Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Our Travels with Charlie Come to a Close

The first time I saw Charlie, I was standing on the steps of the Matheson Courthouse at 600 South in Salt Lake City. She was hanging her chocolate head out of the backseat of our Subaru. Brigham had picked her up from a pound in Spanish Fork earlier that day, promising me on the phone that he had found, after 6 weeks of dog-shopping, The Dog for us. He was right.

Charlie was a bit wilder after arriving home than she felt free to reveal during her walk at the pound with Brigham. The endearing, and trying, thing about Charlie was simply that she never wanted to be alone. She loved people so much. All she wanted in life was to chase balls and be with people.

During the first week--it may have even been the first full day of dog ownership--I returned home from work to find my house in such a state that I thought someone had broken in and committed acts of violence. This was just from the outside, too. The wood blinds were broken and I could see a tilted lampshade. Of course, it was just poor Charlie, nervous to be on her own with all the blinds drawn (so as not to loose heat out the 100 year old windows).

My life in Salt Lake revolved around Charlie in a very real way. We lived three blocks from the dog park. That is where I could be found every evening. In the six weeks btwn ending my clerkship and Andrew's birth, Charlie was my constant companion. We would start our day at Liberty Park, throwing the ball up that big hill by the water. August until October 17th. Even at the time, when I thought I had another decade left with that sweet dog, I thought it was such a beautiful picture: Charlie's shiny chocolatey self against the vibrant grass. I wish I had taken a photo.

After Andrew was born, Charlie took a backseat. It was hard, and she was jealous. But we never had to worry about her posing a threat to our kids. Andrew loved her and she allowed him to crawl all over her, pull her fur and tail and ears with total abandon. The first words that I knew my sons understood were "Charlie" and "doggie." The first thing both boys did in their babyhood was play with the dog from the side of our bed. All I had to do was say "doggie!" or "Charlie!" and my babies would stop fussing and start looking down at the ground, trying to find their beloved little animal.

Andrew's love for Charlie waned a bit when he got older and would occassionally get knocked down by our exuberant dog. No matter how old she got, she really still acted like a puppy. I think it led us to believe she was indescructable, both to injury and to time.

She was tough. Once, I witnessed another dog lunge at her and seem to bite her. She gave out a very distressed yelp, but then just trotted on back to our house. Brigham discovered, hours later, that she actually had an enormous hole in her side that required many stiches (and about $600) to close. He had been throwing the ball to her in the park and noticed that she would walk back to him. That was how she showed injury.

When we first moved back to Va, my dad and I would bring Charlie with us on every outing we took with Andrew. I think we went to the McLean library just about every day that fall. Charlie would chase the ball while Andrew tottered around on the playground equipment.

Everything we did, Charlie sort of fit herself into. My favorite thing to do is simply go on walks. My parents live on a dead-end street with a bike-trail, so walks with the boys and Charlie were just what we did, multiple times a day. When I would sit at the computer, Charlie lay underneath at my feet. The chairs around our dining room table even today are disturbed by the last time she scrambled out from her favorite resting place when she heard the word "walk." I am still stepping widely to get in and out of bed. That is where she slept, and it is where my senses still think she is. Where they know she in all rights should still be.

Last Friday, I took her outside with Andrew and I so I could brush her and just let her hang out with us while Will slept. The kids next door were thrilled and had a great time playing catch with her. She kept at it for at least an hour before refusing to go on with it. This didn't seem too unusual; it was hot and even Charlie can get worn out eventually.

An hour later, inside, I discovered she had gotten sick in our basement while she lay next to the boys. The only alarm it raised was for the carpet. We didn't really start to think something was truly wrong and in need of medical attention until the next day. By then it was just too late. We still don't know if she ate poison or if she picked up a bacteria called Leptospirosa. I am trying to keep myself from wondering when it was, how it was, that she came into contact with something that was stronger than she was.

Charlie really was the best dog I have ever known. She loved us, was devoted to us. You couldn't even scold her for her minor infractions because it just hurt her feelings beyond the severity of the offense.

It has taken me a month to get back to my blog because it hurt my heart too much to finish this post about Charlie, and yet I didn't feel that I could write anything more until I wrote about her.

I still think about Charlie every day and miss her. I try to battle the feeling that her little life was wasted on us. She was such a happy and devoted dog. She infused some of that enthusiasm in our own lives, getting us out the door multiple times a day to go on walks.

The few times I have had the heart to make that familiar walk down Old Falls and the bike trail since her passing, I have realized how much she added to those little jaunts. Somehow, it just isn't as satisfying when there isn't that big happy brown dog running up ahead to get her ball and then lying in the grass, waiting for us to catch up. I like to think that, though it may be a long wait, that is exactly what she is doing now.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chucky Cheese: Where a Kid Can Be a Kid With Hoof and Mouth Disease

I took Andrew and Will to Chucky Cheese this afternoon for an early dinner and, apparently, the most fun Andrew has ever had indoors in his life.

From the moment we walked through the door, it was as if he were both struck deaf and injected with speed. He really remind me of one of those contestants on a game show where the object is to pile as much stuff in the shopping cart within 90 seconds. He would just run frantically from one arcade to another, maximizing, I suppose, his exposure to germs in the most time-effective way. It was obvious that he needed to use the bathroom, but he literally would not even hear out my suggestion. Every time I began, "Andrew--" he cut me off with a staccato "nonononono!" I practically had to put him under arrest to haul him off to the bathroom before he made those filthy rides even grosser (maybe the uric acid would have had a sanitizing effect, on second though). It would not have been as gross, at least, as the vomit on the Bob the Builder digger in the toddler section.

We only ended up spending about 5 or 6 tokens. Andrew was perfectly happy to just sit in the rides and spin the wheels of unengaged arcade cars. He tried one arcade NASCAR (I selected Jimmy Johnson for him; he's the best looking) but quickly became terrified of it. I think it was too real for him. I am fairly certain that he feared actual bodily injury. The steering wheel shook and was hard to turn and I think the firey crashes he constantly engaged in (plus the firey collisions with the wall) got him a bit spooked. "NONONONONONONO!" and then "get me out of here!" I admit that I really didn't perform much better when I took over the wheel, but I hope that it was because I was holding Will.

At the end of the evening, I lost track of him. He turned up inside one of the basektball games. He was alight with pure joy. "Mommy! I climbed through a tunnel!" Tunnel = very tiny opening at the toe-end of a boot-shaped hoop game. I couldn't believe that he could fit, really. He just stood inside there and joyfully slam dunked the ball (the hoop was face-level from his position). Fortunately, after a while the ball somehow bounced out of the hoop and would smack him in the face. I say fortunately bc it meant that I had some hope of removing him. Also because he threw a really funny tantrum, so long as seeing a kid slap himself while dancing and screaming, "It hit my own face!" (referring to the ball, as opposed to his hand, which had also hit his own face).

But it did bring back memories of my own childhood, back when I thought Chucky Cheese was a classy and wonderful place. (As an adult I admit I feel a little bit disappointed that I live in a town so convenient to a C.C.) The last time I had darkened the door of a Chucky Cheese was back in the mid 80s. My parents relented and took me and my sisters there for my 8th birthday. We were all so thrilled, especially Dad. (Ok, my sisters and I were thrilled; my parents were probably present in body only). Chucky Cheese used to do it a bit differently back then. First, I think that it was geared towards birthdays (or maybe this says a lot about Child Me). Second, much more was made of Chucky's rock n' roll status. They had a stage where enormous rocker mice machines would perform, and eventually a live enormous Chucky would emerge and entertain the crowd. The highlight was when they would invite up the Birthday Kid(s) for some special attention.

On the occassion of my family birthday dinner, Chucky came out on the stage for some songs and some birthday celebration. He called up the birthday kid. I was so excited and ran up on the stage. Another little girl did the same, but I didn't mind sharing the spotlight. I do remember that Chucky seemed a bit dismissive of me, but nothing to get too sensitive about. Strangely, they only presented the other girl with a party-bag, cake and balloons, but I was perfectly happy to forgo those (I went to Catholic school, after all, and was very pious). I stood and smiled while the band sang Happy Birthday to the two of us, naming only the other girl (a minor oversight). I think it was not until years later that I realized that my parents had made no formal notification to the establishment that I was a birthday kid, too, and the whole Mouse Parade must have been thrown for a loop by this happy clueless kid that showed up on that stage. I wonder if my parents noticed how funny the situation was. Probably not. Its the Smith way.

We picked Brig up from the metro on our way home and then I promptly abandoned him with the boys while I went to a Church activity. I returned home early to discover that neither child had been bathed. After all that. And I had even given Will a lollipop for the ride home. I bathed Will quickly, but it was too late for Andrew, already in bed. Hopefully none of the bacteria will take hold during the night. Too bad C.C. hasn't created a sanitizing mist at the entrance and exit. The only thing that could possibly make that heavenly place even better.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How Not to Conduct a Move

1. Hire Starving Students to facilitate the move. My favorite quote from a friend who heard of the fiasco after the fact: "They need money for books!"

Our move date was a Monday. We had also failed to show up at many of the recent move-in move-out occassions within our ward. One plus one = we felt bad seeking help in our latest move. Starving Students seemed to be a cheap and guilt-free alternative, abuot $400 above the cost of the rental truck. Worth it, in theory.

The Students turned out to be three enormous middle-aged men who, if size is any indication, are not starving at all, nor, if age or demeanor any indication, students (unless you count that they are still learning how to function as professional movers, as they demonstrated very clearly over then next 13 hours). I suppose I was naive to actually expect students to arrive. Students of something besides slowly learning how to move, that is. They were being paid by the hour, so I realize that they could put 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 etc together, too.

They had the requesting tips skill down pat, however, with the steady reminder to Brigham: "We accept tips, you know! We accept tips, man!" Maybe they meant tips on how to pick up furniture and remove it from the home and put it on the truck. They did certainly need some tips on how to accomplish that.

2. If, at 7 pm, your to-be departed home still looks like it did that morning, choose not to call the ward Elders Quorom.

Brigham resisted my advice, to all our later doom. He didn't return to my parents' house, where we had to sleep that night, until 4am, as he had to help the starving students unload in Oakton. I figure that cosmic justice should have dictated that we get some extra help, as I spent many summers during college with my disabled vetran father and teenage sister helping people in his ward move. Maybe I used up my dues with the excessive help the Cannon family provided when we left SLC and again when we moved into our DC apt. Thanks again, you guys!

3. Choose a night when it is supposed to rain.

After loading up the truck in a supremely space-unconscious manner, the starving students raced through the rain on Route 66. Unfortunately, this was the first time they demonstrated any attempt at speed. The students ended up clipping a tree with the top of the truck and crashing with another motorist. Now will they ahve to go to driving school on top of their already burdensome course load?

4. Hang on to every piece of junk you have ever possessed.

The way I look at it, every time you move, you are essentially repurchasing your things bc it can be so expensive to relocate. Most of my stuff is second hand and crappy. Surely I could have parted with it, but I didn't. When will I learn this lesson?!

5. Hopefully, one of your children will become violently ill during the night.

Just as I was getting Willsie to sleep, I heard Andrew crying out from his room at my parents' house. Mom took Will and I went in to Andrew, only to discover his totally covered in vomit. He did not stop crying or throwing up all during the bath I put him in. He eventually fell back to sleep, poor little guy. I was so lucky my mom was there.

We are finally mostly settled, unless you look inside the master bedroom, which you won't. We invited some friends over last night, served them pulled pork and then had them help us move a couch. Internet set up, things mostly put away, we are feeling good. Despite how much I was dreading the move and how much I do miss aspects of life in DC, as soon as I walked in the door of our box-clogged townhouse, I felt a huge sense of relief.

Special and huge thanks to Mom and Dani for spending hours and hours helping out. It would have been so much worse without you!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Scatter My Ashes at TRC!

Perhaps it is just because I am currently raising my kids in the same area in which I grew up, but I can't seem to simply live in the moment as the boys and I go about our daily activities. It is one eye on the past of my own childhood and the other eye on my funeral. It is a bit ridiculous.

We spent most of our day today at Tuckahoe, a place that, if sentimentality were the sole guide for selecting a wedding reception site, would have been the location of my wedding reception. We splashed around in the baby pool and then spent some time up on the hill, where Andrew climbed on the jungle gym and I fought back tears at the memory of last summer on that same gym when A was still a baby, and then the memories of 25 years ago on the little putt-putt course just behind us.

Andrew incorporated these imaginary phone calls to his dad in his little routine on the jungle gym. It was really sweet. He and his daddy have gotten so close recently. Will still can't stand the man, but at least I know that should probably change with time.

We then went to Carey's house where Andrew disappeared into the basement and backyard with the kids. He loves his little friends and being at their home. Carey and I left Andrew with Paul and the girls and went to check out some neighborhoods nearby. Andrew could not have been less interested in my leaving.

Just before we were to leave, Andrew and Piper had an accident on the slide (Andrew slid right down and smacked his nose on Piper's head.) I thought it had to be broken, there was so much blood. But my recipe for calming injured children did the trick (tv plus a treat) and I was able to haul him out of there pretty quickly.

He was so funny about the issue of blood. Here are some of the things he had to say about it:

At Carey's house as we left: "Don't look at myself and my blood!"

Arriving at my parents' house, where we were to meet Brig: "I don't want to get out! I don't want Daddy to see my blood!"

On the driveway to the house: "Don't talk about it. I don't have shoes. It's not fair."

He acted ashamed every time anyone mentioned the accident or his injury. So we cut it out. After a bath that turned the water a rust color, he was good as before and in a happy and energized mood. I asked him to tell me about what he and the girls had done while Carey and I had been out. This is what he said:

"We frew trash on the floor and ylaughed and ylaughed and ylaughed." They also played tickle games, jumped on the trampoline and played cars. But I loved best the idea of them being so silly and leaving him with an image of himself and his little friends just ylaughing and ylaughing and ylaughing.

I hope that's how he can look back and remember most of his little childhood. Just without the trash-throwing provocation.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Tool Use in Baby Primates

When I was a kid, my parents wasted a lot of money on piano lessons for me and my equally talentless sisters. We went through many teachers, which is why I feel safe in mentioning the story to follow on my blog. (Well, that and also that my readership consists of about 15 family members).

One of my piano teachers had several children, all of whom looked exactly like gorillas. It was erie. And you know how babies and toddlers handle toys and objects--just like little primates, so the kids really did reinforce the idea that they were apes. It was a little bit their own fault. I always laughed to myself while my teacher and I both endured my 30 minute lesson that I was in Gorillas in the Mist. At one of our recitals/public shaming for not practicing, my sisters and mom and I were watching one of the baby gorillas playing with a toy in such a way as to provoke my mom to comment: "Look, girls, tool use in lower primates!"

I was reminded of this personal history the other day when my own little primate demonstrated some tool use of his own variety. My mom keeps a heavy supply of candy in her house. It is part of the food storage, I think. Andrew kept getting into it, so we had to put it up on the highest shelves. The other day she walked in on Andrew, who was stowed away in the pantry with a mouth full of chocolate. He also had candies in both hands. At his feet was a broom with a very long handle.

"It's ok Nana! I just have one. Two. Two because I am two!"

He has used the broom on another two occassions to knock the candy down to the floor. Yes, we are very proud.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

New Life in Oakton

I have lots to report on our move, but wanted to quickly record Andrew's experience at his "new nursery" class today. The following conversation took place in the car on teh way home:

Mom and Dad: "What did you do at nursery today?"

Andrew: "Um, somebody slapped me in the face."

Us: Was it a boy or a girl who slapped you?

A: A girl

Daddy: "What did you do after she slapped you?"

Andrew: "I laid down on the floor. I wanted my mommy and daddy to come back."

Anyone who has seem and Andrew Tantrum knows about this laying on the floor routine. At least he didn't "Clear the Table," his more anger-ridden tactic.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

First Tooth

I had been worrying lately that Will, at 8 months, has yet to cut a tooth. I fed my fears with some helpful internet searches that informed me that most babies cut their first teeth btwn 5 and 7 months, that some variation is normal, but that poor nutrition can delay teething. I was sure little Will would be like the toothless 14 month old girl whose mother posed questions to an on-line dr. I have enough reasons to feel like Will is starving without delayed dental development.

Two days ago, Andrew claimed that he saw a tooth in Will's mouth. My parents and I laughed about the idea that Andrew would be the first to notice Will's tooth. But it turned out that he was. (Hey, another evidence of his sooth-saying) The next day (yesterday), Will bit my mom with his new tooth. He has bitten me several times since. It is a powerful little white ruffle barely poking through his tender little gums.

I will mark it in my baby book: Will's first tooth was his lower right front, July 1, 2008.