The first step is to penetrate the clouds of deceit and distortion and learn the truth about the world,
then to organize and act to change it. That's never been impossible and never been easy. ~Noam Chomsky

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Year Behind Us

One year ago exactly I woke up in my own home, with a baby sleeping in the crib her daddy for built her.

After three weeks in Ethiopia battling the bacterial infections from hell and the big fat ?? mark of leaving together or staying ALONE with my sick self and my sick baby for another month, the three of us somehow managed to pry a visa out of the embassy and claw our way across the universe back to our cozy den of safety.

Ok, we flew. We didn't claw. But if I had been told by the embassy that "clawing" my way back to the US with Ariam clinging to my back was necessary I would have signed at the dotted line and put on my knee and elbow pads.

Parenting was so daunting a year ago. I think that's why the Ethiopian experience and the trip home meld together in my mind as less of a realistic memory and more of a big black void of churning, sick to my stomach feeling.

Do we let her crawl on the airport floor, is that o.k.? (yep - she'll crawl on worse!) Do we wake her up to feed her on the plane? (duh! NO! never ever wake her up!) How do we cut her nails? Why is she crying? Are we supposed to burp an 11 month old? Do babies eat corn? Can her body really hold 10 bottles in 24 hours?? Is it ok if she holds her bottle herself? Am I witnessing a severe attachment issue? Why doesn't she ever sleep? When will we ever sleep? How does a onesie work? Does her head look big? Do her toes look small? Is one eye opening wider than the other? Why is she so annoyed by socks? OMG are they cutting off her circulation?!

I remember waking up that first morning home. (Probably because I never went to sleep.)
Lots and lots of crying from the little lady.

But then we introduced her to the bedroom of delights. Filled with fantastic things to discover like the mirror on the door, the baby books she couldn't rip up, baskets of stacking toys, soft stuffed animals, and the yellow rocking chair. Two parents at her service completely.

I remember our concern that neither of us would ever be able to go to work again because well, a. we didn't want to be away from her for even a minute and b. it took both of us to tend to her every need and desire. It seemed like a truly legitimate concern at the time!

I remember how, after dressing her in a ridiculously poofy sundress, we just sat and watched her explore the room. Nobody laughed or smiled. We were so. serious. All the time! She was serious. We were serious. Geez, it was like we were attending a wake those first few days. We had absolutely no idea how to make her laugh even after spending 3 weeks with her in Ethiopia. We were really worried she would examine her new situation and find it all very....wanting. We were also worried that if we did anything wrong she would potentially break, crumble and turn back into the dust of a dream.

But, in the end, she didn't. She liked us! And she stayed very real!

A year is behind us. I wrote in her baby book each month of the year. A year of months of firsts and discoveries. Of feeling our way through the impossibly black night of new parenting. A year of seeing the sun pop out in unexpected places.

J is prone to telling me "She makes being a toddler look like so much fun!"
I smile.

I don't remind him that for years I (and a counselor) told him that having a child would help him to rediscover his own lost childhood. It would bring him retroactive joy.

 I don't have to tell him how redemptive parenthood is - how it seems to balance out the universe in indescribably right and good ways.

Last week we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary.
On our 10th we went to Greece. Thank God we did that. Because on our 11th I'm pretty sure that one or both of us were laying in a bed in Ethiopia puking. And our 12th was very...understated.

Last week we hired our first babysitter. We paid her and everything y'all. (Ok, I am not southern and am not even sure if I spelled y'all correctly, but it just seeemed to fit and I may toss it around a bit more in the future...)

We paid her and left her in charge for four hours and took ourselves to happy hour and to a movie. It was blissful.

I think we're going to make it. I think we have found our equilibrium in parenting. It only took a year. A YEAR! It was a year! I am so in love with this past year and so very equally glad it is behind us.


PS. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your comments about Cassidy. Sometimes I have to ask myself why I blog - why I choose to take time out of my family life to write self-indulgently funny or snarky or thought provoking or sad things on a page on the anonymous internet. And then when I wrote about Cassidy it was like putting a little bit of our life together in a bottle and setting it to sail. Honoring her, giving closure, and receiving the gift of comments back was priceless.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


To Lose. It is a verb when you are talking about it abstractly. "Did you hear that so and so lost their (dog, house, child, parent)?"
Loss. A powerful noun when it refers to you and your own life. "I have experienced a loss."

Cassidy, our 13 year old English Springer Spaniel, passed away on June 4th. She was born on May 15, 1998. J and I bought her, on a humid summer evening, from a breeder in MN in July 1998 when she was 10 weeks old. We've had 3 dogs in our married life, Cassidy was the only one who has been like a child to us. Faithful is the best word to describe her. She always trusted us, always knew that we were her people. She was never happier than when we were all together - her pack - going anywhere, but together.

Summer 1998
 There was a time, right after we got married in 1999 and moved to a small city in NY, that J was in graduate school and I was extremely unemployed. He was in an art program and in the studio day and night. I was experience the life altering shatter of the Christian college bubble. You know, where you suddenly realize that the world is full of awful people (like the drug dealer/pimp who had loud s.ex in the apartment above us) and that your bachelor's degree in international relations means less than nothing in a small city in upstate New York.

Cassidy and I would walk to the huge park near our house and sit. Just sit on a hill near the confluence of the Genessee and Hudson rivers. I'd cry. She'd press against my side and let me keep an arm around her. Then suddenly she'd take off, chasing squirrels and rolling in grass and throwing her full body into the river for a stick. She'd return full of life and joy and look me in the eye to say "hey! wake up! It is SO great here in this sleepy city. And isn't it SO great that we can just hang out all day together?!" :)

Summer 1998 - Trout Lake Camp, MN

Passed away seems too easy of a description. We made the decision to put Cassidy to sleep on June 4th. If you've been reading here you know that she was diagnosed with a large lung tumor in January. The prognosis was 4-8 weeks and she gave us almost five months. In the end it seemed pretty clear that she was holding on the best she could because she's not one to give up on us. So we had to make the decision for her.

I came home from Ethiopia on the 2nd. The next day Cassidy followed me around the house with the "eyes." I know these particularly "eyes" because she used to give them to me while she was suffering from undiagnosed Addison's disease in 2002. They are the eyes that say "I'm not feeling good. Can you fix it?"

She was struggling for breath, coughing a lot, and she couldn't just lay down and get comfortable. Her job here with us was done and there were no more pills that could help. So on Saturday we took her in and helped her say goodbye.

It's a terrible thing, taking a life. I've never done it before, not even humanely. I have selfishly tried to rescue little dying birds, puppies, squirrels, and even a raccoon we hit with the car one time. If it were up to me I'd always choose life, even over humane death, and I'd see every person and animal live forever.

But life has a really crappy way of calling you out and ending sometimes before everyone feels ready to say goodbye.

We gave Cassidy a double stack cheeseburger. And a peanut butter bone. And the vet staff were incredible and loving and made it as easy as possible. We told little stories about her while they were prepping. Cassidy was so tired. I told her it was ok to let go and she just layed down and it was over. But not over for me. I see her in my mind's eye every day. Those last minutes of saying goodbye. The way her fur was so soft still. Her long ears that I've cried many tears into over the years. It is baffling how life can be there one second and the body there but the life gone, the next. We learn about this concept, and maybe I am the last 34 year old on earth who hasn't actually experienced it in either animal or human form, but it is....well... baffling. Mysterious.

So it has been a miserable week and a half. I thought once it was done and the tears were cried that day that it would all be over and life would move on. But every day last week there were more tears. There are still tears, they just don't always flow now.

We got her ashes back last Wednesday. And again, I marvel at how that is all our lives boil down to. Because whether we are human or doggie, life ends and in the end our dust can fit in a little box.

Never have I been more glad to know that there is life after death. Never have I found more comfort in the knowledge that God promises us a better place, where ALL things will be made new. Beloved dogs too. Life on earth is so fleeting. 13 years went by in the blink of an eye. Surely our human lives will be just a speck as well. I imagine that by the time I am very old, and my time is up, I will have said many, even harder, goodbyes and be even more comforted by the thought of heaven.

We sang a song in church on Sunday:

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we are going to see the King

No more crying there, we are going to see the King
No more crying there, we are going to see the King
No more crying there, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we are going to see the King

No more dying there, we are going to see the King
No more dying there, we are going to see the King
No more dying there, we are going to see the King
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, we are going to see the King

It is an old gospel hymn with roots as a "Negro spiritual."
I can only imagine the losses of some of the people who have sung this song over the generations.

My loss, it is a first world loss. A priviliged loss. I don't forget that. But it is not any less painful for knowing that.

This past weekend we sold D.oris D.ay. Our scooter. I had this dream - that once we moved to Colorado we would travel everywhere by scooter. While some dreams are harder to bring true, this one wasn't so difficult - the scooter part. We bought DD within a couple of months of arriving here. We took her to the store, and for sunset rides around the lakes. She was sort of our last hurrah as a married couple without kids.

We sold DD last weekend. I cried both before and after. You know how once you start crying the tears manufacture much more easily? Yeah, that's been me since Cassidy's death. The tears are just there ready to spring out and fly all over the place - over a scooter, over a photo, over the thought of Ariam ever dying, over our under-celebrated 12th anniversary on Monday.

I think the couple that bought DD thought I was crazy. I may or may not have insisted that they call her DD and encouraged them to take her to watch the sunset at Sloan's Lake every night. I may have also (cringe) suggested that they buy the house for sale next door....

Here they are trying to appear understanding as I take a photo for this blog post and blubber about how my dog just died and I'm sad to say goodbye to the scooter too.

It would be nice to be able to pull it together in the coming weeks and enjoy some summer.

I think we need a puppy....