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Monthly Archives: March 2018

Cricket Has Company


A week or so ago, one of our neighbors had to go to the hospital, and she asked if we could watch her 2 dogs and her African Grey Parrot. Of course we said yes. I say of course, because we had no idea what kind of stress comes along with an African Grey Parrot with a severe anxiety disorder that makes her pluck her own feathers.


“Did someone ask for a feather?”


We had to bring everyone over to the apartment in shifts. First the two dogs: George and Zoe. George is a small white Havanese (supposedly) with a very big head and an even bigger personality. He likes to wave his front paws in the air to demand attention. His older sister, Zoe, is a black and white Poodle mix, with a very long back and very short legs (maybe part Dachshund). She is a bit more reserved than her brother, with deep, soulful eyes, but she loves to go for long walks and tries to zoom around the corner to prevent me from turning back. Her only problem is that she has skin issues, possibly caused by food allergies, so she is on a severe diet of tasteless canned food (I didn’t taste it; I googled it). We can’t leave any of Cricket’s kibble out on the floor because then Zoe will eat it, so they all have to eat the tasteless canned food. None of the dogs approves of Zoe’s diet, needless to say.


“We’re exhausted.”


“I’m starving.”


We also discovered that if we tried to feed Zoe and George at the same time, in the same place, George would eat all of the food. George is small, but mighty. So now we warm up the wet food and call Zoe into the kitchen and feed her by hand until she’s not hungry anymore. Miss Cricket takes her treats under her couch, to eat in peace, but she’s still suffering because George comes over and stares at her, and growls at her, looking for any way to steal those treats. The only explanation I can find for the amount of food George eats, versus his slim build, is poop. He makes a lot of poop.

After George and Zoe were settled in, we had to bring over a big box of wee wee pads (they are trained to pee and poop indoors, because their Mom hasn’t been up to taking them for regular walks), and cans of dog food, and a bag full of food and treats for the parrot. And then I went over to pick up Izzy, the African Grey. She was in her travel cage, with a fuzzy blue blanket covering the cage to keep her warm during the two minutes she had to spend outside.

It took Cricket quite a while to get over the shock of the invasion (she’s not over it at all), especially because George decided that he had to mark the apartment as his own, with tiny puddles of pee everywhere, which meant that the humans were following him around with paper towels and cleaning spray at all hours.

Cricket under chair

“When are they leaving?”

But Izzy was clearly the biggest source of drama. She likes to answer the phone whenever it rings, from across the room, “Hello?” And then she cries out, “Mommy!” and goes off on a rant, repeating whole conversations, in male and female voices. Unfortunately, most of the words are garbled, so I have no idea what illicit dramas she has been trying to share with us. Her more clear monologues include things like “Are you a good girl?” “Do you want a carrot or a cookie?” “Do you want some water?” She is an incredible mimic, and she discovered that if she mimicked a smoke alarm, first thing in the morning, she could wake up the humans to refill her food bowl. She loves her frozen peas, and millet, and multicolored alphabet-shaped thingies, and carrots. We tried to please her, endlessly, but she never seemed to warm up to us. She shivered with anxiety, and tried to bite us when we gave her more food. She even turned over her water bowl (heavy ceramic) so that it poured over the dining room table, where her cage was sitting, on towels.

Issy upside down

“I’m just hanging upside down in my cage. Nothing to see here.”

We sent her home after five days, because her mother was back home, and because we thought Izzy would be happier back in her full cage, where she could stretch out. But, really, that was one loud bird. I felt guilty that we weren’t able to solve all of Izzy’s psychological problems during her visit, though. I always feel like I should be able to solve everyone’s problems, and if I can’t then I’m clearly not trying hard enough. I’m going to have to work on this particular delusion before I become a professional social worker.


Our neighbor asked if we could take Izzy back, in case she has to go back to the hospital, but I said no. We can’t even fit her full cage in the apartment, nor do we want to. But then the guilt was delivered: if we don’t take Izzy then our neighbor’s son will send the bird to a sanctuary. My answer to that is, good for Izzy. She could use experts looking after her and figuring out why she’s pulling out her feathers, before she has no feathers left.


We took the two dogs over to see their Mom, too, and they were excited and happy and gave her a full on lovefest, but their Mom wasn’t up to taking care of them yet, so we took them back to our apartment, and they spent the next few hours crying (Zoe) and moping (George). I don’t blame them. I’d want to be in my own home too.

Zoe on couch

“I’ll be okay. Maybe.”

But it’s been nice to have a full house for a while, and to get to know two very different personalities. George barks when he sees other dogs on TV, and Zoe has these endearing grumpy noises that she makes when she wants something and can’t have it (my food); George has this adorable upside down sleeping pose, with his head turned in one direction and his legs pulling in the other direction;


and George and Zoe have these elaborate play fights that look like a doggy Tango.


“Would you like to dance?”


“Why yes, I would.”



Zoe and George know how to use Butterfly’s doggy steps up to my bed (Butterfly only knew how to use them going down), so they started to go up there even when I wasn’t in the room. Cricket is not happy that George and Zoe have taken ownership of my bed. She either avoids my room entirely, crawls under the bed, or sits on my chest to make it clear to the interlopers which dogs owns the humans.

We take all three dogs out four times a day, for longer than Cricket’s usual walks, because we want to tire them out before bringing them back into the crucible of apartment living. Walking with three leashes at a time is more complex choreography than I have been able to master so far, what with George needing to stop and pee every few seconds, and Cricket needing to sniff everything, and Zoe on a mission to get to the sidewalk as quickly as possible. But the joy of all three dogs is so obvious as they walk along, that it’s worth the extra level of difficulty.


The food routine (making sure Zoe eats before George gobbles everything up), and the drama, and the wee wee pads, on top of four walks a day with three dogs, and not knowing when they’ll be able to go home, or if their Mom will be up to caring for them, is adding a lot of stress to my life lately. I wish I could just say no, that’s enough, and send the dogs home. But, how do you say no to puppy dogs?


“I’ll say no for you, Mommy. I’m good at it.”

Losing My Balance


So I was sitting at work, furiously taking notes, trying to collect every drop of information (this is what I’m like. My supervisor calls it taking “copious notes,” I call it being driven by a constant fear of failure). It’s easier to balance my notebook on my lap if my legs are crossed (the angle and the height created are ergonomically perfect for taking notes), but the downside is that I can lose feeling in the dangling foot every once in a while. Usually I notice it happening and bounce my foot on the floor for a while to wake it back up, but this one time I was extra distracted, and too busy taking notes, to even think of switching my legs at regular intervals to balance myself out.

And then my supervisor thought he heard a knock on the door and asked me to check it out. I, of course, said, “Of course,” and stood up. I noticed the numb foot right away, because I couldn’t quite tell if my foot was on the floor, or even underneath me, but I persisted and took another step, and then another.

I’m not sure exactly when the foot came out from under me, but I managed to hit the light switch on my way down, sprawling on the floor in front of clients. And I still couldn’t feel my foot.

I tried to bounce back up and laugh it off, but even the two steps back to my chair were a slow motion cringe-fest as my supervisor looked on. He went to check the door, and turn the lights back on, but then we all sat back down and pretended the whole incident had never happened, which was a blessing. I felt no pain (adrenaline is a wonderful thing, because I’m pretty sure my head hit the floor at some point), and went back to taking my copious notes, but I made sure to test out my feet every few minutes, especially before my next attempt at standing up.

I had two reactions to the whole thing: 1) I felt very silly and embarrassed, 2) I sort of liked the slow motion drama of the whole thing and the split second realization that I had just given myself a great story to tell. I think the second reaction won out.

It also made me think about why women cross their legs. Some part of it is automatic and anatomically prescribed, I’m sure. I feel more balanced with my legs crossed, and more ill at ease with my legs flat on the floor and pressed together. Another part of it is the training that tells you it’s more feminine and demure to cross your legs than to sit with your feet flat on the ground, “like a man.” Men can sit with their legs wide apart if they like. Women rarely do that. There’s something about modesty in there, and the history of skirt-wearing for women, but there’s more to it. Maybe self-protection. Maybe a signal that this woman is not advertising her sexuality, and is making sure to remain prim and proper.

The whole event also reminded me of the way my old dog, Dina, used to walk with her paws folded under her, when she was fourteen years old and experiencing neurological damage. She used to smile through it too, as if she was balanced perfectly on all four paws, and I found myself emulating her. And thinking of her.

dina dances

My Dina

I tend to feel off balance most of the time, literally and figuratively, and this was just a more dramatic example of it. And, really, I survived. No one laughed at me (that I know of), and no permanent damage was done. Maybe I need to take Dina’s lesson to heart: it doesn’t matter if you are balanced on all fours; it only matters if you are living your life the best way you can.

dina smilesdina stops to sniff

(By the way, Cricket completely disagrees on this one. She is all about dignity.)


“Yes, Mommy. I am.”



Old Hands


One night at synagogue, I was sitting behind a grandmother and granddaughter, ages 65 and 8, approximately. They were both impeccably dressed, hair specially done for the evening. They wouldn’t have been chosen for a greeting card, or a commercial, as the ideal of a warm and sensitive grandmother offering safety and sweetness and cookies to a patient loving child. They were more like an ad for a department store, selling stylish clothes for women of every age. But as I sat there, the little girl picked up her grandmother’s hand and began to investigate. There was that puffy vein on the back of Grandma’s hand and the little girl pressed on it with her thumb, and rolled it under the skin. Then she pinched, gently, some of the skin on Grandma’s hand, and pulled it up like a tent, and then massaged it back into place. Then she ran her fingers over the lines in the skin, and the bends at the finger joints.

All the while Grandma relaxed her hand and allowed the investigation to continue. She didn’t grab her hand away, or hiss at her granddaughter to stop it. There was something so full of love in this interaction, even more so than later on in the service when they wrapped their arms around each other during the standing prayer. And it all made me think. Older women are always made to feel decrepit for their aging skin. Moisturize! Try Crepe erase! Collagen, plastic surgery, face tape! But this woman’s hands were being lovingly explored, seen as one more fascinating thing about Grandma, not to be criticized or avoided, but to be touched and manipulated and loved because they belong to Grandma. As if the granddaughter was saying, these hands make me feel safe and attached. These hands belong to my grandmother and therefore they are beautiful.

Cricket and hand

Cricket and her own Grandma

We have all of these ideas about how a woman should look, and how her skin should feel, and what color her hair should be, and what size her body should be, but children know better. They believe that whatever you look like is beautiful, if you are the one they love. Everything about how you look and smell and sound reminds them of who you are, and how you feel about them. They want to touch you and see you, not a perfected image of you.

I think this is what we love about dogs too. They don’t care if our skin is tight or loose. They don’t care if we are fat or skinny or in between. They care if we love them, and pet them, and feed them. They love the sound of our voices and the smell of our skin.


“My Grandma is beautiful.”

I want to remember this the next time I feel the need to berate myself for my body, my face, my clothes, or anything else imperfect about me, but I know, even as I write this down, that I am forgetting it, or forgetting to believe it.


“I’ll remind you, Mommy.”

The Parabola

I am the .1 percent that makes the parabola possible. I am that weirdo.

My doctor saw my blood pressure rising precipitously over a couple of months this fall and decided to put me on a blood pressure medication. I was too tired to argue. I’d hoped to avoid new medication trials, and new doctors, until the end of graduate school, but clearly the emergency lights were flashing, so I took the medication and a referral to a cardiologist.

At first I just felt dizzy and even more tired than usual and kind of nauseous, but my blood pressure was going down (I had to check it at home twice a day). I went to the cardiologist for a work up anyway, like the good obedient girl I am, and suffered through lots of tests, and history taking, and quizzical looks about my long term lack of a diagnosis for such a crazy list of odd and debilitating symptoms. Each test and appointment was physically exhausting, and then the cardiologist decided that I would need to see another pulmonologist, and another rheumatologist, and consider changing this or that medication that could be the culprit for my rising blood pressure (high dose NSAIDs in particular can raise blood pressure and I’ve been on one for years now).


“I’m exhausted just thinking about it.”

I wish I could act like Cricket does at her doctor visits, and bite and scratch and hide under tables, but it doesn’t go over as well with the doctors for humans. So I accepted the needles and the stickers and the probes and the treadmills, with all of the inherent humiliation of being treated like a science experiment, and I smiled and kept my mouth shut so I could get out as quickly as possible, limping down the hallway after one more person told me I seemed fine.


“No one can make me go to the doctor!”

And then, one morning, my lips were swollen to three times their normal size. They were itching and hurting and I thought there must be a secret hive of bees under my pillow, but no, it was an allergic reaction to the blood pressure medication. It’s a well-known reaction, though not well known to me, because doctors think that if they warn me about possible side effects I will decide to have all of them. The doctor took me off the medication and said we’d wait for the reaction to wear off before trying something else, with no advice on how to make the swelling go down, or a time frame for how long this would be going on. I sat in front of the TV with ice on my lips for hours so that I could be moderately presentable for a few hours at my internship, and then I came home and watched my lips blow up again. I took Benadryl at night, and daytime allergy meds during the day, but the swelling kept rising and falling unpredictably.

A week after the original allergic reaction, my lips blew up even bigger than before. We called the pharmacy and they said to go to an urgent care center and get an epi pen, to which I said Nooooooooooo, mostly because I didn’t want to have to get dressed and deal with people. We called the doctor, and he said to take Benadryl four times a day, which meant that I would be mostly unconscious until the allergic reaction wore out. So I did that. It took another week for my lips to resemble their previous selves, though they are still not quite back to normal. For quite a while there, I’m pretty sure people assumed I was getting collagen shots.

No one believes me when I tell them that I tend to have all of the side effects and few of the positive effects of medication, and have a habit of getting paradoxical responses to medication (biological medication meant to resolve psoriasis led to the skin flaying off of my fingers, seriously). No one believes me when I tell them that I am the patient that makes the bell curve possible. But I am that person.

Cricket paid no attention to any of it. She is immune to changes in how I look. She only notices when I change my clothes, because that’s what’s important to her. Pajamas are good, work clothes are evil, sneakers and jeans could be either/or.


“Mommy can’t go anywhere without this.”

I have doctors’ appointments scheduled for the foreseeable future, and most likely more medication trials, and more exhaustion, and more people who think I’m being melodramatic until they realize that I’m just bizarre. None of this is normal. I’m not supposed to be exhausted and in pain all the time. I’m not supposed to have all kinds of weird auto immune reactions and connective tissue disorders. I’m not supposed to need so much pain medication that it leads to even more health problems that bring on even more medications. People my age are supposed to work full-time, raise children, and have social lives, not work their asses off just to make it through part time hours, with no energy left to do the food shopping.

Cricket thinks the problem is that I don’t spend enough time scratching her, and walking her, and if I devoted myself solely to those activities at least one of us would be happy.


“When I’m happy, everyone is happy.”

I feel like I’m holding the parabola in place single handed lately, and there’s no Olympic medal for that. For every one who is safely in the middle of the parabola, with normal reactions to medications, and diseases that can be accurately diagnosed, you’re welcome.