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My Mile, Her Moccasins

I got my lab/beagle/take-your-pick mix on the spur of the moment. I had been working at home for several months and wanted a companion during the workday when the kids were at school.

Katie now goes everywhere with me. From the minute I wake up in the morning, she’s there. She positions herself right at the head of the bed so she’s often the first face I see when I wake up in the  morning (the big guy is long gone for work by then).  By the time I’m loading the kids into the car school, she’s there in the parking circle at the bottom of our driveway waiting for us.

“You want to go for a ride?”  I’ll ask, and she’ll wag her tail and hop in the car. Sometimes she’ll race us to the top of the driveway before wagging her tail and jumping in. When the weather’s not too hot, she and I will continue on after I drop off the kids and run my errands before work.  For the the longest time I thought she just enjoyed sleeping on the seat by my side, but the last week or two got me questioning not just what I know about dogs (which isn’t much admittedly) but also how I might be dealing with human animals in my life.

It started a few weeks ago when we approached the park after dropping off Thing2.   She was sitting on the seat next to me, watching the town go by, and suddenly her whole body started to quake. When it became evident that we were going to pass the park instead of turning in go for a walk, she began to whimper. I couldn’t understand it we hadn’t been there in months.  Then I remembered an unplanned play date she’d had with another dog there back in June.  Could she be remembering it too?  I shook the idea out of my head and drove on.

Today, however, as we were driving the short trip between the middle school and the bank, I got a clearer picture what it is to travel that mile on her paws.

We’d dropped off the kids as usual, and as usual Katie jumped from the seat next to Thing2 into the seat next to mine.  She curled up and seemed to fall asleep for a few minutes.  Then we turned into the bank.

I pushed the talk button to ask for a deposit slip, and I saw her ears perk up slightly.  When I pushed the button to send the canister to the teller, she sat right up.  The tail started thumping just a tiny bit, and then I noticed that she was staring right through the glass at the teller with the limpid bedroom eyes she uses when she’s begging for scraps from the kids at the dinner table.  That was when I noticed the bowl of dog biscuits on the counter next to the teller.

Then it hit me that, even though she had only been here once before, she had put in on her mental map faster than Pavlov’s dog. The teller nodded and waved and popped a biscuit into the canister before sending it back. Katie’s tail was now on full speed.

I don’t know much about dog behavior; everything I know comes from growing up with my parents dog labrador retriever and from raising Katie, and that ain’t much. Early in Katie’s life I did read advice from dog experts warning about the fallacy of projecting human emotions onto dogs.  But as Katie’s thumping tail reminded me not to underestimate her memory, I wondered if our projection of those human emotions says more about us than it does about the animals in our care.  And it got me wondering how often in human relationships, I project my preconceptions ,rather than widening my perceptions.

Waiting for Superwoman

So apparently, I’m not Superwoman.

The meandering lines of my dreams and my life as it is diverged big time this week as holiday preparations (read: biennial cleaning) and work claimed most of my waking hours.

Still, there have been small victories.  I haven’t picked up a pencil in a week, but there are a host of posts waiting for doodles, and, tomorrow, as the turkey slow roasts in  its maple glaze and we wait for the rest of our family to arrive, I will indulge in down time in the living room with the kids and the Big Guy and a pad on my lap.  And I will stake my banner there.

I may have surrendered a few battles this week, but I’m still in the fight.

Heros Never Die

My youngest son’s first grade teacher, Mr. M., passed away today. It was a life cut short by cancer. For many of these kids it is the first time they have had to face losing a loved one. And he was loved by these kids and by all the other kids whose lives he touched.

Some kids look forward to the first day of school – it’s a chance to reconnect with old friends and an excuse to buy new clothes. My youngest child did not this year. Faced with a crowd of still mostly older kids in the lunch room, his trepidation was very evident, and he clung to my hand. The principal approached, and, even though he knows and loves her, he still would not let go of me.

But she was ready for this. She bent down a little.

“Have you met Mr. M?” she asked. My son responded by turning his face to my stomach. “Come on over and meet him,” she said. She led us over to a tall man who was surrounded by at least dozen adoring, older children. “Mr. M,” she said, “This is one of your new students.”

Mr. M instantly turned his full attention to my son. He bent down a little to try and make eye contact. Then he spoke to both of us, and something about his thick New England accent got my boy’s attention. Mr. M. knew all the right questions to ask a five-year-old boy. They were more than ‘How was your summer?’ questions. They were questions that told the kids that there was still a very healthy kid inside this towering teacher.

He made a few more jokes, and my shy little boy quickly let go of my hand. The rest of the first grade soon arrived, and I watched him joke and comfort and make each of them feel as though they were the most special kid in the class.

He was not a pushover – rules were to be followed, and he believed in consequences. But during the brief month or so that he was running that First Grade classroom, I rarely had to rouse my son out of bed. Every morning I heard the same refrain: “I can’t wait to go see Mr. M.” And every night, I saw the results of Mr. M’s firm, loving presence as my youngest child began finding the joy in learning for its own sake. It is a gift he will take with him for the rest of his life.

Tonight I cry for what our community has lost and for what these children are feeling right now, but I know that even his youngest students have a sense of how much better it is to have had him in their lives, if only for a short time. The word hero is overused, but I don’t know what other word better describes someone who spends their last months on earth lifting people up and giving them their futures. And I do know that when the sadness subsides, he will live on in the kids who were lucky enough to have known him.

Made Especially for You

The year I turned nine and my sister turned seven, my parents invited my mother’s entire extended family to our house for Christmas.  They planned it well in advance, and my mother decided that my sister and I should use the time to make stockings for everyone for Christmas.  With Mom’s gentle, insistent guidance we cut out, decorated and hand stitched seventeen red felt stockings – each with the name of an aunt or uncle and one for Grandma and Grandpa.  We didn’t know it at the time, but she wasn’t just teaching us to sew.  She was teaching us about giving.

The family didn’t hold back on their praise of our work, but Grandma had outdone us, as we knew she would.  Her Christmas creations were legendary.  One year she had made life-sized stuffed dolls with snaps on the hands and toes that we could use to create all sorts of crazy shapes.  Another year she sent cross stitch pictures to celebrate us getting our own rooms.  And on each creation she would sew a label that sad ‘Made Especially for You by KVK’.

This Christmas she brought two large crochet afghans big enough to cover a full-size bed.  Each blanket was made using our favorite color, and they quickly became our favorite wrap for watching TV or snuggling under the covers.  The afghans also sparked my curiosity about how they were made.  Grandma tried to get us started on crocheting that Christmas, but it took a few more years before either of our fingers were dextrous enough to let the lessons sink in.

It was only when our Grandparents moved to the same city as our parents that I discovered how much my Grandmother’s enjoyed creating these treasures – many of which I still have.  My mother was (and still is) an expert seamstress and had made many of our clothes growing up, and, while both my sister and I did learn to sew (my sister’s expertise is pretty close to my mom’s), I loved the needlework.

For years I kept at least one project going, occasionally finishing one here and there, but my needlework projects were mostly fits of inspiration born of a visit to Grandma or Germany, where most girls still learned to knit at the time.  But it wasn’t until just recently that the lesson my mom started teaching us all those years ago really sunk in.

We had recently moved to Vermont, and I had fallen in with a couple of quilters at my new job.  My new employer was constantly offloading small samples of fabric from discarded product lines, and like a moth to a flame, I made sure nothing went to waste (Quilt fabric is officially more addicting than alcohol and nicotine combined).  My first idea was to make a quilt for The Big Guy.  I cut and pieced and cut and quickly realized I had bit off a little more than I could chew.  That project still awaits completion, but I did manage to finish another quilt that had developed simultaneously.

Soon after my quilting addiction began, my mother was made president of the Ohio Academy of HIstory.  The news came shortly before her birthday, and I decided to make her an Ohio star quilt.  I gave it to her when we were all on vacation together, and it was the first time in my life I had made something like that for my mother (not counting Kindergarten clay ashtrays for a woman who never smoked), and when she cried, I began to understand what it meant to really give something of oneself.

We still buy presents for each other, but since then I’ve made a monster scarf for The Big Guy,  hunting-colored scarves for the kids, and an afghan for Thing2 (Thing1’s specifications are still being sorted out).  And when I finally get that first quilt spread out on The Big Guy’s side of the bed, it won’t have a label on it, but we will both know that it was made especially for him and no one else.


Thing2 is chattering happily about his latest superhero discovery.  I’m trying to keep the sorted piles of laundry on the couch from ending up right back in the hamper again as he demonstrates his version of the Spiderman perch.  Everything begins and ends with these piles.

I don’t know why I let the folding pile get so big, but it usually takes an event to get it all folded and put away in one sitting.  This week it’s the impending arrival of our Thanksgiving crowd.  One of my guest rooms doubles as our indoor laundry hanging area, and I need it cleared and ready (along with the other cleaning) before the mad rush of cutting and cooking begins.

Somewhere in this, I’ve committed myself to two posts a day, figuring if I can maintain my quota during the one time of the year when I clean on a daily basis, I will have broken through some literary ceiling I can’t see.  Unlike the laundry, the writing will hopefully be a ray, each met goal a point on a rising line.

But to follow that ray; to clean and cook, first the piles must be sorted and folded and put away.  And when the crowds disperse after the celebration, I’ll travel the next segment on the infinite laundry line, hoping the ray that runs beside it stays close enough to let me travel both.

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