Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 48: Pet Project

As any pet owner will tell you, being asked to share a story about your pets is akin to being asked to tell someone about your children. No matter what their faults, they are always the best, the brightest, the cutest, the most adorable in the world. Never mind that they pee on the carpet, poop by the fireplace, chew up the antique table in the dining room and whimper to be let out at the crack of dawn. (No, not the children. The pet … Try to follow.) 

But like becoming a new mother, becoming a first-time pet owner can be quite a crash course. 

As a child I never had a pet … unless you count the goldfish or the turtles, which were just not lovable enough to qualify for “real” pet status. I did babysit a cat once over winter break in my second year of college. The thing hissed at me when I locked myself out of the house and had to break in through the kitchen window. And it scared my cat-fearing grandmother out of several years of life when it escaped from the locked basement and rubbed up against her leg under the table. I never saw Nana jump that high before or since!

My husband, on the other hand, always had dogs growing up. So when we were given the opportunity to buy a puppy from a new litter of Tibetan Spaniels a friend’s dogs had just had, we jumped at the chance. It would be a surprise Christmas gift for the kids, especially my son who had been rallying for a dog unsuccessfully for a couple of years.

I always say that our dog chose me, not the other way around. We went to look at the four puppies and while all the others ran chasing each other around the house, this little fluffy black-and-white guy jumped right up into my lap and snuggled in. And thus began my love affair with the aptly-named Oreo. 

In the heart of a cold snowy winter, Oreo and I bonded in the backyard as he learned to let us know when he wanted to go out. He defied the experts who said all dogs love their crates (he hated it) and would NEVER do his business in there (he did). Despite our best intentions, he found his way into our bed at night and successfully begged for scraps at every meal. We learned that when he was too quiet, it was probably because he was chewing our furniture. And we learned that the big clump of matted fur on his head was just that – matted fur – not Oreo growing a third ear. (I kid you not. I still have a hard time walking into the vet’s office after calling in a panic about that one.)

If Oreo could talk, he would have oh-so-many secrets to tell! And so many family comedies and tragedies to recall. I think all of us have at some point sat with him, face buried in fur, crying and confiding and being comforted by those big soulful eyes and a lick or two. Oreo was even my perfect companion during 9/11. While everyone else was panic-stricken, he alone had what I needed to make my tumultuous world feel grounded again . 

Oreo is 11 now – fairly old in dog time, but not terribly old for his breed. And being a small dog, he has always maintained the look of a puppy. But although I’d like to deny it, I see the signs of his aging. Panting heavier and sooner when we take him for hikes. Climbing slowly up the stairs. Making sounds in his sleep that seem more like whimpers and less like playful puppy dreams. 

But every now and then, he seems rejuvenated. He’ll bound up the stairs, chase after a squirrel, run around crazily after his bath. Once in a while he’s that new puppy again … the one who bounced onto my lap and into my heart.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 47: Pay Close Attention!

I eagerly touched my “DoGood” app this morning to see what the day’s mission would be. I was prompted to devote all my attention to “one lucky person” – and being the sarcastic, negative person I tend to be before my first cup of coffee, I immediately wondered just how lucky he or she would really be. After all, the suggestion did not say whether my attention should be negative or positive.

The most likely recipient (victim?) of my attention today would of course be my husband. 

Over the course of the day, I was conscious of just how often I had the opportunity to be more attentive to – and less irritated by – the little things that make up an ordinary day in a married couple’s life. Making sure his tie was tucked correctly under his collar. Reminding him not to forget his (keys, lunch, wallet, honey-do list, etc.) as he walked out the door. Making direct eye contact when I asked how his day went instead of half listening as I checked email or the latest Facebook posting. Nothing big. But it was amazing how this changed the tone of the day. How the little things turned out to make a big difference.

The exercise got me thinking about the very nature of marriage – how two people leading separate lives are supposed to get together, agree on the “big stuff” – like buying a house and raising kids – and the not-so-big stuff – like what to eat for dinner and which movie to rent from Netflix. Looked at with a critical eye, this union should never work … and while 50 percent of marriages do indeed fail, what about the ones that don’t? The ones like ours that last a quarter of a century or more? What is it that keeps us together for better or worse, richer or poorer, sweet or sour, bewitching or just plain witchy?

The “long-timers” I’ve spoken to usually don’t have an answer to that question. I know I don’t. We certainly are no more spiritually fit, economically secure or romantically adept than other couples. We fight, sulk and go to our separate corners just as often as anyone else. Our real estate transactions and child rearing were definitely not exercises in perfection. 

So if it’s not the “big stuff” that kept us together, then it must be the little stuff. Like fixing that tie, serving steak when you’re craving a quiche, watching Road Warrior for the hundredth time when you really want to settle in with a Lifetime movie. And biting your tongue when he returns to the house – again – for the keys, lunch, wallet or honey-do list – that he forgot despite your calm, patient reminder. The difference, I think, is paying attention. And smiling anyway.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 46: Time Alone

I’m Baaaaaaaack!

I was fairly appalled to see that I haven’t blogged since February, but that probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering my aversion to winter and the fact that my job gets insane every year at that time.
I also needed to find some new inspiration for my awesomeness, and my friend Susie was kind enough to turn me on to a free iPhone app called Tonic’s DoGood, which offers a prompt every day. Although it took me about a month, today I found and installed it – and was amused by the prompt I was given: “Spend a day by yourself today.”

Well, that’s actually pretty funny since I am self-employed and probably spend more time alone than most folks do. However, the irony is that I’ve been fighting the feeling of being alone ever since Sunday when our son left for his summer job at college. This will be the first summer he isn’t at home. Also the first summer we do not take a family vacation. And with my daughter having moved out – gradually, tiptoeing, but inarguably not living here anymore – the empty nest thing has become a reality. And I’m not too sure I like it.
But then, I’m not too sure I don’t.

Slowly but surely, my husband and I are realizing that there are perks to having an empty nest. We can come and go as we please without having to rush home to cook dinner for anyone. Our house is relatively clean, except for the occasional dog fur, dog pee, dog poop, dog throw-up … OK, except for the dog. The TV is likely to stay tuned to the same channel we watched the night before – not ESPN or the America’s Next Top Model Network (I know that’s not a real network but it sure does seem to be). No one complains about what I cook for dinner, what time curfew is, the fact that I sing show tunes with the radio now and then … loudly. Requests for money tend to come in text form rather than accompanied by that hang-dog look and those big brown eyes and a deep mournful sigh.

But I miss the laughter. 

I miss the silly jokes around the dinner table and making fun of the people on ESPN and America’s Next Top Model and the relief of hearing the front door open at 1 AM. I miss being ribbed about my belting out Broadway, I miss planning a special day for each family member during vacation, and yes … I miss handing over the cash to a grateful recipient. I miss the noise. And I miss the messiness. 

So, OK, new iPhone app. I’m willing to spend the day by myself today. But maybe not tomorrow. And surely not the summer. And definitely not forever. 

No, this empty nest stuff is definitely not for the faint of heart.