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.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

They Really Ought to Meet Your Mother

Today wraps up your first grade year. I had the notion to write another recap blog, about how smart and capable and kindhearted you are. How much you'll miss art class and the graduating 8th graders and how insanely proud of you I am. How proud we are.

But you know all that. You are all that.

Instead, I paraphrased part of an incredible Ted Talk I saw at work this week. Before the video played, I leaned forward and said to my Tribe, "I'm in a weird, emotional place this week so I'm sure this will do a little damage," because I knew by topic alone this spoken word, this poetry would hit me where I love to be hit- in my Mama heart.

If I Should Have a Daughter
by Sarah Kay

Instead of "Mom," she's going to call me "Point B," because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. 

And I'm going to paint the solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, "Oh, I know that like the back of my hand." 

And she's going to learn that this life will hit you. Hard. In the face. Wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. 

There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry. So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn't coming, I'll make sure she knows she doesn't have to wear the cape all by herself, because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I've tried. 

And, baby, I'll tell her, don't keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick; I've done it a million times. You're just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him. 

But I know she will anyway, so instead, I'll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can't fix. Okay, there's a few heartbreaks that chocolate can't fix. But that's what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything, if you let it. 

I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that's the way my mom taught me. That there'll be days like this. There'll be days like this, my mama said

When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises; when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you'll be up to your knees in disappointment. 

And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you. Because there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away. 

You will put the wind in win some, lose some. You will put the star in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life. 

And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am ... pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don't be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it. Baby, I'll tell her, "remember, your mama is a worrier, and your papa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more." 

Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things. Always apologize when you've done something wrong, but don't you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. 

Your voice is small, but don't ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Watch entire Ted Talk here.