RSS Feed

The Grandma Addicts

 

When Mom is out running errands or gardening or being busy during the afternoon, I’m usually napping. Butterfly stretches out next to me, and Cricket drapes herself on top of me so that I can barely breathe, and we all go to sleep in a puppy pile.

Butterfly adds her friends to the puppy pile.

Butterfly adds her friends to the puppy pile.

Cricket and Butterfly can be comfy and quiet for hours, but at the first sign of Grandma returning home, all hell breaks loose. Grandma’s here! We want things!

Ah, sweet sleepies.

Ah, sweet sleepies.

"What was that?!"

“What was that?!”

I think Cricket can hear the specific sound of Grandma parking the car in the lot outside my window, and she definitely knows the sound of Grandma opening the front door of our building. Butterfly is not an expert in these particular sounds, so she relies on Cricket to tell her what’s going on.

Cricket flies off the bed and barely touches the floor before she’s out in the hall and racing towards the door. Thank God for the rug in the hallway or else she would slide the whole way to Grandma.

Butterfly stands on the bed and barks at her fleeing sister, then she barks at all corners of the room, and crouches and barks, and circles and barks, and then she remembers that she has the doggy steps, and she runs down to the floor and out to the hall to catch up with Cricket, who is already crying and squealing at the top of her lungs.

"Grandma! Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!"

“Grandma! Grandma! Grandma! Grandma!”

Cricket stands straight up on her back feet and tries to jump up and kiss Grandma’s face. Butterfly tries to follow Cricket’s example and lifts her upper body off the ground with a heroic effort, and then flops back down, and tries again.

"More! More! More! More!"

“More! More! More! More!”

"I win the Grandma!"

“I win the Grandma!”

The crying and squealing and barking and hopping and flopping can go on for quite a while.

No matter how much I love my Mom, even at my best, I could never match the girls in the greeting department. Grandma brings new smells from outside, possible groceries, guilt scratchies for being gone so long, and the possibility of who knows what amazing things – she is Grandma after all!

Even my brother, who affected indifference when we were kids, would shuffle over to Mommy for a hug. He didn’t run down the stairs and almost topple her over, like I did, but he rested his head on her shoulder and let her hold him up. He still does this. Mommy hugs are a life long addiction.

I didn’t have this with my grandmothers. Neither of them was warm or huggable. I probably had to kiss them on the cheek or do the obligatory hug, but I’ve blocked it out.

My oldest nephew was a Grandma addict when he was little. When Grandma would get ready to leave at the end of a visit he would cry and beg for her to stay. He looked suspiciously like Cricket, hopping up and down, though without the furry jumpsuit.

He and his brothers and sister have taught themselves a more reserved greeting style when Grandma arrives at their house, except for the littlest one who can still be seen running down the block from the bus stop at the first sight of Grandma’s car in the distance.

We grow out of these greetings, either because we become blasé, or believe we should appear to be blasé, but dogs keep it up forever. Even in her old age, Cricket will be dragging her walker down the hall and croaking out a bark or two to greet Grandma at the door.

This is why we need dogs.

goodbye from dogs

Twice-Exceptional Dogs

 

I’m currently taking a class in the psychology of the exceptional child, and my favorite discovery, during the first few weeks of class, was a subject barely mentioned in the textbook: twice exceptional children. These are gifted kids who also have a disability, like ADHD, a mood or anxiety disorder, a learning disability, or an autism spectrum disorder. When I started to read the research I felt like the clouds had parted and rainbows and light were filling my eyes.

This was me.

Me, and my fashion sense.

Me, and my fashion sense.

I was gifted. I wasn’t a prodigy in the 160+ range, but I was gifted enough to not fit in with my classmates. My teachers were so impressed with me that no one noticed how much I was struggling – socially, emotionally, and with certain academic tasks. I couldn’t judge distance. I couldn’t read maps. I could not make sense of a fast food menu up on the wall at McDonald’s. God forbid I tried anything like interior decorating and my intelligence level dropped like a rock.

But none of those things were noted, or even tested, when I was in elementary school. And when there was a spatial relations section on an achievement test in ninth grade, no one but me seemed to notice the results. I scored in high 90’s for math and verbal and at the 50th percentile for spatial relations. I was so excited! I’d been telling my parents and teachers that I had a learning disability for years, and they would all look at my grades and laugh hysterically.

Not funny.

Not funny.

My hope was that this almost 50% gap between my strengths and my weaknesses would be a neon sign to get people to look at me more closely, but no one cared. To be fair, they didn’t notice that I was suicidal either.

I think Cricket is twice exceptional too. She is very bright, but she has such anxiety that she struggles to learn. Cricket can read even the smallest body language cues: she knows the difference between Grandma getting dressed to go outside alone, or to go outside with dogs; she can hear every whisper and know when it is about her and when it’s not; she not only knows specific words, but what the tone of voice they are said in implies.

Cricket, reading Grandma's mind.

Cricket, reading Grandma’s mind.

But, she is a terrible student. She will never do something just to please her people. She can’t focus when she’s emotionally agitated, which is a lot of the time. And if she doesn’t want to do what she’s being asked to do, she won’t do it, no matter how many chicken treats I offer her.

I refuse!

“I refuse!”

When she’s calm and focused she can learn new skills in minutes. She can sit and stay and even twirl. Her name recognition and ability to come when called were perfect, at home, but once she got to her obedience class she was a mess. If she were a shedding dog she would have been sitting in a puddle of hair by the end of each class.

If she were a human she might be diagnosed with ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Social Anxiety, or all three. If she were a human, she’d be in talk therapy, and taking a drug cocktail, and she’d probably be in special education, despite her high intelligence. She is a classic twice exceptional dog.

For my paper, I spoke to a professor who runs a program for twice exceptional students at a local college, secretly hoping she’d give me some ideas for Cricket and me. She talked about creating a scaffolding for these kids, including: faculty trained to adapt to their needs; a social skills counselor; study skills classes; peer mentors; academic advisors who can give them emotional support. She said that the fundamental thing these kids need in order to succeed is love.

It’s such a simple idea. We all need help. We all need praise for our strengths and support for our weaknesses. The idea that each and every one of us should be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and reach our full potential alone, is bullpucky.

Butterfly loves to help her sister, even as a pillow.

Butterfly loves to help her sister, even as a pillow.

But I’m not sure how to apply this scaffolding to my life, or Cricket’s. I haven’t been able to find the doggy equivalent of special education, let alone twice-exceptional education, for her. The classes I can afford are mostly one size fits all and Cricket has to sit in the back and watch the Golden Retrievers heel, and roll over, and shake their beautiful tails in her face.

Delilah, the A+ student

Delilah, the A+ student

Just once, I wish I could help Cricket get a gold star on a test, and give her a chance to stand tall and let everyone see her extraordinary potential, the way I do.

 

"More!"

“I can do it!”

Butterfly and the Hairball

 

Two days after her most recent trip to the groomer, Butterfly started to throw up. Butterfly is a ten year old, diabetic, pure bred dog, with a serious heart murmur. I check her blood sugar for fluctuations every day (still too many ups and downs), and listen to the strange rhythm of her heart, which sounds fine to me, but I’ve always liked syncopation.

I am acutely aware of her health on a daily basis.

"Mommy, I don't feel good."

“Mommy, I don’t feel good.”

The last time Butterfly threw up was when she was first diagnosed with diabetes. She’s on insulin shots twice a day, so seeing her have what seemed like a serious relapse frightened me. Her blood sugar dropped very low, and she was shaking, and she refused to eat. Butterfly ignoring not only kibble, but chicken treats, is probably one of the signs of the apocalypse.

"Mommy, I think I'm gonna throw up."

“Mommy, I think I’m gonna throw up.”

She also had a lump the size of a kumquat on her lower belly, of unknown origin. She’d had the same thing way back in her early days with us, and back then the vet thought it might be constipation or something equally unimpressive, especially when the lump went away overnight. But it was a scary looking thing and I wasn’t sure if it would go away on its own, or where it came from, and meanwhile, Butterfly could barely sit down from the discomfort.

We put maple syrup on her gums, and cocooned her in a pink towel, and massaged her back, and crossed our fingers.

Time seemed to slow down, or even disappear. I couldn’t remember what time of day it was, or how long she’d been sick. Some part of me was shaking along with her, even as I told her, and myself, that everything would be okay.

Cricket was not impressed.

Cricket was not impressed.

At some point, Butterfly asked for some time on her own four feet, and within a few minutes she threw up again: three times in a row, on the rug in the hallway. When I went over to clean it up, there was a strange dark object in one of the puddles. It looked like an elaborate hairball, made of wiry black hair, honeycombed with bile, an inch and a half long, and half an inch in diameter. Huh?

Whatever caused it, once the hair ball was out, Butterfly started to improve. Her sugar went back to normal, she started to eat her kibble again, she was able to poop outdoors, and she was even smiling by bed time. She wasn’t up to running yet; that came the next day, along with the disappearance of her kumquat lump.

"Mommy, I feel so much better!"

“Mommy, I feel so much better!”

"We need treats!"

“We need treats!”

Once the crisis was over, I was calm enough to contemplate the hairball mystery. I’d never heard of a dog getting a hairball before. The hair was dark, like mine, but unless Butterfly had been chewing on my hair each night while I slept, I couldn’t imagine how she’d get her paws on that much hair in one shot.

But, there was a big, sweet, black haired dog at the groomer the day she was there, and as we were leaving, Butterfly did try to lick his head through the bars of his kennel. They also have a black cat on staff there, and I didn’t see him when we picked the girls up. We haven’t had a phone call from the groomer yet, so, fingers crossed that she didn’t eat their cat.

The Battle Hymn of the Nap

 

Cricket is prone to fits of crazy digging. She’ll dig outside in the dirt, if she can, but most of the time she digs on the rug, on my bed, or under the couch. And there is a vocal accompaniment to what she’s doing with her paws. I would call it ululating, except that there’s a lack of musicality to Cricket’s version; her rhythms are chaotic, and her pitches unrecognizable. She sounds kind of like a high pitched car alarm on speed.

The crazy digger's butt.

The crazy digger’s butt.

Very often, her crazy attacks of digging are part of her preparation for bedtime. Cricket is like a toddler who is exhausted, but enraged that she has to go to bed. She loses her mind, racing around in circles, picking up toys and growling and crying. She doesn’t want to be overtaken by sleep; it’s an awful fate that she has to fight off like the monster it is.

She does the same things whether it is a daytime nap or a nighttime nap: she will either do a running jump up onto my bed from the doorway, or stand next to my bed and try to jump from a standstill, which usually takes five or six tries; when she’s finally up on the bed, she starts digging at the sheet, and crawling under the blanket to dig in the dark; the digging speeds up and the ululating kicks in, and then she starts to push the blanket around, creating a fort; and then, finally, she falls asleep, in her fort.

Cricket in her fort.

Cricket in her fort.

Butterfly has a different bedtime ritual, which requires me to chase her around the apartment for some period of time, and then pick her up from the floor, and carry her to her blanket on my bed. Sometimes she is very excited and hops around the apartment, sticking her tongue out and smiling at me. Other times she is more of a little princess, waiting to be lifted and carried to her throne.

Butterfly is very sleepy.

Butterfly is very sleepy.

Sometimes, when I pick Butterfly up for nap time, something about the slight squeeze around her middle makes her fart. Cricket’s farts are silent and stinky, but Butterfly’s farts are musical. It’s a bit like the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, or a kazoo, played staccato. Once, when I picked Butterfly up to carry her to my room, Cricket was walking ahead of us, and Butterfly made one of her musical farts. Cricket turned around and sniffed her own butt, to see if that’s where the fart came from.

"Which one of us farted, Mommy??"

“Which one of us farted, Mommy??”

When Butterfly is really tired, she just topples. She’ll walk down the hall to my room, alone, and plop down on the rug, to let me know that I have kept her up too late. There’s no running or jumping or raging at the dying of the light, there’s just motionlessness.

When Cricket is in a particularly dastardly mood, she sees Butterfly resting comfortably on my bed and starts scheming. She’ll run to the front door and start barking, as if something very important is going on and she needs all hands on deck. Butterfly, being a loyal sister, she shakes herself awake and rushes down the doggy stairs to help Cricket in her time of need. Within seconds, Cricket runs back into my room, jumps up on the bed, and stretches out on Butterfly’s blanket, leaving Butterfly stranded on the floor, because she doesn’t know how to climb back up the doggy steps.

"It's too scary, Mommy."

“It’s too scary, Mommy.”

If this had happened only once or twice, I would give Cricket the benefit of the doubt, but it happens on a regular basis. Butterfly just accepts her fate, and goes to sleep on the rug, one ear up, ready to respond to her sister’s next call to arms, while Cricket snuggles in for a long, comfortable nap, on the bed.

If only.

Butterfly’s dream.

To the Library we go

 

We walked the dogs to the library the other day. It was a magical moment when the weather was cooperating, and I actually had the energy to walk. We leashed up the dogs and put our overdue books in a bag and off we went. Cricket loves to go on long walks and visit other places. She would prefer to drag me around the neighborhood for an hour or two a day, if it were up to her, whereas Butterfly would prefer to never leave her backyard.

"Let's go!"

“Let’s go!”

When we first moved to this apartment, a year and a half ago, Butterfly blossomed. She smiled more. She ran in the yard and recognized our door right away and ran straight too it, off leash, within days. She was home.

"My backyard!"

“My backyard!”

Butterfly is not a fan of walking along the very noisy street next to our building, though, so I had to carry her for the first part of the trip to the library. I carried her down the hill and across the street, while Mom and Cricket stopped every few seconds to sniff things and race ahead, and sniff things again and race ahead again.

"Must. Sniff. Everything."

“Must. Sniff. Everything.”

"Cricket, are you sure it's safe out there?"

“Cricket, are you sure it’s safe out there?”

I expected Butterfly to be fine walking on her own once we reached the side street, but she still refused. She tried to pull back towards home, and when that didn’t work she just refused to move at all. She was afraid of every noise, especially the birds squawking from the nearby trees.

I carried her like a baby, with her head resting on my shoulder, and that seemed to calm her down. I tried setting her down a few more times, because fifteen pounds gets heavy after a while, but she’d walk for a little bit and then stop and refuse to go any further.

"Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth."

“Mommy, I think my tongue is falling out of my mouth.”

We finally made it to the library and dropped off our books in the book slot, and then decided to walk home through the duck pond, hoping the serene atmosphere would help Butterfly stay on her own feet. We walked on the sidewalk, to avoid as much goose poop as possible, and for a little while, Butterfly was fine. She was even running ahead of Cricket, who was hyperventilating. The sound of Cricket’s breath, scratching against her vocal cords, made me picture a tiny musician inside of her throat, playing a tiny violin very badly.

"I'm not choking. I don't know why you think I'm choking."

“I’m not choking. I don’t know why you think I’m choking.”

Before we were halfway through the park, Butterfly balked again. I veered off onto the grass after all, hoping that would make her feel better, but it didn’t. I had to carry her, and dodge goose poop, all the way up the hill, until we were back to the sidewalk and the busy street. I put Butterfly down, just to rest my arms for a second, and as soon as she realized we were on our way home, she started to hop and smile.

We had to wait for the light to change, and then wait for cars to swoop around the corner at high speed, but then Butterfly pulled me across the street and up the hill as determined as a marathoner in her last lap.

"Are we there yet?"

“Are we there yet?”

I’d been listening to Sheryl Crow singing “Home” earlier in the day, maybe on a TV show or a movie, and the song had become an earworm playing over and over in my mind, louder and louder, as Butterfly pulled me into our parking lot, and around to the backyard, and straight to our door. Home at last.

"Wait, the walk is over?"

“Wait, the walk’s over?”

 

The New Cat On The Block

The first time I saw the new cat, he was sitting on one of the porches at our co-op, half hiding behind an iron banister. He was small, almost kitten-like, and white with grey patches. He watched as I walked the dogs past him. He watched and watched and watched, while the dogs ignored him, or didn’t notice he was there.

The cat with no name. yet.

The cat with no name. Yet.

I read recently that dogs have a hard time seeing things that are too still. They see objects better when the objects are in motion.

Cricket may be able to smell the cat...

Cricket may be able to smell the cat…

but she can't find it.

but she can’t find it.

Eventually the cat hit his limit of watching and jumped down behind an evergreen bush. The dogs noticed him then, but it was too late, he’d already disappeared.

Butterfly was quickly distracted...

Butterfly was quickly distracted…

Butterfly's birdie friend

by a birdie.

I saw the new cat a few more times in passing, literally, passing in front of our door on his way to somewhere else.

And then, one morning, he was sitting in the recess next to my front door, waiting by the window of one of the downstairs apartments. The girls didn’t notice him in his stillness and I could almost picture him putting a paw up to his lips, telling me to keep his secret.

I needed a picture of him, because writing a blog makes me think every experience needs pictorial evidence. So I took the girls up to the apartment and picked up my little red camera. I thought I was on a fool’s errand, but I went back outside and there he was, still sitting by the window.

Still there!

Still there!

I’m not going to say that he posed, but he tolerated me staring at him and clicking away. He seemed to have a particular boundary distance in mind, so as I got closer, he stepped further away. I took a dozen pictures at least, but eventually I got too close and he ran away.

"You're getting too close."

“You’re getting too close.”

"Are you following me?"

“Are you following me?”

He didn’t seem like one of the feral cats. He didn’t have their clever look, or their quick reflexes, and he really did seem small. And the window he’d been leaning against was the one Muchacho used to use as his entrance and exit.

Muchacho

Muchacho

Muchacho, the big cat on campus, hadn’t been seen in months. He’d had a cancerous tumor removed last year, but he’d seemed to recover nicely. All of his fur grew back and he was his sweet, friendly, pee-all-over-the-yard self for a while. But then he was gone.

Muchacho, the scratchy glutton!

Muchacho, the scratchy glutton!

It’s possible that Muchacho died not long after I took his picture and wrote about him for the blog. He didn’t seem ill at all, though. I’d prefer to believe that he went to an old cats’ home or to stay with another relative. I almost wonder if he was saying goodbye that day when he let me pick him up and give him a hug, just for a moment, before realizing what he’d done and jumping out of my arms to freedom.

The last time I saw Muchacho.

The last time I saw Muchacho.

The new cat must have smelled Muchacho’s lingering scent by the lower window and found it welcoming.

Something was drawing me to this new cat, and I felt disappointed when he wasn’t outside during the girls’ walks. There’s something magical about finding a cat hidden in the landscape, like a real live Where’s Waldo. But it’s more than that. Cats make eye contact in a very satisfying way. They stare and observe and notice me in a way people don’t. People are too busy walking by and thinking of other things, but cats notice me, at least until they decide that I’m crowding their space and run away.

It turns out that one of our neighbors has been feeding the new cat behind the tool shed and is contemplating calling the county to have him trapped and neutered, like the other feral cats. Meanwhile he’s been getting bigger all the time, and I’ve been wondering if he has a home somewhere nearby, and just comes over for the food, and to have his picture taken.

I’d like it if that were true.

Magical Thinking

 

Up until a few years ago, I was a very hopeful person. It wasn’t necessarily reasonable hope; some of it was fantasy-like, and full of magical thinking, but it got me through. The hopefulness started to recede as my health got worse, and as rejections piled up for my writing. And as the hope seeped away, I started to realize how necessary it had been.

"I believe there will be chicken in my future."

“There will be chicken in my future, right?”

Hope doesn’t have to be reasonable or rational. Hope is like a dream: it can defy gravity and space and time. I think it takes some amount of magical thinking to be a writer, or to remain in therapy, or to even plan ahead and imagine that things can be different in the future, instead of continuing as they are now, indefinitely.

"If I dream about a walk, it will come."

“If I dream about a walk, it will come.”

Butterfly gives me hope, because of how sweet she is, despite eight years of being used and abused at a puppy mill. I believe that Butterfly survived her ordeal by believing in magic, and dreaming of a place, far away, where she could run and play and eat as much as she ever wanted. Even if that fantasy had never come true, the dreaming of it still would have made her days easier to bear.

Butterfly's first day home

Butterfly’s first day home

Dogs are role models for hopefulness. They wake up in the morning believing there will be walks and cuddles and food and excitement. They give us hope that life can be good even if its parameters are small; even if the gifts available are small. They give us hope that a life filled with love might be enough.

"I have Mommy's sock and that means I have Mommy."

“I have Mommy’s sock and that means I have Mommy.”

Dogs are trying so hard to teach us happiness, and we are stubbornly resisting the lessons and holding on to our pessimism. They must be so frustrated with us.

"Treats?!"

“Treats?!”

Magical thinking is supposedly bad for me, like chocolate cream pie, or fried chicken. It’s a vice, a drug, a crutch that has deleterious effects on my mental health. But magical thinking is also where my hope comes from, when reality can’t supply it. If my life had been lucky, and most of my efforts had paid off in success, and most of my dreams and goals had been realized, maybe I wouldn’t need magical thinking. But I don’t know anyone whose life is like that.

Even under the worst circumstances, it’s the hopelessness that will destroy you. Being too realistic, too practical, too down to earth, can kill a person.

"What's next?"

“Treats?”

Cricket always believes that she will get a plateful of whatever we are eating for dinner, and that she could eat a whole rotisserie chicken on her own without any bad after effects. There’s something about magical thinking that is vital to our well being. It’s what allows us to believe in things that don’t yet exist. It allows us to go beyond what we’ve been told in school, or by our parents, and imagine something different for ourselves.

"Yummy!"

“It’s my turn next, right?”

Maybe I haven’t lost my hopefulness after all.

Sweet dreams.

Sweet dreams.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,405 other followers