Friday, June 21, 2013

Into the Woods

On most days- when just simply dealing with my humanness- I feel lost in the woods. It was fitting that on the day that I struggled with the complicated emotion of losing a pet rat and trying to not make it matter- I actually found myself in the woods.

I awoke knowing my day would begin with death. Our sweet, grey, Dumbo-eared rat, Gwennie, was dying. A pituitary tumor rendered her unable to eat or walk. It came on suddenly- as illness often does in the world of Rodentia. It was only a matter of time. Princess Commando kept vigil for three nights with a ten year old’s faith in miracles. She was so weary when The Mr. drove her to school loaded up with end-of- the- school- year presents for teachers. But, she needed to be there. I did not want her to watch as Gwennie finally surrendered. I, also, selfishly wanted a chance to mourn before I had to catch my daughter’s tears.

I balanced life and death at my desk. With my right hand, I finished a drawing for a client. With my left hand, I traced gentle circles on the rat swaddled in a blanket on my lap.  Her sides inflated and deflated with numbered breaths. In the background, Violet bounced on the couch in front of the TV licking the marshmallow dust from a nearly empty bag of Lucky Charms she raided from the cupboard.

“Gwennie’s dying,” Violet somberly said, coming to lean her sympathetic head on my drawing arm. At three years old, Violet has grown accustomed to the ‘symptoms’ of death. She, also, acquaints death with our garden- where all of our small animals have been laid to rest. Here the Cosmos and green beans grow. And here lies Geronimo, Pluto, Poco, Chowder.

I finished my drawing and nestled Gwennie’s body in the crook of my arm- stroking her velvet ears, her dainty feet. Please don’t let it hurt. Her heart rate, a normal 300 bpm, became slow and staggered under my hands until I wasn’t sure if I was feeling my own pulse or hers. A final insufflation. And then an electric shift that tingled through my fingertips.

Death seeped like vapors into all the rooms of the house. The animals sensed it. The dogs came to lie by my feet. The cat meowed from the basement. Henry’s parakeet on the third floor frantically chirped. Faye, Gwen’s sister, perched in anxious anticipation on the second level of their cage in the adjacent room.  I placed Gwen in the cage. If Faye didn’t see for herself- it would seem like Gwen had just disappeared. She nudged her sister’s body with her nose and pried open her jaws with her own tiny paws, breathing into Gwen’s mouth. She groomed her sister and then tentatively darted out of the cage to curl on my lap. I cried until my eyes were dry and achy. It stinks that this is the inevitable conclusion to life.

Here grow the gladiolas. Here lies Gwen.

The death of a pet rat does not easily illicit sympathy from extended family or acquaintances. A three- legged, one -eyed, cat-killing rabid dog is apt to garner more compassion. Rats are creatures to be poisoned and banned from homes. So we kept the pinching and twisting behind our ribs to ourselves. We tried our best to subscribe to ‘life goes on.’ Ironically life went on through Henry and Princess Commando’s weekly archery lesson- where the ultimate expectation, if you are a good student, is that you will eventually take life.

In a clearing encircled by woods, the students lined up behind targets, drawing their bows, emptying their quivers. It was only the second week, but the instructor, Steve, had taken an interest in Henry and Princess Commando. Perhaps he appreciated that they took their  lesson seriously- focusing on his direction, responding to the gentle position of his hands on their hips and shoulders- molding them into the archer’s stance. Steve turned to me with wide eyes after Henry hit the bull’s eye, “This kid’s onto something.”

Steve left us for a minute to find someone to take over his station. “I’m taking these four on the course,” he announced to his rotund, pockmarked replacement- pointing to Henry, Princess Commando and Steve’s 16 year old daughter and her friend. He motioned to me with his hand, “You can come too.”

Steve is not an imposing man- I could tell from our interactions last week. He would let me be the quiet observer and he would teach my children in a way that I would teach them if I only knew how to draw a bow. We followed him through the muddy ruts in the grass. Me and my city kids in our thin canvas shoes swallowed to the ankle in the earth. Soles and souls surrendering.

The woods were lush and swampy. The deeper we receded into the trees, the muddier we got. The more the mosquitoes buzzed in our ears- the more the children straightened their backs, falling into a natural archer’s stance.

Minds expanded.

We forgot for a moment.

A new world opened.

Princess Commando’s eyes were bright with fascination at the unfamiliar call of birds above us. A woodpecker’s staccato tapping reverberated steadily through the leaves. Steve challenged Henry to move further away from his targets. “I don’t think  I’ll be able to hit them,” Henry worried. “Try,” Steve encouraged. And that one, gentle command, gave my children the confidence to focus, aim, let go. Steve’s daughter, already a seasoned archer, encouraged and celebrated each mark the children made and lightly teased at the arrows that disappeared into the woods. We felt enveloped and supported. Occasionally, Princess Commando would meet my eyes, her shoulders rising to her ears, her mouth tight in a forlorn pout. I’d nod in return, I know it hurts.

There was no score to keep. We lost and we gained arrows. We followed buck tracks. We sank deeper into the trees, into the earth. Breathing. Away from the motor babel of the city. Away from disquietude and conflicting feelings of home.  Do we have to go back?

And then at the second to last target, as the kids retrieved their arrows, a grey mouse ran across their feet. The older girls shrieked. Princess Commando’s eyes chased after it- weaving in and out of the soft verdant carpet. There’s no pretending. There goes life. On and on.  


Friday, June 7, 2013

Braticus Dramaticus

Oh, she's three alright.

'I don’t love you!' screamer
'I wish you would go away!' dreamer
Marshmallow schemer

Mad as hell spitter
Itchy little critter
Sugar n spice- nah, she’s bitter

Hug pusher away-er
‘Don’t touch the garden hose’ sprayer
Poopy talk sayer

No dance ballet dancer
No wearing pants-er
Ignoring time- out prancer

Page ripper
Chocolate milk dripper
Kitchen chair flipper

Playdoh carpet smasher
Mama’s jewelry stasher
No bath! thrasher

Miss no napper
Little crapper
Noisy over-reactor

Nasty little sister
Shaking little fister
Splinter, hangnail, blister

Storm ender
Love you, mama friender
Blowing kisses sender
Heart mender

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Love That Dog and a post on Mamalode

She still finds a way to squeeze into her favorite chair-this dog, well- worn like a child’s favorite toy. For a long time, she betrayed her 12 years. Luminous eyes, body nimble and quick. In late winter, we brought Little Dog home. Though she was nearing  retirement, The Dog was a good teacher- demonstrating what it meant to be a part of this family. When it rains and The Dog’s coat is soaked to the skin, Little Dog is dry because he hides underneath her. And she lets him. If a dog can be compassionate, she is.

Then overnight, The Dog wasn’t spritely anymore. She was lazy. Ignoring the food the kids dropped on the floor. Only thumping her tail when we called her name- but no longer able to spring up and come. Wooden legs, arthritic curve of the spine, thin clouds across her eyes. Like flipping a switch, she was suddenly an old lady.

I was lying with her on the floor one night, rubbing her stiff legs. She sighed like she does when she is happy.  Don’t grow old. Please don’t grow old. I’ve loved you best of all of them-my loyal, patient, grateful companion. My resolute protector. You never tried to run away-even when the gate was wide open. How many would-be-ne’er- do-wells have crossed to the other side of the street because you gave them a firm warning? ‘Don’t even think about messing with this family.’ You remembered that day, so long ago, when I walked by with our baby boy. When you heard me coming, you bolted out of a dumpster-chains wrapped around your puppy ankles. A man was walking ahead of us on the path. You ran to him first. For some reason, he thought you were mine. ‘Lady, call your dog please!’ he yelled frantically as you viciously assaulted him with wet kisses. I called you and you came running to me. And from that point on you were my dog.

Her tail thumped against the floor and she plopped a heavy head in my lap. Little Dog curled up against her. They both exhaled sighs of contentment. It was then I realized that bringing Little Dog into the family wasn't just for our benefit- to enjoy the companionship of another canine. The the arrival of Little Dog had given her permission to begin ‘letting go,’ to peacefully, guiltlessly enjoy old age without the fear that she would be abandoning us. She nestled her head deeper into my lap and then rolled over and looked me in the eye. You are going to be okay.  I promise.

And now, for a little gratuitous self-promotion. I am honored to be featured on today. My essay, Love Like a Niagara will appear in the Naptime section on the homepage. Please click here to visit Mamalode's sparkly,brand spanking new website. And while you are there please kindly click on my essay. I don't get paid unless you read and share. So please feel free to re-post and share away. Thank you bunches!