier about the mark down on canned cat food that she may have overlooked. Seriously, ask the bank about it. You will be amazed at how much a check card will enrich your life.

Sincerely,  the 13 people behind you in line

This time at WalMart, burned out by my fruitless search for composition books and full of hate for everything around me, I again found myself waiting in the line that time forgot. I sighed and shifted my weight from foot to foot. I only had a few things to get. I contemplated just throwing them down on the nearest shelf in a huff and exiting the building. But that would mean going to yet another store that night and I just wanted to go home. So I dug deep and waited.

The lady in front of me had a ton of random crap thrown on the belt. There was no unifying theme. Cans of baked beans, boxes of Glade plug-ins, crackers, painters’ tape. It was a jumble. I shook my head and looked away. But a few minutes later all forward progress had stalled. When I looked up to make my angry WTF face, I saw that the lady had begun taking things back out of the bags. She did not have enough money for it all.

I (briefly) considered offering to pay for it, but honestly she put a LOT of shit back. It wasn’t like she was just short a few dollars. I felt myself thinking something like “maybe replace that bag of pork rinds with a calculator?” but tried to stop myself. Once she had the total down to her range, the lady cashed out and quickly pushed her cart toward the exit to meet another woman. They didn’t look at anyone as they left.

I’ve seen the “people that shop at WalMart” pictures, and while yes, some are hilarious, I think that is really mean-spirited. After all, wasn’t the person taking the picture also shopping at WalMart? Why not throw a selfie in there?  Because we all shop at WalMart. And I remember days when I felt nauseous at the checkout as I waited for the total, hoping that it was under what I had in my account. I remember when I was much, much younger the days of putting things back when I realized I too had gone over my financial limit.  And I remember the shock, the shame, the embarrassment. I remember avoiding eye contact, feeling my cheeks burn, tears in my eyes.

My anger was gone.

The woman wasn’t young, she was probably middle-aged. And I realized as I watched her leave that maybe struggle doesn’t really know an age range. And I hoped that if I ever had more crap in my cart than I had money to cover, the people behind me would not take my picture to post on a shame-inducing website or call a friend and bitch about me, loudly. I’d hope they’d consider a time in their lives when they too might have struggled.

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In my post about Bailey, I lamented how people make the choice to euthanize a sick pet. The idea of having to make that call left me paralyzed with fear and anxiety. I did not think, if the time came, that I’d actually be able to decide what to do.

Then last week I returned home from a birthday party to find one of my beloved cats in a very bad state. She couldn’t lift her head up, her eyes were open but unresponsive, and she was breathing way too fast. Her yowley “meowwwws” suggested she was in a lot of pain. I didn’t see any injuries but feared that maybe one of the dogs had somehow hurt her. In a panic, I rushed her to the emergency animal hospital we had been bringing Bailey to for his cancer treatments.

Hours later we were left with no answers. She was still alive and looked a little better when we said good night to her around 10 pm.  She was responsive but unhappy. They could not give her anything for the pain until her vitals stabilized. Plans were made for different vets to look at her in the morning, she’d remain overnight for supportive care. Around 2am, the vet called to say she had taken a turn for the worse and that she did not think the cat would last throughout the night

And then I knew how people made the decision. It basically fell right into my lap.

I asked the vet to euthanize her.  I didn’t go to the hospital to be with her when it happened – in hindsight I wish I did, but in the moment I was so overwhelmed and sad and tired that I didn’t want to drive anywhere.

We had her cremated and her ashes are now in my closet, where the cat used to spend much of her time lying around and bothering anyone who came in to use the bathroom.

***********************************************************************************************************

On Friday the 13th, I stopped to get gas on my way into work. It was maybe 7:45am. While standing at the pump, another car pulled into the space on the other side of the pump, and suddenly standing next to me was a young girl in glasses and an ill-fitting long dress. In her hand was clearly a copy of The Watchtower. Oh shit, I thought.

“Good morning, ma’am, how are you doing today?” she asked.

“I’m fine, thanks. Heading to work.” She nodded and pushed her glasses up onto her nose a little further.

“Well I was hoping to talk with you about -”

“Oh, I’m not interested, sorry. No thanks,” I interrupted, turning back to the pump.

“I can understand that, ma’am. Most churches today can be so difficult for people. But I believe that our Lord Christ will one day return to Earth and-”

“Really, no thanks. I’m not interested. I’m an atheist, I don’t do church.” I silently cursed the slow pump.

“Oh, I see. I understand you are an atheist. Is that because, like, were you raised in a certain religion and then something happened or…?”

“Uh, no. I just grew up and realized I didn’t believe in any of it.” Clink. The pump stopped, my tank full. As I removed the nozzle from the car, she responded,

“Well don’t you wonder about what will happen after you die? Don’t you want to feel the Lord’s loving embrace when the world comes to an end?” I replaced the pump and twisted the gas cap closed.

“Well, no, not really. I think we have destroyed the planet, and at some point it is all going to be gone, and that when people die that’s all there is. Lights out.” I began to walk towards the driver’s side door. I was getting kinda pissed.

“The Lord is going to save us all from that. He made the earth for us, and he is going to restore it to the glorious way in which he intended it for us.”

“Well, I don’t agree with that. Good-bye.” I opened the car door and got in, while she continued to speak until I closed the door. I pulled my car around and as I did, the silver car pulled away, two white-haired women in the front seat and the girl in the back.

They hadn’t even been getting gas.

I was enraged. Mostly because I had only wanted to get gas so I could get to my meeting early enough to grab a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. I was angry that they had forced me into a theological debate before 8am. I was angry that I was basically being harassed at a gas station. And I was most angry that she had forced me to be unkind.

After, of course, I thought of all sorts of smart, witty replies I could have said to her,

But as we know, life isn’t a dress rehearsal. It was the best I could do in that moment.

What more can we expect from ourselves?

The Rescue

So we bought a house, like you do. And some people immediately begin filling their new house with treasures like furniture and art and the like.

I prefer treasures with fur.

So I began surfing the listings on Petfinder. And craigslist. And the local shelters. I didn’t really know what I was looking for – I just wanted another dog.

We already have 2 dogs. We have 2 cats, one of whom has kidney disease. Both of them are Persians which are fairly high maintenance. We have 2 red-footed tortoises. And a terrarium with a toad and a geriatric newt.

There is not a shortage of pets in this home.

And then one day, I saw the listing. A golden retriever, male, at the shelter.

bailey on the bed

I loaded the kids into the car early the next morning and went to the shelter right when it opened. we filled out some papers and then navigated the maze of cages and kennels until we found him. We were allowed to visit him inside his cage – he wanted us to let him OUT. He had a waggy tail and a smiley face, was very skinny and maybe a bit smelly. He nuzzled the kids’ hands with his nose so they had to pet him. He was indifferent to the other dogs all around him.  He didn’t jump, or bark, or sniff crotches or act afraid.

This was it. This was the missing member of our pack.

So, I put a deposit on him which put me first in line to claim him after his 3-day  “stray” hold expired. Then he would be neutered and I could bring him home. The next day we brought Doug to meet him and he, too fell in love.

On the 3rd day we called the shelter to see if he had been claimed by his owners. He had been found running loose in the city, no tags, no microchip. He had not been claimed. He was ours if we wanted him.

The next day I drove to the shelter at the post-surgery pick-up time. I waited in line for a long time while people around me eagerly picked up their new pets, or sadly turned their old ones in. The shelter was really full and there were signs all over the building that stated if you turned in a pet right now the chances of it being euthanized were quite high.  When I checked him out I learned that our new dog was heartworm positive.

“No big deal,” I said, a little too brightly for the crowded room.  “We just have to take care of him, right?”

They brought him out and it was all very anti-climactic. Instead of the slow-motion fantasy I had of him leaping up to meet me while “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong” played in the background, he shuffled out with his head hanging down from his post-anesthesia stupor and didn’t acknowledge the person holding his leash. Outside, he threw a long whizz in the grass but then he wouldn’t get into the car. I tried to get him to jump into the back of the CR-V and he balked. I opened the back door and he sat down on the hot pavement. After about 10 minutes of me cajoling, begging, using a high-pitched voice and lost of pat-pat-patting the back seat, I finally reached around him and gently picked him up, scared that I’d rip out his stitches, or that he’d freak out and bite me. Instead, he cringed and let me put him in the backseat. Once there he didn’t move a muscle.

At our house, the newly christened Bailey emerged from the car much easier than he had entered. We followed our predetermined plan of introducing him to the other dogs by having them meet outside. We were nervous. The dogs were nervous. It was fine.

Until a few days later. He became increasingly fussy about what he would eat. He had a few accidents in the house, and I had to remove the throw rug from the living room. About 5 days after he was home, we awoke to find him listless with dog-snot oozing from his nose.

Listen, do not EVER google symptoms while they are actually occurring. Or else you might diagnose your new dog with distemper.

We brought him to Banfield in Petsmart since it was a Sunday and they were open. On the drive there I told Doug to prepare for the possibility that Bailey might die. He just looked that bad. The vet assured us that he had the kind of upper-respiratory infection most dogs get at the shelter and sent him home with antibiotics.

Two days later we were back at the vet. Bailey’s neuter incision had opened up and there was blood on the floor and he was whining and in pain. While we were waiting to be seen Bailey barked at another dog in the store. It was the first time we’d heard him bark. Home he came with pain meds and the cone of shame.

bailey cone of shame

Over the next few weeks, Bailey’s incision healed and we adjusted to life with 3 dogs. He continued to be a picky eater, which was frustrating because we was so skinny and weak and needed to get stronger before he could be treated for the heartworms.  I tried a bunch of different canned foods. The vet prescribed a high-calorie canned food that he assured us Bailey would eat. He did eat it – once.

Bailey’s appetite declined further. He was so weak, his hind end shook when he went down the deck stairs to go outside. He couldn’t lift his leg to pee, his legs weren’t strong enough. He actually looked sad. I resorted to giving him crappy food because he would eat it – hot dogs, deli meat, this really gross play-doh looking food made by Purina.

I wondered if he was depressed because he missed his former family, his “real” owners? Was he older than 5, like they guessed at the shelter? Was this related to the neutering?

Finally, it all came to a head for me one morning. He had been sleeping on the tile floor and when he got up one side of his body was wet. He had peed in his sleep. He got up and stumbled over to the water dish where he lapped up all of it. I brought him outside and realized that when he was peeing in the grass, his pee was clear as water.

Diabetes, I thought. My shelter dog has heartworms AND diabetes. A google search confirmed it, except for the loss of appetite.

I called the vet and explained my concerns and asked that he be seen ASAP to be tested for diabetes. They reminded me that I already had a re-check scheduled in 2 weeks – did I want to just wait until then to have him tested?

“Well, if he has diabetes it’s pretty serious, right? Wouldn’t it be dangerous to wait?” Duh. They told me to drop him off and they’d work him in. The vet called me about an hour later and asked if he could get some blood work and x-rays. go for it, I said.

I kept hearing myself say “Gotta take care of him, right?” over and over.

All day I researched diabetes. I watched videos of how to inject your dog. I compared insulin prices. I researched foods. Sure it would cost some extra money but this is what being a pet owner – a GOOD pet owner – is all about, I assured myself self-righteously.

The vet called that afternoon and asked me if I could just come in so he could go over the results. The vet had an Indian accent and I figured he wanted to make sure I understood what he was telling me. So I went to the vet alone. Once there, he explained to me that Bailey was in acute renal failure but it wasn’t clear why. He wanted us to take him to a specialty animal hospital in a nearby city that had 24-hour care.

And he assured me that it was not diabetes.

I went home in a fog, worried about the cost and my wavering commitment to “take care” of this dog. Doug and I returned with the kids to pick him up and bring him over to the specialty hospital. $700 later we heard Bailey bark for the 2nd time, at another dog in the store. This was the first time Doug had heard it – we eyed each other proudly, temporarily forgetting the situation to marvel at our new dog’s voice.

We drove to the animal hospital in silence. I was doing mental math, trying to predict how much this whole fiasco was going to cost us. The kids whined. At the hospital, they took him in the back and we waited for hours. I ran to a nearby grocery store and picked up snacks for the kids. We finally met with one of the doctors who explained to us that Bailey had too much calcium in his blood and that he needed IV fluids overnight because he was dehydrated. He would be referred to the internal medicine specialists in the morning and they would likely want to do further testing to figure out why his kidneys were failing.

We agreed to have him admitted. We had to pay a deposit of $1000, half of the estimated costs of his care over the next 24 hours.

Yeah, you read that right.

The next day the internal medicine doctors did an ultrasound and more bloodwork. He wasn’t eating for them either. When we were allowed to visit him in the animal ICU, he weakly wagged his tail and then struggled to remain conscious.

For the first time, I seriously considered having him put to sleep. I imagined us telling the kids. I imagined us sitting around him, the vet pushing the needle in, Bailey drifting off to sleep trusting that he would see us again when he opened his eyes. HOW would I be able to do that? How does anyone actually make the call?

I have only had to have one pet put to sleep, and that was my beloved hedgehog Emma who had developed a mass in her uterus, and while the vet was palpating it he ruptured her bladder and I said “that’s it, put her to sleep” because I knew she must have been in excruciating pain. I did not stay with her when she passed – I couldn’t do it.

Dogs are not hedgehogs though. Dogs look at your eyes. They look at YOU. They see YOU.

That evening, his second night in the ICU, the vet met with us and told us she strongly suspected that Bailey had cancer – specifically, lymphoma. She said we didn’t need to decide what to do that night, but if we did nothing Bailey would be dead within 2-3 days. the hospital had an oncology team and he could be transferred to their care in the morning.

Cancer?

My dog has cancer?

WTF?

We cried. We went home and cried more. I got on the computer and increased the limit on my Care Credit account. Doug opened his own line with Care Credit. We talked back and forth into the night, although at that point our minds were already made up.

We had to take care of him, right?

The next morning we met with the oncologist, a very pregnant woman who cried when I cried. She confirmed that Bailey had lymphoma and that she wanted to start him on a steroid and, if we agreed to it, chemotherapy. She said that dogs respond well to chemotherapy and that there was every reason to believe he would get through this and live for another year – maybe longer. She wrote out our estimated cost for this hospital stay. We signed off on the estimate, increased our deposit to $3500, and gave the okay for chemo. She asked us to bring him something he might eat, like chicken. So when I returned I brought a rotisserie chicken.

He wouldn’t eat.

I took this picture that day, because I thought he was going to die before we came back in the evening.

bailey hospital

But that evening he perked up a bit, and he actually ate some chicken.

He continued to improve over the next few days and his appetite slowly grew.

We brought him home almost a week later.

This was that day:

bailey home hospital

 

Bailey has since completed one full round of the CHOPP chemotherapy regimen. He is in remission. His calcium levels are normal, but he is on a prescription diet because he has sustained permanent kidney damage from the calcium. Who knows how long he had been sick? He has gone from 61 pounds to 69 pounds.

After his return, we went to the bank and took out 2 loans to cover our debt. The treatment is typically done over 6 months and is estimated to cost between $5000- $7000. There are people who think we are crazy. I get it. It IS crazy.

So, here are the facts:

- We rescued a dog named Bailey.

- Bailey has cancer.

- We are paying for him to be treated.

- Even with treatment, Bailey is going to die – probably in another year or two.

- We are going to take care of him.

bailey rolling in the grass

 

 

Fly Away, Little Bird (or at least flap your wings a little bit)

The other day, Desmond asked if he could have some ice cream. I replied sure and then got up to get it for him.

And then it occurred to me that the kid is 9 years-old and can probably get himself some ice cream.

So I sat back down and told him to go ahead and get it himself. He was a bit taken aback but proceeded trepidatiously into the kitchen, much like someone who is lost.

What followed was like an old episode of The Three Stooges. He wasn’t sure which side of the refrigerator was actually the freezer. He couldn’t reach the bowls. He didn’t know where the scooper was, and then he didn’t know how to use it. Through it all, I continually fought the urge to just do it for him. Good grief.

Then it hit me – he had never scooped his own ice cream before. Like, ever.

I have been trying to give the kids more responsibilities since we moved into our new house. They have to put their own laundry away. They have to clean their bathroom. They are expected to clean up after themselves. My son has to bring the dogs outside. Baby steps, right?

But it isn’t just about chores and responsibility. I mean, not really. It’s about them growing up.  Not just me letting them grow up, but also encouraging them to grow up.

A few years ago a bird made her nest on our front porch, right near the door. If we peeked out the window closest to the door, we could see the wobbly baby bird heads that would disappear as soon as the door opened. They grew quickly – it was a matter of weeks before the nest was crowded with fully-feathered birds. One day, I happened to be watching the nest through the window when the mother bird flew off. In her exit, she seemed to flap her wings a little harder than usual, which jostled all the babies out. They fluttered off clumsily behind her.

Except for one.

He ended up hopping off into the grass. A heated lord-of-flies-esque scene quickly unfolded: the baby hiding in the shrubs, the blue jays diving low, the mother bird watching and diving at the blue jays, and I swear on my life a snake popped its head up through the top of another bush like a fucking puppet. We intervened, capturing the baby in a box and putting her back up in the nest so she could try that exit one more time.

The nest was empty within hours.

I decided that my wings need to be flapping a little bit harder so my baby birds realize they can fly.

So tonight, as I typed this, my kids are unloading the dishwasher together. For the first time. Like, ever. There were some initial complaints. I had to force myself to stay seated instead of jumping up to help every time one of them said “but I don’t know where this one goes!” Eventually, the dishes were put away in mostly the right places.

The kids seemed to get a little bit taller in those 10 minutes, I think.

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