Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brody, The Big White Dog

We’ve had Brody, the Big White Dog, living at our house for three weeks . . . today. It’s been a learning curve, but we expected that. You don’t live with a mass of clean floors, boring quiet, and a sweet smelling lawn for a year without noticing some changes after a puppy shows up.

It’s just that this puppy fooled us for the first week.

We picked him up at the pound two days after we won him in the Greatest Animal Rescue Raffle of All Time. He looked a little shell shocked. A week before, he had been a free agent, roaming the highways and byways of some street in Phoenix, when suddenly a concerned citizen saw him, reported him to Big Brother and, just like that, Brody was locked up behind bars in the Big House on Christmas Eve. You might think that snitch probably got coal in his stocking the next morning, but if I ever get to meet that guy, I want to shake his hand. He did us a favor.

This may turn out to be the best dog we’ve ever had.

But things got off to a rough start. Our seven-month-old yellow lab/German shepherd mix got neutered, inoculated with half a dozen vaccines, chipped, and handed over to strangers all in less than eight hours. He seemed in good spirits in spite of a pretty Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day—right up until we tried to convince him to jump up into the back of our Chevy Tahoe, directly inside the open door of a dog crate we’d brought with us.

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Just in case during the hour long drive home a fifty pound Labrador tried to climb into the driver’s lap, we thought “containment” was a good option for a nervous animal who’d just spent the last week of his life in “containment.”

Not our brightest moment.

The three of us compromised, though, on a ride home on the floorboards behind the front seats where Brody behaved like a perfect gentleman and never once acted like a backseat driver. When we got home, he inspected his new place like a kid seeing Disneyland for the first time, overwhelmed by a basket of toys and too busy looking around to want to eat. Considerate of the beautiful condition of the backyard lawn, he chose instead to christen our living room carpet when nature called.

“Okay,” I admitted to my ever patient husband while I knelt on the floor and scrubbed at the soiled spot, “we’ve all learned something important today.”

“And what is that?” Rob asked.

“Brody’s not housebroken.”

But he adjusted quickly, tolerated his crate at bedtime, and never complained to the authorities about the way he was being treated. And then he got sick. Two days after he came to live with us, on a holiday weekend when even vets have locked up and gone home to be with their families, he went downhill fast. We didn’t know what was wrong, only that he had an intestinal problem, stopped eating and drinking, was clearly wasting away to skin and bones, and became lethargic.

Finally, when it was clear that something more than PTSD was affecting him, we found a nearby animal hospital that worked him in and learned that Brody brought home a souvenir from the pound.
Kennel cough.

This is nasty stuff. We’ve never seen it before. And we didn’t know he was coughing. We thought he was gagging. Who knew dogs don’t cough like people? He was sneezing like people, but I just thought he was allergic to our carpet. So he got the mother of all antibiotic shots while we bought fancy canned food and probiotics and more antibiotic pills and yummy pill pockets to hide the pills in and, three hundred dollars later, brought our pound puppy home to recuperate.

I’ve added up the costs of dry dog food and canned dog food, dog treats and dog toys, dog beds and a dog blanket, antibiotics and two vet bills, and so far our $60 pound puppy has cost us close to $800.00. I sort of overlooked the possibility of spending our kids’ inheritance on a dog when we decided to adopt another one.

But he got well. And then he turned into a puppy. A giant, fifty pound, creamy white puppy with a huge Labrador head and a German shepherd tail, feet the size of coffee mugs and an appetite the size of Clifford’s. He looks like he’s full grown until you peer into his deep, dark eyes and realize you’re staring into the mind of a toddler canine who has no idea that my red polished toenails are not tiny toys asking to be chewed on or that he’s four times too big for anyone to think of as a lapdog.

We’ve got our hands full over here. It’s awesome.

I’ve laughed more in the last three weeks than I have in the last two years. This dog is Hilarryous—I should have named him “Larry” for short. I’m pretty sure when they found him in Phoenix that he’d just run away from the circus. If we’re too tuckered out to play tug of war with him, he doesn’t care—he can throw a football and catch it mid-air in his mouth all by himself. He’s already chewed and gutted three and a half stuffed animals. Yesterday he chewed the ear off of an innocent squirrel, but squirrels are tougher than elephants and giraffes. Those last two were drawn and quartered in just under thirty-two minutes the very first night.

He’s the reason we’re getting up off the sofa thirty more times a day than we did a month ago—because he’s learning how to stand at the back door when it’s time to pee instead of taking the matter into his own hands in our living room. He’s become our physical trainer. Walks in the park are no longer an option—they’re a necessity if we want this overactive roommate to burn off his energy with exercise instead of chewing up our furniture.

And you should see us chase the ball for him! Labs fetch but they don’t share.

Everyone thinks it’s so great when you turn up your nose at dog breeders and go to an animal shelter to “rescue” a dog. But that’s just because they don’t know the truth. We didn’t rescue Brody.

He rescued us.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Madonna Has Fallen

"I want to see something old," she said. "Really old."

Well, you’re kind of looking at it, I thought, while I dug around in my junk drawer looking for something that qualified, past the stacks of antique Hallmark cards I’ve been saving since 1976, the plastic snake my husband and I take turns randomly hiding in shoes or cupboards as a joke, and an empty box with instructions on how to use a set of earbuds I haven’t seen in two years.

It’s not like I meant to get old. It’s nice of her not to mention it every time she drops by for a visit. That’s probably because it goes with the territory since I’m her grandmother. But I used to be eight years old, just like her. Once—not that long ago, when I was twenty-five—I gave birth to her mom. I had a two and a half-year-old and a newborn back then.

And then I got old.

Motherhood can do that to you.

Here’s the other thing that happens when you get old. Er. Old-er. You forget what it’s like to be in the trenches where raising kids happens. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. It’s like my mom always told me. The same way you forget labor pains, child raising pain is something else you forget.


No, both of those things are bald faced lies. I remember excruciatingly what labor pain felt like, and it’s pretty much the same memory whenever I think about the fear and naiveté of raising human beings. That’s ironic. Because once the kiddos grew up and got ready to leave home, the whole “you need your space and I need you to have your space” experience felt exactly the same way it did at the close of a nine month pregnancy. I needed that kid out and living on his own. That might have been the last time the two of us ever agreed on the same thing at the same time again.

Until they grew up. And had kids of their own.

At that point, it’s really hard not to be like some of my friends—who are also old—and point and laugh while our adult children endure their own stand-offs with our practically perfect grandbabies. In a way, it seems like sweet revenge. Once upon a time, our kids tormented us, fertilized our crop of gray hairs, and stole at least eight and a half years of irreplaceable sleep.

But now it’s their turn to grow old. “The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well,” some guy named Sam Levenson said, “is they have a common enemy.” That’s completely true until it’s our turn to have the granddarlings at our house for a sleepover. And then it all comes rushing back in like the tide.

I can have unlimited patience for about, oh, let’s say three hours, laughing at all the carelessness, immature reactions and forgetfulness of toddlers and preschoolers. Every time they visit I’m thrilled to see evidence of life in our boring old grownup house again, with dolls and cars all over the floor, every sippy cup we own filling up the top rack of our dishwasher, and dress-up clothes scattered from one end of the house to the other. That’s what a great YaYa I am—right up until it’s time to gather up the kiddies and their woobies and blankets and dolls and trucks and toothbrushes and shoes and get them to put away the thousands of toys I couldn’t stop myself from buying the very moment our kids announced that we were going to become grandparents.

And then, suddenly, I run out of energy and patience and good humor at exactly the same time I realize we’re thirty minutes late leaving the house to take them home, no one has used the bathroom before we buckled them into their car seats, I can’t remember who got to sit in the zebra booster last time, and I didn’t bring a cup of water for each kid so they’d stay hydrated during our twenty minute drive across the Arabian desert we call Arizona.

And the poor kid in the middle of the backseat doesn’t have a window to call his own.

That’s the moment when I understand what my daughter saw while she stood staring at the nativity scene on our front lawn on Christmas night last week. It’s just a simple, sparkly, colorful arch representing a stable, a backdrop for its equally sparkly Mary, Joseph, and The Babe Lying In A Manger. Only, on this night, a rare winter storm had blown through, playing havoc with our precarious holy family. Joseph managed somehow to remain standing on his feet. The Christ Child was cozy in his metal manger, and the stable protected two of the three lead players in the Christmas story.

But the Madonna Mary, the Virgin Mother herself, lay face down in the mud at the feet of the baby who probably caused it all, her husband’s arm pointing somehow in her direction as if to say, “Hey! Get up! The kid is hungry again.”

My daughter, on solo duty while her firefighter husband was working, stood exhausted after loading her three little munchkins and their entire Christmas haul from Grandma and Grandpa’s house into the family car, plus an armload of leftovers from the holiday dinner. With slumping shoulders, she sighed in commiseration at the fate of the virgin matriarch who lay prostrate in our front yard.

“That,” she said, “is the picture of motherhood.” She paused before adding,

“There was no Xanax in Nazareth.”

No matter how old I get or how many times when my kids were growing up I imagined revenge arriving someday in the form of grandkids, I’ll always remember what labor and childrearing pains felt like. I just can’t bring myself to laugh when my adult kids are exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. Once a parent always a parent—it’s a solidarity even grandkids as delightful as ours can’t bust up.

I gave my daughter a big hug and a bag of chocolate. It wasn’t Xanax, but this much I know.

It was more than the Virgin Mary had.