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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

If You Spell DOG Backwards

     Some of us are just animal people. When I was young I would always surround myself them. I actually wanted to be a vet. I remember in second grade we had to make a figure of ourselves grown up. Mine had big brown eyes, long brown hair in a ponytail, wore a white coat and as holding a rabbit. I loved all animals. Still do (...even spiders that make my skin crawl if they get too close), but especially dogs. As a child, if there was a dog present I was on the floor holding it, or cuddling it or kissing it. If I could've be surrounded by dogs all the time I would have been in my glory. They really are amazing creatures. They are social animals like humans, and although our ways of communicating are slightly different, our social rules and family/pack hierarchy are very similar. That's the scientific reason we have created this symbiotic mutualistic relationship. We care for them and they offer some sort of service to us. (i.e. we put them to work.) But do you think that's all it is? A mutualistic relationship where we each receive some sort of benefit? On paper it makes sense. But if you have ever had a relationship with a dog, you know its so much more profound than that. They are our companions in life. They are capable of true unconditional love, the likes of which many people never experience from another human. They are loyal, nonjudgmental, protective, helpful and compassionate. I actually believe that our dogs are sent to us by God. They choose us, find us and then they walk beside us through the challenges of our lives. And when we have learned the lessons we needed them to help us through, they leave us. When they leave us, our lives change. Not just because they are gone, I mean that our lives change in monumental ways. It's usually at that time when we meet our next animal companion sent to escort us through the next phase of our life's journey.
     When I was about 6, our family dog (Buffy) died. A few weeks after my 7th birthday, we went to get a new puppy. My parents found this woman who bred dogs in her home. There were two puppies left. A white one and a black one. They were not litter mates. The white pup's mother was there, but the black one's wasn't. My parents asked us which dog we wanted. I answered immediately, "The black one." I didn't want to take the white one from his mother. We named him Velvet because that's how soft he was. I know, it's a terrible name, but I was 7. Anyway, Velvet was an amazing dog. He was our family dog, but he was sent to me. We had this connection that was almost telepathic. We anticipated each other's needs. I went through a really tough time in high school. I was quite depressed and involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. I would cry and cry and cry. (I remember at one point I would mark on the calendar the days I was happy!) I would sit on my bed with my Velvet. He would lick the tears off my cheeks, curl up in my arms and somehow I got through it. 19 years later, he was a shadow of his former self. He was blind, incontinent, nearly deaf, and just a bag of bones. My parents wouldn't put him down without my ok. And I just couldn't do it. One morning, just weeks before my wedding I woke up and he was on the floor by my bed crying in pain. I called in my dad and said, "It's time." It just so happened that the week before, my sister's family had moved in temporarily while their new house was being built. We were all there. Everyone came up to say goodbye to him. I held him in my arms in my bed and when it was just the two of us left, he closed his eyes, his body shook and I felt his soul leave his body. And he was gone. My life was about to change for ever.
     As soon as Mr. Jones and I were married, I started itching for a dog. He told me he wanted to wait a little bit.We decided that we wanted to rescue a dog. Without telling me, he went to a vet to see two dogs that had been rescued and who were in need of new homes. When he got there, they told him that they couldn't show him one of them, but the other was still available. When they brought this giant 11 month old black lab into the room, she took one look at Mr. J., got up on her hind legs, wrapped her legs around his shoulders and licked his face. As if to say, "You're finally here, I've been waiting for you!" Mia was our first baby. We weren't planning on having children right away, but as I said, when God sends you an new animal, it means your life is about to change. 3 months later I was shocked to find out I was pregnant, and her job was to give us a crash course in parenting. Mia had medical problems from the get-go. Aside from being a training challenge (a very passively dominant female), she had 13 skin allergies (that we know about- she probably had  more undiagnosed). We tried food trials, allergy testing/desensitization, medication after medication. Mia was a lot of work. But she was our baby. And speaking of babies, she was always gentle and loving with our girls. We knew that with all her meds, her life would be shortened, but I wasn't prepared last week when Mr. J started drawing my attention to how sick she really was. She wasn't herself anymore. The poor thing just scratched day and night. She had become incontinent, lethargic, excessively thirsty and sometimes exhibited labored breathing. She was not finishing her food, and the doctor's opinion was that her kidney's were failing. So we made the appointment. At 4:30 today we walked her into her vet. Dr. H had been with her from the beginning. He was as devastated as we were. She was ready. She looked at Mr. J. nuzzled him, and then she turned and kissed my face. Then she got comfortable on the floor and fell into a trance-like state as we sat next to her and caressed her tormented body. I prayed quietly over her as "Amazing Grace" played over and over in my head and a snippet from Fontine's death scene in Les Miserables when Val Jean sings, "Be at peace. Be at peace evermore." The room felt swollen with spirits and lights kept turning off on their own. When Dr. H came in, she stood up, walked over to him and put her head into his lap. She looked up at him with her big beautiful eyes and I swear I heard "Thank you," in my head. He got her up on the table and she seemed a bit nervous all of a sudden. He gave her a sedative. I whispered to her, "I love you." I felt so at peace and serene. I knew she was going home to God. I prayed that she would find her way into His arms. When she was gone, the doctor left us with her to say goodbye. I felt like she was letting us go so we could move on to the next phase of our lives. (The chapter after cancer.) We did everything we could to prepare our 6 year old for the inevitable. She handled it well, I think. She cried in our arms. We held her and told her that everything she was feeling was normal and that it's good to cry. 
     I can't help but see the parallel that my animal loving angel will be 7 in a couple of weeks. We plan to get another dog, of course. None of us can imagine a life without one of God's special messengers. Not sure what breed...don't really care actually. I just know that when the time is right, he/she will find us, and we'll know. And our lives will change. And that's okay because we'll have our new family member to ease us through it. You know what they say about dogs don't you....if you spell DOG backwards...... ;-)
     As always I'm sending love and light out to all of you in cyberspace. I hope you will hold your companion animals a little closer tonight. My house will be a little quieter than usual, but I won't be surprised if the lights start flickering or if I see a black blur in the corner of my eye dart across the room. I don't believe my Mia's gone. She's waiting for us on "the other side." And when we meet again, I fully expect her to stand up and wrap her paws around our necks and plant big wet kisses all over us....that is, if she can get past my Velvet!
Rest In Peace My Mia-Bella
9-12-02     6-28-11

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fathers Be Good To your Daughters....Mine Was!

Me And My Dad on Top Of The World
     Do you know that song by John Mayer? "Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers. So mothers be good to your daughter's too." It's a beautiful song and very true. With Father's Day approaching, I have naturally been thinking a lot about the kind of Dad my father is and the kind of dad that Mr. Jones is to our girls. Unfortunately, in America, we don't really have too high of a standard for dads. Mothers are expected to feed, clothe, bathe, change, nurture, engage, teach and discipline their children. This is a given. Fathers on the other hand are not really expected to do much. In fact, in this day and age, they are praised just for showing up. So many men just check out of their kids lives. I can't tell you how many single moms I've met during my 11 years of teaching who refer to their child's father as "the sperm donor." It's a sad state of affairs when all we expect from our men is a child support check and a visit once a week.
     My husband is not like that because his dad isn't like that. In fact sometimes, I'm embarrassed when my girlfriends complain about the lack of help they get from their husbands because I cannot contribute to the conversation. Mr. Jones does everything from diaper changes, to laundry, to homework. He is insulted if someone says he's "babysitting" our children. He says "I'm not babysitting. I'm parenting." He does a hell of a lot more than just show up. He's the kind of dad that my dad was (and still is). When I was born, most men didn't change diapers or even feed their babies. They went to work, came home and drank a beer in front of the TV. My dad went to work and fell asleep in front of the TV too, but with my sister and I asleep on his chest. My dad set the bar pretty high. He was the over achiever of dads. He didn't have any sons, so I was the best he could do. He taught me to hit a baseball such that the boys in the outfield would back up when they saw me coming. (Yes, I said boys. We played in a boys league 'cause there weren't enough girls. He was the coach, of course.) Most dads teach their kids to ride a bike. Mine did too, after he taught me to ride a horse (western, of course, he wasn't going to raise a horse-snob). I learned to sit back into a canter, and "cowboy up" if I fell off.  If he had a hammer, I had a hammer. If he was working on the engine of our boat, I was right beside him. I was never very mechanical, but that didn't matter. He taught me how to navigate across the Long Island Sound using a compass and a chart (right-red-returning), and to pilot and dock our boat before I was old enough to learn how to drive....which he, of course, taught me to do as well. He taught me to shoot a mean game of nine ball. (Although I'm not sure if my success in the game had more to do with my skill at shooting or subtly leaning over the table at just the right moment when my male opponent was about to make his shot---that I learned from my mother!) My dad had a lot of interests. And I was interested in anything that he was. It didn't matter what we did, as long as he was with me. We would talk about everything in my life. As a teenager, he'd take me out to lunch to try some random restaurant that my mom and sister would never set foot in. We went alone on a pack trip (camping on horseback) through the Colorado Rockies when I graduated college. We'd head to the beach in March and just walk and talk about life. He was always interested in my perspective on things, and he always had the best advice (still does). Today, we don't get as much time alone together with my girls and my sister's kids occupying everyone's attention, but he's there for almost every one of his grandchildren's soccer games, field days, recitals, shows, and concerts. Not to mention that he'll drop everything in an instant if we need a quick babysitter. He really is an amazing man- an amazing father.
     I remember reading somewhere that studies show that fathers who spend a lot of time caring for and engaging their daughters as babies have better relationships with their children through adolescence and adulthood. This is because they don't have to make a connection with a teenager. They already have one from  birth. John Mayer hit the nail of the head with his song.
   Why did I choose Mr. Jones? Well, if you read Mr. Jones And Me, you remember how I saw him across a crowded room working with children with autism and I said, "That's the kind of guy I need to marry." I instantly saw in him the qualities that I knew would make a good companion- a good husband and a good father. I wasn't conscious of that at the time. I just knew there was something about him that made him special. And after I met my father-in-law, I realized that he was just living the example that learned from his father (another exceptional man who I love to death!).
     These are extraordinary men., but they are not alone. I know that there are a lot of dads out there that are doing a heck of a lot more than showing up. It's just that our society tends to focus on the negative... "the dead-beat dad." But I know some of my friends out there are exceptional dads just like my dad and Mr. Jones. I know you guys are stepping up with the diapers and the feeding and the changing and the laundry. And some of you are fighting to with every ounce of your being for custody or more rights to be a bigger part of your kids lives. So many of you are doing so much more than just showing up, and I think that that needs to be celebrated. If you are that kind of dad, I thank you for being an example to a generation of children who need so much guidance. (I hope my daughters meet one of your sons some day!) We need to celebrate the men who make this world a good happy secure place to live for our children. So this Father's day lets really celebrate the men who are being men and taking care of their own. Lets tell them that we love and appreciate them.

Mr. Jones, you make my life worth living, and our children are wonderful, happy and beautiful inside and out because you are their father.

And Daddy, I am everything I am because of the man you are and have always been. You taught me everything I said above, but most importantly, you taught me to love with an open heart and see with an open mind. There is nothing I would not do for you.

     I hope you will share this with the men in your life. As much as we girls have it all under control, the world is a better place because of the good men in our lives: our husbands and our fathers. They need to know we love and appreciate them because unfortunately, they are limited in supply!

Sending love out to you as always....especially to you boys!
 Happy Father's Day! 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Gift is My Blog, and ....This One's For You

     We use the word "gift" a lot, don't we? "She has a gift." "He's a gifted..." What does it even mean anyway? Mr. Jones and I use it when referring to my sister's children. These kids can sleep anywhere. I remember once being in the middle of a noisy restaurant on vacation and I looked over and there was my niece, sitting upright sound asleep in front of her chocolate cake- fork still in hand. Meanwhile my daughter's bouncing off the walls at 10 pm, "I don't want to go bed, Mommy. I'm not tired. Can we go play air hockey? Can I have some soda? What time does the show start? Can we go down to the disco?" And a weary Mr. Jones looks at me, then at my niece and then back at me and says, "Those kids have a gift." But really, who is the gift for? Is it a gift for the kid that she can sleep? Or a gift for my sister that her kids have an off switch?  That's what confuses me. Who is receiving said gifts?
     Supposedly, everyone has a gift of some sort. Everyone has something that makes him special. For most of my life, I had no idea what my gift was. I was never really good at anything. I never thought of myself as particularly pretty or funny like my BFF, Jennie, who boys just pined over, and who can even make a story about digging up dead bodies funny (It's not weird- she's a forensic scientist). I loved music, but wasn't very talented like my sister.  I wasn't a great dancer or exceptionally witty like my other BFF, Missy. I wasn't a great athlete like my cousin, Andrea. I was "the smart one". In fact, the school district even went so far as to call me "gifted" because I scored high on some test that means nothing. But I always knew that there were plenty of people who were way smarter than I was....especially when I got to college. So I don't really consider my level of intelligence as that much of a great gift. I'm really not an expert on anything. I'm not even a great scientist because I'm not organized enough. I'd like to think I'm a great teacher, but I know what some of my colleagues are doing and I pale in comparison. I have many interests, and things that I'm good at, but I'm really sort of a "jack-of all trades" and a master of none.
     Mr. Jones has a gift. He has this way about him. He's so humble. He presents himself with no bravado, no pretense and no nonsense. And people love him. (He's not even going to agree with that statement because that's how humble he is. Meanwhile, every nurse/volunteer in the cancer center who has ever treated him has stopped by his treatment today to see how he's doing and to tell him how wonderful he is.) He's a great dog trainer....and people trainer for that matter. He has this way of affecting people (and animals) so that they want to change their behavior....and often they do without even realizing it. That's his gift. But I wonder whose gift is it really? Is it a gift to him from God? Or is it his gift to the world from within? Or is he God's gift to us? Maybe some combination of all three?
     I really believe that everyone one of us does have a gift. Given to each of us to present to the world. It took me a long time. I spent most of my young life trying to camouflage my personality. I realized early on that most people didn't get me. If I had a dime for every time someone told me to think less.... I worked very hard to appear normal. I didn't want anyone to think that there was anything extra ordinary about me. I don't know when I finally stopped hiding. Some time after I hit 30 I realized that I like who I am even if it isn't ordinary. I have an uncanny ability to develop deep friendships with people, and I like that about me. I do have a gift after all. I have been given a gift from God to share with the world. My gift is the ability to make anyone I meet feel good about who they are. Like I said, I'm not exceptionally good at anything.  BUT maybe realizing how not good I am, and how talented other people are is my gift. I am extra-ordinary. I have the ability to love people without fear, accept people without judgement and find the redeeming qualities that make each and every person I know feel special about something. And that is why I have been called to write. We spend so much time cutting each other down to elevate our own egos. We judge out of envy and fear. We are so afraid that if someone else has a gift that it makes our value less. Well I am not a 4 year old child who can't handle seeing my sister open her birthday presents. I am proud my sister. I am not jealous that she is tall and thin and beautiful and an amazing singer and the kind of teacher who students adore to the point of stalking. She has a gift. You have a gift too. And you need to stop hiding behind your fears and insecurities and come out and share that gift. You need to be celebrated. None of us is ordinary. Paradoxically, each one of us is extraordinary. We need to stop tearing other people apart for they gifts we are envious of, be grateful for the gifts we have been given to share, and celebrate the gifts that we appreciate in others. Poorly scripted reality TV and the anonymity of technology has turned us into a culture of  mean girls. We just criticize and put down and make fun of. We cannot continue support this culture of negativity. This nation was founded on the idea that each one of us has a right to be who we are without fear. We have become our own worst enemies. So I beg of you, be authentic. Be yourself. Let your gifts shine through regardless of what the mean girls say. You are extra-ordinary, so be extraordinary.

.....As always, I hope you will pass this on. Someone out there needs to know that she is extraordinary too. Someone out there needs to stop being afraid to be himself. Click "like" at the top or the little "f" below to share the link on fb or the "T" to share to twitter. Or copy the http to email to someone whose gift you appreciate. (Be sure to tell them what you love about them!) Sending my love out to you always! <3