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Cricket and Ellie

Cricket and Ellie have been together for almost a year now, and I think it’s been a long year for Cricket. She wasn’t convinced that she needed a new sister, and she will never acknowledge that having Ellie with her has lowered her anxiety level a few decibels (but it has).

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“I don’t need no sister!”

It was luck that we got the call about Ellie on Cricket’s 11th birthday, last year, and were able to pick her up the following day. I’d like to believe that Ellie was, in a way, Cricket’s birthday present, but Cricket didn’t see it that way, especially because, in the turmoil, we forgot to have a celebration with Cricket’s favorite foods (peanut butter, red bell peppers, olives, and, of course, chicken). We tried to make up for it with a week full of chicken, for both of them, but Cricket remembered the slight.

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“I remember everything.”

I worry that if we celebrate Ellie’s Gotcha Day, right after Cricket’s 12th birthday, Cricket will feel neglected, or resentful. I mean, more than usual. But Ellie deserves to be celebrated too. She’s found her place in the world, through trial and error, and luck, and quite a lot of therapy, just like me.

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“What are you looking at?”

From the beginning, Ellie has come to therapy with me once a week. My therapist insisted that Ellie should come, not so much for my sake, or even for Ellie’s really, but because my therapist likes having dog patients. She misses her own dogs during the day, now that she works from an office building instead of from home. But it turns out that I like bringing Ellie with me, because it’s the one time of the week when she sits on my lap. At home she prefers to stretch out nearby, on the floor, on the couch, or on the bed, but in therapy she needs more contact. And if I have to talk about something particularly painful I can cuddle with her for comfort, or talk about her as a break from the tension, just for a little while. And therapy has been good for Ellie too. She’s been gradually learning self-calming techniques, and realizing that she has a safe base to return to (me), which allows her to spend more and more time exploring the office. Recently, she even built up the courage to go over to my therapist directly, which she never did early on (though my therapist clearly cheated by bringing in cheese). It’s Ellie’s one hour per week when she gets to go out alone with Mommy, while Cricket stays home with Grandma, and she seems to look forward to it, and know where we’re going, though, really, it could be all about the cheese.

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Ellie in therapy: thinking deeply.

I brought Cricket along with us to therapy one day, when my Mom had her quilting group in the city, and Cricket seemed forlorn at the thought of being left home alone. Cricket used to go to therapy with me herself, when she was a puppy, so she was thrilled to see her therapist again; so thrilled that she peed on the rug three times, and used the furniture, and my therapist, as a jungle gym, and then stole a chocolate-filled candy from the coffee table. All of this while Ellie sat calmly on my lap, bewildered.

Cricket does not believe that she is going to be twelve years old. Yes, she’s had occasional back trouble, and she takes CBD oil each morning to relieve general aches and pains, but she thinks she’s still a puppy, and the fact is, she is still as smart and stubborn as ever. I can see that she has slowed down over time, but that’s only because she used to be a raging speed demon and now she’s not dragging me down the street, as much. In her trip to therapy she forgot her age completely and went back to acting like the puppy she used to be: raging speed demon, excitement peeing, and all. I can’t afford to replace the office carpeting, though, so Cricket will be staying home from now on.

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“Harrumph.”

Cricket is still clearly the boss around here. If there’s a plate on the floor, Ellie will run for it, until she sees Cricket out of the corner of her eye, and then she backs off and waits for permission, from Cricket, to lick up the leftovers. Though, Ellie has occasionally ignored her sister’s rules and elbowed for space, when there were scratchies on offer, but not too often.

Ellie generally sleeps in my room, because Cricket won’t allow her up on Grandma’s bed, though Ellie has no problem sharing my bed with Cricket. They often take their afternoon naps with me, each staking out her own territory and stretching out. Ellie has tried to get Cricket to play with her, doing a play bow, or running circles around her out in the yard, but Cricket just gets confused. Cricket can play by herself, or with a human, but she doesn’t understand dog to dog play. It’s just too weird for her.

We will have to find a way to celebrate Cricket’s 12th birthday, and Ellie’s Gotcha day, and their sisterhood, all at once, in a way that Cricket will enjoy. Ideally, I would buy six or seven roasted chickens and hide them strategically around the backyard for the girls to find, but, there are other animals around here, and our yard isn’t fenced in, and, it’s possible that there is such a thing as too much chicken, even for my girls.

I’ll have to keep thinking about this. But in the meantime, I’m going to celebrate the fact that Ellie has made her way into our hearts, and made our world a warmer, happier, funnier place. And if Cricket wants to pretend that she’d be better off as an only dog, panting and shaking with separation anxiety each time we leave the apartment, she can certainly hold on to her illusions. But I know the truth.

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“Shut up.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

For My Birthday

 

This year, for my birthday, I wanted to write up a list of charities and foundations and organizations that I wish I could donate money to, like: Alley Cat Allies, North Shore Animal League America, The Anti-Defamation League, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and on and on. But I feel overwhelmed by all of the rights I want to protect. I’ve been exhausted lately and maybe that’s why the fear hit me so hard after the election. I know how little energy I have left, to fight for my rights and my safety, and I just wanted someone else to take care of it. Some people are out protesting, and others are donating money to good causes, and still others are signing up for newspaper subscriptions online, to support actual journalism over the fake news we’ve gotten used to in our post-factual world. I want to do all of those things, except the protesting. It just looks so exhausting to have to walk through the city like that. Maybe if I had a golf cart…

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“I’m good here, Mom. You go without me.”

I’d love to support an organization that helps people of all ages learn how to volunteer in their communities. This has been a lifelong difficulty for me. Where can I volunteer? Who wants my help? How can I find them? More often than not I feel rejected before I even apply, because the brochures are so complicated, and the application process makes me feel unqualified. I know there are groups for kids and teenagers that encourage them to volunteer, I just wish there were more of them, and that they were more sensitive to the less outgoing and confident among us.

I’d love to support an organization that brings pets to home-bound seniors, as well as seniors in nursing homes and rehab centers. Not everyone can take care of a pet full time, but everyone deserves the chance to absorb some of the joy my dogs bring to me.

I’d love to see better education, for everyone, about the services available at the local, state, and federal level, to help people in need – so that you don’t have to be at the end of your rope before you find the supports our society has to offer.

I’d love to see Human Rights and Social Justice classes at the high school and college level instead of just in social work school, so that we can learn the history of oppression in our country, and how we have worked to combat it, and how we can continue to work to move our country forward. Then maybe we could reach a point in our society where we don’t have to deny the history of one group’s suffering in order to take on the suffering of another group as well.

What else do I want for my birthday? I want to lose weight. I want a very long nap. I want to feel hopeful about the future. I want people to stop checking their phones every two minutes while they are talking to me. I want chocolate frosting to be good for my health. I want my dogs to be healthy and happy. I want my Mom to live forever. I want a Harry Potter coloring book. Better yet, I want to go to Hogwarts, or at least get a letter, delivered by an owl, telling me that I have all of the qualifications to go be a witch.

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“Mommy’s a witch!”

 

I’m pretty sure that Cricket and Butterfly have already received their letters. Cricket’s is probably hidden under the couch in the living room, and Butterfly may have eaten hers (she loves the taste of quality card stock). I have to say, I’m flattered that they have chosen to stay with me instead of going off to become mini-witches themselves. It’s just not the choice I would have made myself. I mean, magic wands? Spells? All kinds of new creatures to meet, some of them fluffy? Who could say no to that?

 

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“You can’t come in here, Mommy. Moose will stop you.”

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“Did you know that this one tastes different from the TV Guide? Not better, just different.”

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“I’m sorry, Mommy. I was desperate.”

 

Visiting the Boys

 

Before our most recent visit to my brother’s house in New Jersey, we gave Cricket some doggy Xanax, to see if it could make her a little better behaved. The occasion for this visit was my youngest nephew’s eighth birthday, and my brother insisted that the dogs were invited. He’s terse, but he seemed to be clear. But, Cricket is terrible in the car. Harnesses cannot hold her and she ends up climbing behind my neck, and then trying to insert herself behind her grandma’s shoulder. My job, in the passenger seat, is to make sure that Cricket keeps her paws off the steering wheel.

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“Squirrel!”

Butterfly, on the other hand, slept peacefully in the back seat. She was so quiet that I had to aim the camera over my head to catch a picture and make sure she was still alive back there. I couldn’t turn around far enough to see her, what with Cricket balancing on the back of my neck.

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If you listen carefully, you can hear her snoring.

By the time we got to a gas station in New Jersey, Cricket was losing her marbles. We always wait until Jersey to fill up the gas tank because they have no gas tax, so it’s significantly cheaper to buy gas there, even if the roads are a bit extra bumpy. Cricket seems to think that gas station attendants are closer to the devil than even Mailmen. She shrieks and throws herself at the car window and scratches the glass in a terrifying fever of activity. Sometimes the guys laugh, but it’s that nervous laugh that means they’re trying very hard not to pee in their pants.

When we were back on the road, I had hopes that Cricket would be calmer, but no. She climbed behind my neck again and then started hyperventilating when she recognized my brother’s neighborhood. When we turned onto their block, she started to whine and dig into my shoulders with her toe nails. We were in the car for two hours, and the Xanax still had not kicked in.

My brother’s driveway was empty, and the only family member in evidence was cousin Lilah – the black lab – standing behind the front door, barking at us. I didn’t have the patience to stand on the stoop and wait with Mom for my brother to appear, so I took the girls on a walk around the block, passing all of us single file through a shovel’s width of clear space in the snow. I’d already done my exercise for the day (ready for birthday cake!), and I was a bit wobbly on my feet, but adrenalin got me through, and as we neared my brother’s house again, the littlest nephew (aka birthday boy) came running to see us, or rather, to see the dogs.

It turned out that they’d been away in the Poconos for five days, and were just returning. Don’t ask me why this did not come up in the planning with my brother. As I said, he’s terse. Lilah had been dropped off by the pet sitter an hour earlier and that was why she was so agitated to be home alone. As soon as my brother opened the front door, to drop off five days’ worth of laundry in the front hall, Lilah raced out to greet the rest of her humans in the street.

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Lilah and Cricket

I assumed that this was all preparatory to the whole family going inside, but the minivan was still running, and it turned out that sometime during their drive back from the Poconos, it had been decided that we would be going out for pizza instead of eating at their house. The dogs would have to stay home. My girls would be given the basement, and Lilah would get the rest of the house.

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“Are you talking about me?”

I tried not to look into Butterfly’s big brown eyes as we closed the door to the basement. I was angry at the change in plans, and confused about the right thing to do, and feeling guilty because I was actually considering staying behind with the dogs and missing my nephew’s pizza party. Cricket stood on the other side of the basement door and barked her frustration clearly and succinctly, and I had to agree she made a good argument.

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“Mommy?”

When we returned from pizza early (because littlest nephew missed the dogs), Cricket was still standing right at the top of the basement stairs waiting for the door to open (she left drool behind as evidence of her plight). Meanwhile, Lilah had eaten the rabbit food in one human brother’s room, and pooped all over the floor in another brother’s room, to let her family know how she felt about their decision making priorities.

After some screaming and cleanup, we finally ate birthday cake and watched my nephew unwrap his presents. Out of the pile of gifts tottering on the table, partially opened, three boxes contained toy guns, and this inspired the older boys to go and find their own favorite toy guns – bright blue and orange and yellow guns that could not be mistaken for the real thing, but filled with marshmallow sized bullets that actually sting quite a bit when they hit you. My niece was, unsurprisingly, missing from the action, holed up in her bedroom with her iPad.

I held Butterfly on my lap, because she was shivering, and I had to hold Cricket’s leash to keep her from starting a fight with Lilah. I also had to stay alert, because guns kept being aimed at each of our heads.

Cricket finally did calm down, when we returned to the car at the end of the visit. She curled up behind my neck, with her feet shoved behind my back, and fell asleep within minutes. Halfway through the trip, she was snoring into my hair. On an efficacy scale of one to ten, doggy Xanax, zero, house full of boys, ten!

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Exhausted puppies.

A Post About Turning Forty

 

A woman at my synagogue asked me the other day, out of the blue, how old I am, and before I could think I blurted out, “forty.” I had just turned forty three days earlier and it was on the tip of my tongue to say so. And then I got scared. The thing is, I do not look forty. This woman said I looked 20 or 25, and even if she was being nice, I really do look like I could be thirty years old, and I’d rather people think I am younger, because my resume is really short for a forty year old.

We have a lot of expectations about what people will have done by certain ages, and, in an upper middle class, Jewish community on Long Island, these expectations can be unbearably high. Everyone’s kid is successful, and married, and has a nice apartment in the city, or a house in the suburbs. Everyone is very busy, and works out, and has a smart phone glued to their head. I don’t fit in, and I keep thinking, when they realize that I’m not just a ne’er do well thirty year old, but a ne’er do well forty year old, I’ll be kicked out.

In some ways, I feel all forty of those years weighing on me. Everything in my body hurts, and I need naps every day, and some days I feel closer to eighty than to forty. But emotionally, intellectually, I feel like I’m just getting started. There’s so much more that I want to learn and do. There are so many books left to write and left to read. There are so many people to meet and places to go.

I’ve written novels and short stories and essays and poems and drafts and drafts and endless drafts. I’ve taken classes in almost every kind of writing (except journalism, which terrifies me), and earned two masters degrees, and discovered that I will never run out of things to write, or things to learn. I’ve been with the same therapist for twenty years and have been diligent and hard working on every issue. I’m still not done, still not healed, but without all of this work I would be dead, so, thumbs up?

None of this is what I had planned, though. I planned to publish novels. I planned to be on talk shows, and teach writing classes, and meet the president, whoever she happens to be. I planned to drive carpool, and sing my children to sleep, and laugh with my husband every day.

I don’t think Cricket and Butterfly are aware of their ages. Cricket doesn’t look at herself in the mirror and say, Damn, I look good for an eight year old. Butterfly isn’t pacing he floor, worrying that she hasn’t napped enough and time is running out. They don’t judge themselves. They may judge me, but not themselves.

"Hey, skinny dog in the mirror, help me bark for food!"

“Hey, skinny dog in the mirror, help me bark for food!”

Butterfly fits in naps whenever she can.

Butterfly fits in naps whenever she can.

I don’t think Cricket has any concept of getting older. Time passes, sure, but from her point of view, it’s everything outside of herself that’s changing, not something on the inside. She’s the stable center of the world. Just ask her. Butterfly, I think, has a bit more awareness of the changes she’s gone through over time. We celebrate her gotcha day, rather than her birthday, because we don’t know for sure when she was born. She has lumps and bumps on her skin, and diabetes, and a heart murmur to show for her ten years. She gets back spasms when she tries to follow Cricket on her running and jumping sprees. And maybe she can feel in her body how many more years she has left. She’s an intuitive little creature. But actual birthdays? She’s got to be thinking, why would anyone choose to have only one day a year to be celebrated when they could be celebrated every day?

Cricket is always looking for somewhere interesting to go.

Cricket is always looking for somewhere interesting to go.

And Butterfly does her stretches, so that she can keep up with her sister.

And Butterfly does her stretches, so that she can keep up with her sister.

As a child, I felt like I was drowning in failure, even though I did well in school. I couldn’t figure out how to have good friendships, or how to communicate well enough to teachers, or with my parents, to get my needs met. I felt like there was a whole other language that I was supposed to have mastered, but no one was teaching it to me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that I have to make up that language myself, because most people are in the same boat, unable to articulate the things they most need to say.

Even now, the road forward is anything but clear, and will probably be too slow and take too long and inspire impatience in the people around me. I will hesitate and make mistakes and choose anything but the path they see as being outlined in neon lights, because I can’t see that path at all.

Dogs live much shorter lives than we do, and yet they feel less pressure to achieve great things, or so I assume, because I’ve never seen Cricket at the computer logging on to Kahn Academy. I wonder if, with fewer years to work with, we’d make better choices about how to live them.

For my birthday this year, I want to learn to live more like a dog, to judge myself on who I am first and what my resume says another time, or never. I want to wake up in the morning thinking about what I need, and who I love, and how lovely the snow looks on the pine trees, instead of worrying about all of the milestones I have yet to meet.

I think Cricket and Butterfly are prepared to help me with this.

"What's next?"

“What’s next?”