“Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse.  "It's a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.


"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."


On Friday evening, Joel had Little Guy for the evening so we decided to go to Disney Pixar’s “Up.”  The premiere of the movie was so crowded that by the time we arrived and went to find our seats, the only seats for three available were up at the front.  Considering we were watching Up in 3D, we didn’t want to sit that close to the screen.  I motioned to two seats on a row further back, and one empty seat next to the aisle one row back from the two.  Joel escorted five year old LG to the seats, and I took my place on the edge by the aisle.  The movie began, and I don’t want to leak any spoilers here, but there are several heart-wrenching moments in the movie.  Every adult in the theatre was wiping their eyes, and Joel and I kept turning to look and smile at each other in our goofy 3D glasses.  One of the subplot lines in the movie involves a little boy who wishes he could earn one more badge to complete his adventurer training.  He hopes that by earning his last badge, he will entice his distant father to be at the award ceremony.

I haven’t given this topic much attention on this site, mainly because it hasn’t needed mention.  LG is not my son; he is Joel’s son from a previous marriage.  Currently, Joel shares equal custody of LG with his ex-wife, and the past year that has meant he has shared equal time between parents.  LG’s primary residence will remain at his mother’s, in accord with the divorce agreement.  For the most part, LG has dealt with the separation very well, only experiencing minimal frustration as he adjusts from one lifestyle to the other and has had no problems at school.

This summer is the first summer LG will experience a two week gap in between seeing the other parent; normally his schedule is set up for T/TH and every other weekend with his dad.  Now, he will be spending two weeks on and off with us through the summer.

Joel has arranged for LG to visit once a week for an overnight visit, and it has become increasingly difficult as LG struggles with the interruption in routine.  It is clear he misses his Dad.  Joel is struggling with the knowledge that even this minimal schedule will be broken by this time next year, as he will be graduating out of this doctoral program (at the same time I will) and we plan to move out of the area, though it’s unclear how far away.  It’s heartbreaking to watch, as I feel as if I can’t do anything to ease anyone’s pain.  I can only stand back and watch as the remnants of what was left of their previous life experience further change.  It isn’t always as dramatic as I’m making it sound, as we do become caught up in the everyday hustle, and mostly time flies right on by as if we are only passengers on this train called life.

But sometimes, sometimes that train comes to a halt, and the bare emotions that lay before us take our breath away with the sharpness that accompanies them.  I’ve been slow in wanting to gain LG’s true trust and genuine love.  He loves me, just like he loves everyone, as he is an equal opportunity lover.  He’s the kind of kid that has no qualms about hugging strangers and making sure everyone gets a chance to play.  He listens to me and responds to me and we both enjoy the time we have with each other.  Occasionally, though, and it seems to be right when we are both first together, we tend annoy the other.  I’m pretty sure it’s mainly my issue, as I’ve come to discover that I like daily activities to play out a certain way, and as to roughly quote something I read recently, “There is nothing that prepares you for the whirlwind that is a child.”  This interruption in how I’ve planned for things to go (call it a control issue, if you will) is often jarring and sets me on edge.  Once I get over that initial adjustment and add in the little whirlwind, I’m much better and I become the loving patient person that I know I am capable of being most of the time.  I do have the feeling sometimes of the velveteen rabbit, learning how to become real, how to deal with the real, raw emotions a child is so capable of eliciting.  It hurts, sometimes, but I’m coming to learn that I don’t mind being hurt.  

After the movie, we continued on to a local pizza joint that we affectionately call “LG’s Garden,” stemming from LG’s explanation to our waitress one evening about what the purpose of the back patio garden was for.  “Everyone should come here and write their names on the bricks when they eat here,” he excitedly continued, eyebrows raised, “and that way it can be everyone’s garden!”  Ever since, we’ve called it his garden, and it’s a nice place to take a five-year old.  They rarely have more than 5 customers at any one time, and so our favorite thing to do is to sit out on the back patio/garden all alone, listening to the music and eating good pizza and pasta.  This particular night, it was much more crowded that normal, but we still managed to score a table in the garden patio.  We placed our order, and LG became uncharacteristically quiet.  He wouldn’t answer any questions and had this very faraway look in his eyes.  He then climbed into his Daddy’s lap and snuggled against his neck.  Although I couldn’t hear what he was whispering, I knew exactly what he was talking about from the look on Joel’s face.  Joel comforted him, and explained that he missed him too, and he was very sorry that he also couldn’t be there all the time, and that he couldn’t move back in, but that LG had two sets of families that loved him very much.  LG didn’t move, only stayed pressed against Joel’s chest, his knees digging into Joel’s thighs.  His little fingers pulled down on the collar of Joel’s t-shirt and he snuggled in closer.  From where I was sitting, the fading light and the soft glow of the little lights in the tree behind them framed them both.  The image they were creating was crushing and heartbreaking, and my heart was aching as Joel’s eyes filled with tears.  I felt so apart from them at that moment, and decided to let them spend it alone, father and child.  

Our waitress arrived with our pizza and pasta, and we all quietly recovered for a few minutes as we started to eat.  LG broke the silence by enthusiastically noting, “This is the goodest pizza I have ever had!” and as he looked straight at me and grinned, my little velveteen rabbit heart swelled in my chest and I smiled back at him.

 

Big Dog!

05/29/2009

0 Comments

 

I received an e-mail from Cosette and Trooper's breeder the other day.  She stated that they had decided to keep Trooper's brother (named Cooper).  He's black and he was the biggest of the bunch when they were little.  In fact, she didn't think the mother would be able to push Cooper out he was so big.  They were about to load into the car to go to the vet's when all of a sudden the mother felt another contraction and started pushing outside the whelping box.  Managed to get the big puppy out.  Anyway, she said Cooper is 44 lbs.  I just weighed Trooper this morning, and he's 37.2 lbs.  I measured him against my chart, and when I say my chart I mean an unpainted wall that I measured Cosette against, and he's already 3/4 of an inch taller than Cosette was at 4 months.  Trooper's paws are larger than Cosette's are now.

I think he's going to be a large dog.

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Hello
It's good to see you coming back again
It's been a long time
Since I sat with you, my friend

I'll lend an ear
It's not that so severe
Time has killed the pain
And dried up every tear

And now
I'm thinking bout what went, down
All the heartache
I laughed away
Just like a clown

And now
Sit around talking
Drink some wine
I'm really glad you stopped in
Spend some time
You sit around talking
Thinking bout the past
It's funny how it lingers
But nothings meant to last

And my Ma
She'd like to say hello
But shes a little scared
That I can't let it go

So let on, ease back, brother
And let it slip away
I'm tired of hanging onto
The pains of yesterday

Once again
The money is so thick
It makes your heart go numb
It makes your mind get sick

So come on by
Stay and talk about it
Drink some wine
I'm really glad you stopped in, brother of mine
We'll sit around talking
Drink some wine
And maybe by the morning everything is fine
Everything is fine
Ease back, brother
Let this clear your mind

Come on by
And drink yourself a good time
Have some wine
And think about each other
Sister and I are fine
Yes, I've been alright now
Take it lightly
Step on out the front door
I'll see you in some time
-Amos Lee, Ease Back
 
 

Well, Internet.  I have another confession to make.

I almost passed out at the optometrist's office today.

I've had it happen before, but, I had a scratched cornea then, and well, that was just a whole mess in and of itself.  But this, this was nothing.  This was for no good reason.

I filled out my medical information, and checked the box where I requested no retinal scan (an extra charge) and no eye dilation.  I knew I just wanted to see if I needed glasses or something because my eyes were fatiguing after reading for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and...so I didn't think I needed any fancy tests.

I walk back with a woman who gives me several visual tests on three separate machines, lined up right in a row.  First, a test with a dot in the middle and wavy lines on the side, then a focusing and unfocusing barn that I'm supposed to look at, and then she says, "And right over here, this will deliver a puff of air to each eye."

"No," I say.  She looks up from  her paperwork, trying to determine if I'm joking.  "No thank you," I say.  "They'll do one in the back then," she says, tightening her mouth and marking on my medical sheet.  We'll see about that, I think.

So, I'm led back to the darkened office where a nice enough doctor sits me down.  She asks me a few questions, and then asks if I want contacts or glasses.  Neither, I say, I'm not really here for those - I just want to make sure my eyes are okay, to see if I need glasses or something.  She gives me a funny look but proceeds with the eye exam.  She has me focus long-distance with each eye, and then places the viewer with the different lenses against my face.  Which one is better, 1 or 2?  3 or 4? and on and on she goes.  I start to panic a little because some of the lines I'm not able to see.  They become very blurry to me and I tell her my eyes are hurting.  I have to take a break and squeeze my watering eyes shut.  I start to panic a little.  Why are my eyes so blurry?  How has my vision become impaired so quickly?  (This is the moment where I have stopped thinking rationally.  Because if I were thinking rationally, I would reason that I have 20/20 vision, and the lenses she is having me peer through are corrected, which makes my own vision appear blurry.  This is supposed to be happening.)  What is wrong with me?  Oh my gosh, she's trying out so many different measurements.  Maybe I have cataracts or something.  Oh shit, are they going to have to do surgery?  Maybe I'll have to have surgery.  This month.  Maybe this week.  I should arrange this before I take preliminary exams.  What if my eyes are totally screwed?! 

I start to fidget and notice how warm it is in the room.  I look over at Joel, who is sitting patiently nearby for emotional support.  He looks so calm over there.  How can he be so calm over there when I am sitting here, I'm going to have to go into surgery this week and HOW IS HE SO CALM?  Why is my doctor not saying anything?  Is she going to wait to break the bad news later? 

My doctor pulls the viewer away from me and pulls out two instruments, each which shine a light into my eye.  She edges closer to me, close enough that I can smell her perfume.  It smells like a mix between something Elizabeth Taylor and a heartbroken teenager would wear.  It makes me a little sick.  And, heaven help me, the room IS SO HOT!  I'm going to pass out.  She pulls away and sits back down, making a few notes on her chart.

Okay, here it is.  I'm feeling a little woozy but maybe I'm going to make it.  She has to tell me the bad news.  "Well, you've got good vision - 20/20 in both eyes, you are maybe a little near-sighted in your right eye, but it's not enough to make any kind of difference.  As for the eye fatigue and headaches, I'm just going to prescribe a light prescription for reading glasses for you.  And you should get a glaucoma test soon."  That's it?, I think.  I'm not going to die?  A surge of endorphins races through me and I don't feel so well. 

"Can I lay down?" I ask.  She looks at me strangely again, and I apologize sheepishly.  I pull myself out of the chair and kneel down against the wall.  "It's hot in here, isn't it?" she says, and I mutter, "Yeah, a little."

She looks down at me with her hand on the door handle, pathetic me, curled up like a baby on the dusty tile, and suddenly I feel very small and not very intelligent.  She inquires again, "You're a doctoral student?"  I look up at her.  "Yes."  She looks back down at me, and then opens the door.  "Huh," she says. 

 
 

Me: "...I'm not having blurry vision, it's just, I'm a doctoral student, and I've been reading a lot lately for an upcoming test. My eyes are fatiguing very quickly and I'm getting headaches. I just wanted to get an eye exam."

Optometry receptionist: "Well, I guess you could just cut back on the reading."

Me: "Or, I could keep reading and pass my test."

Receptionist: "Well, there's that option I guess."

 
 
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This is Trooper's calm face.  Here he is pictured munching on a stick in the front yard.  He definitely appreciates when he can just lie down and take it easy. 

So, his retrieval training is going interestingly.  I think I'm going to withhold major training until we start classes, because I don't want to reinforce his behavior lately.  He has good instincts -- he'll retrieve the ball/toy, and if left to his own devices will just carry it off to go lie down and have a good chew.  When I work with him actively though, I've been using morsels of treats for rewards.  His latest little behavior means he will go straight to the ball, turn back towards me and start to run, drop the ball, and then continue running back to me.  After he did this twice, I stopped the training session as I didn't want to be reward the ball-dropping behavior, which I may have started doing.  I think I might try shorter distances (only 2-3 feet, rather than the 8-10 feet I was throwing at) and see if that helps.  I definitely want to encourage his instincts, but don't want to see him retrieve it only to drop it a minute later before fully returning it.

 
 

"Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn't do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience. The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm , petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker's Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, 'I know why.' Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, 'People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life -- like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?' The six-year-old continued, 'Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long.'"
-Anonymous

 
 

Trooper's ears, in case you haven't noticed, are enormous.  At least, compared to Cosette's dainty triangles, these things could land spaceships on them.  I expect him to look quite awkward for the next several months in terms of body size compared to ear size; however, when he is grown, they look like they are going to be long and soft and silky. 

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Now that Trooper is 4 months old, I've been trying to let him have a little freedom with his schedule, especially as it relates to crate time.  I believe in the crate training method for my dogs, but I think that it is a method that requires adjustment based on the individual dog.  For instance, Cosette required minimal crating as a puppy.  Minimally meaning that I crated her at night until she had a significant amount of housebroken time underneath her and just a few hours during the day when I couldn't be directly supervising her.  

At about 6 months of age, I let her have the kitchen alone unsupervised.  She did well, except when dishtowels were out.  She ate a few corners off some rugs, so I learned to pull the dishtowels off the stove and pick up the rugs when I left her for the day.  Otherwise, she had no accidents and didn't destroy anything else.  At about a year, though, she had a bit of a relapse.  She would definitely start getting into clothes, towels, toilet paper, trash - whatever was lying around without a lid on it – even when I was home.  No amount of stuffed Kongs, toys, or rawhide chews would suffice.  I had wanted to move her into the spare bedroom (strangely attached to the kitchen in this house), but not with her behaving like this.  A little confused, I started crating her during the day when I couldn't watch her.  I kept her crated during the unsupervised times for about six months, at which point she was 1.5 years old.  At this point in time, we also discovered that if she had a window to look out, she wasn’t getting into anything.  I slowly started uncrating (de-crating?) her during the day and allowed her to have reign over the kitchen and the spare bedroom.  The spare bedroom faces the street with a large window that is level with her head, so I’d open the shades in the morning; apparently this was enough to satisfy her previously bored state, and I have had absolutely no problems with her since.  This is a Lab, people.  Labs are renowned for destroying things until they are 2 and 3, sometimes older.  I don’t have enough evidence to say that this was necessarily a nature thing (“Cosette is a good dog”) or a nurture thing (“combined with strict obedience, positive reward structures, and crate training”), but I do think dog development occurs at an individual pace, and some ‘techniques’ might be better than others for certain dogs. 

With Trooper, the first night I left him in his crate and he was miserable – cried for about an hour, then woke up in the middle of the night crying, and then woke up very early crying.  I had to teach at 9 a.m. that morning, and I was not in the mood to do it again the following evening.  So, I crated Cosette and Trooper together in a large wire crate I have in my office.    He slept beautifully.  No sound until 6:30 a.m. – I was so impressed.  Just the comfort of having Cosette with him seemed to calm him down quite a bit.  At night for the past few months, I have crated him in his smaller crate with Cosette in the same room (not in the same crate) in the guest bedroom.  This has seemed to work out very well.  I’ve slowly started to bring Cosette out and let her meander around the house while he stays in his crate; he didn’t like this at first but has seemed to grow used to it.  I wanted to do this primarily because if I ever travel alone with him (and not with Cosette tagging along), I want him to be okay in hotel rooms/houses by himself in the crate with Cosette not there.  

We are now at the stage that he is becoming almost reliably potty-trained, and I’m starting to let him have a little bit more freedom during the day.   This means that while I never, ever leave him loose while I’m out of the house, I’ve started to just let Trooper and Cosette “hang out” with open doors while I work in my home office.  They seem to be keeping themselves quietly entertained for the most part with all their chew toys.  This plan so far is working nicely.  Hopefully soon I will be able to leave him uncrated at all times when I’m home, and not just when I have time to keep an ear/eye on him. 

I think the next few steps are to let him have more unstructured free time, then to start leaving them in the kitchen for a few minutes while I leave the house, stretch that out to an hour if all goes well, and then look into buying him his own bed to lie on.  But, he’s pretty chewy right now so I want to make sure that phase is under control first.  He’s definitely had to be crated a little more than Cosette was when she was a puppy, but maybe he won’t need the intermediate crating as he grows older.  

Hopefully, within a year, I’ll have two awesome Labs that can be trusted completely loose inside the house; but until then, I’ll just enjoy Trooper’s puppydom and all the joys that come with PUPPINESS!

 
 

Trooper's belly situation seems to have subsided a little bit.  I fed him half a cup for lunch and he hasn't had any problems since. 

Here's the big boy himself at 17 weeks old (4 months +).

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