Wednesday, August 25, 2010

At Night

"Mommy, come rub me."

Henry has trouble winding down at bedtime. He wants me to come to him, to get in his bed with him, to rub his back. I oblige. I'm happy to; it's rare that he'll stay this still for me, to let me be this close to him.

"Tell me the story about the two girls again."

This is the story that my grandmother used to tell me, about the sisters, Lucy and Laney, and their dog Snoonie. And how they went to visit grandma in a snowstorm. And how they dug snow tunnels in the front yard until they were frozen. And how they all went inside and grandma warmed them by the fire, wrapped them in quilts, and made them hot chocolate.

Years later, when my father died, I inherited his Bar Mitzvah photo album. My grandmother went through it with me, pointing out the relatives. There, seated at a round table, was Lucy. A young woman in 1956 with tanned arms, a floral dress. I hadn't guessed that the sisters were actual flesh and blood, my grandmother's cousins. Now, my grandmother gone, I find her. I don't know who she's sitting with at the table, I don't remember which one is her sister.

I tell Henry the story the best that I can. I know that it's changed since my grandmother told it to me. When I'm done, he asks for a story about animals, a story about Batman, a story about clocks. I do my best, and then I tell him a story about a boy named Henry. I let him fill in the blanks. Henry lives with his? "Mom and Dad." And his favorite food is? "Applesauce." And his best friend is? "Augie." And...and...and. And then we say goodnight, and I leave him.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Goodbye, Good Boy

It started with the treats. Oskar used to love treats. Last fall, when Henry learned to give them to him, we knew we had a love match.

In the spring, he lost interest in his treats, and we thought it was strange. We'd call, "Treeeeat!" from the kitchen, but he wouldn't come. Fine, we thought, he's getting older, we'll take the treats to him.
By summer, we knew it wasn't just the treats. Oskar wasn't responding to any our calls, and we decided he must be going deaf. We'd expected that something like this would eventually happen, he was almost 13 years old, we'd already been through diabetes and high blood pressure with the cats.

As it got cooler out, we finally started saying out loud what we'd known for a while. He wasn't just deaf. He didn't hear us, that was clear, but he also didn't remember how to walk through the front door when we came inside. He wandered under the dining room table and couldn't find his way back out. He began having accidents in the house. He slept through the day and paced the house aimlessly at night. He stopped barking when friends came to the door. We looked down at dinner time, expecting to see him at our feet hoping to catch a dropped bite, and he was gone, alone in his bed in a different room. He began to disappear.

In September, Oskar was diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction syndrome and started medication for it, along with something to help him sleep at night. We were told it might take a couple of months to see some improvement and that not all dogs respond to the meds at all, but we stayed positive. And by November, he seemed stable, if not improved. He was still confused, vacant, but he had fewer accidents. He slept better at night. In hindsight, I realize that our optimism tricked us, that we saw hope in what were really the tiny spaces between bad moments.

In December, he declined rapidly. He walked headfirst into swinging doors. He turned in the wrong direction on his way into the bedroom and toppled down the stairs. He lost control of his bodily functions. We began washing his bedding daily.

The long weekends and snowstorms over Christmas and New Year's kept us all in the house together for days on end. We watched Oskar, talked about him in hushed voices, and we knew. Mike had known for a while, but it was me who needed to catch up. I needed time. I'd put so much effort into hoping Oskar would get better that I hadn't accepted what his illness would really mean. I felt guilty for giving up on him, but also selfish for keeping him around just to mitigate my guilt. I loved him, and after the new year began, I knew it was time to let him go.

We put Oskar to sleep yesterday morning. His vet, our dear friend Katie, came to the house. Mike and I sat on the couch, I held Oskar in my lap, and Katie kneeled in front of him. He was sleepy from his sedative, and we stroked his back as he stopped breathing. Afterward, I kept holding him as the heat left his body, and we talked about what Oskar had been like. How he hated to go for walks and loved to kill his dolls. How I secretly used to let him come up on the couch with me when Mike wasn't home, and how Mike secretly knew our secret the entire time. How, when Henry started crawling, Oskar would get right behind him and lick behind his ears and make him laugh so hard he would fall over.

We stayed like that until we knew he was gone, and then Katie took him away. He'll be cremated, and we'll spread his ashes in the spring. He was a good dog, and he will be missed forever.

Oskar, 1997-2010

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Grownups Talking

This week has been a countdown. Next week, Henry starts at his new Big Boy School. He knows there is a big playground, there will be lots of kids, he will have his own cubby, and he can bring any blanket he wants from home for naps. This morning, I packed him off to Allison's with cupcakes to share, and at pickup we'll give her a present: a soldered tin sparrow wrapped in pretty paper.

I was ready for some parts of this. Parenting. I knew what to expect, the lack of sleep, the anxiety about food, the expense of it all. But this week I'm discovering how Henry's relationships have affected me, how the people who come into his life have entered mine, and how, when it's time to move on to the next stage, it hurts to let them go.

I think about the midwives I saw when I was pregnant. They talked to me about their own pregnancies, their children, they let me in. They comforted me when I couldn't stop sobbing at 41 weeks. They visited me after Henry was born, marveled over how long he was, and then they disappeared. It was the nature of the relationship, it was time-limited, as Henry moved on and moved ahead, I went with him and together we left them behind.

There have been so many of these - the ECFE moms, the Musikgarten parents, the young residents who've moved through our pediatrician's office. We part with warm goodbyes, maybe we will meet again, or maybe not. We knew the terms when we started, it's sad but fair, and it's to be expected. Henry is a rolling stone, casual and unconcerned with attachments. His life is an endless parade of brand new people; he loves them and leaves them and bears no regrets. I'm different. I get attached.

For two years, Henry has spent his days at Allison's house. She has become part of our lives, our family in ways I can't describe. We have more than a business relationship; I would say we're friends, but friendship would be about us and this is something different. Our relationship centers on Henry and spins around him in a way that's pulled us both in.

Yesterday at pickup, she ruffled his curls. She let her hand linger an extra moment and said, "This one will be hard." It will be.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


We used to joke that if you were coming over to hang out in our backyard, you should bring a helmet. The walnut tree was especially prolific this spring, now they drop like softballs into the grass. No one has been hit yet this year. Henry wanders the yard, collecting them in a bucket, saving my lower back from the task.

He cooks them on his toy grill while Mike prepares our dinner on his real grill. I approach to compliment his culinary risk-taking and he stops me, "No, Mommy, ess HOT. You stay back." From across the yard, Mike grins widely at his own words echoed back.

The days are so long that we can lay in the hammock late into the evening now. The drought finally ended and our grass came in soft and very green; it tickles the bottom of our bare feet. We lay and swing and listen to the thunks and fwaps as walnuts drop around us.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I hear him at midnight. Mommy, he calls. I give him a minute. Sometimes he talks or calls out in his sleep, sometimes he decides he doesn't need me after all and goes back to sleep on his own. Then, a few minutes later - Daddy, Dadd-eeee. Mike is next to me, asleep for at least an hour by now, so I go to him.

I don't mind. I was wide awake anyway. I'd stayed up to finish my book and couldn't get comfortable; I stacked my pillows, punched them down, switched sides, but my neck ached. I flipped channels, turned Mike's face a little when his snoring grew louder. I watched the clock and counted, with each passing minute, how much less time I would have to sleep, if I ever fell asleep.

So when I go to Henry in his room, I'm actually relieved, happy for a few minutes of company.

He's standing in his crib, I can make out his silhouette. Mommy, he says, wanna come out. I tell him he needs to go back to sleep, and he responds, Not sleeping Mommy, wanna come out. Okay, I tell him, just for a few minutes, and I lift him out of the crib and up into my arms. Mike thoroughly disapproves of this, but he is asleep across the hall.

We settle onto the couch in Henry's room, I'm sitting and he collapses against me, facing me, legs straddling my lap. He wraps his arms around my shoulders and buries his face in my neck. We sit. I stroke his back and we sit in silence. I feel his thin back under my hand, the clammy skin on his neck against my cheek. I smell him. I can never get him to stay this still with me during the day.

We sit for five minutes, ten. I stand up and lift him back into his crib, tell him he needs to sleep. I turn on his music, pull his favorite blanket over him, tell him Goodnight I Love You like it's all one word.

I go back to bed and wait. At one a.m. I'm still awake and I hear him again. Mommy. I sit up and this time, Mike wakes up, too. He tells me to wait, and in a moment we hear Henry turn his music on, off, back on. He doesn't call out for me again.

I tell Mike I can't sleep and he says, Turn on your side, I'll rub your back. I do. I turn my back to him, we listen to Henry's music coming from the next room. I fall asleep almost immediately, and we all sleep for the rest of the night.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I haven't blogged in a while. I've been busy scurrying around my basement, sorting and boxing and scratching my head. We're having the basement finished, and the construction begins next week. I think I'll use the process as a starting point to start blogging again.

This Mother's Day weekend, with my own mother safely tucked away on a riverboat in Eastern Europe, I found myself thinking about my grandmother. Specifically, wondering what she'd want me to do with her fur coat.

It's been sitting in a box in my basement since my uncle sent it to me after she died in 2002. It's beautiful, a flawless full-length mink. An appraisal certificate from a furrier on Castor Avenue in Philadelphia remains in the pocket.

I can clearly not keep this coat. It's not fashionably retro - while my grandmother was always stylishly and fabulously dressed, it's most likely from the 1980s, when she was already a mature woman. I covet any one of many dresses she's wearing in the pictures I have of her from the 1960s, but this coat is not my style. Additionally, my grandmother was at least 4 inches taller than me and a broad, full-figured woman in her day. I drown in the coat, exactly like a little girl playing dress-up in her grandmother's fur coat.

And where would I wear the coat? I have no occasion for a full-length mink coat. I briefly toyed with the idea of wearing it to be Lucy Pevensie for Halloween, but Mike will not go shirtless in October to be my companion, Mr. Tumnus.

Finally, I just don't wear fur. Even if it's free. Even if it's inherited. Wearing fur implicitly supports the fur industry, and I don't.

On Saturday, I removed the coat from its box, shook it out, and put it on. So did my mother-in-law, who is at least tall enough so that the coat did not brush the basement's cement floor. We admired the perfect lining, my grandmother's name embroidered in sloping script. We discussed options - should I sell it? Or keep it, to remember my grandmother?

It's not as if I need more material assistance in remembering my grandmother. Her lamps and furniture are prominently displayed in my house. I wear her scarves and jewelry on grown-up occasions. Henry is named for her older brother. For Pete's sake, I am using her napkin holder in my kitchen (she bought it in Israel, it's lovely).

After a day spent wondering what she would want me to do, I decided that she would've been annoyed that I was spending this much time on it. My grandmother was tall, stylish, and also easily annoyed. We're going to sell it. Which is the easy part. Because, since I do remember my grandmother and do think about her frequently, I'm quite certain that, while she would not be upset that I plan to sell her coat, she would be livid if I don't get a fair price.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cooped Up

We take a trip to the pet store, just for fun. We push down the aisles and look at the fish, then the birds, then the cats. Henry smashes his face against the glass, calls to them, "Kitties!" They are all old, sleeping, waiting to be adopted. I push the cart on and Henry protests, "Kitties, come." I wonder where we would put another cat. I wonder where we would put another baby.

I think about a show I watched the other night on television - experts weighed in on what the world would look like if humans suddenly disappeared. They report that house pets would become feral, and I think about my cats and dog, trapped in the house, their humans having disappeared. I remind myself to leave the front door open for them if I start to disappear.

We've all been trapped inside too much. Winter hangs on. Henry fights us on the mittens and even the monkey hat now. I carry him over snow banks and icy patches and he squirms, complains, "Wan get down!" I can't blame him. We lie in wait for long walks and dinners in the backyard. Spring, come.