When dog poop dictates your level of happiness.

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My son recently sent me a photo of a pile of slimy dog poop in our mudroom with this caption:

“Mom in 2016 – WHY DO I LIVE IN A WORLD OF POO?!?!”

I’ve never lived down the moment I let rip that primal yawp of anguish after finding yet another pile of feces in the house. My children still mock me from time to time for it. They imitate my manic rage by goggling their eyes, overenunciating each word, and gradually crescendoing to the final, thundering “POO” before collapsing into hysterical peals of laughter at their mother’s expense.

Back in the good old days, my dogs would mostly do their business outside. With increasing frequency, we began finding little bombs left around the house. I had to start buying Nature’s Miracle in gallon size bottles. At first I didn’t understand that Tallis, our Shih Tzu (pronounced just as you might expect), was not trying to punish me with his fecal indiscretions. It was the first signs of illness.

Our dog has been suffering from constipation for years, and this has eventually led to his current diagnosis of “megacolon.” The silliness of the name belies a rather serious condition. When I first mentioned the constipation to his vet, my concern was lightly brushed off with a recommendation to add a little pumpkin to his diet. We tried this for a few weeks to no avail. It was clear that the situation was becoming critical, and I insisted that the vet take a closer look at him. I dropped him off in the morning and when the doctor called me at work and spoke to me in a hushed tone of compassionate concern, I knew the situation was grave. He took x-rays, ran tests, and finally referred us to another practice which had a specialist in internal medicine. Since then, we’ve tried all sorts of things to get things moving, including yogurt, lettuce, green beans, blueberries, Cisapride, Lactulose, and prescription dog foods. In the last half year, we’ve resorted to taking poor Tallis in for periodical enemas.

Every morning when my daughter brings the dogs back inside after their morning constitutional, I ask her for “The Poop Report.”

“Have the pups achieved pooition?” I ask, “How many?”

One-Poop-Days are typical. A Two-Poop-Day is cause for celebration. I actually find myself walking around with an extra bounce in my step on those red-letter Two-Poop-Days.

Two-Poop-Days call for more in-depth reporting. I press the dogwalker with probing questions…”What was the consistency? What would you say was the length and diameter?”

My children have learned to take this all in stride. They celebrate the increasingly rare Two-Poop-Days right alongside me.  They can’t help but inflect their Two-Poop-Reports with a happy little lilt as they describe Tallis’ accomplishments. We crow with delight at every single thing that issues from Tallis’ back end. Never before has man or beast been so fêted for so little.

Thus my son’s text, which continued…

“Mom in 2018 – Oooooooh tell me more about the consistency!”

When I first got my son’s text, I thought he was sending it to me to complain that he had to clean up the mess.

“No!!!” he told me when we discussed it later that evening, “I sent it to you, because I knew it would make you so happy that Tallis had pooped!”

I took our dog to the vet again last Friday for another enema. This time a doctor new to the practice called me to say that we needed to start thinking about “quality of life” issues. She suggested that euthanasia rather than an enema may be in order. After some fraught discussions, we decided we would try a different kind of prescription dog food and give him another couple of weeks. In the meantime, we’re going to shower him with lots of love, keep our fingers crossed, and hope for the day that we will once again live in a world of poo. TIMG_9754IMG_9751

Hope

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It was pouring rain this morning when I asked my trusty sidekick to get dressed and go vote with me, even though she hasn’t been feeling well. Just a couple weeks ago, she had played the role of Leslie Cockburn in a debate for Civics class and had won the mock election. I wanted her to be there when I cast my vote.

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Go, Leslie, go!

Despite the wide grins…IMG_6810

…we’ve actually been feeling like this all day:

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But the future is NOW…and we are going to live in hope. Even on a cold and wet day, there is beauty to be found…

IMG_6817IMG_6818IMG_6816IMG_6828By the time I got home from work, the sun was shining. There were even some flowers valiantly blooming, bowed but unbroken by the torrential downpours we’ve been having lately…

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We live in hope.

 

Weekend Snapshots 64

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On Friday my daughter and I traveled south to Virginia Beach for a soccer tournament. My husband traveled north to pick up our college boy at the train station for his first trip back home since starting school. Boy #2 had a jam-packed weekend of activities that kept him at home in Charlottesville.This girl was thrilled that her very first and most beloved soccer coach got to see her play one and a half games on the first day of her tournament before driving back home to Charlottesville with his dad. Their mama was pretty darn happy too.img_6641-1

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Tournament Champs!

This morning the younger siblings had to say goodbye to their big brother before leaving for school. As we made our way back to Union Station in D.C., I tried to convince my son that it would be a fabulous idea to stop off at the barber’s and the pharmacy for a flu shot. Guess which one he agreed to?

With arms still a bit sore from our flu shots, we stopped off at Grandma and Grandpa’s for lunch before heading to Union Station. They managed to extract a promise from the boy to get his hair cut by the end of October.

“Mom, Dad, I think you’re shrinking!”

In the midst of a very dark time, it was a balm for the soul to see my happy, thriving, shaggy-haired college boy.

 

Goodbye, Summer!

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In honor of the first day of Fall: a farewell to a summer of transitions.

The first frame shows my oldest with his siblings, celebrating his high school graduation. After trips to New York City, Cape May, and let’s not forget: Bumpass, we dropped our son off for his first semester of college in Manhattan, a city dear to our hearts because it’s where his dad and I met as graduate students. A short while after, my college friends and I got together for our annual reunion. I like to imagine my son someday in the future getting together with the friends he’ll be making in the next few years. A week after my college mini-reunion, I flew to California to attend the wedding of a childhood friend. I stayed with another mutual dear friend, and together we celebrated a beautiful wedding and a lifelong friendship that has weathered all kinds of life changes – big and small, sad and joyous. The last frame of the video is from this morning. After my second son passed his driver’s test and officially got his driver’s license, he drove me home, and then banged out this song with me. It’s one I used sing to each of my babies as a lullaby…

The Necklace

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Many years ago, my mother returned from a trip to Korea bearing gifts for my sisters and me. We grew up getting socks, underwear, and school supplies for Christmas and our birthdays, so when my mother gave us necklaces that she had had made at a jeweler, it was completely unexpected. They were simple necklaces made out of polished stones in plain silver settings fashioned from silverware that she had melted down. I’m ashamed to say that my sisters and I regarded our necklaces with vague curiosity that quickly gave way to disinterest. The three of us stashed them away, and it pains me to admit that I’m not sure if any of us ever wore our necklaces a single time. It was only much later that I appreciated how precious they were.

My grandfather came to the U.S. as a young man in the 1950s. One of the places he visited on that trip was Cape May, New Jersey. He was far from his home: another seaside town on the other side of the globe. He had grown up on Jeju Island, where he was raised by a distant cousin. He was orphaned as a very young child, when three generations of his family were massacred in a single day in one of the multiple bloody purges of converts to Catholicism that occurred in Korea. His cousin, an innkeeper who had no children of her own, hid him during the massacre, and raised him into adulthood.

I’m not sure where or how my grandfather met my grandmother. Although they were both from Jeju Island, they came from different worlds. My grandmother came from a family of prosperous merchants, who owned a factory that produced and exported canned sea food and buttons made out of shells. Religion brought the downfall of my grandfather’s family; wealth brought disaster to my grandmother’s. Communists captured her father, beat him, and burned down the factory. The family escaped from Jeju Island and made their way to Seoul.

In Seoul, the family was able to rebuild their wealth by opening up a leather goods factory and store on Myeongdong Street. Besides the factory and store, my grandmother’s family owned an orchard on a huge swathe of land that was next to what is now the Blue House, (the Korean White House). Their own traditional hanok was right across from City Hall and Deoksugung Palace. It was unusual for women of that generation to get a higher education, but my grandmother was sent to Japan to earn her graduate degree in Psychology. She was a cultured, worldly woman who grew up in comfort. When she met my grandfather, he was a poor man with big dreams.

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Six of their children survived to adulthood. Their eldest child is my mother.

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My grandfather was in the U.S., trying to raise money for the university he was trying to build in Seoul. One day in Cape May, he looked for a suitable gift to bring back to his wife, who by that time had poured every penny of her wealth into the school. He brought her back a bag of polished beach pebbles. I imagine the smooth, colorful stones looked beautiful to him compared to the black, pitted volcanic rocks that cover the beaches of Jeju Island. My grandmother took one look at my grandfather’s humble offering and tossed the pebbles into the trash. My mother, that soulful little girl standing in the forefront in the photo above, felt sorry for her father, whose gift had been so callously discarded. She secretly rescued the rocks from the trash and kept them hidden away for decades.

It amazes me to think about how long my mother held onto that bag of rocks. I couldn’t tell you the number of times she’s moved in her lifetime. There have been multiple international moves, and perhaps as many as a dozen moves within the U.S. My parents tended to regard every move as an opportunity to purge and start all over again. My father remembers giving away a television and a car to my mother’s brother, before boarding a Greyhound bus with his wife, two little girls, and a couple of suitcases to begin his studies at yet another school, in yet another city. In another of our moves, we lost almost all of our clothes, because they had been packed in garbage bags that were mistakenly tossed out as trash. My mother is a minimalist at heart. She has always relished giving things away or throwing things out. The fact that her father’s rocks made it through every single move is almost as miraculous and unlikely as his own survival on that terrible day when the rest of his family was slain.

When we were deciding where to spend our annual family summer vacation, my sisters canvassed several possibilities. We could go to Fenwick Island, where we’d already spent two happy summer breaks. We could try another beach in Delaware, or we could go to Cape May. Without hesitation, my mother declared that she wanted to go to Cape May, where her own father had gone more than half a century ago.

“Remember?” she reminded us, “That’s where my father bought those stones that my mother threw out. The ones I saved and made into necklaces for you girls?”

In the weeks leading up to our trip to the beach, my sisters and I went on a desperate search for our necklaces. I would lie awake in the middle of the night, brooding over that lost necklace and trying to remember where I’d put it. To my husband’s dismay, I’d leap out of bed several times a night to rummage around in a new spot that I hadn’t already tried before. I kept returning to the same spots too, indulging in magical thinking that the necklace would somehow reappear where it hadn’t been the last time I’d checked. Alas, I never did find my necklace. My sisters weren’t able to find theirs either.

A couple nights before we were to leave for Cape May, I was having my usual late night self-flagellation session as I racked my brains trying to think where the necklace could have gone. A sudden thought crossed my mind. I got out of bed again and rummaged around in my sock drawer. I pulled out a small pouch that my mother had pressed into my hands some years ago. As is her wont, she had gone on a binge of paring her possessions down to the essentials. She had gathered up all her most precious jewelry in a small pouch and had told me to give them to my daughter.

My daughter and I were both horrified to see that she was giving us her wedding ring, and the jewelry that was most precious to her. It seemed to us a portent of something we did not want to face. My daughter cried and tried to hand the pouch back to her grandmother. The poor girl hadn’t lived long enough on this earth to realize that her grandmother’s will is as inexorable as the passage of time.

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My mother’s most precious jewelry isn’t worth much money. The fake pearl necklace is chipping. My father was a poor graduate student when he bought her wedding ring. The watch was another modest gift from him. Their immeasurable value lies in the fact that she wore and treasured them all of her adult life.

As I suspected, the necklace she had made and kept for herself from one of my grandfather’s pebbles was in the pouch.

IMG_4684I polished the silver and wore the necklace to Cape May, where it all began.

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Beloved Community

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It’s August 12, 2018: one year after the events that shook our beloved community. A year ago, I desperately wanted to believe that the horrors we experienced were imported into Charlottesville by outsiders. A year later I have to face the truth – some of the hate was homegrown. Two of the organizers were graduates of the university. People we counted on to protect our community let us down in a shocking way. This year, our children witnessed an emboldened racism on their own school bus that made them so miserable, they begged to be driven to school.

Here in Charlottesville, we’ve been on tenterhooks for weeks as we’ve anticipated the anniversary of that terrible day last summer. In the last few days, police and the National Guard have poured into Charlottesville. Seven hundred policemen have been housed in dormitories on grounds. We’ve heard the drone of military helicopters above for days. We speculated that the aggressive police presence meant that there was information we weren’t privy to. It was unnerving to say the least. Last year the authorities told us to stay at home, and we listened. This year, my family was determined to stand in solidarity with our community.

My husband sang at the Morning of Reflection and Renewal at the University of Virginia. Afterward, we decided to go to the Downtown Mall, where Heather Heyer was murdered and where dozens others were injured last year. If nothing else, we would go to support the merchants whose businesses were going to take a huge hit once again. We drove through mostly empty streets with trepidation. When we arrived, the only way to access the pedestrian mall was to go through the most intense security I’ve ever experienced anywhere. My entire backpack was gone through with meticulous care. Every single zipper was opened. My wallet was taken out and opened.

IMG_6149Most of the stores on the mall were closed. In one of the few stores that were open, we chatted with the store manager about the security getting onto the mall. She told us that one of her employees didn’t come in, because her parents didn’t feel comfortable sending her to work that day. She told us that as a woman who lived alone, she always carried pepper spray in her purse. This had been confiscated. She told us that another employee had her Swell water bottle taken away. (If you don’t know, those are rather expensive water bottles)! You know what wouldn’t have been taken away at the security checkpoints? Guns. Wouldn’t want to infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

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“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

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On Sunday morning we went to a Community Gathering Against White Supremacy.

We made it through the weekend in peace. We fervently hope that it lasts. I’ll never see Charlottesville in the same way I did a year ago, but I love this town more than ever. It’s not a perfect idyll, but it is a city willing to confront its past and to strive to do better.

Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.  Martin Luther King Jr.