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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

In Defense of Our Dogs

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Scout - Summer 2009

Much like many young couples do, when GAP and I had been married about two years and bought a house, we got a dog.  His name is Scout, and I can promise you that he is the best dog in the world.  I say this with, yes, some bias.  But my opinion is backed by many people who know Scout and are marginally less biased than I am.

I can also substantiate Scout’s superiority among all canines with such stories as how he once staked out a burrow dug in our back yard by a mama rabbit, sniffed it each day for more than a week, and when the baby bunnies finally emerged actually played with them in the gentlest way possible.  He crouched to the ground making himself as small as 100 pounds can become, gently pawing near – but not at – them, never once even inadvertently hurting the tiny mouse-sized creatures.  (We have it on video.)  When I was reading Book 7 in the Harry Potter series and (spoiler alert!) got to the scene where Dobby dies, I lay on the couch crying silently as I read and Scout walked over from our foyer and started licking the tears from my cheeks.  He changed his morning routine for the entirety of my first pregnancy, not going downstairs* to go outside until I came down myself.  He walks at our sides without a leash.  He supervised SSP’s tummy time.  He barks only on command.  And he loves everyone.  One of these days he will leave us, and I will cry for days.  (I tear up just typing those words.)

I feel the need to proclaim the magnificence of Scout (and his brother Jasper) because of this article on Slate that basically decries all pre-child pet ownership.  Author Allison Benedikt spends the better part of a thousand words complaining about how the dog she once loved and doted on is now merely a blight on her home life.  The whole thing just made me sad.  I’m sure it’s true for most parents that the time and attention they gave to their pets before becoming parents dropped off significantly after they first carried a pumpkin seat into the house.  (I know it is for us.)  And I’m sure that for many of those parents the arrival of children into the family renders the earlier decision to purchase of a pet a mistake not easily corrected.  But I’m here to say that’s not always the case.

Balancing life with kids and life with pets is hard.  We have two 100-ish-pound dogs and a tiny back yard.  This means I have to walk our dogs two miles every morning to keep them exercised and free from cabin fever.  They shed mountains of hair weekly, which means that sweeping is a never-ending task.  Sometimes they get skin infections and require antibiotics twice a day for weeks at a time.  And every time we want to leave town we have to make arrangements for a house sitter.  I’m not saying I’m the perfect pet owner.  Their monthly flea medications usually get administered a few days late (and sometimes missed altogether).  Their daily walks often get pushed aside on weekends.  And we don’t brush them as often as we should.  But we do our best to keep up with it all because of the incredible joy they bring to our family.

But there is more to pet ownership than a collection of touching anecdotes.  Scout and Jasper were also wonderful preludes to kids in a number of ways.  They taught us many of our early lessons about caring for someone else.  About praise and discipline and devotion.  About cleaning up messes.  About regular checkups and maintenance medications.  Many things that come into play (on a much larger scale, obviously) with children we first experienced with our dogs.  Over and above that, both the CDC and WebMD document the health benefits of pets.  They have the ability to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.  They stimulate the exercise levels of their owners.  And they provide companionship to people living alone.

I’m not saying pets are for everyone.  They are a long-term commitment and a lot of work, and the decision to get one shouldn’t be made simply because it seems like it’s the next step in life or because the puppy at the pet store is cute.  But I am saying that, contrary to the perspective on Slate, pets can enrich your life after you have children every bit as much as they did before you had kids.

In one of my favorite Louis CK bits (I couldn’t find a clip) he bemoans the day that someone gave his kids a puppy.  To paraphrase, he says something along the lines of, “I don’t know why anyone would ever give another person a puppy.  It’s just about the meanest present you could ever give.  It’s like saying, ‘Here you go.  Here’s a broken heart in eight to ten years.’”

As for me, I’ll take the broken heart, because I wouldn’t wish away my dogs for the world.

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*Until I was pregnant he went downstairs with GAP and our other dog, Jasper (who is also wonderful, but is no Scout), first thing in the morning.  From week 10 to week 39 of my pregnancy Scout wouldn’t start his day until I started mine.  In my second pregnancy he went downstairs before me to be close to IEP.

Family Traditions

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend thinking about traditions.  Specifically, I wondered what my own family’s traditions will be.  It was an assortment of hot air balloons that sent me on this mental tangent.

Every year our city hosts a hot air balloon race.  The race is always held on a Saturday.  And on the night before they have what’s called the Balloon Glow.  All of the balloons are inflated, but tethered to the ground.  After the sun sets the inflated balloons synchronize their flames so that they all glow in unison.  It’s really pretty amazing.

Many families take blankets, camp chairs, picnic suppers, and make an evening of it.  Even if we’d had the forethought to plan such an evening, IEP’s bedtime would have cut us short.  But as I watched children running around, parents sitting back watching them, and a backdrop of glowing hot air balloons I thought ahead to next year.  IEP will be nearly three and I wonder if we might be one of those families relaxed on blankets enjoying a perfect autumn evening.  And I wonder if we’ll go every year; if the Balloon Glow will become one of our family’s traditions.

I look back to my own childhood and think fondly of some of our traditions:  Sour cream coffee cake and scrambled eggs on Christmas morning.  Playing miniature golf during vacations to Colorado.  “Going around the table” during dinner after church every Sunday and contributing our own responses to a common question.

As I think about these things I’m struck by the fact that I have no idea how or why or when each one originated.  I’m quite confident that my parents didn’t set out to make them traditions.  They evolved organically – threads in the fabric of our family that emerged into a pattern over time.

So, back to today, and back to my family.  Here is my question:  Must traditions evolved organically?  Or can we be proactive about creating them?  And if they come about on purpose, are they cheapened by that genesis in any way?

I suppose, more than anything, I hope that my family has traditions.  I hope that we will have quirks and idiosyncrasies that are enduring and beloved.  I hope that our traditions are remembered affectionately by my children when they are grown.  I imagine that every family has traditions of some kind, and that ours will be no exception.  But we are still a young family and most (if not all) of our family traditions are still to be born.  So I am left to wonder what they will be and where they will come from.  My mind could go in a thousand directions with a topic like this.  But I suspect I will be best serve by letting our traditions develop on their own.

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This post was originally published two years ago, and this weekend we will attend the Balloon Glow for the third time.  I think, perhaps, it is becoming a tradition.  At the very least, it’s something we look forward to and really enjoy.

Shorthand

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

You can set your watch by it.  If my sister and I are together and we aren’t having a good time she will look at me and say, “This place is a tomb.  I’m going to the nut shop where it’s fun.”

It’s from “You’ve Got Mail, ” and if you recognize that line then you might have watched it as many times as we have.  It’s one of many movie lines that comprise a sort of shorthand that we’ve been using for years.  And as the internet blossomed yesterday with touching responses to the news of Nora Ephron’s death, my response was different from most of what I read.

It’s worth noting, of course, that there were several lovely descriptions of the many ways in which her contributions to modern culture were important, particularly for women.  Lisa Belkin of The Huffington Post published two pieces about Ephron, (here and here), both of which I really appreciated.  Just as many people wrote, she truly did validate the female experience in ways that no other filmmaker before her had.  But her impact on my life was  more personal.

It was sometime around my senior year of high school that my sister and I became really close.  We’d gotten along just fine throughout most of our childhood, not counting a few rough patches during the middle school years.  But after we emerged from seventh, eighth, and ninth grades without killing each other, it took us a little while to settle into the groove of best-friendship that would carry us through college and into early adulthood.  That settling-in process, however, was in reality not nearly as charming as Nora Ephron might have imagined it.  Thankfully for us we were able to lean on her (and a few other screenwriters) as we stumbled our way through.

I suppose it is not surprising that our transition from childhood sisters into adult friends would be forged at the movies.  We share the same sense of humor.  And we each have an uncanny memory for shared pop culture touchstones.  When more meaningful topics of conversation didn’t interest us, quoting pithy movie lines back and forth to each other communicated something deeper without having to state it explicitly.  It said, “We have this thing in common.  It was a shared experience and it mattered to me.  And this relationship with you?  It matters to me too.  I’m glad that you’re my sister, but I’m also glad that you’re my friend.”  I realize that’s a lot to extrapolate out of one college girl saying to another, “Don’t you just love New York in the fall?”  But somewhere between the lines, that’s exactly what it meant.

No one can ask Nora Ephron now what her career meant to her.  I know that she cared a great deal about forging new paths and upending the status quo.  I admire her for that.  But I most appreciate her for writing movies that my sister and I wanted to watch over and over until we’d committed them to memory.  I appreciate her for giving us a shorthand; a quirky way to tell each other that the relationship between us is like no other in our lives.

Out of My Hands

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

I apologize for my spotty presence in this space over the past couple of weeks.  Two weeks ago we were on vacation and last week just sort of slipped away from me.  I’ve missed my regular writing and am happy to be back.

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An open letter to the mother of my unborn third child.

Dear You,

I don’t know you.  Chances are I never will.  But there is no one on this earth right now whose acquaintance I would rather make.    You see, you and I are already inextricably linked forever.  Our lives will soon cross at perhaps the most sacred of intersections: motherhood.

Today you are pregnant with your child.  But you are also pregnant with my child.  Per the adoption math you are roughly seven months along.  You feel your baby kick you every day.  Perhaps he’s pushing up under your ribs, as IEP did to me at that stage.  Or perhaps he’s kicking straight out against the wall of your belly, as SSP did.  Or perhaps he’s doing some dance entirely his own.  Whatever it is, you are the only one who knows it.  I cannot feel his kicks or hiccups.  I cannot watch my weight gain and have my belly measured.  I cannot see him on an ultrasound or listen to his heart beat on the doppler machine.  Those experiences are yours alone.  …  And I’m so jealous and so nervous.

You realize it, don’t you, that you’re carrying my baby?  You’re carrying the little boy whose knees I will bandage and whose cries I will calm.  You’re carrying the boy who will pile in bed with GAP and IEP and SSP to read “The Lorax” for the umpty-thousandth time.  You’re carrying the little boy whose photo I will take on the front porch on his first day of school.  You’re carrying the little boy whose Christmas presents I will wrap and whose ball games I will watch.  You’re carrying the little boy whom we will shepherd through adolescence and into adulthood.  You are carrying the boy whom we will send to college and maybe watch get married.  He is your baby.  But he is our baby.

It’s hard for me, you know, to have no control over my baby’s health during his gestation.  With my older boys I went to great lengths to be assured of their health.  But I can’t do that this time.  My hands are tied.  You are half a world away and completely unknown to me.  I want so much to make sure that he’s in good hands with you, but I can’t.  There’s nothing I can do but hope and pray.

Are you taking good care of him?  Are you getting enough sleep, and exercise and staying hydrated?  Are you taking your prenatal vitamins and attending your prenatal doctor appointments?  Are you making good decisions?  When you want that next cigarette do you find something else to do instead?  When you want a drink of soju do you think about our little boy and pour a glass of water?  Are you being strong so that our baby will be strong?

I know it must be hard.  I can’t imagine what it would take to carry a baby for nine months knowing (or perhaps not knowing – for I have no idea how you will come to this decision) that you will not keep him.  I can’t imagine turning him over to someone else, to be bounced around the adoption system for many months, with little knowledge of where he will land.  But I commend you for it.  For not terminating your pregnancy.  For understanding that for whatever reason his best chance at a good life lies with someone else.  For being willing to let him go.

I promise that we will take good care of him for the rest of his life.  Can you promise me that you’ll take good care of him for the rest of your pregnancy?  Please?  I’ll do everything I can for him as soon as he is ours.  But for the moment he is still yours.  For the moment he is out of my hands.  For the moment I have to trust in you.  We’re counting on you. 

Please don’t let us down. 

Please don’t let him down.

Very sincerely,

Gale

Drudgery and Delight

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

If you were on Facebook at all last week (and if any of your friends are of the Mommy set), chances are good that someone you know posted a link to this article about cherishing every moment of parenthood.  It’s worth a quick read, but to summarize, author Glennon Melton states that while she is out in public wrangling her three kids she is often told to “cherish this moment” by older women whose children are grown.  She posits that this well-intentioned advice actually has an adverse effect on her, leading her to live in a state of constant paranoia that she isn’t savoring her role as a mother enough because parenting small children is an incredible amount of work.

As I read the article Melton’s words rang true to me – so much so that my response was something along the lines of, “Well, of course it’s hard!  Doesn’t everyone already know this?”  As I watched the Internet explode with re-postings of her piece what struck me most was that the article was causing such an uproar.  (It garnered more the 1,500 comments on The Huffington Post.)  Any parent will tell you that parenting is hard.  Any parent will tell you that there are days when everything seems to go wrong and all you want is for the sun to set and your kids to go to bed.  Any parent will tell you that there are moments when the only way to get even 30 seconds of peace and quiet is to go to the bathroom.  This is not novel information.  So why all the kerfuffle?

I think it’s due to a serious lack of both honesty and understanding.

The honesty problems belong to us parents.  As parents (especially as mothers) we feel compelled to address our children’s behavioral imperfections in one of two ways.  1) Don’t really talk about them at all.  Or 2) Talk about them with a self-deprecating humor that suggests we aren’t ever actually driven to our limits.  But this isn’t true, is it?  IEP (whom I love to the ends of the earth) can make me crazy faster than anyone else I know.  In a couple of years SSP (whom I also love to the ends of the earth) will fit that bill as well.  And I would wager that this is true for all parents.  So why can’t we say so?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but the mere fact that Melton’s piece created the dust storm that it did indicates to me that not enough of us are.

The understanding problems belong to the people who question us.  Just because our children can run us ragged doesn’t mean that we are in over our heads or that having them in the first place was a mistake.  In her article Melton likens parenting to climbing Mount Everest.  People don’t climb Mount Everest because it is easy or relaxing or enjoyable.  They do it because it is an unparalleled challenge, the completion of which is enormously satisfying.  This isn’t to say that parenting is merely one grueling step after another or that there is only a single, fleeting moment of accomplishment when they graduate high school.  Obviously there’s more to it than that or we wouldn’t do it.  Even climbing Mount Everest doesn’t take 18 years.

For me, though, the biggest take-away from this whole thing is that we each parent in our own way.  We each enjoy different things about parenting.  What one parent sees as drudgery another parent may see as a delight, and there is incredible freedom in that.  No one can (or at least no one should) tell us which aspects of child-rearing ought to be enjoyable to us.  For Melton navigating three kids through an afternoon’s worth of grocery shopping and other errands might be a chore.  For another parent it might be an adventure.  And that’s okay.

We can wish away the moments of the things we find maddening.  And we can relish in the moments that we love.  And we should never have to justify any of it.

If You Don’t Know, Just Ask

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

About eight and a half years ago GAP told me he had to go out of town for a job interview.   He was in business school at the time and looking for a summer internship, so I naturally jumped to the conclusion that it was for summer employment.  When I asked about the job he told me it was for a position that would be the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding job of his life.  He was very careful not to tell any lies.   When he left town for  this “interview” he actually drove to my hometown, called my parents an hour outside of the city, and asked if they were free for an impromptu lunch.  He asked their permission to propose to me.

I was then, and am now, flattered that he did this.  Most of all, it meant a great deal to me that he met with both of my parents, and not just my father.  My mother is not the type to take a back seat to her husband.  GAP knows this and wasn’t about to offend his future mother-in-law by confusing chauvinism for tradition.  I didn’t take their meeting as any indication that I don’t have control over my own life choices, and they didn’t either.  We all took it as a nod to a custom wherein a young man makes his intentions known and asks for the blessing of his girlfriend’s family.

However, I recently read an article that throws this whole custom into question.

I am certainly not of the delusion that everyone else has the same regard for tradition that I do, that my husband does, or that my parents do.  I know that women are not property.  We are empowered individuals who make our own decisions in life.  Whether or not GAP asked my parents’ permission, these things are as true about me as they are about any other modern young woman.  Yet I still have an old fashioned streak that likes to honor certain traditions, even if their relevance has been diluted over time.

So what struck me most about the article I read was how confused the author seemed to be over where to draw the line on the issue of asking permission.  She didn’t necessarily seem to think that there is a single right or wrong verdict for this tradition in the 21st century.  But she did seem a bit flummoxed over how to chart the right course under varying circumstances.  My response is this: why not just ask?  Very few women are caught off guard by a proposal these days.  Sure, we may not know exactly when and where the question will be popped, but we know whether or not we intend to marry the person we’re dating, and whether or not he (or she) intends to marry us.  How?  Because we talk about these things.  So why, amongst the conversations about religion and kids and all the other big issues that must be discussed before marriage, shouldn’t a young man inquire about his girlfriend’s views on asking permission, and about the views of her parents on the topic?  Shouldn’t this issue be on the easy end of the spectrum of marital pitfalls?

Marriage has served a number of purposes throughout human existence – economic, political, genealogical, and so on.  Today most marriages are about forming a mutually beneficial partnership and this has changed many of the dynamics of the institution itself.  One of the many improvements is increased communication between spouses, so I don’t know why this issue would ever become a minefield on the modern dating scene.

GAP asked my parents’ permission.  So did my sister’s husband.  I have friends whose husbands only asked their fathers.  I have friends whose parents only found out about the engagement after the woman had a ring on her finger.  The great thing about getting engaged today is that there are no hard and fast rules.  Perhaps this means there is more room for error.  But, as with many situations, I think a simple conversation can mitigate a lot of hurt feelings.

Good Boy Room

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Several weeks ago, in an effort to begin preparing IEP for big brotherhood and to keep him excited about being a little boy after the baby arrives on the scene, I started talking to him periodically about all the things that ”big boys” get to do that babies can’t do.  (Think: go down slides, eat ice cream, play with trains, tickle Daddy, go to gymnastics class, etc.).  However, after months and months of telling him after various outings and adventures that he behaved well and was a good boy, when I started regaling him with the glories of being a big boy he corrected me.  “No, no, Mommy.  No big boy.  IEP good boy!”  (Note: he doesn’t actually refer to himself by his initials…)  And so it was in that vein that this past weekend’s major project was not moving IEP into his Big Boy Room, but rather into his Good Boy Room.

The process was bigger than GAP and I anticipated at the outset and ended up absorbing the entire holiday weekend.  Tasks included:  Select and purchase furniture.  Select and purchase bedding.  Select and purchase family meal from KFC.  Move all adult office furniture out of heretofore home office and into heretofore guest bedroom.  Reroute all computer, phone, and internet cables.  Realize cell phone is missing.  Vacuum many dust bunnies.  Select and purchase wall paint.  Paint bedroom walls.  Go out to breakfast because the house is completely devoid of any basic provisions.  Unsuccessfully shop for draperies.  Successfully shop for drapery hardware.  Select and purchase two file cabinets.  Drive to two different warehouses to collect said file cabinets.  Realize cell phone was left at first furniture store two days prior.  And on, and on, and on.  It was an incredible drain.

Nevertheless, the weekend contained some significant bright spots.  I always enjoy weekends at home with my boys, but weekends like this one remind me of how much I appreciate them.  I appreciate that even in exhausting and stressful circumstances GAP and I navigate life together without snapping or fighting.  I appreciate that IEP is a trooper, happy to tag along on errands and (for the most part) keep himself occupied and out of trouble.  And somehow, it is during trying times as often as happy ones that I recognize how truly thankful I am for the life that I have.

As for the Good Boy Room project itself, we got it all done.  The office was successfully relocated.  The new bedroom furniture will be delivered tomorrow.  The walls are painted.  The bedding is washed.  And IEP has slept on his Good Boy Bed every night since Saturday (we were able to bring the mattress home without the rest of the set).  Drapes have been ordered.  I’m still looking for a rug, but other than that we’re very close.  I’ve been amazed and impressed with how easily my baby has handled this big change, and I find myself quite proud of the little boy he’s become.  Each night when I tuck him in he goes down with a smile and I’m sometimes taken aback at how much he simply isn’t a baby anymore.

As for babies, IEP’s move into the Good Boy Room means that the nursery is once again vacant.  And somehow – as if being seven months pregnant weren’t tangible enough – seeing that room sit empty has made it quite real to me that we have another baby on the way.  I am easily transported to the weeks leading up to IEP’s birth, when the nursery was complete but the pregnancy wasn’t.  Many evenings I would walk in, sit in the glider, and stare at the space that had been so carefully filled with the stuff of a baby, but was yet so empty for lack of an actual tiny person.  I thought to myself, “There’s going to be a baby living in here soon.”  But no matter how many times I tried to envision it I really had precious little conception of what it would be like when that statement came true.  Now, with our second go around, I make the same statement in my head with much more knowledge of what the future holds.  What I don’t know, though, is who this baby is.  Is he a good sleeper and a good eater?  Will he nurse quickly like his brother or slowly?  Does he like to be swaddled?  Are the hours from 5:00pm to 7:00pm hard for him?  Much like meeting any new person for the first time I know both much and little of what to expect.

What I know for now, though, is that IEP is a Good Boy, with a Good Boy Bed, in a Good Boy Room.  For the past nearly-three years he has been as good a boy as I could ever have dreamt of.  I can’t imagine loving anything else as I much as I love him.  But then again, before he was born I never could have imagined loving him this much either.

My life is stuffed with blessings.

30 Down. 10 To Go.

Monday, August 29th, 2011

30 weeks down.  10 to go.

75% there.

Glass three-quarters full.

Six months and three weeks along.

Two and a half months left.

All of those things are true about my pregnancy today.  But only one of them makes me feel like I’m really getting closer to my due date.  I’ve been pregnant for 30 weeks.  I have only ten weeks left.  That feels like an accomplishment.  Every other version of the same math leaves me feeling as though the end is still not in sight.  So I’m focusing on the first countdown method, because I find myself needing a little pick-me-up in the attitude department.

I should be honest here.  Pregnancy is pretty easy on me.  Other than third trimester heartburn (which mercifully hasn’t set in yet), I get virtually none of the miserable side effects that often come with pregnancy.  I am keeping up with my usual routine, and while I’ve had to dial back the intensity level of a few things, for the most part I feel pretty normal.  So I feel a bit selfish admitting that I’m counting down the weeks to delivery, because I know I could have it a lot worse.  Nevertheless, I miss feeling like my old self.

Wishing these last few weeks away could be dangerous, though.  These are IEP’s last weeks of being an only child.  They are my last weeks of having only one little boy who needs me.  My last weeks of being able to devote myself entirely to him.  GAP’s and my last weeks of outnumbering our children.  Whether or not we are ready, big changes are coming and I would be remiss not to stop and cherish the life that we have had and loved for the past nearly-three years.

I’ve remarked to GAP many times recently that I never imagined that parenthood would be this much fun.  I thought I would enjoy it, but I have been surprised and delighted at how truly fun it is.  I believe that adding to our family will only add to that level of fun.  I will find joy in watching IEP take up the mantle of brotherhood.  I will get to be tickled all over again with the many milestones of the first couple of years.  And I will be able to look around at my life, never having envisioned myself as the mother of two boys, and recognize how much I love it and how well it suits me.

However, there is much about my life as it is that I love.  Aspects of that life are going to end, and I’m struggling with that.  From this vantage point I can easily see what I will lose when our second son is born this fall.  But I can’t yet see all that I will gain.  So I am left to take it on faith, to trust, and to believe, that what I give up will be outweighed by what I gain.  After all, it was because we are so head over heels in love with IEP that we wanted to have another child.  I know it will be hard for a while.  I know we will be in over our heads.  I know that there will be stress and hormones and tears.  But I also know that the moment my second little boy is born I won’t ever again be able to imagine my life without him.

All Aboard!

Friday, July 15th, 2011

When I was a little girl my grandparents lived in a town about an hour away from us.  Occasionally, when my parents were out of town, my sister and I would go stay with Grandmother and Granddaddy.  My memories of those visits are filled with happiness: building towers out of Grandmother’s canned goods, learning to sew buttons onto scrap pieces of fabric stretched over embroidery hoops, meeting Granddaddy at the top of the hill as he walked home from work, feeding the Canada geese that lived at the hospital pond behind my grandparents’ house, and getting dressed up for dinner out at the Chinese restaurant across the street.

But one of my favorite memories is from lunches at home with Grandmother and Granddaddy.  We ate in the train room.

Once upon a time the train room was the shared bedroom of my dad and my uncle.  I was told that in past years the walls were covered in team penants and sundry high school memorabilia.  By the time grandkids came around it had been converted into a sitting room, of sorts, with a drop leaf table next to the window.  This repurposed room became known as the train room because we so often ate lunch there at that table in the window, pretending that we were in the dining car of a passenger coach, on our way to someplace exciting.

Looking back (and through the eyes of a parent, now) I suspect that the train room was invented to make a simple lunch at home something exciting, glamorous even, and something to be eagerly anticipated.  Interestingly, this doesn’t take away any of the magic.  As I think back on our lunches in the train room I feel just as excited (mixed with some nostalgia) as I did back then.  Grandmother and Granddaddy wanted our visits to be fun and adventuresome.  And for two imaginative little girls, the premise of a railroad journey was a repeat hit.

I’ve been thinking back on the train room lately because IEP is a boy obsessed with trains.  He takes Thomas and Percy and Molly on our morning walks, down for naps, and up and down the stairs ad nauseum to ensure that they’re never far away.  And beginning this week he has started identifying any paved path (usually a sidewalk) as train tracks.

We walk two miles every morning (big dogs + small yard = lots of walking) and nearly none of our neighborhood streets has sidewalks.  But for the single stretch of our route that does have sidewalks IEP instructs me daily, “Mommy, ride on the train tracks!”  And each morning as I veer onto the sidewalk he shouts, “All aboard!!  Choo choo!”  And every time he says it I am taken back to the train room – to macaroni and cheese served in big mugs; to canned fruit on a bed of lettuce topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip and a sprinkling of cinnamon; to brown stained pedastal glasses that were filled with iced tea for Grandmother and Granddaddy and with milk for Anne and me; and to that big picture window of our dining car where we imagined that we were headed to new and exciting places.

Grandmother passed away a few years ago, and in one of my last visits with her she took a long and meandering trip back in her memory to the stacking of canned goods, the sewing of buttons, and lunches in the train room.  I can see now how much those times meant to her – that even as her mind faded these were the memories she still saw clearly.

Granddaddy is still here - 91 now, and sharp as a tack.  I try to visit him whenever I’m home, and when I do we talk about work, travel, current events, and IEP’s latest conquests.  We haven’t talked about the train room in a very long time.  But I know his memory of it is every bit as bright as my own.  There are just some things that we don’t forget.  And sometimes, when very little boys get excited about pretending that sidewalks are train tracks, we are flooded by our own memories of imagined dining cars and cross-country adventures.

He Knows

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Every morning GAP gets up first.  The dogs follow him out of our bedroom, wait while he gets IEP from his crib, and then the lot of them go downstairs to kick off the day.  About 10 minutes later I roll out of bed, go through my morning oblutions, and join them in the sunroom.  This is how it works… unless I’m pregnant.  There’s one wrinkle in the routine when I’m pregnant, because Scout knows.

The morning routine has been the same for several years now.  So I found it curious during my first pregnancy when, near the end of my first trimester, Scout stopped going downstairs with GAP in the morning.  He would go across the hall to the study, lie down, and wait for me to get up.  When I emerged he would greet me eagerly, then lie back down and wait for me to get ready to head downstairs.  He did this every single morning until IEP was born.

This time around he’s been a little slower to realize that I’m pregnant, and a bit more inconsistent in his attentiveness.  I think it probably has something to do with his protective instincts toward IEP and the fact that he can’t be in two places at once.  But sometime in the past couple of weeks he figured it out, and most mornings I get out of bed to discover that he is either waiting for me in the study, or hasn’t even left the bedroom at all.

Apparently, while there is no scientific evidence of dogs’ ability to discern pregnancy, there is voluminous anecdotal support.  Dogs are keenly aware of our body language, routines, and scents.  And all of these things change to some extent during a pregnancy.

Scout is the best, sweetest, most obedient, and gentlest dog I’ve ever known (and I grew up with dogs).  When we have overnight company Scout doesn’t follow us upstairs at night, but goes down to the guest room in the basement and spends the night with our guests.  When he was about three years old he found a burrow of days-old baby bunnies in our yard.  He checked on them daily (we assumed he was after a furry snack), and when they were old enough to venture out of their hole he lay down on the patio, making himself as small as a hundred-pound dog can, and gently played with them, never once pouncing or snapping.  We have it on video.  At six months old IEP pulled on Scout’s cheeks and ears regularly and Scout just lay there.  He walks at your side without a leash.  And when I am pregnant he stays close, making sure that I’m okay.

Taking a step back, maybe it’s not all that amazing that dogs can sense pregnancy.  They are highly social animals and highly attuned to their masters.  But even after having him in our family for five years now, sometimes Scout still awes me.  GAP and I have long said that Scout is the best dog we’ll ever have.  Perhaps it’s because he was our first, but even setting that bias aside, it will be hard for any other dog to live up to the example he’s set.

Every morning, until Baby #2 is born, Scout will stick close by my side.  And I won’t take it for granted even for a moment.