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The Buddy Call

When I went to sleep away camp for the first time, at age nine, everything was new to me. Living in a bunk with other girls, sharing sinks and toilets and showers and such a small space, when I was used to having my own room, and my own door to close out the world. But one of the biggest changes was the lake. At day camps on Long Island I’d been swimming in pools, with see-through water and the burn of chlorine up my nose. At sleepaway camp we swam in a lake, with murky depths, and floating docks that moved with the water.


Cricket is not sure about this whole swimming thing.

I didn’t do very well on my first swim test, on the first full day of camp, but that was okay with me, because it meant that my advanced beginner swim classes would be held in the shallow water by the shore, where I could touch the ground under my feet. I was willing to learn surface dives and summersaults and treading water, and basic swim strokes, as long as I could reach out and find the ground when I needed to.

We had swim classes every morning, five days a week, and in the afternoons we had free swim. For my first three summers at camp “free” swim was required, and we needed to have a buddy. The social anxiety of, every day, having to ask someone to go swimming with me, and be tied to me, metaphorically, for forty five minutes, was brutal. I did have friends at camp, in a way I didn’t during the school year, but even so, every day the specter of rejection hovered over me. “Will you be my buddy?” is as excruciating a question to ask as you might think it is, even when I was only asking for temporary friendship.

The buddy rule was to make sure that if one person started to drown, their buddy would notice and call for the life guards on the dock. And to make sure we were all still alive, at some point during each free swim period, we had to go through the torment of the buddy call.

So, some background. Depending on our swimming ability we received a buddy tag corresponding to the shallow water (red), deeper water (yellow), and deepest water (green). I had a red tag, so I could only go for free swim in the shallow water. Someone with a yellow tag could go into deeper water, still surrounded on three sides by contiguous docks, with life guards standing at regular intervals. A green tag meant you could go into the deepest water, which was outlined in stand-alone docks connected by buoy ropes. There was only one lifeguard on each of the scattered docks, so you were mostly on your own out there.

I never wanted a green tag. I was happy to be trapped in red water, even though it meant that friends with higher level tags wouldn’t want to be my buddy, because they’d be restricted to shallow water with me. We lined up at the buddy board, and each pair of swimmers would be assigned a number, in Hebrew, in red, yellow, or green water. Our tags would be placed on the board, under our assigned number, so that if, god forbid, we failed to respond to the buddy call, they would know whose body to search for.

I’d been studying Hebrew since kindergarten, but even I found it stressful to have to remember my number in Hebrew, under stress. The problem is that the number fifteen, using Hebrew letters as numbers, spells one of the names of God, and therefore can’t be said out loud. So instead of using the letters for ten and five, we had to use the letters for nine and six to make fifteen, I think. Just trying to think this through again is bringing up long buried panic.

Anyway. You’d be swimming along, splashing your neighbors (red water was always crowded, because I wasn’t the only one happy to stay in the shallow water), and then the whistles would blow, and you had to stay still throughout the buddy call. If you were in yellow or green water, and more than an arm’s length from the dock when the whistles blew, you’d have to tread water the whole time. I would stand in red water and listen for my number, reminding my usually non-Hebrew speaking friend where our number would be in the order, worried the whole time that I was remembering or counting wrong.

I always needed a nap after free swim because of the stress of it all.


“Cricket, are you sleeping?” “Not anymore.”

Even now, I feel like I’ve spent my whole life dreading the buddy call, but now it’s the “Are you married?” “Do you have kids?” “Where do you work?” questions. The questions that really seem to be asking if I have proven myself worthy of being chosen. And if I haven’t? It kind of feels like I’m not allowed into the pool, or the lake, of life.

Cricket thinks it’s nonsense, of course. I mean, really, who wants to swim in a lake anyway? She also believes in the reject-them-before-they-can-reject-you philosophy, with lots of barking added.



“I don’t always bark, but when I do there’s a very good reason, Mommy.”

I’m not sure where Ellie stands on these issues yet. We’ll just have to wait and see.

ellie relaxed.JPG

When she wakes up from her nap.

Miss Lichtman


Miss Lichtman’s hair was dark blond and curly in a way that her wig would never be. She’d have to settle for a coarse, honey colored sheitel that fooled nobody, so for now, in her last days as a single woman, she was vain about her curls. I imagined her standing in front of the bathroom mirror in the Brooklyn apartment she shared with two other orthodox Jewish girls. She’d spend hours wrapping the curls around her ring finger, just to feel the hair as much as she could before she had to shave most of it off.


Miss Lichtman looked sort of like Cricket’s old friend Coco, but, you know, human.

I envied those curls. My hair was stick straight, bangs rubbing between my eyelashes. I wanted to be thin like her too, no hips. Everyone liked her, even the cool girls, even the girls who were Born Frum, born into religious families, unlike me. Miss Lichtman played basketball with the senior girls and giggled with the sophomores after class. I was too young to giggle with her, at twelve.

She was twenty-four years old and had gone on too many shidduch dates before deciding on the right man to marry. How else explain being 24 – so old! – and unmarried and still teaching Jewish Law to teenage girls.

I sat in the back of her class and listened to the list of rules I was supposed to live by, the rules she seemed to take in stride as if it were not humiliating to have to shave your head and wear a wig, as if it were not intolerable that boys had to do no such thing. And then I was crying. I cried quite a lot at home, but usually not in school, and definitely not at my desk where people could see me.

But Miss Lichtman could see me. She stood in front of the blackboard in her modest blouse that covered her elbows and collarbone, and her knee length skirt that cinched at the waist, and she raised her eyebrows and finger waved me outside. I followed, with my head down, and leaned into the brick wall while she stared at me.

I probably told her that I was having trouble with my best friend, who wasn’t talking to me that week. I could have safely told her that I hated school, and didn’t fit in with the other girls, and didn’t like most of my teachers, except for her, of course, which would have made her roll her eyes. But I couldn’t tell her the truth. She stayed with me for most of her next class, offering me her phone number and asking if I’d like to visit her brother’s house for Shabbos. She knew something was wrong and she stared through the back of my throat as if she could see the words piling up there.


Butterfly has lots of words piled up in there too.

And then she cuffed my shoulder and told me to go back to class, and pushed her curious sophomores back into their classroom down the hall, and disappeared with them.

Our school provided a bus to take all of the interested girls to go to her wedding. It was awful to see my teacher all in white and looking terrified and not like herself. It wasn’t an arranged marriage or something she was being forced into, and most likely it was exactly the life she wanted for herself, but I was devastated. And then she disappeared altogether. From school. From New York. To Israel and her life and her husband and her own children.

Cricket has certain people who imprinted on her from her puppy year, especially a neighbor she hadn’t seen for years, who happened to be on the boardwalk at the beach one day. Cricket recognized her from thirty feet away and tried to break my hand pulling at the leash to get to her, long before I ever saw or recognized her in the distance, or remembered her name.





I took each of my teachers so personally that their limitations and flaws broke my heart, or enraged me, but even their smallest kindnesses stayed with me for years.

If I saw Miss Lichtman today, she’d be in her fifties, and wearing a wig, with who knows how many children, and maybe grandchildren too by now, but I’d still recognize her voice, or the rhythm of her speech, I think. I hope.

puppy in the leaves

“Do you remember me?”

Zoe and George

We noticed, first, that our new neighbor had a parrot. The parrot’s cage is next to the front window, so when the shades are up, the parrot is on full view, and looking out into the backyard full of potential birdy friends. The parrot’s name is Isabel, and she has an anxiety disorder that makes her pluck out her own feathers, so she’s a little scruffy.

Isabel behind bars.

Isabel behind bars.


Isabel is giving me the beak.

The first bark could have even been mistaken for a parrot squawk, but not the six barks after that. There were dogs in that there apartment. Two dogs.

It was at least a month before I met them in person. George and Zoe are a little bit bigger than Cricket and Butterfly, but not by much. George is a white Havanese with a very outgoing personality. He likes to wave his front paws in the air to ask for attention. He’s very curious and keeps trying to go up the stairs to a stranger’s apartment to say hello. His older sister, Zoe, is a black and white Poodle mix, with an almost Dachshund length back that seems to have extra hinges in it. She is more demure than her brother, a bit more reserved and circumspect, but she will climb over him to get her share of scratchies.

That's George!

That’s George!

Zoe needs more light, but George is a glutton!

Zoe needs more light, but George is a glutton!

George and Zoe are both in middle age, or late middle age, like Cricket and Butterfly, and have their share of complaints: a hip here, a back muscle there; but they are still full of beans.

Whenever we walk past their building, my girls start sniffing feverishly. Butterfly seems to think that she must go inside, but she’s pretty shy when the real life dogs are around. Zoe and George had a little trouble with Cricket at first, because they’re all alphas and none was willing to cede power. Butterfly just stood by looking innocent and uninterested and let everyone sniff her butt.

Puppies? Where?!

“Puppies? Where?!”

I was able to take George and Zoe for a walk and it was pure joy for all of us. They are much better behaved that Cricket and Butterfly and appreciate any and all attention. Zoe has ballerina-like turn out in all four feet and almost gallops. George keeps his feet facing forward and sniffs everything and pees on everything he sniffs, and then he smiles like it’s the best day of his life.

“More walkies? We’re ready!”

There should be a puppy place in the backyard where all of the dogs who live here can hang out, so that I’ll never run out of my doggy vitamins. If I could just sit on the lawn and play with puppies for a few hours a day, I’d never have to take anti-depressants again!

Zoe finally gets her moment in the spotlight!

Zoe finally gets her moment in the spotlight!

Dog blogs


"You have to check in with my bloggy friends, Mommy!"

“You have to check in with my bloggy friends, Mommy!”


I want to write a celebration of all of the blogs I read each week. I’ve not only learned a lot, I’ve become a part of a community of real people who influence each other to be better, happier, kinder, more open and more in love with life. Every blog has its own strengths: some are full of information and advice, some are full of compassion, or humor, or recipes. Some people add photography or artwork, cartoons or videos or animation.

"Tell me the story about the doggy who likes to swim in the mud. And then the one about the piggy who watches TV, and then..."

“Tell me the story about the doggy who likes to swim in the mud. And then the one about the piggy who watches TV, and then…”

I’m afraid to do a list of dog blogs and leave people out of it, but I want to tell you how much I appreciate this blogging community and how much I’ve gotten from reading what you write. Without your influence I would never have felt ready to adopt Butterfly, or felt capable of managing her diabetes. I’m grateful for all of the validation you’ve given me that writing about dogs is a worthwhile endeavor. I love that these are real dogs acting like dogs: destroying stuffed animals, trying to steal treats, breaking through fences, napping in the sun, and playing with their friends.

I would recommend that anyone who is low on dog vitamins and high on stress, type “dogs” or “pets” into the search bar of your reader and just spend half an hour soaking up the joy.

Dogs are my organizing factor; they are the scaffolding I can hang ideas on to make things make sense. Dogs allow me to listen with compassion to ideas that might otherwise seem too foreign. I’ve noticed that I will read all kinds of posts from someone that I know loves dogs, even if nine out of ten of their posts are about something else entirely. I read about Australian politics, and gardening tips, and running and travel and cooking, all because I found a picture of a dog on that blog one day, or a cat, or a horse, or a pig. I trust that someone who loves animals has something interesting to say about other parts of their lives.

"Thank you!"

“Thank you!”

I’m going to attempt a comprehensive list here, but there are so many good dog blogs and I know I will miss too many. Please add links in the comments section to dog blogs you like. I hope I’m doing the links right. (Danny the dog) (Understanding Your Dog) (Love your dog) (c-dog & company) (fozziemum) (dogs and humans) (Will and Eko) (Linda Trunell) (All Fur One and One Fur All) (Bailey) (Bacon) (Vanilla bean) (snoweiners) (Maxwell the dog)


late additions: (Tzuri)