Saturday, October 24, 2009

Something Lost, Something Gained

Looking back through my baby book at the few entries my mother had time to write, I can hear the worry in her voice as she retells one drama after another of my continued illnesses. At 7 days old I went into my 1st attack of asthma which progressed into pneumonia and other things like Roseolla Fever and the 3 days measles which lasted for 3 weeks. Many times she would write how worried they were, or how sick I was or, that I nearly died the night before. Hastily scrawled messages she did not want to forget but didn't have the time to elaborate on. Being mom to a sick infant, a 1 year old daughter and wife to a husband paralyzed from the neck down left her little time for the pleasures of writing.

I vaguely remember being in the hospital when I was 3 and someone had given me a stuffed monkey while I was there. I carried that monkey with me for years. After much love, his little paw was sewn back on, taped back on and eventually gone all together, but I loved him none the less. I don't remember much of the hospital stay but I have many memories of my little "Pooky".

As a mother of 4 I have always considered myself very blessed to have healthy children. I do not take that blessing lightly and have tried to always be mindful to thank the Lord for it. As a way of showing my gratitude for the health of my children and being spared all the worry and stress, I sometimes ask for stuffed animals for my birthday. Then those animals are lovingly delivered to the pediatric unit at the hospital to be passed out to sick children. I remember the reaction of the 1st mom whose child received one of the stuffed animals, I'm not sure which one of us cried more. Too timid to go in, I passed the job off to baby girl #1 and her friend while I hid out in the hallway. She was so grateful just to know someone cared.

Our 23 year span of healthy children came to an end last Saturday and we experienced our first overnight stay at the hospital along with our first surgery. It is agonizing to watch your child suffer in tremendous pain and be powerless to fix it. It is torture to wait for hours while doctors try to figure out what is wrong. After 7 hours it was determined that baby girl #1 would need her appendix out. It took another 6 hours to get an operating room. The whole operation only took about 20 minutes, less than the 'real' time it takes to get an oil change, as baby boy #2 put it. He waited patiently all day for his big sister that he loves and adores, even staying there with her after we left for the night.

I am reminded of Job and his thoughts on all he had lost. You can not willingly accept all the blessings of God and not be willing to accept all His trials as well. There is much to learn from both. We have only lost a bit of sleep and a body part that no one seems to think is of value, nothing really all that traumatic. But we have gained some insight into our own strengths and weaknesses and we have learned about the power of family and friends and what it means to be cared for and prayed for. There is no greater thing on earth to be gained.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

animal house

Over the past 21 years of our married life my husband David and I have opened our home to 11 different dogs, an estimated 20 cats, 4 horses, 3 goats, a lamb, 3 rabbits, a guinea pig, 3 parakeets, a snake, chamaeleon and Russian Tortoise, 2 fish that got as large a frying pans, and a quantum of cackling hens. Add 4 children into that mix and at times our house has seemed more like a zoo than a home.

Never claiming to be an animal lover, I’ve had to work hard at simply not being afraid of a few of these creatures, let alone “loving” them. Some have worked their way into my heart and become favorites while others I’m sad to say, I couldn’t wait to be rid of. Each one however, because of special qualities and little personality quirks, have become a part of our lives, playing a role in shaping who we are as people and a family unit.

There was a particular parakeet, whose real name shall go unmentioned, that never stopped squawking . Every time you spoke, turned on the faucet, or flipped a page in a book he would screech at the top of his mighty, midget lungs, loud enough and long enough to give you a shooting pain right between your eyeballs. We renamed him Satan because he especially hated the thin paper used in Bible pages. Whenever you wanted a little quiet time with God, he really let it fly. Glad to see him find a new home. Then there was a vicious little Shitzu named rags who as a tiny puppy attacked my two youngest children and left them bitten and bruised. Turns out there was something genetically wrong with all the males in that litter and they all had to be put down.

Much to my astonishment, I did not mind the snake. As long as his cage stayed on the kitchen counter where I could check frequently to make sure he hadn’t escaped. I’m sure I would have been exponentially less fond of him had he not been encased in glass.

My biggest fears have come from the largest and the smallest of the bunch. Never having grown up around any animals, there were many skills for me to learn and behaviors to get accustomed to. Try as I might, I never did master my fear of horses. Their sheer size and tremendous strength always reminded me that if push came to shove, I was not the one in control and we had one horse who’s personality was particularly more pushy than mine.

My tiniest fear was the chamaeleon. Those little buggers are as fast as lightening and guess what?, their cages need to be cleaned a lot. I hated putting my hand in his cage, certain he would run right up my arm and onto my head. Yuck! Then there was all the crickets he dined on. Hopping, jumping, disgusting little bugs riding next to me on the front seat of the car, safely contained in a box from PetSmart. Sure! I was not sad when his time was up.

Murray had to be my favorite of the tiny creatures. A soft, fluffy, caramel colored hamster who also resided on the kitchen counter. I know that the kitchen counter is not the ideal place for an animal to be located but life in our home has a way of getting out of control and sadly, 1 little friend in a cage met with an early expiration date due simply to forgetfulness. From then on, any creature smaller than my hand, that couldn’t come and lick you when they were hungry was located in a place of great activity in our home. Namely the kitchen.

I think Murray lived as long as he did because of his location. Three years is probably a record life span for a hamster and he seemed to thoroughly enjoy being with us. I would have never known that hamsters could be so social had he lived in another locale. Funny story about his end of life experience though. We knew that he was nearing his time because he had not been himself for a couple days. This particular day happened to be the day of our family reunion which was to be held outside. Later in the evening it began to rain so we invited everyone inside and when I got into the kitchen I could tell that Murray had died. Now, it’s bad enough to have a live hamster in a cage on your kitchen counter but a dead one, come on! I didn’t think I could inconspicuously stroll past our guests with a giant Habitrail cage containing a dead hamster, so, I just casually threw a dish towel over his cage and hoped for the best. The funniest part is that no one even seemed to notice. Or maybe they did, my family is very polite!

Without a doubt, my favorite dog has been Jake, also known as Shorty or Pooks. A giant Husky, Shepard mix, born on Christmas day with fur so soft and long you could loose yourself in it. He was forever the comedian, the thief, and the ‘I love being one of the pack’ dogs. He never thought he was any bigger than an 8 week old pup and it was nothing for him to leap through the air, flying across the room and land on the middle of the couch amongst the kids. He stole all sorts of items from the neighbors like chew toys, UPS packages, and 1 single, very expensive Eddie Bauer slipper. I told him if he was going to steel, he should at least get the pair. He had mastered the art of thievery because he had mastered the art of opening doors. Our neighbors all loved him but they could get a bit upset especially in the winter because he never mastered the art of closing them. Jake loved everyone and he had a particular fondness for the UPS man. To him the big brown truck meant biscuits. One day in an attempt to confiscate a biscuit or two, he wrestled with the big brown truck and lost. I can’t begin to express the tremendous loss we have felt since that day. I still miss the comical way he would sneak his head up through David’s arm at the dinner table, a hopeful gleam in his eye that a treat might come his way, or hearing him say, “hello” when the telephone would ring. They say there is one dog in everyone’s life that is just ‘it’. He was certainly it for all of us.

Having animals is a very rewarding experience but like anything, it comes with a price, literally. Two of my children have been employed at the local veterinary office so we do receive a generous 50% discount on all our services but still, wow. I am quite confident that I don’t even want to know the total amount of money spent over the years. I’m positive I’ve sacrificed more than one trip to Hawaii.

There have been sleepless nights, destroyed belongings, broken water lines and lots of poo but I would have to say that it has all been worth it. Several animals have been spared euthanasia because they found a home with us. Our children have learned about life and death, friendship, responsibility and compassion, heartache and unconditional love. All things that can never be bought with any amount of money.

Our kitchen is the hub of our home and some of my fondest moments have been spent there making dinner. Amidst children laughing, dogs barking and parakeets screeching, we have lived out our daily life finding joy in the presence of each other and making an ordinary task in life anything but mundane. I’m sure we have ingested more dog hair than is recommended by the AMA but we have all survived and become a closer family because of our animals. Mostly 4 legged guests that we have invited into our home to be given a better life. Funny how the reality is it’s us whose lives have been enriched.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

diapers and dog hair

How did I know it would come back around to this? In a totally different fashion this time but back just the same. I used to change diapers on my children and clean up a tremendous amount of fur from our beloved Husky, Jake. Now, the kids are way beyond diapers and Jake made an early trip to the great 'doggy heaven' in the sky. But somehow, diapers and dog hair have returned for a second showing.

Our darling little poodle Gizmo, whom we rescued from the pound many years ago has reached the age of not only being blind and deaf but, you guessed it, incontinent. A mop bucket has become a permanent fixture in our home and while I hate to use paper towel in such mass abundance, the thought of pee rags waiting to be washed grosses me out!

We've tried medication and it has helped with some 'dribbling' issues, but it does not correct what we call the total bladder download. Nor does it correct his almost constant urge to use our lovely outdoor facilities. Let the dog out, let the dog in, has become a way of life around here, especially in the mornings when no one has any extra time. Needless to say, frustration levels over the situation have elevated to code red in our quiet little nest and we are all becoming a 'wee' bit impatient with him.

Now mind you, we know this is the incorrect response but when you have let a dog out ten times in 20 minutes and he still pees on the floor on his way back in, it gets frustrating.

Feeling helpless we resorted to "doggie" diapers which were of no use. The first time he wore one, the urine shot right out over the top edge of the diaper and the sticky tabs got stuck in his curly poodle hair. It was actually quite funny, and also a waste of ten bucks. Finally, I got smart and resorted to "REAL" diapers. Much cheaper and more effective for our fluffy white bundle of love. As an added bonus, they even have Clifford the Big Red Dog printed around the waistband. Granted, I do have to cut a hole for his tail but so far they seem to contain the flood and bring a slight reprieve to our frustration. Maybe we can even reduce the level to just code 'yellow'.