Tuesday, July 27, 2010

He just keeps on livin'

Over the weekend we had house guests: Merlin and Kitty.

They live with Natalie's dad. Natalie and Matt went to the Bay Area for the weekend to see his parents in Bodega Bay and also join the 5th annual reunion of families with whom we traveled to China to meet our daughters.

Poor Merlin is winding down.
He is a dog's dog. A regal animal. The benevolent alpha male who defends Natalie and me, and graciously allows children to pull on his ears and tail. On walks with Lizzy, who is a quarter his size, Merlin walks out in front, his leash taught. Lizzy walks off leash, but keeps a respectful distance behind Merlin. She knows he is the leader, and our protector.

The Merleman has bone cancer, and Matt was told back in January that Merlin didn't have long to live. His face is totally gray now and a man we passed on a walk last night called him Grandpa.

Matt and I found Merlin in the newspaper 12 years ago. We brought him home and tried not to panic as we realized we now shared a one-bedroom, second-floor apartment with an 85-pound dog. Now he is 13, and spends much of his time during the warm months in an Elizabethan collar because his skin allergies make him so itchy he bites himself until he's bleeding.
When I take off the collar, which we call the cone, Merlin is very happy.
Let me tell you, the visit was exhausting. I am tired. Tie-urd.

I felt like I had a newborn. Except I never had a newborn. But I did have an extremely sick baby and sometimes wondered if, when I went to her crib, she'd still be alive.

The other morning - after sleeping in the guest room with Merlin, who rose to pace and pant and bark at nighttime noises every two hours - I went to make coffee. When I returned, he was in the same position, like a dead deer on the side of the road.

"Merlie?" I said.

He was still.



I bent down and stroked his big shoulder, running my hand along his flank, now bumpy with tumors. And he raised his head and smiled at me as dogs do. Moments later he was in the yard chasing birds, as I mixed medicine and turkey meatballs into his kibble.

After he ate he rolled around on the rug, happy with a full belly and free from the cone.

One of the best things about Merlin is that he follows me everywhere. Back when he was a pup I put him on a leash and tied it to my waist. So wherever I'd go, he'd have to follow. It was a great way to keep an eye on him and teach him to stay with me.

So for all these days of his visit, I had a constant companion who waited patiently for me while I dressed, while I cooked, while I read. Which is a nice treat because Lizzy, despite my giving her affection and treats and long walks, really just gives me the High Hat in return. She is Tony's dog, through and through. But we were both able to fake it for that fireworks video.
By the way, Kitty spent the whole time either in a corner of Natalie's room, or under the guest room bed. She once was very sweet. She used to crawl up the screen door and cuddle and play. But now all she does is hiss. So rude!
Smokey, as usual, was a good sport. He likes his big brother Merlin. Likes to sniff his tail, too.
Last night Matt picked up Merlin and Kitty and I was really sad. I worry that's the last time he'll be at our house. But then, I thought that in the springtime. But the old guy just keeps on livin'.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tooth Fairy

Natalie’s tooth fell out the other night. Actually, I yanked it out.

She cried on and off all night, begging me to pull it. I think it was driving her crazy.

“It’s not ready to come out,” I told her.

“Please Mama. Check again.”

So after her bath, when I dry her and hug her and comb her and lotion her up – oh how I love this time of day – I reached in and pulled that sucker out. It resisted at first and I cringe typing this, but then I felt the tearing release of gum and fleshy strands holding it there (more cringing) and in an instant blood was welling in the little hole where the tooth had been.

She was wide-eyed and grinning. And relieved.

Later, in bed, the tooth in a baggie under her pillow, she asked: “Is the Tooth Fairy real?”

My heart sank a little. I thought about being her age when some punky classmate told me there was no Santa.

“Of course she’s real.”

“Mama saw her?”

“Yes, but not when I was a little girl. I was a grown up lady, but not a mother yet.”

“Mama tell the story?”

And so I told her how one night I happened to be looking out my window and saw what I thought was a star. But it was moving, closer and closer to the Earth, until finally it came down to a neighboring house – and stopped at the window to a bedroom where a little girl slept.

I saw then it was a fairy, about the size of Tinkerbell, and she slipped through the window into the room. And behind the drawn curtains I could see the light dancing for a moment or two. Then, the fairy was back outside the window and flew off as fast as she had come, back up into the sky, disappearing into the stars.

Natalie seemed satisfied. The next morning, at 5, she called from her room, waking me from a dream.

“Mama! “ she yelled through the dark. “The Tooth Fairy came!”

Monday, July 12, 2010

Baby talk

Lately we’ve been talking about having a baby.

My approach this time around is decidedly more lax.

Recently I was to have my thumb X-rayed. It had been swollen and throbbing ever since that hike in Kauai, perhaps from when I fell into the hole, or the river, or slid across the mossy rocks, desperately grasping at wet ferns trying to stay alive. Lots of possible thumb trauma scenarios there.

As is the routine, the X-ray tech asked if I was pregnant.

“No,” I told him. “I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No. Probably not.” I told him.

He cocked his head.

“Have you been trying to get pregnant?” he asked.

“Well. We haven’t been trying to avoid it.”

He laughed – “haven’t been trying to avoid it!” - and shook his head and walked me back to my doctor’s office to get a pregnancy test.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had women find out they’re pregnant this way,” he told me in the elevator.

So I took the test and waited for the nurse and was a bit surprised to find that that old, gooey, nervous hope rising in my belly. And then, the familiar dump of disappointment.

All for the stupid thumb that wasn’t even broken.

But now, five years into being a mother, the disappointment wasn’t crushing like I remember. No tears. No hating myself and my useless body and wondering what I ever did to deserve being denied what I then considered the most fundamental experience of being a woman.

This time, I got a breakfast burrito and was over it.

The most frustrating thing about all of it back then was that everything was officially fine. All the tests said so. It just wasn't happening.

Will it now? Perhaps. Perhaps not. I do know things are different now. I don't have that hole in my heart that I used to have. I feel happy with my life. I like being a mother. I have an incredible child and I'm proud of the mother that I've become. I think I will be alright either way.

Mostly, the discussions have been light and jokey, and centered on maintaining our current lifestyle. Could we send the baby to Natalie's dad's house when she's over there? Maybe we should adopt a 5-year-old because small children are really so much more enjoyable than infants. Or, we could just opt for a Golden Retriever, because that you can leave alone at home. Much more conducive to keeping the fire aflame.

Recently we floated it past Natalie.

"Would you like a baby brother or baby sister, Natalie?"

She didn't take much time to think.

"Noooo," she said.

"I already have a baby... Baby Miss Ann."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hot cheese

Natalie celebrating her shared birthday with my Dad

We have been discussing differences of late.

Last night Natalie dug into a bowl of leftover macaroni and cheese, and I sat with a glass of wine, watching her. Natalie calls mac 'n' cheese "hot cheese." It's her favorite dish.

She swallowed a bite and looked up.

"Fahd does not eat pork," she said of her classmate. I nodded.

"Fahd is from ... near China."

She looked at me expectantly, as she does when she comes to an unfamiliar word while reading aloud.

"Afghanistan?" I offered.

"Yeah, there." She took another bite, chewed.

"Some people eat pork. Some people not eat pork."

This reminded me a conversation we had last week, after a boy asked why I was white and she was brown. ("Some people dark, some people brown, some people light. Everybody different," she said.)

Natalie was quiet for a moment as she chewed, and then added:

"I eat hot cheese."

Friday, July 2, 2010

The big time

Yesterday our dog Lizzy and I got the big break we've been waiting for.