Monday, October 29, 2007

Dogged Devotion.

(In case you are new, this is Part Four of a mini-series. It's really not going to make any sense without the first part, Pet Project. If you choose to continue to read anyway, don't say I didn't warn you.)

So, the dog. I can say with certainty that not only was former-owner Jerk a male genital, he was an idiot. This dog lives to be easy. He is house-trained and he is crate-trained, if a bit grumbly about it. He let me wash and groom his paws, which is good because one of us is a little furry and likes walking through unspeakable things. He lets people take his food away from him. A toddler offered the dog a cookie, and I leapt in quickly, because not only would our last dog Polly have eaten the cookie, she would have take the arm up to the shoulder, just to make sure she wasn’t missing out on any crumbs. This dog, however, considered the cookie for a few seconds, took it gently from the child’s hand and ate it with a delicacy you associate with your better class of debutantes. He adores children; the finest visual he has given me so far was when we took him over to meet friends of Daughter’s, and he spent a late-afternoon chasing and being chased by six shrieking children. His grin wrapped around his head.

This is not to say that he’s perfect. He is a bit stubborn, which I understand and accept. I’m stubborn, Consort is stubborn, Daughter is stubborn; we’re a household full of people who just know things would go better if you would only do what I say. I’ve had dogs that were aggressively stubborn, I’ve had dogs that were sneakily stubborn, I know how to deal with those. This one, though, is cheerfully stubborn. The best analogy I can come up with is when a friend-of-a-friend got a job at a big-box electronics store. His job-training manual advised him to “Consider the word ‘No’ as a request for more information.” Besides giving you some sense of why men in clip-on ties follow you through the media department, extolling the virtues of a plasma TV, this does give you the feeling of what it’s like to remonstrate the dog:

(Monday, 10 a.m. The dog is on the couch. Quinn walks into the room and sees the dog on the couch.)


DOG: What?

(Quinn grabs dog by the collar, pulls him off, while saying “OFF!” firmly.)

DOG: Well, what was that all about?

QUINN: We don’t have dogs on couches around here. Here’s your bed. It’s made of 73% recycled material. It’s soft and spongy.

DOG: Oh, this is lovely. Thanks for the heads-up on the “No-couch” thing.

QUINN: Hey, no problem.

(Monday. 10:15 a.m. Quinn comes out from the office to find the dog on the couch.)


DOG: Huh?


(Quinn grabs dog by the collar, pulls him off.)

DOG: Still?

QUINN: Not still. Always.

DOG: Really? Because I could have sworn you said I could be on the couch right about…now.


DOG: Okay, I guess there was a misunderstanding. I’ll just sit here on the dog-bed until you go back to work.

QUINN: All…right.

(Quinn walks into office, and then quietly pokes her head out. As soon as Quinn leaves the room, the dog darts back to the couch. As he puts his front paws on it…)


DOG: This is news to me.

Days of this, I tell you. He’s like some kind of canine-martial artist, using my own desire for dog hair-free furniture against me. But he has me mistaken for someone who hasn’t been trained by the sensei of cheerful badgering, Daughter. I got through a year of “All the other girls got the Bratz bordello, why can’t I?” without caving in; I’ll keep this dog off the couch.

The cat, however, was going to take to drink. I thought about writing about her experience from her point of view, at Judy’s marvelous suggestion, but decided not to, as it would be impossible to do and maintain my rule of working clean.

The first week, since I had no knowledge of his history with cats, I had to assume he might have murderous impulses. I made absolutely certain the cat and dog were never together. This wasn’t helped by us being in the fortnight a year where Lulabelle, owing to being a black cat, isn’t allowed to go outside. They were trapped inside the house together, but could never be allowed to see one another. This was the show “Big Brother”, as constructed by the Witness Protection Service.

All of Lulabelle’s day was to be spent in Daughter’s room, unless we were home, at which point we’d shut the door from the bedrooms into the rest of the house and she could have the run of the bedrooms and bathrooms. The dog could have the rest of the house. Of course, this meant both of them spent nearly all their time at the door separating them, sniffing deeply. The cat’s hair didn’t un-puff for a week. Slowly, with tons of security, a tight leash and multiple escape possibilities for the cat, I allowed them to see one another.

By week two, the cat and I were starting to suspect he didn’t mean her any harm. If anything, his enthusiasm for her resembled less “Predator and prey”, and more “Pre-pubescent girl and Hannah Montana”. The very sight of Lulabelle’s tail, swishing around the corner into Daughter’s room, would send the dog into barking raptures and whirling in circles. The few times he actually made eye-contact with her, he threw himself into the play-position; butt up in the air, tail spinning dervishly. Had the cat a concert, the dog would have paid any amount of money to see the show and wear the t-shirt. The cat, having gotten over her initial fear, settled deeply into contempt; if he wasn’t going to kill her, she seemed to think, then he needed training. She’s very good at dog-training, but I don’t think the Monks of New Skete or Cesar Milan should be worried about this up-and-comer quite yet, because her training is based on the simple idea that a cat’s nail, when inserted into a dog’s nose, gets his attention. This is her answer to nearly everything the dog does.

Run at the cat and invite her to play? Get a nail in the nose.

Decide to sit up on your hind legs and watch her eat her dinner on the drier? Get a nail in the nose.

Having seen the cat jump up on the couch, realize you can get really comfortable and cuddle with your new best friend? Nail, meet nose, while someone shouts “Off!” at you.

The whole week of training can be summed up by the sound of dog nails clicking against the floor, then the sound of a hiss, then the sound of a dog yipping, and then the sound of dog nails clicking off in the other direction. I added my part by shouting “Leave it!” whenever he would start to drift towards her, which might have helped the training, or it might have just increased the volume in the house. I suspect the carefully inserted nail-of-negative-reinforcement did more than any phrase ever could.

We’re now three weeks’ into the process. Last night, I caught them both hanging out in the hallway watching Daughter brush her teeth, ignoring one another. Still, about once a day, the dog looks over and thinks “Cat! I shall touch her with my nose!”. I then hear:


Which, for us, is the sound of a functional family.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pet Found

(In case you are new, this is Part Three of a mini-series. It's really not going to make any sense without the first part, Pet Project. If you choose to continue to read anyway, don't say I didn't warn you)

Tuesday through Thursday, my day went like this:

Wake up.

Check shelter website to see if the dog was still there and hadn’t been picked up by Jerk.

Feed Daughter.

Check shelter website to see if the dog was still there and hadn’t been picked up by Jerk

Take Daughter to school.

Wish I had an IPhone, so I could check shelter website while I was driving to see if the dog was still there and hadn’t been picked up by Jerk.

Come back home.

Check shelter website to see if the dog was still there and hadn’t been picked up by Jerk.

Write seven words for book.

Check shelter website to see if the dog was still there and hadn’t been picked up by Jerk

And so on. My obsessive tendencies bring out the green in my eyes, but otherwise serve no useful purpose. I had a stern talking-to with myself and put myself on a diet of two checks a day. Every day, there was my little friend, looking puzzled. Daphne decided this was good news, that Jerk had moved on to winning some new boyfriend with big muscles and not a small dog, but I refused to get my hopes up. Intermittent yet persistent experience with jerks told me that it was entirely possible that Jerk thought of the shelter as a relatively cheap way to board the dog and would pick him up at his convenience. As the first weekend came and went, however, I allowed myself a small nightlight of hope. Jerks are all about that which is easy on them, and if picking up the dog on the weekend had been too much bother, it was possible he wouldn’t pick it up at all. He still had another week in the shelter, however.

At first, I couldn’t go see the dog. My guilt-bucket is very nearly full all the time, and the sight of this sweet, handsome little man cowering in the back of his cage, coughing and being terrorized by some rough-looking Chow/Akita mix next door would have sent the guilt-bucket sloshing into the street. Finally, after the first weekend, I girded my loins and went over. I found his cage, and there he was, sitting by the gate, wiggling in pleasure at the sight of anyone walking by. He saw me and danced around on his hind legs. I scratched his head through the gate; he sighed in pleasure. A volunteer came by and said “Isn’t he the sweetest boy? I’ve been taking him out whenever I can.” She slid her hand in, and the dog flopped on his back and slid his body against the gate, giving us both the chance to scratch his belly at once. Whatever the human beings called this place, as far as Prince Charming was concerned, it was Club Med with endless full-body massages. At the very least, I no longer had to worry about how unhappy he was. I checked with the front desk and confirmed that I was the second person in line for the dog. Someone had seen him the minute he came in on Sunday and had put themselves in line to adopt him, should he become available; I was second.

Now, the only question was, what about Person #1? Oddly enough, I was okay with him going to another family. My job hadn’t been to own him but to get him out of the street and then away from a jerk. Anyone who fell in love with him at first sight and was vetted by the shelter was probably as good an owner as I would be. I thought he was a potentially great dog but I had no space in my life which needed filling. I had a child, I had after-school activities, I had a pet, I had a hobby (blog-writing), I had a job (book-writing). Sure, I had a dog-bowl, a leash and a chew-toy, but that didn’t make me someone looking for a dog; that made me someone with a sentimental streak. I liked the dog, but I certainly didn’t need the dog.

And yet I still checked the website twice a day. I didn’t really think about Jerk anymore. I just liked looking at his little face. Daughter knew we might be getting a dog, and we might not be getting a dog. He was ours, unless he wasn’t. Consort took to referring to him as Schrodinger’s dog. I asked Daughter if she had any thoughts for a name. She answered swiftly and confidently. In the interest of privacy, I will only say the name was simple, pleasing, and significantly less girly than Prince Charming. If Consort ever needs to shout it down dark alleys, his masculinity will remain intact. As luck would have it, the day he became available was one of those days where Daughter’s school was closed for no apparent reason; it was something like “Teacher Enrichment Conference” or “Teacher Preparedness Enrichment’ or “Conference for Preparing Enrichment”. It could also be pronounced “We’re tired of your children”. So, she was available to come with me.

Our time-slot for getting him was 9:30 to 10:00. We arrived at 8:59. First, because I am pathologically punctual and second, because if the first person arrived, we wanted to be able to say goodbye to him. I figured the least I could offer Daughter was closure and a pie-and-milkshake breakfast afterwards, to ease the sorrow. We sat on the bench in the front room and watched a few dogs come in, a couple of dogs get adopted. At 9:25, our adoption counselor came out and smiled at us. “I’m guessing she’s not coming,” she said, “should we go get your dog?”

Daughter gasped in glee, and I thought Holy crud, I’m getting a dog! Because during all of this, I hadn’t exactly thought through to this point; I had visualized Jerk coming back, or the woman arriving at exactly nine and swooping the dog up in her arms. It just hadn’t occurred to me we’d get to someone offering me the dog. I knew from his information sheet on his cage that his adoption-list was full. After me, there was a 10:00, and then a 10:30, all the way through 4:00. A bunch of people wanted this dog.

For a second, I thought about grabbing Daughter’s small arm and dashing for the door, keeping my relative freedom while knowing someone would take the dog. But, I thought, what if everyone else bails, and he’s still here tomorrow? What if the person takes him, changes their mind, and decides to leave him back in my neighborhood again? What if my family, flawed and hectic as it is, is the best home he would ever know?

“Yes,” I heard myself saying, looking down into Daughter’s shining eyes, “let’s go get our dog.”

Next: Dogged Devotion.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pet Finder.

(In case you are new, this is Part Two of a mini-series. It's really not going to make any sense without the first part, Pet Project. If you choose to continue to read anyway, don't say I didn't warn you)

I awoke a half-hour later to the phone ringing. It was Daphne, calling from her car outside the shelter, choking back tears.

“Quinn,” she sniffled, “he has an ID chip. They called the owner.”

Shaking my head to clear sleep from the synapses, I said in confusion, “That’s good, right?”

“No,” she cried, “He’s mean. He says the dog gets out all the time, and doesn’t like him, and he doesn’t know if he wants the dog back.”

My brain scrabbled up against these facts several times without finding a toe-hold. The dog that had stayed with me hadn’t wanted to be more than four inches from my leg and adored every person he had met, including the bus-boy who had accidentally kicked him. Daphne sounded distraught, and I was beginning to not feel too well myself, so I made excuses.

“Sure,” I said confidently, “He sounds like a (male genital), but maybe he’s just having a bad day. Catch me at the wrong time, and you’d think I was a total (female dog), and I’m not…not all the time, anyway. He got the dog chipped, that has to mean something.”

“He said he got the dog from a rescue group, and they did it.”

I tried another tack. “Maybe he’s a total (male genital), but his wife and kids love the dog.” I liked that one, as it would explain the dog’s affectionate stalking of Daughter and me.

“What he said was that he and his boyfriend had gotten the dog, and the boyfriend wasn’t around anymore. And then he said that dogs were a lot of work.”

My Achilles heel flared up; why do some people act surprised when their pet has needs? It's not a paperback, it's a living thing. Daphne added, “Oh, and guess what? He claims the dog got out the day before, in Hollywood.”

I sighed in disgust and said something unprintable. We both knew that was impossible. We’re several miles from Hollywood, across major thoroughfares. Had the dog run at full speed, it might have made it to our neighborhood in a day, but it would have been killed by a car in the process. One of two things happened; either someone had stolen him, thinking a pure-bred was worth something and then changed their mind. But far more likely was that his owner had driven to our area, removed his collar, and opened the door.

We sat in silence for a second. Daphne said apologetically, “I am so sorry to bother you with all this. I know you are trying to write.”

Oh, there’s guilt. I wondered where I put it. Had I gone with her, I would have…what? Grabbed the dog’s leash from the shelter employee once we realized what a (male genital) his owner was? Offered to go to the owner’s house and show him what not being liked really felt like? I would have done something, and while anyone who knows me can argue that I might not have helped the situation, I should have been there, because something helpless needed me. And where was I?


And lying about it.

Daphne was talking. I forced myself to focus. The owner had left it as “I might come get him…”; the city gave him ten days to do so. After that, the dog was available for adoption. Daphne had stayed around until they took his picture for the website, after which the employee had taken the dog away to put in a cage. The dog had given Daphne such a look of affection and confusion that her only option had been to sit in her car for a while and cry, which is when she had called me.

I raced to the computer and brought up the shelter’s website. There, under “Found Dogs”, was the dog, looking woeful. Under his picture was a name. I interrupted Daphne, who was fleshing out exactly what a colossal (male genital) this guy was on the phone, and said, “I’m sorry, but this is his name?”

“Yeaaaaaaaaaah”, she drawled, momentarily distracted by this new evidence of the owner’s general unworthiness.

“Prince Charming?”


We are so changing his name, I thought, and then mentally slapped myself. We wouldn’t be changing his name because he had an owner, albeit a big jerky one. And if big jerky man didn’t bother to pick him up, someone else would adopt him and they would name him what they liked. I would write my book and we would continue to lead a dog-free lifestyle where plastic grocery bags are for holding groceries only.

This was Sunday. The shelter was closed on Monday, which gave me ample to think deeply and thoroughly about the dog, in a way that less visionary people would describe as obsessing. By the end of the day, I had concluded the dog was in the shelter because of me; had somehow managed to break free of the idiot who owned him but might be sent back to him because of me; might not be reclaimed by idiot owner, but might be adopted by someone who would fall in love with his almost painful cuteness, name him Sir Lancelot and then be ignored in the back yard, because of me. I writhed inwardly while attending to my day.

At the end of the day, Consort and I were getting ready for bed and I blurted out “I’m thinking of putting my name of the list for the dog, if you don’t totally hate the idea. It probably won't matter, because the owner will probably come get it. You won’t have to walk it, she and I will take care of the feeding-“

Consort kissed me and grinned at me. “I knew this one was coming back.”

But that wasn’t a guarantee. Overnight, I became convinced the jerk would be there at nine a.m. on Tuesday, to pick up the dog he didn’t like. Why, you ask? Because jerks do things like that, they decide to keep something they don’t want just because it’s theirs, and they paid good money for it, or they think it’s potential date-bait, or just because they need to do something really jerky today. I raced Daughter to school on Tuesday, getting to the shelter at 8:54.

Needless to say, Jerk didn’t arrive. I did, however, have a meeting with an adoption counselor and was deemed worthy of the dog, should it become available. In the one hour he had been viewable on Sunday, someone had already put their name on the list for him; I was second. I also had the adoption counselor add a note to the dog’s file. If Jerk did arrive and was somehow capable of being talked out of taking him back, I told her, I wanted him to know the people who had kept him…what? I thought about how to phrase this best.

Didn’t have enough to do, and long to use their vacuum-cleaner daily?

Need one more living thing in the house with needs, and peculiarities, and their own dietary restrictions?

Have too many plastic grocery-store bags?

“If he does come to get the dog,” I said, “please let him know that we loved him already.”

She typed that in and then said "Okay, if he doesn't come in, we'll see you in two weeks."

Next: To quote Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. If what I just wrote leads to that song getting stuck in your head, I am truly sorry.

(Next: Pet Found.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

(Cleansing breath)

It might take me another day to finish up the dog blog, so I just want to give those of you who indicated a certain displeasure in being left hanging a measure of relief.

It all works out.

See you tonight or maybe tomorrow,

Monday, October 15, 2007

Pet Project

I’m no fool; I know how the universe works in my life. Things will be going along, as they are wont to do, and I will notice that, while certainly full and bristling with activities, my life is fairly orderly and calm. I will mention this fact out loud. Hell, I’ll even think this thought and the universe will look up from watching “I Love New York: Season 2” and say, “Oh, it’s drama you want…”, and we’re off to the races.

By the seventy-eighth time this happened, I learned; never recognize my own lack of insanity. I treat a fairly predictable life the way I treat the sun; it’s up there, it’s important, but looking at it is detrimental to my health. The universe, thwarted in her desire to constantly increase my degree of difficulty, has created a new system. Variables will no longer come when things are calm. Now, the change-up will occur whenever it amuses the universe to do it.

Daughter and I were pulling into the driveway two Saturdays ago when I noticed our neighbor Daphne out walking her dog. I looked again, and realized it wasn’t her dog, a large and rather grumpy Rhodesian Ridgeback named Betty, but a smaller dog. I even mused out loud about why Daphne was walking someone else’s dog when Daphne, upon seeing my car, started trotting over to the house. At that point any sensible person, knowing my life’s history, would have snuck into the house, drawn the curtains and refused to answer the phone. I, however, parked the car, walked out of the garage and asked the fateful question, “Whose dog is that?”

“I don’t know,” Daphne said, scratching his ears, “I found him running down the street when I was walking Betty. He followed us home, even though Betty kept trying to bite him. Does he look familiar to you?”

I looked at him. He was a purebred, of a sort usually favored by families in Dick and Jane books and little old ladies. He had a haircut, but he was dirty. He had no collar. His tail never stopped thumping. He licked my hand. “I think so,” I said after a close examination of his face, “I just don’t remember where he lives.”

His whole situation seemed blindingly clear to me. He was a coddled house-dog of one of the grandmothers who had been living in our neighborhood for fifty years. These women have noisy, excitable grandchildren who visit on the weekends, who spend most of their visit slamming in and out of the front doors and playing soccer in the front yards. I guessed that during one of those visits, our little friend here took the opportunity to get a look-see at the surrounding blocks. Someone was undoubtedly in a panic, looking for him. I looked down at him again; he and Daughter were leaning against each other in delight. Mutual hair-braiding was about to break out.

Daphne and I plotted. She worked as a bartender, which meant she’d be gone until three in the morning. In the seven hours she’d be gone, Betty would have eaten this dog. I offered to let him stay in my back yard. In the morning, we’d start looking for the inevitable “Lost Dog” signs. If they weren’t up, which seemed inconceivable for an affectionate purebred, we’d move to Plan B; I had no idea what Plan B would be. Daughter, upon hearing he’d be staying with us for the night, shrieked in delight and started planning his new life with us. I said warningly, “The night, he’s with us for the night. He’s someone’s dog.” She whispered something in his ear, and he looked knowingly at her; animated hearts flew between them.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve had more than my fair share of overnight canine house-guests in my back yard, and he was the best behaved one ever, mostly for what he didn’t do, rather than what he did. He didn’t dig a bomb crater in the lawn. He didn’t set up a howl which made people in San Diego look up and say “Did you hear that?”. He didn’t claw forty years of lead-based paint off the back door. He sat mutely by the back door, nose pressed in the door-jamb, waiting for anyone to come out. If I came out to pet him or check on him, he would flop on to my feet with a deep sigh, and then try to dart into the house. “No way, little man,” I would say firmly, picking him up and putting him back outside, his short legs still walking mid-air,” You’re not meeting the cat.” The odds of him being a cat-killer were small but possible. The odds of him having his nose removed by Lulabelle were all but certain. I created a bed out of blankets for him. I put out a bowl of the Betty’s food that Daphne had donated. Eventually, he made use of both. Consort came home late that night, after already having been warned of a yard-guest; when he came in, he told me the dog trotted up to him, licked his hand, and went back to bed. “He seems very happy here,” Consort said absently, checking email. “Only proves how much he’s loved in his real home,” I answered stubbornly.

The next morning, while waiting for Daphne to wake up, I took him with me and Daughter to brunch. His genial disposition was unchanged by multiple dog-meetings, countless friendly hands and general restaurant clatter. He was fairly adamant that my breakfast was his breakfast, but that only strengthened my suspicion he belonged to some nice old lady who gave him buttered toast every morning. I came home, expecting to see large and tear-stained “LOST DOG” signs up. There were none. Consort, on his way out, leaned over and scratched the dog’s head, who fairly swooned. Consort glanced at me and said, “You know, if this one stays around, that would be okay.”

“Thanks, but he has a home. Someone loves him.” I said firmly.

Daphne came by. We checked out the one house we thought might have a dog of this kind, and they did, but theirs was at home, grinning at us through the gate. At a loss, I made a decision for the both of us. “Take him to the shelter and get him checked for an ID chip,” I said to Daphne, “He won’t have one, but let’s just confirm that, and then we’ll decide what to do next. I’ll go with you, but I’d rather not, because I’m the only one home with the kid today. And taking her to a place where you can adopt animals, well…”

“Of course, of course,” Daphne said quickly, “I’m just so glad you could take him last night and this morning. Just hang out; I’ll call you as soon as we get back in the car.”

Feeling a stab of guilt that I was making her do the heavy lifting, I heard myself say, “I’ll get some writing done while you’re gone. You know, on the book.”

Readers, I am a horrible person. I didn’t write, nor did I actually think I was going to get some writing done. I am just the kind of weasel who uses her book contract to get out of doing things.

So, did I clean? No, I did not.

Did I catch up on QuickBooks? No, I did not.

Did I clean out my athletic clothing and determine which sports bras have lost all structural integrity? Yeah…no.

Readers, I napped. It was Sunday afternoon, and Daughter was doing some sort of Barbie UN in her room, and the sheets looked incredibly inviting, and I napped. I must admit this because it will weigh on me that if only I hadn’t suddenly been overcome with the cell-deep need to shut my eyes for just a minute, I would have taken the kid and we would have gone with her, and the next part might have gone completely differently.

(Part two: Unexpected things happen.)

Monday, October 08, 2007

In Sickness and in More Sickness.

(Sorry, everyone, but I need to write the book, so we're in re-runs this week.)
These, my friends, are what I like to call The Petri Dish Years. Since Daughter began pre-school, we have had only three gears:

Getting the illness, Manifesting the illness, Waiting for the new illness.

I’d like to think the following rules would help someone out there, but I suspect every family is sick in its own way. However, if you are reading this while waiting at the pharmacy for your child’s ointment, perhaps this will help pass the time.


1. Five hours before the first symptoms show, Daughter gets cuddly. She crawls into my lap before bedtime and demands that I read her a story, and I am charmed. “Oh, you sweet thing,” I croon, “you just want some time with your Mommy”. Somehow, I always forget that this isn’t a wholesome affection: it’s just the germs looking for a new host. When she is sporting two endless ropes of green snot and the glassy eyes of the undead, I’ll be less inclined to breathe in her exhalations.

2. Vomit prefers to manifest at three a.m., or in a public space. The middle-of-the-night hurl happens no less than four times, at twenty minute intervals. This is because it takes about fifteen minutes to get her cleaned up and put fresh sheets on her bed, and she has only three sets of sheets. It’s not officially the flu until I have made her bed with one of our top sheets and a beach towel. The public-sector hurl will occur no more than a half hour after eating blueberries, which answers the question “What could possibly be worse than watching your daughter throw up on the carpet at the bank?” Watching your daughter throw up something indelible on the carpet at the bank.

3. Whatever you think you know, you’re wrong. That is probably a fair summation of motherhood in general, at least for me, but it certainly covers my experiences with Daughter’s childhood illnesses. She appears sick in the morning, so I keep her home. By nine a.m., the fever is gone, she’s doing cartwheels through the house and wanting to stage an opera based on Horton Hears a Who. She appears identically sick the next week, so I send her to school. The school calls at nine a.m.: “Perhaps you could blow off your Pilates class, you negligent mother, and take care of your deathly ill child?” (I paraphrase). I slink in to school and find Daughter lying on the school cot, ranting with fever, and spirit her away before the principal can take me aside and explain how they only want caring parents at their school. Daughter appears even more ill that afternoon, so I whisk her in to the Doctor’s office, where she does sit-ups and jumping jacks in the waiting room. In the examination room, she does pom-pom splits for the Doctor while singing “There’s No Business Like Show Business”, and the Doctor looks at Overreacting Mother and says kindly, “She might have the sniffles. Make sure she drinks a little extra water”. Moral? There is no moral. But the end of any story that involves my daughter typically involves me looking silly in front of a non-family member.

4. No matter what plague is going through your house, another mother will be unsurprised. Any real friend is going to be supportive but if you are looking for shock and outrage call a child-free friend. A mother-to-mother conversation sounds like this:

MOTHER #1-We didn’t see you at school at all last week. Did you go on vacation?

MOTHER #2-No, she was really sick. The first 24 hours was ceaseless spitting of millipedes and ear wax, and then she started speaking Serbian. Her fever was 114 degrees for all five days. Then she grew and shed a hard carapace.

MOTHER #1-Yeah, my older son had that last month. It’s going around. Did her toes emit flames?

5. Daughter waits until we are standing in a long line in front of a woman with a small child and an infant before informing me, in a sweet frail voice, “Mommy, after this errand, can we go home? I’m still feeling a little sick, and I may have a rash”. She then coughs wetly. For the next ten minutes I get to avoid eye contact with this woman who is convinced I am exposing her family to the first official case of Avian flu in North America just so I can pick up a registered letter.

I do the thing where you talk to your kid as a way of conveying information to the audience at large:

“Sweetheart, you know you haven’t needed medicine in two days. You’re going back to school tomorrow. Would I take you out in public if I thought you were ill?”

I then distract her with the contents of my purse before she relates the “Vomiting at the bank” story to her new friends on line.

The best thing I have gotten out of running the Developing-the-Immune-System gauntlet is the truism that everything is temporary, which may be the big take-away from being a parent. It’s all terribly big when you’re in it, but a little Robotussin and your kid is like new. A little Spray N’ Wash on the duvet cover…well, it still has the puke stain, but it’s pretty faint. And the next thing you know, they're off at college, vomiting for entirely different reasons.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Can you hear me now?

For the sake of thwarting any future therapist of hers, I have tried to keep much of Daughter’s life and specific activities out of the blog, but I must break this rule, if for no other reason than to try to find medical treatment for her. My poor daughter cannot hear the half of anything I say. For want of a better and more-obscene phrase, I call it half-hearing disorder.

This morning, during the usual deranged rush to get to school on time without use of a catapult, I said to her “Please put your homework in your backpack and zip it closed”. Since I was trying to create a lunch only consisting of two-thirds of the Kraft oeuvre, I only watched her out of the corner of my eye. She walked to the backpack, carefully zipped the six hundred and forty-one pockets closed, and then stared at me with pride at actually accomplishing something on the first request. I waited a second for her to notice on her own that the zipping hadn’t been preceded by anything; she waited for a second for the praise for the zipping, the only thing she heard being asked to do. I pointed with my elbow towards the table, at the sheaf of homework.

I said slowly, “Before the zipping, there was the putting-in”. We then both stared at the table-top homework, and then she looked at me and said mildly, “Oh, okay”, as in “This is news to me but, sure, I can do that”. She unzipped a few lesser pockets, and inserted her homework. Because I am the headshot under the definition of “Foolish”, I then said “We’re almost ready to go. Please do your mouthwash and tie your shoes”. Daughter beetled off to the bathroom, and came back out again. I was surprised to see her laces were flapping on the ground; she was surprised that I wanted her shoelaces tied, as this was the first she heard of it. While she did it, I realized she needed a sweater but, having possibly, finally learned something in this world, I kept that thought to myself until the final knot was knotted.

There are contentious ages; this isn’t one of them. This isn’t the carnival of sighing and eye-rolling we were all subjected to last year. This certainly isn’t adolescence, with the constant underlying irritation that this cook/ATM/chauffeur makes these bizarre requests for no other reason than to prove their irrational lust for power and made beds. Currently, she’s more than willing to work within the system, as long as the system rewards her periodically with visits to and the odd dosage of candy corn.

After some consideration, I have come to think that the sheer eagerness to please of this age is what’s working against her; her brain hears the first request and shouts “ALL HANDS ON DECK! FIND THAT LOST TENNIS SHOE!”, thereby drowning out the second part where I’ve mentioned that, once found, the shoe should actually be put on, matching the shoe on her other foot. This leads to a child drifting around the house, holding a shoe, mentioning how her sock-clad foot is cold and look! I found my shoe!

The current system seems to be “Find request and do it. Choose either the difficult part of the request, thereby spending an hour in search of an object whose location was given to you in the first part of the request, or quickly and easily find the finish the first appointed task—for example, find all the Barbie shoes littered throughout the house-- and yet somehow miss hearing where your mother tells you to take your copious Barbie shoe collection (Seasons Fall 1997- Spring 2007) and put them in the Barbie clothing box. Being as the Barbie clothing box has never been referred to as anything but the Barbie clothing box, it would be fairly evident to anybody not suffering from Half-Hearing disorder that, maybe, they live there. However, Half-Hearing disorder means a girl walks around with handfuls of shoes for minutes, accidentally dribbling tiny pumps and wee trashy boots throughout the house, a tacky Hansel and Gretel, awaiting further instructions. Eventually, having been asked to set the table, she carefully piles the shoes for wee strippers in a place about five inches from said Barbie clothing box; for those with Half-Hearing disorder, she had done exactly what was asked of her; she had picked up the Barbie shoes. Why Mother had seemed so excited about picking up dolls shoes and putting them back down again, she didn’t know. Then again, she didn’t understand my obsessive need for naps either. Maybe it was an old person thing.

Since I don’t think it’s a psychological attempt to gaslight me and get the inheritance early (and won’t that be a disappointment to her), and her current disposition says more “Amiable” than “Aggressive”, I am left with only the conclusion that she has hearing problems. For those parents dealing with this sporadic hearing deficit, I must know; is there a hearing aid for the under-ten crowd? Something which alerts their brain “Keep listening, information to follow which will explain to you why you have been asked to get knives, forks and spoons out of the cutlery drawer right around dinner time”? And can this hearing aid be modified as the years progress? Imagine is computer chip, inserted deep into your teenager’s ear which, right before they were to respond, would whisper to them “Your parent’s aren’t actually idiots, you’re not the first generation to discover sex, and they find the tone you are about to use incompatible with lending you their car”? Finally, in college, it would be tweaked to remind them that, when coming home for the weekend, it sets the right tone to hug the parents before handing them your laundry and speed-dialing the thirty-eight friends you simply have to see in the next 48 hours.

I have a dream: a country which can get men to the moon, and create a computer capable of out-playing us in chess, and able to create the technology to replace three-quarters of Pamela Anderson’s body with plastic laminates can create a chip which allows children to hear their parents. We parents must stand up as one and demand the ability to ask our children to remember more than one task at a time. Yes, the children might ignore us, but the government will crumble in the face of such resolve; the hearing aids will be devised within a year.