Sunday, February 24, 2008

The QC (book) report

(This is the last week before the book is due at the editor, so we're in re-runs. This one is from early on, but it deserves to be brought to the attention of newer readers.)

For my own amusement, I am going to start mentioning books suitable for 4-7 year-olds that might have slipped by even the most eagle-eyed parent."Jenny and the Cat Club" is a collected reprint of several smaller books written in the 1950's.

Jenny is a small shy cat, living in Greenwich Village, who finds courage and adventure after joining the Cat Club, a motley crew of neighborhood cats.It's a wonderful book, with short enough chapters for new readers and with some pictures, which makes it suitable for reading to smaller children. I'm always in search of books for Daughter where the lead characters are moral without being treacly, lively without being snotty, kind without being spineless. Jenny hits all these marks and more. It's a lovely book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Trapped in the closet.

I cannot thank all of you enough for your “Get the pill down the dog’s throat and keep it there” suggestions. This confirms my suspicion that my readers are kind, smart and noted for their persistence. It also gives me the pleasure of imagining people throughout the world saying to themselves “Now, where did I put the cat’s pill-shooter?”, and that’s a really nice thought as well. Just so you have the pleasure of closure, I will say that liquid Benadryl makes a marvelous dog hair-styling product and milk products such as cheese and cream cheese make him gassy. A week ago, I didn’t know these things and now I do, and have amended my Benadryl plans accordingly. Contrary to every single parent-teacher conference my mother ever attended, it seems I am capable of learning something. Through trial and error and error and error and trial and a few more errors, I have created a system for getting the dog to take a pill; it involves shoving my hand so far into his digestive system that I very nearly reach excretory system. I then pull out my hand and have a nice long obsessive hand-wash.

Every time I wash my hands, I pass by the hallway closet. If there is such a thing as a warm and welcoming closet, this isn’t it. It’s narrow and tall and, weirdly enough seems to be deeper than the length of the hallway; we assume there is an end to it in the shadowy recesses, but cannot say for certain. I have wondered on occasion if in fact this closet is a portal to a not-terribly-friendly parallel universe. We relegate the large, the ungainly, the off-season and the vacuum cleaner to that closet, on the assumption that if malevolent beings tumble into our world, they will be stunned by a bulk package of toilet paper falling on their head and a winter coat wrapping around their tentacles. It’s dusty and crammed with boxes, some of which are completely unknown to me, which leads me to suspect the boxes have reached sexual maturity and are now mating. The closet is full, with room for nothing more than a single snow glove or possibly an empty legal-size envelope. And yet, every week, the cat insists on going in and then gets stuck in there when I close the door. She then spends a few hours in there, unbeknownst to us.

I’m not sure whether this reflects worse on her or me. She’s not small; shouldn’t I be capable of noticing a football-shaped cat leaping past me as I drag out the vacuum cleaner or a few boxes of Kleenex? Since she does it every week, wouldn’t you think I’d do some cursory pass of the closet before shutting the door? But, readers, I do. I do keep an eye out for her, check to make sure she isn’t rappelling her way up a wool coat or having a contemplative chew on the holiday wrapping paper. Before I shut the door, I scan the closet to ascertain whether she’s in there. Believe me, I look. Hours later, when I’ve gone to the back door for the eighth time to let in the cat I can hear plaintively mewing, it hits me like a bag of snow boots: the closet. I open the door and she comes stomping out, brushing the metaphorical dust off her theoretical shoulders. And while a cat looking indignant is always entertaining, I can’t say as I feel much guilt over her incarceration.

In fact, I’m starting to think she might not be as smart as she appears. Bright shiny eyes and the ability to kill anything less than two feet tall notwithstanding, this is like my friend who kept dating drummers.

After the fifth or sixth time Lulabelle got locked into someplace dark for an entire afternoon, wouldn’t you think she’d develop some neural shortcut which, upon seeing the open closet door, would light up “Move on, nothing to see here”? I am here to say that Consort and Daughter leave other closet doors open all the time. Since this makes me nuts on a par with chewing on tinfoil, I spend a lot of time closing closet doors. Out of habit, I always check inside; am I locking that cat in? Never; all other closets are jejune, obvious, not worthy of attention. Only the magical hallway closet with its total of a quarter-inch of available space and its glorious musty smell must be examined.

And then, shock! The door closes and she is locked in the closet! Who could have possibly foreseen this? Having no camera in there, I’m just guessing, but I think she then reads the back of the magnum bottle of Murphy’s Oil soap, whiffs a few mothballs and passes out for a few hours. Upon awakening, she notices that she’s hungry and commences to be pitiful until I let her out. The last time I released her, on an impulse, I picked her up and turned on the closet light. Together, we stared into the depths. I then put her down and she started to dash off to eat but then she turned and looked into the closet. Something caught her attention and she tried to slide back into its enigmatic depths. I grabbed her round little body and tucked it under my arm while feeling a stab of affectionate pity. She has a brain no larger than your average walnut, I thought, scratching between her ears as I transported her away from the closet. She’s a simple creature who, lacking the gift of the human’s ability to reason, will continue to do the same thing again and again.

In the kitchen, something caught my eye; a half chewed Benadryl on the ground. I felt rather than saw the cat smirk.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jingle all the way.

I take Benadryl for my allergies.

Consort takes Benadryl for his allergies.

The dog takes Benadryl for his allergies.

When it comes to Benadryl, I buy in bulk.

When I took the dog in for an exam, not long after he came home, the vet pointed out his runny eyes and the red skin between his toes. “Allergies,” he declared, and I was unsurprised; his nightly scratching, combined with his tags jingling, had been our lullaby since he arrived. The vet offered several suggestions, the cheapest and easiest of which was Benadryl, every day. Because I am fond of the cheap and the easy, I took him home and promptly popped a pink and white pill into his mouth. I massaged his throat firmly, felt him swallow, and we all went on our way. I felt smug in that “Look at me getting this accomplished” way; the dog appeared stunned, but cheered himself up by having a good long scratch.

An hour later, I found a slightly chewed pink and white pill on the ground. I picked it up, first puzzled and then challenged. Hide your pill in your cheek will you, I thought, tucking it in some peanut butter. We’ll just see about that. The offering of peanut butter was gratefully accepted; the chewy anti-histamine surprise in the middle went down without comment. I didn’t find it later, and the scratching seemed less vigorous. Success!

Twice a day, I would make him his peanut-butter delivery-device; twice a day, he would uncomplainingly take his pill. The fun of watching a dog eat peanut butter twice a day was just an added bonus. What wasn’t an added bonus was any effect on his allergies. After the first day or so, not only did it not seem to be working, he seemed to be scratching more, more actively chewing at his paws. All through the day and night, I would hear his tags jingling, an aural reminder that the problem wasn’t fixed. I mentioned to a friend who bred dogs that I was having this problem. She asked me a few questions, and when I got to the “He certainly likes his peanut butter” part, her hand flew to her mouth in dismay.

“What…?” I said in suspicion.

So, it seems that many dogs are allergic to peanuts. They can also be allergic to wheat, soy and corn, otherwise known as the Three Horsemen of Kibble. I could take him in for expensive tests or, as my friend suggested, just cut everything with peanuts, wheat soy and corn from his diet, continue the Benadryl, and see if the itching stopped. Since I already had him on a raw-meat diet, this wasn’t a huge transition, but I did have to check all of his nibbly-treats I had been using for obedience training for the dreaded fillers. A half-hour later, I had determined that only one of his treats was completely without peanuts, wheat, soy and corn. I had also noticed I wouldn’t be getting that half-hour of spare time back at the end of my life. I bought him filler-free treats, which were gaspingly expensive. Benadryl might have been an easy fix, but it certainly wasn’t a cheap fix anymore.

We were now back to the original problem; the dog has a world-class talent for not taking pills. At first, I tried putting the pill in a bit of meat, only to find that the dog had somehow would remove all the delicious meaty bits with his tongue, leaving a virtually unmarked pill in the food bowl, mocking me. I then tried putting the pill down his throat and holding his jaw shut with one hand while massaging this throat with the other and petting his back. Yes, what I did required three hands; I was so desperate for an itch-free life that I evolved. Fat lot of good it did me or the dog. Later in the day, I’d find a moist and dented pill on the floor, being batted around by the cat. One morning, he came in to wake me up, put his paws on the bed and, next to my focusing eyes, carefully placed a Benadryl. He then sat down on the ground and scratched. I leapt from the bed, grabbing the pill, and grabbed the dog in a headlock. I wedged his mouth open as I sat down on the ground and, wedging his mouth open, crammed in the pill and commenced to throat-rubbing. Consort woke at this point and, blinking, squinted at this domestic vision.

Skipping formalities, I said “You’re going to have to feed the kid her breakfast. I’ll be here making him take a pill for at least another twenty minutes.”

One of the unexpected benefits to communicating in the morning with a night-person is that they are very accepting. All behavior displayed before 10 a.m., be it Reiki for dogs or eating breakfast, strikes them as equally bizarre. Consort stumbled out of bed and weaved toward the kitchen. The dog and I stared at one another. His eyes were gazing at me reproachfully, but at least they seemed less runny.

“Just take the pill, dude,” I said softly to him, fondling his esophagus. After a few minutes, I declared him pilled, and let him up. He trotted off quickly before I could change my mind, a dog with simple needs; to be loved, to be fed expensive food, to scratch deeply and fully, and to find a private place in which to eject the pink and white invader.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

School Daze.

So, I’m home-schooling now. Please read that with a tone of surprise because even though I’m the one doing it there’s still that quality of when you’re in a crowded room and someone you don’t know starts waving frantically at you and smiling, and you look at them and kind of point to yourself as if to say “I’m sorry, you mean me..?”

Part of my surprise comes from how we didn’t take her out of school for any of the normal reasons. I like her school very much; I would recommend it without hesitation. We might even put her back there next year. I didn’t pull her out because she was having academic or social problems. Daughter’s only complaint about her peer interaction was that some of her friends didn’t get her jokes which caused Consort and me to say in unison “Yeah, join the club.” In all ways that mattered, she was fine. So why take on the extra work just when I am supposed to be finishing the book?

First, there is Consort. For a general good time, Daughter prefers Consort to me, which bothers me not at all. I’ve spent time with me and I’ve spent time with Consort and he is measurably more fun than I am. But the companies renting his brain this fall and winter have all been start-ups and I don’t know why this is but all start-ups work really weird hours. More nights than not, he comes home long after she’s gone to bed; frequently after I’ve gone to bed. He’s asleep in the morning when we leave for school and gone when we return home. Weekends are meaningless. Most Saturdays, he’s gone all day. Occasionally, one of his client companies makes an offer to join the party full-time. Eventually he will accept one of these offers and his hours could get even weirder. For the foreseeable future, Consort’s home-time is going to have a certain improvisational quality. If I keep her in school, days will go by without my daughter and her father seeing each other awake. The voice in my head which points out when I’m driving on a mountain road without a guardrail reminded me that a girl who doesn’t see enough of an adored father sometimes goes out and finds a substitute. Having her see her father and really spend time with him is nearly reason enough in and of itself.

And then there’s the yelling. Over Christmas break, I noticed I felt better. Was I working out more? No. In fact, with Daughter home, I was getting to the gym less. Was it the overall relaxed spirit of the holidays? Not really, although I did sigh in relief after I found something for the cat’s stocking. So what was it that was making me feel so much more aligned with the universe? It was all the time I didn't spend communicating at the top of my lungs.

Here’s what I say during any given school day:








I don’t understand how I don’t have nodules on my vocal chords. Everything is about the rush to the next thing, and I’m sick of it. Take choir. She goes to choir one day a week. Afterwards, the kids play freeze-tag on the church lawn, shrieking and tumbling across the grass, squabbling and negotiating until it’s too dark to see one another. It’s the most timeless, perfectly childlike time of her week. It’s the kind of activity we look back on fondly as adults. And what would I be doing during these freeze-tag tournaments? I would be bouncing around like a caffeinated ferret measuring how long it would take us to get home, get her homework done, get her fed and cleaned up so I could get her to sleep enough so she’d be rested the next day. I’d spend the last ten minutes of tag saying in increasingly plangent tones “We have to go. Now. Go. Now.” Everything in her life had to be measured and dosed with not a minute to spare for the pure pleasure of running on grass after dark.

And that, ultimately, is why I am doing this now. I am giving my daughter time, the one thing which used to be the birthright of all children. I found an online-school which is fairly challenging, but even at its most laborious is still going to consume less time each day than conventional school. The second day she was in home-school, she finished her work and came across Consort’s book of nearly a century's worth of New Yorker cartoons. She read cartoons from the 30’s and the 40’s which led to us discussing the Depression, and Prohibition, and women working during the war. I don’t expect every activity in her newfound spare time to lead to dragging out the Encyclopedia Britannica. I do expect she’ll create, and read and dream. For those people who think “Yes, but what about socialization?”, the reality is that she has more chances to be with her friends because I’m more able to work according to their schedule; I don't have to squeeze a slot for "playing" into two enrichment-packed lives.

When Consort and I started to think about this over Christmas our greatest concern was how she would take it. Daughter was happy at school, dashing in to hug her friends in the morning and loudly complaining that I had interrupted a game when I'd pick her up after-school. I was pretty certain leaving was going to involve tears. Tentatively, I brought up the idea of home-school one night when she was eating. Her spoon stopped stirring the soup.

“Will I still play with my friends?” she asked quickly.

“Of course,” I said.

She went back to stirring. “Then, I’m fine with it. More chances to do my stuff.”

I had no idea what stuff she meant, and I didn’t care. I glanced at the clock; dinner was running late. I started to open my mouth and then realized it would only matter for another week or so, and shut my mouth and smiled.