Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mr. Dog: A new adventure

The time was never right for a dog. Maybe there is never an exact right time. Still, a series of events propelled us toward taking one on. Perhaps we were in need of a distraction. Or maybe it was just fate. Whatever it was, a puppy Sam dubbed Mr. Dog was about to become part of our family.

The news that Mr. Dog would soon move in was met with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Sam was delighted. I was cautiously optimistic. Tony was apprehensive at best:
            Tony:          Mr. Dog will live outside. Right?
            Me:             Mr. Dog will live in the house with us.
            Tony:          My mother always said animals belong outside.
            Me:             Fortunately for Mr. Dog, my mother never said   
                                anything of the sort.
            Tony:          I'm not going to like this, am I. 
            Me:             Probably not.  
            Tony:          What if it doesn't work out?
            Me:             We'll go with plan "B".
            Tony:          Oh OK.    
                                (long pause) What is plan "B"?
                                (another long pause) 
                                There's no plan "B", is there. 
             Me:             No. Not really.  

About two weeks later, Mr. Dog arrived.

Our first day with Mr. Dog, I was amazed at his sweetness; how quickly he bonded with us. We were instant celebrities on our first trip to Nantucket. Everyone wanted to meet the sweet little chocolate lab puppy. Unsure of his new home, he displayed a meek and gentle nature.

On day two, he began to settle in. Seeing no need for a leash or harness, Mr. Dog showed the skill of Houdini as he wiggled out his harness multiple times in mere seconds. Then he tried to eat it. On day three, I questioned why we didn’t name him Jaws as he chewed his way through our house.  When he ran out of household items, he gnawed my left arm with his needle-sharp teeth. He eyed a heavy cable wire like it was a thick, juicy steak. He ignored every chew toy. He ate my rose bush. For dessert, he ate the power cord to my Mac. He thought the toilet scrub brush was a plaything.

On day four I admitted it: Mr. Dog was a lot of work. He ate like a pig. He slobbered his water. Left to his own devices, he christened any carpet in mere seconds. He had a shrill whine that could wake the dead. Alarm clocks? Obsolete. Mr. Dog reliably woke me at 5:10 each day. Though I managed to protect them, I knew Mr. Dog was stalking my shoes. He was everywhere and into everything.

There were moments when I wondered if Mr. Dog would survive into week two.

Fortunately, like most puppies, Mr. Dog was blessed with the maximum of puppy cuteness. He had the market cornered on happy. It was hard to stay angry at a creature so gleeful. I was also well versed in negotiating the unexpected. After all, the unexpected has been our norm for the last eighteen years.

There was, of course, the Sam factor: I was optimistic about this new adventure for Sam. I was hopeful through Mr. Dog Sam would gain some independence; that Mr. Dog would become a trusted friend.  

I saw early glimmers of magic with Sam and Mr. Dog when Sam took time away from his precious laptop to patiently pat Mr. Dog. He liked Mr. Dog to sit with him at times and laughed gleefully each time he heard me say, “Mr. Dog, you are in big trouble.” As Mr. Dog’s ally, Sam offered some helpful advice: “Mr. Dog, whatever you do, don’t eat the TV.”

Probably the defining moment occured early on as I watched Sam gently cradle Mr. Dog. He leaned over and whispered into the puppy’s ear, “He’s perfect.”

Each time I am frustrated with Mr. Dog, I hear Sam's soft whisper and know though there will be mishaps and missteps we’ve made a good choice.

Mr. Dog, I bid you welcome. Welcome to our new adventure. 

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What I don't know

“You just don’t know. You just don’t know.”

That was Sam’s response to the news it was, in fact, Monday and yes, he was going to school.

Sam and I have an established early morning dialog. It begins with Sam’s statement, “No school today Mommy. School tomorrow.” I answer, “Sad but true Sammy you have school and I am going to work.”  After a few rounds of protest, Sam acknowledges acceptance of the day’s plan by responding, “Mommy works at the bank. Daddy works at the law office. Sam works at the school.”

Today was different.  He was not accepting the plan. He voiced his disapproval by saying again with passion, “You don’t know. You don’t know.” Where did those words come from I wondered? Likely scripted from one video or another, judging from the voice inflections. But his repeated use suggested thought and meaning behind the words.

“You don’t know. You don’t know,” Sam protested again.

He’s right. I don’t know. I can only guess. Would he just prefer to languish in bed or was a bigger problem brewing? As he looked up pleadingly, I knew he wanted – no – expected me to understand.

But I did not understand. I assured Sam he would be fine and helped him get ready and packed him on his way. As I watched the bus leave I was troubled by the passion of his words. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

I sensed something off kilter but what? What was it I didn’t know? The bus ride is too long? Too hard to get back into the swing of things today? Monday morning blues? The pollen? Stomachache? He’d simply rather stay home? Or something else altogether.

How I wish I knew.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How are you today?

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve greeted Sam with a simple question:  “How is my Sam today?”

In the early years, there wasn’t an answer. Still I continued to ask. Eventually an answer came; a scripted reply regardless of the day’s events: “Is good.” When Sam’s answer was more appropriate, I punctuated with, “I’m glad.”

For the better part of 17 years, our communication has consisted largely of scripted conversations sprinkled with a few less scripted chats surrounding Sam’s wants and needs:

Mommy, can I have a glass of milk?
Can I play with a laptop?
Outside, Mommy. Basketball?
Mommy, can I have a drive in the car?
What’s the plan?

Somehow we’ve muddled through information exchange, though conversations were more often one sided. This was just our life.

Today was a little different as we took a 40-minute drive to visit some puppies. The sound of Sam’s favorite radio station played softly in the background. Except for Sam’s usual “What’s the plan?” our trip was silent.

About 20 minutes into the ride Sam reached forward and placed his hand on my shoulder and announced, “I’m good.” Though perplexed why he offered this information, I responded absentmindedly, “I’m glad.” Again he said, “I’m good.” Again I responded, “I’m glad.”

Within a moment I understood. “I’m good” were his segue words. It was the only way he could figure out how to say what came next:

Softly I heard, “How is my Mommy today?”

For a second I stopped breathing. Ohmygod. OHMYGOD! An unprompted question. He took my words, twisted them and made his first unrehearsed and completely spontaneous question about someone other than himself. Most people don't understand the magnitude of such common five-word query. It is an ordinary one, asked every day without fanfare.

Families like ours will understand. Families who have spent hour upon hour painstakingly eking out the tiniest of words will know this is huge. Sam has never spontaneously asked a question about me – or anyone. Ever.

He may not ask again for months or years. But today he asked. He finally figured out how verbally say he cared. He is capable. That thought gives me goose bumps. I'm not joking. I really have goose bumps. Call out the National Guard. Declare today a national holiday.

As for me, I am good. I am great. And well on my way to suburb. 

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