Suburban Snapshots

The Very Sad Way We
Girls Became Outnumbered

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I don't have anything new to write on the subject of losing a pet. Sundry did a lovely post about it recently when she recognized it was time to say good bye to her own dog, and though I didn't have to make the agonizing decision to relieve Stella of her suffering my experience otherwise is the same.

We knew Stella's heart was enlarged on one side, that she may have had congestive heart failure. She was being treated with three medications and seemed to be doing well until yesterday when her breathing became rapid, she refused food and wouldn't lay down. She wasn't herself — even her expression had changed. I planned to get her to the vet this morning when last night she came into my room as usual, took a spot on her pillow but then stood up, walked a few feet and collapsed with a thud I'll never un-hear. My reaction was not calm or composed and even without my glasses on, seeing my dog dying on the floor at my knees was horribly vivid.

Steve left work and met us three at the emergency vet, where the staff was compassionate and kind and the doctor on duty placed a stethoscope on Stella's chest for my benefit; one of those five stages of grief was trying to convince me that maybe she was just having a seizure. We signed the cremation papers and returned home at midnight, leaving Stella on a metal exam table wrapped in our fingerpaint-stained bath towel.

Dogs are constant. They're the animals that remain loyal even when their rank is stripped by new pets and new babies. Stella was the dog who greeted everyone as though her entire life was spent awaiting their arrival, who didn't leave my side through the duration of my pregnancy, who took up residence under my desk while I worked, who'd sit upright to beg for food but would never snatch it from Anna's small hands.

Stella arrived in 2004. She honeymooned with us, she moved to the suburbs with us in 2006, helped keep Bert in line starting in 2007. She was terrible on a leash and would sneak pees on the carpets, her breath could strip paint and she'd relentlessly hump my legs. I'm not ashamed to call her my favorite of our three dogs, even still. And oh, my Stelly, how I miss you.

Small Consolation

Monday, July 18, 2011

The three of us, our dogs, and thirty other friends and family members spent this past weekend camping out in and around my parents' house in Maine. They have acres and woods, and also central air. It was the first time I'd slept outdoors in years; back in high school I stopped going on the annual Catskills trips opting instead to throw parties while the adults were out of town. I impressed myself by setting up a tent, inflating the air mattress, cramming it into the tiny zipper door, and actually sleeping with Anna in the smelly, damp thing two nights in a row.

Anna and her cousins played for hours outdoors. The adults grilled, drank, sat up late around crackling fires, drank, and watched with pride the ever-growing population of kids become increasingly bruised, bitten, and filthy. It was admittedly a soft introduction to camping, but over the course of three days Anna hardly came inside.

Sunday was hot and breezeless. A group headed to a nearby pond to cool off and despite her protests, I packed up Anna and we headed for the water. We weren't pond-side for twenty seconds when she noticed a nearby float being bumped by tiny waves, and next to that an inflatable tube. She became inconsolable.

Anna lost it. She screamed for us to go get the floats, to bring them farther in. She was yelling that they'd be washed away. She gestured frantically. She hid her face in my mother's chest like she was watching a horror movie. Her fear was raw and it beat hard on my chest. Two groups nearby watching our failing efforts to calm Anna shared stories of their own kids' fears, one woman asked me if she acted this way with other things. I wanted to tell them all that little kids get weird fears all the time, my kid is okay, I know she's a disaster right now but I swear she's normal. She's normal.

The kind people who owned the drifting water toys pulled them to shore, and for a second Anna was calm. But her eyes surveyed the water line and spotted more, and before she spiraled back to panic I carried her across the road to the parked car. We weren't in the cross walk before I was sobbing. I was trying to calm her and I couldn't stop myself from crying. She held onto my neck trembling out her last tears. Her hair was sticky and her face was wet on my shoulder. I held her and rubbed her back, leaning against my car until I could pull myself together.

I can tolerate a lot with Anna, I can take her little rage, her disobedience, I can take being dragged out of bed and bossed around before the sun is even up, but my God you guys, I'm really bad at fear. And I know this will pass -- it's just the latest in a line of fears that have included everything from fuzz to wind. But it's awful to not be able to reassure her, to wonder if I need to be tougher, hoping I'm not reinforcing her worry with my impulse to comfort her in the moment.

I was under the impression that being a mom meant being able to always fix things, where saying, "It's going to be okay" made it so. Or at least I'd hoped to hold onto that myth for a while longer.

Anna, Long and Lean

Friday, July 15, 2011

As she gets taller and leaner, I'm reminded that Anna's got about .004 seconds before she starts scrutinizing her own body. So while she's blissfully unaware of the torrent of societal bullshit about to threaten her self-image, I'm going to let her enjoy her skin and bones and ignorance.

We're not an especially naked family, owing mostly to the enormous windows at both the front and back of the house (any one of my neighbors can tell you our morning PBS lineup and what we had for dinner last night), but between Steve and me I'm definitely the less modest. Anna barges into my bedroom as I'm changing, then walks behind me kneading my rear-end as I move around the room. I laugh and pretend to be comfortable with the softness there I've never loved and the dimples I've always had.

She'll tug my shirt down while we sit together on the couch and ask, "When I was a baby, I ate from your boobs?" and I give the simplest "Yes" that I can, hoping to convey how proud I was to nourish her that way, how normal it should seem. Last week she smashed her doll into my nipple and asked me to feed her, so I think she's getting it.

I don't shy away from her questions or get embarrassed by her curiosity. I explain that her nakedness is for certain places only and not for strangers or the street-facing picture window; oh, how she loves to dance in the picture window. I have never loved a body like I love every single cell on my smooth, lanky little girl's (ok, well maybe...but totally different context.) I want her to love it for as long as possible, to know it and to use it. She should understand her body so she has the confidence to enjoy it and the intelligence to protect it.

In the years since I became aware that my own body was taller and thicker than most, I've had just a few periods of really liking it, of feeling totally comfortable with myself. I've been acutely aware of how my thighs feel when I walk, where they touch, how jeans fit, how the size I used to be was at the high end of 'regular.' I often felt out of scale among groups of women friends, clumsily photoshopped into the scene.

I love watching Anna play at home, totally unencumbered with those kinds of concerns, exuberant in nothing but Elmo underwear and temporary tattoos. I've watched her meaty baby legs become long and muscular, her round cheeks develop contours. I'll continue to marvel at her growth and to love her every pore, and hope that her boundless confidence stays with her always.

Five Lesser Milestones
(that will f*ck your sh*t up)

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Once your baby starts walking, everyone goes apeshit telling you how much trouble they'll be now, into everything, never giving you any peace, pulling on the hem of your strapless sundress and exposing your bare breasts to everyone in the produce department...oh, was that just me? I found Anna's first steps to be liberating (more so even than bare boobs in public) because she could get to the things she'd previously needed a lift to, freeing my other hand to post about her hilarious faceplants on Facebook cook and clean.

What I learned as she grew was that there are other, smaller but more insidious milestones that will throw your routine out of whack faster than you can say, "CAN I GET A LITTLE PRIVACY?!"

1. Doorknobs
In the days of Anna's infanthood and well after she could walk independently, all I had to do when work called was don my sexy headset and close my office door. I vividly remember the day I heard those tiny hands wiggling my doorknob, expecting to hear Anna pad back down the hallway in defeat, when in she popped with a big smile and a "MAMA!" turned up to eleven. Thankfully my co-workers were amused.

Now she's in the bathroom, into the toothpaste, out in the garage playing with extension cords, walking down the basement stairs. Forgetting to lock my bedroom door at night is pretty much a guarantee of future therapy.

2. Light switches
When Anna grew tall enough to operate light switches, I thought, "Good, now I don't have to escort her to the bathroom so often." Well, the potty chaperone job is still almost exclusively mine, but now the living room becomes a flash rave as Anna flicks the switches off* and on until someone develops a migraine or the dogs are borderline seizing.

*Despite the evidence posed here, she insists she cannot flip a switch to its off position when leaving a room.

3. Logo recognition
The first logo Anna recognized was for Baby Einsteins. The second was for Dunkin' Donuts. She's since outgrown the Einsteins, but is under the impression that the sight of a Dunkin' mandates immediate strawberry frosted satisfaction. Because we live in New England, the second she recovers from her tantrum at passing the first store doughnutless, another one comes into view. That's some solid marketing.

4. Locks
If you've been a parent for more than .3 seconds, you know that a kid out of your sight is usually trouble; a kid out of sight with her three-year-old cousin locked in a bathroom is either a call to poison control or a plumber, depending on whether or not they've mastered Lesser Milestone #5.

5. Child Safety Device Removal
Once she could open doorknobs, we employed those plastic covers that not only prevent small hands from turning the knobs, but leave adults sweaty and cursing, the knob slipping from your grasp over and over until you just decide you didn't need to leave the house anyway. I can barely operate the mothereffer, so you can imagine my surprise at finding my kitchen door wide open, knob cover in two pieces on the floor, and Anna blowing bubbles in the yard. She explained, "Mama, I took it off so little people like me could get out it!"

And this is why I'll never have a pool.