Thursday, January 12, 2023

Vivian, Vivian, and Vivienne

Schloka is my dented, filthy 2011 Honda Odyssey Minivan. One would think that the arrival of Vivian, Tim's new Rivian would make Schloka feel bad about herself. Schloka doesn't need to impress anyone. She's used to my not responding when she leaves her TPSM light on to alert me that the batteries on the sensors that detect low tire pressure aren't functioning. She doesn't need me to replace those $400 batteries; she knows I'll  con some high school gas station attendant to fill up her tires every now and again. Schloka did cry desperately for help over the Christmas break while I was in Philly. She flashed every warning light she had, knowing I'd succumb and go to Dave. His service station, "incognito" is like the train stop at Charing Cross? Victoria Station? for Hogwarts. If you don't know it's there, you'll miss it, but it's 200 yards from my Philly store/studio. Dave is like a magical chiropractor for old cars. It took 4 visits and over $1000 during the 10 days I was feverishly glazing, but she's right as rain now. 

Last night I had to do both legs of Steel's club field hockey practice in Newbury, MA aka the middle of nowhere. I decided to pass the time with Lloyd's advanced Wednesday night throwing class. They call it "whiskey and wine Wednesdays." I had 2 dixie cup fingers of yummy sipping bourbon while I did a couple of demonstrations for the class. We battled over my excessive water use and got into a discussion of what is and what isn't a "true celedon;"  It was fun. I left Lloyd's almost in time to be prompt in grabbing Steel and her friend, Caylee. But I realized as I drove away that I'd forgotten my thermos of mint tea. I ran in for it, said my good-byes again, and came out to find Schloka backed into Lloyd's tool shed. The shed door was ajar as was Schloka's. Schloka looked at me, headlights on, accusingly. I ran back in and announced to Lloyd that I'd forgotten to put her in park, and Schloka had gone on a little joy ride. Schloka was obviously expressing to me that Vivian, her terrible driveway mate, has turned me into an even worse driver. Vivian is a control freak and doesn't even let us turn her off. We just get out and leave. Schloka doesn't approve.

Lloyd said he'd take a hammer to the shed door and sort it out and was just happy that I'd not slammed into any of the Wednesday Wine and Whiskey participants parked cars. Vivian the Rivian, is not to be confused with Vivian, JP's lovely girlfriend (above with her family) or Vivienne Westwood who died and inspired my New Year's Eve look. It was a little over the top considering we were just hanging out and eating dinner at a friend's house with her mom and her best friend's mom. Perhaps my ouchfit would have been more appropriate for Steel's party at our house.

What kind of parents would go out when their 9th grade daughter is having "a few kids over...maybe some boys, but probably not" on New Year's Eve? We used to be that kind of parent until 2023. I have heard about Manchester-by-the-Sea high school parties in which $10,000 diamond bracelets have gone missing, handrails have been pulled off of walls, and barf has been an issue, but we felt that Steel and her posse, great kids whose main vices are sugar and cheese balls, could be left alone. 

After my fun evening at Lloyd's, Steel and Caylee hopped into the van complaining about one of their friend's inability to pay attention to basic plays on the field hockey field. The conversation moved from there to  Steel's New Year's Eve party.  Apparently the boys who "probably weren't coming" arrived smoking cigars. I don't really care about that. Tim's father is famous for having given his four children, Pat, Erin, Tim and Michael cigars when their little brother, Johnny was born. They strutted around the neighborhood puffing away at the ages of 9,8,7, and 6 . The idea of a cigar lighting my Christmas tree on fire is a little scary, but Steel made the boys go outside to smoke. The boys, then, wanted to set off the fireworks they'd brought. Steel suggested the roof. Apparently the girl with too much ADD to learn field hockey plays was drunk that night. Nothing is more relaxing for me than envisioning this friend, who has tripped over absolutely nothing right in front of me, drunk on my roof with boys setting off fireworks. It's  a miracle that the only negative repercussions of that evening were  3 gallons of cheese balls ground into our rugs and furniture.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Irresponsible baby


I looked in the owner’s manual of my 2011 Honda Odyssey to see what a golden “TPMS” on my dashboard meant. The Tire Pressure Monitoring System was protesting. Did my new knowledge inspire me to get it serviced? Nope, with an imminent 3-day trip to Philly, I didn’t bother. Steel and I went to Philly for the weekend to hang out with old friends. We were picking up a puppy on the way home. (Only a Philly-based puppy rescue would give someone like me a puppy.) Cat vaccinations must be up-to-date for puppy adoptions, so the morning before the big trip, Nola, the cat, and I got into the car to get her shot. Vaccination appointments are hard to come by these days because of Covid. Careening down the driveway, I hear “flop flop flop” …flat tire. It was 10:23. The appointment was at 10:46, 15 minutes away. I limped Schloka, the Honda Odyssey, down to the local garage. Dave put on my spare for free, and told me who to call for a new set of tires. We were on time for vet appointment. Living in Manchester allows me to be an irresponsible, entitled baby. My son left his $400 bike, unlocked, in front of Dunkin Donuts for 6 hours. It was still there after dark when he needed it to get to a scout meeting. My middle daughter, who would not walk 1.5 blocks to CVS on her own in Philadelphia is blithely flitting out at all hours to meet friends and go to parties. Toby is simultaneously seduced and repulsed by the gated feeling of this wee hamlet, probably because she’s missing Philly and is more conscious of inequity in the world.

On my way back home from the vet I stopped to renew an audiobook that Toby and I listen to during our ballet commute. People in Manchester are completely dumbfounded that we drive 35 minutes to Marblehead 4 days a week. It’s as if we fly her to Paris for ballet. They warned us about the horrors of driving through Salem during the month of October. Halloween and the Salem witch trials are the basis for most of the town’s income.  You can’t get to Marblehead without going through Salem. It was a bummer, but we survived. I write while sitting in my car outside of dance studios or I walk around the Marblehead neck. It’s kind of fun, and it’s definitely cutting into my wine time, so that’s good thing. While I waited for the audiobook renewal, the librarians asked about my screenplay progress. Researching “how to write a screenplay” for me was fun for them. I got a handwritten list of all the screenplays in New England that I could access through their lending program.  It feels like I’m back at my posh grammar school and everyone is cheering me on. Even the mailboxes in New England welcome my tug by opening wide for my letters and bills. They’ve not been rigged to a stingy half inch, like the ones in the urban world. That regular thwarting of my momentum by fearful thin-lipped mailboxes has enraged me for YEARS. 

I’m delivering Meals on Wheels. Upon hearing this a friend told me I was now a “Manchester Mom.” Manchester moms have a lot of time on their hands. I bristled at the accusation and died my hair blue. I’m edgy! I don’t belong to the country club! He started to point out that the ability to dye my hair blue indicates that I don’t need to go to a serious job every day, but he edited himself. I’ve been wearing my mom’s jewelry. It’s not my style, but it was all given to her by someone who loved her and frankly, I like knowing it touched her skin. In response to compliments, I always say it was my mom’s. What I’m really saying is, “I would never have picked this out at Kay jewelers! I’m way too cool for mall jewelry!” But I am not too cool for anything. My hip, creative, progress-driven persona is in hibernation. Initially, purging mom’s house felt like progress. I scoffed at warnings to take my time with her things. I regret being hasty with some stuff, but I’m baffled by the pockets of resistance that remain. Mom’s mountains of vintage sewing and knitting patterns lurk in a laundry basket under the piano, I culled her make-up drawer, but kept way more than I can use in a lifetime. Sticky tubes of orange and pink lipstick and green eyeshadow from the 70’s beckon to me from the drawer in the bathroom-sometimes when I’m just going out for a run,. Mom’s shower cap still hangs on a hook in our bathroom. I hate everything about shower caps, but that one is telling Marie Kondo to fuck off. As guests stay in other parts of the house, our bedroom and bathroom are low down on the priority list when cleaning happens. I finally snapped and tried unsuccessfully to clean the stain from a coffee tsunami on the wall behind mom’s bedside table and bed. I even took on the spiders in her bathroom. As I spritzed Mrs. Myers Clean Day Honeysuckle Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner, all over the place, I thought of elephants annually visiting and caressing the bones of their ancestors. I know dust is mostly comprised of skin. Has my cleaning procrastination been avoiding saying good bye to her skin?

My mom always had multiples of any given tool, most of them crappy, but she usually had one good one squirreled away. I found an old set of black-handled scissors in the basement that can cut through fine fabric or a finger, but there are 37 pairs of Dollar Store scissors in the kitchen that can’t cut a sheet of paper. There are ineffective nail clippers throughout the house, but there’s one old, ivory-handled manicure set that has out-lived its brown leather case. It lives in the second drawer of my mom’s bureau. I covet the remaining tools from that kit. Whenever my mom would visit, she would ask that one of my kids clip and paint her toenails. Steel usually ended up with the job. It was not easy; mom’s toes were gnarled with arthritis, and the nails were thick with fungus. Two days after my mom died, we went on a 2-week family vacation with another family. The Utah trip had been cancelled once because of Covid, and my mom would have been livid if we’d cancelled again. It was a blur of teenage angst and drama articulated by incredible hikes. We decided to encourage the kids’ sulking in group pictures. Every shot looks like a surly album cover. I remember thinking about my mom in Bryce Canyon. We hiked in those limestone spires, the hoodoos. I kept wondering what they reminded me of…oh!!! my mom’s toes. 

I recently discovered in my mom’s laundry cabinet a red-lidded Tupperware filled with powder. The post-it on top, advertised, in my brother’s child-like writing, “Jana-approved dishwasher soap for laundry challenges.” I made a paste out of the powder and some liquid laundry soap and rubbed it into grease stains on a pair of Steel’s hot pink sweat pants. Those sweatpants are back to their greaseless glory. Is everyone on earth sharing these laundry secrets on post-its and laughing at my grubby family? I suspect that everyone is also sneaking out and bowling without me. How could I be such a bad bowler and how could everyone else be decent at it?

My flawless sister in law, the laundry whisperer, came in July with my brother and kids for the initial purge of mom’s house. Gillian and Owen are my niece and nephew. GIllian’s boyfriend, Tyler, came up as well. Family friends appeared periodically to offer condolences during those first two weeks. My kids and their cousins would sit looking at their screens or their food, barely acknowledging that someone new had entered the house. Tyler, however, would spring up from his chair, hand out, jovially announcing, “Hi!! My name isTyler!” I got so frustrated with the Kinder/McDonald posse, that I finally said, “I don’t care WHO you’re meeting or WHO you are!!! From now on, when someone new comes across your path, I want you to say, “HI, MY NAME IS TYLER!!!!” 

The house had vomited clothes, furniture, books and rugs for a week straight. Tyler mused, “You guys keep talking about how Susie was a hoarder; I really wish I’d gotten to see the house when it was all packed with stuff!” Jana and I looked at each other and she said, “You did! When we first got here!” Tyler was unimpressed by my mom’s adolescent level of hoarding. I wonder what his house looks like. My favorite thing about the whole scenario is knowing that Jana had encouraged Gillian to tell her father that she was sexually active. Gillian decided to mention it to my brother casually while brushing her teeth. Hearing the news from his little girl’s frothy-toothpaste-filled mouth lacked the decorum he’d anticipated, but he handled it.

Steel was bitter about Tyler’s ubiquity. She’d been hoping for some girl time with Gillian. As a little kid, Steel had worshipped Gillian. Then there was the summer Gillian, at 13, was saddled for two weeks with Steel and Toby in her bedroom and wasn’t happy about it. 13 is a time for friends-not baby cousins, but Steel has held a grudge ever since. Jana, meanwhile, told me that Gillian feels that Steel is “too cool” to want to hang out with her. I hope all of this unravels at some point, and they can be friends. Like Gillian, I have always suspected that Steel is a bit of a “Heather.” If you’ve not seen the movie, Heather’s, it’s a campy classic. Christian Slater and Winona Ryder engineer the deaths of the popular kids at school. I’m starting to think that Steel is more of a diabolical Christian Slater than just a mean girl, Heather. This theory evolved on Toby’s birthday a couple of weeks ago. First Steel encouraged Toby to reject our big present and say, “I’d rather have a dog.” I told Toby that the dog was a separate issue, but I was definitely going to return the present if she didn’t love it. This put Toby in tears because she wanted the present but was feeling that she’d not been properly grateful. Next JP got a bad haircut while Toby was at ballet, and Steel and I were thrifting. Tim texted to warn us to be nice. I spent 20 minutes talking to Steel about how fragile JP had been recently and how she needed to be kind. Upon seeing him, Steel puckered her face and said, “It’s not THAT bad.” Tim went berserk. We’d all made amends over sushi, but at cake-cutting time, Steel said, “Toby, you take the big one. You’ve always been BIG!” Toby shrieked and ran to her room in tears. All of my confidence that Toby does not have body issues, despite being a ballet dancer, went down the toilet.  Toby has since assured us that she knows she’s a perfect weight and size. She said she’d just had it with Steel and that it felt great to scream and run away from her. I get it. My dad recently retold a story about a girl saying, “You’d better watch out for the hefty one!” at one of my field hockey games. The punch line is that I was the hefty one. I didn’t scream and run away from him. I merely responded, “It was good advice; watch out for the hefty one.”

Strawberry Shortcake

This is the only pic I have of Steel from Halloween/her birthday. She and her friend Gracie had a last minute change of heart. They went from slutty witches to Barbie and Raquel.

Speaking of the hefty one….I just got the following text from the guy who accused me of being a Manch mom, Hey-I am going to try and return some ground pork to Tendercrop…unless you want it. What????? As if he’d ever have the balls to return a bag of pork to a family-owned local farm. My mom is the only person who would try and pull that off. I just brought Philly style bagels to this guy; he only wanted sesame bagels because apparently, no good Jew would want anything but sesame bagels. I had no idea my penchant for salt bagels makes me a bad Jew! Now he wants me to take his cast off pork? I told him to make a goddamned meatloaf and fedex it to our mutual friend.

I was complaining earlier in this blog about mailboxes thwarting my momentum. I have very little momentum to thwart right now, but Leo, the new puppy is impossibly adorable, so all writing, soap making, gardening, potting, exercising and putting on too much old make up is coming to a grinding halt. I will instead be employing much of the army of mom’s cleaning products to remove piddle stains from all of my Home Goods rugs. I will be waking at 5 to take him out to pee and heartily congratulating him for doing so. I will be recording his every hiccup and sending these boring videos to everyone in my contacts list. I will be googling topics like "houseplants that are toxic to puppies," and “teaching a cattle dog puppy not to nip.” Then I will be administering multiple conflicting training methods to an increasingly baffled hound. I will also be nagging my children about not doing their parts.  I hope to be trying to seduce the cat, who is on a hunger strike, into eating delicious pork meatloaf. 

These images are so aspirational. All 21 McDonalds got together for nan's 80th and posed for beachy photos in light blue attire. They prompted a facebook post that read:

Our life is perfect. All three kids confide in us about everything that's going on in their lives. It doesn't come up often, but we have excellent modes of conflict resolution in our house. The kids independently told me they don't want any Christmas presents; they'd rather the money go to charity. We've all given up eating meat, wearing leather, sugar and alcohol. In the evenings we sit by the fire and play music, tell stories and darn socks. My son's room smells like dew, and I never find big clumps of wet hair festering on the edge of the girls' tub with a trash can 14 inches away.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Glamping in Manchester-by-the-Sea

Labor Day...portrait of a forced and begrudging trip to the beach
This is the unbelievably cute couple to whom we bequeathed mom's boat, Speedwell. They took me on a trail run to swim in one of Rockport's quarries and then for a sail on the boat during which we saw 3 sunfish. (I'd have happily run 20 more miles in lieu of going out in the boat. I was trying be gracious while holding in my vomit all the while thinking of my dad saying, "Ah you OK, deah??? You look a bit wooooozy")

Living in my mom’s home in Manchester-by-the-Sea is "glamping." The line between indoors and outdoors is much blurrier than it was in Philadelphia. The kids are becoming used to the armies of carpenter ants, moths and spiders. 
We made the rookie move of hosting a lobster feast on the evening of trash day leaving us with a noxious bin of shells for a week. This raised the stakes in our war with the raccoons over the compost and trash bins. My brother flummoxed them by drilling small holes into the bin and securing it shut with a tight-fitting bungee cord. Tim thwarted them further by hooking a hanging BBQ fork through the back of the bin. The coons can neither open it nor tip it. The inelegant solution for the trash is a ten-pound rock on top. 

I texted my brother, now gone, a photograph of the complete decimation of the rooting plants on the deck, revenge for the now-inaccessible bins. Curt’s immediate response was “GodDAMN they’re entitled." How would the coons have known that they aren't pets? They would regularly saunter into Susie's house through the cat door and help themselves to cat food. She might have given them a disapproving look, but she wouldn’t get up from her online Sudoku to scare them away. The squirrels were clear they were not part of the family. Susie would rush out in her nightie, shouting and pumping an air rifle. Cavorting around bird feeders like it was Cirque du Soleil, the squirrels might hop away for a minute or two, but they'd come back and decimate the bird seed supply in minutes. Before he died, Lincoln, was trying to establish the he was the new sheriff in town. Newly liberated by Lincoln's demise, Nola is taking on the mice, but the squirrels and raccoons are much bigger than she is. As a warning to the mice, Nola placed a dead one in the center of the basement. I'm not going to remove the piles of mouse poop from the cupboards just yet; that would be assuming Nola had won and tempting fate. Besides, my sister in law put all of the pots and pans on slatted, sliding drawers, so they majestically glide over the piles of dung. Cleaning it up doesn't seem that pressing. (Wow, I really am turning into my mom.)

1 Spy Rock Hill Road is a poster child for Tim's assertion that the built environment is responsible for over half of our greenhouse emissions and other forms of egregious waste. Susie's ancient shower head is like a fire hose. It’s covered with a lichen-esque scale, but neither Tim nor I is jumping to buy a "low flow" replacement.  Last February mom offered to get the kids another Christmas present. She said, "Money is piling up! Because of this dumb pandemic, I'm not allowed out to spend the money I have, and the government keeps sending MORE." I told her, “Screw the kids, mom, get yourself a new shower door!!!!” She said, “God NO! It's RIDICULOUS! They want $2000 to replace it!” Almost closing the shower door has required a bungee cord for twenty years. To keep from freezing my ass off in the shower I would use exponentially hotter water. It feels like a betrayal to my mom that Tim has finally fixed it. The 40 year old dishwasher washes dishes in under an hour. Susie bought new racks for the interior to avoid an "energy star" replacement. The racks cost as much as a new dishwasher and don’t function well, but the dishes are clean in minutes rather than not clean in hours as is the case with our fancy dishwasher in Philly. I suspect that the fire hose simile prevails in the dishwasher as well.

My brother created a sluice out of a folding table and some deck chairs to prevent rainwater, gushing from the broken wooden gutter, from pouring into the living room. There is no air conditioning, so ancient fans attempt to do the job of cooling. It was actually too hot one evening in August when I had Lisa and Leslie over for drinks. I brought out the massive metal fan that my brother and I shared on the few hot nights in the 70's. Lisa, Leslie, and I could hardly converse over the clacking of the ancient fan. I squatted down and sprayed WD40 into it which did nothing. As I used the top of the fan as a crutch to stand up, my weight quieted it. I said, “Lis, hand me that box over there.” She obliged, and I put the box on top of the fan. Blessed silence! We were able to talk. I sent a picture of the box on the fan to my brother asking if I was a terrible person. The box holds my mom’s ashes. He wrote back, “If the fan is loud in my room when I come up, I WANT MY HALF!” Mom was so practical; I’m sure it would give her pleasure 1. that her ashes are useful 2. that we haven’t sprung for a new fan. Susie owned FIVE vacuums that didn’t function. The one that almost worked employed a roll of filthy duct tape to not function. Susie had vacuum parts and bags left over from the 60’s. We could have opened a vacuum museum with a Kenmore, 2 Orrecks, Hoover bits, and a vintage Kirby. Lis said, “At least she tried to buy new vacuums! My parents still have the Electrolux we would throw down the stairs in rage when we were 7 and too little to operate it." Lisa and I would get $2 each for penny candy if we dusted and vacuumed up the piles of golden retriever fur in her house. I am very happy, by the way, with the Shark I bought. Dysons are so overrated. They suck TOO well. Inevitably, 8 nerf bullets, a uniball, and a cast iron fry pan get sucked up, and a husband has to take the whole damned thing apart. 

People keep asking me what I am doing. I am rudderless without my two time suckers: my dog and my pottery business. I have been trail running, walking the beach and trying to meet neighbors. Garnering neighborhood goodwill is my job, as we may need a variance to build on my mom’s lot. Tim is resigned to the idea that he will soon be despised because he is a developer who likes dense, affordable and 0 energy housing. People in Manchester do not like change and are fond of their 4 car garage McMansions. On this subject, one of my new friends, Andrew, said, “I really want to come over and have a drink on your deck before I have to start pretending I don’t know you.” 

We had a fun gathering of neighbors on Sunday 9/19. It would have been Susie's 78th birthday. We've been depleting her prodigious liquor supply, but Drambuie, 3 bottles of bitters, and too much Scotch has hindered our progress; enter the Rusty Nail. I was prepared to make "Bonnie Prince Charlies" (Sparkling wine and Drambuie) but the Rusty Nails were a surprise hit. (Let me know if you have any fun ideas for Port and Vermouth.) I forced the three couples to humor me in a Whole Foods versus Trader Joe's cheese off. I am a dogged Trader Joe's  supporter, but I've suspected their St. Andre and Dubliner cheeses are sub par. I was pleasantly surprised by the seriousness with which our guests took on their roles. They discussed texture, odor, taste at length. My scientific methodology and rigor were questioned as one plate was slightly cooler than the other. For those of you who care, the difference is negligible, and my entitled white girl persona is fully intact.

Without 100 handles to put on fresh cups, I play hooky (from nothing) to hang out with my husband. We snuck off to the movies in Marblehead on his birthday. Realizing mid-movie that we had to leave early to get Toby to ballet was fine, the plot was predictable, and the theater was a mad house because those kids had Yom Kippur off-weird in a town that is merely 6% Jewish. We also detoured to a little brewery on our way home from a romantic trip to the DMV. Of course we talked about the kids the entire time we drank our sneaky beers. 

We mused about what is ever going to motivate JP, when he will stop lying to us, whether or not his confidence is flagging because of some of his hurdles, and why he never stands up to Toby, 3.5 years his junior. We usually come to the conclusion that JP is essentially a happy person, so he will have a fine life. I introduced my theory that Steel seems the most cynical but is actually a romantic at heart because she loves rom coms. I used our friend, a DA in Philly who works primarily on gruesome murder cases to illustrate. The friend wakes up at 4:30 am to cry while watching sappy movies on the Lifetime channel; then she can face her job and try and make the world a more just place. Guileless Toby, on the other hand, is so devastated by inequity that she hates rom coms and country music because they are predictable and their happy endings don't reflect how awful the world really is.  She is the true cynic. Tim can always start scrolling through his phone if my theories don't interest him. If I'm day drinking, I don't notice.

Girlfriends keep me sane, so I’m on a quest to get a few of them. It feels a little like internet dating. I met one woman named Dahlia who has also just moved here with her husband and kids from Whistler. The weirdly psychic massage therapist set us up. Dahlia and I walked the beach together and gabbed about our situations. She’s younger than I am and is a lot more chill. She and her daughter have type 1 diabetes; maybe that helps her not sweat the small stuff. In my current state of catastrophizing things, their diabetes makes ME anxious. Dahlia asked what Tim does for exercise, probably hoping that he and her husband might connect. I launched into a tirade about my fears I’ve married my mother because Tim, like Susie, has no interest in exercise. He bristles at any suggestion that he NEEDS to take it on. I conceded to her that he’s fine doing things that are exercise but also have another purpose, like splitting wood or building. Dahlia said, “Oh. Why don’t you go get some wood?” She’s clearly wiser than I am. It reminded me of all of the time I wasted trying to get my first gas kiln to fire evenly. I eventually allowed it to fire cold on top and hot on the bottom and loaded cool and hot glazes accordingly.

I came home from meeting Dahlia giddy. I chided my kids after our “How was school? Did you meet any new friends?” conversation. “None of you asked ME if I made any new friends today.” They were happy for me, although they laughed about my being that dorky girl who runs around school saying, “Will YOU be my friend????” How IS school? All three start at 7:40 am and finish at 2:15/30. They walk or bike to and from school. They eat or don't eat a free (because of Covid) disgusting school lunch. The time that Tim and I normally put into making their lunches and driving them is now ours. I make a sit-down breakfast with hot tea for them. All 5 of us hang out for at least 10 minutes before school. It feels very civilized. As predicted, the girls have made friends easily. JP is having a slightly harder time. He says the kids all seem really old and mature. He hasn’t been able to explain that comment further, but Dahlia’s son, Hank, said the same thing. I wonder if by-the-book parenting creates these "mature" kids. There are definitely certain formalities that have gone by the wayside in my parenting. The girls are self-taught, but I was exasperated telling JP who is 15, how to properly make a bed. During my “hospital corners” demo, he cried, “Where do you LEARN all of this stuff???” I responded, “You learn it from your MOTHER!” Am I finally having these conversations because I feel my mother is watching? Maybe these New England kids have been parented out of any inherent creativity or self expression. I hope not. There's not a lot of talk about innovative approaches to teaching either, but are my kids really deserving of all of that? They didn't rave about it when they had it.

JP was lamenting that he'd not made any friends "like Helena and Cate" to which I responded, "You mean girls??" He said, "I guess so." That seems easy to tackle, although maybe the girls and guys don't hang out socially as much in Manchester-by-the-Sea. He did, by mistake, poop in the girls' bathroom. He emerged from the stall to a group of female soccer players about to change for sports. At the end of the story, he said, matter-of-factly, "I'm glad I looked especially gay today." He was wearing the hand-me-down clothes of our neighbor who is such a jock he goes to "The Prep." Clearly I don't know what gay looks like anymore. I'm thankful that the bathroom blunder hasn't resulted in some sort of lewd behavior accusation.

JP strutted down to Dunkin on the first Monday after school with his newly-updated resume and got a job. Living at the shore with his Grandma and making money at Starbuck’s all summer has done something for his initiative. He’ll blow the money on crappy food and upgrades for his gaming characters, but who cares? All the kids go to Dunkin, so people will know he exists…even if he is “that deaf kid who works at Dunkin.”

Steel has already said she prefers school in Manchester to Penn Charter. She says the kids are nicer-especially the boys. She had nowhere to go but up. The boys were body-shaming assholes last year. She actually blew the whistle on it and told the administration. One of the most hated of the boy pack (except for the fact that half of the girls have crushes on him because he’s the alpha) was recently JOKING to people, “Didn’t Steel’s dog get run over by a train??? Ha ha!” I'm speechless. (and I want him to get hit by a bus or get caught giving roofies to a girl in college)

Steel was initially put off by the first-week-of-school community-building exercises. “MOM! We had to color in stars for the number of siblings we have and stupid crap like that!” She’s not loving the academics, but at least they’ve stopped coloring. After not speaking to me for 2 days because I MADE her do field hockey, she’s listed it as one of her favorite things about school. The team isn’t great, so she’s one of the better kids rather than one of the worst. She’s definitely not fond of her new field hockey kilt. The upside is that when we do her first resume, we can put “proficient at faux Irish dancing” at the bottom where you list random skills.

Toby’s quakerly friend group at Penn Charter is proving difficult to replace. She lent one girl $1 for snacks, and the girl told another girl she wasn't planning on paying Toby back unless Toby asked for it. Hearing that, Toby asked for it, and the girl told her she didn’t have the money. You can’t get away with anything in a town this small, so a report went to Toby that the girl was spotted buying candy later that day. A few days later another girl told Toby that the dollar borrower was never intending to pay Toby back. Toby was wondering out loud why people are looking up to and liking girls who aren’t nice. I remember thinking that about “the popular girls.” when I switched to a new school, but I would not have vocalized it. 

I was disproportionately obsessed with this dollar. Steel plays field hockey with the little con artist, and she despised her before the dollar incident. I imagined Steel sticking close to the perp on a Richdale run and grabbing the brat's change while saying, in a terrifying "Mare of Easttown" Philly accent, "The dollar is for Toby, the rest covers the interest and MY fee." The second vignette employs the talents of another popular girl that Toby doesn't like. "She's a tattle tale." (This is rich coming from the girl who LIVES to bust her brother doing anything wrong.) I told Toby to regale the tattle tale with the saga of the dollar snatcher in a light, off-the-cuff gossip session. Toby could end the story with something like, "I'm new! I've never met girls who steal from other girls and tell people about it like it's something to be proud of. Is that normal here????" This might inspire the tattler, in a fit of Manchester-by-the-Sea pride, to seek a teacher to rectify the situation. Toby could easily respond, in shock and disbelief, "Oh no! I had no IDEA she would TELL!!!" 

Update: the dollar was paid back or maybe Toby told me it was, so I'd stop asking/thinking about it. The 6th grade at Manchester Essex Regional Middle School might need a little Toby shake down. Maybe Toby needs to toughen up. The mascot of the school is a hornet. In math class, Toby was actually stung by a hornet on her wrist. When she yelped, the boy next to her said, “You shouldn’t have messed with it!” A shocked Toby said in her head, Excuse you?! I DIDN’T mess with it!!! Why aren't you asking if I'm OK? Toby has since conceded that the kid isn’t all that bad which is surprising and promising. 

Unfortunately, Toby's new dance schedule is going to take up at least 20 hours a week between the class time and the commute, so she won't have a social life to be mad about. I'm going to be one of those moms with a bumper sticker that says, "Sorry I can't; my daughter is a dancer." Toby auditioned for one of her two dance commitments in front of the couple running the company, a retired American ballerina and her Russian ballet retired spouse. Proximity to them and their incredible feet, as they executed corrections for Toby, was a treat. Toby is now at a level beyond her age bracket because of how quickly she responded to their advice. I have nothing to do with Toby's flexibility or grace, but her "coachability" I can relate to. Always a pleaser, if a coach told me to jump, I didn't ask "how high?" I just jumped as high as I possibly could. 

Whatever petty bourgeois crap I'm going through with my family. It definitely helps to start my days looking at this:

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

a rocky start


First day of school at Manchester Essex Regional Middle High

My day started hopping/hobbling around (hoppiling?) with blood gushing out of my foot. I'd stepped on a sliver of glass on my way down to make first-day-of-school-in-Manchester-by-the-Sea cinnamon buns. I was trying to avoid bleeding on one of the many throw rugs I'd procured from Home Goods in a spree symptomatic of what I have started to call "granny square itis." It's a little-known home decor affliction. 

Do you want to know why there was a sliver of glass ripe for trodding upon? Because my brother and I put a queen-sized mattress through the window in our unchaperoned attempt to get it upstairs to Toby's room. Why had two spatially-impaired Kinders attempted such a feat without the help of architect kinfolk? Because Tim was busy digging an 150' long 1' deep trench from the house to the street in order for corrupt Comcast to give us high speed internet without charging us $7000 to lay the cable. 

Digging in Manchester-by-the-Sea is brutal. There are granite and massive pine tree roots everywhere. Why am I suddenly an expert on digging holes in Manchester, MA? Because my beautiful hound got hit by the train two weeks ago, and I had to dig a grave for his still-uncannily-gorgeous, dismembered self. 

Why had I not cleaned up the broken window properly yesterday when it happened? Because I'd forgotten, and I'd already completed a major glass clean up job when Toby smashed a jar full of sea glass in the bathroom right before bed. Why had my graceful ballerina dropped that glass jar? Because their bathroom is so crammed with beauty products that it's impossible to move anything without catalyzing a small disaster. Why is the kids' bathroom so jammed? Because we moved on Saturday morning from a house with a lot of storage to a house with very little storage that is already packed to the gills with 54 years of my mother's still-prodigious-even-though-mightily-culled crap. Why did we leave our charmed life, beautiful studio and home in Philadelphia? Because my mother died suddenly on June 10, 2021, and I couldn't think of anything else to do about it.

Addressing my mother's death is too huge. I'll start with the dog. This is Lincoln playing with his cousin, Hazel in my mom's living room. The fact that he had learned to play with her was a miracle considering his territorial nature. My dog-owning style fell right in line with my parenting style when compared to that of my brother and his wife. In the name of fun and chaos, I was always more lenient with the kids. Curt and Jana were uncomfortable with letting Hazel out in the morning to run free with Lincoln. Lincoln would disappear, but he would always return exhilarated, desperate for water, his long, pink tongue dangling out of the side of his grinning mouth. After almost two years in Philly, perpetually on a leash, I loved letting him run. Two bouts with a skunk had put the kibosh on evening leash-free cavorting, so mornings were all he had. 

In the end, Curt and Jana were right to be cautious. Lincoln had left in the morning and not returned. I'd called to my neighbor, Penny. She had seen him dashing across her land away from town, cars and danger. As I painted the bedrooms (coincidentally with the sister of Lincoln's previous owner-also named Liz.) I clung to Penny's hypothesis that he'd chased a deer and would come home eventually. I'd called the police after a couple of hours-no lost dogs reported.  When he'd been gone for over 6 hours, it finally occurred to me to check the railroad tracks. I saw what I thought was him and again called the police. They investigated the site and advised me to leave the dog and to remember him as he was when he was alive. Letting the experts handle his corpse seemed like a viable option.

I was so ashamed to tell Liz that my optimistic negligence had killed her dead brother's dog. Liz is still reeling from the loss of Karl. I'd already spoken to Tim. He had told me that the kids would want to have a grave to visit to say good-bye. I'd responded that if he'd been with me I could recover the dog and bury him, but I could not do it on my own. Liz's mom wanted us to retrieve Lincoln's body so he could be cremated and his ashes could be with Karl's. Squelching my natural tendency towards avoidance and denial, Liz and I went down to the tracks and collected him. In an uncharacteristic explosion of rage, Liz screamed at a nosy neighbor who suggested we should get off of the railroad tracks.

I started his grave in the middle of the night. I finished it in the morning. Liz had to lower Lincoln into it. I could not handle it. After all of the exercising, the trainers, the behaviorist and the Prozac, keeping the dog safe by curtailing his bad behavior was my life. Pottery making in my new, gorgeous studio consumed the rest of my time. So here I am in my tiny home town, suddenly rendered identity-less. I'm still a mom, but my kids feel bewildered and unheard. My husband is doing his best to manage all of it/us. Right before we took the back to school pics of the kids, the cat shat on the living room couch to convey her displeasure in the accommodations. I really don't know what I'm doing here, and the worst part is I can't ask my mom.

R.I.P, my beautiful boy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Who's a good boy? (except when he's not)

A hushed, "Veezla? Vishla? Veeshla?" will float through the air.
People have conversations loud enough for me to hear, "No, that's not a Weimaraner; they are more grey; maybe it's a Ridgeback" 
Sometimes I'll hear a subdued and confident,"Hungarian Pointer"
I hear a lot of comments as my dog and I trot by people; it's as if they assume that neither of us understands English.  I still don't know how to pronounce the name, Vizsla, either. I chose names for my kids that were easy to pronounce because I find it pretentious when names aren't. I only have regrets about our third. Her name is Toby; the Philadelphia accent butchers it. My refusal to learn how to pronounce the word, "Vizsla" is akin to my inability to say the word, Granday at Starbucks. I always ask for a large and nod condescendingly when the cashier perkily asks, "Grande?" 

I've been known to roll my eyes at people who have pure bred dogs. Now that I have this dog, am I a hypocrite? My mom taught at a posh private elementary school, so I got to go there for free. I coveted the Izod and Ralph Lauren shirts. I pined for Benetton and Esprit. I demanded Levi's. All of these desires were met with a terse, "I will not pay to turn my daughter into a billboard for some rapacious fashion designer. You can wear one of those shirts as soon as Mr. Lauren pays me to let you wear one." I like to think of myself as someone who has evolved from that grammar school girl with no need for labels, but my heart soars when I find a Lululemon hoodie or a Von Furstenberg top at the thrift store. Maybe I'm just cheap. Am I no better than Donald with his arm around Melania? Is poor Lincoln, my glamorous dog, a piece of arm candy? 

The day my black lab, Julie, died was the worst day of my life; I was 12. My mother returned from the vet without her. Mom was wearing a tweed flat cap, a fitted wedgewood blue jacket, and slimming wool pants. I asked her, "Where's Julie?" and she said nothing and opened her arms to me. I've been a cat person ever since. Post kids, if something were to happen to my husband, I could see myself choosing a life path that involved too many cats. 
Perhaps my adoration of the cats who have haughtily and imperceptibly wagged the tips of their tails upon my return is aspirational. Cats are the heart-breaking, above-it-all divas that I will never be. My musician Aunt Mimi never had more than 8, but she was a borderline, crazy cat woman. My poor father would lose his appetite at every Thanksgiving she hosted. He'd scowl as he watched the cats gracefully wandering around the bowls of stuffing and mashed potatoes that vied for real estate on her counters amidst the various music books and plants in Mimi's disheveled kitchen. He was probably thinking about the clumps of urine and fossilized shit that those same dainty paws excavate in the litter box. 

Dogs make me feel guilty. My stomach drops when I see how sad Lincoln is when I leave, but I'd be lying if I said I prefer feline aloofness to his tail-wagging glee when I return. The kitty I've loved the most chirps like a cricket when she sees me, so she's not a real cat. Maybe I'm not a real cat person. Had I googled what a Vizsla is all about would it have changed my mind? I never research anything. I wait for things to happen and then make up a convoluted story as to why that thing should have happened all along. This tendency is akin to my love of astrology. It gives a loose framework for my need to make sweeping generalizations about people. Below are some sweeping generalizations about Vizslas:

Vizslas are not good for novice owners, due to their stubborn personality. Vizslas have a higher than average tendency to nip, chew, play-bite, or herd people.Bored Vizslas are notorious chewers. Too much confinement and too little companionship can lead to neurotic behaviors such as hyperactivity and destructiveness. 

At first glance one could say that ignorance and vanity played large parts in my decision to get this dog. One also has to examine that eerie tendency of people to choose dogs that they resemble. I have a large nose, deep-set eyes and big ears. I am lean and athletic. As I get older, I am becoming rather monochromatic. My hair is grey, my skin is sort of light and grey, and so are my eyes. Here is a description of the dog I adopted:

Vizslas are "nerd athletes." The Vizsla have lightweight and muscular bodies with a short, smooth rust-colored coat.The Vizsla can run and at very high speeds.The Vizsla has intelligent, curious eyes, a sculpted face, a large snout framed by large ears. Vizslas have a distinctive, monochromatic appearance, as their eyes and nose match their fur. 

Lincoln came from the Smith family. Liz Smith arrived at my elementary school when we were both in second grade. Her youngest brother, Sam was in utero at the time. Liz was an artistic, athletic girl with an insane family. We share the same name, and I adored her from the moment I met her. I was intrigued that her mom was going to have a baby when the eldest of the 6 Smith kids was already in college. I spent a ton of time at their home. Her dad was strict and scary, but most dads seemed that way compared to my own, mirthful, Scott-Joplin-playing father. Her mother never prepared sit down meals. Popcorn, fruit, and candy was an exciting, irreverent change from my regimented world of 3 square meals a day-each with a vile, but compulsory 8-ounce glass of whole milk. Liz and I knew that we had at least an hour left of playing whenever her mom arrived to pick her up. Even my abrasive mom could not stem the tide of Linda Smith's loquacity. Linda is now a shocking testament to the power of mania. She is 83 years old, and she doesn't look a day over 60. She eats nothing but chocolate and rarely sleeps. She's burned down one house so far with the spontaneous combustion of the books and papers she hoards, but she is the most effusive, adoring person I've ever met.

Allegra was the blondest of the 6, gorgeous Smith kids; she was the 3rd in line; Liz was the 4th. Allegra always liked the finer things. She was an antiques dealer at one point. She adopted the Vizsla from a breeder and named him Lincoln. Lincoln arrived with all of the breeding paperwork which confused me as he no longer has testicles; though it's nice to know his birthday; he's a Taurus like my son. Allegra's daughter developed an allergy to Lincoln, so they gave him to Sam. Sam had always been kind and dreamy, almost to the point of other-worldly. He had run into some sort of drug-related trouble in high school and didn't go to college, but he was a good carpenter. Sam died of an opiate overdose last July 1 after he and Lincoln had been together for two years. Apparently Lincoln adored Sam and was his caretaker. He lay with Sam for hours on end whenever he was "sick." The night Sam died, Lincoln went so berserk that the police sent him to the pound. When a bereft Linda came to retrieve Lincoln, they didn't want to give him to her. Lincoln seemed too aggressive and rabid for her, a tiny, older woman to handle. It's impossible to say "No" to Linda, so the pound relented. Linda was convinced that Lincoln housed some of Sam's soul, so she couldn't bear to give him up.

Why had I offered to take Lincoln back in July? My husband did not want a dog which meant that were we to get a dog, I would be the one responsible. My daughters were desperate for a dog. Their brother had made a power point presentation to convince us to let him build his own computer. The girls followed suit and made a power point presentation about getting a dog. It bothered me that my son, a screen addict, got his wish, and my daughters, extremely responsible young ladies, were ignored. Another contributing factor: I was changing my work situation. When my new studio is finished, I will be alone in a building 3 blocks from our home. I've never been completely on my own in a studio. It seemed that getting a dog to accompany me would be a good idea. In taking him to work with me every day, I would also avoid the above-mentioned sad, you're-leaving-me? puppy face that has rendered me too conscious-stricken to own a dog in the first place. It helped that Lincoln had taken and immediate liking to me. He sat on my lap like some sort of over-sized Chihuahua for a half an hour the first time we met. The girls were utterly smitten.

I had no desire to pressure Linda, but I told Liz we'd take the dog whenever they needed me to. I'd check in every month or so with a "the offer still stands" text. They were usually met with an exasperated return text from Liz telling me she WISHED her mom would let us take Lincoln. Three months passed. I'd used the possibility of our getting Lincoln to put off the girls whenever they pleaded for a dog. In August the girls' best friends got a dog from the pound. That was cruel, but Tim and I stood fast with our "no dog" policy. In September, we were all in the fetid minivan driving to an art festival. Our friend, Jere, not a dog lover, was with us. Jere went into an unsolicited tirade about how much she hates dogs and dog people. Tim was like a Hallelujah chorus reiterating everything she said, with his usual passion. The girls lead a squealing pro-canine counter-attack. JP and I sat in the back, bystanders to the raucous debate. My phone pinged. It was a text from Liz telling me that Linda was ready for us to take the dog. I texted her back the "thumbs up" emoji and didn't say a word.

We've had a checkered past with pets. Steel was gifted a beta fish which was dead within a week. (Who comes to a 5 year old's birthday party with a live animal as a gift?) I was blamed because I cleaned its tank with prescription eczema cream on my hands. One of our hermit crabs dismembered another, and the third went on a walkabout. Months later, we were out playing in the snow in the yard, and JP ran up to me in his little snow suit hollering, "MOM! I FOUND SAPHY! She was like this...." He then stopped moving and mimed, with his hands frozen in front of him, a dead hermit crab's staring straight ahead, sphinx-like into the abyss. Goldfish came and went, and then we got ambitious and adopted Rocky, our first cat. We had a hideous rodent problem that I was complaining about at a little league game. Hearing my lamentations, a baseball dad stepped in. He said his girlfriend had an unaffectionate cat that was a great hunter. (Part of the problem is that all of us are allergic to animals) It seemed like the perfect remedy. We couldn't cuddle the cat, and he didn't want cuddles. The girlfriend showed up IMMEDIATELY with the cat. She was clearly enthusiastic about getting rid of him. One night soon after, Tim and I were sitting at the counter having a glass of wine. A wee, dumb mouse came out onto the stove. Tim scoffed, "That cat is USELESS! There's a mouse right....." "SLAM!!!!!" Rocky leapt from his hunting spot above the cupboards. We had no idea he was perched up there. He missed the mouse, but he sat in front of that stove for a week straight. He knew what his job was, and he took it seriously. We never saw another mouse. Of course the kids and I fell in love with Rocky. He started turning into a softie. He'd let me pick him up and rub his neck for a few seconds, and sometimes he'd humor the kids by letting them give him a few pets. I was convinced he understood every word I said, and he always looked so dapper in his tuxedo coat.

All of that came to an abrupt end when we got Nola. It was our 10th anniversary, so we left Tim's mom in charge and went to New Orleans for a getaway. I left 3 pages of instructions. Nowhere in those instructions did I mention that Nanny should not, under any circumstances, let Steel convince her to go to Petco. We returned a day before Steel's birthday. On her birthday, Tim was at Petco filling out the paperwork to get the kitten she'd fallen in love with on her unauthorized nanny Petco expedition. The prickly Petco cat lady was going through the instructions on how to take care of a cat when Tim stopped her,"I know. We already have a cat. He's a nasty cat, but he's a cat." The transaction came to an abrupt halt. Crotchety cat lady demurred, "There is no such thing as a nasty cat, only nasty owners!" Tim was blacklisted in the city of Philadelphia to adopt a cat, so he went to the black market, Craigslist. 

He and the girls met someone with a trunk full of kittens in a parking lot. It seemed sordid to me and JP. Tim gave the person $80, and the girls picked the smallest tabby cat there. Nola was the runt. She was 11 ounces. She'd probably not eaten anything in her month of life. She gobbled up anything we fed her. Annoying kitty police, responding to Facebook posts of the kitten licking butter off of pancakes, told us we shouldn't be feeding her food and she really should be with her mother. We scoffed confidently, but they were all right. The kitten finally exploded from every orifice. I took Nola to the vet and paid $225 to hear that it would be at least another $1000, possibly $2000, to get her up and running. We'd had her for 3 days. I left the vet and had a  consultation with the hippy lady across the street. Over the passing traffic, she shouted to me to syringe feed the kitten formula every 1.5 hours and to keep her warm. I spent the next two days with the kitten on my chest in the baby wrap shitting and puking down my front, but she abruptly stopped fighting my ministrations and came to life. She never got much bigger, but ironically, she tortured big, tough Rocky. He finally left. He gets fed by the gay guys next door. He'll occasionally pop in for wet food, but he snarls and hisses the entire time, resentful that he was just starting to feel at home when that little bitch of a kitten had to come along and ruin everything. We've lost Nola twice: once at a construction site and once in a drawer in JP's room-both times for 4 days. She emerged from both experiences unscathed. She hopped out of his t-shirt drawer having neither peed, pooped, eaten or cried in FOUR DAYS. It was as if she'd been planning on a sensory deprivation spa the whole time. I'd meanwhile covered the neighborhood with flyers and wept profusely assuming she'd been hit. None of these tales paints us as particularly successful pet owners.

Given that pet history, a high-maintenance dog was just what we needed. Lincoln had had a tough time in the three months after Sam had died before Linda agreed to part with him. There had been some vague talk of his biting people, but I'd assumed that he would soon stop given the proper exercise, diet, and love that our family would provide him. 3 days into his new life in Philadelphia, he'd bitten 12 people. A couple passers by had gotten nipped in the Wissahickon. The diminutive, Japanese piano teacher became his arch nemesis. The 6'6" Olympic crew dad who walked straight into our house without waiting for me to open the door got an impressive 3" wound. Three moms attempting to pick their kids up got bitten in the ass/thigh. Of course, the vet got her sweater ripped. The most developed, deep-voiced of JP's friends got nipped. One of my hiking friends got lunged at, and Toby has been nipped a few times as well. I've blocked out the rest of his casualties, but we're still counting. After the first one or two bites, you'd think I'd have had him on such a tight leash that the other 10 wouldn't have been possible, but somehow they happened. It's one of the situations when my ridiculous optimism lets me down. (The perfect way to define just how stupidly optimistic I can be is illustrated by the fact that I had 6 miscarriages after I turned 40. I just kept on trying.) Christmas was a disjointed affair in which Tim and I were staying at a friends' place with the dog. My mother in law did not want Lincoln at her family-filled home. Christmas decorations are one of his favorite snack foods, he sits on furniture, and my nephew's neurotic dog was going to be there as well, so I understand why Lincoln wasn't invited.  Lincoln has, of course, improved, but just last week he removed a perfect rectangle from the back of a dad's trench coat. Steel had seen that one coming, but I did not. 

The nadir of my 4-month Lincoln odyssey was introducing him to Nola. I had been keeping the two separated but was told that if she's a tough cat, and if she landed a stinging scratch to his nose, he'd probably leave her alone. It was a Friday night. I had a rye and ginger and let the cat in while the dog was there. She held her own for about 10 seconds. She was on a bar stool batting at him, but she made the mistake of hopping onto the stove. He was furiously barking and clawing at the stove while she flattened herself to the backsplash with her back arched and her fur at maximum levels of intimidating fluffage. It was amazing that she'd calculated his inability to reach her there, so she would be close enough to taunt him but far enough to be safe. In his frenzied attempts to lean up and grab her, though, he turned the stove on and singed her whiskers. She looked like Salvador Dali for 2 months after that. That kitty flambĂ© incident has taken the fight right out of Nola. She spends her time in our bedroom or outside. She won't even come to the kitchen to eat a plate of her coveted Shreddies wet food even when the dog is crated in the basement. We have to take it to her upstairs.

I have now spent an insane amount of time talking to trainers, getting special leashes and tinctures and, above all, running/walking/hiking with this dog. I've yet to leave him alone for any amount of time. I'm the one responsible for most of it because the kids are not strong or vigilant enough to control him on walks. One could say the he has completely curtailed my freedom, and yet, I am now able to walk at any time of night. I can run off the beaten track in the park whenever I want. These are things that women cannot normally do, so in a huge way this dog has also given me freedom. I now have a posse of dog-owning friends that I've met at the dog park texting me to meet up. Lincoln can be a sought-after doggie playdate because he is so fast. He gets all of the dogs moving. Taking Lincoln to an empty beach at low tide is magical. He can run up to 40 mph when he's chasing the seaside birds. His rapture is infectious.

The subtext to all of my conversations with trainers is that I and the whole family are the ones who need to be trained. Lincoln needs to know, through our actions and body language that we are in control and can protect him. When we establish this, he will not feel the need to lash out or be fearful. There are certain people who naturally relax dogs. They are the alphas. My husband and my mother are ideal dog owners. I am still learning. The vet told me to shop around for dog trainers. I inwardly rolled my eyes and confidently called the first one on the list assuming that she would be fine. I have now talked to over ten dog trainers. With my first-month tales of carnage, most trainers were of the opinion that I should get rid of Lincoln. "You are being irresponsible in keeping this dog." I refused to accept that. With the encouragement of other dog owners who had turned around tricky dogs, I have steeled myself. The trainer who changed everything for us I have still never met.  

My mother is named Susie. She smoked until I was 12. She yelled at me quite a bit as a kid. I was an athlete. My coaches yelled at me. I do not resent being yelled at. Quite the opposite...I respond quickly-not unlike a well-trained dog. I called a woman named, Sue. My vet had given me her number with the caveat that Sue might not be willing to come to Philadelphia. I gave Sue a brief summary of my short life as Lincoln's owner. Amidst long drags of her cigarette, Sue yelled at me for about 45 minutes:

 I don't need to come to Philadelphia! You need to take control of that dog!!! You need to get a simple rope choke leash. You need to force that dog to walk at your side. You need to help that dog to relax when another dog on a leash passes by. You need to go into "the belly of the beast!" meaning walk into a Petco, and go through the aisles with that dog keeping him calm and quiet! 

Her fervor was comical, and no, I have not taken Lincoln to Petco on his leash, but her yelling at me made me realize what I had needed all along. I needed someone to tell me, "You can do this!" There is a little girl in me who translates being yelled at as, "I'm exasperated because you're not doing this right because I KNOW YOU CAN!"

I got a lot of laughs at the dog park doing my "Sue routine" which catalyzed my getting the number of another trainer named Ellie. Ellie came over and gave me an hour or so of training for free. Ellie is a strawberry blond, broad-shouldered lesbian who is probably 3 inches shorter than I am but outweighs me by at least 30 pounds. She has a strong voice and she delivers her points confidently but will then follow up with a soulful, "Does that make sense to you?" Ellie gave me some exercises to do with Lincoln that have helped. Lincoln and I went on a hike with her and FOURTEEN dogs in the Wissahickon Park. It was astonishing. She had 3 to 5 of them on a leash depending on who behaved and who did not. The others would wander around together. It was humbling and inspiring to see her control 14 dogs when I was struggling to manage one. I would love someone to make a documentary film about Ellie and her white van fetching these dogs at their homes, hiking with them for 2 hours and returning them. At one point in the hike, she came across another dog walker with 3 dogs. Ellie told me that she knows that walker doesn't have good control of her dogs; however Ellie was not at all condescending to the other woman. She pointed to the hill above the trail telling her pack to climb it and wait. All 14 dogs dutifully went up and waited. Ellie called cheerfully to the woman telling her it was safe to proceed. 

My attempts to schedule another hike with Ellie have not been fruitful. At one point she admitted via text that she was a little overwhelmed by a couple of the members of her pack and said we should reschedule for Friday. I texted her Friday morning to ask when she'd be at the trail head. 
Ellie: hmmm. Somewhere between 12:15 and 12:30 is my hope. 
Liz: Still up for company? If not, nbd 
Ellie: Wow. You caught that. You're good. I had a rough healing session this morning and feel very internal. I really appreciate the sensitivity. Thank you. 

The "hmmm." was my tip off, and yes, I am very sensitive. This woman can control 14 dogs, but she can't send a simple text saying, "Can we make it another day? I'm feeling fragile." We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. My most fierce child will not go around the corner by herself to pick up a pizza nor will she go inside at a gas station to buy a dough nut while I'm outside pumping gas and watching her. My son can barely stand up to his little sisters in an argument, but he can easily get onstage in front of 200 people and do a comedy routine. My other daughter will take on a bully or confront anyone with an issue, but she was utterly mortified when I was blasting Dolly Parton's "Why'd you come in here looking like that?" in the parking lot of her school. 

I have goals for my dog that I may or may not be able to manifest. First and foremost, I want my dog to stop nipping people and/or their clothing. I'd love for him to not bark at people or animals at the door or outside of the house or go ballistic in Jersey when we are in the car and a gas station attendant is pumping our gas. I fantasize about returning home to my dog and cat basking together in a patch of sun. I would love to let him off his leash and know that he will come back to me the second I ask him to. I'd like for him to listen when I tell him to get off of the furniture in my mother in law's house. Perhaps the new dog trainer who is coming this weekend will be the key. (She had to cancel last weekend because she was at the ER all day with a dog bite.)

The pros of my dog are: he's beautiful, he's soft, and he adores me. The kids love him. He makes us all laugh. I'm in the best shape of my life because not running is not an option. He has an iron stomach, for the most part. He does not have "accidents." He chews pencils and Christmas ornaments, but leaves the furniture, shoes and other things alone. The requirement that I take him for a walk every few hours has rendered me more productive in some ways and far more present. Finally, my husband has, not once, wagged his finger at me and said, "I told you so." He's had so many opportunities to make me feel bad about taking on this dog, and he hasn't. Tim, you are a saint, but we knew that all along.
Steel told Tim the manicure was going to be clear polish and then refused to remove it for him. She was doing some sort of hair wrap. She thinks of very little beyond skin care and hair care.