Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Freida. Because she just looks like a Freida.

After yesterday's uber-cheerful post, today I give you Freida. Or approximately 1/4 of Freida, whatever.
Let's just pretend I bought the head and not the rear end, shall we?

Who is Freida, you ask? Freida is a goat that I (mostly) bought through Heifer International, and she's going to change the lives of her recipients, along with her partner in crime for a child here in the States, Paul-The-Night-Night-Package.  Rather than blow that money on things I think I need, I decided to use it on something I know people less fortunate need.

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, I thought a lot about what I could do.  Unlike a national disaster, there are very few concrete things to do to help in this type of situation.

Thanks to the magic of social media, though, I came across this article, and got inspired.

Here's what we can do.  We can put a little more love out there in the world, in memory of those lost, one small act at a time.  It's what I would want for my child, because acts of kindness last so much longer than just writing a check.

Join me, and pass it on.

*To donate to Project Night Night, providing comfort for a homeless child, click here.

*To buy a surprisingly useful farm animal for a family struggling to feed their children, click here.

*If you're too poor to afford 1/4 of a goat, or just all gift-ed out, click here to find out how you (and your kids) can create a winter wonderland for the kids of Sandy Hook.

Monday, December 17, 2012

No words

I have thought long and hard about adding my voice to the many who have cried out for the victims of the CT school shooting in the last few days.  Part of me wanted to keep silent, for so many reasons.  Others have done it such justice (what justice can be had), how could I have more to say?  A more honest part of me simply did not want to dwell on the details of the horror.  Addressing it meant thinking about it, and I was not ready for that.

It did not happen to me--to ours--but it could have.  Newtown, CT is no more or less random a location than where we are, and mental illness certainly no less prevalent.  Although our television has remained firmly tuned to either children's programming or Christmas specials in the last few days, details have nonetheless leaked through to me.

I gave in yesterday, and wept at my computer for children who pleaded for Christmas while a stranger stalked them in halls that should have felt safe for them.  As I tucked our Christmas elf into yet another hiding place last night, I wondered how many of the parents of the children killed that day had done the same, never dreaming that it would be the last time they would see Christmas joy on their babies' faces.  My husband and I held each other last night in a rare moment of quiet, and I reflected on the six adults who would never go home to their loved ones again--the woman who wouldn't get her Christmas Eve marriage proposal, the mother who wouldn't get to see her own children grow, the psychologist and principal and brave, brave teachers who should have had the rest of their lives to pass on to others the selflessness they displayed that day.

Like other parents all across the country, I held my babies a little bit tighter last night, let them have that extra piece of Christmas candy, and shrugged off those clothes left lying on the floor.

It's amazing how little the small things matter when they're put into such large perspective.  My kids didn't know what was going on, but I enjoyed the look of hitting a gold mine on their faces, as they shoveled gingerbread-shaped marshmallows into their mouths.

I wondered, too, about the remaining family of the shooter--about the father that grieves both for a son that he could not save, and for the horror that he left in his wake. For the brother that must wonder what he could have done for his sibling, and when.  I don't know this family, or the dynamics of their relationship, but I know pointing the fingers of blame in their direction now helps nothing and no one.

My perspective is a little different here, as I'm the child of mental illness, you see.  It was on a night similar to this one that I ran out into the living room of our home when I was a child, to find my father brandishing a shotgun and screaming of "those people" coming for him.  I remember the alternating rage and panic that flitted across his face, and--only moments later--the calm conviction and earnestness in him as he detailed his delusion for us.  I remember the biting cold of the car that I sat in after my mother hustled me out of the house, and the vivid red of the ribbon on the Christmas bell that hung around my neck.

So, too, I remember an older brother, similarly afflicted, and the sight of him slowly, methodically removing a healthy tooth from his mouth.  I remember the look on his face as he did it--no pain, no fear, just a look of intense concentration that remains with me to this day, all because he was angry over something I can't even remember.  The sight of that tooth calmly left lying in a pool of blood on a night-side table is forever etched in my mind.

Since the shooting, my social media feeds have been filled with those crying out for more gun control, less gun control, first blaming Asperger's for the violence, then decrying the link.

In times like these, we all want to pinpoint a reason for the horror, something or someone concrete to blame, so that we can feel as if something like this can be avoided in the future, if we just enact one more law, if we just know what to look for next time.

Mental illness comes in so many different forms--some born of trauma, some born of genetics, and we may never know what truly went on that day in Newtown.  We'll certainly never understand it. Maybe someday minds greater than mine will come up with something to prevent this sort of horror, I don't know.

Until then, I'll focus on doing the only thing I do know how to do: raising my children to know that they are loved, every second of every day, and that there's nothing on this earth that they cannot come to me with.  In so doing, I hope that they will do the same for their children, and maybe eventually we can all populate the earth with more of the types of people who shepherd children into closets before taking bullets for them, and less of the madmen themselves.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pippa. And not the royal one.

It's situations like this that give me a good chuckle at my agnostic husband.
Also, they make me a little smug, and I kinda enjoy being smug, as I don't actually GET to be smug with good reason very often.
This week was a hard one. After losing our girl, we were all a little out of sorts. Big K especially had a hard time of it, and the kids could definitely tell. As groundbreaking as the words were, it still broke my heart to hear little C tell his daddy, "Don't cry. It's gonna be okay."
Never having had much use for any of the dogs, he himself was fine--but he was determined to comfort his daddy in any way he knew how.
We discussed the possibility of (eventually) getting another dog. We're big fans of rescue animals, so to us it's not about getting another pet as much as it's about saving a life, and enriching ours in the process. We agreed to take things slow, just start looking around and getting the lay of the land.
Big K found a dog on a rescue site that was going to be at a local pet store for adoption last weekend. He liked the look of him, his description seemed to mesh with our base criteria, so we agreed to go look. Just look, we decided. If it felt like it would be too soon, we'd let the kids play with the dogs a little, maybe get our name on a mailing list, and leave.
What followed was an almost magical situation, the kind in which I feel God knew exactly what we needed, and proceeded to drop it into our laps with a tidy little bow.
We showed up to see "Jasper," but couldn't find him amongst all of the other various canine candidates. A little disappointed, we were about to leave when we decided to ask the very busy looking lady at the table, just to make sure he wasn't there somewhere.
Turns out, ol' Jasper's foster mom was taking a smoke break outside with him, so out we went to check him out. We were disappointed again, initially. Jasper was on edge, marking his territory and barking agitatedly at passing dogs. We'd had in mind a more docile, friendly female, and we could tell he wasn't QUITE what we had in mind. Again, we turned to go.
Just then, we heard one volunteer talking to another about some horrible person who'd just DUMPED this poor little dog off with them, minutes before. The dog had been found wandering around a neighborhood, begging for scraps and bone thin. Attempts had been made to find any possible owners, but by all accounts she had been wandering, abandoned, for weeks.
When the workers explained to the woman that they were a non-profit organization completely dependent on volunteers and foster homes, and didn't have anywhere for this dog to GO just now, she snapped irritably, "Fine. Tell me where the nearest pound is."
Knowing that the pound would mean a death sentence for this dog, the wonderful volunteers took her, no questions asked.
Listening to their story, I had it in the back of my mind that surely the dog wasn't what we were looking for. She would be old--and we couldn't go through losing a dog again any time soon. Or she would be big--too much for our small-ish house and small-er kids. Worse--she would be short-tempered, and not at all suitable for a family with rambunctious children still learning the difference between roughness and play.
But we asked anyway.
She was small, we learned. A chihuahua-daschund mix, only ten months old or so--and initial reports were that she was very, very sweet. She was getting her shots just then, but would we like to stay and check her out? Even if it was just for the weekend, until they could find someone to foster her with?
Of course, we had to. How could we not?
She landed in my husband's arms, shaking like a leaf but pitifully eager for attention, and he looked at me and simply said, "Okay."
She's been with us for three days now, and Pippa (or "Hot Mess" as I've come to think of her) has made herself at home. Initially skittish, she is now bossing around our Italian greyhound, hoarding children's shoes the size of her head, and eating like a truck driver. In between, she has lavished affection on every one of us (even little C, who is decidedly NOT IMPRESSED with the little whirling dervish intent on stealing his shoes and determined to snuggle with him against his will).
There are few feelings more satisfying than rescuing an animal--watching them go from terrified and suspicious, to adoring and spoiled rotten.
And all for just the price of a little love.
Thanks for bringing that back to us, Pip.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Hard Goodnight

"A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself."  
--Josh Billings

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."
--Will Rogers

Almost ten years ago, when Big K and I were newly married, a bone-thin, terrified dog showed up in our back yard.  Being dog people, we took her in--just until we could find her owners, we assured ourselves.

She had a collar, but her condition spoke of profound neglect.  It took us days to get her inside the house, even longer for her to allow us to touch her.  By the time we got around to printing out "Found" posters, we were sure enough that she had been abused to turn around and take them right back down again.

A trip to the vet and a couple hundred dollars later, and she was officially ours.  We dubbed her Sassy.

It didn't take her long to settle into Princess mode.  Although initially more wary of Big K than of myself, she soon fell head over paws in love with him.  She was such a diva that she often would completely ignore me in favor of her new-found Daddy.  Up I would get in the morning, stumbling groggily to the back door to let the dogs out, and my dog would come running.  Sassy, on the other hand, was for all intents and purposes deaf to the sound of my voice--but as soon as her Daddy spoke, she would obediently and cheerfully trot to the back door.

He hung the moon and stars, for that dog.

I remember her sniffing curiously at Big C when we brought him home from the hospital, red faced and wrinkly in his infant carrier.  New baby territory was yet unexplored, and neither of us were sure how the dogs would react to this new intrusion into their lives.  

From the play mat, to the walker, to the curious-tugging-on-doggie-ears stage, though, she remained patient and tolerant with both babies.

If not always enthusiastic.

She would jump like her legs were spring loaded, and many a time I found myself in the kitchen, cooking, looking bemusedly around for whatever food item had just been lying on the countertop.

And then realize a second later that that damned dog was nowhere to be found.

As she got older, though, she took to the floor.  Plenty of flour and crumbs and various other things to be found there for her, after all.  I used to joke that she was never cuter than when I was in the kitchen, cooking.  She would sit there, head cocked to the side, patiently waiting for something--anything--to drop.

I always thought of her as Daddy's princess--so much so that I don't think I realized how much of my dog she had become too, until this weekend.   

This weekend, we had to say goodbye to our sweet girl, and I found myself in the kitchen, alone and crying because there was no furry little Hoover taking care of my kitchen crumbs.  No doe-like brown eyes, watching me patiently as I bustled around, occasionally meeting mine as if to say, "No rush.  I'll wait."

There's no grief like losing a child, but in our house, losing a dog comes damned close.  As much as I love my children, some days they are more of an effort than others.  Some days they are high maintenance, and exhausting, and they pout and grumble and fuss, and say things like, "YOU'RE NOT MY BEST FRIEND!" over a &^$%#ing cookie.

A dog loves their human like nothing and no one else on this earth does.  They love with no justification, no limitations, no ifs, buts, or maybes.  You are as much adored for discarded flour off of a kitchen floor as for a dish of filet mignon.

When you walk through the door, no matter what kind of day they've had, no matter what kind of mood you're in, that tail wags.  Every damned time.

There were plenty of days I wasn't deserving of that kind of love, but that never mattered to a dog.   Definitely not this dog.

It happened quickly, which was both a mercy (for her) and a heart-numbing shock (for us).  Two days later, we are still wandering around the house, listening for a second dog's bark and dropping crumbs we don't bother to pick up, because they'll never last long enough for us to find the broom, anyway.

Even gone, she is giving us gifts.

When informed that Sassy went to puppy heaven, and seeing his daddy cry, Big C walked quietly into the other room for a minute, and came back bearing this:

"I am sorry for Sassy to go away."

Then, emotionally exhausted, Big K fell asleep on the couch, where little C had crawled up to lay with him.  Quietly, lovingly, he comforted him like this for the longest amount of time I can remember him--or any 3-year old I know--snuggling with an adult.

Lack of empathy?  Really?  Tell me all about it.

As painful as it is losing a pet, every single one we've had has left an indelible impression on our hearts, leaving us different people than we were before.  If humans had the capacity for love that dogs do, the world would be a better place.

Goodnight, sweet girl.