Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Of dogs and people

I've had the pleasure of re-reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men with my youngest son. He's only just turned 12, and I know I won't have many moments like this left with him. (It's been years since the oldest has snuggled up to me to read To Kill a Mockingbird.) Both books have their uncomfortable moments: if you've read the books, you know the word I'm talking about. It did give us a good opportunity to talk about racism and how language has been used to diminish and demoralize people. Ultimately, both stories are simply wonderful.

Next, we borrowed the dvd from our local library and watched it as a family. TeenGuy abandoned the Xbox to sit with us. I expected I'd be in tears at the end of the film, when George has to make a painful decision: track Lenny down and turn him in to the authorities (placing him in a situation that he cannot comprehend and leaving him at the mercy of untold cruelties), or put a gun to Lenny's head and pull the trigger.

What got me, however, was the actor who played Candy, the one-handed ranch worker. The morning after his dog is shot by Carlson, Candy is outside feeding the chickens. He knows his dog is dead. After all, he agreed that it was time: the dog was old, he smelled, he was sick and in pain. Still, out of habit, he looks around for the fellow.

That broke my heart. It reminded me of how lost I felt when we had to put our little mutt Heidi to sleep. In unguarded moments I looked for her. Rationally, I knew she was dead. I was there when the vet made the injection. But I longed for her presence, against all rationality. I still do.

So, I broke into sobs and had to leave the room for awhile. The menfolk waited patiently. And at the end of the movie, I sat dry-eyed while Sport buried his head into my neck, crying silently at the loss of innocent Lenny.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


It's a mustache. Despite how faint it is, it's definitely a mustache.

"I need a razor," he tells me. "I need to shave."

All our razors are dull. I know this because the last time I used one, I made a mental note to write "razors" on our shopping list. But I didn't do it. And now he needs a razor.

He's 16, and he needs a razor. He won't use his father's electric shaver because "I need to know how to do this." It's another rite of passage.

Our office is getting ready to move to a building after 30 years or more of being in our "temporary" space. I've only been here for fifteen years, but I've accumulated a lot of stuff. I've been weeding through my desk drawers and making piles of things to keep and things to throw away: Superman drawings, school pictures, notes from friends, birthday cards. The cards and notes go in the recycling bin. The drawings and school pictures I can't part with. They contain clues to his evolution. I search each of them to try and pinpoint the moment he moved from child to man. I find nothing but the slice of bittersweet memories.

He's taller than I am and at times so distant I barely recognize him. Some days, he's as cold and callous as any typical teen. But some nights he's as sweet as the toddler he used to be. Instead of kisses, he'll rub my sore neck. Instead of drawings, he'll wash up the dishes and put away a basket of clothes. He doesn't like to pose for the camera like he used to, but he'll freely share an anecdote from school. He'll ask a question and wait for an answer.

"Do you really think the world is going to end in 2012? 'Cause that would really suck. 'Cause I'm supposed to graduate from high school."

He's 16 and he needs a razor. Then in two years he'll be gone. It cuts.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

H1N1 and me

Sport came home Monday from school feeling poorly: fever, congestion, and vomiting. It was inevitable, I suppose. The H1N1 virus has been sweeping through the schools.

Tuesday was the worst of it. His fever spiked to 103.2 and I called the doctor to see if I should bring him in.

Dehydration is dangerous, she told me. If he continues to vomit and have diarrhea, then come. Other than that, give him Motrin or Tylenol every 4 hours and try to keep as comfortable as you can.

It's the sickest he's been since a double ear infection as a baby. I literally could not step out of his sight. "Mom," he'd call weakly. "Mom..."

I plied him with liquids and medicines. Ran him baths and showers. Kept a cool rag on his head. Slept on the floor of his room while he napped. Rubbed his feet with lotion. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and he was wrung out and near tears.

"Tomorrow will be better," I promised. And it was. But it's been a long week and I'm grateful that he had no complications.

His reliance on me made me think of all the times I relied on my mother when I was sick. I was a rather sickly child. One family reunion, we all contacted stomach flu and spent the drive back vomiting into a plastic bag.

"Mommy!" we demanded, retching. Rub my back, hold my hand, make me feel better.

My poor mother had her hands full. I can't remember if she was sick as well. I was too consumed by my own misery. But she never complained. That I remember. Never threw her hands up in the air and shouted, "You kids are driving me crazy!" -- although I'm sure she wanted to. My mother was a saint. Thanks, Mom, for setting such a good example.

But I did draw the line last night. He hadn't had a temperature in 3 days and was milking the "waiting hand and foot" mama option for all it was worth.

"Could you get me a drink of ice water?" he asked, heading for bed.

"You've got legs. Use 'em."

So he did.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bucket list

A couple of my co-workers celebrated their 50th birthdays recently. It won't be long before I'm facing the same grim milestone.

I feel like a grump admitting it, but I've grown to hate birthday celebrations. Unless you're under the age of 19, is a birthday party really necessary? I don't expect anyone to mark the day I entered this world, except for my parents and my spouse. Are any of us with a driver's license all that excited about getting older?

SO and I figure we have about 25 good years left. Anything after that will be gravy, and depending on our genetics and environment, it might be lumpy gravy at that. Our own parents, well over the age of 65, have a combined list of ailments that includes (but is not limited to): osteoporosis, arthritis, high cholesterol, bipolar disorder, prostate cancer, fallen bladder, and cataracts.

Sometimes I ponder the sentiment, "Die young and leave a beautiful corpse." It's catchy, but a recent brush with the Grim Reaper left me certain that an early death is not on my Top Ten list of things to do. Heading westbound on I-40, a semi-truck threw a tire in the eastbound lane. My hands gripping the steering wheel, I watched as it bounced (in apparent slow motion) on the line dividing my car from one to my right. In the rear view mirror, I saw it hit the shoulder and roll harmlessly into a ditch. There was a surge of adrenalin. My hands started shaking when I imagined it deviating slightly and crashing into my windshield. I would have bit it but good. As for a beautiful corpse -- well, I'm sure it would have been a closed-casket ceremony.

If I had a bucket list (and I don't), I'd feel pretty good about marking off some things. True, I'll probably never tour Europe or hike up to Machu Picchu, but I've seen the Grand Canyon and driven up Pike's Peak. I wrote and published a book and I found my True Love. I had a part in creating two unique and entertaining individuals and I've laughed -- a lot. So when the end comes, it comes.

I just hope it comes without any surprise birthday parties. I hate those things.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


This fall, Sport's slowed down a bit on the soccer field. He's carrying a little extra weight around the middle, getting ready for another growth spurt, I think. Over the last year, he's shot up five inches. He's not as fast as he usually is, though he's just as skilled. He anticipates where the ball is going to be and he tries to beat it there. He passes, takes corner kicks, and encourages his teammates.

He's always got a grin on his face. Hair tousled by the wind, he's in his element.

The second half of the game, he volunteers to be goalie so the kid who usually tends the onion bag can get a little time on the field. Sport lunges, grabbing the ball not just with his arms but with his whole body. He doesn't waste any time, putting the ball back into play as soon as he can.

A hand ball in the box results in a penalty kick. Way back at the other goal, Sport claps his gloves together.

"Can I take the shot, coach?" asks one of his mates. Two or three others volunteer.

"Sport!" yells the coach.

My son glances over, squinting.

"Take the shot!"

He's confused for a moment. A goalie taking the penalty? Is the coach serious? Benched kids from the other team look to their own coaches for confirmation. What's going on?

"Take it!" Coach motions for Sport to run down the field. He doesn't have to be told again. Confidently, he sets down the ball, peers at the goal, then kicks.

It's in! Our side erupts into cheers. The boys slap Sport on the back as he races back to his spot in the box. It's a perfect moment. I take a snapshot of it in my mind. Beautiful.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Lately I've been so tired. Depressed, even. Perhaps the dog days of summer are getting me down (and the fact that the air conditioning is broken at work). Mostly, it's the return-to-school blues, the chaos of the boys' schedules, the expectations, both spoken and unspoken, we have for our kids as they face another year of public education.

I'm reading Rafe Esquith's new book about raising extraordinary children. It makes me tired and depressed as well because I know I'm not doing nearly enough to rouse my sons from mediocrity to greatness.

I share a secret with my friend MaryGrace, who is bringing up four little girls. We celebrate parenting high points -- recitals, awards, good report cards -- and support each other through the low points -- self-doubt, recriminations, regret. "Remember, we don't have to be good mothers," we tell each other. "We just have to be good enough."

Those two boys are going to be something special, Jill tells me. You're doing a great job, says Crystal. Stop reading all those parenting books, says my husband. You're driving yourself crazy.

Tonight, TeenGuy opens up at the dinner table. Usually he wolfs down the food and heads out to hang with friends. But today, a surprising revelation: "I had a good debate today." And he tell us that one of his classmates made a political remark, some offhand statement, and my son said, "Bullshit" -- in front of the teacher -- and then came back with a fact, which left the other kid sputtering until a third boy got into the verbal fray.

TeenGuy beams.

SO and I are appalled. "You cursed in the classroom?"

He assures us the teacher didn't mind. "She even gave me a thumbs up!"

"You don't curse in the classroom. That is very disrespectful."

He shrugs it off. Later, when we are alone, SO says that throwing out a somewhat objectionable word and a single fact does not constitute a "debate." Yet I can't help but marvel at my son's courage.

That, I think, is extraordinary.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Light a candle

As a public library cataloger, I get to look at lots of different books covering a vast array of subjects. Some of the most interesting are books are the ones aimed at elementary school kids: they cover the basics and whet the appetite. I enjoy working on a batch of Tween books, especially when the subject matter is animals or geography.

I worked on insect books this morning. As always, I learned something new. Fact: earthworms have bristles on their skin to help anchor their bodies to the dirt. As a gardener, I love earthworms (despite their creepy appearance). As a human being, I'm drawn to their vulnerability.

I have a habit of rescuing neighborhood earthworms in the morning after the sprinkler systems have shut off. I find their struggles to scale the curb heartbreaking. They'll never make it, of course. They lie writhing on the concrete, increasing in desperation until either a bird picks them off, a car crushes them, or they dry out in the relentless sun.

When I'm walking my dog in the morning I can't pass one by without trying to help. After a rain storm, it's impossible. I have to set a limit, and then turn away. I feel like the woman in the starfish parable.

But, to paraphrase a line from one of my favorite movies, I'd rather light a candle than curse the darkness.