Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Post Script to Good-Bye

The email from my vet said Gilbert’s ashes were ready. I was grateful but I didn’t know how I’d handle this next part.

This is a job I’d really like to give to my husband, I thought.

It was raining, the kind of cold, grey January day that is good for hot chocolate and movies, but not regular fast-paced life. I had just gotten my oldest daughter and was driving the back-roads way to get my younger one. A Subaru wagon was behind me most of the way. It looked familiar, but it was hard to see the driver because of the rain.

Finally, I pulled into the right lane at the traffic light in town and came to a stop. The wagon pulled up in the lane next to me. I glanced over at the driver thinking it might be…yes…it was.

I rolled down my window. The driver did the same.

“Do you have?” I asked.

She nodded. “Yes.”

I looked ahead. Beyond the intersection there were some empty parking spots along the side of the road near the pizza shop.

“I’ll pull over, “ I said rolling my window back up.

A few seconds later, I popped my trunk and walked to the wagon.

“If it wasn’t so preposterous to be getting my dog’s ashes along the side of the road “ I said, looking into my vet’s car, “I’d be more sad.”

She laughed and handed me a pretty bag with a box wrapped in green tissue paper from the front seat.

“It’s heavy,” I said, taking the bag.

 “I knew it was Gilbert,” she said, smiling.

 I thanked her and put the bag into my car.

Sometimes you anticipate emotion. Other times you’re surprised by it. When I sat in the driver’s seat, ready to merge back in traffic, my daughter in the back seat, my dead dog’s ashes in the trunk, I felt overwhelmed by a light feeling of happiness.

“He’s home,” I thought, deciding that was why I was happy. Even if it’s not, I’ll take it.

Thank you to all the kind friends and readers who wrote last week. Hearing your stories and memories both of your pets and of Gilbert was very moving.

This week's post on The Educated Mom is an interview with a mother who has concluded that when it comes to school next fall, her daughter is most likely, "Not Getting In"....

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Good-Bye to Sweet Gilbert

I came home this morning and sat down to write, unmet, for the first time in eleven years by the expecting and knowing eyes of Gilbert our Golden Retriever. 

He was my 28th birthday present, riding home with me from Newburyport, Massachusetts, on March 9, 2002. The blue ribbon around his neck said “Rainy Day Farms” and he was a twelve-pound ball of soft fur clinging to me in the backseat, unsure of the ride and where he was heading.

So quiet for a puppy, until we took him to the vet a day or two later and she realized he had Lyme disease. After a round of antibiotics his true personality emerged and he was chewing our furniture like a puppy should.

 “Will you show him or castrate him?” the vet, Dr. Olga, asked us at our next visit. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms but we chose the latter. He forgave me. If dog shows weren’t in the cards, he still had the look of an LL Bean model. The dog kind, that is.

At every visit, Dr. Olga would examine his paws. In her Russian accent she’d declare his future. “He will be 80 pounds.” His paws kept getting bigger and eventually she said, “He will be 90 pounds.” At his biggest, he was 112 pounds, but I admit that was when Heidi was eating in a high chair and I didn’t mind his helping me “clean up” the floor.

He was the second largest dog in West Concord Puppy Kindergarten although, as with other schools, most awards were given for merit or obedience. In those he excelled in kindness, patience, love and loyalty. Although he’d never go on a walk without tugging on the leash. At first it was because he wanted to run; later it was to grab some discarded food or clumps of fresh cut grass.

We swam with him in pools and rivers when he was young and we were childless. Is there anything more wonderful than a retriever in the water or bouncing through the snow? He rolled in cold snow as if it were sunshine, so good on his furry coat and snout.

He moved with us and saw us through both kids. A gentle giant with them, curious the first day we brought Heidi home, so much so, that wouldn’t venture far on a walk the day she came home in her green car seat. I had walked him everyday during pregnancy and always thought he encouraged me to stay active and healthy. “Thank you, Gilbert,” I’d say later, “I think walking you- and your tugging on the leash--induced my labor just in time.”

It was probably not true, but given the shift in our family’s focus, it was another selfless act on his part. Long trips to the park and long walks in the snow turned into shorter ones, and he took to a supporting role when our lives focused on our kids. Maybe once he pulled the stuffing out of their stuffed animals, but never again. How did he know what was theirs? How did he love them?

He’d steal socks out of the laundry or the suitcase of an unsuspecting guest. He loved women, especially those with blonde hair. He once developed a crush on a woman who owned a video store, aware of her presence a block away.

A few days after his eleventh birthday he sat immobile. Our current vet, also a friend, and another one of Gilbert’s crushes, stopped by the house. In large breeds, she said, this sudden lethargy can often mean….. We knew, but we didn’t want to think much about it.

He perked up the next day. But the following week was off and on. He lost his appetite. His breakfast would sit in the bowl all day. He didn’t want to go for walks. He was slowing down. He was shutting down.

I sat with him for an hour or so yesterday waiting for our vet to come. I’d intended to take him to her office, but he would not stand up. Not even for a hot dog. The real kind. Beef.

I brought him some water. He nibbled on a tiny taste of hot dog I fed him by hand. I held his head in my lap. I told he what he good boy he was. How much we loved him.

The vet and a technician arrived and he stood up—only the second time all day, and greeted her with love. He was happy to see her and tucked his long tail, as if slightly sad that he couldn’t show off more for her.

He lay down. She looked at his gums. She felt his breathing. It was clear this was the end.

So, I held him and told him what a good boy he was. The sedative took effect. His head was warm on my lap and I knew he was feeling a calm sense of peace. He’d just had a hot dog and was surrounded by pretty women.

 Then the next injection came and I held and talked to him some more. Such a loving creature to hold and comfort. Then, the warmth was still there, but I knew he no longer was.

Good-bye to sweet Gilbert. He was a noble dog.

 The painting of Gilbert was done by Gregory Basmajian, a dear friend's brother who died, too young, late last year.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Where's An Ethicist When You Need One?

We have all seen our children, perhaps after consuming Doritos or Cheetos, lick their fingers. But ballet barres are notoriously flavorless, so it surprised me when just last week a pint-sized ballerina removed her hands from the practice barre in the lobby of my daughter’s ballet studio and licked her hands as if Frito-Lay had seasoned it.

One. Two. Three. Maybe five licks of her palms and fingers.

I stood frozen, wondering what to do. It’s the peak of cold and flu season; I knew the kids were about to enter the class and hold hands; the mother was seated not far away but was engaged with her younger child and in conversation; and I had a fresh packet of wet wipes sitting in my purse read to share.

Yet, I did nothing. I waved to my daughter as she headed into class and wondered what I’d become: brave in the face of germs or meek at the thought of speaking up.

The dilemma, as my relative in Canada wisely defined it was this: what are the boundaries as parents regarding others’ children?

I have a friend who shares my uneasiness around things we think harbor germs. I imagine if she didn’t have a medical understanding of the body’s need for oxygen, she’d hold her breath on the two-hour flight to Disney World to avoid recycled air.

“Could I have offered that child a wipe?” I asked on Facebook. “Spray that kid with Lysol,” she suggested.

Another friend, perhaps more judicious or fearful of litigation being in the world of academia, suggested I offer every child a wipe and try to excuse my officiousness by saying we’d just gotten over a bug.

Good advice and some I could have thought of if I hadn’t been so caught up in indecision. The boundary in this parenting issue is hard to identify because somewhere it gets blurred: our lives intersect.

Since the ethicist Randy Cohen recently left his job at The New York Times, I’m going to have to reason this out myself. Here goes:

If I saw a child with a stick at the playground, ready to poke out another child’s eye, I’d say something and say it fast. Do matters concerning “safety” give one not only permission but also an obligation to speak up?

How about the age and corresponding judgment of the child?  If a kid is say, old enough to figure out how to remove his diaper, but too young to know better than to toss it down a slide at the playground, we might give the parent a heads-up and risk no offense. I imagine many a sippy cup would be raised in appreciation.

Then there’s proximity: the distance a parent is from his or her child and the authority given us in their absence matters. A teacher or the parent holding a play date is expected to step up and keep kids from tossing icy snowballs at each other or hurling insults, which can be just as sharp.

I’d say to my ethicist alter ego that what I faced was smack in the middle of these parameters: licking one’s hands can spread germs (a risk to public health and safety) but I didn’t know if the child was sick. Four-year-olds are young, but not so young that they don’t understand some basic elements of hygiene. And while the parent was not next to her child, she was close enough to have used her parental sixth sense or third eye to have a general awareness of what was happening.

What I feared more than germs was sending an unintended message of judgment.

Am I rationalizing?


Maybe next time I should ask Miss Manners……

My post this week in The Educated Mom looks at poetry and England's initiative to get kids to "learn a poem by heart." I like the sound of that....

The Educated Mom is at www.theeducatedmom.com and on Facebook under MindprintPLUS.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tips the Parenting Magazines Won't Tell You: Cold and Flu Season

“I don’t know if I’m sick, exactly. I’m tired and a bit rundown. 

"That’s called motherhood.”

Yes, cold and flu season has made front-page news and as we brace for it, I’ve been daydreaming about sitting this one out in my bedroom under a nice blanket and several seasons of “The Good Wife”. But that’s just nuts. I’d be done by early February with nothing left to watch.

So I’ve decided to make a list of ideas for this cold and flu season: Tips the Parenting Magazines Won’t Tell You.

First, I’ve checked and Vera Bradley does not have a line of surgical masks. It’s too bad, too, because nothing says “pandemic” like wearing a blue surgical mask to pick up. A nice blue paisley or floral suggests something subtler, such as, “I’m worried, but I’m still going to coordinate with my handbag.”

Along the lines of prevention, we’ve been told to wash our hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer with a high alcohol content. Substituting this hand sanitizer with a bottle of vodka is not recommended.

Speaking of fluids, everyone knows to drink plenty of water and juice. Again, keep the vodka out of the OJ. The CDC does a great job, but they simply have no time to devote to brunch. Vitamins, as we all know, can help, but remember if you’re still eating your child’s gummie or flintstone chewables, you may need more iron.

Everyone recommends getting plenty of rest. I Googled “well rested mom” and came up with a sci-fi script written by a film school drop-out. It’s promising, but as the aspiring filmmaker told me via email, “The world just isn’t ready.” His treatment on flying cats forming political alliances with Snickers bars on Mars is getting a lot of attention, though.

When it comes to food, what’s better than some homemade chicken noodle soup to stave off sickness at the first sign of the sniffles? I recommend finding a great recipe. Then find someone to make it for you. Have you tried to peel a rutabaga? It requires full strength and attention.

Finally, you may just have to make peace with the word “puke.” I’ve been slow to warm to it, but admit it’s more fun to say than clean up. Just remember, you’re quoting Shakespeare! Many are not familiar with As You Like It, but that’s no reason not to bring it up the next time you or a loved one pukes on your mother-in-law.

 As always, I wish you good health and quick recovery. Tips the Parenting Magazines Won’t Tell You is a series of satirical posts I write occasionally. They are to be taken with a grain of salt, or while you get a flu shot.  

This week on The Educated Mom blog I take a look at cheating in the Internet Age, including a look at what happened at Harvard last spring and a new study that says things are not so bad....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I Wouldn't Have Thought This Before Having Kids: A Poem, Santa, and the Pipe

A friend recently sent me a link to a blog post in Education Week that lamented the updated version of the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” A Canadian publisher apparently edited out the two lines about St. Nicholas’ pipe and smoke.

The blog post called the poem “bowdlerized” and argued that in the effort to remove the smoking from the 1823 poem by Clement Clarke Moore, the publisher had denied students the opportunity to investigate the context of the situation and gain “critical literacy”.

Santa with a pipe. Let’s discuss.

It was only a few weeks ago that I read a pop-up book version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” to my four-year-old. She was so upset by the page with the pop-up Santa and pipe that I not only bowdlerized the poem, I defaced the entire page, ripping the tiny paper-pipe out of Santa’s mouth and tearing it to pieces. I then walked to the trashcan, dumped the tiny white pieces of the paper-pipe into it and said to my daughter:

“He’s not smoking anymore.”

Santa, however, also has a cookie problem. He’s overweight and eats more than a billion cookies in one night. My seven-year-old no longer fully believes in him, but she’s expressed concern about his bad habits and poor health.

And that speaks to what I see as the deeper issue behind the pipe and the edited version of the poem: St. Nicholas, aka, Santa, is not limited to being a character in literature. Many of us have introduced him to our children as a flesh and blood creation. He enters our homes and leaves presents. Kids admire him. Call it affection or call it self-interest, many have a concern for his well-being and their relationship with him.

There is a difference between what is mass-produced for literary consumption and what I do to a pop-up book at 8pm on a weeknight. And there’s a difference between what is read in school and what is read at home and how we present material for children of different ages. But I do not think we can so easily align this particular situation with the larger one of keeping literature as it was written. I think this relates to how we foster a child’s imagination and how we integrate mythology into our evolving social world.

For young kids who still believe in Santa, why would I value the pipe more than I would the meaning their protestations signify? It means they are doing what we want them to do: integrate the new with the old; blend what they know to be true with what they must take a leap of faith to believe. This extends beyond Santa.

I would not replace Rudolph with a LED headlight; but I do not find it offensive to remove an object children view as harmful from a person we’ve asked them to embrace. If we profess to value literature then how can we lose sight of the very significance of Clement Clarke Moore’s poem? It brought the man in the red suit to life.

It’s harder being human than it is being a character in literature; especially when four-year-olds will accept your astonishing feats, but not your second-hand smoke.

Chalk this one up for something I’d never have thought before having kids….

My post this week on The Educated Mom looks at the question of holding kids back from kindergarten. I invite you to hop over there if you’re tired of hearing about Santa.