The Oklahoma Standard

There is very little left to be said that hasn’t already been said. It all comes down to perspective from this point forward. By now, everyone knows what happened and everyone knows that my family and I are safe. In terms of natural disasters, the EF5 tornado that tore through Moore, Oklahoma was the absolute closest I’ve ever been to that kind of death and destruction. However, in terms of tornadoes, it was nowhere near me. There are 18 miles between my house and the Warren Theater. For the first time in my life, the horrifying images I’m still seeing on my television are literally just down the road from me.

I am now able to compare the absolute fear that takes over when one is about to face the eye of a hurricane and when one is about to take cover from a possible tornado. They are the same yet completely different. You have days to prepare in both situations, but here in Oklahoma, you have mere moments to react. The meteorologists in this part of the country warned us ahead of time that the weekend’s weather, leading into Monday, would be volatile. Saturday I learned of heat bursts as we buckled down for 80 mph winds that never came. Sunday I had my first taste of a non-drill tornado warning and watched Carney and Shawnee get ripped apart on live television. By Monday, I was in go-mode.

The hail started falling around 2:30 and the sirens started wailing shortly after and my husband sent me text messages from his downtown highrise office telling me to get the dogs into the basement. It was absolutely confusing when the meteorologists warned of a tornado dropping on the ground in Newcastle but they continued to talk on the television about a storm near Bethany and Warr Acres, the area in which we live. My husband wasn’t aware that the sirens sounding here at home had already warned me to head underground. He took photographs from his office window of a storm system dropping what initially looked like a funnel cloud closing in over our neighborhood but turned out to be two major storm systems converging.

over Bethany

over Bethany

He took a few other shots of a massive storm just to the south of downtown Oklahoma City, the one that had just dropped a twister down onto Newcastle, west of Moore. The photographs below show a ground-to-sky tower of rain and a huge wall of blackened clouds. Deep within its core is the EF5, slowly making its way into the city of Moore.

rain-wrapped Moore tornado

tail-end of Moore tornado

I eventually came out from the basement and left to pick up my daughter from school where, she tells me, she sheltered-in-place with her classmates and helped to calm down a terrified fifth-grader by explaining to him the Spiderman was stopping the tornado. We (me, the kiddo, and three confused dogs) immediately rushed down into the basement once more when the wailing sirens sounded for the last time on Monday and I think I’ve been in a kind of mild shock ever since. My daughter, it seems, is doing just fine. Now we get to carve a notch in our proverbial belts and claim to be somewhat experienced. I’m grateful to those who have proclaimed my official status now as an Oklahoman, seeing as I still feel somewhat like a stranger in a strange land.

If I could take the intensity of a hurricane and compact it into a mile-wide vortex and then combine it with all the anxiety and fear of an impending two-day tropical cyclone crammed into a span of five minutes, that is my best description of what it is like to face a potential tornado. And I wasn’t even there. I’m here, safely tucked away in Northwest Oklahoma City where I can’t even see the destruction unless I turn on my television. And it’s the only thing that is on my television. Of course, there is the schnauzer that was rescued on live TV directly behind his owner who, at that very moment, was mourning the loss of her pet and there are snapshots of teachers carrying their injured young students to safety. I get it – this hope thing – but, truth be told, I can’t stop weeping over Plaza Towers. If only this had happened next week, those kids would not have even been in school… or Why don’t Oklahoma’s schools pull half-days during severe weather alerts, like we do in Florida?…

I have to stop thinking those thoughts. It’s done. The Universe doesn’t make sense sometimes and, quite frankly, I’m still pissed off at her. We all grieve differently, I suppose.

There have been earlier posts in which I’ve entertained my East Coast friends with certain vocabulary that is known only to this part of the country (mesocyclone, fruit salad hail, suction spots). One of my new favorites is this one: the Oklahoma Standard

“There has been a lot of talk about the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ of dealing with disasters, and this community is responsible for setting that standard. We knew all along what kind of people we served and have always been proud to serve them. Now, the rest of the nation and the world know they are the best.”

Oklahomans are no strangers to disaster given that the above quote was born from the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. But in many instances, before and after the bombing, pieces of Oklahoma have been blown down by the big, bad wolf time and time again and, you know what? She has rebuilt time and time again. So why do people live there? I, too, asked myself this very question just over a year ago.

Here is my answer: there is no safe space. In the world. Anywhere. My home in Michigan was constantly under the threat of wildfires, suburban DC was and still is teeming with violent crime, and Florida…well, you’ve all had your say about why people continue to live in Florida. Hurricanes and sinkholes and coastal erosion galore! But it is home for many people, as it was for me for 16 years, just as Oklahoma is home for so many others.

And, for now, Oklahoma is home to me.

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Why the Ocean is Blue

Sometimes I am completely blown away by how creative my child is. It was kind of fun to see Matt be blown away, too, and perhaps for the very first time. I like to think he’s experiencing those “proud Dad” moments, such as when I read aloud a story that Elle had written for her class assignment. Matt and I both decided to save this one. It is presented to you exactly as she wrote it.

Why the Ocean is Blue

In one sweltering July, Seaturtle took a cool dip into the pink ocean.

“Why, hello!” Ocean welcomed Seaturtle.

Seaturtle looked around, confused. Nobody was in his view, so who was talking to him?

“Hello? Who is speaking?” Seaturtle asked, right before he dove underwater.

“Me, the Ocean.” Ocean kindly replied.

“Oh.” Seaturtle popped his little head up from the water.

As hours passed, Seaturtle and Ocean chit-chatted away. They noticed how much they had in common with their dislikes, favorites, and lives. Seaturtle and Ocean would’ve talked all day and night, but Seaturtle had children to take care of. As the sky was painted with pink and orange, Seaturtle HAD to go.

“Oh,  I think it’s my time to go!” Seaturtle examined the sky.

“Five more minutes?” Ocean begged.

“Sorry, but I have children to feed. I was already late for lunch.”

Ocean settled down and thought of some other way to convince Seaturtle to stay a little longer. Though, he couldn’t.

“Fine…but before you go, do you wanna be best friends?” Seaturtle swam to shore before he answered.

“Sure. I’ve never had a best friend before…”

Ocean was about to ask Seaturtle something, but Seaturtle was out of sight in a blink of an eye.

“Bye,” Ocean softly said through the thick, black air.

***

The next morning, Ocean woke up with four little seaturtle kids in front of her.

“Oh! Uhhh…hello there! Are you lost?” Ocean asked as nice as possible. She didn’t want to frighten them.

The kids looked at one another, then one of them finally spoke up.

“Have you seen our daddy?” the youngest one asked through her sniffles of sadness.

“Why, no. Well, not this morning, but last night. Didn’t he come back to you?”

“No.” The four of them all said together.

“Oh…um, could you all leave please? I…I…”

“Okay.” All at once, they flippered themselves home.

“Thank you.” Ocean tried her hardest not to cry in front of them. Though it was very difficult.

Then, the tears came, along with the booming sobs. Weeks, months, and years passed by and Ocean became bluer and bluer. Still, Seaturtle has never come back.

THAT’S WHY THE OCEAN IS BLUE.

Isaac and Me

Jones, Oklahoma

Jones, Oklahoma

My family is a hardy bunch of contemporary Midwesterners and Floridians whose ancestors emigrated from England and Prussia over 350 years ago. One of the first of our kind to land in America, John Throckmorton, helped to establish the first Baptist church in the country in Salem, Massachusetts with Roger Williams before going on to found the city of Providence, Rhode Island. Ambitious man, apparently. Another of my ancestors served in the 1st Ohio Regiment during the Civil War and fought in the Battle of Shiloh, among many other battles over his three years of service. This is only a smidgen of the history I have found in my Dickensheets family tree.

Throckmorton? Dickensheets? (Don’t forget my Bieber lineage!) Go ahead, poke fun all you want at my family names, but know this – I have castles named after me in England! Moving on…

Most of my family, from centuries past and until now, is settled in Northern Wisconsin and Southeastern Ohio (only in recent decades have some of us headed south to Florida). There is a distant connection to the Ingalls family of Little House fame by way of my grandmother by marriage, but besides that most of our kind have stayed east of the Mississippi River with the exception of my daughter and me. However, a few weeks ago, my brother informed me that we were not, in fact, the first of our family to head this way…out here to Oklahoma.

Introducing Isaac Wentz – a grandson of the first Dickensheets to arrive here in America!

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history

On Saturday, a friend and I took a drive out to Jones, Oklahoma, where Isaac and his wife are buried. It is only about 25 minutes away from my house in Oklahoma City but I found it a bit comforting that others in my family tree are nearby. So what if they’re dead?

The weather was a bit chilly but the sun was out, making it a near-perfect way to spend an afternoon in an old graveyard. I haven’t enjoyed a good old cemetery stroll since the last time I visited Savannah, Georgia. And no, the Jones IOOF Cemetery is hardly an elaborate showcase of burial vaults and historical markers, but the headstones served enough purpose to at least make me want to know more about these people who were alive when Oklahoma was only a territory, not even yet a state.

Did Isaac come to Oklahoma for something or to escape something back East where most of his siblings remained (good ol’ Grandpa Dickensheets had amended his will out of resentment, though I don’t know if Isaac or his mother were affected)? And why did he decide to settle in the small town of Jones? The Oklahoma Land Run took place long after Isaac was already established here with his wife and children. I know so little (read: nothing) about the history of Oklahoma, especially this region, and can’t imagine what could possibly make life so appealing here at the time.

Yet Isaac and I have at least something in common with each other – we’ve both left our families and all we know back East to make a life of adventure in the wild, wild West (even if my adventures really only consist of visiting long-lost relatives in nearby rural Oklahoma cemeteries).

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history

Wentz Family - my Oklahoma history

More Teddy

For a fairly good sized 60-pound catdog, Teddy somehow manages to gracefully curl himself into a ball or carefully prop himself upright leaving him to rest quite easily on the leather sofa – the back of the leather sofa, where cushions and armrests are not required. Teddy is surprisingly considerate enough to leave those parts of the sofa for the humans (although he is always happy let you know he’s back there by sniffing your hair, licking your head, or by licking himself right next to your head).

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Teddy and Chimay. She is sometimes difficult to see right away in this house with dark brown floors and furniture, but her new reflective collar has kept us from spooking each other more than once.

We are used to finding Teddy like this, resting comfortably on the back of the couch. There is probably a really great view out of the front room windows from this height, too. Even after moving a smaller sofa right up against the front room windows, Teddy still prefers his spot on the leather sofa. Perhaps the cushions and armrests are somewhat confining to a catdog who lies on the floor with his legs outstretched in front of and behind him (we call this his yoga technique).

More boingle yoga with Teddy

The following photographs show how we found Teddy yesterday morning, his legs outstretched and hugging a cushion, his body completely draped over most of the sofa with his tail dangling nonchalantly behind him. I snapped pictures of him for a good minute, in tears from laughing so hard at what a funny cat-slash-dog he continues to be. Teddy didn’t budge, except to move his head to see what so damn funny. He was comfortable.

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Getting Things Done

Do you ever have those kinds of days that leave you feeling like your head is somewhere else, like you can barely muster through the daily grind because you lost your focus and you’re moving in slow motion? Receiving really bad news will do that to a person. I’ve been barely plugging through most of my week – first by fighting off the pain of a slow-healing dental procedure and now by dealing with the emotional blow of that aforementioned bad news, all while trying to remind myself that shit still needs to get done.

Does it really? Because, well…no.

The laundry got done. The dishes got done. The legal paperwork got done. The dogs were fed twice a day, every day, and so was the family. I showered each morning and remembered to change my socks. Sometimes it’s the most a person can do.

Actually, that’s a lie. Because another thing I am able to do is constantly remind myself of all the things that are not getting done (like a lot of my classwork, watering the tree, and the vacuuming). Their incompleteness will not cause any kind of crisis and will probably serve me well when I am able to really get things done once again. I am very much looking forward to that day when I can tackle all those tasks, big or small, and feel accomplished.  In fact, I know for certain that one day soon I will feel spectacularly proficient in all things routine and mundane!

Today just isn’t that day. Tomorrow might not be that day either.

My plan was to work really hard all week and get most of my class assignments turned in early because this afternoon was reserved for my photo walk through Martin Nature Park. It was going to be my reward, to play in the 60 degree weather and enjoy the trees and sunshine with my camera, all by myself, before the next Arctic cold front pushes through.

Plans? Ha, says the Universe.

Before the New Year, Elle shared with me how much she disliked accompanying me on walks because I am constantly stopping to take pictures and this made her very bored. When I reminded her that she could use the digital camera her uncles had given to her at Christmas, she actually asked to come with me on one of my walks. The two of us spent hours out there, just walking the trails and crouching in the ferns and hopping off red rocks to get a good shot. Elle enjoyed herself so much I actually caught her laughing. I haven’t shown her that photograph yet.

This was a day when I was really into it, though, and totally focused on having a good time with my daughter. I didn’t seem to worry about all the other shit that needed to get done. Maybe it was already done. Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t remember. I doubt even weeks from now I’ll look back on mid-January and say I wish I’d gotten more shit done! No, I won’t. There are bigger things going on in the Universe and my job right now is to get my shit together.

And that’s what needs to get done.

So here are some photos from that walk I took with Elle a few weeks ago in the nearby city park, when none of that other stuff mattered.

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"E" on a tree

cypress stumps

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The HAPPY Lamp

On Christmas morning, my husband gifted me with a light therapy lamp. For those of you who are not familiar with light therapy, it is a home-use lamp that helps combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I use my SAD lamp every day, but in this house, per the  husband’s request, we refer to it as the HAPPY lamp (oh, silly wordplay and optimism!) and that is how I will refer to it here.

While it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between my winter blues and my homesick-fueled pining to be back in Florida (where it is 74 degrees today, FYI), the HAPPY lamp was a justifiable purchase. We have jokingly suggested that it was a Christmas gift for the whole family because when I’m feeling a bit dispirited or wholly miserable, everyone knows it. I make sure to tell my family and do my best to convince them that they should also be miserable. Misery loves company, right? Well, the HAPPY lamp keeps me company these days, especially when I’m no fun to be around.

Does it work? A friend of mine in Pittsburgh asked me this the other day. Her husband is having a hard time this winter and she’s considering buying one for him. While I cannot say yes or no at this point (light therapy is recommended daily for 3-4 weeks before any positive changes are felt), I can make a few other suggestions, on top of the HAPPY lamp, that are helping me get through winter here in Oklahoma. If you have suggestions of your own, please share!

  • Candles: There is something comforting in soft light. I also heard a few days ago on some news show that lighting a candle that give off one’s favorite scent is an easy way to jolt one’s happiness levels. I believe this. Our house usually smells like red velvet cake, vanilla, pineapple-cilantro, or lemon-lavender at any given time.
  • Greenery: I love being surrounded by trees and flowers. Winter kills this for me and, in turn, I think it makes the world ugly to me for a few months. The palm trees and loblolly pines of the south don’t shed in the fall, so to be surrounded by bare trees (and no trees, sometimes) is challenging. I brought my potted plants indoors and tend to them every few days. In fact, I’m thinking of bringing in more (my husband doesn’t know this yet) and putting a plant in every room in the house. Yes, I would like a tree in here but I can’t promise Teddy won’t pee on it.
  • Comfort food: My daughter loves my homemade chicken soup. I love big, hearty breakfasts and biscuits with gravy. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn soufflé! Basically, I wish I could eat Thanksgiving dinner every day until spring, although I do find some comfort in the frozen bags of okra in my freezer and the citrus fruit my parents sent to us. Spring and summer are going to happen again, one day.
  • Wistful nostalgia: In the form of photographs, I’ve been reliving warmer, sunnier days here in Oklahoma. I figured I would share some of these photos with you, too. This gives me a boost when I realize that in only 3 months I might be able to start digging up my first Oklahoma garden (even though we’re actually considering trough gardening this year, but that’s another post for another day). I plan to grow sunflowers of all sizes and colors, hollyhock, more lavender, and native wildflowers. I can’t wait until my world looks like this again!
cape honeysuckle

cape honeysuckle

salt marsh caterpillar

salt marsh caterpillar on yellow mums

dayflowers

dayflowers

Indian Blanket

Indian Blanket

I’ve got a few months to go.

In the meantime, I will continue to follow through with my daily dose of HAPPY lamp rays. According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of SAD include feelings of hopelessness, increased appetite and sleep (not decreased as with other forms of depression), social withdrawal, irritability, and quite a few others. I believe wholeheartedly that the purchase and daily use of a HAPPY lamp is worth the money and time spent in front of it (it only requires 30 minutes a day for 3-4 weeks to receive the full benefits of light therapy).

I want to love Oklahoma so I do not blame Oklahoma for this. I refuse to let winter thwart my attempts to feel at home here. I suffered the same ill-effects during our Florida winters when Nor’easters would drench our coastal city for days at a time or when temperatures fell to unusual lows resulting in ice on the roads. Jacksonville natives still talk about that day in 1989 when snow flurries fell as if it were the apocalypse.

Winter happens. The seasons happen. The cycle, the renewal, and the rebirth, blah blah blah. My husband occasionally brings up the idea of vacationing in Colorado for a ski trip. I cannot be tricked into this as I know skiing involves snow which involves cold. I counter that with an idea of my own, of vacationing somewhere not covered in snow, someplace warm!

Perhaps I’ll be converted. Perhaps I’ll come to enjoy winter. Perhaps I’ll need a bigger HAPPY lamp.

A Simplified Year

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Bolivar, Missouri

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We spent the last weekend of 2012 in Springfield, Missouri, visiting family and friends. A late Christmas gift exchange was celebrated with Matt’s family on Saturday evening when we got into town. On Sunday we drove to Bolivar where we spent the day with friends and I snuggled with a five-week-old baby. New Year’s Eve included more friends, wine, a laugh-till-you-cry card game, talk of Tony Danza and cold-hardy chickens, and keeping an eye out for the police while our party host shot off fireworks from his backyard.

It snowed Sunday evening and most of New Year’s Eve – heavy, fat snowflakes that didn’t stick. It was cold and wintery, but not intolerable. And it was beautiful from inside the house. My in-laws kept their television and the wood stove running nearly all day. Considering we get only a handful of channels on our television in Oklahoma City, I was TV-drunk and totally blissed out.  Matt and Elle went to see The Hobbit in 3D while I stayed behind and watched Mary Poppins and the enjoyably cheesy Tomorrow, When the War Began with Matt’s dad. Then he and I talked about pestilence, the war in Flanders, and Ayn Rand.

I received a text from my mother in Florida on Monday night, telling me that she and my dad were celebrating with their traditional New Year’s Eve dinner of fresh shrimp and crab legs. Her fingers would be too messy to text me later. When Matt and I began heading home on Tuesday morning to Oklahoma City, I insisted we at least grab some sushi for dinner since we can’t readily get our hands on fresh shrimp and crab legs around here.  Sure, we might be a whole day late (New Year’s Day is actually when my mother cooks up her annual batch of Polish sausage and sauerkraut, a tradition I won’t particularly miss smelling all that much), but I wanted to keep some of the seafood tradition around…even if we had to half-ass it and make it up as we went along.

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A lot has happened since the first day of 2012. I read these words earlier: “You can have everything you want in life, just not always at the same time.” I wish I knew who to credit. Better yet, I wish I’d been the one to say this! I’m not one for making resolutions because I tend to take action only when the moment feels right or when I know I am fully committed and willing to make a change (and more likely to be successful), but it all seems to come down to perspective, really.

And a simplified perspective is all I truly want to gain this year (well, that and my Bachelor’s degree). So that when I have all the things I ever wanted – and not all at once, not all at the same time – I might still be able to recognize that I was lucky enough to have them happen to me, for me, or even because of me at some moment in time.

I wish this for everyone, along with a happy 2013.

How’s Teddy?

My parents often ask, “How’s Teddy doing?”

They don’t ask out of favoritism, but because they are aware of my hysterics months ago upon realizing what a nightmare with four legs we’d brought home. All is good now – Teddy and I are snuggle buddies, which I find surprising for a cat. To clear up any confusion, though, he really is a dog that just acts like a cat: bats the ball around all by himself, rests on the back of the couch, steals socks, licks my hair, and is easily distracted by random strings and stray yarns (anything tassled, like a throw blanket, is just asking for trouble).

This morning, while starting to watch an episode of The Grand (I have no trash television channels and must import the dramatic filth from BBC via Netflix), I was cozying myself on the couch in my bathrobe. Teddy crawled on and up the back of it, put himself down directly behind me, rested his nose right on my shoulder, and proceeded to snooze away.

Here he is just a few hours ago, blissfully asleep at the crook of my neck.

snuggle buddy

I wish there were more moments like this. They do happen quite often, but usually after Teddy has been tuckered out from beating the hell out of me. I pay a price.

Keeping in mind that he is still young and playful, this morning (pre-snuggle) he ran me over with his tennis ball tug toy in his mouth and knocked me to the floor. When I tried to get up, he and his sixty-four pounds jumped on my stomach and swung his toy around, aiming the tennis ball directly for my face and clocking me at least three times. I lost count.

Thankfully my glasses are still intact.

After my daughter came out of her bedroom to rescue me, I stood myself up and was immediately pounced on again by Teddy who, as it happens, likes to spontaneously attack the loose sleeves of my bathrobe. Unfortunately, my arms get in the way. The act might look vicious to a passerby, much like how a K-9 police dog is trained to attack a fleeing perpetrator (we’ve all seen the hilarious videos where the German Shepherd goes for the suspect’s arm), but I know Teddy is playing and he’ll stop as soon as I tell him to be nice. And after a few reminders to stop and be nice, he did, because he’s a good cat, er…dog.

So, Mom and Dad, Teddy is fine. We all are.

Bonding

My daughter has flat out asked me many times, “Teddy’s your favorite, isn’t he?” and as much as I hate to discuss this topic in front of the other dogs, I’ll just confess now – yes, he is. But there is a good reason. During what has been one of the most difficult transitions in my life, when I was at my most selfish and insecure, he reminded me to consider other people’s feelings, or other beings’ feelings.

Elle and I came here to Oklahoma City with barely anything of our own. No furniture and no idea of what was to come, only our clothes and photographs, a gift set of new silverware, and other personal items we couldn’t bear to leave with my folks in Florida. I even said goodbye to my cat, leaving Polly with my parents because there is no way she’d survive the busy road in front of our house. Soon after, my tiny compact car that got us here was traded in for a family minivan.

We moved into Matt’s house, a house I had no part in choosing, filled with furniture I would never have bought for myself. The walls were already painted and decorated with framed photos of people I didn’t know and prints I didn’t buy. And the kitchen was already stocked with food I don’t usually eat and with cookware and dishes I didn’t pick out.

There was a great deal of change going on this summer: My daughter got a dad, I got a husband, my husband became a stepfather, and Elle and I inherited a house, a new city, and two dogs, Abbey and Chimay. I love them dearly, I do (the veterinarian’s office was one of the first places I became familiar with), but feeling unattached and lost, very few things felt like mine.

And then, two months ago, for my daughter’s birthday (and per her request), we brought Teddy home and he completely ransacked any idea of normalcy I thought I was coming to find in my short time here in Oklahoma. By the second day of knowing this dog, I wanted to take him back to the pound. He’d already escaped twice, tried to bite me when I attempted to safely bring him back home, and caused so much chaos in my life in just those short 48 hours that I called Matt at work that Friday afternoon (my daughter’s actual birthday) and cried to him, “We’re taking him back. I think I hate him.

This was the weekend I think I experienced the worst emotional breakdown of my thirties. (This one peaked while I was crumpled into a ball in the back of our minivan at the 24-hour dog wash. It was obviously unplanned.)

We decided to wait a few days before returning Teddy to the pound, mostly because I was feeling guilty about having brought this dog into our home and already wanting to throw him back into the stressful world of dog adoptions. He was rambunctious, muscular, and aggressive when only slightly provoked – the exact opposite of the docile, quiet, floppy-eared darling we’d seen all sad-eyed in the pound. But the worst thought kept nagging at me – what if we took him back and he didn’t get adopted by another family? I hated knowing that I could be the reason he would be…oh, I can’t even think about it.

Elle was so nervous around him that she wanted nothing to do with him. It was apparent that, if we kept Teddy, he would become my dog since the whole point of bringing him home with us was to provide Elle with a canine companion, to feed and care for and be best friends with, and she had already decided she was over him.  My brother helped calm me down over the phone on that second day (while I cried in the minivan) and suggested that Teddy was confused by all the newness and was simply trying to find his place in our family.

That was my Eureka moment.

Before Teddy, we were just this new little family of three people and two dogs, some of us already in established relationships with the others and some of us trying to connect, attempting to find our way through the day without feeling lost because of all the changes going on around us. I still didn’t feel like this was home to me – the city, the house, the paint on the walls, not any of it. It is why I was finally able to look at Teddy one day and say to him, “You don’t trust me any more than I trust you, huh? New house? New family?  I know it’s hard, buddy. I know.”  A little scratch under his floppy ears, his paw on my leg, and our bond was solidified. We decided to be nicer to each other and see what each day brought us.

sleepy Teddy

So we bought Teddy a bed and put it in our bedroom where he sleeps, just like the other two dogs. He never smiles but he constantly wags his tail. He’s happy here, I think.

The two of us are nearly inseparable as Teddy has become my four-legged shadow. Whenever I get up from the couch or from my work desk, he’s up with me. Whenever he hears my keys jingle, he’s out the door and ready to walk me to my car. When I’m in the kitchen cooking dinner, he lays on the floor next to my feet, sometimes to keep me company and sometimes to catch scraps. Teddy escorts me to the mailbox where he is learning to stay in the yard when I leave the gate open. He wakes me up every weekend morning by resting his face on the bed until I acknowledge him and allow him to put his paws on the bed for a head scratch.

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Elle and Teddy are working on trusting each other and the cuddling between those two happens more often these days. Even Abbey and Chimay have learned to tolerate his puppy-ness, which regularly interferes with their middle-agedness. Abbey actually plays with Teddy sometimes and Chimay has learned to be more tolerant.

In the end, though, it’s just a different bond I have with him that I don’t have with the other two. Perhaps Abbey and Chimay didn’t need me the way Teddy did and that goes both ways. Teddy made me realize that comfort can come from those who need comforting themselves.

Childhood Rules

We were living in Italy and my father was working the midnight shift. My older brother and I were still fairly little and would go with my mother to the commissary on base so that our dad could have a quiet house in which to catch up on his sleep. The number one rule when my dad worked mids was NEVER WAKE UP YOUR FATHER! Unless one of us was bleeding, choking, or otherwise on the verge of dying and unable to get our mother’s help, we never woke up our father. Ever.

One afternoon upon returning from the commissary, I dutifully helped my mother bring in the groceries. Brian and I were such good helpers, and very quiet, too. In fact, my mom treated us that afternoon by buying us a six-pack of Hubba Bubba grape bubblegum. After mom and Brian went back out for more bags and I was alone in the kitchen, I discreetly closed the front door and proceeded to quickly eat the gum. All thirty pieces.

Meanwhile, my mother kept trying to get inside the house with the rest of the groceries (and my brother, too) but it turned out the front door had been locked when I closed it in my moment of deceitfulness. My mom continually begged for me (in a whisper, of course – remember the number one rule?) to open the door yet I had to remind the silly woman that I was only four years old and wasn’t allowed to open the door, for anyone. That rule was the number one rule when my father worked a normal daytime shift.  But for the moment, it was the number two rule, right behind that day’s number one rule – never wake up your father.

The mood changed suddenly when, in a moment of crazed frustration (because why else would my mother have suggested such a thing…), she instructed me to go wake up my father. The woman had obviously lost her mind. Again, I reminded her of the number one rule and refused to wake him up.  And, yes…I still refused to open the front door for her, too.

Here is where things get fuzzy: I don’t remember how my mother got back inside the house. A part of me wants to say that she and my brother walked to a neighbor’s house, to ask for help from someone who had a telephone, and she called my father to let him know she was locked out. In the meantime, I sat on the kitchen countertops, swinging my legs back and forth in blissful contentment and my cheeks fat with flavorful gum.

I’m not sure how long this dragged on for but I do know that I got through every single piece of gum in the pack and had one of those most glorious afternoons of my entire life (to this day, even!). It’s probably best that my memory of that afternoon ends there so it is never ruined by the inevitable punishment that was surely handed down to me.

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This is, by far, my daughter’s favorite story from my childhood. Oh, I have plenty more but I would hate to give her any ideas about snooping for Christmas gifts or setting anyone’s backyard on fire. The hijacking of a six-pack of bubblegum is both innocent and criminal enough, for now.