When dog poop dictates your level of happiness.

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

Bewitched

I still haven’t figured out what possessed my son to bring a cat inside the house. Unlike his siblings, he has never once clamored or cajoled for a pet. Unlike his siblings, he has never once fawned over an animal. I save photos and videos of pandas to a folder for my daughter to coo over. I routinely forward my older son articles about fish, octopus, or other sea creatures. I don’t bother saving any animal-related photos or articles for Jiminy Cricket, because I know he’s not interested.

Once I took my children to a goat farm during kidding season. The youngest and oldest were rapturous with joy as they nuzzled newborn goats. Jiminy Cricket stood off to the side with his hands jammed deep into his pockets and politely declined all offers to hold a baby goat. A couple times I took the kids to a live butterfly exhibit. The rest of us stood forlornly with outstretched hands, trying in vain to get a creature to alight on our fingers. The butterflies floated right past us and straight to JC, who stood there – a picture of suffering – his body shuddering with visceral horror and disgust as they landed all over him.

The boy has never even warmed up to any of our own pets:

When he takes the dogs out for their morning constitutional, he squeamishly wraps the torso of the one who refuses to walk down stairs in a paper towel, so his hands don’t actually have to make contact with his fur as he carries him to the yard.

So why would this boy insist on bringing a cat into the house? I can only conclude that he was overpowered by some potent feline bewitchment.

And how are things working out, you might be wondering?

Well…the words pussy whipped spring to mind.

For the first month or so after my son insisted on bringing the cat in, she didn’t budge from his bedroom. She stayed on a cat bed in the corner of his room unless she had to use the kitty litter, which he had set up right next to her bed. When I suggested moving the litter to the bathroom so it wouldn’t have to be in his bedroom, he demurred and said he didn’t think the cat would feel comfortable having to leave his room.

After she’d been with us for some time, I asked my son if she was starting to explore her surroundings a little more.

“Yes!” he replied. “Now sometimes she’ll come up to me when I’m working at my computer. At first I’ll feel her little velvet paws on my legs…and then I’ll feel her slowly sinking her claws into my flesh! Sometimes I’ll come into my room and I’ll need to sit down to do some work, but I can’t because she’ll be sitting on my chair and she just stares at me and she won’t move.”

“So do you kick her out of the chair?”

“No!” he said, clearly signaling with his tone of voice how preposterous he found that notion…”I just go away and come back a little later.”

After another few months passed, I started to hear strange thudding noises at night. Eventually, I figured out that it was the cat running back and forth, up and down the hallway. I’m convinced she’s in training…probably to murder my son while he sleeps.

“I think the cat needs to get some more exercise,” I proposed to my son. “Why don’t we try to let her outside for a little? I bet she’s really bored in your room, and would love to go out for a bit to stretch her legs!”

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea,” he replied.

One fine morning, I decided to insist. “Let’s just try to let her out for a little bit! We’ll let her right back in as soon as she wants to come back!”

“OK,” he said dubiously. He made his sister carry the cat down the stairs and to the door. He said he was afraid the cat would scratch him, but I’m pretty sure it’s because he didn’t want her to think it was his idea to make her go outside.

The minute the doors opened, the cat leapt out of my daughter’s arms and tore back upstairs to my son’s room, where she’s remained ever since. (Except of course when she trains in the hallway to murder him).

Like clockwork, the minute we sit down to dinner, the cat starts paging Jiminy from the top of the stairs.

“Oh,” he says, a guilty expression washing over his face, “Excuse me.”

He hustles up the stairs bearing food to the cat, as she continues to yowl at him the entire way. I swear to you, it sounds like: “Get. Your. Ass. Up. Here. NOW.”

He responds, “I’m coming. I’ll be right there. I’m on my way.”

In a much lower voice so she won’t hear, he mumbles: “Geez. I’m going as fast as I can. You don’t have to keep yelling at me.”

He comes back down the stairs and asks, “Mom, next time you go to the store, could you buy some more Fancy Feast, please? I like to alternate it with the Iams so she can have some variety.”

“Sure, Jiminy. Gotta keep the cat happy.”

img_2594

You looking at me?

 

 

The Cat Who Came In From the Cold

If you’ve been following our story, you may have noticed that our family is gaga for animals. We collect them as casually as people collect, say, matchbooks or Pez dispensers. Oh, look! A _______________! We don’t have one of those yet! You can fill in the blank with any number of the fish, rodents, lagomorphs, and dogs that have passed through our house. My daughter has most recently been drawing up an action plan to convince her father that having a couple of sheep in the paddock out back would not only be a good idea, but essential to her happiness.

She has a tough road ahead of her. My husband is one of two people in our household, who do not think that sharing your space with an abundance of animals is delightful. His mini-me, our second son, rolls his eyes heavenward and heaves a weary sigh whenever a new animal is added to our menagerie. He dutifully helps take care of the dogs, but with no great enthusiasm. Whenever one of us starts talking about adding yet another hamster, or a couple of ducks, or a fish to the mix,  our very own Jiminy Cricket  issues dire predictions about the troubles that are likely to ensue as a result of our animal profligacy. He tries to warn us of our folly, and then eventually throws his hands up in despair and retires to his own bedroom, one of the only places in our house where peace and order reign.

In the past we have considered providing shelter to horses, llamas, goats, ducks, guinea hens, quails, turtles, and even snakes. The one animal I was never tempted to keep was a cat. But…sometimes you choose, and sometimes you are chosen. Parson, a cat we only latterly discovered to be a “she” rather than a “he,” chose us, or rather chose to let us live in her/our house.

My daughter took over Parson’s care and feeding, and we tried to make her as comfortable as possible on our back porch. In the corner of our porch, we installed a pet carrier outfitted with a cozy bed and a self-warming pad. For the two years we’ve lived in our house, Parson has spent her days and nights there. She has expressed satisfaction with our services by rubbing up against our legs when we go out to greet her. Our dopey little dogs have repeatedly tried to make friendly overtures to her, signaling their goodwill with their cocked heads and wagging tails. She will have nothing to do with their foolishness. As soon as she catches sight of them, she hisses at them as if she is ready to start World War III.

The polar vortex had us worrying about Parson. It’s been so cold the kids have now twice had an hour school delay.  One day we opened the door to see if we could coax the cat inside to warm up for awhile. We finally managed to lure her in with some treats, but as soon as the dogs came running up to greet her, she hissed and ran under the oven to hide. She was still there a few hours later when I had to leave the house. I was dreading what I would find when I returned home.

“Did the cat ever come out?” I asked my children when I got back.

“Oh yeah! She came out,” Jiminy Cricket replied casually.

“How did you get her out?”

“I just put some food out in the kitchen and she came out to eat.”

“And she’s back outside now?”

“No.”

No? Where is she?”

“She’s in my room. She likes it there.”

Oh! Well, let’s let her outside so she can go to the bathroom.”

“Not a good idea,” Jiminy Cricket said, shaking his head, “It’s way too cold out there for her.”

“Well, but…how’s she going to go to the bathroom?”

“We set up the guinea pigs’ litter box in my room.”

There are so many reasons for being shocked by these revelations I don’t even know where to begin…

“So what are we going to do with her? She hates the dogs…”

“She’ll live in my room.”

Forever?

“Yep.”

Still shaking my head in wonder, I braced myself for the difficult conversation I was going to have with my husband about the matter. I explained to him our son’s surprising position on the cat.

“Well, that’s no good.”

My heart sank.

“She can’t stay in his room forever.”

“I know…”

“Eventually, I want her to come out and socialize with everyone, including the dogs.”

And that, my friends, is a Christmas miracle.

Darwin helps us evolve…

 

 

Perhaps as a result of having lived in a basement for many years in my youth, I try to avoid them as much as possible now. The house we live in now has a lovely, partly-finished basement with French doors. The kids like to play ping-pong, pummel the punching bag, and run on the treadmill there. I am never tempted to join them.

The other day I was hunting around for something and ventured to the basement for the first time in months. What I saw there literally made me gasp in horror…and then gnash my teeth in rage. I gingerly picked my way over empty food wrappers. I surveyed dirty dishes and plates on every surface, and dirty clothes and towels strewn about the floor. It was a crime scene.

It’s a good thing my husband had taken the kids to a movie, because it took a good two hours for me to stop seething. They returned from the theater in high spirits after having spent the afternoon with their dad, the fun parent. For those of you who may be unaware of this sad universal truth, only one lucky person gets to be the fun parent. This of course means that I am the mean parent. Not only am I the mean parent, I am The Meanest Most Unreasonable Parent That Ever Drew Breath In This Universe. The minute those happy, carefree children walked through the door, I confiscated their cell phones and sent them directly downstairs to tackle the unholy mess they had made.

Whenever the kids get in trouble collectively, they begin acting like rats in an overcrowded cage. A lifetime of human civility evaporates like a dream. They turn on each other with feral ferocity. I listened from the living room upstairs as they bellowed and bawled, hurling their grievances to the indifferent heavens above. My 17-year-old was the most vocal about his outrage at the unfairness of life and of his mother’s absurd and irrational insistence on maintaining a minimal level of order and hygiene.

It took some time for the turbulent feelings to subside. That evening we were in the kitchen together and began to make small conciliatory overtures to each other.

“Is this what you’re looking for?” I asked as I handed him the spatula.

“Yeah. Thanks, Mom.”

I pulled out the big guns, (emotionally speaking), by inquiring about a topic especially near and dear to my son’s heart.

“How’s Darwin doing?” I asked, “Has he fully recovered?”

For reasons beyond my comprehension, the kid dotes on his mudskipper, Darwin.  He  assiduously monitors his food intake and constantly frets over his general health and well-being. He spends hours hunting for choice, live insects to feed him and keeps his tank scrupulously pristine. When we went away to England recently, he penned a tome which outlined in excruciating detail the care and feeding of Darwin. I had to condense it down to a single-spaced page to spare the poor girl who was taking care of all of our animals while we were away. As far as I can tell, there is no return on my son’s considerable investment of time and effort. The mudskipper lolls about on his log, a glassy-eyed, overfed pasha consuming his food and dirtying his waters. No thanks given. No affection returned.

About a month earlier, my son had been doing a water change for Darwin, when the mudskipper freaked out. He started thrashing wildly around his aquarium, tearing his fins as he hurled himself in a panic from log to log. Ever since then my son has been nursing him back to health.

“He’s getting better,” he replied, “His fins are still ragged, but you can tell they’re starting to grow back.”

There was a pause before he added, “I wish he could understand that I’m just trying to help him.”

“Mmmmhmmm,” I murmured sympathetically, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Leave me alone, Dad” I snarled, drawing upon my thespian background to channel all the wrath of a wronged mudskipper, “Why do we have to clean the room?! It’s fine the way it is!!!

There was a moment of silence followed by a low chuckle of acknowledgement: “Yeah, OK, Mom.”

IMG_4520.jpg

I’m a sucker

 

Anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for pets…My husband neither supports nor endorses my penchant for collecting extra mouths to feed and poop to shovel, but he tolerates it with the stoicism of the English.

Last week I was in Portland, Oregon with two of my siblings. We stayed at the historic Benson Hotel. As I perused the menu of guest services, my eye was immediately drawn to the “Fish Program”:

IMG_8974

I relentlessly pestered my sister with whom I was sharing a room until she broke down and let me order up a “companion fish.” I gleefully called housekeeping and made the request.

A young man came to the door bearing this beauty…

IMG_8981

I announced the betta’s arrival into my life to my friends on Instagram, and named him “Benson” at the suggestion of one of my cousins. My husband, a rare consumer of social media, spotted the post and countered with his own suggestion for a name: “Blood Clot.” (You see what I’m saying? This is a man who is not at all into animal husbandry).

I tried to freak him out a little by telling him that the hotel was going to let me bring Blood Clot home, but he did not rise to the bait.

My next attempt to yank his chain was to send him a picture of the “emotional support companion” dog who happened to be sitting next to me on the flight home from Portland.

“They wouldn’t let me bring Blood Clot home, but…meet Sprocket! I know you’re going to adore him!” I wrote:

IMG_9049My little joke was met with deafening silence. Perhaps because I had already tried to play that dirty trick on him a couple years ago:

IMG_4065

I’m not the only one in my family who loves animals. My daughter really wanted baby goats, and for a hot second I actually considered getting them for her:

I came to my senses and we reached a more reasonable compromise:

So when my son asked if he could adopt his friend’s mudskipper, I could hardly refuse, although I had no idea what the heck a mudskipper was. “Mudskipper” didn’t sound at all cute or cuddly.

The name was somewhat alarming, but more alarming still was the fact that my son’s friend wanted to unload him in the first place. I happened to know that this friend of his has an even larger and more diverse menagerie than we have. He has a falcon, two dogs, a whole aquarium full of fish, geckos, chickens, a snake…Hello?! The boy has a pet FALCON, for Pete’s sake!

Why in the world would he want to get rid of his mudskipper?

I agreed to let my son bring the mudskipper home, but I told him we could only take him after Christmas since we would be traveling over the holidays.

To my dismay the mudskipper arrived well before Christmas.

“Hey! I thought we’d agreed that we couldn’t take him until after Christmas?!”

“I know, but we had to take him now, because getting rid of the mudskipper is [my friend]’s Christmas present to his dad.”

May I remind you that my son’s friend has a falcon, a gecko, a snake, two dogs, chickens, and a whole plethora of other fish? The kid has his own chest freezer full of dead mice to feed his falcon. But the one pet which his dad objected to was the mudskipper. He was SO anxious to get it out of his house, that he asked his son to get rid of it as a Christmas present to him.

Meet Darwin, the mudskipper:

IMG_7678

So adorable, right?IMG_7674

Why in the world would anyone want to get rid of such a sweet little creature?

IMG_7673

Darwin arrived with a jar of food, which he begrudgingly eats:

IMG_7662

Mmmmmm….dinner!

…when he can’t get the fresh food he prefers.

The other day I came upon my son, who was sitting on his haunches rooting around in my garden.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Just getting some dinner for my man, Darwin.”

Blech.

My birthday isn’t until September, but I already know exactly what I’m going to ask for!

 

Weekend Snapshots 46

Friday

The primula my mother-in-law brought from Scotland to England to America is blooming again. This humble little flower made its way to me from across the ocean wrapped in a napkin stashed in my mother-in-law’s handbag. It’s held a spot of honor in every garden of each of the three houses we’ve lived in here in Charlottesville. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve divided this sentimental favorite to share with friends…

img_8529

In the evening I picked up my daughter and three of her friends after their second ever quartet practice. I laughed during the entire car ride home as the young musicians discussed their plans to get rich busking on the Downtown Mall.

“Whose case should we use to collect money?”

“Definitely mine,” said the cellist, “It’s the biggest.”

“Yeah, mine is way too small,” agreed the flautist, “It would fill up with money way too fast and we’d have to keep emptying it all the time, which would be a pain.”

img_8543

Dream big, girls. Dream big!

Later that evening we had family movie night.

img_8550

Little Mr. Muffet sitting on his tuffet, watching The Lord of the Rings.

We’ve been watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the course of several weeks. Though Tolkien wrote his great epic in the 30s and 40s about hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, it’s uncanny how many parallels can be drawn between the trilogy’s war between the forces of good and evil and current events. Trump, Daesh, the refugee crisis, the environmental crisis…they’re all in there. I found this gorgeous edition for my daughter who has only read The Hobbit, and still has the pleasure of reading the trilogy ahead of her. The rest of us are lined up to re-read them when she’s done!

img_3026

img_3019

img_3020

Saturday

MarieBette Café & Bakery and their brioches feuilletées are one of the many reasons I love living in Charlottesville:

img_2962

Breakfast!

There are only about two and a half days in any given year when I want to be outside, and Saturday was one of them!

img_2965

My husband took the kids to play frisbee golf:

img_8559img_8558

…while I had fun getting my hands dirty in the garden! I transplanted a few things, planted some seeds…

img_2978

and finally finished the oyster shell path I began last year! It only took three more 50 lb bags of crushed oyster shells and the last dregs of my will to carry on. If you see me hobbling around clutching my back like an old woman, you’ll know why.

img_2967-2img_2968

Winter Jewels Hellebores are one of the very first plants I put in my new garden. These flowers are so great! They bloom crazy early and then continue on for months, untouched by deer, insects, late snows and other gardening catastrophes. They self seed and are easy to divide too. img_2969

In the evening we all met up again for dinner at Smoked, a bustling barbecue restaurant in the newly opened Piedmont Place in Crozet. There was a rather long wait for a table, so we spent a lovely hour at Over the Moon Bookstore.

I’ve been trapped in a loveless marriage with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for what seems like an eternity, but has really probably been less than a year. I thought I’d step out on Wolf Hall to have a meaningless fling with Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl, but I’m not enjoying that book nearly as much as I thought I would. So now I’m condemned to slog through TWO books before starting some of the books I bought at Over the Moon. I was discussing this with the bookseller and she told me she didn’t understand this at all:

“Life is too short. I give a book ten pages at the most, and if I’m not hooked, I just stop reading it.”

Do you feel obliged to finish a book once you’ve started? Even if you hate it?

img_3023

Sunday

Spotted on my way to book group brunch…

IMG_2983.jpg

Did I mention how much I love living in Charlottesville?img_2981

This month my book group read my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt! I artfully posed some copies on the table only to realize with bitter disappointment once I got home – you can’t see the books!!!img_2984-2

You may not be able to spot the books in the photo, but you can find your own copy of Annabelle Kim’s Tiger Pelt online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. It’s a great pick for book clubs! No loveless marriages here…I promise it will move and inspire you. Readers of this blog may recognize some of the events in Tiger Pelt, because the boy’s story is inspired by my father’s life story. If you read it, I would love to hear what you think.

After I got back home, I began to redecorate for spring:

img_2987My daughter and I gave her guinea pigs’ pad a new look for spring too:

img_3016

I feel that it’s still missing a certain je ne sais quoi…A seagrass wallpaper to pull in a little more texture? Some ambient lighting perhaps? Some cushions for a pop of color? A chaise longue in the corner? Nothing but the finest for these round-the-clock industrial poop factories:

img_3004-2img_3014

 

 

Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 1

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m republishing some of my past posts about love…My first repost is my rendition of My Funny Valentine(s), featuring Tallis and Chloe, my cute, but rotten dogs. They’re still not 100% housebroken, they tend to yap, and they’re exceedingly lazy. But we love them anyway: