More Life Lessons, In Which The Totally Useless Dog Eats My Son’s Chocolate Birthday Cake, and Lives to Annoy Other Day.


I really didn’t want another dog.

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Genius Mutt in a box

Y’know that old joke, the one where various people are having a discussion about when life begins (conception, etc), and the old couple has the punchline about life beginning when the kids move out and the dog dies. At this point in my life I’m still not looking forward to when the kids move out,  nor do I want the current canine to croak, but when my previous dog died, I have to admit that I was in no hurry to get her replaced.

I had had my own dogs since my junior year in college. After around 35 years of owning various hounds, arctic breeds, retriever crosses, herding dogs, my 16 year-old Australian Cattle Dog, Maddie, was euthanized on a 4th of July. This was just slightly less than a month before my best friend died after a bout with a cancer caused by the radiation that had cured his previous cancer around 20 years earlier. When Mike died, we had been friends for nearly 4o years.

It’s not an astounding revelation that you don’t get to go back to sixth grade and make another decades-long best friendship. You’re just stuck with that permanent sense of loss that occurs when you realize nothing can ever be the same again.  I will never have a best friend who was around since I was 10. I suppose that this isn’t astounding. We all know it will happen. Everyone gets to this point, some reach it quite early in life.

Mike had just turned 50, and I was just about to do the same.  Plain and simple, I didn’t want another dog. As a veterinarian, I had usually counseled clients to get back into the saddle (more often than not a new pet helps ease the pain of the loss of the old one), and although I had always followed that advice myself, when my best friend died I decided that I was done. I wasn’t in the mood for any more loss. Life brings enough loss without going out and purposely adding to it.

But Jolee bugged me. And bugged me. And then bugged me some more. And went after this the way that only a child who wants a dog can. Then she started finding dogs on PetFinder.com. She worked on my guilt about the divorce. And then I broke. I should’ve known better. I’m a veterinarian, the guy who is on the other side of the exam table when the exasperated parent–usually a mother–comes in and says, “I told them they could have a dog if they would help take care of him!” To which I usually answer, “And you had what evidence to actually believe this claim?”

The truth is that no matter how much kids promise, they are going to fall short. Usually they are going to fall way short. And then they will probably leave for college before the dog dies, which means you’re stuck with the difficulties of caring for the old dog, with his arthritic joints, incontinent bladder, bad eyesight, and failing cognitive abilities. The kids are alright: they do have good intentions. They just have really poor followthrough combined with an inability to accurately assess their desires and capacities. There are a lot of stories about the strong bond between a child and a dog. But no one writes stories about when a child’s interest in the dog gets hijacked for interest in something else (sports, hormone-induced wackiness, cars, music, delinquent behavior. . .) The problem is that it takes forever to say no, but just a few moments of delusion or weakness to say yes. And in general,  parents love to say yes. 

But I’m digressing. This is about my son’s birthday, my dog Kaleb, who is a total maroon, and the chocolate cake.  Every 16 year-old should have a chocolate cake for breakfast on this momentous occasion. Took it out of the refrigerator, put it on the counter, put the 17 candles on (one for good luck), and went upstairs to brush my teeth. Return downstairs, and Genius Mutt is licking the last bits of crumbs off of the floor.

To be continued. . .

The Birthday Party, part 4


DRAFT

 

In spite of being separated for over 2.5 years, being divorced all summer, and the on-spot observation that both my ex-wife and I are better human beings when not in each other’s presence, my daughter wanted to have dinner with both of us. She is 11. I get it. When she took a long time on her birthday wish before blowing out the candles, I could only guess at what she was thinking. She has not held back for a moment on letting us know at every moment what she is thinking and feeling (including reconstructing the former version of the family). She does not wear her heart on her sleeve, but displays it on a large dirigible that is constantly circling overhead.

When she is angry, it’s not much fun, but at other times, when she is feeling generous, compassionate, kind and loving–which is quite often, actually–she is a contagious source of happiness.

So, in a way, even though she can be volatile, doesn’t worry me. I know what she is thinking. I know what she is feeling. And because I know these things, I can (usually) work with what I have with some sort of solid footing. She wants her mom and me–and her brother–together with her on her birthday. I can do that. I can behave, be sociable, and suppress the gunpowder when the ex either intentionally or unintentionally goes to light the fuse, which is easily ignited around here.

My son, on the other hand, is a cipher. In these past 2.5 years of separation and wrangling, he has only said one sentence about the divorce, in an aside to his sister. I have no idea what he is thinking. I do not whether he is angry, sad, OK with it, or–using his most commonly used adjective these days–annoyed.

I made it through the dinner. The ex-little woman made it through dinner (didn’t bat 1.000, but was close). I’m not in the unbiased position to judge my own behavior.

from extension.missouri.edu
from extension.missouri.edu

The Birthday Party, part I


from www.shutterstock.com
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Ever since my dog got hit by a car the day before my 20th birthday, the occasion has seemed less than auspicious. After all, if  the magic of your birthday can’t keep your dog from getting hit, how much power does it really have?

When I was a kid, of course, birthdays were magic. By themselves, they turned a day no different on the calendar from any other into the most special day of the year.Did we have to do anything special in those days, other than cover a cake with candles, sing a song, and open up cards from every relative I knew?  I remember that one year we had all my party at the Frontier Inn (of blessed memory), a cowboy-themed hamburger joint, but mostly I remember parties in the house. I remember a lot of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, dropping clothespins into milk  bottles (clothespins! milk bottles!), duck-duck-goose, red rover if we could play outside, and then the same games at other kids’ houses. What I don’t remember is coming back from those parties thinking that they were lame, or that the goody bags weren’t good enough, or that the experience wasn’t novel enough. Sure, in time party anxiety crept in–were other people having a good time, was the party a success, but not until late junior high.

At least that’s how I remember it.

My last birthday party, my 50th, was horrid. My best and oldest friend had just died, I wasn’t happy about turning 50, I didn’t like where I was in life, and I sure as hell made it fucking well clear that I DID NOT WANT A FUCKING BIRTHDAY PARTY. But that’s another story.

This story is about my daughter’s forthcoming party, and how difficult it is to plan the damn thing. As a parent, I want her birthdays at this age to still retain that aforementioned magic but it’s getting harder.

On top of it all, there’s even a more than reasonable chance that I won’t have a home to throw the birthday party in.

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