What I Get

She comes up to the sofa every hour or so, looking for a neck rub and a walk.  When she get’s outside, she’s off like a shot.  She’s never gone long.  She’ll visit the neighbor at the end of our 900 ft dirt driveway and then go a little further up the hill to say hello to another neighbor.  Then she comes back to sit in the shade of the flowers or the picnic table.

She doesn’t guard the house.  She watches for other animals, but she’s on the lookout for playmates.  She rarely worries about predators or chipmunk or deer, as  my garden can attest.  Her fur barely covers her skin, and yet she is a study in shedding.   When she wants attention or out, her whimpering would inspire the most whiny five-year-old to new depths.

But for all the mess, spectacular vet bills, and neediness, this little hound dog gives me much more in return – even things I hadn’t expected.  I knew she would be affectionate – whether or not dogs love is up to the experts to decide, but she is pretty convincing in her performance.  I knew, even lying quietly next to me while I work, she would give me companionship when the kids were in school – not a small thing when you’re in the middle of nowhere.  And she teaches me.

As I watch her endure my first-grader’s intense affection, she teaches me patience.  When he strokes her face and accidentally rubs her eye, she gives no sound of protest or reproach, and she teaches me tolerance.

And most of all, her jubilant quest to engage with the world – from the tiniest tree frog to our neighborhood bear (usually in play) – reminds me everyday that at least a little pluck is a prerequisite for true happiness.

Got My Bling

“Are we going somewhere special, Mommy?”  My five year old didn’t wait for an answer before sashaying to the jewelry tray on my dresser.  He had already seen me pulling out one of the two silver necklaces I wear for every occasion – special or not.  I have others, but these quirky, simple pieces came from my husband.  One was opened on a birthday; the other one anniversary.  They go with everything.

“Just doing errands, buddy,”  I answered.


“Don’t forget your roses,” he reminded me, dipping his finger into the felt-covered plastic tray and pulling out a pink sculpted resin earring.  I smiled as he handed it to me.  “Don’t you love them, Mom?”  I nodded and smiled.  The rose earrings are pretty.  The color didn’t go with my outfit, but these too, came with a special memory.  This one takes me to a summer day at a farmer’s market and to an act of youthful, but heartfelt generosity.  The impulse buy was his sole purchase that day, and it emptied his pockets of every last penny.

I was still putting the backing on the first rose when a gold starfish appeared in front of my face.  Another special gift, the broach was a traded-for treasure from a community tag sale .  It also did not go with my outfit, but I cannot wear the earrings without it, and I pinned it on, remembering his smile of triumph when he first presented it to me.

We needed to get moving, and I did not wait for hi


m to pull out the next piece.  I pulled on a pink crazy band and a beaded bracelet procured at another tag sale.  I checked my shopping list and purse to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything important. Then I checked my jewelry tray for any missed pieces.

Regardless of the occasion, these items have become part of my outfit.  They are my victory medals.  They are memories of days made special.  And, even when my baubles are made of buttons or plastic, they gleam with promise.


“Are you sure we’re not going any place special, Mom?”

“Just groceries and  a few other things like that” I answered.

“You just look beautiful,”  he said, standing on the bed so that he could take a closer look at the starfish again.

“Well, that must be because I’ve got my bling,” I said.



And In the End

When it was over, we packed up the car and started the two-day drive from sandy

southwestern Michigan back to Vermont’s Green Mountains.  The trip back would be punctuated by a fender-bender (the second of the vacation), a stop-over at a motel whose accommodations would remind me of another family vacation 35 years earlier (in Peru), and a brief flirtation with Murphy’s Law as we took a detour through Niagara Falls, NY.

The detour was ultimately more of an adventure in controlling the dog in a squirrel-infested park after a protracted search for a $10 parking spot, rather than seeing one of the wonders of the natural world.  But it was not all bad.  We did get to see the falls, and hour stood out for its lack of disasters.  But as we got in the car to fight our way back to the interstate, I wondered (again) if the best vacation would have consisted of staying home while hi

tting the pause buttons on the phone and the mail service.

Then I wondered if I was alone in my ambivalence toward the great American institution known as the Family Vacation.  After all, I can’t be the only one who looks at that week on the calendar with a combination of fear and anticipation.  Who doesn’t experience some trepidation at the thought of two days of playing bumper cars at 80mph while ignoring the bedlam in the backseat?

We took turns driving the rest of the day.  As we traveled, I wondered if we’d drive the vacation’s disasters into the dark corners of our memories.  The rest of the trip was uneventful.  I couldn’t write it down if I tried, but the calamities are clear in my mind. There were, to be sure, there were some significant bright spots on this one:  a boat ride, a day at a museum, a night out.  They do not always take center stage, but I wondered if the triumphs would be as vivid without the backdrop of the mishaps.

And, in the end, we didn’t learn a damn thing from the triumphs or the trials.  I know this because as we pulled into our driveway we were already planning the next one.  We were already laughing hysterically about the miserable hotel and the first car accident.  But, our little tribe was feeling tighter.  So, then again, maybe we did learn something.

Dispatches from the Driving Front – Fender Bender Mind Mender

A quick check of our car showed it to be in drivable condition even after being on the receiving end of a hit-and-run encounter with a tractor-trailer just inside Cleveland. We, however, were somewhat shaken and, after stopping to fill out a police report, decided to take a slower route through town. Neither of us was interested in hitting the highway again, and we thought a trek down one of Cleveland’s many main streets would help us hit the reset button on a vacation that was circling the bowl. At first, it turned out to be just what we needed. Then we got greedy.

The police station was on the west side of town, and we got on Ohio route 10 going east through the city. The west end of town is a mix of lower and middle-income homes and businesses. Poverty and blight have left their imprints everywhere here. However an influx of seemingly-recent ethnic and newer soul food restaurants hint at an impending revival. The recovery does not seem to be in overdrive, but the neighborhoods along this route bustle on a summer afternoon.

We soaked up the local color as the neighborhoods gave way to more touristy areas that had their own charms. We passed by the stream of sports fans flowing to the baseball stadium. Even after we passed the museums and traveled the city’s industrial side, we knew this self-imposed detour had been a good idea.

Then we got greedy. I saw the on ramp for the interstate but my curiosity pushed us further down the road from urbs into the suburbs. Suddenly the traffic became congestion. The quirky businesses were replaced by chains that made the area indistinguishable from so many other suburbs. The area was more prosperous and green, but the rows of shopping malls practically made this city street a parking lot.

We finally saw the signs again for the interstate and knew it was time to rejoin the highway. But there was one more sign before I started down the on ramp. As I waited through two light changes at the intersection next to the luxury apartment complex where it sat, I had plenty of time to read it: “Raising Property Expectations.” By the time the light had turned green for us, I wasn’t too sure about that.

Dispatches from the Vacation Front – A Good Ending

When my parents casually extended the offer to watch the kids last night, we jumped on it (I can count on one hand the number childless events we’ve attended since we became parents). My parents make this offer to us and to my sister each time we visit them in Michigan, and Grandkid-sitting has become something of a ritual. Grandma and Grandpa make something special for the kids, and then for dessert they commune over blueberry crisp in front of a movie.

My mom and I made made a mother-daughter day of the preparations as we went to the grocery store and the farmer’s market together. Our last stop was at the library to pick up the movie.This small-town library does not have the largest selection, but the real challenge in any selection is finding a movie that’s appropriate for both a five-year-old and a twelve-year-old.

“What about Cars?” Mom asked.

“They’ve seen it,” I answered. “Have you already seen that one?” I pointed to another DVD. She and Dad had with our neice and nephew. The next one had too many things I’m not prepared to explain to either child. The next was too violent – my twelve-year-old has suddenly developed an extreme aversion to that in his movies. Then my eye fell on “Charlotte’s Web”. I knew it had a sad ending, but a good one – for adults, and in a way I’d just discovered, for children too.

We had recently downloaded another movie with a sad ending – Iron Giant. The movie centers around a boy who befriends a seven-story robot. At the climax of this animated feature, the robot sacrifices itself for the sake of the boy. The sacrifice is not graphically portrayed, but my five-year-old instantly understood that the robot had died, and burst into tears.

Nobody likes to see their child unhappy, but when we had finished the first round of tears and hugs, we talked. We talked about the giant, about what and why people do extraordinary things for others. We talked about loyalty and real-life sacrifices people make for each other everyday. And as we talked – and cried a little more – we connected with each other on a different level and he connected with the world in a new way. It was not a happy ending, but it was a good ending.

Remembering that last good ending, I picked up Charlotte’s Web, only to find that the DVD was not in the case. I resumed the search as finding something acceptable once again trumped the quest for something truly good.