Posts Tagged ‘Pets’

Over my head

June 29th, 2008    -    6 Comments

If I tried too hard to understand it, I might miss the view.
From a hand-drawn sign taped to my daughter’s bedroom door.

Aquatic Center
of what I like and love

Love
TV
Acting
Movies
Friendship
Art
Dogs

Like
Turtles
Tests
Friends
Pink
Blue
Fish

The doormat of your life

May 22nd, 2008    -    24 Comments


One last thing my dog showed me.

Before the accident, Molly and I had a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on the home front. I’d leave the backdoor propped open and she’d wander out to do her business, whatever that was, and I stayed inside to do mine, whatever that was. The stipulations of her rehab now require mutual engagement. I have to decode her wags and whines to judge the likely outcome, the redeeming value, of a bothersome excursion.

Do you have a good reason to go outside, Molly? I test her intent as she tap dances her enthusiasm.

Lately, she has no good reason at all.

Because the sun is shining.

Because the earth is warm.

Because the grass is thick.

Because she is alive.

This is a line of argument that I do not practice. I hardly do anything for no good reason at all. Last week she led me outside by leash, and I followed, impatient for her to find the right spot as only a dog’s nose knows. But she had no business being outside. She simply plopped onto the lush carpet of mondo, letting the day’s radiance soak her sun-starved coat.

Amused, I took the time to gaze up through the canopy of maple leaves. Then I saw the painted birdhouse we hung five years ago when I felt interminably housebound with a three-year-old.


The project, like most of my projects, was a way to relieve my confinement. But there is really no part of life that is confined, no part that is just a tiresome interlude to be tolerated, or a penance to be endured, because life doesn’t come in parts. Every moment is your whole life.

In faded strokes I’d lettered under the portal it still says “Enter.”


Make yourself at home. Cross the threshold. Enter your life.

Dogs, birds, babies, everything, everywhere, all the time shows you how.

***

And if you’ve read this far, read a little farther still and see what I found in the laundry basket. It will take me forever to get it washed, dried, folded and put on the shelf.

No inside, no outside

May 21st, 2008    -    12 Comments

Another thing my dog showed me.

Just the idea of it had me pacing anxiously. But there it was in black and white:

Molly should be STRICTLY CONFINED for the next 2 months in an airline kennel, crate or equivalent.

All my doubt and consternation rammed up against this barrier. Say what? A dog? A big dog? A big running, jumping, happy-go-lucky dog? Behind bars? For how long? Say what?

Truth is, just the idea of having a dog – a healthy, ambulatory dog – had seemed confining enough to me. And now the walls were squeezed to an inconceivably narrow enclosure.

We lugged the crate into the house. It loomed over the room. Black, menacing, punitive. Her prison. Our prison.

Molly walked inside the pen. She walked inside and laid down. She laid down and relaxed. She fell asleep. She snored her doggy dreams. When she got better, we began leaving the door unlatched. She ambled in by herself, undisturbed by what you or I might judge as the cruel separation of inside and outside.

She has never been anything but completely unconfined in her confinement, because she has no idea of confinement.

Me? I have been thrashing my head against these bars all my life.

Some are a quicker study.

Poetry in motion

May 19th, 2008    -    6 Comments


One thing my dog showed me.

Plainly speaking, the benchmarks of convalescence are often the movement of bowels. So it was in the first weeks of my dog’s recuperation, as she swayed between long silences of worrisome constipation (She’ll explode!) and the urgent crescendos of an opposite kind (She’ll explode!).

One night, as her whimpers sounded oncoming eruptions, I hoisted her outside again and again. Four times that night. The quiet covered the yard like a blanket. The air was prickly with dew. Molly’s sore hindquarters convulsed, and I looked up at the sky. The moon’s dark lid was half lifted; her glowing eye kept sentry.

Night must be the birthplace, and the moon must be the mother, of patience.

Good dog

May 18th, 2008    -    11 Comments


The author and Zen teacher Lin Jensen wrote a book entitled “Bad Dog!” I haven’t read it although now I want to, since Lin let me read an advance copy of his forthcoming book, “Together Under One Roof.” You will want to run out and fetch that book too as soon as it’s out. You will want to want to run and fetch and sit and stay with everything Lin writes from now on, as I do, because I have a hint of what he writes about in “Bad Dog!”

And that is that there is no such thing as a Bad Dog. Mercy me, there is no such thing.

This is what I have been learning so vividly in my relatively brief yet eventful tenure as a dog owner, in my slightly longer stint as a mother, in my considerable experience as a wife, on the bumpy road as a daughter, and even in those storied stretches when I’ve been bad at any and all of those things.

If you’ve been traveling here with me for a spell you know that Molly, our dog, came to us from my father’s house, after his death, after all other recourses failed, on good authority that if not yet altogether bad, she was probably difficult, quirky, nervous, untrained and prone to peeing on the carpet. Including his last, humiliating debilitation, those were the very things we would have said about my Dad.

Molly is none of those things, or maybe all of those things, but we just can’t tell anymore. We can’t tell because she’s such a damn Good Dog.

Her goodness was revealed to me in little bits, like milkbones, until Molly went and had herself a bad accident in March. It was the kind of accident that turns your day and night inside out for a good long while, topples your every notion of what a dog could and should do (and what you’d like to do yourself), rattles all that loose and shakes it silly.

She ruptured her ACL, the ligament behind the knee, repairable by a fabulously expensive surgery. She spent four days in the hospital and then came home with a list of post-op instructions that knocked the last bit of sense out of me. She was to be completely confined in a crate for two months, hoisted for weeks via a sling when hauled out expectantly to pee and poop, noosed for 14 days in an Elizabethan collar (a gross misnomer for its indignity) and kept painfree. I look at this list now and it doesn’t seem outrageous enough. It doesn’t seem like the list that left me deranged. We are now six weeks into the stretch, she and I, six weeks when we’ve never been closer or more dependent, and I can only say that I’m smiling now, my eyes flooding with love and appreciation, because she is such a Good Dog.

I’m dedicating this week to Molly so I can show you all the tricks she’s teaching me.

Another country

April 15th, 2008    -    12 Comments


One of the things I tell people when I give talks (which, hint hint, I do whenever and wherever I’m asked) is that when we are still and quiet for just a few minutes in this pesky “now” it feels like a foreign country. A foreign country we are desperate to get out of. There are always newer, ultra high-speed ways to get out of this unfamiliar country and so we keep heading across the border, spinning this way and that and complaining of the bad food and long layovers in-between.

These days I feel a bit as though I am in a foreign country. Certain certainties behind me, and certain uncertainties before me. I am not trying to get out, in fact, I’m quite comfortable that I cannot leave, but I can notice the native soil beneath me.

Last week my dog Molly had surgery to rebuild her ruptured cranial cruciate ligament. We were eager and ready to do this, and eager and ready to bring her home. And now that she’s here I realize I will be too for some time. The recuperative instructions are clear and emphatic: two months in confinement, another two months in incrementally longer walks; assistance here, watchfulness there, judiciousness here there and yonder. This is the kind of circumstance that adds sudden clarity to the fuzzy wondering of what in the world will we do over summer vacation.

While Molly was at the hospital, I spent several nights with my sister, she of the still-broken wrist and ankle. She is every day more agile and resourceful making do with her intact left side, which I imagine to be like learning to drive on the opposite side of the road. Her doctors believe she will be back together at month’s end and although she can’t yet subscribe to that theory I’m sure that she will, if only because as soon as we adapt to the unadaptable, time’s up.

The visit with my sister coincided with the happy occasion of spending two days in Orange County, which never needs a happy occasion for hordes to consider it the happiest place on earth. I spoke at a conference of preschool directors, teachers and parents from across California. When I get to do something like this, which is too seldom for my insatiable ego, it is magical and uplifting for me, me who otherwise sits in confinement next to my sad dog with an ignoble plastic cone encircling her head. It is uplifting because it affirms once more that we have one life, one struggle, one place and one heart. If any of the wonderful people I met should find themselves here – or find themselves anywhere, for that matter – I do hope that they will speak up and say hello.

That’s all that we travelers can do in foreign countries. Make ourselves and each other at home.

Tearing my heart at broken knee

March 31st, 2008    -    26 Comments


If the boat were empty, He would not be shouting, and not angry.
– Chuang Tzu

Early Saturday afternoon I pulled into my driveway after a regular morning at the Zen Center. I saw my husband walking our dog Molly half a block up the hill.

I later wished I had rolled down the window and called to them. He might have turned back. Then I could have taken Molly for her walk as I do every day, sometimes twice a day, a comfortable habit.

But I didn’t, and about 10 minutes later he shouted into the front door. “I’m taking Molly to the vet!” It didn’t quite register with me. He already told me he had a list in mind of things to get done that I really wanted him to get done: fixing the sprinklers, picking oranges, taking my car in for tires and alignment. I wandered into the kitchen to investigate. I saw then that Molly was limping on three legs, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.

“Molly hurt herself,” my husband said. “She was chasing a squirrel and I didn’t see it. She must have tripped on a hole in the ground. She didn’t cry.”

“You had her off leash?” I gaped. He took a half a minute to tell me the particulars. Yes, she was off leash up at the wilderness park at the end of the street, a place he liked to go instead of walking all around the block, a place he liked to take her off leash to satisfy what he thought she really wanted to do, what dogs should do, sprint around after birds and squirrels.

“I never take her off leash up there,” I said to his back as he left.

* * *

We have a big yard, and although I thought it would be ruined when we adopted our dog, she has made a peaceable kingdom of this place, and we all get by.

Sometimes she saunters out back through an open door and lounges in a pool of pure sunshine on our grassy hill. Other times she barrels off at top speed from a standing start, chasing a dart of shadow or sound. Her sleek flanks ripple in a bronze shimmer of grace and power. She launches these feats from an invisible, intuitive surge. We call her Super Dog.

Saturday afternoon I sat at my desk behind a picture window overlooking the north yard. I saw Molly outside accelerate across the turf and out of my sight toward the perimeter fence. I later wished I had called her in when I saw her bolt, but it’s nice to leave things be when you’re otherwise occupied. She must have seen people strolling on the sidewalk beyond. Maybe neighbors walking a dog.

A minute later I heard her paws click on the parquet behind me. She was limping, her left rear leg hiked up in an awkward clutch.

“What happened to you, Molly?” I spoke gently, in a radiating stillness. There was no way to guess or judge. No one else to ask or blame.

* * *

It’s not so uncommon for dogs of Molly’s size and type to tear their anterial cruciate ligament. It’s a knee injury that tends to end the careers of the fleet of foot, like football players and lion hunters. Because Molly is still young, we have the inconvenient option of unaffordable surgery and an even more excruciating recuperation – weeks, a month or so, crated and immobile, on drugs.

We were shocked for a bit, foggy about what to do, veering toward the least, the easy, the nothing. Thankfully, we now have a clear-minded vet in the sisterhood, and she answered my question. We will do all we can to make our dog well, and soon.

My heart is broken with sympathy and concern. I shudder with fear and doubt that I can manage her long convalescence and confinement. This morning I’m scrubbing rugs, washing and bleaching towels and rags, releasing my fragile hold on normal. As a result of her stress or medication or both, she cannot manage herself through the night. Today we’ll schedule her surgery and see what happens next.

All of that is trouble enough. But what rends me in two is that I cannot yet reconcile the difference in the two stories I’ve told you of how it happened. I have not emptied the boat. Until I can, I too am unwell, and I spread even more pain in these broken down places.

Illustrated guide to life planning

February 18th, 2008    -    8 Comments

Sometimes, what to do next becomes quite clear.


Editorial note: Keep a goldfish alive for three years and you might one day find yourself in this position.

A good night to see the moon

November 26th, 2007    -    14 Comments

A comment over the weekend had me remembering that my father died two years ago this Thanksgiving. Or rather, he died the day after Thanksgiving, but only because we delayed him on this side of the door until the dinner dishes could be cleared. His death was swift but a long time coming, unexpected but unsurprising, inconvenient but flawlessly executed.

I hope you understand when I say my father’s death was his finest hour. I was proud of him, something I never genuinely felt before.

My mother ran interference for Dad in our lives. Despite her frequent assurances that “Your Daddy really loves you,” my father did not love easily nor was he easy to love. Although no child could be expected to know or compensate for it, my father showed us what a lifelong submersion in pain could look like, and how insidiously it could spread. As soon as I could steady myself on two feet, I kept my distance. For the rest of his life, nearby or not, I cultivated ways to buffer myself. I owe my strength, resilience, independence, intelligence, humor and oddly enough, peace of mind, to him.

My sisters and I would sometimes imagine my father’s decline into illness and incapacitation. We would stew in the cynical certainty that the burden would befall us to be kind to an unkind man and generous to a self-centered scrooge. We weren’t at all sure we could do it.

Suffice it to say that isn’t what happened.

About a year before he died, my father began to do some strange things. He imagined a new life, or death, in a new place, far away. And he set about, with the intention and resolve he had lacked in nearly every other year of his life, to accomplish this. He gave away or sold all the stuff we were so sure we would be saddled with sorting out. He sold his home, the albatross we’d already hung around our necks. He loaded up his dog and his truck and moved to a mountain home where six months later he could no longer breathe.

When I arrived at his bedside, he was not breathing on his own. I sat for two days to the rhythm of the respirator while we waited for a pathology report delayed by the holiday hiatus. There was no hope, nor was there need for any. We saw so clearly the perfect plan and timing, the wisdom, the care, the great responsibility he had stepped forward to shoulder for his life, finally, and his death, and weren’t they one and the same?

The last night, I felt his life rush out like the tide, and I lost my footing. I could not stand. I could not walk. The nurses wondered if I had the flu and if I should go to the ER.

“No,” I said, “it is my father dying.” They could only assume that it was an emotional response. But it wasn’t emotional. It was physical. I clung to my chair like a raft lest I flow out in the undertow. And then I felt, as never before, that my father was me.

When all was said and done, we turned off the machine and death came. It was simple and effortless. It was easy and on time. I spoke prayers, verses and encouragement, and I found out I could. I owe my compassion, faith and fearlessness to him.

I owe him my life, and my dog.

Good night, Daddy.

Dem bones

August 25th, 2007    -    3 Comments

1. I never play along. I never forward chain emails. I’ll never do a meme. I don’t even know what the word means.
2. But I’d do anything for Isabel.
3. First, I’m not a victim of anything or anyone.
4. Second, I’m old enough to be your mother.
5. I might even be your mother.
6. Except that I have no other children that I know of.
7. Two years ago, I was bedside at the death of my father, who was a hard man in the sudden grip of a long-expected cancer. I felt his life recede like the tide, and my legs grew weak. He did it all beautifully, and it was his finest hour.
8. We adopted his dog Molly, who surprised us by being the best dog in the world. She made our home complete, and she never leaves my side.

Isn’t it amazing how things turn out?

Famous last

August 24th, 2007    -    6 Comments

I can’t get pregnant.
I think it’s a boy.
I’ll breastfeed.
I’ll still be working.
She’s due Sept. 23.
She looks like me.
She’s a genius.
She’s an Einstein.
She’s a Mozart.
She’s sleeping through the night.
She likes it.
She’s a good eater.
It’s just the sniffles.
It’s just a tummy ache.
Fevers can’t go that high.
This won’t hurt.
She’s not afraid of the water.
She’s not afraid of the dark.
Lights out.
She likes vegetables.
She doesn’t know that word.
She doesn’t watch TV.
She didn’t hear us.
She won’t remember.
Wait until your birthday.
No means no.
I’ll never buy another goldfish.

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