Photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash

Leaving the Dog Park

We’ ve just loaded up our dog after a run at the dog park and are sitting in our truck buckling up.

A car pulls up and the door opens, out come a man and his dog.

The man is old and walks with a cane. He is a heavy guy and that seems to make his walking more labored. Paddling behind him is a little but enormously overweight white dog, his black leash trailing behind him. Both the man and his dog walk, tottering from side to side, to the gate of the dog park. We pull out of the parking lot and head home.

“Why is he making that dog so fat?” I ask. There is no answer from my companion, my husband, who often doesn’t answer questions he considers esoteric or invitations to pile on.

It’s an important question to me. I may occasionally veer toward the plump myself but I hate seeing a fat dog. A fat dog isn’t healthy. A seriously fat dog is on death’s door – he can’t move without heaving. And a dog is only fat because his human has made him that way.

And why is that, you ask. Why would a human make his dog fat? Here’s why. Because making the dog happy in the moment is more important to the human than keeping the dog healthy in the long term. That sounds harsh when I say it. Maybe it is.

So I think about the old man and conjure up a life for him in my head. Maybe he was widowed and living alone and all he has is his fat dog. Maybe feeding his dog extra snacks is the only thing that makes him happy. Maybe someone gave him the dog, already fat and he has been trying hard to slim him down. I have no way of knowing. Even if we weren’t already leaving the dog park, it would be unseemly to query him. “Sir, why exactly is your dog so fat?”

Then I realize that the old man and his fat dog are at the dog park. They have come to a place where people walk and dogs run. There is a 1/3 mile trail through the little woods and so, in not much time, a mile walk can be achieved. Maybe the old man has brought his dog here so he won’t be so fat. You have to admire a person who would bring his very fat dog to a place where extremely fit and trim dogs are romping about, not to mention having to suffer the looks of the slim dogs’ owners.

So maybe the old man is working on getting his fat dog to be healthy. Or not. Maybe they go to the dog park together and come home and eat donuts as a reward for their efforts. There is no way of knowing. We can only guess. Or we can just not care which is probably the better option.

Correspondence

I’m going to write my friend a letter
On paper, with ink
Indelible which means

It could last forever
Folded in thirds and stored in the pages of a favorite book
He might show his children my letter

I’ll tell him how I’m feeling
In ways that will stand the test of time
However long that is

I can’t change my mind tomorrow
If my letter is already in flight, a wing on soft paper
Like in the old days, blue tissue folded in on itself

It feels serious, this letter writing
Weighty
Like I better mean what I say

May Bee Friday Round-Up

I work with a group with a deep belief in pizza. We had a meeting tonight during which I ate two big cups of popcorn with mega butter and a Snickers bar. Then the pizza came. Oh, I eschewed the pizza, yes, I did, and carried my righteous self home where I ate a brat, half a plate of potato salad, a bowl of fruit and a chocolate chip bar. Along with some wine. But no pizza touched my lips.

There are pro-choice people everywhere. They just haven’t had to show themselves before. No threat, no need to stand and declare. Now there’s an enormous threat to choice and folks I’d never expect are going out of their way to go on record as pro-choice, not pro-abortion because many aren’t, simply pro-each woman making her own decision. So we can’t lose heart. We will prevail.

I am trying to make my sorry history of gardening into a funny essay. There is a fine line between self-deprecation which, despite my oversize ego, I am quite good at and self-humiliation which I try to avoid. I am a gardener with little success but I’m not an idiot, the egg shell and coffee grounds escapade notwithstanding, so it’s a tough assignment to tell my story so people laugh without sending me gardening tips. I hate that.

You’re probably waiting for me to talk about my dog, also known as #SledDogintheCity. He is great. He is beyond words great. People sometimes cross the street when they see us coming because he’s big and looks a little wolfy and I yell, “He’s friendly!” And he is. He never fusses, never nips, never barks, that’s right. He has not uttered a single bark since he came here a month ago. I don’t get it but I don’t mind. His tail thumps on the floor when he sees me coming.

My husband was just stung by an enormous bee while sitting in the living room. He killed the bee with a giant cookbook, “Please to the Table, The Russian Cook Book,” to be specific, which happened to be sitting on the coffee table, all 659 page of it. It took three hard swats to do the creature in, still at the end, even here across the room, I could see one wing flapping.

Alabama

I can’t even talk about Alabama because, if I do, if I even start thinking about it, I’ll start hating on people and that’s contrary to where I want to go with my life at this point since I’ve resolved to stop making people I differ with my enemies and to start finding common ground with them but there is no common ground to be found with people, men and women, who would force a younger me to have a stranger use a wire to end a pregnancy that I couldn’t have a doctor end because he would be breaking the law and so I had to take my life in my hands because that was less terrifying than what would lie ahead if I continued to be pregnant, and that’s what I’ll think about if I think about Alabama, that they wouldn’t care about the wire, it wouldn’t mean anything to them, but it could have killed me.

Walk Away

We had a red cocker spaniel named Rusty. We had this dog for a long time, from before I was born until I was nine or ten. And then she disappeared. My dad said she just walked off. She was very old, he said, and that’s what dogs do, go off somewhere to die.

That seemed strange to me and I wondered why no one was looking for Rusty. We lived on a dirt road, in a working class suburb of Detroit on the edge of a farm field which would catch fire every so often and we’d all have to run over there with our shovels to beat down the flames and ashes.

So I envisioned Rusty mindlessly leaving our yard and walking across the farm field, maybe all the way to the creek where sometimes I went to sit in a cave I found, just an indentation in a little hill with an overhang thick with moss and tiny ferns.

When my dad said Rusty had wandered off to die, it had a finality to it that I couldn’t argue with. After all, he knew Rusty a lot longer than me although I never heard the story of their meeting. My dad wasn’t a dog lover so there must of been something special about Rusty. Maybe my mom wanted her. I knew that Rusty had had puppies and that she and her puppies were put in the window of my dad’s auto supply store where people in our small town gathered to watch. What is cuter than a dog and her puppies? Nothing.

No one was ever mean to Rusty in any way, so don’t go thinking that my dad tired of her in some way and put a pillow over her face or dropped her from the car on the far outskirts of town knowing her cataracted eyes couldn’t negotiate her return. He wasn’t like that. He was too busy working to be mean to anybody, even a dog. He had decided it was futile looking so we didn’t. None of us.

I don’t remember grieving about Rusty. We might have. Or maybe not. My folks had a fatalism about them that was contagious, working its way around the dinner table faster than the mashed potatoes. She was there one day and the next she was gone and that was all there was to it.

On Mother’s Day

I became a mother at the age of 24.

Sometimes I wish that fact gave me a pass on the first 10,000 mistakes I made. I was so young. What did I know? But there are no passes for any of us. We are held to the impossible standard of the great mothers our kids’ friends have.

As a new mom, I had two sources of guidance. My mother’s famous line: “Children are like weeds. They grow no matter what you do.” And Dr. Spock which I read so much and so hard that the pages came away from the paperback binding. I would read what Dr. Spock said and then check back 99 times to make sure what I read was what I thought I read.

I was a mess as a new mother.

My own mother was MIA at the time, probably because I wanted it that way, I don’t remember. I’m betting I wanted everyone to believe I knew exactly what I was doing. But I had no clue. And no one to ask. No friends with babies, we were new to town. And my husband, as nice and kind as he was, had never had a baby either. He was as in the dark as me but got to put on a suit in the morning and go to work.

I remember the doctor telling me to put my baby to sleep on her stomach and turn her feet outward otherwise she would be pigeon-toed. Looking back, this seems unbelievable, that this was the big problem we needed to address. My pigeon-toed baby. What about feeding her? What about her crying? What about my life? Would I still have one? Or was that over now?

I read in Dr. Spock and in Our Bodies Ourselves about breastfeeding but the instructions seemed written for better women than me, women who were at home in their own bodies, women who were confident about their role in the world, women who wore long floral skirts and shawls, had wild hair falling over their beautiful faces, women who never thought about failing as mothers. They weren’t my people. I didn’t have any people. I just had me.

I ran back to work as fast as I could.

I look back at all this now and realize that my mother was right. “Children are like weeds. They grow no matter what you do.” Babies become toddlers become children become teenagers become adults and unless there is a catastrophic intervention, the process is a study in resilience. Children can withstand an extraordinary amount of incompetence.

They see, they learn, they sort out.

They forgive.

“Oh well, my mom did the best she could.”

It’s that forgiveness that makes Mother’s Day what it is. An erasing of mistakes. An appreciation of constancy. Children love that about us, that we never quit on them. That we may have been late and ill-prepared and distracted and short-tempered but we picked them up, we held them, we carried them to the car, we made them dinner, we put them to bed, we came in the night when they cried. And we got up the next morning and yelled at them to hurry and we started over again.

Day after day, without fail.

Saturday Afternoon Friday Round-Up

I wrote an essay on the plane that may be the best thing I ever wrote. I love sitting in a window seat with my laptop on the little fold-down table, all tucked in and cozy, looking at the clouds and sky, the little wee houses below, wondering for the hundredth time how the whole country, that isn’t desert or mountains, got divided up into squares and puzzling about the circles and half circles that slice into the squares like messages from aliens.

The anti-women movement in this country is terrifying. It’s tempting to think that what the Georgia Legislature just did is pretty much a joke, it can’t possibly stand. But that would be a mistake. We thought Donald Trump was a joke, well, I did, and then Presto! Change-O! he’s the fucking president running around the country laughing at jokes about shooting asylum seekers. Think about it: a majority of the Georgia Legislature voted to criminalize abortion to the most extreme degree possible short of the death penalty. Women’s rights are human rights, we can’t forget that. And it starts with having power and control over our own damn bodies.

My dog is saving me from madness. We have had Swirl, whom I have dubbed #SledDogintheCity, for just three weeks. He is very big. Sometimes out of the corner of my eye, it looks like a wolf got into our house and then I remember, oh, that’s our dog. I’m walking 4 to 5 miles a day which itself is a big mental health boost. And I’m in love with this dog. He is beautiful, sweet, innocent, and peaceful. He walks away from conflict at the dog park, a lesson for all of us, I’m sure. He does chew on my wood furniture, making him not perfect.

Out of the blue, my 13-year old granddaughter told me that she has been singing. Not performing or recording, just singing, and she told me the two songs she has been singing and her plan to work with a friend to sing one of the songs as a duet and this seemed as sweet and priceless a thing as I have heard for a long time, to just want to sing a duet with your friend.

Older adults need to really step up in the next eighteen months. More volunteering, more showing up at town halls, more carrying signs, more registering people to vote, more knocking on doors, more calling and texting voters, more speaking up, more resistance. Millennials are swell but they have to work two jobs to make a living. GenXers are too busy building powerhouse careers and trying to keep their teenagers on the straight and narrow. It’s on us, Boomers. We have the brains, time, and fearlessness that no other generation has. It’s time for all of us to show up and get it done in 2020. The insanity in the body politic has got to end.