How My Baby (a Teenager) Taught Me that Puppies Are Like Babies

When I tell someone we have two new puppies, the reaction goes, “Puppies are so cute! Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!” Followed immediately by, “It’s like having babies.”

I grant that there are many similarities. They are crazy cute. I am more housebound than I would like to be. And they pee in inappropriate places. But that’s where the similarities end for me. I feed them from a bag not my body, baby wipes are only for their ears, and I can leave them in a crate in a pinch.

Last week, my 15-year-old echoed the “puppies are like babies” sentiment, saying that raising puppies will help prepare him for being a father. (Awww…!) There’s some truth there: caring for puppies exercises your patience, love, and forgiveness. It requires you to do or say the same thing over and over and over before they “get” it. And at setbacks and joys alike, you must remind yourself “this too shall pass.”

One moment with the puppies recently reminded me of a feeling I had in my early days with an infant. About 15 and a half years ago, in the wee dark hours of the night I sat in a rocker with my baby in my lap for a middle-of-the-night feeding. He was asleep in my arms, finished with his milk, and the crib loomed a mere four feet away from us. I had never yet managed to get this love out of my arms and into his crib without him waking and crying (I would later discover co-sleeping, Praise Be). Hoping this would be the first time, that I would soon return my groggy self to my own bed, I slowly rose, glided soundlessly across the room, leaned my body over the crib with his body against mine until the mattress accepted his weight, I ever sooooooo slooooowly stood up. I waited. YES! I had done it! He was still sleeping! I was ebullient! I felt like I’d scaled a mountain! Cured cancer! Could do anything!

My comparable puppies moment: that same son and I gave them a bath.

The puppies had been playing in the yard after the sprinklers had been on, digging a hole in wet soil. They were filthy. White paws were dark brown. We couldn’t let them in the house. A bath was mandatory.

We had never done this before. There was no special puppy tub, and the kitchen sink seemed too big for these guys. How would we accomplish this? Where to begin? We retrieved a towel, a bucket, and put two inches of warm water and soap in it. Good enough start. My son stood ready with the towel while I put the first dog in. With a little rubbing, the dirt came off. I handed the surprised, wet pup to the waiting, towel-holding arms of my son, and repeated. These two baths lasted less than 30 seconds, and we had two clean, dry puppies!

We were so inordinately proud of ourselves we high ten‘ed.

That was no small thing. My son is a great kid, wonderful to be around. But I’m the mom, the one who asks about homework and reminds about appointments, so sometimes it feels like we are moving in opposite directions, like friction is our default. Joining forces to give the puppies their first bath, exulting together in that new-parent feeling of accomplishment, reminding ourselves of our bond, was a priceless moment that made every other little puppy mess well worth it.

A lot like having a baby.

img_1597

img_1633

This is Marriage. This is 18. This is Life.

We had planned a quiet anniversary celebration, since the school board transformed what used to be a summer night into a school night a few years ago.

Our first anniversary was a trip with friends to Hawaii.

Our third was a walk to a park with our baby in a stroller.

Our fourth through seventeenth…well, who can recall the details? A few dinners, a few nights with sick children, a few vacations, a search through my mind’s records would likely reveal.

But our eighteenth anniversary will be remembered as the day we got our first puppies. Two.

IMG_1524

Officially I have lost my mind.

After years of saying no, I felt ready for a dog. A single dog. We discussed this in May, decided to wait until the end of summer, when travels were done. And then today our friend brought over four puppies for us to choose from.

puppies

The cuteness was the problem. How to choose? Add to that so many voices– the friend giving them away, my mother-in-law, my sons, my nieces, even my husband — insisting that a single dog would be lonely without a companion.

I tried using the rational mind: “Most people we know with dogs have just one dog.” And “My mental health is more important than the dog’s mental health.” But the rational mind does not always win. Because, remember, the cuteness.

When it was time for the woman with the puppies to go, pressure was applied. But it didn’t take that much. And now we have two dogs.

And so an 18th anniversary becomes trip to the pet store for supplies. Becomes friends coming over to see the new puppies. Becomes nieces coming back and back again to cradle the pups. Becomes an uncle coming to visit. Becomes my sons trying out names and playing with them and cleaning up after them, and feeding them and getting pillows for their bedtime crate. Become my incredulous parents popping by to wish us a happy anniversary. Becomes an impromptu barbeque, and opening a bottle of champagne and Martinelli’s cider, which had been cooling in the refrigerator since last year.

If ever there is a time to uncork some celebration, this is it. This is 18 years of marriage. Kids. Family. Friends. Blessings abounding. And, now, dogs.

This is life: Full and overflowing, throwing some caution to the wind, saying yes.

IMG_1527

IMG_1542
Watching Olympics is more fun in a group.
IMG_1540
Let’s hope this lasts all night…?

 

 

 

 

Dispatches from Graduation Day: Elementary School Edition

The youngest is graduating from elementary school today. “I can’t believe it’s over; I spent more than half my life there” he says. He recognizes this as a Big Moment. “It’s the first big school transition, Mom.”

“What about from pre-school to kindergarten?”

“I didn’t even know what was happening. I thought we moved.”

DSC00167 (2)
2011 Kindergarten Graduate

It’s a big transition for me, too, even though almost nothing changes. Same work, same routines.

Still, our children’s transitions are our parenting milestones. They mark the passage of time, creeping closer to the day they grow up and out. I may be wrong, but my hunch is that my kids’ 0-18 years will be one of my life’s favorite phases.

I remember one early, major milestone: The Stroller Transition. From the first days of motherhood, this new accessory came with me everywhere. In the car trunk, on the sidewalk — the stroller was an extension of me. It carried my child, and I guided it. It connected us. And then, one day, my younger son stopped needing it.

One would think this would be liberating! No more schlepping equipment to and fro, up and down stairs! And in some ways it was liberating. But it also meant I would no longer catch my reflection in a store window, arms extended pushing my baby, but instead chasing to keep up with a growing child running ahead of me on his own. It took me longer than necessary to abandon the stroller, because it signaled that I was leaving part of my then-identity behind — Mom of Little Ones — even as it heralded the beginning of new, wonderful phases, being the mother to growing, curious, expressive kid/tween/teens.

So elementary school will be behind us by day’s end. Onward and upward. Middle and high school. College. Jobs (please God). And at each transition, each new milestone, I will remind myself to appreciate the unknown wonders that will come next, and allow myself a few tears for the parts of ourselves — both the parent and the child — left behind.

 

 

 

A Prayer for Purple Swords and Pratfalls

I come home from the market and see a purple foam sword lying on the just mowed lawn. It is a prop, along with an orange nerf gun, green ninja discus, and plastic machete, in a movie that four 11-year-old boys are making. I’m not sure what this flick is rated, but knowing one of the actor/writer/directors pretty well, I’d say it’s a safe bet that it’s PG for some violence. And, okay, mildly offensive language.

And something about this makes my soul smile.

A soul needs to smile.

I don’t know if it’s real or it’s only my perception, but it seems that our younger son and his friends have a certain innocence and openness to imaginary play that had already been abandoned by his older brother and his peers at the same age. The older boys were all sports all the time at 11 years old, which can be wonderful, but that passion can lend itself to trash talk and alpha male preening, in some instances. Give me sword-fighting and pratt falls any day.

Meanwhile on the lawn, the boy holding the camera calls action. Another boy aims a nerf bow and arrow, and releases its projectile toward a third boy. “You missed!” the target says. They fall down laughing.

It is May already. Next month these boys will graduate from elementary school, and two months later they will enter middle school. I know things will change. I’m not naive.

But I’m hopeful.

I pray for them to maintain enough innocence that they will still make movies, that nerf guns and green frisbees will still unleash their imaginations, that they will still play together unselfconsciously on a perfect spring afternoon, and that the only “drama” will be the storylines they create for the big screen.

2016-4-29 boys movie.JPG
Watching dailies of their scene.

Writer’s Life: Julia Dahl

I met Julia Dahl last May at the Jewish Book Council‘s author “pitch fest,” at which hundreds of authors have two minutes each to give book festival planners a glimpse into their synopsis, soul, and speaking capability. When Julia stepped up for her turn, I heard a thrilled murmur of anticipation among the attendees, and when she described her latest book, Run You Down (out today in paperback!), I understood why. Meet author and journalist, Julia Dahl.

DAHLheadshot

What have you learned from parenting,or from your parents, that you bring to your work as a writer?

Well, my son is barely 4 months old, so at this point I’m just trying to learn parenting itself! But from my parents I learned to love reading – my mom’s motto is “bring a book!” – and from my love of reading came the desire to write.

I also brought a lot of my parents into my mystery series, which features a protagonist whose mother is Jewish and father is Christian – just like my parents. Our family celebrated both religions and there was never a conflict. My mother and father respected each others’ faith and saw similarities, not differences. Once I grew up and left home, however, I saw people from both religions who seemed keen on emphasizing what divided the two, and I wanted to challenge that with my writing.

Where do you write? What do you love about it?

I tend to write in coffee shops and cafes and I rotate between about half a dozen places near my home in Brooklyn. I like a little noise and distraction and I like getting out of my apartment to work. It helps me feel like what I’m doing is important enough to get dressed for.

If you had a motto, what would it be?

“Talk about a dream, try to make it real.” – Bruce Springsteen

Who inspires you?

Right now, my son, Mick, inspires me. He was born a month early and wasn’t really ready to be out in the world, but he’s such an unbelievable trooper. He’s endured poking and prodding by doctors and two unprepared and overwhelmed parents, and he’s done it all with grace. I truly can’t wait to see who he becomes.

What charity or community service are you passionate about? Why?

Several years ago I went through training to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in the foster care system. I’ve mentored girls since I was in college and while some of the experiences have been tough, I’ve always felt that giving my time to young people who have been let down by the adults in their life is incredibly important. I haven’t been active in CASA for a couple years, but I hope to go back one day. In the meantime, I try to help teens where and when I can. A friend of mine – who left a strict Hasidic community and has managed to make a wonderful life for her children despite the death of her husband – asked me to help her son with his college essays and I loved doing that.

What are you reading now, and/or what book do you recommend?

The three best books I’ve read in the last few months are The Harder They Come by TC Boyle, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and Purity by Jonathan Franzen.

Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for CBSNews.com. Her first novel, INVISIBLE CITY, was named one of the Boston Globe’s Best Books of 2014 and was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, RUN YOU DOWN, is now out in paperback, and the third novel in her Rebekah Roberts series will be published in 2017. Julia was born and raised in Fresno, California and now lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and son. Connect on Twitter (@juliadahl), Facebook (JuliaDahlAuthor) and www.juliadahl.com.


 

run you down cover dahl

 

 

Thank you, everyone. Thank you, dumb luck.

 

For my family, 2015 has been an “interesting” year. Before I head out to the market with Thanksgiving shopping list in hand, and before the days tumble over each other headlong into December, I wanted to sit and give thanks.

Thank you, readers. For inviting my words into your minds, letting them linger and simmer and blend with your own thoughts and experiences.

Thank you, writers. For brilliant words that inspire me to try harder, for sharing what you’ve learned on your path, and paying it forward.

Thank you, booksellers. For graciously welcoming me this year. For selling books. You do it because you love it, I know, but I thank you anyway.

Thank you, She Writes Press. For your innovation and vision. For your community.

Thank you, my old friends. For holding in your memories a “me” from before motherhood, the one who was funnier and less serious, so that I can sometimes catch a glimpse of that girl. Thank you for still being near.

Thank you, my “new” (e.g. of the past 15 years) friends. For lighting the way forward. For being an extended family to mine. For carpooling, for venting and listening to vents, for the occasional “Moms night out.”

Thank you, music.

Thank you, dancing.

Thank you, my sons. For teaching me how to parent you. (I don’t mean the little things, like “can we please have Grand Theft Auto.” Sorry, that’s a no, because I can’t handle “virtual” violence on top of the actual violence we know about in the world.) I mean, thank you for telling me things like, “We need more of you than you’ve been giving.” Thank you for giving me the chance to do better.

Thank you, my husband. For your creativity. For your incredible parenting. For your humor. For your positive outlook. For singing in the house.

Thank you, my whole family — my sister, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins, and especially my parents. For being present. For being cheerleaders. For being healthy and thriving, even though that’s mostly up to chance.

Thank you, good fortune.

Thank you, dumb luck.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

If words could build a force field around us, if a prayer of gratitude could keep us safe, healthy, fulfilled, and loved…

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

 

 

They Get Taller Than You

Sometimes the most biting truths, the ones that come as the biggest shocks, are the most obvious. You miss them because they are in you, you are breathing them.

For instance, my sister said the other day, speaking of her daughters: “I never had the conscious thought, ‘One day I will wake up and they will be taller than me.’ I knew it, but I never thought about it. Then when it happened I thought, I wish I could go back to yesterday and just be aware that that was the last time.”

I had my own “so obvious I refused to look at it” moment last week. Those kids you’re so consumed with raising to be responsible, productive, independent souls, will someday actually go do that. They will become their adult selves, they will move out and onward and become people you have to make a date to see for dinner.

Of course this is not news — we began saving for college when they were born — but I have refused to look at it. Maybe it is denial. Or maybe it is getting caught up in the demands of today, that tricks you into feeling that your life will always be exactly as it is right now.

In my first year as a mother, I spent so many red-eyed 3am’s rocking my baby in my arms that I felt that that would be my life forever. I would forever hold his entire weight in my arms and absorb the rhythms of his body in my heartbeat.

It’s all I can do now to remember that feeling.

So last week the realization that time is passing grabbed my face in its palms. It forced me to look at it. My sons are 11 and 14, which translates to “we have time, but also, not so much.” That infant is in high school.

What prompted this realization? A jokey conversation we had about how much my teen is going to love living on his own, doing what he wants, watching football all weekend uninterrupted. The next morning, I woke as though remembering bad news, recalling that conversation. Then I came downstairs with a different attitude toward making breakfast and packing lunches. It’s just a short time more. It’s just a short time more.

It was the same lesson I learned in that dark bedroom, the first year of his life: “This is finite. Be in the moment.” It settled me down, reminded me that the bad and the good of it were not forever. Life’s plans would catch up to us. Mothering babies taught me to be in the moment like nothing before or since. It’s part of why that first year felt like it lasted so long. Each day had more in it.

That’s all I want now — to elongate the days together. But staying in the moment is harder with bigger kids. The days race by. They play on their own. They want their own space. I try to stay close. I offer a back scratch. I look at them and wonder if today is the last day I am taller than them.