Thursday, September 24, 2015

Getting It Off Her Chest

It took her nearly eight years, but she finally did it.
She told me last night.
Daddy is my favorite.

The minute she made the admission, her hands flew to her mouth, as if they could redact the sentence.
Daddy is my favorite.

I could see her eyes well up. Hands clamped firmly over her mouth. Terrified.
I put my hands on my knees, getting eye level with her.
"I know he is, sweetheart." I told her, stoic.
It was the least surprising thing I heard in ages.
So I hugged her, made her laugh.
I hope she feels better, to have that off her chest.
I've been waiting for it for years.

I didn't have a favorite parent growing up.
To me, they were parents. Adults. Disciplinarians. Authoritative. I never considered either of them my friend, to be honest. I managed to leave the house at 18 with a healthy level of respect and terror for both of them. God, they were good parents. How'd they do that? I'm scared I won't get there with Kid Rock.

Today is different. They are both incredible people who I like being around. I value their opinions and judgements and unconditional love. Somewhere along the lines I fell in love with them as people. My people. I still respect the hell out of them, but they're less terrifying. My dad is really funny. My mom is really blunt. They're fantastic. And, equally so.

But, the Dad and I, we have one child. And I'm not her favorite parent.

I won't mention pregnancy. The stretch marks. The whiskey or bleu cheese I gave up. I. Stopped. Drinking. Coffee. The high heels that were shelved. The THIRTY ONE POINT FIVE HOURS of labor. Because none of that matters. It's not about sacrifices or what you do in the name of those you love. They'll still arrive at their own conclusions about you as person. That's all them and nothing on you. Try all you want. It's futile.

And truly, this is not a cathartic release of my pretend feelings on the topic in a half-hearted attempt to assume acceptance. I honestly, with my whole heart, knew I wasn't her favorite for many years. There was just always something about those two that were different. I sometimes come up with reasons.

I traveled too much.
I sent her to daycare.
I didn't breastfeed.
I can yell.
I'm impatient.
We're too similar.
I'm a hardass.
I'm too soft.

But in reality, none of those have anything to do with it. The heart wants what the heart wants. And damned if I'm going to stand in its way.

Besides, I'll always be her mother.

And someday when I invite her to the coffee shop, she won't throw herself on the floor in hysterics at the mere thought of how PAINFUL that sounds. Or she'll love shopping a little bit more than she does right now. I always joked that I could be 34 states away from her for a week straight, but her daddy goes golfing for 3 hours and she loses her mind. And maybe someday, I'll be her first choice.

Because right now, and likely forever, she's mine.
And letting her have this, and like this, is proof of that.

Mama loves.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Things I Wish I Knew Before College

When I was 17, I had my first baby girl.

Not really. No Teen Mom status. But my little cousin Magoo (her lifelong nickname I gave her) was born in June of 1997, the summer before my senior year of high school. I remember going to meet this squishy little bundle of pink with the biggest, bluest eyes. My aunt, one of my favorite people in the world, asked me to be her Godmother. I was shocked. I told her I was too young. She said that didn’t matter. I told her I had been Confirmed approximately 12 months prior. She said that didn’t matter. When I held her for the first time, I fell in love with my baby girl and nothing else mattered.

Well, that blue-eyed squishy little bundle of pink started college last week. Somebody hold me. I’m not old enough to have a college freshman! But she drove down her gravel driveway and into the sunset and now she’s living on campus and doing all those big-girl things. It’s wonderful. It’s terrifying.

The relationship her and I have isn’t mother-daughter. It’s big-little sister. I don’t have a sister; so Magoo sort of filled that role for me. Through the years, I held fast to the big sister status and made sure she didn’t view me as another parent chiding her for making mistakes, not making decisions, or being too hard on herself. She has mom and a dad, and a big brother, little brother, and two feisty-as-hell grandmas (one she shares with me) who do plenty of parenting for her.

Instead, I told her boys are idiots.
Men are too, but some are worth loving really hard.
Her hometown is too small.
Life is not.
It all goes fast.
But not fast enough sometimes.
The things that are important to her now, might not be later.
But they’ll always shape her life.
And she should consider taking less duckface selfies because when she gets married in that barn wedding she’s always wanted, all we’re going to have to work with for photos for the slideshow is all those duckface selfies.
Smile more.
Your real smile.

And now that she’s in college, I need to up my game with her. I think about my college experience and how much I loved all four years, even if that was 17 years ago (God; gross). So here is my advice for her, things maybe I wish I had learned, and not the hard way, or had my own big sister to clue me in on.

College does not prepare you for the real world. The only thing that prepares you for the real world is the real world itself. So don’t spend your precious few college years worrying about being a grown-up, because you’ll worry about being a grown-up when you are one.

Plan B. Not the contraceptive.
Well yes, the contraceptive, too. Because no matter what, people make mistakes. No big deal. Zero judgment. But figure out Plan B. Because you can start your college career with your eyes on the horizon, your shiny little plan all figured out until you actually get into it. Then you might want a new plan. Make one. Make 70. Nobody will care except you.

Wear eyeliner. Learn how to be a girl when you are surrounded by them.

You will never need both Oreos and those shitty, neon pink frosted animal crackers in your grocery cart at the same time. In fact, you probably don’t even need either of them.

Drink water.

Don’t drink whatever you can get your hands on. Have some standards, man.

Travel. And I’m not talking Cancun for spring break. In fact skip Mexico because that’s actually not a vacation when you’re 20. Take your girlfriends when you turn 30. Instead, take a roadtrip around the Great Lakes. Visit Savannah, GA, and stay at the Azalea Inn. Go snowboarding in Crested Butte, CO. Stay in a shitty hotel in Seattle and eat your way through the city.

Work your ass off. Work two jobs. Be a hustler like your Grandma S. She raised you to be one, and she’s so proud of you.

Don’t ever, ever smoke. It doesn’t help you relax, focus, get a buzz, calm you down, or make you appear like you’re a badass. All smoking does is give you cancer. And let me get a little Momish on you here, cancer from tobacco use is the only cancer that’s 100% preventable. Don’t. Ever.

Skip class. If you can’t decide whether or not to skip class, just skip it. If you’re already contemplating no-showing, your heart and brain aren’t in it, and you’ll just sit in class complacent, lethargic, asshole-esque, and the students around you don’t need that kind of negativity in their lives.

Your parents no longer are responsible for you.
I should leave that sentence on its own without any sort of supporting content, because that is a big, ol’ nasty one that’s really hard to accept. So if you think you’re sick and legitimately cannot get out of bed, swallow water, or get your temp to drop below 102*, you probably have Mono and you should haul your own ass to health services. That way, your mom doesn’t have to get a phone call from your roommate, leave work, drive 120 miles, and take you to the ER. Be your own advocate because you’re all you have right now.

Buy your parents cliché campus souvenirs for your first Christmas as a college student. Because your dad will wear that crew neck sweatshirt until the cuffs fray off, the logo indistinguishable. Your mom’s mascot coffee cup will be hand washed for two decades, and its handle will be super glued on six different times, but she’ll always treasure it.

The fitness center is free. Your gym membership the rest of your life will not be. Use it.

Don’t forget where you came from. And, don’t forget that you can always go home.

Date. But not exclusively. You won’t marry your college boyfriend and this world is a very, very big place.

You have all the control when it comes to dating and boys in general. Don’t ever, ever let any of them tell/force/believe you otherwise.

Learn how to cook using only real food. What you have in your pantry in tidy little cans, packages, and freezer meals are not considered cooking, or even real food.

On topic, SlimFast is bullshit, expensive, and never going to do what getting your ass to the gym and eating real food will do.

Find your ride or dies. Or a single die. College is full of scary, big, doubting, messy, dramatic stuff. Having your person there makes it … not as much. And be the same for her, or him. Say what you mean, and always, always pick up the phone when they call, day or night, rain or shine.

Be yourself. Yourself is amazing. People will fall in love with that girl, the real version of your very best you. But remember, you're not everyone's cup or tea, or shot of whiskey. And that's okay. Don't even try to convince them otherwise.

Don't drink and drive. Don't get in a car with people who are about to drink and drive. I'm sure I told you this when you turned 16, but it bears repeating.

Call your mom. She misses you. Write letters to your grandmas. They REALLY miss you.

Work hard and be nice.

And, don't forget to be awesome.

Mama loves.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

National Dog Day: 39 Days

Adam Levine was right. This summer's gonna hurt like a motherf*cker.

Today is National Dog Day. Just as National Donut Day, National Creamsicle Day, and National Lighthouse Day ... it gives ordinary people extraordinary reasons to celebrate ordinary things. I'm sure it all has to do with social media.

But today is National Day Dog. And our dog was anything but ordinary.

39 Days

When we moved into our neighborhood 10 years ago, my own Dad said we needed a dog. Dogs and babies make neighbors. He was right. A year and a half later, we had neighbors.

We had a dog.

Jasper was a clearance sale Beagle. I had to really sell the Dad on his purchase. I always knew I’d have a Beagle, and his name would be Jasper. Back then, when I was 26, he was part of The Plan. Graduate from college. Get married. Buy a house. Get a dog. Have kids. He fit perfectly into that plan. He fit perfectly into our family.

Born on 3/16, we brought him home to the 316.


He screamed/barked bloody murder all the way home after we picked him up. 15 miles of freeway, with a howling, braying 11-week old puppy with ridiculous ears caged in the backseat. To his credit, the Dad just kept driving, hands gripping the steering wheel, silent.

We gave him a miniature green collar and a tour of his new home. We showed him the linoleum, tile, and hardwooded areas he was to stay on, period. No carpet. No furniture. No exception.

No chance in hell.

He cried all night, every night. Laundry room. Garage. Entryway.
He stopped crying when we put his bed right next to our bed.
He stayed there for nine years.

Acquiring a dog tethered us to something we needed. It gave us a home. A purpose. A reason to leave Happy Hour. It made the two of us into a family, and gave us someone else to focus on other than each other. It was that first integral “thing” we did aside from the mortgage. He kept shitting on the floor in the brand-new basement; we enrolled him in puppy school where we spent a month paying too much money for idiots to teach us how to discourage that very behavior of his. One of his instructors literally showed us how to tell if our dog was about to poop. It was awful. And hilarious. It showed us that if it mattered to someone important to us, like our puppy, we had to do it.

He never ate a single shoe.
He never chewed on a single piece of furniture.
He did eat my favorite childhood book of all time, the one my Grandma had gifted me because she had read it to me 5,987 times. The Meanest Mouse & Other Mean Stories by Janice May Udry. But the Dad salvaged a lot of the cover because it was my original copy, and found a replacement on eBay.

He was the unPuppy. The unDog.

The vet told us he had 11 days.
He lived, and really lived, for 28 more than that.
I know he had a few things yet to accomplish.
He needed to live to see the Dad celebrate another birthday on the 4th of July. He needed to protect his baby sister from the loud, scary fireworks for one more summer. Because next summer, when she’s eight, she’ll wholeheartedly welcome them. She won’t need his protection.

He also needed to taste 40 handfuls of the fresh raspberries that grow so abundantly right here on his property. We took a final stroll through the gardens on his last day, and I apologized that the cucumbers and sugar snap peas weren’t ready for him. He loved those the most. Then he sniffed out the carrots, and we saw the few he’d been working on, gnawing on the tops that grow out so barely of the soil.

Who has a garden dog? I mean, I’ve heard of sheep dogs. Farm dogs.
We had a garden dog.

He was one of a kind.

Through the tears there is so much to be thankful for. I’m addicted to music, its form of therapy unrivaled when it comes to so many of life’s toughest lessons. When we loaded Jasper into the truck bed for his final ride, we laughed through the tears as the Dad’s favorite song of all time, Small Town by John Cougar Mellencamp came on the radio.

            Well I was born in a small town.
            And I can breathe in a small town.
            Gonna die in this small town.
            And that’s probably where they’ll bury me.

The next song on the final ride soundtrack was Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust.
That REALLY made us cry. But laugh, too, in that sick sort of deranged humor you can only experience when you’re on the edge of something awful.

            How do you think I’m going to get along,
            Without you when you’re gone?
            You took me for everything that I had,
           And kicked me out on my own.

And the trifecta of songs to wrap up our trip was when we walked out of the vet’s office, each holding an empty leash, an empty collar and Forever Young by Rod Stewart.

            May the good Lord be with you,
Down every road you roam,
And may sunshine and happiness,
Surround you when you’re far from home.

Each of us have sacred places, and we wanted to bury Jasper in his, which is the 80 acres where my Dad has built his cabin in Beaver Township. Beautiful, quiet, and full of sunshine. The most perfect spot for a forever sleep. I knew the area for his spot nearly exactly in my mind. The southwest corner of the cabin where we can see him from the window, and where he can see the driveway, announcing its visitors. 

What I didn’t know however, is how the sun would beat down on him there, surprising even my Dad who knows that terrain better than he knows most things. One of Jasper’s many nicknames was Sun Dog- he craved the sunshine endlessly. Or how we had to clear away so many ferns before we started the internment process. Ferns? Like Where the not-so-red Ferns Grow? Eerie. But perfect.

So today is National Dog Day.
And I don't have one anymore.
But I did, for nine years.
And an extra 39 days.
And he was the very best. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Lessons to Be Learned from the Terminal

We thought it was just the post-winter blues. Gain a little (lots) of weight, age, fighting to get back to a daily activity level appropriate, all that. I’m talking about The Beagle, the beloved fourth member of our little family. I just had this feeling – call it mother’s instinct – something just wasn’t right for the longest time. Turns out I was right. Something is wrong.

The best part of The Beagle is his heart. And now, it’s also his worst part.

We brought him to the vet about a month ago. They diagnosed him with pancreatitis and gave him new food and a few drugs. A week later, he was worse. The Dad and I spent a lot of time lying on our bellies that week, up in our dog’s grill, trying to coax him to do things. Eat. Swallow pills. Wag his tail. Breathe. Don’t you go dying on us!

The things you do for your kids. Even if they’re not of our species.

He has a bad ticker. Technically, it’s a tumor around his heart, that’s essentially causing him to be in congestive heart failure. We’re sort of stuck in limbo at this point, three+ weeks post operation that was literally a life-saving procedure. We were sent home with our boy with the instructions no one ever wants in their pocket; wait for the decline, say your goodbyes, and bring him back.

And because of how I’m wired, I always look for the positive in most scenarios. It’s one of my superhero powers. So in that vein, I started to see some lessons to be gained from the terminally ill:

1. Dogs Smell Fear
Regarding instincts, dogs have amazing radar when something isn’t right. The Beagle has always slept on my side of the bed on the floor – right next to his Mama for nine straight years. A month before he got sick, he abruptly switched to The Dad’s side. Strange, we thought. Then when he slept on Kid Rock’s floor for the first time in either of their lives the night he had surgery, we got it. Dogs can sense anxiety, and he was just making the rounds to ensure his humans were all okay.

2. Humor is Always the Best Medicine
There are jokes and there are inappropriate jokes and we’ve been saying them all recently. The whole, he’s kicking hospice’s ass, and be nice to him, he’s dying, keeps us smirking a little, and the mood, light. We’re trying to be normal for our daughter’s sake, but I think a lot of it is going toward our sake, too.

3. Shoot it Straight
Having Kid Rock hug her “brother” goodbye before he went in because we didn’t know the outcome was awful. Awful. But so would’ve living with knowing we kept her from saying that goodbye in case he never came home. Being honest with her was the best policy, even if it gutted us a little. Face the music. That’s not the worst part. The worst part is waiting to have the conversation in the first place.

4. Live Like You’re Dying
Because we are. This includes astronomical grocery bills because your dog now requires people food for his last meal(s), and getting over your issue with pet hair on your furniture. Think of two adults, one kid, and an overweight, geriatric dog in one queen bed on a Saturday night. So much snoring and kicking … and so many memories.

5. Never Give Up
As The Beagle was trying to shake his post-winter blues, I began training for my first half-marathon. Naturally, I wanted to help him overcome the holiday weight and sluggishness so I began my training with him. Poor little guy! Running in harsh the Midwestern climate while in cardiac distress? The humanity! I had no idea he was sick. His eagerness never wavered. I got my shoes; he got his leash. There were a few runs I had to call home for a doggy pickup after a few miles, but damnit if he wasn’t begging by the front door the next time I went out. American author Charles Bukowski said, “My dear, find what you love, and let it kill you.” For The Beagle, it’s running full speed via leash, tethered to his people.

6. It’s Never Just About a Dog
It was a Friday when The Dad called me from the vet with the diagnosis. He was crying, I was crying. I was at work, a safe place I’ve only been part of for six months. When my coworkers saw me crying my face off, they moved right in to comfort me. I kept repeating, it’s only my dog, it’s only my dog by way of explaining it wasn’t something BAD. They all assured me of course it’s bad. It’s your dog, your love, your life. It doesn’t matter how big or little it is to you or anyone else, if it matters, it matters. Period.

7. Hope Floats

We have no idea what to expect. We only know it will get a helluva lot worse before it gets better. And that’s okay. We went to some dark places with this whole thing, saying we’ll never, ever get another dog. But that’s just not true. We’re dog people and dog people have dogs. We’ve had nine incredible years with BeagieSmallz. We couldn’t imagine never having that kind of love in our lives. We will say goodbye. We will grieve. It will be awful, but we’ll sign up to do it again and again because the pain is always, always worth the price.