Fear

I let Katie out for her last potty break before bed.  I don’t walk her at night – one too many close calls with Yogi, the bear who visits my composter regularly, scared me off of late night strolls.  Katie’s a country dog.  She knows these woods better than the boys do.  But tonight her bravado outpaced her brains, and we both learned a powerful lesson about life in the woods.

Katie’s nightly runs are shorter now that the weather is colder, but they usually include a last minute visit to bark goodnight to the neighbor’s dogs.  She normally comes right back and barks at the window to come in.  Tonight, however, the bark at the window was short and sharp.

I turned to the Big Guy, happily snoring on the recliner we lovingly call our Venus Flytrap, to see if he had heard Katie’s agitated yelp.  He snored his reply, and I went to the door, hoping to get her in before anything more interesting pulled her attention back outside.  But I was too late.

I opened the front door and looked left toward our wood shed.  I knew instantly that something was wrong – both cats were crouched nervously on the top of the highest row of firewood.  As soon as the door opened, they glanced in Katie’s direction before darting into the mudroom and then the living room.  Katie was nowhere to be seen, but her barks had devolved into low growls.

Now I was nervous.  I stepped out and called out to her and heard only more growling and now scurrying sounds from the brush behind the woodshed.  Suddenly I saw something furry and low moving toward me.  Now I yelped.

Hoping my shriek had roused the Big Guy, I skedaddled back to the door, calling for Katie as I retreated.  Katie, however, was braver (or dumber) than I and came around the other side of the shed, zeroing in on her quarry.  At first I thought it was a raccoon and considered rousing the Big Guy to get his gun, but, worried that it would be too late and risk hitting Katie, I instead grabbed my umbrella and charged outside.

I knew tangling with a raccoon was stupid.  They’re not necessarily rabid here in the woods, but they can be ornery, and I was a little relieved when I got close enough to see that Katie’s prey was a porcupine.  As far as the dog was concerned, however, the porcupine wasn’t much better.

Our last dog had a couple (very expensive) run-ins with a porcupine or two, and I knew I had to get between Katie and the terrified critter.  Doing my best lion-tamer imitation, I kept the open umbrella between me and the fanned-out quills and tried to get Katie to leave off the chase.

There were a few shrieks (me) and lots of barking, and I kept hoping the Big Guy would come to my rescue.  But the pull of the Venus Fly-Trap was way too strong (and our house way too sound proof), and for those few tense minutes while I soothed and disciplined Katie, I was on my own.

Katie came into the house with a few quills in her mouth and, what I’m sure will be a short-lived but painful lesson about picking her prey.  My lesson will stay with me, however.  It is part of a long education that has already seen a few scary tests.

Largely due to our spotty and often abysmal health insurance situation a few years ago, the Big Guy went through a series of health care issues that became crises, two of them life-threatening.  One event led to a week in Intensive Care, and the second sent him to the ER with an infection that nearly cost him his leg and even his life.  While he fought so did I.  Once he was in recovery, however, and my adrenalin receded, I remained in crisis management mode.

I spent the next few years trying to anticipate and plan for any disaster that would leave me as the sole caretaker of two kids, and that planning often had me wondering how I would get on without my partner in crime.  I now know that the constant attention to that safety net took away a lot of the joy of being with my husband, but when it became less panicked, being prepared was – and is – a source of confidence.

Now, I may be temporarily terrified when wielding my umbrella against the creatures of the forest, but I know that somewhere in there I have the mettle to overcome the fear.  The fight is over, and I’m not obsessing about the next porcupine – or the next crisis.  I know whatever comes – crisis or critter – I can handle it.   And the foremost part of handling any of it is not to live in fear of what may come.

Traffic Jam

Tuesday day before Thanksgiving, and the house is almost ready.  The kids’ room is at Defcon 2 (down from a catastrophic level four), most of the laundry’s done (that was going to get done before Sunday), beds are made and ready for guests, and I only have the shopping left to do.  I dropped the kids at school and turned south on Route 7A going out of Arlington.  I got to the turn off for the highway but, not seeing anyone in front of me, decided to stay on the slower road to Bennington.

A meandering two lane country road dotted with  a few farms and the occasional white-steepled church, Historic 7A (as it’s known in the tour guides) is even more scenic as the November morning brushed the trees and meadows with a muted pink and green frost.  Usually I’m too preoccupied with to-do’s to absorb the view, but this is my last bit of quiet before a long weekend of entertaining, and I am determined to enjoy the drive – as long as it doesn’t take too long.

But I’m coming around a curve, about to set the cruise control when the back end of a decelerating dump truck magically appears in front of me, interrupting my view and my plan.  He continues to slow down, and I roll my eyes.  What now?  We are now crawling forward, but my curiosity is short-lived.

A few seconds later we get to the cause of the slowdown. It is a single flagger directing traffic around another orange-vested road worker. On the side of the road, parked in someone’s yard is an orange VTrans pickup.  And then I see the flagger has a couple helpers.

As the flagger steps out into the road, a couple of Rhode-Island Reds appear, inspecting the scuffed dirt around the parked pickup.

The dump truck and I slowly down a bit more, but we don’t even stop. I watch the dump truck weave carefully around the flag man, and the flag man waves.  The dump truck driver probably doesn’t know the guy.  I don’t either, but a second later I pass and wave too.

I accelerate out of the last curve.  The car speeds up, but I’ve completely slowed down.

Circus Homeworkus

 

Thing2, my six-year-old, is a miracle of motion.

I am watching him flit from couch to chair to table to hall with a soaring grace that would put any trapeze artist to shame.

Sadly, his first grade teacher has yet to incorporate acrobatics into any homework assignment.  But I figure I can get another sip of soda before tackling my daily feat of daring – talking his head down to the kitchen table while making sure his spirit continues to soar to the ceiling and beyond.

Flash Mob

We go to Bob’s Diner every Saturday for breakfast.  It’s a ritual.

Sunday mornings, we have a different ritual that involves breakfast at home and chores, but company is on the way and the mess in the boys’ room is a def-con four, and we’ll need the energy from the fat and protein to tackle the job ahead. So we head to Bob’s.

The place is packed, but loyalty has its privileges, and we get table quickly.  We sit, and the big guy hangs up our coats.  We wait to five our drink order, enjoying a bit of people-watching as we wait for our beverages. There is a wonderful mix of people including retirees, families, and teenagers enjoying a bit of freedom on a Sunday morning.

At a table nearby there is a group of young people – they can’t be more than 18 or 19.  They are happy and boisterous, but not so much that they disrupt anyone else’s enjoyment of the morning. Some of them are flipping through the songs on the nearby jukebox, and soon we hear the opening bars of Queen’s  Bohemian Rhapsody.  At the other end of the diner, I can hear one or two patrons who look to be around my age humming along.

Then the comes the chorus.

“Mama!!”  It’s belted out by the table’s entire population of teenagers, singing along with Freddie Mercury. The entire diner erupts with laughter. The next verse starts, and a few of the teens attempt to continue singing along with the song, but they don’t know all the words. It devolves into giggling, but now the entire restaurant is waiting for the next refrain, and we are not disappointed.

Again the kids sing out, a pitch perfect,  “Mama”. They continue singing along with the parts they know better and mumbling the parts they don’t, and when the finale starts, I am almost tempted to light a lighter – stadium concert style .

Then the song ends, and the fun subsides. There are a few more giggles, but they are replaced with the soft din of conversation as people return their attention to their meals.  But everyone is still smiling, and when the teenagers finish their breakfast a few minutes later and file out we can’t help but applaud them for reminding us how much a we all need a little disruption from our routines once in a while.

My Mile, Her Moccasins

I got my lab/beagle/take-your-pick mix on the spur of the moment. I had been working at home for several months and wanted a companion during the workday when the kids were at school.

Katie now goes everywhere with me. From the minute I wake up in the morning, she’s there. She positions herself right at the head of the bed so she’s often the first face I see when I wake up in the  morning (the big guy is long gone for work by then).  By the time I’m loading the kids into the car school, she’s there in the parking circle at the bottom of our driveway waiting for us.

“You want to go for a ride?”  I’ll ask, and she’ll wag her tail and hop in the car. Sometimes she’ll race us to the top of the driveway before wagging her tail and jumping in. When the weather’s not too hot, she and I will continue on after I drop off the kids and run my errands before work.  For the the longest time I thought she just enjoyed sleeping on the seat by my side, but the last week or two got me questioning not just what I know about dogs (which isn’t much admittedly) but also how I might be dealing with human animals in my life.

It started a few weeks ago when we approached the park after dropping off Thing2.   She was sitting on the seat next to me, watching the town go by, and suddenly her whole body started to quake. When it became evident that we were going to pass the park instead of turning in go for a walk, she began to whimper. I couldn’t understand it we hadn’t been there in months.  Then I remembered an unplanned play date she’d had with another dog there back in June.  Could she be remembering it too?  I shook the idea out of my head and drove on.

Today, however, as we were driving the short trip between the middle school and the bank, I got a clearer picture what it is to travel that mile on her paws.

We’d dropped off the kids as usual, and as usual Katie jumped from the seat next to Thing2 into the seat next to mine.  She curled up and seemed to fall asleep for a few minutes.  Then we turned into the bank.

I pushed the talk button to ask for a deposit slip, and I saw her ears perk up slightly.  When I pushed the button to send the canister to the teller, she sat right up.  The tail started thumping just a tiny bit, and then I noticed that she was staring right through the glass at the teller with the limpid bedroom eyes she uses when she’s begging for scraps from the kids at the dinner table.  That was when I noticed the bowl of dog biscuits on the counter next to the teller.

Then it hit me that, even though she had only been here once before, she had put in on her mental map faster than Pavlov’s dog. The teller nodded and waved and popped a biscuit into the canister before sending it back. Katie’s tail was now on full speed.

I don’t know much about dog behavior; everything I know comes from growing up with my parents dog labrador retriever and from raising Katie, and that ain’t much. Early in Katie’s life I did read advice from dog experts warning about the fallacy of projecting human emotions onto dogs.  But as Katie’s thumping tail reminded me not to underestimate her memory, I wondered if our projection of those human emotions says more about us than it does about the animals in our care.  And it got me wondering how often in human relationships, I project my preconceptions ,rather than widening my perceptions.