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Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Yarn Exploits

 

I started knitting when my brother’s fourth child was about to be born and needed a blanket of his own. This was about four and a half years ago. I ordered a copy of Knitting for Dummies, because Mom knew how to knit but wasn’t sure how to explain it all to me.

Cricket was still teething. She was five months old and had just finished unraveling a wicker garbage can and eating her way through a miniature pumpkin. So when I dropped my pretty wooden knitting needles on the floor, she saw them as an extra special gift, for her. I kept the remaining shard of wooden needle to remind me to use metal or plastic in the future.

Then Cricket moved on to the yarn. She jumped onto my lap and grabbed the ball of yarn in her teeth and ran with it into my mother’s room. She ran under the bed, leaving a lengthening trail of yarn in her wake, creating a cat’s cradle that wound around the legs of the bed, over to the sewing machine and, eventually, ended up wrapped around Cricket herself, until she couldn’t move for the string around her legs.

That was at least better than when a ball of yarn fell to the floor and I didn’t notice, so instead of running away with it, Cricket chewed on it in peace under my feet, and used her paws and teeth to unravel it until she’d made the yarn into a nice comfy, wet pillow for her head.

Cricket can be anywhere in the apartment, and if I start to knit, within seconds, she’s at my knees, asking me to make room on my lap. Then she leans against my belly and lifts a paw, to push the knitting away. I wonder if she thinks the sweater I’m working on is the equivalent of another dog that I am petting, instead of her, because she asks for scratchies and hugs and if I try to go back to knitting, she puts her paw up again and pushes the yarn and needles away.

I’ve made a lot of knitted blankets and sweaters since then and in every one there are strands of Cricket’s hair, or drops of her spit; like a blessing.

 

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Cricket and the Brown Mouse

 

            A few years ago, I walked into the kitchen and saw a tiny brown mouse eating from Cricket’s food bowl. Cricket had left half of her breakfast scattered on the floor around her bowl, trusting that she could come back to it later if nothing better came up in the mean time. But there was this tiny brown mouse, holding a twig of her dry food in its hands and getting ready to nibble. I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first, because I’d never seen a mouse stand still like that, not with a human and a dog nearby.          Finally, Cricket stepped forward and gave a low growl. Not the bark she’d have handed the mail man, but a warning none the less. And the little mouse backed up, dropped the food, and ran away. Clearly it was a baby mouse, just learning the run and hide rules of the tribe.

There may have been mice over the years, but I hadn’t seen them again, until I recently noticed mouse droppings in the corner of my bedroom, near the stairs. Then mom heard scritch scratching overnight in her room. And then we saw a brown mouse scamper behind the plant table in the kitchen. So Mom went to the store to buy mousetraps.

Once, when I was a kid, we had a glue trap. The guy at the store had recommended it as more humane than the regular mousetrap, but then I saw a mouse caught on the glue. It was still alive, but struggling to get free, and with each movement it became more trapped. I almost threw up, and then I cried inconsolably. Mom promised me she’d never use a glue trap again, but she made no promises about regular traps. Because you’re just not supposed to accept having mice in your house. It’s not clean, or healthy, or polite.

Mom put out the new traps, but because we hadn’t used them in years, she’d forgotten how to set them correctly. She placed one on a paper towel and shoved it under the plant table, and the next thing we knew, Cricket had pulled the paper towel out and eaten the cheese, leaving the trap unsprung.

The way Cricket barks at humans and chases squirrels outside of the house, you’d think she’d notice, and mind, the presence of tiny interlopers, especially near her food or by her bed. But she hasn’t been barking at them. They must have been around for months before we noticed, and she never told us.

I wonder if she’s friends with the mice behind our backs, bringing them food, tossing them a ball every once in a while, acting as guard dog for them when humans come near.

But maybe they’re just too small to seem like a threat to her. She doesn’t bark at ants either.

Walking with Cricket

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Cricket and I used to do a two mile walk around the neighborhood, when the weather was right and we’d been cooped up too long in the house. I’d fill a bag with her necessities: a Tupperware cup full of water, extra poopie bags, and a paper towel or two in case of emergencies. Cricket knew that a bag like that signaled a long walk and once she had her leash on, she raced down the stairs with the leash flailing behind her and jumped up to reach the door knob with her nose. She had to wait for me to turn it, though.

The first few minutes of the walk were a blur of effort for her, dragging me, like a horse with a plow, past the corner and down the block until we had truly reached THE WALK ZONE, which was at least a block past the shorter PEE ZONE. Then Cricket could focus on her sniffing without fear that it would all end too soon.

Walking smoothes out her brain chemicals, and the neighborhood fills her up with smells and experiences that keep her mind busy for hours afterwards. She doesn’t mind hot weather, or cold weather. In fact she would drag me out in ice and snow if she could, though not rain, raindrops are like poison darts on her head.

Walking with Cricket helps to calm me down, too. If I wake up anxious, which I usually do, with twenty different ideas of what the day should hold running through my head, I take Cricket out for a walk, and burn off the extra energy. Walking with Cricket, instead of on the treadmill, has the added benefit of forcing me outdoors, where there are beautiful things to look at. My neighborhood is especially beautiful, filled with dogwoods and maples and birds and flowers, and the ground isn’t flat, so when we go up and down the hills, we get a whole new look at the view.

I still try to take Cricket out on her walks around the neighborhood, but in the forty-five minutes it used to take to do two miles, I can barely do one. Some days, I just walk slowly. Other days, my legs go wonky, and I look like a marionette. My hands curl up and my face twitches. On those days, walking uphill is like climbing Kilimanjaro and walking downhill is a race against gravity.

The doctors don’t know what’s wrong with me, but Cricket doesn’t mind if I walk funny. She runs circles around me when I’m slow, and gets twice the exercise in the same amount of time. Or she goes out with her Grandma, and barks all of the details of her adventure to me when she returns.

I wish I could put her on the treadmill to help her burn off the energy left over after her shortened walks. I worked on that with her when she was little. I built her up gradually, from standing on the unmoving treadmill, to walking at the slowest speed for two minutes. But then, abruptly, she changed her mind about the experiment. Maybe she decided that she didn’t like the ground moving under her feet, or she didn’t see the point of a walk with no peeing component and nothing to sniff.

My dream is to be healthy enough to take Cricket out for the longest walk she can stand. She will empty her bladder so completely that even she can’t believe she has any more pee left to give. She’ll drink all of the water in her Tupperware cup, and meet as many dogs as she can. And then, without any prompting from me, she will look up and say, Mommy, I’m ready to go home.

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Cricket still seems like a stranger

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Cricket still seems like a stranger. I don’t know how to explain this. I love her, and I miss her if I’m away from her for a few hours, and I’m jealous of all the time she spends with Mom instead of with me. But when I’m sad or angry or lonely, I don’t see an echo of it in her face. I feel like when I look into her eyes, we are not really seeing past the surfaces of each other. We are not soul mates.

When Cricket first came home, I was addicted to the digital camera, trying to capture every different look on her face, so that I could get to know her: the way her lower teeth jut out so she looks like a fighter, the places where her hair is curly and where it is straight, and the wide variety of her different chirps and growls.

I know which foods she likes, and how small the first piece of a new food needs to be in order for her to try it. I know how often eating a small piece of cheese will remind her that she has dinner in her bowl.

I know that she will wait for Grandma on the second step from the top, and cry to be picked up when Grandma comes home, and then scrabble to be put down just as quickly. I know where she hides her treasures: under the second pillow on my bed, in the corner of my couch, under Grandma’s bed, behind the cushion on Grandma’s chair.

I know that the sound of the treadmill puts her to sleep. And unzipping the guitar bag makes her angry.

But we haven’t started to look more like each other over time, or developed similar mannerisms. We are nothing alike, and that makes me feel like I’m the stranger, and I’m the one who doesn’t belong.

But I still love her. And whenever I forget that I love her this much, she sparks again. Like when she waits for me at the front door, with her face peeking through the curtain. Or when she runs upstairs in the morning and jumps on my chest to wake me up so we can spend the day together.

I wonder if Cricket keeps a list in her head too, of all of the wacky things she knows about me: the way I smell in the morning, the careful way I pluck goop from the corner of her eye, the look on my face when I see her at the front door.

I am nothing like her, but she loves me anyway. I think I’m okay with that.

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