Choosing to Love

 

“Love stinks.” – The J. Geils Band.

Basic survival instincts send an animal away from something that causes pain. We flee fire. Dogs cower from raised hands. We are programmed to avoid pain; however, in the case of love, we actively seek out something which can cause us tremendous pain. Why?

You might make the argument that we risk the pain of losing friendship because the benefits from the friendship make the risk worth it. The sense of community and the support of friends increases a person’s chances of survival and even quality of life. But pets? Cats? Dogs? What do we get from them?

I was upset when Blu disappeared; but, I was gutted when my sister found his body under the house. This is the second of my feral colony that has chosen to die at my house rather than wandering off, as animals so often do. The White Queen died at my back door and is buried in the back yard. Sunday, Blu joined her in the little feral cemetery. I cried all day over this cat I’d never even petted. Why? Why was I so upset?

Three of the kittens of the feral colony are in my house (Wallace, Link, and Lucy); but, the colony was much larger than that. At one time, there were 14 of them. Of the eleven who lived outside, only The White Queen let me pick her up, pet her and brush her – she loved a good brushing! Twin lets me pet her from time to time, but only with one hand and only scratches around the head and neck. The others observe a strictly No Touch policy. But I continue to feed them, talk to them and, yes, love them. Why? It’s not like they give me anything.

Or do they?

MANY years ago, before I realized that he was Jerry Springer without the folding chairs, I watched Dr. Phil’s show. A broken clock is right twice a day and even the doctor was right at least this once: we engage in behaviors because there is some kind of payout in it for us. After I’d fed the ferals for a few months, the man I was seeing told me that I was going to have to stop feeding them – they were just costing me money. (He was right, it was a little tough on my budget; so, I rearranged some things. I continued to feed them, but he’s not around anymore. Draw your own conclusion.) It’s a real honor to me when these feral animals allow me to approach, verbalize to me, or even just blink slowly at me acknowledging that I am not a threat. After much contemplation, I think that my payout is that they trust me. And, in trusting me, they somehow validate me. The trust they give makes me want to be the kind of person who deserves it. Like Helen Hunt to Jack Nicholson, the cats make me want to be a better (hu)man.

Maybe that’s the payout for love – that it makes us want to be better. It makes us become people we like more. It makes us worthier in our own eyes. In the end, though, as I sit here with a dog at my feet and cat hair on my shirt, I’ve concluded that it doesn’t matter Why we love. It only matters That we do.

 

 

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It’s All in Your Perspective

I didn’t write yesterday because I was dealing with a crisis. A crisis, I tell you! There was a crime at my house! The perpetrator was the cutie pictured above.

Many of you, I’m sure, have read the humorous account of this family’s Poohpocalypse when their Roomba ran over their dog’s poop and spread it all. over. everywhere. I also read the post and giggled. How funny! Right?

Well, it wasn’t funny yesterday.

The Roomba my sister and niece gave me for Christmas wasted no time in becoming a valued and beloved member of our household. With four cats and two dogs (I know, I know) living in my 1200 square foot house, I needed to vacuum daily or all the hair on the floor looks like a small shaggy pony has exploded in the living room. I said the I needed to vacuum daily – not that I did.  It was just kind a pain in the butt to deal with; so, I dealt with in the most adult way possible – I wore house shoes all the time. Grit doesn’t count if I can’t feel it.

All that changed when the Roomba (which I named Jeeves) joined the household. He runs every morning at 1:30 AM, ensuring grit-free floors when I wake. I LOVE that! Sometimes he gets caught on things and I find him in the hall or in the bathroom – no biggie.

Except Wednesday.

He got trapped on a loose piece of carpeting at my sister’s door. The reason he got stuck was that he was the victim of Stella’s poop. He had run over it in the kitchen and had spread it all. over. the. house.

Y’all. That was just a whole new level of nasty. And the urge to just pitch it was strong, I’m not going to lie. But, first, I love Jeeves, and , two, Jeeves was not inexpensive. I had to clean him. Can you believe this? I could not find a single video to tell me how to take the bot apart enough to clean it! I found lots of stories on other people who had a Poopapalooza; but, nothing on how people fixed it. So, I just figured it out by myself – wearing hazmat gear, of course – gear that I also wore while bleaching my kitchen and mopping my floors with vinegar.

I will be posting a video to YouTube sometime in the near future to help others clean their poopy Roombas. And I hope I never have to do it again.

 

 

That Time Garth and Mick Got It Right

Years ago, Garth Brooks thanked God for Unanswered Prayers. I’ve often felt the same way even though I don’t believe in unanswered prayers. After all, “no” is an answer.

I’ve told you before that I’m a single mom (acknowledging that “single” is hardly “alone” given my fantastic support network of family and friends). What I didn’t tell you is that I’ve been a single mom since pretty much about three days before I found out I was pregnant with him. That was the night that his father broke up with me. I know you’re probably wondering; so, I’ll go ahead and answer the question: no, I did not get pregnant on purpose. However, I wasn’t all that worried about it, either, since I thought our relationship was solid and had a future. I thought that right up until he came back from a trip and announced that he didn’t want to see me anymore. (I’ve had that happen a few times in my life – been blindsided with a break-up. I guess maybe either I don’t read men as well as I should or I don’t pay close enough attention. Whatever. That’s why I have cats now.)  To be honest, I prayed long and hard that he would love me and want us to be a family. When it didn’t look like that was going to happen, I prayed long and hard that he would want to be a father to our child. That didn’t really happen, either. It was my belief at the time that fatherhood just wasn’t for him at that point in his life. The answer to my prayers was no. I was heartbroken and just plain broken for a very long time.

That was 22 years ago – 22 years of rebuilding a stronger version of my Self, of scratching out a living, of trying to be a good mother, of recovering from various catastrophes and of watching my son grow into an amazing human being. His father and I have spoken on three occasions during those years when I initiated contact – twice for legal reasons and once because my son wanted to know if he had siblings.

To say that I was surprised to see his name in my email list in February is putting it mildly. The failure of that relationship is one of the most painful periods of my life; so, quite honestly, I didn’t know whether to vomit or cry when I saw it….so I did both. Then I put on my big girl panties and read the email. In short, he wanted to try to establish some kind of relationship with my son. I was so overwhelmed that I threw up and cried again before I composed myself enough to make some kind of response, which was that my son is grown and any relationship would have to be his decision, not mine. I forwarded the message to my son and told his father that I hoped that they could work something out.

Now, please understand that although this was the real desire of the more developed part of my brain, the petty, childish part was saying all manner of nasty, hateful things. However, we’ve talked about that part of my personality before and that she spends most of her time getting put in the corner – deservedly so. After forwarding the email, I spoke with my son about his feelings on the matter, my feelings and my opinion on how he should proceed. Since I’ve told my son little about that period of time, he doesn’t carry any of the baggage that prompted the rantings of that troll portion of my personality. To prevent his having baggage borne of my perceptions is precisely why I didn’t tell him anything.

So, the men have been talking since Spring and, in September (on his birthday weekend), my son traveled to Dallas to meet his father for the first time. The Henny Penny Mother was worried that my son would be hurt in some way, although the Practical Mother knew that wouldn’t happen. And it didn’t. By all accounts, they had a really good visit. His stepmother baked my son a birthday cake – a personal touch I thought was really kind. They are defining and creating their relationship as they go on and, you know what? I am truly thrilled. My son had a family he didn’t know; but, that is changing. He will soon be meeting grandparents, an aunt and cousins. His world is widening and, I think, becoming more complete. And you know what else? I am freer, as well.

The universe didn’t come crashing down with the contact that I both feared and craved, and I didn’t revert to the woman I once was. I’m still the strong, independent woman I’ve striven to be – the woman I actually like, the woman I don’t believe I’d be if I’d gotten what I prayed for all those years ago. So, like Garth, I’m thankful for those “unanswered” prayers; and Mick was right – you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need.

The Growing Cold

“She can’t breathe, John!”

I remembering hearing my mother say that to my father as I sat coughing, watching television one night. (No doubt we were watching Gunsmoke or something.) Anyway, I remember her sounding alarmed and me thinking that it was just a cold. Well, my dad picked me up and took me, wearing my flannel nightgown covered in Pirouette-style clowns, to the hospital where I was admitted with pneumonia. The doctor tried comforting me by telling me that he was building me a playhouse. (What fun!) I told him that it wasn’t a playhouse, that it was an oxygen tent. Who was he trying to kid? I watched Medical Center and I told him so. I was between three and four years old.

(The whole experience was humiliating! They made me sleep in a baby bed, for crying out loud! AND, big girl that I was, they made me wear diapers. Ugh!)

My next experience with the illness was about eight years ago when, while splitting firewood (something I well and truly suck at) I began to cough up blood. On account of I’m so smart and junk, I knowed right off something was wrong. (Okay, I didn’t. I totally called my dad to see what he thought. You can guess what he thought.) This time I wasn’t admitted to the hospital, but spent the next week recovering on my sofa snuggling with Trey. I highly recommend big, black dog snuggles to cure what ails you.

As breathing became a greater and greater challenge last week, I began to wonder if I was up for round three with it. So, I dragged myself to a doc in the box on Saturday who diagnosed acute bronchitis and infected ears. Ugly, but not pneumonia. So, I’ve got my steroids, my antibiotics, my inhaler, my sorbet (better than sherbet, methinks), my Powerade Zero, cough drops, and vegetarian soups. I’ve got books to read; but, sadly, no coloring books to color. Maybe when I feel a little better I’ll go on a hunt for those.

As I recall, they were a pretty good curative, too…not as good as a sweet, black Labrador, but, then, few things are.

A Friend for Ellie

Trey and Ellie were my two BBDs – big, black dogs. As you know, I had to help Trey across the Rainbow Bridge in February and we are all still adjusting to a household without the old man – Ellie especially.

Ellie came to live with us several years ago when I had to go out of town for a conference and asked my sister Chele if she would come and stay with my son while I was gone. She said that she would, but that she was fostering a bitch with five pups that weren’t weaned yet. Barracading the family in the kitchen was easy; so, I told my sister to bring them on with her. “But,” I said, “you listen to me and hear what I’m telling you. I don’t care how cute those puppies are, they are all. going home. with you.” (See how I never said anything about the mama?)

So, my sister arrived with this painfully skinny black dog and five of the cutest puppies EVER. I had them all named within five minutes, much to Chele’s dismay. (I didn’t realize that you weren’t supposed to name foster puppies. It makes it harder to send them to new forever homes.) Anyway, I named them all and we got everybody into the house where I inquired about the mama whom they called Princess.

She had wandered up to some guy’s house. He started feeding her and thought he was going a great job since she was getting so fat – then she dropped five puppies. Knowing that my sister is a soft touch with the canines, he contacted her and dropped the whole family off with her. Chele said that while the dog would let me pet her, she would not come to me and that she was head shy. This mama dog was just heartbreaking! So thin, she looked like her bones were about to cut through her skin. And she was, indeed, head shy, but after a few minutes she walked up to my chair, sat next to my feet and put her head on my knees. Yep. She picked me. What was I supposed to do with that?!

Now, we already had Trey who had become destructive since the death of my previous cat – the 19-year-old (some say possessed, I say precious) Isabeau. He wasn’t too keen on the puppies (especially after they tried nursing on him. Poor guy flipped out over that! One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.), but he loved having Princess around. Since she had been a stray for some unknown period of time, she was very  fearful. When Trey tried to play with her, he frightened her. However, he was patient and sweet. Eventually, she came to trust him and they were wonderful playmates even after we renamed her. (There is only one princess in my house, honey. Moi.) So, Princess became Ellie and our home to one BBD became home to two. Until this February.

Once a month, my friend Kent comes to stay with me for a few days. He brings his BBD puppy Khaleesi with him. Last month was the first time he came and the first time Ellie met Khaleesi. And did those two girls ever have a wonderful time! They played outside all day every day and came in exhausted every night. I knew that Ellie would enjoy having a friend, but I underestimated how much. When Kent arrived on Wednesday, Ellie saw Khaleesi through the window and she, who never goes out the front door without my permission, bounded out the door as soon as it was open, joyfully greeting her friend on the sidewalk before the two of them went running through the house, out the back door and into the yard to play just like the little girls that they are.

I have no intention of adding to my horde and, with four cats to play with, Ellie is a long way from lonely; however, it’s great that she can have play dates with someone her own size. And, for the next several months, every month, for five days, there will be play dates and a friend for my Ellie girl.

Snowbound

During the worst part of my recent illness, my father came to stay with me a few days. As it happened, we had a good deal of snow and ice during that time and the poor man couldn’t have left if he had wanted to! We were snowbound.

And it was wonderful.

The amount of precipitation we had in Middle Tennessee that caused a panic and empty bread shelves at the Food Lion wouldn’t have even caused a school delay when my son and I lived in Latrobe, PA; but, they have the proper removal equipment there and we just don’t have it here. We don’t get that kind of precipitation often enough to make it economically feasible to have snow plows all over town. And, frankly, a snow plow doesn’t do much good with ice anyway; so, Dad and I were stuck in the house where we talked, rested and read in front of a fire we kept going for almost the whole week.

As I’ve told you, I adore my father. There are a great many things this imperfect man and I disagree about, but that just makes for interesting conversation. Mother nearly died giving birth to my sister and she was very, very ill after having me, as well. So, with both of us, Dad was the one who took care of us early on – and he still does it. I remember him running across the yard and swooping me up out of the fire ant bed I had climbed into, and him carrying me into the hospital when I had pneumonia as a toddler. More recently he insisted on coming to take care of me a few years ago when I had my tonsils removed and couldn’t swallow even the pain meds. (Incidentally, I certainly hope the stories are true and that it hurts worse as an adult than it does as a child. That was worse than labor!) Those are just three of the countless times Dad has been there to help me. My father is not a man who often expresses love verbally; however, he never lets me forget that he loves me and that he worries about me. Even with his expansive vocabulary, he is a man of deed more than a man of word. Words lie. Deeds don’t.

A friend at work lost her father last week in a house fire. We have all grieved for this sweet woman in her loss; but, I have to admit that part of my grief is not for her. It’s for myself. I know that the day will come when Dad won’t be there when I’m unwell. I won’t be able to call to “check his pulse.” He won’t read us ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He won’t be peppering conversations with stories of his years in the forest and with Southern idioms like “useless as hip pockets on a hog.” Someday he won’t be here and I will be devastated at the loss of my father and, again, at the loss of my friend. But, until that awful day comes, I will treasure every chance I get to be with him and, after, I will treasure the memories of being snowbound.

 

The Ringing in My Heart

The first singer I ever saw in concert was Elvis Presley – don’t hate. I remember my ears ringing after that concert and after every one I’ve seen since. The music is always so loud that it’s like my ears turn down the volume themselves to get some relief. In all actuality, the tips of the hairlike stereocilia in my cochlea have been broken by the sound and continue to send false information to my auditory nerve even after the noise has stopped. After about 24-hours, the tips repair and the false signals stop, ending the ringing. While the damage is repairing, however, it’s harder to hear the real auditory input for all the garbage.

The last couple of weeks have been like that. I’ve taken several pretty serious emotional hits that have left my emotional ears ringing. I’m having a great deal of trouble at this point hearing much of anything. Anything, that is, except, “I love you.”

I have heard that through the ringing from friends, from family and from some people that fall into both categories. I haven’t been able to respond well; but, I’ve heard you. I have heard some of you especially clearly.

There are friends who say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or “Let me know if I can help.” Those friends are sincere and are valuable. However, there are also friends who say, “Here’s what time I’ll be there,” or they just show up, or they call or write because it’s all they can do at the time. Those friends are invaluable.

I have far more of you than I deserve and I am so grateful.