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.

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 flambΓ© 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.

Monday, January 6, 2020

cream cheese crushing mind f-er

The following story is emblematic of my absurd pettiness and my deteriorating mental capacity. First, I obsessively prize the real estate in my refrigerator. I want every item in that fridge to justify its existence within a very short timeline. My mom's entirely out-of-control fridge might be the source of this neurosis. I've arrived at her home and immediately culled from the back of her odiferous top shelf 12-year-old butterscotch sauce and fur-ensconced casseroles of unknown origin. She repays me by arriving at my house with a bag full of wizened produce that she cannot bear to throw away. I share this inability to throw food away, but I handle it by managing what we buy and eat with a surgeon's precision.

I shop judiciously with a concrete vision for every perishable item on the list. Leftover parsley from the linguini with clam sauce will later go into "Ms. Bateman's hot, meaty balls;" (Ms. Batemen is a petite geography teacher who teaches cooking classes on the weekends.) If there are a few sprigs of parsley left over from the meatball recipe, I will make fish chowder and use them as a garnish. Fresh fruit starts on breakfast plates. The second day, I attempt to serve the remaining 8 strawberries from the $7.99 pint, and they are deemed mushy or defective. Those strawberries retire to the smoothie that Tim and I share every morning. Unfinished milk gets microwaved and dumped into coffee. I know exactly how much cream cheese is needed for 3 bagels and an ensuing naughty mashed potato recipe. Yes, I only buy 3 bagels at a time because my kids will only tolerate bagels when they are fresh and rarely for more than one morning of the week. (Yes, I also know that I have created these high-standard ingrates.)

My mother and my husband both optimistically agree that I adore leftovers. I have created this false narrative by transforming leftovers into delectable meals. These transformations have been personal triumphs; however, I'd rather shop for every meal with a French, net bag minutes before I prepare it. In this utopia I would then consume every morsel, and my fridge would be a Tupperware-free zone filled only with champagne and cream for my coffee and perhaps a bit of cheese.

We have recently adopted a dog. It's been difficult, but I forgive him attacking houseguests and ravishing the Christmas tree because he allows me to neither consume nor pitch leftover food. He has an iron stomach and a boundless metabolism. The joy I feel watching the kids unload their thermoses of uneaten chicken and rice into his dish is exacerbated by the fact that I no longer shove the tepid gruel into my own mouth while half-heartedly wondering whether it's been at an optimal temperature for breeding something fatal and I will, therefore, die a wretched death without much pleasure save for the knowledge that a chicken has not died in vain.

Tim gets exasperated by my streamlined fridge. He is terrified when he cooks a meal that he's using an ingredient intended for another purpose. Tim will occasionally venture out to grocery shop. Sometimes he grabs one of the fancy cookbooks languishing on a shelf and creates an amazing meal. Both of these events should be a source of joy and appreciation for me, and yet I kvetch. I can endure the shopping itself, but I cannot watch him unload. He will cram the new lettuce on top of the old in the crisper, and I will develop hives.  He will buy every single spice he may need for the one meal every time he cooks. We have 4 containers of paprika, and the single meal costs more than a week's worth of food. Tim also rarely remembers to take the non-disposable shopping bags, so all of his unauthorized purchases emerge from a horrifying pile of plastic that will eventually end up suffocating the last of the sea turtles. He is an impulse shopper. Over Christmas break Tim bought 2 packages of Philadelphia cream cheese on a whim. We had no bagels. We had no potatoes. I asked why he'd bought such an abundance of cream cheese, and he responded, "They were two for the price of one!" I refrained from pointing out that he'd been duped by a marketing ploy and that he could have bought one pack for the discounted price. I also refrained from asking him why he didn't buy the organic cream cheese that I insist on buying. Neither of these has proved productive conversation starters in the past.

Instead I relegated the offending cream cheese to the dairy door in the fridge and the entire subject to the little drawer in my brain for loose ends. Imagine my rapture when one of my New Year's Eve guests told me that she was planning on making a cheese cake for our dessert. She's a good enough friend that she didn't bat an eye when I said, "I have extra cream cheese in my fridge; do you want to use it?" "I only need 1 pack." she responded.

That I have the fridge issues and that I spend this amount of head space on unwanted packs of cream cheese are the first hateful aspects of this story. The next is that the mental energy I'm wasting on cream cheese is actually necessary for my basic functioning. I used to have leeway, but now my peri-menopausal brain can't keep track of everything. I had planned to walk over to cheesecake friend's house with the dog and the cream cheese. I got side-tracked. I had to take Toby to soccer, so I left the cream cheese outside on the mailbox. I probably left the leash on the poor dog as well. I returned from the soccer errand to find JP and his two friends in the living room. I was going to re-embark upon "operation cream cheese transfer" when I could not locate the cream cheese. I assumed that I'd not actually gotten the cream cheese to the intended intermediary mailbox location. Narrating my doleful search for the cream cheese, I checked the fridge multiple times, the car twice, every bin in my mudroom cubby 3 times, and every bare shelf on the first floor of my house. When I lamented to the 3 teenagers loafing on my couch that a packet of cream cheese was floating around somewhere and did any of them see it? two of them did not look up from their devices. The third and only female taunted, "Cream cheese doesn't float!" I had to respond to the no-longer-listening teen that cream cheese probably DOES float because it's mostly fat. So now I'm not only verbally narrating my every move despite the fact that no one is listening; I'm also being annoyingly didactic. Did this happen the day I turned 50 or has it been brewing all along?

I finally gave up. A new section in my brain was erupting with visions of the fetid 6-month-old cream cheese's re-emergence in the car or somewhere else humiliating. I was whining out loud to no one that it's not fun getting old and going crazy. I was starting to wonder if I made up the cream cheese entirely when suddenly the cream cheese sirens sang to me. They lured me, in an omniscient mommy trance to the trash can. I pulled off the R2D2-esque lid and discovered the silver, cardboard packaging (which should have been in the recycling) and the above-pictured, clearly trod-on, packet of cream cheese.

I returned to the three, screen-obsessed children and asked how the cream cheese ended up in the trash. JP said, meekly, "Eli did it!" Eli is much closer to being a man than JP is in so many ways. He has a deep voice, and a peachy/velvet mustache over-shadows his upper lip. He lost his mother when he was in first grade to cancer. His sister is away in college. His dad is a tech teacher in high school. Eli has jobs to earn money. He cycles to school and back. He makes his bed when he spends the night. He is not a kid who gets babied. I looked at him and roared, "Eli!!!!!! you are NO LONGER MY FAVORITE! You are going to have to make your bed so many times to get back in my good graces. Yes, I'm annoyed about the cream cheese, but more importantly, how could you torture me like that????? I'm peri-menopausal. I'm already losing it. I don't need you to help me along. You are a TERRIBLE person!" He said in his deep, Elvis voice, "But it was so FUNNY!" With that I gave them money for pizza and went with my husband to the movies. It must have been hilarious.

Apparently Eli had arrived and spotted the cream cheese on the mailbox. They were probably waiting outside for the dog to stop threatening to consume Eli. Eli asked JP why 8 ounces of cream cheese sat on the mailbox, and JP, of course, had no idea. They stood out there giggling about it. JP flicked it off of the mailbox and onto the ground. Eli verbalized his desire to stomp on it. JP pleaded with his usual forceful bravado, "No, don't!!!" Unable to exercise any sort of impulse-control, Eli succumbed and brought his massive, booted foot down onto the powerless dairy product. I imagine he was hoping for a more-explosive outcome. They braved the dog's ire, entered the house, hid the evidence, and collapsed onto the couch to await Helena's arrival.

Had this scenario played out in 1978, my terrifying mother would have lost her mind. The evening would have ended abruptly. An extensive upbraid of all 3 kids would have been stage one of Susie's assault. Expletives would have been unavoidable. Stage 2: Parents would have been called. A detailed description of the entitled lack of concern for the 800 calories that could have augmented the diet of any number of starving populations would have comprised her ensuing tirade. A dramatic questioning of the floundering morals of all three in their decision to hide the evidence would follow. Her closing argument would have focused on their figuring out a way to reimburse her and her cheesecake friend for the cream cheese and the time she put into looking for it.

My response was to text Eli's dad, somewhat in jest, telling him to ask Eli how he had plummeted from his dizzying, bed-making heights of most-favored friend. The following morning, his dad needed a conversation, and afterwards he required that his son apologize which Eli did via text. I told him it was OK and have called him C.C.C. ever since. (Cream cheese crusher) Is there method to my madness or am I acting like a middle schooler who does not want to be uncool or harsh? Am I remiss? Will my son and his friends never learn impulse control or taking responsibility for their actions? OR will I be the one they come to when they are in a bind in high school and need adult help? Will I ever be able to sit back and relax and just buy a bunch of bagels and invite some neighbors over when there are two 1"x3"x5" slabs of cream cheese cowering in the door of my fridge? Will I always devote a 1"x3"x5" portion of my waning brain matter to a similar-sized dairy product?
Rachel's cheese cake was sublime. The cream cheese must've been really fresh.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Hippy Mom Rant

I really love that pigeon, and I usually love those kids

I received the following e-mail from one of Steel's teachers:

subject line: "Beware-Unorthodox social studies assignment"

Hi Social Studies Parents,

I wanted to let you know about an assignment this week for Social Studies. As part of our thinking about archaeology, students will complete an assignment called "You in a Trash Bag." I will introduce it to students today, and it will be due on Monday, 10/7.

They will need to examine the contents of a trash bin at home and list, categorize, and analyze what they find. As I will tell them in class, they should alert you to the fact that they need to do this and figure out a way to do this in a "non-disaster" way. If necessary, they can just rummage through the trash as best as they can without doing a full dump. The goal of the assignment is that they model the work of an archaeologist-- looking at artifacts, categorizing them, and thinking about what they tell us about the people who discarded them. I am giving them a few days to complete this task knowing that it may take some time for a trash bin to become full enough to be helpful. 
This has tended to be an engaging activity that helps students do some of the skills we've been talking about. Let me know if you have questions. Thanks for your help!

Mr. Hecker,

Beware. You are about to experience a HIPPY MOM RANT.

Because I have just returned from visiting an elderly relative, I decided to sit with my kids this morning while they ate breakfast rather than nag them about collecting and taking out the trash. This sort of mom-slacking irritates my husband; he is the reason our kids can complete household tasks with any degree of efficiency. (They did not practice piano for the entire week I was gone, so he too can be "nag-averse” to some degree.)

Steel, my middle child, is going to wish she had emptied her trash on her own this morning, for in her bin, I found:
a ton of recyclables
several items of clothing (probably hand me downs) that still had the tags on them
a seemingly new replacement brush for a Sonicare toothbrush.  

There are going to be a lot of questions at dinner time tonight about what these artifacts say about her and our world.
1. Who sewed these item of clothing? Is their craftsmanship valued? Under what conditions do they work? Why is their work casually discarded?
2. Why were these items discarded? In what way were they deemed inferior/useless? Was it a decision based on form/fashion or function?  Was there another option to binning them? How difficult would it be to engage in that "other option?” 
(In this case it would involve a trip downstairs to deposit said items in a designated Goodwill bag.)
3. Why do people throw away products that are easily recyclable? How difficult would recycling them be? (In this case, once again, it would involve a trip downstairs to a recycling bin)
4. Why the hell do some people in this society have access to $80 toothbrushes with $15 replacement brushes when there are also people starving to death?

I know “You reap what you sow” when it comes to entitled children, so I need to take responsibility here, but thank you for opening up a hopefully-productive conversation that doesn’t end in tears.

I don't think she's going to be this affectionate when she comes home tonight.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

I am the mother of a teenager

My husband is kind of a badass.

There is a big place in my heart for the foiled marksman on the far right.
He's clearly a born pacifist. His strengths lie in the kitchen. He's an excellent cook 

It was going to be hard to top JP's 12th birthday party at the shooting range. Yes, of course a couple of parents/kids excused themselves from the expedition in the wake of our nation's disastrous relationship with firearms, but it was pretty cool to have an ex-marine treat the subject with the perfect amount of severity, calm, prowess and fun. The kids who didn't want to shoot met us after at a Korean BBQ place. Having been at the new school for less than a year, I knew neither the parents of JP's new friends nor the friends themselves, but I did know that all of them had phones, and I'd been told at various parent gatherings that it's really hard to get them interested in anything that doesn't involve a screen. Finally, the shadow of the unbelievably extravagant Penn Charter Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties loomed large. I could have sent an evite with cupcakes on it, but why would I do that when the opportunity to be a humiliating, over-sharing, hippy mom presented itself after a couple glasses of wine?

This was the "save the date" sent on April 15 at 9:12 pm:

Plans are a bit SKETCHY 
at the moment, 
BUT we are trying to suss out:

SATURDAY May 18th 
for a birthday party for JP.
Now….in the wake of all of these extravagant and fabulous 
bar/bat mitzvah parties, 
I’m asking that the bar 
go down a few notches.
JP has (shockingly) suggested meeting at an ICE RINK to skate 
and then returning to our house in W. Mt. Airy  for food/chaos.  

(Hosting chaos is one of my hidden talents…
or maybe not-so-hidden) 

I’m not sure about procuring an ice rink in May, 
and what is the allure for JP in its procurement.

(I suspect he’s discovered ice to be 
an extremely successful venue for his 
comedic eschewing of grace and athleticism.)

Let me know if your kid/twins are 
Happy Monday.
Liz (and TIM)
(I’m going to be celebrating finally having a reason 
for my prematurely grey hair…I’ll have a TEENAGER!)

Here was the actual invite sent of May 2 at 10:19 pm:

πŸŽˆπŸ“ŒJP's 13th birthday...
We will be hosting JP’s birthday party AT OUR HOUSE
We have been thwarted 
at every turn on our quest for appropriate
13-year-old birthday entertainment:

Wissahickon Skate Club….closed for renovations.
The rec center longer open on weekends
Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift both CANCELLED
Last year we went to a shooting range, so
for a hot minute. we got super-excited about ax throwing.
It turns out that these trendy ax-throwing places 
have age requirements
Bungee jumping off of the Ben Franklin bridge is passΓ©; we did that when he turned 8.

We’ve moved onto 
a "sanctioned graffiti" party

JP is having a "Greg Brady moment.” 
Do you remember when Greg left the room with Bobby and Peter and moved into the attic, and he put up beaded curtains? 
(Yes, I’m making a Brady Bunch reference here.) 
JP is planning on moving into the basement, and he wants his walls to be covered with edgy graffiti.

I’m insane
but I’m not going to let a bunch of 13 year olds loose in my basement with spray paint.
We ARE going to give them masks and gloves and panels to spray paint OUTSIDE
The panels will then off-gas for the entire summer outside.
Come fall JP will have a hip boy cave.

If it’s hot and sunny I might take them (by force) to the Wissahickon for a swim or hike or something.
If it’s wretched out, I don’t know what we’ll do.
We will feed them, and we will have beverages for parents if they’d like a cold one at pick up time.

Liz Kinder/Tim McDonald

6950 Cresheim Road
267 235 5820
I think he actually wants beaded curtains now

Tim was in charge of the spray painting logistics. He bought and cut the panels. He lined the area in front of the garage with tarps. The goal was that the deck remain paint-free as would the organic vegetables growing adjacent to the spray paint grotto. Tim's Virgo attention to detail sealed off the area pretty well. Who knew that the kids were going to take off their masks, run out into the street, and spray paint their socks, legs and shoes? He did his best.

I now understand that kids have shorter attention spans than I do. 97% of the adults in the world have a shorter attention span than do I if it involves any sort of art or craft. I could easily dye Easter eggs for a week straight and not get bored. I will never forget the day my mom brought home finger paints for my brother and me. She set us up outside on the picnic table. I was enraptured. The allure of the paint needs no explanation, but I rarely got to do things with my brother, 4 years my senior. We are very different humans, and he understandably had little interest in hanging out with his little sister. After 8 seconds he said, "I'm done with mine." He is an engineer who isn't fond of getting his hands dirty. He famously walked into the San Francisco apartment I shared with another potter and a florist and surveyed the trash-picked, polka-dot-painted furniture saying, "That is the sign of someone with WAY too much time on her hands." My response was, "Are you kidding me? Look at all the chairs in the world that don't have polka dots on them! We are SO BUSY!!!!!" He muttered, "That is a fundamentally different way of looking at the world." My 7th-grade-graffiti-party-throwing self remembered that crestfallen 5 year old who just wanted to finger-paint with purple paint all day with her older brother. I knew we needed a back up plan to the spray painting to ensure that 16 13-year-old kids would not be sitting around my house looking at their phones and eating Asian junk food. (JP is into anime, so I bought a bunch of crap at the Korean grocery store. It disappeared in seconds.)

May 17 10:32 pm
My final missive to the parents of JP's friends:

OK, My headcount is 16 πŸ™€
including JP 

If I’ve forgotten your child, let me know.

Corbin  Grace A
Coleman Hadley
Eli M. Harper
Eli P.  Helena
Elijah Savanah
Mikey Bella
Mac Kate

I’ve done Martha Stewart proud; I almost have an even boy/girl split!
If Steel and a friend step in, it’ll be perfect!
Maybe we should have a couples dancing/"Doris Day tribute" portion of the party!!!!!
I’m sure they’d all LOVE that.

Here is my actual, ambitious plan:
We are going to prime and spray paint 8 panels for JP’s new room.
At Helena’s urging we will have individual panels for people to take home.  
(I like the DIY party favor idea; thank you Helena.)
If they get rammy, I might send them on an "Acme scavenger hunt."  
(Acme is 2 blocks away.)  
I’ll arm them with those annoying Monopoly coupons and make them find and purchase all of the “instant winner” and "$.42 off” products.  
If you have any spare monopoly coupons, send them my way.  

I will devise some sort of prize for 
speed, accuracy and creativity.

You can grab your kid anytime after 5; We will have beer/wine 
if you want to enjoy our probably-covered-with-spray-paint deck with us. 
JP is hoping that parents will hang around, 
so he can have an "inappropriate movie" portion of the festivities.  
(On my brother's 13th birthday, my mom didn’t have a plan for 9-year-old me,
so she brought me along with my brother and his friends to see Animal House in the theater.
Clearly this has had a lasting effect on me.)
Where is the toga emoji when I need it???
We are around all night, so pick up time is flexible.
Wish me luck.
Happy Friday.

The spray paint portion of the party was great. JP and his PC posse are aggressive champions of the non-binary gender issue and are emotional advocates for the FGBTQ community. (I've probably forgotten a letter in there; it seems to change all the time.) As you can see, the painted panels reflected this fixation. There were kids who had zero interest in spray painting at all, and even the ones who did finished in under an hour. I was right to devise a "Plan B." 

The scavenger hunt devolved into a Lord of the Flies situation. I was dumbfounded. Each member of the winning team would receive the prize: a jar of Nutella with JP's face taped onto it and a pack of Orbit gum. By far, the most aggressive female competitor was also allergic to tree nuts and thus had no use for a jar of Nutella, but she wanted to WIN. Her male competitive counterpart is a twin brother to JP's friend, Cate. JP has nothing against this guy, but they run in VERY different circles. Mac is a jock; JP is not, but Mac heard about the spray paint and wanted to go to JP's party. If their mom is anything like me, she will happily take advantage of any opportunity to get rid of both children with one car ride. Mac is a big fan of winning. Until I got to know Cate better and realized that she's tough, I wondered, after meeting her brother, if she'd ever gotten a toy or a boob or anything for the first few years of her life. Harper and Mac set the tone for the hunt.

In order to pepper the mostly-Penn-Charter party with JP's old GWCS crew, I made the 4 guys from GWCS team captains. In hindsight, this was a flawed idea because all of the team leaders were then male. The teams had 4 distinct personalities: the super-competitive, Machiavellian, lie, cheat, steal team with both Harper and Mac on it captained by Owen, the marksman in the above, shooting range photo who inflicted an impressive number of head wounds on his target; (who was incidentally the victim of one of our worst parenting mistakes...ever, but that's another story) the hardworking, athletic, healthily competitive but ethical team captained by Owen's twin brother, Cole, the cook and shooting range pacifist. My money would have gone on Cole's team. He's a leader; he knows his way around the grocery store, and he and all of his teammates could (and did) run at an 8-minute-mile pace. There was the all-girl team who had no interest in the hunt lead by captain Eli who has a hard time speaking to girls; and there was the super-mature-kid team who were in it because they were at the party, and a trip to Acme might mean more junk food. Massive Michael, who, because of his life trajectory and his physical size, is essentially a full-grown man was the mature team's captain. 

These were my favorites of the "little JP's." I wonder how long those little pictures are going to stay on the plate and the doll's head.

The objective points were based on: finding all 8 of the little JP's around the house. Purchasing all of the crap at ACME with the $20 I gave each team and the 5 coupons. And getting back the fastest. My favorite of JP's new friends said to me, "Wait a minute; are you just making us do your grocery shopping????" As my dad would say, there are no flies on that girl. It wasn't exactly my shopping, but I do like to hold corporations to it when they offer weird free things. Finding items in the grocery store that I would never normally purchase is not easy for me. My grocery store navigation skills suck; I suspect that they move everything regularly to keep me there longer, and I'm demoralized the whole time because I know that the concept of my holding Acme's feet to the fire by taking advantage of all of the monopoly coupons for mint Oreo cookies and generic canned corn is completely without merit. But it was a perfect use of the time of a bunch of screen-obsessed 13 year olds. The subjective "points" were judged by JP. Each team had to use their change to buy him a little weird Acme gift, and each team had to come up with a clever name.

One of the mature team's coupons was for $.50 off an antacid. I thought it was like TUMS, and I'd give them to my mom. It turned out to be a $24 product, so that team had an impossible task from the get go. Another team could not get their heads around the "little present for JP." Instead of buying a toy up front for a quarter or a candy bar, they bought him a $7 greeting card. They didn't have enough money, so a stranger lent it to them. That was definitely not my intention. Mac, son of TWO lawyers, was standing on the counter in our kitchen arguing passionately that the greeting card purchased by the athletic/ethical team was, in fact, homophobic. It was too loud for me to follow his logic, but I'd definitely choose him to litigate on my behalf. His team, meanwhile, had briefly stolen my "little JP answer key" in desperation when the top placed 2 teams were frantically searching for the same, last little JP.

This was the "little JP" that flummoxed everyone
Notice the name on the sauce :)

The Machiavellian team won. I suspect because their 4th member was Helena, JP's favorite. It was rigged from the start! They all went to watch a movie in the basement and eat more crap. Coleman, the ethical, athletic team leader isn't a fan of sitting on a couch on a gorgeous day watching a movie. As I was gardening, he was circling around on his bike. He was clearly a little upset. He asked me, "Honestly, Liz, which team would YOU have chosen to win?" I told him that the other team should have been disqualified, and I really liked the name his team had come up with which was: "Acme? More like ACNE!" I think Coleman was satisfied with that answer, so, in the end, a good time was had by all.