RSS Feed

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).

002

“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.

018

“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.

IMG_0474

“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.

IMG_1743

“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.

The Great Dog Search

 

We started the great dog search before Christmas, because this seemed like the best way to use my vacation (as well as naps, lots and lots of naps). I was still experiencing occasional waves of grief over Miss Butterfly, but I felt a desperate need to at least try to find a second dog, someone small and gentle and loving. Cricket loves me, of course, but not like she loves her Grandma. She greets Grandma, and pines for Grandma, and guards Grandma, and, every once in a while, she comes over to visit with me.

IMG_0529_1

Cricket loves her Grandma

The first shelter we visited was about forty minutes away from where we live, with a friendly staff and separate buildings for different groups of dogs and cats. We walked through a hallway of barking dogs who were all a little, or a lot, too big for us, and then we met a Lhasa Apso. She was white-haired, eight years old, and had cataracts in her eyes, and it all made me stop breathing for a moment because she looked so much like Butterfly, with a bad haircut.

butterfly hair askew

But no one is as cute as my Butterfly was, even on a bad hair day

We left that building pretty quickly and were led over to the infirmary, where the little dogs were recovering from spay and neuter surgeries. There were Chihuahuas, a Pomeranian mix, a Dachshund mix, a senior Shih Tzu, and a Puggle. The Pom mix was adorable, but he snapped at the volunteer who opened his cage, so he wasn’t allowed out to meet us. Instead we visited with Ursula, a one-year-old Puggle. She was adorable, but we happened to have arrived just when the vet tech was filling Kongs with peanut butter, and Ursula was utterly distracted. Freed from her crate and on her own feet, she moseyed over to the tech, sat down, and gradually inched her butt closer and closer to the peanut butter. She was the right size, and terribly cute, but she barely looked at me. I felt like I should wait for some kind of spark, some flash of connection. Just being cute couldn’t be enough.

Of course, I felt guilty leaving her behind, even though the staff assured me that she’d be scooped up in minutes. There’s something awful about looking at abandoned dogs, and judging their looks and age and health and character, and then rejecting them as not the one. It makes me long for the days when I didn’t know about puppy mills, and could walk into a pet store and believe that beautiful puppies just grew on trees.

I built up the nerve to try again a few days later, and we decided to visit the shelter where we’d adopted Butterfly. They have an extensive medical program with subsidized care, so there was a safety net if I bonded with a dog who had some health problems. I’d seen a few small dogs on their website, some poodle mixes and dachshund and terrier types who all seemed around the right size and age to deal with Cricket. It was raining and cold, and we ran from the car with our hoods up to get to the adoptions building. But, because of renovations in progress, the adoptions had been moved to a smaller location, and the line of people waiting to see the dogs was outside and down the block. My emotions were still raw, with the guilt of leaving Ursula behind, and the gnawing pain of No-Butterfly, that the disrespect of making people wait outside in the freezing rain just to get a chance to fight over puppies enraged me. I knew the dogs would all be adopted, or fostered, or kept safe and warm and medically cared for, but I felt like the shelter was telling me that I didn’t deserve to be treated well. And I couldn’t accept that. Mom shrugged and followed me back to the car, and the day devolved from there into a huge pool of self-loathing and hopelessness that even chocolate couldn’t fix.

A few more days later, we heard about a shelter, more than an hour further out on the Island, where they had rescued a hundred small dogs from a hoarding situation. The website only had a few blurry pictures of the dogs in their original home, with no description of breeds or ages or health, but with a hundred dogs, we figured it was worth a try.

When we finally walked into the office, the woman at the front desk barely looked up from her computer and told us to look through the photo album on the desk. The pictures of the dogs were blurry and dark, with names under each picture, but no sexes or ages or descriptions. The first five names I mentioned had already been adopted, but then there was Twinkle. A volunteer brought him out and he was so much tinier than I’d expected. She put him in my arms and he shivered, in fear or cold, I don’t know which, but when I sat down and put him onto the bench next to me, he climbed back into my lap and held onto me. I looked into his eyes and he looked right back at me and then licked my nose. He could have been part Rat Terrier, part Chihuahua, part Schnauzer, but they had no idea. He loved the gentle scratches on his matted grey and brown and black coat. He was so much smaller than I was looking for, but I’d felt that spark, and it wasn’t going away. I asked the woman at the desk if she knew anything else about him, and she looked down at a sheet of paper next to her, and said, he’s nine years old. My heart broke. I’d promised myself, and Mom, that we wouldn’t get another senior dog, at least not this soon after Butterfly.

A volunteer came to take Twinkle back to his cage in the back, and I felt his absence immediately. Then someone turned on the lights in the little room next to us, and it was filled with more of the hundred dogs, but these were in the three to five year old age range. We were allowed to go in and sit with the dogs, still in their crates, and they very loudly asked to be let out. Some of them looked more Schnauzer-like, some more Dachshund-like, some with wiry red hair, and others with soft black hair, but they were all, obviously, related. We visited with a few of the dogs individually, and a staffer explained that the woman must have started out with a handful of strays, and then, since she didn’t spay or neuter, the family grew exponentially. They were an incest family. The dogs were all being adopted out to different families, but the backstory made me uncomfortable. The staffer told us that we’d have to bring Cricket in for a meet and greet, if we wanted to adopt one of the dogs (and no one else already had an application in on that dog), and then we’d have to bring the dog back to be spayed or neutered. They gave us the extensive adoption application and we left, to drive the long way home and think it over.

The trip home was, again, painful. All of the other dogs receded in my mind, except Twinkle. But Mom had serious concerns: not only was he a senior dog, but he’d spent nine years as an un-altered male in a house with no rules, and he might not understand that he couldn’t climb on Cricket; and we had no idea what health issues he might have, or how long he could be expected to live; and they had no subsidized medical program, and even if they did, we couldn’t drive more than an hour each way to make use of it.

I kept dreaming about Twinkle, though, and feeling sick at leaving him behind. I couldn’t figure out if the spark was because of his sweetness, or his neediness. I couldn’t separate out my healthy loving instincts from my possibly pathological ones, and I was overwhelmed. Mom hated watching me suffer, so back online she went, to see if there were any other dogs in the area. She found some prospects at another shelter we’d never heard of, about twenty five minutes away from home. This would be our fourth shelter in a very short period of time, but I was still on vacation, so off we went.

One of the dogs we liked was still available: a seven month old, black haired Miniature Poodle named Traveler. When we arrived and asked to see him, a handler took us to what seemed like someone’s living room, and then brought Traveler in on a leash. He had soft, curly black hair and big black eyes and he sniffed the whole room. I asked if I could sit on the floor with him, and within minutes he had brought over a tennis ball to play with, and started licking my face. When he got tired, he rested his head on my leg, tennis ball firmly in his mouth.

The handler warned us that we shouldn’t bond too much, because the application process would take a while, and the staff would decide who they thought was the best match for the dog, but I wasn’t worried. We filled out the two page application, including phone numbers for our vet, and three personal references, and lots of details about how we would raise the dog, and what our other dogs’ lives had been like, and on and on. In the car on the way home I was already planning the new toys we would buy, and the training classes we would take with Traveler, but I was also still thinking about Twinkle, and wishing I could have both of them. They would balance each other out, I said out loud, to which Mom said a big fat no.

Of course we didn’t get Traveler, but it took two weeks for the phone call to come telling us that he’d gone to another family. In the mean time I’d found out that Ursula and Twinkle had both found homes, and I was back in school and busy with work. I wondered if maybe the universe was telling me I wasn’t ready, but then the loneliness hit me again and I went back on Petfinder to look for more possibilities.

We brought Cricket with us to visit one dog at a PetSmart adoption event, but while the dog was adorable, he was completely uninterested in us, and barely even sniffed Cricket, which I took as a personal affront.

003

“Harrumph.”

I kept finding dogs at more and more shelters I’d never heard of, all over Long Island and in Queens and the Bronx and Brooklyn and Manhattan, but each rescue had their own application, and each one was more intrusive than the last. One rescue organization, in its online application, asked for a picture of your driver’s license and the names you use as aliases on social media. We applied for another dog in Queens, a black and white Maltese Shih-Tzu mix, but she was adopted before we could even finish the extensive application process.

We didn’t go through any of this when we adopted Miss Butterfly five years ago, because she happened to be eight years old, with health issues, and yet she was the one I wanted. Now that I want a younger, healthier dog, I see how competitive the Rescue market has become, and how much power the Rescues have to determine who qualifies as worthy. Adoption fees are much higher, applications are longer and more intrusive, and you’re still not guaranteed the dog you met and fell in love with, because someone else is, in the eyes of the Rescue’s staff, better suited to care for that particular dog.

In theory, this is progress. It means that people have learned to adopt, not shop, and fewer dogs are ending up in kill shelters; but it also leaves the power to decide who’s worthy of a dog in the hands of fewer people, people who have their own prejudices about what makes a good dog owner (able to afford higher adoption fees, owning a home with a fenced in yard, etc). I wonder if it’s like this across the country, or it’s specific to the northeastern US, or even just to Long Island.

It almost feels like it’s not worth the effort. I look at other people who walk into a pet store and leave with the exact puppy they were looking for, less than an hour later, or I think about Cricket’s breeder, who was friendly and responsible and raised the puppies in her home, with their Mom, and I wonder why I’ve committed to rescue a dog at all. But I know it’s because of Butterfly, and wanting no dog to have to go through what she did for her first eight years, producing puppies in a puppy mill. But all of these applications and rejections feel personal, and my inferiority complex, and guilt complex, and every other complex, is being kicked up like a dust storm that is going to choke me any day now.

I feel like I need twenty-four hour a day therapy to get through this process, or better yet a therapy dog, but Cricket doesn’t want the job. I have a sneaking suspicion that Cricket has been calling the Rescues to say, no, no, we’re not really interested. That would explain a lot.

012

“Who me?”

Learning German

 

A few weeks ago I went on my regular online search for a way to learn Yiddish. I keep looking for a program that will start where I am (at the beginning), and maybe give me some idea of why Yiddish seems to be filled with words I still feel too young to use. But none of the free language learning sites offer Yiddish, and the sites that charge a fee for each lesson are often too advanced for a beginner like me. Then I came across someone who suggested learning some Hebrew and German first, before starting one of the difficult Yiddish classes. So I added German to my Duolingo and Lingvist accounts, and tried to reassure Cricket that she would not have to learn yet another language along with me. She was not convinced.

001

“Je ne comprend pas.”

The first time I heard German words coming out of the speaker on my phone, though, I felt like I needed to lower the volume, to hide some hideous crime; I didn’t realize how emotionally loaded the German language would be for me. Like when they taught me the word for “work”: Arbeit. My mind automatically finished the sentence to Arbeit Macht Frei, “Work will make you free,” the motto on the gates to Auschwitz.

So many German words were familiar to me, even though I was sure I knew no German ahead of time. Some were familiar because they are pretty much the same in English, like perfekt for perfect, Haben for have, ist for is, etc. Some were familiar from the last names of so many Jews: Blume (flower), Berg (mountain), Stern (star), Baum (tree), Schreibe (write).

Essen and Fressen were also familiar words, because some time in my childhood my father tried to make a joke about people who eat like animals, and I didn’t get it, so he had to explain that Essen is eat, for people, and Fressen is eat, for animals. I don’t remember who he was trying to insult at the time. Schmutzig, for dirty, was familiar too, as in, you have some schmutz on your face. Then there was schmuck, which Duolingo said was the German word for “jewelry,” despite the fact that, for my whole life, I knew it as the Yiddish word for a part of the male anatomy.

One early discovery was that in the German language words can be capitalized in the middle of sentences. I used to get in a lot of trouble for throwing in unnecessary capital letters in High School English classes (this was back when assignments were handwritten, and not spell checked and grammar checked and emailed to the teacher). I realized that I may not have been making up my own rules out of thin air, as one teacher had suggested, and instead was just using the grammar rules of the wrong language.

I may have taken in more German than I’d realized in my childhood. My father did have a habit of speaking to our dog in his high school German, and I heard random Yiddish words whenever I was around older Jewish people (which was often), and I watched plenty of Holocaust and WWII movies over the years.

IMG_0560

“Ich bin ein Doberman Pinscher?”

It’s a funny thing. Politically, Germany has managed the aftermath of the Holocaust better than most other countries (certainly better than Poland, where they recently made it illegal to even suggest that Poland had any connection to the Holocaust). In Germany they educate their kids from an early age about what their grandparents and great grandparents did, and why it should never happen again. Yes, they still have neo-Nazis and white supremacists and fascists, but so does the United States. But despite all of that, I can just barely listen to a computerized voice speaking simple German words, and I’m still overwhelmed with words that remind me of things I wish I could forget.

I grew up with kids whose parents would never have bought a BMW or a Mercedes, because they were German-made cars, and Germans would benefit. I grew up with Holocaust survivors telling their stories, at school, and synagogue, and in books. This is my history. But maybe learning some German will help me come to more peace around this history, or at least help me to articulate what still resonates in my bones. One thing I know for sure is that German will give me a bridge to Yiddish, which is worth a lot to me.

 

IMG_0876

“Danke”

The Social Work Detective

 

I keep thinking about writing a mystery novel with a social worker as the protagonist. I never took a class in forensics or criminalistics (they weren’t offered at my schools), but I think one of the things that draws me to social work is the craving to be a detective; to find out the mystery of the person or family or couple sitting in front of me, telling me they have no idea what went wrong. My protagonist would be curious about everyone she meets, though, so I’d have to be careful to try to limit her focus to the people who are pertinent to the particular case at hand, or else the book will be never ending.

In real life, death and destruction, or any kind of physical pain or gore, horrifies me, but in a novel, murder calms me down. Maybe murder mysteries have the same paradoxical quality as Ritalin or caffeine: calming a hyperactive mind with a stimulant. The intensity of murder, in a novel, helps me to focus on one thing at a time, instead of on the thousands of priorities running through my mind: I need to lose weight, pay off my student loans, do my homework, find a second dog, get to work on time, keep up with friends, fix the world, and find the right outfit to wear on Thursday.

But would it be as calming to be the writer of the mystery instead of the reader? Would I have to do a ride along with the local police in order to get the details right? Would it be a cozy or a thriller? Would I have to kill off characters I like? Or worse, make one of my favorite characters into the murderer?

IMG_1860

Cricket, with the trowel, in the garden.

I don’t even know why I’m trying to plan a new novel right now, given all of the work I have to do for school. I feel swamped this year. The work seems harder and more all-encompassing, and the stakes seem to be higher too. But, it’s not so much that I want to write a mystery, it’s that my mind goes there on its own. Some part of my brain is always working on story ideas, and coming up with plot points and character names. Taking the time to put it all down on paper at least gives me some sense of order for these random thoughts, so that they don’t think they have to repeat themselves, endlessly, out of fear of being forgotten.

IMG_0510

“Listen to me!!!!!!”

The only thing I know for sure about my social work mystery is that there would have to be a dog in the book. This isn’t a social worker thing, just a me-thing. I would feel bereft trying to write a whole novel, or even a short story, without a dog in it. Cricket is auditioning for the role, but I’m worried she’d want to be the protagonist herself.

puppy in November 005

“I am always the star of the show.”

 

The Bird Came Back

 

Last Sunday, while I was answering heartfelt condolences on the death of Mom’s friend Olivia, and sharing the joy of a visit from a bird who seemed to be acting as Olivia’s familiar, the bird came back. This time she came into the apartment through the small opening next to the air-conditioner in the living room (where Mom leaves bird snacks year round, just in case). The bird visited the quilting closet again, of course, and the light fixture in the dining room, but then she became more bold and stood on the kitchen counter to eat pizza crumbs off of a plate, and walked on the living room rug, looking for any treats Cricket might have left behind (as if that would ever happen).

028

Psst. Check the pink thing.

Cricket tolerated the invasion moderately well, until the bird stepped into Cricket’s food bowl to sample the kibble, and then wet her beak in Cricket’s water bowl. The bird even had the temerity to wander under Cricket’s couch! Cricket ran after the bird at that point, and was flummoxed by the whole flying thing.

012

“I must guard my couch from interlopers, Mommy.”

The bird landed on top of curtain rods and lamps, checked out cookbooks, and stood on my computer chair for a good long time, looking over at me with what looked suspiciously like Cricket’s side eye expression.

bird on lamp

(This is my favorite picture – photographed by Mom and her magic camera.)

bird on cookbooks

“These had better be vegan.”

029

“This chair is just right.”

At bed time, instead of remaining in the living room, or the kitchen, the bird followed me and Cricket into my bedroom, investigating the tops of my bookcases, and the notebooks on my bedside table. She even followed Cricket into Mom’s room, and stood on the blanket, about a foot away from Cricket’s tail. We were starting to wonder if we had accidentally adopted a wild bird.

001

“No. Just say no to the bird.”

 

Mom did research on Carolina Wrens, through Google and bird-wise family and friends, and she found out that this is the time of year when they go house hunting, to decide where to nest in the spring. Of course, we started to worry about how much bird poop we’d be dealing with if the bird decided to bring her whole family to live in our apartment, but there was also something gratifying about even being considered for such an honor.

 

When Mom woke up in the middle of the night (she and Cricket are big fans of the late night snack), she was sure that the bird had left, but then she saw a pile of feathers on the radiator in the living room. She was afraid that the bird had died, but it turned out that this was just the bird’s sleeping pose, puffing her wings out to act as a blanket, and stuffing her head down to mute the outside noise.

carolina wren sleeping

Ssh. It’s nap time.

By the next morning the bird was gone. We were able to clean up all of the lingering bird poop, which is surprisingly tenacious stuff, but there was also a sense of loss, and then hope, that maybe the bird will return again. Maybe this will become a weekly Sunday visit! Cricket would not be thrilled with a bird in the house on a regular basis, but, for me, it was nice to have another pet again. I think Miss Butterfly would have approved.

butterfly hair askew

“Birdie!”

(Most of the pictures in this post were taken by Naomi Mankowitz. Any pictures that look less than perfect were taken by me.)

Olivia

 

According to the New York Times, Olivia Cole died a week ago Friday, on January 19th, which was only a few days after the last time my Mom had spoken to her on the phone. At first, we weren’t sure the news was real; maybe someone had confused her with her mother, who died this fall. But her mother had a different last name, and lived in NY, while Olivia lived in Mexico, and the news stories had that detail right. And then we saw a quote from her agent, and too many more details that made it all sound true.

Olivia was dead.

Olivia is dead.

Oivia & Mom stacked

Olivia and her Mom

It still seemed so unlikely, though. She was just in New York in December, traipsing across the city by foot, despite her rheumatoid arthritis, because she didn’t like spending money on taxis. She even refused to take a cab when she had to be at the airport at five o’clock in the morning, and instead chose to wear most of the clothes, so she wouldn’t have to carry them, and take the subway at three o’clock AM, in the middle of winter.

Mom was worried about that trip back to Mexico, with twenty four hours in transit, and called Olivia a number of times to check if she’d made it home safely. Olivia had a landline, but no cell phone, or email, or even a computer, so when Mom didn’t hear back, so she emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel and finally heard that Olivia had made it home safely. It still took a few weeks for Olivia herself to call, though. She didn’t like to use her phone for international calls, so she would borrow her friend’s computer-based phone system, on Mondays, to make her calls. She called on MLK day, and the two old friends talked about the need to take care of oneself, and about the foundation Olivia wanted to build, to help finance early education for children of color.

Olivia was one of my mom’s lifelong friends, from their years in the drama club at Hunter High School, and she would pop in and out of our lives every few years, sending tickets to plays she was in, and visiting when she came to New York to see her Mom. The first time I met her in person was when I was eleven, when she played Mama in A Raisin in the Sun at the Roundabout theatre in Manhattan. Seeing Olivia on stage was just like seeing her in real life: she was a character. She was larger than life. She was stubborn and opinionated and fiercely intellectual, delving into the Shakespearean canon for life lessons in even the most obscure of areas. She loved acting, and reading, and opining, but she didn’t like fame, or compromise.

Then Mom received the email, this Thursday, from a high school friend, with the attached announcement of Olivia’s death in the New York Times. The article said that she’d died of a heart attack in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where she’d lived for the past thirty years. Mom called to me from the living room, sounding odd, and the only word I understood was “Olivia” and I thought, that’s weird, Olivia wouldn’t call on a Thursday. When I reached her and she repeated “Olivia’s dead?” as a question, I was sure it was a mistake. Yes, Olivia was 75, and had rheumatoid arthritis, and no sense of her own limits, but she took good care of her health and went to all of her doctors on her most recent visit to New York. She hadn’t mentioned any heart issues to my Mom, but then again, she wouldn’t. She was full of plans for the future, and still full of piss and vinegar, never changing, and never really aging.

 

Norah Olivia and me

Three old friends on a recent visit

Since we were still not quite believing the news. Mom emailed Olivia’s neighbor in San Miguel for confirmation. The email came back, yes, Olivia was found on her porch, sitting upright in a chair, reading an old article about Barack Obama. Friends hadn’t heard from her in a couple of days and decided to check on her, and they found her there on the porch. The comfort for the people who knew her is that this is exactly how Olivia would have wanted to go: reading and thinking and full of hope for the future.

I had to go to my internship soon after the death was confirmed, but Mom’s high school classmates stepped in, sending messages on their class listserv, offering memories and kindness and compassion. These New York girls grew up knowing that all that mattered was how smart you were, not the color of your skin, or which neighborhood you lived in; and a woman could become anything she wanted to be: a lawyer, a doctor, a mother, a teacher, a writer, or an actress.

There’s a sweet coda to this story. We had a visit from a bird last weekend, two days after Olivia’s death, though we didn’t know that at the time. The bird stayed in the apartment for a while, resting in the quilting closet, and on the vitamin bottles on the entertainment center, and then in the light fixture in the dining room. The bird seemed to want to stay with us, fluttering from place to place indoors, even though the window in mom’s room was wide open. Looking back at that visit, after the news of Olivia’s death, Mom is convinced it was Olivia, saying goodbye. Because that would be a very Olivia thing to do.

 

bird in the fabric closet 2

Keeping Cricket Busy

 

A few years ago, I collected a bunch of Cricket’s toys and put them into a bucket on a shelf under the TV. The plan was to switch out the toys from the bucket every week or two, so that she could have the benefit of all of her toys, without spreading them on the floor where I would trip over them. Of course, I got distracted and forgot about the bucket of toys a long time ago. At around the same time, I stopped taking Cricket for her three mile walks each day, and she definitely noticed the difference and has perfected her disappointed-with-Mommy face.

IMG_0254

Recently, I watched a story about a man with a movement disorder who went to a special kind of occupational therapy, with not only a human therapist but also a doggy therapist. The exercises required the man to put treats into treat puzzles, in order to rebuild the strength and flexibility in his fingers. His reward was to watch the dog chasing after the toys and enjoying the treats. The smile on the man’s face when his knotted hands were successful at fitting the treats into the toys, and the dog ran across the room after the toys, was pure joy.

And it occurred to me that we might have some of those toys; not the flat puzzles with secret compartments, but the plastic toys in different shapes that would allow small amounts of treats out if Cricket could figure out how to make them bounce the right way. We’d bought a ton of toys for Cricket when she was an incorrigible puppy, in order to keep her from continuing to destroy the furniture with her sharp puppy teeth. And in the bottom of the bucket, under the everlasting chew toys, and the purple dinosaur that has dried into a husk of its former self, I found three treat puzzles of varying sizes and levels of difficulty.

014

Pink vase, red ball, and blue thingy

Cricket has been needing more attention and distraction since Butterfly died, and even more so since it’s been too cold for Grandma to take her for extended walks in the afternoon; those garbage cans up by the 7-11 were an endless source of fascination. So I was willing to try something new to keep her busy, and, hopefully, happy.

I had to do some significant cleaning on the old toys – boiling them with baking soda and rinsing thoroughly – before I could risk putting food in them again. For my first experiment I used the pink vase-shaped toy. I was worried that I’d made the pieces of Pupperoni too big, and Cricket would go straight past optimal frustration into the land of rage and disappointment, but, actually, she loved it, and was busy for hours. She was actually disappointed when I gave her next treat toy to play with, the red ball, and she was able to empty it within minutes. Cricket likes a challenge.

004

This is where Cricket uses her head.

007

This is where Cricket guards her toy from the humans.

Now, if I try to let a day go by without filling the pink vase toy with treats, she gets grumpy, and insistent. She stands next to me as I fill up her toy and then she tosses it around the room, and hoards it under her couch, and does everything she can think of to make it give up its riches. I’m pretty sure that my face looks very much like that man in the occupational therapy video, full of joy, as I watch Cricket running after her toy and bouncing it into submission to get every last treat.

012

“I need more treats. Now.”

Now, if only I could figure out how to set up a drone to take her for walks when it’s too cold for me. Does anyone know if a drone can be programmed to pick up poop?