When I Grow Up

Pretend Play in the Old West and Llama Kisses

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When our kids were young, my best friend and I spent a week away with her three kids, my four, plus my niece (two boys and six girls in all). The boys were attending a ranger program at the nearby state park and while they were occupied each morning, we took the girls on other outings then the whole group out in the afternoons. By mid-week, we were running out of things to do with the girls.

We wandered around town, stopping in what is often described in this area as a “junk shop.” We casually perused the odd assortment of used items, sometimes exclaiming at our finds when we spotted some forgotten item from our childhood or when we couldn’t quite figure out what something was. There were only a few other people in the shop, including an older couple who keep looking our way and finally couldn’t resist asking about our little gang. (It was of course apparent that we “weren’t from around there.”) The gentleman, Don, wore a cowboy hat and invited us to their home to see his playhouses. The conversation continued, and it was apparent he was serious about us visiting, even telling us how to find his home. He wanted us to come by on Friday. We agreed.SCAN0134

The plans called for our husbands to join us for the weekend, but this changed over the next day. My friend and her family needed to return home Thursday, as did my niece. My husband was still arriving Friday, so I planned to keep my word. Though he was skeptical, he agreed we could visit Cowboy Don and his wife.

The directions were accurate and we drove under the sign announcing the property. At the end of the drive were the “playhouses” small scale replicas of an Old Wild West town. A general store, a church, a police station and a saloon were all  perfectly-sized for young children to play in and contained some props and costume pieces as well. As we pulled up, the couple came out, visibly surprised and pleased that I had kept my word. Not only did the kids get to play in the town, they also got to meet the barnyard animals, ride a horse (walked on a lead by Cowboy Don himself) and get their first llama kisses from Babe, the resident llama. We got a tour of the barn, which included Don’s impressive collection of cowboy memorabilia, including old movie posters and some signed and framed photos. Before letting us leave, they insisted on giving us all ice cream and asked us to come back anytime.babe llama

We never did make it back, but still occasionally reminisce about the visit. After all, you never forget your first llama kiss.

 

 

 

20 of #52essays2017

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A Personal Connection to a Cold Case

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The show Cold Case sometimes makes me uncomfortable. Living in the same area that the show was set sometimes makes the stories a little too real. Things became a little more real recently, when I discovered a personal connection with a real-life cold case, one that was quite close to my childhood home.

Through a Facebook group, I was reminded of a tragedy from my youth. A girl I went to grade school with was brutally murdered when we were in high school. Though we were close friends in our younger years, by that time, we had fallen out of touch. She left our Catholic elementary school after a considerable amount of bullying and went to the public school.

Sharon and I had some things in common. We were both on the quiet side and though I cannot be certain, I believe that is where some of the bullying came from. I know it is why I didn’t come to her defense.  I never thought of her as unattractive, but some of the kids implied that they did, calling her “a dog” (the ultimate insult at the time) on a regular basis. As is typical with kids who are bullied, she tried to shake it off.

Things came to a head one day playing Red Rover on the playground. For those unfamiliar with the game, two teams line up facing each other, with all players on a team holding hands. One team would pick someone from the other team to challenge our hand-holding ability and try to break through the line. Failing attempts meant the player was adding to the winning team’s side; those who could break through picked a player and returned to their team.

Sharon and I were on opposite teams at this point and one of the boys leaned in and suggested we call Rover. Oblivious as I was, I had no idea who he was talking about. So we chanted “Red Rover, Red Rover, we want Rover over.” Sharon turned red, yet she answered the call, fiercely. This time she was angry. I don’t recall whether she was successful in her attempt, but I remember the shame I felt in taking part in humiliating her. We were friends; she had spent time at my home. I should have protested, or at the very least, refused to participate. In hindsight, we all would have benefitted from the sort of bullying awareness and prevention programming that goes on in schools today.

Coincidentally, her mother was our gym teacher at the time. I believe it was the very next gym day that she exploded at us. With her thick accent, she demanded to know why we thought it was funny to call her daughter this “Grover” name. Some of the kids laughed, but she wasn’t backing down. In no uncertain terms she made it clear that what we did was unacceptable. Within the month, Sharon and her mom had left the school.

Being around 10 or so years old, I went on with my life and didn’t think much about her until one day my mom picked me up from my job and mentioned her name, asking if I knew her. I replied yes and that she did as well. I reminded her that Sharon had been to our house several times and the details around her leaving the school. Then my mom dropped the news: Sharon had been found in the woods behind a local restaurant. She had been sexually assaulted and beaten to death with a cinderblock and a 2 by 4.

At 16, I was shaken. I had no real experience with death aside from family pets and this happened not too far from my home.  Things like this didn’t happen in the suburbs and in those days, we had only five channels, so there was not the constant inundation of violence on TV to numb us to this sort of reality. The early 80s crime shows consisted of things like Charlie’s Angels, ChiPs and Hart to Hart. In hindsight, I wish I had contacted her family or gone to her funeral, but these were things outside my experience at that time of my life. I didn’t know how very much such a gesture could mean to a grieving family.

Time went on and we moved out of the neighborhood. Since I didn’t attend the public school, I had little contact with others who had known Sharon, and I only rarely thought about her. Recently another classmate brought her up in a Facebook discussion. The case was never solved In 2009, there were new leads that reopened the investigation, but it seems nothing came of that lead. After 35 years, I suspect we may never get an answer.

 

 

19 of #52essays2017

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The Mistake that Landed Me in a Hospital Bed for Mother’s Day

SCAN0243cThe morning of my first Mother’s Day, I opened my eyes to the sterile view of a hospital room. I hadn’t slept well, but not because my 10-week-old baby was up half the night. Instead, it was because of the moaning coming from the bed next to mine and nurses coming in every few hours to check vitals. Beeping sounds echoed off the bare walls and more moans and cries came from the hallway, from adjacent rooms.

A young girl brought me breakfast on a festive paper plate and she cheerfully wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. I began to sob. She quickly apologized and hurried out of the room.

The day before, I had been riding a horse in a grassy paddock, when he spooked. Unprepared, I was thrown off balance, landing on his neck. He sped into a full gallop as I struggled to get back in the saddle. I thought about bailing, slipping off the side, but the row of pine trees went by in a blur. “That would hurt,” I thought, so I hung on. At this point, I was sitting on the horse’s neck; the reins had fallen forward. I talked to him, hoping to calm him so we could slow down and I could get my seat back. We made another turn and I inched back into the saddle, feet back in the stirrups where they belonged. Then as the man standing on the ground reached for him, the horse turned, a sharp right, and I went to the left. Uumph! I hit the ground hard, rolled and my head gently tapped the paddock fence.

I was stunned and in pain, but not sure from exactly where. Cold  crept in shortly after I hit the ground and someone ran to get me a blanket. Soon the ambulance arrived. I was outfitted with a neck brace and body board. The EMTs kept talking to me, asking me questions. I knew that they were doing so to keep me alert. In a surreal way, I realized I was going into shock (I had paid attention in that First Aid class). I was sleepy and thought I should mention that. They kept cracking jokes and I asked them to stop making me laugh because laughing hurt.

We all have done something that looking back may not have been the wisest choice. This Saturday in May, I was 21 with a newborn. (This was not my questionable decision.) Throughout my pregnancy, I was told to expect a 6-week recovery period after giving birth. Though I overdid it, activity-wise the first few days, I quickly learned that I had to give my body time to recover. At my six-week check, I was given the clear to resume normal activities. I was free to do anything I had done prior to becoming pregnant.

One of the things I had given up during my pregnancy and missed very much was horseback riding. I had spent the past few years working at a local barn in exchange for riding twice a week. I now had a new job and my boss wanted someone to exercise his horse. There would be no mucking out of stalls or cleaning tack. He was going to pay me to ride. I jumped.

He wanted to get started right away. My helmet and boots were at my parents’ house, but I worried that if I waited a week, I would risk the job going to someone else. This was one of the worst decisions of my life. While I have ridden without a helmet and in borderline appropriate footwear before, I neglected to account for the change in my fitness level. A year prior, I was in good shape and riding regularly. I had quickly lost much of the 50 pounds I had put on with the pregnancy, but the muscle tone was not close to pre-pregnancy levels. Fortunately, a helmet was found for me, but the boots would really have made a difference.

My husband got to the field just in time to see me flying around the paddock and then fall. He and our daughter met us at the hospital where the extent of my injuries was not immediately known (in fact, it would be days before they determined I had a pelvic fracture and joint injury). An X-ray was taken, but since it was the weekend, there was a limit to the amount of tests they would run. I was admitted. My bed had a trapeze bar above me (to help me lift up when I needed to be moved) and an intricate pulley system tugging on my legs which made the pain worse. (I still don’t understand why they had me in traction.)

I got breakfast in bed my first Mother’s Day, but I ate alone. I spent the next couple hours waiting as the doctors made their rounds. There was no word on how long I would be in the hospital or what might be wrong. A CATSCAN was scheduled for the next day. I mentioned my discomfort with the traction to the doctor, who said it could be discontinued. That was a relief.

My husband and daughter came to visit later that morning. I was very happy to see them. I was able to forget the fact that I was in tremendous pain and no one seemed to know why. After a short time, my mother-in-law arrived. My husband had asked her to watch our daughter while I was in the hospital and she had made the hour-plus trip to pick her up. Though I knew she would be in good hands, I also knew that meant I would not see her every day.  I didn’t even consider the fact that my mother-in-law had left her own young daughters at home (on a day she should have been asked to do nothing) to come collect mine. I didn’t want them to leave. I was also distressed because I did not know how long I would be there In fact, I did not know if I would be getting up and walking ever again.

When my mother-in-law and daughter left, my husband went with them to move the car seat and transfer my daughter’s things. I felt incredibly alone. This was not how the day was supposed to be. Our plans had been to visit our mothers and celebrate both Mother’s Day and my uncle’s birthday. Instead, I was lying in a hospital bed, having had my daughter taken from me on the first holiday I got to celebrate as a mother. Instead of hearing her happy sounds, I was subjected to moans and cries of pain from the adjacent bed and nearby rooms. I worried about what would happen if my injuries were permanent. My impulsiveness could have cost me dearly.

Though it took a while to get a diagnosis, it could have been much worse. My injuries would heal, but it would take time. My first attempt at walking again with the physical therapist was frightening and painful, but I was back on my feet and fully cleared for regular activity within eight weeks. I did get back on a horse that summer and was surprised at my apprehension. (I was on the gentlest, most easy-going horse I knew.) Other circumstances kept me away from the barn which has since been sold, but I have ridden once or twice since then and hope to soon return to riding regularly. Though the negative memories have stuck with me, I can’t shake the longing to be in the saddle, especially this time of year.

 

18 of #52essays2017

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The Amazing Power of Certain Inanimate Objects

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It breaks my heart whenever I see a post about a missing beloved toy. Last year there was a story that went viral about a bunny (different than this one) that had been left behind at a hotel. The staff had some fun with it, posing the rabbit enjoying its extended stay, with spa treatments and choice dining room seating. This and other stories like it show how many people understand how very important these special items can be.

Some of my children had lovies and life would have been different without them. Although there was a considerable hassle when one went missing or was left behind, they were able to soothe tender feelings even better than I could. These items provided reassurance in a sometimes scary and unpredictable world.

The first beloved object in our family was a white bunny with pastel polka dots and a clown ruff at its neck. We thought it was fortunate that this item was chosen, because by pure chance, I had received two identical stuffed rabbits as baby shower gifts. We had hit the jackpot! We could rotate the items when washing was necessary, without tears from being without the precious toy. When I found another very similar bunny (this one was pink with pastel polka dots), I purchased it, thinking that an extra would be useful. A family member found the same bunny in a larger size and it was given as a birthday present. Though these extra bunnies were met with shrieks of delight, they never achieved true “Bunny” status and were set aside.

Our mixed blessing caused us on more than one occasion to turn around and drive 45 minutes back to where Bunny had been left behind. Remembering to ask if we had Bunnies became part of our leaving-the-house-ritual. At times this was frustrating and we questioned why we allowed this toy to become so important, but other times we were thankful that Bunny was there to help soothe a very unhappy child.

All was good, until the day the child realized there were TWO. We thought, “Crap, we’ve been caught; now we are in trouble.” We expected outrage when it was discovered. But no, the reaction was shock and then glee. Two bunnies was better than one and from that day forward, both bunnies traveled everywhere with us.

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Halloween, dressed like the bunnies she is carrying

Perhaps my views have been colored by some of my favorite childhood stories that show stuffed animals in a very human light. Both Corduroy the Bear and The Velveteen Rabbit evoke strong emotions in their stories of being loved by a child and stress the idea that no one wants to be left on a shelf. Every Christmas, we watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and look forward to the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys finding new, loving homes. It is clear that for generations, children have grown attached to inanimate objects and put great value on them.

Though there are some who say that allowing children to grow attached to a particular toy, blanket or other item is a bad idea, in fact, these things help children to adjust to new situations. In their familiarity, they provide comfort.  Trusted child expert Dr. William Sears says that developing such an attachment to these “transitional objects” is healthy. He explains that young children are learning to attach to things as well as people and that this helps them as they become more independent.

He advises against taking these objects away, saying that doing so may teach your child that you can simply dispose of your attachments. “Allow her the luxury of her soft friend,” he says. “Don’t worry; she is unlikely to drag it down the aisle on her wedding day.”

Though I would not have changed a thing if he had disagreed, I am happy for the validation. I had no doubts that the day would come that these lovies would not join us on every trip, and agree with Sears about the wedding day. However, part of me is a little sad to see them put away. Given the well-loved condition of these items, perhaps a small part of them can walk down the aisle. After all, every girl needs her “something old.”

 

 

17 of #52essays2017


My Love/Hate Relationship with T-ball

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When my youngest was in kindergarten, she heard something at school about this great activity T-ball. She wanted to play; my husband decided to coach a team.  The teams were formed and we soon had a practice schedule on the fridge. This gave me the unexpected benefit of one-one-one time with my second born and when Saturday practice coincided with naptime, the luxury of an hour to myself. Despite having to adjust the dinner schedule to accommodate this new activity, this all sounded great to me. The season lasted through the spring.

Opening day in our town is a big deal. There is a parade of teams of all ages, T-ball through “majors” which ends at the ball field where all the players and coaches are treated to hot dogs and drinks. Then there is the ceremonial first pitch and some practice innings. Again, this sounded like fun. I could go watch the parade with my two-year- old and we could play at the park for a little while.

Then the regular season began and I discovered that I was expected to come watch. Really? I thought this was a father/daughter activity. But apparently I was wrong, so I went and sat, and got up and chased a two-year-old and sat, and watched children run from home to third and chased a toddler and looked up to see the outfielders all run in and crash into each other after a infield fly ball, and so on. Before long, I determined that I did not like T-ball. There were many things I would rather do, many of which I did not have a special fondness for at any time before or since. But the rest of the family liked it, so off I went to the ball field each spring. As they got older and their skills increased, the games became more enjoyable to watch, at least when I wasn’t chasing a toddler instead of actually watching the game.

When we got to the point where we had three children involved in the baseball program, we realized that having only one coach in the house was going to be a problem. My husband had successfully juggled two baseball team schedules, but a third was pushing it. Not coaching one of them was something we didn’t even consider.  I never played any sort of organized sports, but I did play baseball with the neighborhood boys on my street (most times, actually in the street). I had also sat through four T-ball seasons, so I knew what to expect.

So I signed on to coach. Because I was a little concerned about being the only woman coach in the T-ball division (there were some female coaches, for the relatively new softball division for the older girls), and also because I believe that if you are going to do something you should do it well, I spent some time preparing for the season. I researched coaching techniques and how to teach basic skills (I was a purely intuitive player – no one had taught me anything). I picked my husband’s brain and worried that I was not up to the task.

I know, this is silly, it was just T-ball. Most of the kids were in it just for something to do. But I had seen how some kids later on were missing some of the basics and I wanted to actually teach them something, not just have chaos on the diamond. One of my pet peeves was when the kids would slow down when they approached first base. (I came up with a creative solution to this. I stationed a coach a couple feet beyond the base with a sheet of stickers. If you overran the base, you got a sticker. After a few weeks, most of them had it figured out.)

This was my first experience working with a group of young children and it was eye-opening. Of course I had spent time with kids this age before, this was my third, so I knew that developmentally, these kids were all over the map.  I know that it is easier and better to learn to do something correctly the first time, that unlearning a behavior is more difficult than learning one, and that habits are tough to break. So I tried to give them a good foundation. I had two other coaches working with me and we had about a dozen kids on the team.  We managed to teach some basic skills, and learned some ourselves (such as making sure to hold the bat when helping a young player set up at home plate, then stepping out quickly, getting hit with a bat hurts). I found that being on the field with these kids was actually a lot more fun than sitting and watching.

The season went much like others. There was at least one moment when the entire infield went for the ball at the same time. A handful of kids ran to third instead of first. The shortstop would be looking at a bug on his shoe when the ball came his way. The outfielders would be watching passing planes or birds. Someone would actually catch a fly ball and he or she (and parents) would look shocked and then break out in a goofy grin. In some ways it was like being out with my own kids: constantly looking around for danger, reminding them to pay attention to what they were doing and performing the occasional head count. I still see some of these kids on occasion, and a couple of them remember that season.  For the next few years, I got used to hearing Coach Kim, both on and off the ball field, and today I find that I actually miss those days.

This was previously published at Parent.co


The Tale of Rabbit the Hamster

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For years, one of our children had been requesting a pet rabbit. Having had a pet rabbit as a child, I knew the care required to keep a rabbit healthy and so I was very aware that it wouldn’t fit it with our lifestyle or our home. So the answer was, repeatedly, no.

As spring break approached, another child’s teacher had put out a request for two families to care for the class hamsters for the week. A weeklong obligation was manageable and, having had hamsters as a kid, I knew the care required was within reason. So, I said okay. My daughter was thrilled and happily went to school to notify her teacher. When she came home that day, she asked if we could take both hamsters, as no one volunteered to watch the second one. The teacher said they could share the cage for a week, so the second would take up no additional space. This all sounded reasonable enough, so again, I said yes.

Spring break came and was mostly uneventful. The hamsters had a few squabbles, but mostly got along fine. Each got some hands-on time (which actually made things easier since all the kids could have some time) and things went smoothly.  A couple weeks later, my daughter burst into the house after school and announced that the class hamster had babies and that they would need homes.  Of course this was followed up with “Can I have one? Pretty, pretty please!” This question was not as easy to answer. Pets are family members and come with responsibilities. They need their own space and someone needs to dedicate time to feeding, cleaning and socializing them. I replied with a definitive “I don’t know. We can talk about it.”

I went over the responsibilities in caring for a pet, stressing that animals can’t take care of themselves and that it is unacceptable to forget things when you are dealing with another life. She insisted that she would take care of everything – she would feed it, give it water, clean the cage, and play with it. I told her we’d have to talk to Dad as well.

That night, I talked to my husband, arguing that we were in part responsible for the appearance of these little ones, and agreed that I might be the one ultimately in charge of its care. It was decided: we would become hamster owners. When the babies were old enough, one came home and a name was needed. As part of the deal of allowing the new pet, the child who was responsible for the encounter was deemed to be the pet owner, which came with care responsibilities, and also naming rights. What did she go with? Rabbit. To this day, I am uncertain whether this was a dig at the sibling who was not allowed to have her desired pet, or in honor of it. (To be honest, I think it was just a funny thought, and it stuck.)

The experience was overall a positive one. Reminders were sometimes needed, but the care went mostly as promised. Hamsters don’t have very long lifespans and I actually found myself missing the critter after she was gone. This time, it was all on me. I made a trip the pet store and Rocky joined our family  Our lives do not currently fit with this sort of pet, but if things change, I wouldn’t rule another one out in the future.

16 of #52essays2017


A Story of Love, Faith and Infertility ~ A Review

IMG_0222Love, Faith and Infertility, a memoir by Nina Leicht-Crist, shares her love story with her husband, their journey to parenthood, and how she fell in love with another woman’s children. She made me laugh and cry and taught me much I had no way of knowing. At just over 100 pages, I was able to easily finish reading this book in a day.

Leicht-Crist starts off telling how love unexpectedly crept up on her and how she resisted becoming a wife at what she considered a young age. She shares some of the challenges of being a military wife and being a stepmom and provides details on the many complexities of dealing with infertility. She minimizes the difficulties of military life (long stretches of being alone, having little to no say in where you live or for how long) preferring to tell about how she found herself and her calling: helping other women with their pregnancies and deliveries, all while she was struggling with the very real challenges she and her husband faced to have a child of their own.

Though I cannot personally relate to having issues conceiving (four children came easily to me, prompting family members to call me “Fertile Myrtle”), I do know people who struggled to become parents (I sometimes felt guilty that I was so blessed to have no problems at all), and have seen the pain this can cause. However, since many people don’t talk about infertility, I never knew how much truly goes into the process of IVF and what great sacrifices are made.

The book is broken down by time period and I found myself very much relating to stories in certain places, discovering unexpected personal connections. I share her fascination with Washington D.C and enjoyed reading about their life in Germany, particularly because it is an area I am somewhat familiar with, having stayed with friends on the Army base in Stuttgart for a week-long visit. It was also fun to realize we may have even both been at the same Stuttgart Volksfest!

Though family does not play a huge role in the story, the love and support shown is palpable. Faith also is not explicitly mentioned much, but runs throughout the book. Despite numerous setbacks, the author seems to never have questioned whether things would work out in the end.

I found myself wishing there was more to this book (I want to hear more stories!), but there is much personal information here that can provide comfort, advice and hope to couples facing infertility challenges. The tone is upbeat, but realistic – it doesn’t give false hope and portrays how difficult and draining infertility can be and how wonderful it is when there is a happy ending.

 

** Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher to review.

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The Value of Volunteering? An Opportunity for Growth

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Saying I was a shy kid seriously understates the issue. I always had one or two friends and was fine in small groups, but crowds scared me. When I had to be around people I didn’t know well, I tried to be invisible and rarely spoke, even when spoken to. Unlike my younger sister who would walk up to new kids in the park with a “Hi, I’m Jen. What’s your name?” I avoided even acknowledging new people.

This posed a challenge as I reached adolescence. A requirement for the sacrament of Confirmation is performing service. Many of the girls in my class met this requirement by volunteering at the local nursing home. This was not at all appealing to me. Old people could be intimidating and sometimes smelled funny. Exploring options, I found myself at a place called Animal Rescue Force, asking if it might be possible to volunteer there. As it turned out, the organization was completely run by volunteers and all I had to do was sign up. There was no permanent shelter, only a weekend adoption site. (Pets were fostered or held by their owners during the week.) Besides finding pets homes, a goal was to raise the funds to open a no-kill shelter.

A few weeks later, I got a call asking if I was available that Saturday. I was and my parents dropped me off for the day. I was introduced to the other volunteers and quickly became friends with one. Dawn was tasked with showing me the ropes and to my relief, carried the conversation for the day. Since I didn’t have to talk much, I was comfortable and as a bonus got to spend time playing with and holding cats and walking dogs. At the end of the day, I was asked if I was interested in coming back the next month and work with the same team. I was and I did. In fact, Dawn and I became lifelong friends and I spent much of the next seven years volunteering there.

The first few volunteer shifts were working with the same team and involved mostly animal care. As I learned more about how the organization worked, the job also involved answering questions – about the animals, the procedure for adopting and sometimes dog and cat care in general.  At some point, my schedule didn’t work with the others on that team and I signed up for a shift with a new group. Before long, I was there more than once a month and at one point, almost weekly.

My confidence with talking to people grew. Courage came from the fact that I was speaking for those without voices. There was a stringent screening process prospective adopters had to go through. These animals all had already lost one home, and the goal was to ensure the next one would be forever. There were contracts to sign (for both adopters and those surrendering animals) and some people didn’t like the content, sometimes becoming belligerent. In dealing with these people, I learned many lessons in communication and how to defuse tense, emotional situations. It didn’t happen often, but occasionally there were threats to harm animals and rarer, threats against the volunteers who patiently explained the policies and the reasons behind them. (Some people were violently opposed to the requirement that adopted pets be spayed or neutered. Others insisted that we take unwanted pets off their hands without paying fees or signing any papers.)

While it did not come naturally to me, I became a fundraiser. Walking around with a coin can was one way to help and I learned that directly asking people to help was more efficient than simply holding a can, waiting for someone to drop loose change in. Also challenging, but preferable to me than asking for money was soliciting prizes from local businesses for the big fundraising event of the year: a silent auction. I also participated in and even organized additional fundraising events, such as candy and bake sales and a photography contest.

My phone skills grew as everyone involved in the week-to-week operations generally got a confirmation phone call and there were follow up calls to be made several months after adoptions to check in and see how things were going. There was also necessary paperwork to complete as part of this process. Again, there were times that people were difficult and I had to make notes to refer them to the directors for possible legal action.

Since I spent so much time there, I became an expert of sorts and within a few years, was in charge of scheduling and training volunteers. In this role I was constantly talking to strangers and even running a training seminar for dozens of people at a time. This also meant I reported to the board of directors on a monthly basis, submitting a report, taking questions and talking about any concerns.  I suggested a volunteer newsletter and wrote and mailed it for a year or so. I also put together a proposal for a therapy dog program for nursing homes, which while it was shot down for a number of good reasons, gave me valuable insights into how such a proposal is done.

My time with A.R.F. ended when I moved out of the area, taking a kitten, life skills and memories with me. While many people think volunteering so many hours is a waste of time, my life is immeasurably better having spent this time in this way.

 

15 of #52essays2017


Just One Day to Celebrate Kids and Pets?

 

 

April 26 is National Kids and Pets Day. Begun in 2005, the day is dedicated to celebrating the bond between children and animals and to educate the public about safely bringing pets into a home with children. A Facebook page hosts pictures of pets and their children.

Growing up, I always had pets and learned many lessons from them. I learned to be gentle when handling small animals and that some will hurt you if you hurt them, and that dogs especially love unconditionally. My first dog, Candy, was a wonderful listener and my best audience for the books I wrote on 3×5 index cards stapled together.

Although it was not planned, our small critters taught me about new life and that none of us is here forever. I was taught to care for our furry and feathered friends, even while Mom took on primary responsibility for their care.

two guinea pigs; one is brown and white the other is gray and white

Bandit and Bruno were my college pets

For my sixth birthday, my uncle bought me a hamster and shortly after, Mom decided it was lonely and purchased a “friend.” Of course, we soon had several baby hamsters and had to purchase another cage to separate the male from the female and protect the babies. We found homes for the babies and kept the parents separate after that. Years later, we again got hamsters as pets, but now knew better and kept them in separate cages.

Considered the “animal person,” my family has tried to pin our later abundance of guinea pigs on me, but I had nothing to do with  bringing any of them into the house. Mom was the one behind this. She had mentioned she wanted a guinea pig, so Dad bought her one for Christmas. Again, she thought he was lonely and purchased a friend for him. Once again, we had multiple cages to separate them. Unfortunately, we were not very good at determining the sex right away and soon had yet another. (Full disclosure, this experience made me quite fond of these critters and I had a couple of my own in college.)

A goldfish won at a school fair started as my pet, but Mom soon took on care duties. She was the one to change the water in the bowl and even brought him back from near death by massaging his gills when it looked like he was not going to make it. (He lived a few more years after that episode; he was with us for eight years.) I learned that with proper care, goldish can live a very long time.

Though small animals came and went in our lives, dogs have been a constant presence. Besides Candy (the dog who patiently listened to my stories), we also had a dachshund Vicki who loved to wake us up with kisses. Later we had a poodle, Misty (who as a puppy was a gift to my grandmother, but very soon moved in with us and became my dog), and finally a German Shepherd, Sheba, who was selected for her booming bark, but was possibly the prettiest and gentlest of her breed I have ever seen.

white Persian cat on a light blue background

Brandy was a sweet fluffy addition to our family

There were no cats in my early life (Candy wouldn’t stand for having any around), but after she died, we did have one cat, Brandy, a Persian that Mom brought home when her co-worker was unable to keep her. She was an indoor cat, but got out occasionally and so we added kittens to the mix. My sister and I got home from school in time to see a couple being born. I also volunteered at a local animal adoption agency and began to foster dogs and cats. Most stayed a short time, but one cat captured my heart and when she finally found a home after seven months, I was heartbroken.

Shortly after, I adopted a kitten, Molsie, who was my favorite college roommate. Though people didn’t believe me at first, she understood more words than most. After forgetting to say goodbye one weekend I had to leave her, I was asked to please never do that again (she sat by the door yowling for two days). She probably taught my children more about how to treat pets than anyone else. Though we always told the kids to be gentle and showed them what we meant, she would reinforce our lessons. While they were toddlers and still learning, they got a smack with her paw, no claws. When they were older and she knew that they knew better, they were risking a scratch.

 

Shortly before I married, Bacchus came into our life. A basset hound mix, as a puppy he had humongous ears that he eventually grew into. He patiently taught my children about loving a dog (and how much fun it is to get slobbery kisses when you hold a cookie). After his loss, I spent the longest six months of my life, dogless, before finding Zeke, by far the gentlest dog I have ever known. Maggie, a Catahoula, came into our lives shortly thereafter. Since the kids were older at this point, the lessons learned were more about caring for and training a dog and how to simultaneously be firm and kind.

two yougn girls and a dog

My older girls and Bacchus on a family hike

Other furry and finned pets have come into our house since I became a parent. There was Rabbit the hamster (a story for another day) frogs raised from tadpoles in school, an aquarium full of tropical fish and a goldfish, Gill, from school that lived considerably longer than its peers. One daughter also brought home gerbils (which were the reason I was in the right place at the right time to meet Zeke). There was also another hamster, Rocky, a birthday present to me.

The aquatic frogs were something new to me. After studying them in school, they were available to be adopted by students. Naturally there was a shortage of homes, so each time we got more than one. We quickly learned that they would adapt well to life in an aquarium and they joined my tropical fish. I enjoyed watching them and mourned their loss more than that of any of my fish.

Of all of these, I assumed most of the basic care, except for the gerbils. I would give them food and water and occasionally pet them, but there’s something about the tails that I can’t get past. I had a pet mouse in high school, but gerbil tails are different somehow. I knew going in that no matter what they promised, I was likely to be taking on more responsibility, so I only okayed pets that I was willing to care for. (By the time the gerbils arrived, my daughter was mature enough to care for them herself.) The child who owned Rabbit took on much of the care, as did the one who owned Gill. Everyone learned what was needed to care for the family pets and all were expected to help out.

Pets and kids go together. Kids learn things such as empathy, patience and responsibility and owning a pet has been shown to reduce stress. Owning an animal can prompt research into their needs or background (which is advised if you have no experience with that particular species). Kids with pets always have a friend willing to listen as well as a partner for tea parties, walks or runs. Those who are shy may find that a pet can help make new friends. The benefits of having a pet are many, as long as you are prepared and know what you are getting into.

 

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What Was Mom Thinking When She Approved This?

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Childhood today is much different from a generation ago and that of course was different from the one before and so on. Much has been said about my generation and how our parents couldn’t possibly parent the same way they did without people judging or possibly even calling child services on them for being negligent. We spent much of our days away from home, without our parents knowing where we were or what we were doing. Parents then were more permissive and didn’t seem to worry about everything as much. Even when we were home, we were largely unsupervised.

Though I have many fond memories of spending time with my mom, playing board games or working in jigsaw puzzles, when we had friends over, she somehow found ways to occupy herself. Of course we would check in from time to time and get permission for some things, but basically we knew the rules and she was confident we would follow them.

One of these requests was to roller skate in the basement. At the time, we lived in a split level house, with the family room on the ground floor, the living room, dining room and kitchen were up several stairs and the bedrooms up another level. We kids and our friends spent most of our time in the family room but sometimes would go to the finished basement where there was a pool table, piano and sitting area. In the late 70s, roller skating was popular, our school sponsored frequent trips to the roller rink and we would sometimes also go on weekends.

At home, we sometimes skated outside, but this wasn’t possible when the weather was bad. So we asked to skate in the basement. It was okayed. The pool table made a convenient oval to skate around and we brought a turntable down with us so that we would have music – just like at the roller rink. We blasted the tunes and took turns as DJ. Though we skated rather fast for such a small space, miraculously no one ever got hurt. Of course among the kids, this made her an ultra-cool mom. No other mom would have said yes.

This arrangement occupied many hours that summer and I guess Mom didn’t really notice the floor – I suppose it took a while for the gray marks to show up and her trips to and from the basement usually were while carrying a loaded laundry basket. When she saw the effects of our activity,   the basement roller rink closed (by this point, the novelty  had worn off and we weren’t as interested anyway) and she spent a couple days on her hands and knees with a bucket of soapy water and a collection of SOS pads. Amazingly, the floor looked good as new when she was done.

I’ve since asked what she was thinking allowing this and she has answered, “I really don’t know.” She may not, but I think I have an inkling. Sometimes as a parent it is worth it to say yes to something that will cause you more work, if only to bring some joy to your kids – or to get a few moments of peace.

 

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