Friday, October 29, 2010


I mentioned in a previous post that we are dog-sitting this week, for a neighbor. The folks live close by, the dog is small and sweet, and he's able to stay in his own home and get by with visits and walks. The occasional field trip to our home is exciting for him at first, and then he realizes that we aren't hiding his people there, and the same dismayed expression comes over him before he sighs and lies down with chin between paws, looking pitiful.

Pet-sitting is good practice for us. My son is delighted when we dog-sit for these friends. He adores the dog, at least until he's bored with him, and it's nice to have a warm, fuzzy thing around again. (We lost our elderly kitty just over a year ago, you may recall.) We even did some fish-sitting earlier in the fall for a different neighbor while they vacationed at the beach, but I figure that somewhere in the word "pet" is a history of being able to actually pet and stroke the creature in question—and I don't see how that's possible with a goldfish, which in my mind eliminates the fish from any list of potential pets...

Anyway, not only is the sitting good practice for us, it's also a realistic reminder of what pets entail. For example, most of them have a distinctive animal odor. Sometimes they like to scratch and dig at things: themselves, you, the furniture, the floor. Our borrowed dog has the itchiest snout known to canines, and he loves to rub it on any and everything he can find. And some dogs (this one, for example) tend to regurgitate meals that are taken in too quickly, or when the pup's stomach is already upset from heartbreak over disappearing people.

Then there's the whole issue of following the furball around with a scooper and a bag. Just like cats who must eat soft food, I'm sad to share, the dogs on soft-food diets also have what must be the most squishy, malodorous waste in the world. Put a few bags of those treats in your garbage can (the outdoor one, of course) and you'll swear a couple days later that there's a dead body in there.

I realize dog-sitting someone else's pooch is not the same as having your own. Your own pet would rejoice at your presence, instead of eventually rebuffing you in sadness. Your own would have a different schedule, and you could fence in a portion of yard or control whether the dog was bathed frequently.

But I would not be able to control that the dog has favorites, and that it may not be me. This dog, searching madly for a replacement Alpha dog, is not happy unless Todd is around. The little guy will run around the house, searching for Todd. He'll bark at the top of the steps if he suspects Todd is downstairs (he's not), and will resist going back into his own home if he hasn't ascertained that an Alpha dog is still in the vicinity and still in charge.

I also would not be able to control the need for a dog-sitter in our home if we had to be away. We don't travel much these days, but it still bears considering. Are we able to cover days and nights away? Would we simply exchange favors with the neighbors? What if they get rid of their dog, or he dies, and the debt can no longer be repaid? What then? Kennels are expensive and traumatizing.

Additionally, I can see that if a dog should join our family (or even another cat for that matter), the bulk of responsibility would still fall on my shoulders. Am I ready or willing to take that on at this time? Not sure. Maybe when my son is a bit older, this will be a more attractive option.

Right now, I think I'm happy to borrow. Last evening, I was walking with my boy and this little neighbor dog in a howling, frigid wind, holding a make-you-want-to-retch bag of poo as far from me as I could, and I was undeniably immersed in the true meaning of dog ownership. Fuzzy companionship, loving eyes, and so much more. Maybe this isn't the season for us yet.

Please, remind me of all this if I start romanticizing pets come springtime. All it'll take is one whiff of puppy breath, one squeaky kitten mew, and I'll be foolish again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Train your child up...tight

It was a typical morning here.

First, let me explain that in my home (and in my mind), I am the Time Nazi. Being an undeniable type A-ish person, and having married a Type Z, I am relegated to being drill sergeant—especially in the mornings. Even when I'm not the first one out of bed, it still falls upon me to wake the little boy, wake him again, pack lunches, encourage the child to get dressed, force him to the table to put some sort of edible into his mouth, remind him of the necessity of shoes and a jacket before departing for the bus stop, do a perfunctory check of his brushed teeth and washed face to make sure he's presentable, etc. (I honestly don't know how parents of several children do this every day. I guess the older ones are enlisted, sometimes unwillingly, to help round up and prepare the younger ones. But still. Wow. My respect and sympathy go out to you.)

Anyway, all the while I'm going about my morning business, I am clashing with the Type Z who wants to wrestle with his son, eat breakfast just after I've put all the food away, and have meaningful conversation about his job performance while I'm hollering for the kid to put on both shoes, not just one.

I get a bit resentful at times, being the "driver" of the family, the one who must always be "un-fun." Sometimes we un-fun folks are not happy about our recurring role. Sometimes we feel stereotyped, and bitter. Mostly we just feel uneasy because we can't turn off that un-fun gene, and no one else seems to notice our approach to impending doom in an unplanned, untimely world.

I digress. I am the Time Nazi because I want my son to be aware of schedules and deadlines. I realize there are worse things than being late for school; I mean, he's in kindergarten for crying out loud. If he misses the bus, so what? I'll drive him. I'd honestly rather drive him anyway. But it's the principle of it all, the precedent that is being set. If we fool around and miss the bus now, I'm looking at 12 additional years of fooling around and driving him to school.

I often choose a course of action based on the principle of the matter. For example, why do we bother keeping the kid at the table even when he's finished eating? Because that will be an expectation for the rest of his life. There doesn't seem to be much point in letting things slide now when I know down the road that the sliding must cease; it's a lot easier to learn it right initially than it is to un-teach the wrong way when he's older.

Still, my uncertainty remains: How much uptight is too much? I can see and feel sometimes that I cause stress in my son. Not much, because he's wired a lot like his dad, too, and can drift happily and aimlessly for hours. He's five. But the facts remain: we need to get to the bus stop on time. We need to have enough presence of mind to remember to grab the backpack with all its papers and possessions. We might need to allow a few extra minutes to let out the dog we're dog-sitting.

I don't want to build my offspring to be a monster like me. Yet, I see how my child is already more responsible than many kids his age. It doesn't seem like a crime to foster in him a sense of awareness, an understanding that the world will not wait for him when he dawdles. High blood pressure? Stomach ulcers? Those are bad. But a comprehension of the daily timetable and how to function within it successfully?—that's my goal.

How do I walk that line? Do you, too, walk that line? Or are you the Type Z who is funneled and herded into formation?

P.S. I was slightly annoyed this morning when I got the boys out the door, walked the borrowed dog, and came back into the mess we'd left only to spy my husband's lunch box, full of healthy and paid-for food, sitting on the kitchen counter. Damn.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Down time is good

The temp job I've been doing is on hiatus while the client is out of town this week. I've been taking full advantage of the down time: painting (hence the piggy above), blogging, filing and tossing papers, taking stuff to Goodwill, etc. Chris over at Writing by Ear reminded me of the joys of reading, so I actually headed to the library yesterday and got—are you ready for this?—some grown-up books instead of children's books! I'm pretty certain the librarian looked at me askance... she was probably eying my history of check-outs and wondering where I'd hidden my child... OR she phoned the police upon my exit to report a stolen library card.

However, I am proud to say that there are now three real books on my dining room table. A classic (Twain short stories), a favorite (Anne Tyler), and an author I've yet to read who came highly recommended by a good and literate friend (Richard Russo). I am really hoping to crack open one of those beauties this weekend.

I need to make a deliberate effort to unplug and clear my mind instead of filling it with static. It's funny; I've talked to different pals, and most of us suffer from a sort of guilt when we have unscheduled moments. We want to tell people what we're doing, even people we barely know. We don't want to appear lazy, or shiftless, or unmotivated. It's a shame, really, because I am a firm believer in boredom for children; I think kids need to be permitted to achieve boredom in order for them to become self-sufficient and able to entertain themselves. If that's true for kids, wouldn't it also be true for adults? How can I ever think an original thought, or work through a tricky problem, or hear God's still small voice if I am constantly filling every minute with busy-ness and white noise?

It's a difficult state to achieve, inactivity—and even more difficult to maintain. Yet, it's worth the effort, or lack thereof in some cases. I'm going to try to make more unplanned, guilt-free time. Maybe I won't even read those books for a couple of days. Maybe I'll just sit, or stroll, or lounge with a cup of tea under a fuzzy blanket.

I'd better hurry up and do it, though... clothes need to be folded, dinner needs to be planned and made, and I'll be meeting that school bus in less than an hour. Once again, life intervenes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bear’s family, discovered (another oldie)

Marcus has a small stuffed bear that he loves. Actually, he has three. All have come from the same bin of bears at IKEA Department Store. (It’s a great bear—Blund Soft Toy—and it’s just $1.99. IKEA—you can’t beat it with a stick.)

I purchased the first bear many years ago, when I bought one for my niece. I couldn’t pass it up and I was into collecting bears at the time. This initial bear is a light tan, and he used to sit on my bed.

Then I became pregnant. I was so pleased with tan bear that I thought I should get one for baby—it’s soft, has no buttons, has sewn-on features, is very flexible and smushy and easy to hold onto… it’s a perfect bear for a baby. So, I returned to IKEA and found the bin of bears, which were now chestnut brown. In every other way, though, they were exact replicas of tan bear on my bed. So I bought one.

After Marcus was a few months old, he began to attach himself to Brown Bear. Eventually, he slept with Bear, chewed on him, hugged him, played with him… they were inseparable. After carting the bear to a few homes and events, I became concerned: what if we inadvertently left Bear somewhere? What if he fell from the car as we entered or exited and was then tragically squashed by a tire? We needed this bear. It was Marcus’ only lovey. So, the next time I visited IKEA’s neighborhood, I purchased yet another bear; Marcus was still pretty small at the time and he was sitting in his car seat inside the shopping cart, so I simply picked out brown bear #2 and handed it to him; Marcus appreciatively chewed on his face. We paid for the soggy thing, thus purchasing a bit of lost bear insurance.

Fast forward a few months; Todd and I were at IKEA yet again, purchasing an entertainment center with a much-needed door to hide things inside from the kid (this is another topic altogether). On the way to pick up components for the center, we stopped off to get some baby safety products such as additional outlet covers and drawer stoppers. Lo and behold, these safety items were located right behind the bin of bears.

“Let’s see if he notices,” I said, pointing to the bin. Todd nodded and we rolled the shopping cart very slowly and deliberately past the bin. Marcus, seated in the cart, was looking around absently, tired of shopping (we’d been there awhile). He glanced at the bin, and then after a moment, he gazed anew upon it. He even leaned in for a closer look. There they were, scores of Bears, all staring back at him, some upside down or half emerging from under another bear, some embracing each other… Marcus made a barely audible utterance, a sweet sound of recognition, a breathy mix of “ah” and “hey.” He reached for the pile of bears, unable to grasp one but likely snagging a handful of them in his imagination. It was such a dear moment, his sudden focus and delight, his chubby paw reaching out as he leaned toward an entire bin of his small, brown buddies. I had a stupid, fleeting thought that we should buy a whole bunch of them, take them home, put them in a pile and just let him sink into that soft, safe, welcoming lap of many little brown friends… and then common sense returned to me and we hurriedly left the bear aisle before our child could pitch a snit that all his bear pals were staying put while we walked away.

On that day at IKEA, Marcus glimpsed Bear’s whole family. It was pure sweetness.

P.S. Update: I just looked online, and this bear is out of production. As a result, parents are paying ridiculous amounts of money to find replacements on Ebay. If you have one of them? In good condition? Think about selling that thang.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dragging out some oldies

Hey folks (all two of you who actually read this), I rediscovered some old pre-blog entries that I'd written. I'm going to be posting a few of them. I'll search beforehand and try to ascertain that they're not already posted on Melmoirs, but if I miss one and you've already seen it long ago, please forgive. I'm trying to get them all on here so I can clean up my computer--and possibly do a "self-publish" someday of several blog themes. Thanks for checking in!

The dreaded nursery

I’ll never forget the first time I left my sweet boy in the church nursery.

Our church is large. The nursery is often full of infants—and almost never do the nursery volunteers outnumber the babies.

That was the case the first time I had to leave Marcus there. He was nestled in his car seat, just 4 months old or so, starting to notice things but pretty much immobile. I gave the front desk his name, our names, filled out the necessary short form, and left my darling child in someone else’s care—a complete stranger’s care. I handed over the carseat, feeling ill, watching his confusion as I retreated without him. I practically had to run toward the choir room.

That wasn’t the worst part, though. The worst part was that I realized my water bottle—the bottle I always have with me when I sing—was still in the diaper bag that I’d left with the nursery. I hurried back in the same direction, and as I got to the room, I was already scanning every adult to see who held him. He was nowhere to be seen. Oh my God! My child’s been kidnapped! What will I do? What kind of sick person would take my baby? How could the church be so irresponsible?! I stood outside the door, searching the room for him, trying to remain calm before I entered the nursery screaming frantically…

And then I saw him. Sitting quietly, still in his car seat, the seat on the floor in a dim corner of the room. He was looking all around, his small serious face perplexed and a tad frightened. Well, of course they’d set him down, he’s not crying, other babies are—why ruin a good thing by hauling him out of that chair if he’s happy there? So he sat, observing, quiet and unnoticed while other infants shrieked and flailed.

I wanted to weep, seeing him there, so defenseless and self-consciously unobtrusive. I didn’t go in for my water bottle; I was afraid the dam would break behind my eyes and I would grab him and run to the car to take him back home where he’s safe, where he’s the only baby, MY baby, the center of my universe. He shouldn’t sit alone in the dark, not understanding why I’ve left him. I’m terrible. Those workers are terrible. The whole world is terrible and I must protect him from it all, including the bratty children who will holler and yell and take all the attention away from the taciturn, obedient babes.

But I didn’t do anything, just turned and went back toward the choir room, empty-handed and waterless (except for my watery eyes.)

Now I know why my sister cried when she put her daughter on the bus the first time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I like soft things

This past weekend was a long one of sorts, with a couple of days away from kindergarten. We took full advantage and visited the Aviary (thank you, neighbor KB, for the Entertainment Book with coupons!) and the zoo (love that membership pass!) On Saturday, however, we tried a new course by heading slightly north to check out some barns and farms in Butler County. (Find more information here.)

I've been wanting to do this for weeks; there was an article in the Trib about a smattering of family-owned farms that are kind enough to open their doors so that people can peek in and glimpse a different world. It's all free, and relatively loose—you just follow the map and stop wherever you'd like. None of them appear to be more than about an hour from the city.

I'd picked out a few that were rather close, because Todd had to work later on Saturday; we had a limited window of time. We dug out an old, substandard PA road map, and I jotted down names and addresses of a few of the close farms.

If you're anything like me, you prefer a plan. The plan can be roughly laid, but it needs to exist, albeit in fluid form at times. Also, if you have a man in your life, you might have realized by now that they hate directions: asking for them, using them, acknowledging them, etc. So, a tiny portion of our drive (ahem, cough cough) was spent bickering about which way to go, how the road we were traveling seemed to end, why the dirt path running between 7-foot brambles was not a good choice for us, and how it made more sense for us to switch farms since we were driving past one that hadn't originally been a destination but now loomed just a mile or two away... Fun, fun.

Happily, the weather was great. The scenery rocked. And our accidental landing zone was a huge, spotless alpaca farm. The little fella (lady???) pictured above was extremely friendly and we petted his/her woolly neck for many minutes. He (I'm hoping at this point it was male) gave me several nuzzles, and since alpacas eat pretty much only grass and straw, the thing even had nice breath.

It was relaxing, quiet, peaceful, and breathtakingly lovely. Then we were running short on time, so we stopped for ice cream and ate it in the grass under some fir trees. The day was complete.


But there's one other soft thing I am loving right now. It's the new, expensive, awesomely designed "Whisper Soft" toilet seat adorning the upstairs potty.

You know by now I'm a cheapskate. I will go for the low-priced item anytime, unless it's obviously junk. The toilet seat we had in place was not the best. We'd brought it up from downstairs after we replaced the upstairs system with a low-flow model, because the seat lid that came with the water-saver was cheap, bendable plastic. Not good. I'm not even sure how old the downstairs seat was, but it didn't matter: the metal parts on it were corroding away. I'd sliced my finger on it while cleaning the thing once, and had nightmares about infections for days. So. It needed to go.

I headed to Home Depot, ready to be tempted by many home improvement items and prepared to spend more than I thought I should. I'm thrifty, yes, but I don't like tetanus shots nor Neosporin-soaked bandages, and I knew I'd have to drop some bucks for a good seat. I guess it's like a mattress; you spend a lot of hours on it, so you should invest in something quality. Right?

I found many that would serve the purpose, but one spoke to me: the Whisper Soft. Does it whisper? No. BUT, it descends from its high place with slow, deliberate grace. Little boys in our home no longer need fear being hammered by a cruel, parts-crushing lid. Never again will the bladeless guillotine slam on unsuspecting flesh. Women, too, can rejoice in the silence that reigns in place of the awful banging noise that seats make when they crash down onto hapless porcelain.

It cost too much. But truly, it is worth it. So worth it.

Wishing you all your favorite soft things on this pretty day!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Good discombobulation

I'm not sure that discombobulation is a word, but I'm using it and believe me, it fits.

Late last week, we happily learned that my husband will be picking up part-time contract hours for a few months at a nice office where some friends of ours already work. We'd both been hoping, and waiting, and the offer was official this weekend. Part-time, contract work in his field, with professionals, in a great place—ahhhhhhhhh. He's excited. I'm excited for him.

However. While we were waiting to hear about that opportunity, and days were passing, and more days, I was feeling guilty. Here was my hub, trying to get a second job after I had walked away from my one. I decided to try to "look busy" and put out some feelers in the biz world. I picked out a few local companies, very close to our home, and dropped off resumes with general cover letters. I went to a temp firm and filled out some paperwork. I sent some more resumes to online work opportunities.

Then, we got the news about his gig coming through. I breathed a sigh of relief, stopped putting out feelers for a couple of days, and looked further into that Etsy shop I mentioned a few posts ago.

SO, yesterday I get a call from the temp agency. They have a job for me, part-time, a couple of months' worth, at a firm downtown who needs an editor. Go figure. I called them back, explained the need for flexibility (in-service days this week and next, looming sicknesses, the need to meet my son's bus) and my desire for not too many hours, etc. The temp liaison worked it all out and the company wanted to try me. I said okay. The plan was laid.

That meant errands today, because the company wants me to start tomorrow. I went to the grocery store, I stopped at FedEx and got scans of several paintings, I hit the bank and the gas station, I carried all my stuff home and—lo and behold, there was a message. From one of the local companies where I dropped a resume. They wanted to talk to me. I called them back, explained the same stuff I'd gone over just one day before, and they still wanted to meet. So we did, just a couple of hours after speaking. It's honestly not looking good (I think they'll need a bigger commitment in the summer than I can give... and what a shame that is, because it took me ONE minute to drive there. And they would give me less money but also benefits. HELLO?! Benefits!!!???) Sadly, I'm sort of assuming that this one is a lost cause. Still, my head was spinning when I got back home. I called a friend to get her input, and while we were talking, I checked email.

Wait for it.

There was a little message from one of the companies to which I'd sent my resume recently, in that flurry of "looking busy." Guess what? They want to talk to me. So, we're having a phone interview later this week.

Don't you wonder how things work out this way? Maybe none of these sudden developments will become real opportunities. Perhaps they've simply been thrown in my path to give me a little pep in my step, to revive my hope in the economy, our country, myself. I might go to this temp assignment and fail miserably. But it might be great.

Either way, the past few days have been rather exhilarating and also slightly disconcerting. There I was, poised for painting and bonbon consumption. Alas, I fear it is not meant to be, at least not right now. What a crazy ride.

I'll certainly share news if anything becomes more stable. Until then, I'll practice standing on some Jello, since that's sort of what it feels like we're doing these days.

P.S. All this activity, albeit slightly frenetic, confirms for me that I wasn't supposed to be cleaning houses. That's my interpretation, anyway.