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Cricket Had To Get Her Teeth Cleaned

            Cricket had to get her teeth cleaned, and I was scared. The doctor first mentioned to us that Cricket’s teeth needed cleaning around two years ago, I think. It’s possible he’d mentioned it earlier, but if so, I blocked it out. We were able to put it off at that point, because Cricket was dealing with other health issues that were more pressing, but since she’s been doing better the doctor’s insistence has been growing. Both Mom and I have been concerned about putting Cricket through such a procedure, because of her age and because we’ve heard so many horror stories about dogs dying from regular teeth cleanings, because of the anesthesia. The doctor has tried to reassure us, and at Cricket’s most recent checkup he gave her a battery of tests to make sure she would be safe undergoing anesthesia, and the doctor said that he was confident Cricket would be fine. I wanted to be as confident as he was, and I wasn’t, but Mom and I decided to go through with the procedure anyway, because Cricket’s quality of life was in the balance. The pain in her mouth, especially when she was eating, and the bacteria running through her system, weren’t doing her any good. But I was still scared.

            Cricket is fourteen and a half years old, and as of her latest checkup she was three pounds lighter than the fourteen pounds she’s weighed for most of her life; also, her eyes are a bit blue from cataracts, she’s on medication for incontinence, she seems to hear things that aren’t there, her hair is thinning, and, of course, she has bad teeth. When we first adopted her, I saw a chart that said that a Cockapoo her size would live around 20 years, but given the way she’s been aging lately, I’ve had to recalibrate my expectations. But even so, I’m nowhere near ready to lose her.

“I am a puppy. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

            Cricket is a difficult dog, she demands what she wants in life and never tolerates no for an answer. She is prickly and feisty and temperamental and adorable, and she has only recently discovered the joys of play (with a Golden Doodle puppy named Kevin who lives in our complex). And no matter how often she gets on my nerves, I can’t imagine my life without her.

            But I trust her doctor, and he was getting more and more insistent that a teeth cleaning was necessary for her overall health, and I could see his point.

Ellie was still skeptical.

            I didn’t want to think about the small chance that she wouldn’t come back from the doctor’s office, but that was all I could think about. Cricket has never been a good patient. She resents both the illness and the treatment, and she absolutely blames me for whatever awfulness she’s feeling. I couldn’t even check her teeth myself, to see if the doctor was exaggerating about how bad it was in there, because she’d bite my fingers off. I wish I were exaggerating, but she recently bit me, hard enough to break through the skin on my thumb, just because I dared to try and wipe the goop from under her eye.

            We made an appointment for the dental procedure for during the winter break and I crossed my fingers – or braided them like a challah – in the hopes that Cricket would come back from the vet, and come back in better shape than she’d been in for a while, ready to chew and bark and play for all she was worth. That was the result I wanted, and I did my best to follow Cricket’s lead and refuse to accept no for an answer.

“No is my favorite word, but only when I say it.”

            The night before the procedure we had to put the food and water bowls away at nine pm, but Cricket barely noticed. Ellie on the other hand found the whole thing upsetting. And so did I. I had nightmares that whole night, and when it was time to leave in the morning, Ellie and I were wrecks, but Cricket was still fine. She was thrilled when Mom took her out to the car (so that I could put the food and water bowls out for Ellie), but Ellie was freaking out. Instead of eating or drinking, she stood by the door and cried as I left to catch up with Mom and Cricket.

I wasn’t freaking out, Mommy. I was just expressing my opinion.”

            Cricket was her usual anxious self in the car, shivering behind my neck, because she knew she was either going to the vet or the groomer and both are horrifying. And, of course, I had a hard time handing her off to the vet tech once we arrived, especially after signing the card that said I knew she would be undergoing anesthesia and recognized the risks. I watched the vet tech carry Cricket inside (the vet still doesn’t let people in the building, only pets, because of Covid) and tried not to panic.

“What are we doing at the vet?”

            By the time we got home, Ellie had pooped up a storm in the quilting area, and even after three treats and a lot of cuddles she still couldn’t settle down, shivering and breathing heavily in my lap. We both tried to take a nap, but the anxiety made it difficult.

            The call came around Noon that Cricket was “Great” and that we could pick her up between three and five pm. I watched TV and did jigsaw puzzles and tried to believe that Cricket was fine, but I had convinced myself so thoroughly that her life was at risk that I really couldn’t take in the idea that she was okay.

We got to the vet at 2:45 pm, but the vet tech understood. The vet came out to give us the bill (oy), and told us that they’d had to remove 7 rotten teeth, and that Cricket would need to take antibiotics and painkillers for a few days. And then there was Cricket, trying to jump out of the vet tech’s arms to get into the car. We thanked the vet and the vet tech and Cricket climbed all over me and her grandma, ready to get the hell out of there. She may have been a little high from her painkillers, but she was herself, and kept climbing all over me, and around my neck, and back down to my lap through the whole drive, until her leash was wrapped tight around my neck, twice.

            I’m sure it was unintentional. Or, I hope it was.

            When we got home, Ellie had to check Cricket out and sniff her everywhere, while Cricket kept pushing her sister out of the way so she could get to the water bowl (though she was only allowed a few sips of water at a time). And then Cricket spent the rest of the afternoon barking and complaining, as usual, because she wanted more water, and she wanted treats, and she wanted…everything.

            After all of the anxiety, and really expecting to get bad news from the vet, the idea that my fourteen and a half year old dog came through anesthesia with flying colors, and almost no after effects, feels like a miracle. And now she seems to be eating more and even starting to gain some of the weight back, and giving me hope that the original chart that said she would live to age twenty, might not have been so far off after all.

            I really needed a miracle right about now, to keep me going. Leave it to curmudgeonly Cricket to make it happen.

“I’m looking cute.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

My Thankful list for Thanksgiving Weekend

I am thankful for my Mom, who makes everything possible.

I am thankful for my dogs, present and past, who fill my life with joy and laughter.

“What do you mean dogs plural?

I am thankful for my blogging friends and my friends-in-real-life who listen and give so much of themselves.

I am thankful for my students, who challenge me and entertain me and teach me and keep me on my toes.

“Like us!!!!”

I am thankful for my family, near and far, who keep me connected to the past and the future.

I am thankful for my Hebrew teachers and fellow students who keep bringing me closer to the dream of seeing and hearing and feeling Israel for myself.

I am thankful for books and TV shows and movies for keeping me informed and entertained and alternately distracted from and attached to the world around me.

I am thankful for good food, especially yummy food like pizza and sushi and chocolate frosting, for making life so rich.

“Did you say pizza?”

I am thankful for my memories, because they make me who I am.

My Dina

I am thankful for rainy days and talkative birds and flowers and leaves of every color and I am thankful for dreams of snow days yet to come.

My Butterfly

And I am thankful for hope, because it has gotten me through so many rotten days when nothing seemed okay, because it allowed me to always, always, imagine something wonderful up ahead.

“I always have hope, Mommy!”

I hope everyone had a wonderful (entertaining, complicated, meaningful, delicious, and peaceful) Thanksgiving.

And a Happy Chanukah to come for those who celebrate!

“Happy Chanukah!”
“I’ll have to think about it.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Cricket Can Play!

            Cricket has changed a lot since she started taking the DES (Diethylstilbestrol – a non-steroidal estrogen medication) last winter. First of all, the incontinence problem disappeared, which was the point of the medication in the first place. She takes her pill – buried in hamburger – every other night, and she hasn’t had an accident in months. But there are other changes too. For some reason, her voice is higher pitched than before. She’s always been loud and barky and anxious about strangers, but now when she screams at them her voice gets even higher. She’s also clingier, if that’s possible. She used to make do with sleeping next to her Grandma, attached like a barnacle, but now she tries to sleep on top of her, like a cat (she’s fourteen pounds, at most, so no bones have been broken in the process). She’s been very attached to Grandma since she was a puppy, but it’s a little more intense now. She even sits on Grandma’s lap at the computer now, instead of just on the couch, where it’s easy.

Cricket, the barnacle.

            The big change, though, came up recently, when a new mini Golden Doodle puppy arrived at our co-op. Well, he arrived a few months ago as a little red ball of fluff, but he had to wait until he had all of his shots and did his potty training before he could meet everyone.

This is not Kevin, or my picture. But Kevin is this cute.

            Then Mom came in one morning a few weeks ago, after taking the girls for their first walk of the day, and she said in wonder – Cricket was playing!

            Cricket is fourteen years old and she has never played with another dog. Dogs have tried to play with her, doing their play bows and zooming around her, but she would just stand still and wait for it to be over, or hide behind one of her people, or just raise an eyebrow in disdain at the strange creature and walk away to sniff someone else’s pee.

“Harrumph.”

            Butterfly and Ellie had both tried to play with Cricket over the years, and learned quickly that she couldn’t be bothered. And when we had other dogs over to visit, or she met dogs at the dog park or in the yard, she’d just sniff and be sniffed and then look off in the distance, bored, or confused about why the dog was still there, staring at her.

This is as close as Butterfly (top) and Cricket (bottom) came to playing.

            The closest she came to playing was with her friend Teddy – a black miniature poodle she’d known since puppyhood – but they tended to play consecutively rather than together. Teddy would throw his toy in the air and zoom around the room and scratch his back on the floor, and then he’d go lie down and watch while Cricket did her own play routine.

Teddy and Cricket, tandem napping.

            But with Kevin, the five month old mini-Golden Doodle, Cricket actually went into her own version of a play bow and hopped around with him. No one watching her could believe she was fourteen years old. Ellie, meanwhile, who’d had more than enough of boy dogs when she was a breeding mama, stayed back and waited for it to be over. She allowed Kevin to sniff her a little bit, but she really really wasn’t interested.

“Ugh. Boys.”

            Kevin is a very social dog, and especially social with other dogs. He’ll tolerate a scratch on the head from a human, but he’s really dog-centric. His humans say that they struggle to train him with treats because he’s not food-motivated, but he’ll do anything for a trip outside. I’m sure Kevin’s playful personality plays a role in how Cricket is reacting to him, but I’m pretty sure the DES has changed something for her.

            The thing is, Cricket had her spaying surgery when she was six months old, so she never had the surge of hormones rushing through her body. Now, the advice would be to wait until a dog is a little older before spaying or neutering, because it’s healthier for the dog to go through a few hormone cycles, but that wasn’t the advice when Cricket was little. So when she started taking the synthetic estrogen (DES) to solve the incontinence problem, that was her body’s first real experience with Estrogen, and one of the side effects, it seems, is that she’s learned how to play.

            Cricket has had a full life with her people, and she’s had rich, complicated relationships with her sisters (Butterfly and Ellie), and she’s eaten all kinds of interesting foods and barked in all kinds of different places and sniffed a million different smells, and she chased sticks, and ran like the wind, and rolled in the mud, but I always felt bad that playing with other dogs wasn’t in the cards for her.

            I had some theories: about her being the runt of her litter and therefore under attack from her brothers from day one and therefore not trusting of other dogs; or about her being the runt of her litter and therefore suffering from an unfinished nervous system that caused lifelong neurological issues that made her too hypervigilant and suspicious to play.

            And now she’s fourteen, and she’s discovering how to play. She still has a lot of energy and, despite a number of signs of aging, she’s still young at heart, and my hope is that she’ll have plenty of years left to figure out what else these synthetic hormones can do for her and take them out for a spin.

Cricket practicing her play bow with the grooming brush.

            Every once in a while I notice those signs that she’s aging – the thinning of her hair, the age spots and cauliflower-like growths on her skin, her skinniness despite eating plenty, the missing teeth in her smile – and I feel this void readying to open up, this reminder that Cricket won’t always be here. And then she barks at a leaf and hops across the lawn like a rabbit and then, out of nowhere she learns how to play (!!!!), and, for a few moments, she’s a puppy again, or better, she’s ageless and she seems like she will live forever.

            These are my favorite moments.

Cricket is ready for more!

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

My Pawpaw Tree is Tilting

            During one of the summer storms, my fourteen-year-old Pawpaw tree went from gently leaning into the yard, to bowing down, leaves almost touching the grass.

            At first, I thought it was temporary, like the way the hydrangeas get heavy with moisture and look like they’re exhausted and wilting, and the next day, as they dry off, they lift back up. But even while all of the other flowers and trees in the yard started to rise back up to standing, the Pawpaw stayed tilted.

            Part of the problem is that the Pawpaw tree was planted in the retaining wall, rather than straight in the ground, and the retaining wall is not in the greatest of health. There are all kinds of bushes and trees around the Pawpaw competing for space, and the wooden slats that keep each level of the wall in place are rotting.

            But still. The Pawpaw tree has been there for nine of its fourteen years, long enough to have deep roots, so I didn’t expect it to fall down and never get up again.

            Mom said it could be about the quality of the soil in the retaining wall; it’s gotten spongy. She has plans to buy special soil to add into the wall around the tree, to help support it, but if it’s the soil, then why is it only the Pawpaw that’s struggling to stay upright?

            I get a teensy bit paranoid about my tree, obviously.

“Obviously.”

            We put some rocks around the trunk and leaned a garden fork against it with the teeth dug into the ground as a counterweight, but that was only a short term solution.

            Then Mom went to the home improvement store and bought a heavy rope and a bungee cord. My job was to climb up into the retaining wall (with a big stick for balance and to push tangled vines and branches out of my way) and wrap the rope around two solid trees a few levels up into the wall. Then the bungee cord went around the trunk of the Pawpaw, as taut as possible, to give the tree some extra support, so at least it won’t tilt further in the next storm.

            I don’t know how Mr. Pawpaw feels about wearing a back brace, as well as the bowtie that marks him out as off limits to the gardeners, but I hope he agrees that survival is more important than vanity.

            So now I wait and see. There’s still one Pawpaw fruit growing on one of the higher branches (out of reach) and the leaves look healthy, so I’m hopeful.

            I’m not thrilled with all of the drama that comes of loving a tree; but it certainly gives me something to write about.

“Oy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

The Carolina Wren(s)

            For the past few years, ever since my Mom’s friend Olivia died one January, a Carolina Wren has taken to visiting the apartment over the winter. The first visit, within days of Olivia’s death, felt like a spiritual visit from Olivia herself, to let us know that she was okay, and to say goodbye. When the wren (or a different wren) returned the next year, it seemed like Olivia was checking in on us, and letting us know that her spirit was flying free.

“This is my good side.”

            This year has been different. A Carolina Wren has come into the apartment four or five times already, usually on the coldest, snowiest days. She (I always assume she’s a she) sometimes stays overnight, flying from one room to another, sampling the kibble, taking a bath in the water bowls, singing a few songs, leaving poop on the curtains and then heading out.

            The dogs never seem to mind the visits, even when the little bird is singing full out or flying over their heads.

“Go ahead. Eat as much kibble as you want.”

            On her third visit this winter, in the middle of a snowstorm, a second Carolina Wren came in with her. I don’t know if it was her mate (he was a little fatter than she was), or another bird, curious about where she kept escaping to when everyone else was freezing. Our Carolina Wren did not seem to appreciate the company. The bigger bird perched on the top of my bookcase while the little one did gymnastics on the curtain rod, and tried and failed to land on a bare lightbulb, and two-stepped her way down the curtain in my room. Finally the bigger bird decided to leave, but our little Wren stayed a while longer.

“Does this color make my foot look big?”

During her next visit, when I was practicing the alto part for a choir recording, she decided to sing with me. She didn’t sing the tune I was singing, she sang her own, but she sang it in answer to me and along with me, insistently; maybe trying to figure out why I was singing the wrong song. Her voice was much bigger than mine, despite her tiny size, and it filled the whole apartment. There wasn’t much harmony between her song and mine, but there was a magic to it anyway. There was communication and echoing and solidarity and questioning; and it was beautiful.

            It reminded me of how my old black lab mix, Dina, would hear us singing at Friday Night dinner and add her howl to the song. I found out that if I hit certain notes, usually higher up in my register, it would set her off. And even if we weren’t singing the same song, we were singing together; and even if it didn’t sound right, it sounded like love.

My Dina.

            I don’t know what it means that the Wren is visiting us more often, or even if it’s the same Wren each time. Maybe we’re listed on the Wren-airbnb site; maybe she’s looking for a nest, or for nesting materials (we have an enormous collection of fabric scraps); maybe she needs a respite from her mate and we seem friendly enough; or maybe there really is some communication between the spirit and bird worlds, and old friends are coming to visit in bird form. I’m not an expert on the afterlife, or on birds, but it’s nice to be visited, and it was nice to have someone to sing with in person, in this year of social distancing.

“I can play while you sing, Mommy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Goodbye, My Friend

Teddy

            A good friend of mine died recently. He was a black-haired, gentle-souled miniature poodle named Teddy and I miss him very much. I hadn’t seen him in a while, but just knowing that he was still there, still climbing through his doggy door and sleeping on his Mommy’s lap, was reassuring and made the world feel whole.

            He was fifteen and a half, I think, two and a half years older than Cricket, my cocker spaniel/miniature poodle mix, who adored him from the get-go. He was long-legged and skinny, with hair that quickly covered his eyes between grooming session. He could leap like a ballet dancer, pointed toes and all, or just race full steam ahead to play with a toy. He was full of joy, and love, and seriousness. He was a gentleman, in the way he held himself and in the boundaries he set around himself. If he could have spoken, he would have had a faint French accent, nothing too broad, more like the head waiter at a high-end restaurant.

Gentleman Pose

            Over the past few years he grew blind and deaf, relying on his younger sister to alert him to noises he needed to respond to, and by the end, to alert him to meal time as well. He had been slowing down for a while, but took great joy in his resurgence on CBD oil, it gave him a zest for life and an appetite and the energy to be his athletic self once again. But his final illness came on quickly, shutting down his kidneys. Treatment only relieved his symptoms temporarily, and when the symptoms inevitably returned he was even more confused than before, and unable to feel like his true self. When he stopped eating, his sister stopped eating too, to keep him company, to express her grief at what she instinctively knew was coming, and because when your loved ones are in pain, you feel the pain too.

            He died with dignity, in a way we don’t often allow our human loved ones to do, surrounded by love and by the knowledge that he had lived a full life, a generous life, and a satisfying life. I imagine that when he crossed the rainbow bridge he did a few leaps and arabesques and then raced towards his two golden sisters who were waiting for him on the other side. He would have had so much to tell them about the world they’d left behind, and they would have had so much to tell him about what comes after.

            We tend to think that our role models and teachers will be human, but Teddy was one of my best teachers, and he was truly, and fully, a dog, in the best possible way.

            Teddy was my therapy dog. Not only because he was my therapist’s dog, but because he offered his own version of therapy: a nonverbal, relationship-based therapeutic technique that they don’t teach in school. He modeled for me how to respect your own emotions and your own boundaries even while reaching out to others. He modeled how to be fully yourself and respectful of others at the same time. He, like Cricket, taught me that there is no shame in speaking up when you feel strongly about something. And that there is honor and strength in accepting your own limitations and not forcing yourself into situations where you don’t feel safe.

“I want out!”

            He was a picky little man, with specific tastes in food and people and dog friends, and he chose me. He trusted me, and I felt the honor of that deeply. Teddy taught me that it’s not arrogant or selfish to hold your own views, or to love only who you love. He showed me that you can have those preferences, and know yourself, while still being respectful and polite to those who don’t fit for you – unless they scare you or piss you off, and then you can scream.

“Let’s get ready to rumble!”

            He showed me that you can express your fear and pain, and if you express it fully and truthfully, there is then room for other feelings to come in. He taught me that there is no shame in asking for affection when you need it, and he taught me that there are people, and dogs, who will be honored that you’ve asked for their affection.

            His acceptance of me, his love for me, and his trust of me, was healing on a very deep level. He reflected me back to myself as I really am. He told me that I am kind, I am trustworthy, and I am loveable. And I believed it, from him. I think the fact that he could never communicate in words, which are my stock in trade, also played a role. He reached the parts of me that can’t speak and they heard him and felt comforted by him.

            I know there were times when it wasn’t easy being Teddy. There were a limited number of people that made him feel comfortable, and when he couldn’t be with those people he suffered. I can relate to that, completely.

            He stayed with me a couple of times, in the period after Butterfly died and before Ellie arrived, and after a short period of vocal grief and longing for his Mom, he settled in with us. He set his boundaries with Cricket early on, and she respected those boundaries, and appreciated his respect for her space too. They went on walks together, and ate dinner together and took naps together peacefully, as long as I was there to referee. By the time he had to leave Cricket was forlorn, sleeping in his makeshift bed until the scent of him dissipated.

Teddy on his bed

            The most important lesson I learned from Teddy is that love is a gift. His love for me was a gift. And the love I felt for him in return made me feel strong enough to raise Cricket with love, and then Butterfly, and now Ellie. He taught me that having enough of what you need makes you feel like you are enough.

            Dogs, maybe because they live such short lives, focus in on the most important things: love, food, joy, and safety. They don’t get distracted by appearances or wear the masks we humans wear to get through our days.

Cricket and Teddy napping with Grandma

            I will miss Teddy, but I will also keep Teddy with me, as part of me, for the rest of my life, as a guide, and as a source of energy for the lessons I still want and need to learn.

            Goodbye, my friend. May you feel all of the love you have inspired throughout your short life, and find peace and community on the other side.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Ellie’s Progress

Ellie’s Progress

 

Ellie will be six years old this month and she is basically unrecognizable from when she first arrived as a shy, quiet, skinny little girl a year and a half ago. First of all, she loves to eat. She would eat second breakfast (aka Cricket’s breakfast) every morning if we didn’t keep a close eye on her. Cricket is often blasé about breakfast, but Miss Ellie is teetering on the edge of a weight problem, so we have to be careful. Second, she makes eye contact all the time and has learned to make puppy dog eyes at me to ask for more treats and scratchies whenever she wants them. She barks to go outside, and races across the hall to bark at her friend Oliver on her way out the door. And then she zooms! She does figure eights and spirals and circles out on the lawn out of sheer joy!

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“That’s me!”

She even lets me wash her butt in the sink, even though it scares her, so she doesn’t have to walk around with poop on her butt, the way Cricket chooses to do. And Ellie loves her people. At her most recent grooming appointment the groomer said, a little resentfully, that Ellie has really attached to me now (she was rescued by the groomer in the first place and then came to us).

Ellie with Gerry

“Who are you strange people?”

Ellie still pees too much indoors, though, and despite two wee wee pads (next to the front door and in my room), she still ends up peeing in the “wrong” places too often. But she seems to pee a lot more often than Cricket does, so I choose to blame her particular anatomy for this problem instead of blaming her.

Ellie is all love and enthusiasm, even when she’s sleeping, and she’s not self-conscious about her poochy belly (there used to be puppies in there, so she has an excuse!).

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I finally started to work on training with Ellie a few weeks ago, because she’s been getting extra barky lately and I wondered if teaching her some basic commands might help her as much as it would help me. Up until now I was reluctant to bother her with obedience lessons, because I was thinking of her as another Butterfly (a puppy mill mama rescued at eight years old), someone in need of freedom more than anything else. But Ellie isn’t Butterfly. She’s younger and healthier and less traumatized by her still-difficult early life as a breeding dog with a local breeder.

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“Ellie isn’t me. She’s her own special person.”

And it turns out that Cricket loves to act as role model for our training sessions, gleefully taking treats for every good “sit” and “stay” and “twirl” and “down.” Except that we had to go through an enormous amount of treats just to get a handful of good sits out of Ellie. And the process was exhausting. Ellie seemed to learn “sit,” and then unlearn it, ten times over. Cricket was a very quick learner, way back when (not that it’s done us much good), but while Miss Ellie really tries, training doesn’t seem to be her strength. She actually had solid name recall when we first brought her home (which Cricket has never managed), but that seems to have been the extent of her previous training. I have to use very small treats to train her, because she needs so many repetitions, and I ran out of the special tiny treats very quickly. I’ve been slow to re-order them, because those training sessions exhausted me so much more than they exhausted the dogs.

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“Cricket would have liked a few more treats.”

But even without formal training, Ellie has made tons of progress. When she first came home she was kind of stiff and inflexible, and I assumed it was just her body type. Cricket can curl up in a tiny ball and almost disappear, and I assumed that was just not possible for Ellie. But over time Ellie’s back has become looser, and longer, and she can curl up nose to toes just like Cricket, when she wants to, or stretch out across the couch to connect her people. Her back is like an accordion, contracting and stretching with each breath. She’s also stronger, and faster, than before, and she runs and jumps and begs for kisses while standing straight up on her hind legs.

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“Hi Mommy!”

I can’t train the sisterly relationship, though, so that’s still up to the girls. Ellie will lean on Cricket, and Cricket will lean on Ellie, but only if Cricket can pretend it’s not happening. They sniff each other for information whenever they’ve been apart for a few minutes, and they work together to demand outings, and to warn of incipient attacks by the mailman, but seconds later Cricket will act as if Ellie is a complete stranger who has wandered into our home by accident. Cricket gets especially riled up when she thinks her food and scratchies are being stolen by the interloper. And she can be quite a bully, intimidating Ellie away from the snacks.

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“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

When I try to intervene, Ellie lowers her eyes, as if to say, No, Mommy, Cricket knows best. I’ve tried to explain to Ellie that, clearly, Cricket does not know best, but Ellie doesn’t believe me and I haven’t figured out a way to train her out of her subservience, or to train Cricket into learning how to share. My hope is that, over time, Cricket will learn to find Ellie’s devotion endearing, and start to bend a little bit in return. There will be plenty of treats in it for her when that happens, and she knows it, but sometimes even treats aren’t enough motivation.

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“Wait, when are treats not enough? Cricket, is this one of those unanswerable koans?”

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“Do you see what you’ve done?”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

 

 

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?

 

Ellie, the Love Bug

 

The other day, when I was driving home from the drug store, the front of my left foot started to cramp out of nowhere. It didn’t impact my driving, but stretching my toes didn’t help, and even the walk back up to the apartment didn’t make it go away completely. The pain was just annoying enough to make me wonder what I might have done to cause my foot to cramp. Was I doing ballet in my sleep? Have I been pointing and flexing my toes without realizing it?

As soon as I got inside, the dogs were desperate to get outside, so Mom and I leashed them up and followed them out the door. I wasn’t watching the dogs closely, because I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts, about ballet and such, but then Mom pointed out that Ellie was limping and I looked up in time to see Ellie hopping around and then flexing her leg back into an arabesque – her left rear leg. The same foot that was bothering me.

I picked her up and touched her paw, to see if she had something caught between the pads (because Butterfly used to get pieces of kibble stuck in her paw on a regular basis), but there was nothing obvious there. Ellie gave a little shriek when I touched her toes, though, and pulled her foot away. I put her back down on the ground and she proceeded to run, hop, stretch, run, and jump in quick succession. She stretched her left leg back in the arabesque position a few more times but then she put her foot down with her full weight on it. She wasn’t crying as she walked on it, so I left her to finish her dancing and peeing and then led both dogs back into the apartment.

Once inside I figured I could get a better look at her foot if I was sitting down on the couch. Thank God it wasn’t Cricket, because she would have ripped off my hand before letting me touch her foot. Ellie is much more trusting, or at least tolerant. I held Ellie in my lap and picked up her left rear paw to examine it more closely, and that’s when I saw the blood. Some of the blood had rubbed off on the top of her right rear paw, but the wound was clearly localized on the left paw. Mom brought out a damp wash cloth to dab the blood away so I could see what might have caused the injury. I worried that one of her paw pads had gotten cut, or that she had glass in her paw, and I started to catastrophize and plan ahead to calling the vet for an emergency appointment and… Mom calmed me down and continued to dab the paw until I could see more clearly. There was no obvious cut, and I couldn’t see any foreign objects, no glass, or pebbles, or needles, or anything else. Mom found a piece of sterile gauze in the medicine cabinet and managed to wrap it around the top of Ellie’s foot and tie a little knot. Then she suggested that we wait and see if the wound was still bothering Ellie after an hour or two, because Ellie wouldn’t thank me for dragging her to the vet just for a scratch that could easily heal on its own.

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“Can I have my paw back, please?”

And mom was right: the bandage came off quickly, and the bleeding stopped even quicker than that. Within an hour, Ellie was back to her usual cheerful self, with no sign of an injury. I kept an eye out for the rest of the day for any possible delayed reactions – severed ligaments, swollen ankles, blood, tumors, etc. – but she was fine.

Which left me time to contemplate the weirdness: why did I have that random pain in my foot right before Ellie had an injury in the same freaking foot? Is this some new form of ESP that psychics forgot to mention? Am I the dog mommy of the year – literally able to feel my baby’s pain? Or was it just a silly coincidence that I should ignore, and maybe make sure to do my foot and leg stretches more regularly?

I have no idea. I prefer the magical explanation (for everything), so I tend to over-compensate and be very skeptical of magical explanations, and try hard to find a rational explanation instead. And there’s always a rational explanation available. But…

I think we are all connected, and I think love connects us on an even deeper, more unfathomable level. And I think, maybe, that this was a sign that Ellie and I have found our wavelength, not just because I happened to be lucky enough to be on a call list when Ellie needed a home; not just because she’s cute and lovable in a generic way; but because we’ve done the work to get to know each other.

me and the girls

Cricket has her very own wavelength.

Ellie has become more and more of her own self over time, sleeping flat on her back with her legs in the air, speaking with her own voice (louder and louder as time passes), and running with her own unimaginable joy as she tries to chase the mourning doves as they escape up into the trees. She is a love bug, burying her head under my chin, leaping up for scratches and hugs when we’re out on a walk, following me everywhere (but especially to the kitchen). She loves me, she loves her Grandma, and she even loves Cricket, who sort of, maybe, tolerates her in return.

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This doesn’t look comfortable to me, but Ellie loves it.

I’m not saying that I want this connection to continue to express itself in foot pain, in fact, I’d rather it find a nicer vocabulary in the future. But it means something, at least to me.

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“We don’t believe in this…stuff.”

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?

 

 

My To-Do List

 

Every night, I write up a to-do list for the following day, to make sure I don’t forget important appointments or tasks that need to get done. There was a time when I had to put get dressed and brush teeth on the list, just to give me something to successfully check off, but my lists have grown since then, and most days I find that I’ve only gotten halfway through the list before the day is over. This has gotten worse since I finished graduate school, in December, and found myself with some “free” time before I’m allowed to take the social work licensing exam.

Without Schoolwork at the top of my to-do list, a lot of other projects have cropped up and they all seem equally important to me. Of course, studying for the licensing exam is on my list every day, as is read books which refers to my hefty pile of self-required reading that I mentioned in a previous post. I also put practice ukulele, freewrite and revise, and bike and shower on the list every day (the last refers to time spent on my stationary bike and the shower I have to force myself to take in the aftermath. I take showers every day, don’t worry, but some part of my brain needs to be given credit for making the effort).

I also add tasks that I need to do on a particular day, like researching for a new writing project, or making a food shopping list, or doing the laundry, or setting the DVR for the week, both because I know that I would forget otherwise, and because of the satisfaction I feel when I can cross off a task as finished.

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“Make sure our scratchy time is on the list.”

I almost never put language apps on my list, even though I end up spending at least an hour a day on Duolingo and Tinycards and Drops. I should be fluent in French, German, Spanish and Hebrew by now, given the amount of time I spend glued to that little screen, but alas, I am not. I also don’t put watch TV or check social media on my list, because it would be wrong to give myself credit for fueling my addictions. And napping. I can’t put napping on the list, because that would be cheating.

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“Napping is important work, Mommy.”

When I have to put go to work back on my to-do list, a lot of my other tasks will end up falling by the wayside, and that worries me. For the first time in three and a half years I feel like myself again, even with all of my random thoughts and interests pulling me in every different direction. It’s not the most productive way to live, but it feels more like me, and it allows more parts of me to get the attention they crave. But work will change things.

The dogs will always be priorities, and basic tasks of living (AKA showers), but music and reading lists, and multiple writing projects, I’m not sure they will get the attention they need when something as big as Work gets in the way. And I’m not sure how to prevent that from happening.

People pooh pooh it when I say I’m worried, and tell me that I’ll have plenty of time for everything I want to do, and of course work is the most important thing, and isn’t it cute that you write books as a hobby, and so on. But I know myself. Even if I’m only working part time, it will take most of my energy to make that happen. I will have “free” time, but I’ll need to spend it recovering and resting, not challenging myself with different projects that mean something to me. I want to have faith that work will add to my life, add to my satisfaction and my life experience and my confidence and give me more freedom (because: money). But I’m afraid it will take things away from me instead: autonomy, time, energy, hope.

And the dogs really don’t appreciate this idea of work as something to be done away from home. What will happen to their treats and extra walks and snuggle time? And the separation anxiety will exhaust all of us. But mostly me. In the meantime, I follow my to-do lists, and try to function the best I can, and wring as much as possible out of my day, and hope that there will always be room on my to-do list of the things I love.

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“We’re on the list, right?”

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

yeshiva girl with dogs

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, 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.