Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I was twenty-three years old and living every bit of my age in North Carolina when he came into my life.  My mom told me to stay away from him – that I wasn’t ready for him, that it was a big commitment and I should really think about what I was getting into.  But I took one look at that face and it was too late for things like logic and rationality.  He was mine.  It was meant to be.

The truth of the matter is that he was probably going to go to the shelter if I didn’t take him and I figured that if I couldn’t handle him – that’s where he’d wind up anyway, so the very least I could do is try.  He fit in the palm of my hand when I carried him home. 

I had a used wire crate that I used to confine him until the day he tore through the wires and made it so that it was less safe inside the crate than outside the crate.  Thus began the adventure of creating a “run of the house” dog.  We sacrificed a lot to the cause – shoes, blankets, and at least a half dozen of my roommate’s bras.  He had a thing for bras.  He was always such a ladies man.

He truly was a ladies man.  He was fearful of men, for reasons that I never really knew.  Possibly because I was single for most of his puppyhood/young adulthood and so he only really knew females.  Maybe he had a bad experience that I wasn’t aware of.  He was quirky and submissive and he’d crouch and pee whenever someone new approached him.  I was asked all the time if he was a rescue dog, if he was abused?  I always felt like it was a perfect testament to his character that he made me explain to people that no, I was the only owner he ever had, and I certainly never abused him.  He was just sensitive.  And quirky.  And weird.

I often say that I’m surprised that he lived as long as he did.  On at LEAST three separate occasions, it seemed that he was trying his darnedest to die.  It started the day – he must have been about 2?  I was driving him home from a friends house, the back window cracked for him to take in the smells.  Cracked, mind you, not rolled all the way down.  Less than half a block away from my apartment building, he spotted a cat and in a split second eruption of sound and motion, he was out the window and in the street.  I slammed on the brakes and just sat there, parked in the middle of the street thinking “Oh.  My god.  My dog is dead.  My dog is dead.  My dog is dead…”  Then, from the blackness at the back of my car came Oliver, trotting slowly, looking extremely confused.   I was so mad at him.  SO MAD.  I put the car in gear and drove slowly into my parking lot, making him trot along beside me instead of allowing him back into the car.

The second time I was driving him to a boarding kennel  (those who knew Oliver in his later years may not believe that he was ever a dog who would be kenneled, but there was a time!) before I left for a weekend with friends who were visiting.  I was driving a rental car, and had Oliver in the back seat – again, with the windows cracked.  Suddenly I heard a yelp and the sound of him struggling in the backseat and when I glanced behind I saw that he had stepped on the electronic window lever and closed his neck in the window.  He was freaking out.  You know that smell that dogs emit when they’re freaking out (No?  Just me?  Great.)  Well that smell was all over that car.  That.  Rental.  Car.  It took us days to air that thing out. 

Finally, the most infamous attempt at ending his own life was while on vacation with my family up north.  My sister and I had taken the dogs for a walk.  As we were walking back up the path towards the cabin we had rented, we heard a car coming up behind us.  The car couldn’t have been going more than 10 miles an hour.  As if in slow motion, while I tried to tug Oliver towards the side of the road, he bucked, shirked loose of his collar, and stumbled into the road JUST as the car approached.  The car hit him.  He fell over.  He screamed.  He was completely unscathed (that car was barely moving.  It’s like he basically had to run into the car for it to hit him).   This dog – he has taken years off my life.

He’s also given me such joy.  Of course, my mom was right and I had no business taking on the responsibility of a dog when I was that young and stupid.  But we survived, even if we had to learn some things the hard way (don’t give dogs pear beer.  For that matter, don’t give humans pear beer).  He was my best friend, getting me through some of my darkest, loneliest times.  He pre-dates Todd, and traveled across the country with me to move back to Minnesota.  We grew up together.  He was my first baby.

He was such a loyal, good boy.  He loved to snuggle and give kisses and he LIVED for a game of ball.  He was single mindedly obsessed with his ball.  And not all balls are created equal because he knew the difference and wasn’t interested in anything that wasn’t his.  He’d play fetch until he collapsed.  He’d drop that ball into the middle of whatever else was going on in the yard – raking, gardening.  I can’t tell you how many times he dropped it into an enormous pile of leaves causing me to have to dig back through them to fish it out and throw it again.  I always felt like the other dogs knew he was obsessed and liked to tease him about it.  My parent’s old dog used to grab the ball and run around with it – playing keep away with him.  Later on, Daisy would do the same thing. 
He loved to swim – or more accurately, he also loved to play fetch in the water.  As a young dog, if we were swimming and he was on shore, he’d swim out to check on us.  He’d drape his paws over  my shoulders and I’d hold him by the butt and we’d sit out in the water until he was sure I was okay, and then he’d swim back to shore.  He was so, so loyal. 

He was also a royal pain in the butt.  I took him with me once on a second date with a man who also loved dogs and had a yellow lab of his own.  We thought this would be a fun double date.  Five minutes after we arrived at the apartment, Oliver peed on that man’s curtains.  Needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out – although not for that reason.  It is possible that Oliver knew something I didn’t know.

He went downhill so fast.  At least that’s how it seemed, although as we look through old pictures and talk about the way he used to be, it occurs to us that it’s been a long time since he’d had that special Oliver “spark”. 

Last night he got whatever he wanted, which wasn’t much anymore.  His appetite had diminished and he looked at everything I set in front of him with a mixture of supreme suspicion and disdain.  Still, he ate some hamburger, some hamburger bun, some peanut butter, and a small dish of ice cream.  He got to lick all the dinner bowls.  We’ve been struggling for days, trying to figure out if it was time.  I guess the thing of it is, when you have to ask if it’s time, it’s probably time. 

I was doing okay until I decided it was time to start saying goodbye.  I lay down on the floor next to him.  I stroked his bony, hollowed out face and we gave each other kisses.  I sang to him.  For a while during his life, he seemed to suffer from seizures.  Whenever he’d have an episode, I’d lay next to him, stroking his fur and singing the song.  The song is simple.  It’s basically just me telling him that his mama loves him over and over again to some nursery rhyme tune.  It likely comforted me more than it ever comforted him, but they are words I needed him to know anyway. 
His mama loves him.  She’s going to miss him so much.  He’s such a good boy.  Such a handsome boy. 

In the end, it went peacefully.  He didn’t even have to enter the building of the vet who took such amazing care of him with very little reward.  Oliver was not a fan of the vet and Oliver was not the type of dog who sucked things up and dealt with it.  He stayed in the car, and his last memories were of us snuggled up against him, stroking him and telling him how good he was.  How handsome he was.  How dumb he was.  How much we’re going to miss him. 

For the first time in 13 years, he wasn’t wagging his tail when I walked in the door tonight.  It’s okay.  We’re okay.  He’s more than okay.  He’s buried in a beautiful little spot in the back of my parents’ yard, near his best friend in the whole world who is probably already teasing him by playing keep away with his raggedy old red ball. He's up there being fun police of all the dogs in doggy heaven.  

I carry you in my heart, little buddy.

Goodbye, sweet boy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dear Henry - Month 8

8 month old guy

Dear Henry,

Happy 8 month birthday!

Man, it’s been 8 months since you began training us to look at the world with different eyes.  In some ways the world looks completely different than it looked in the 35 years before I met you, and in other ways it remains steady and strong the way it’s been for long before either one of us walked upon it.  We’re teaching each other things, you and I.  You are teaching me patience and fortitude and how to make rice cereal with sweet potatoes while you scream at the top of your lungs.  And I am teaching you how to blow raspberries, laugh at stupid jokes, and (with any luck) an appreciation of good music.  There’s plenty more to learn, on both ends, but I feel like we’re off to a solid start.

I haven't been able to catch this on video - but this raspberry thing you do is hilarious!
Speaking of teaching you things -- word on the street is that your brain is a sponge.  You're learning so much so quickly and we are your greatest teachers.  So, I feel like we're probably going to win heaps of parenting awards for teaching you this as one of your first things:

You're welcome!

Sometime between the 7th and 8th month, I stopped taking so many pictures.  The weekly pictures stopped.  This wasn’t a conscious decision and I am certain that I will have a profound regret of this someday in the near future, but the best explanation I can come up with is that – life happened.  And this is the way it goes sometimes.  Life happens and you just hop on board and roll with it and maybe snap a picture or two along the way but there’s no time for scheduled portraits or weekly growth updates.  I suspect that life will be happening a lot more often in the weeks and months to come, so my guess is that the weekly growth updates are now a thing of the past, and we’ll focus on making sure we catch the monthly ones. 

So, almost immediately after I posted the 7 month blog, wherein you were just starting to sit up on your own, you mastered sitting up on your own.  Like, it was within minutes, probably.  I pushed “publish” and then you never wanted to lay down on your back again because sitting up is way more fun and – oh hey – look at this!  I can also lean in several different directions and perform all manner of other crazy yoga poses while reaching for toys, animals, and sometimes garbage.  And so, my sweet boy, I am half afraid to hit “publish” on this blog post because here, at the end of your 7th month, you are working very hard on crawling.  You are so close.  You easily hoist yourself up onto all fours and rock back and forth like you hope to launch yourself forward that way.  In the last couple of days you seem to have figured out that it has something to do with pulling one leg forward and so you sit with one leg out behind you, one leg tucked underneath you, rocking and concentrating.  It is without a doubt that as soon as I click “publish” on this post, you are going to finally rocket forward into crawling and once again our lives will never ever ever be the same.  And, I love you so much, but we are so not ready for that!  We find ourselves cheering you on while we watch you try to figure this out, at the same time mentally calculating what becomes of us once you are truly mobile.  The house, the animals, nothing is safe.  You are supposed to be my little baby!  This crawling stuff is for big boys!  My brain virtually explodes.  So, if mama needs a little drink after she pushes publish on this one, I think everyone will understand.

Look out Bubby!
This near mobility doesn't bode well for the animals.  You are crazy about the animals - all the animals.  You shriek with joy whenever one of them walks past your line of sight.  Daisy is the only one brave enough to approach, but the others get caught in your quick little hands from time to time.  They've all been really good sports about it.  I think they even like it - at least at first. 

My beautiful beach baby.
This past month you were a camping fool.  We must have gone camping 100 times (p.s.  your dad has this thing where he thinks I exaggerate sometimes.  Choose your side in that argument wisely.).  You got so good at it.  We spent several Friday evenings in a “turn and burn” routine wherein your dad would get home, I’d get you fed and into your pajama’s, we’d load up the car and hit the road.  Your dad and I would eat on the way to wherever we were going and you would, eventually, pass out in your car seat.  Sometimes you’d wake up when we got there and party all night long.  Other times you’d sleep peacefully while we got everything set up, then I’d get you out, give you some more food, and put you to bed.  You seem to be pretty comfortable with wherever you are and your easygoing nature makes you a wonderful camping companion.  During these trips you had your first trip to a beach, where you weren’t crazy about the water but were super excited to dig through the beach bags.  The possibility seems to exist that you will inherit your mama’s great joy in digging through other people’s stuff.  If this is the case, please know that it will eventually prove to be both a burden and a great gift.

First time in the big boy tub!
In the midst of all this camping, you got sick.
You had cold like symptoms for a few weeks and we just chalked those up to teething since you were also showing other symptoms of teething.  Then one day the cough sounded way more dramatic and chesty, so we called the nurse line and they said that because you’re still so little, we should probably bring you in.  So – off I went with you to the doctor.  You were a regular little entertainer at the doctors office.  You smiled and flirted at everyone that walked by.  When the doctor tried to look in your ears, you kicked him in the chest.  At one point they asked me if you were always in such a good mood and I had to say that yes, you pretty much are almost always in a good mood.  So they told me not to worry about you.  You are a well fed, growing, healthy looking boy with a good disposition and who is not afraid to kick the doctor in the chest when he’s doing something you don’t want him to do.  The cough may sound dramatic, but they said it was nothing more than viral bronchitis and it would work itself out in a few days. 

Daddy set your high chair up and now you eat like a big boy!
It occurred to me during those days, specifically during one of these times where you let go a mighty cough and it sprayed all over my face – that this was probably not going to end well for me.

What you might not know about me, as over time this appears to be mellowing in teeny tiny increments and is generally not something universally found in a parent child relationship, is that I’m a pretty competitive person.  It’s not the biggest thing about me.  It's something you will likely never encounter (although, I don't know, it's probably best to bring your A-game to future Chutes and Ladders matches). I think that most people would not use this as a descriptor of me (although your dad, he absolutely would), but I hate not being good enough and I strive to over-achieve.  I don’t like to play games I’m not good at and have been known to practice alone until I feel confident enough to play with others.  I don’t always have to win (this is something your dad may argue against) but I at least have to be able to hold my own.  Let me just tell you – I won at being sick.  I beat you fair and square and then some.    Whatever you had, I got times 1000 and it laid me out for several miserable days.  These were days that you were especially excited to see me, you became a little bit of a mama’s boy, which helped my spirits even if I didn’t always have the energy to play and snuggle with you like you wanted.  In a striking real life display of how God only gives you as much as you can handle, during the days I was feeling the crummiest – you decided you wanted to go to bed early.  We were dumbfounded.  Two nights in a row you wanted to go to bed an hour earlier than usual.  You didn’t want to eat.  You didn’t want to play.  You didn’t want to snuggle.  So we went through your bedtime routine and you passed out without a peep until wake up time the next morning.  You’re such a good baby in so many different ways, it’s sometimes not a challenge at all to see how God works through you.

Too cool to be impressed by things like rides and games.  Too young to know about things like cotton candy.
When we weren't busy being sickly, we had lots of fun. You got to go to your first County Fair!  It was cold (freezing for July in MN), but you took it like a champ and loved looking around at all the bright colors and different people.  

I feel like he should probably get used to this ride.
We’re becoming more adventuresome in our outings with you as you get older.  I guess we figure we can’t keep you cooped up forever (I mean, right?).  We took you to Target recently and your dad told me we <really> need to start taking you out more as you looked at everything in that store with an expression of awe and wonder.  To be fair, that is the exact same expression that I usually have on my face at Target as well, so it could just be that you have good taste.  That trip to Target was the first time we let you ride around the store like a “big boy”.  Instead of your car seat or your stroller, we just washed down the cart and strapped you in.  You did SO good!  It helps that you are more aware of your surroundings now so you watched everything going on around you with great interest – that was your entertainment.  You rewarded us for this trip with a most epic blow out.  I mean, this was the big time.  And it was a stealth blow out because neither of us caught it in time.  And by that I mean – both you and your dad needed a wardrobe change.  We also had to finally figure out how to get the liner out of your car seat so we could wash it.  It was…monumental.  Our hats off to you, little dude.  Well played.

Life as we know it.
Life continues to be an adventure with you.  I find myself excited to come home to you at the end of the day, to hear what kind of day you had (even though the days are all still kind of the same - eat, sleep, poop, squeal).  You are such a good baby.  Like, REALLY good.  Like a balm to my soul on a rough day, or a shot of sunshine to amp up the happiness when times are good.  This is not exaggeration by the way, I am utterly smitten with you and your impish personality, your shrieky little giggle, and even your inexplicably razor sharp fingernails.  There's not a piece of you that doesn't shine and I hope that if we teach you anything (besides that pretty cool mouth noise trick above) - it's how to hold on to that shine and share it with the world.  

Let's outdo ourselves in the 9th month, shall we?

Love and kisses all over,