Thursday, February 21, 2013

Winter, A Day At A Time

It has never happened to me before. Perhaps this winter has been more harsh than usual, or my body less able to cope with it. Regardless, today was the second time I experienced it and, even more than the groundhog, it has given me hope.

The first time was a few weeks ago. I was walking my dogs on the same route I always do: down my block, past my neighbors' houses, then round the bend toward the little stream. When I got to the end of my block, bundled under two hoods, thick fleece gloves, long underwear and snow boots, just before turning the corner, it struck me: the smell of lilacs and freshly mown grass. I stopped still. Ignoring the confused dogs, I stood like one of them, sniffing the air, turning around, sniffing harder. Where was it coming from? I walked a few more steps and smelled it again, looked around, for what I don't really know. A still-warm lawn mower? Shaking my head at myself and glad that no one else was crazy enough to be out in this weather and see me acting like a fool, I rounded the corner and it was gone. But on the way back, in that same spot, I smelled it still. Though I knew it was ridiculous and likely just some fabric softener venting from a nearby dryer, I didn't care. I stood there basking in this Bermuda Triangle of spring freshness for as long as the dogs let me, then walked home smiling.

Today, in the same spot, it happened again. But this time, it was roses. I turned, half expecting to see some blooming bushes on my neighbor's lawn, poking out of the snow, riotous with color. But of course, there was no such thing, only dead branches that had blown down in the past days' high winds. Nearby, discarded Christmas trees with the tags still on the trunks made a depressing scene in the woods. Deer tracks in the snow wound between the bare trees, past an abandoned and falling-down shack. I walked on.

The human brain is an incredible thing: it can block out trauma when it is more than one can bear; hold vividly detailed, decades-old memories; learn all our lives long. Perhaps mine has had enough of my self-imposed hibernation, the same four walls day after day, broken only by pages of poetry for escape. Whatever sparked it, my brain has found a way to induce me into walking around the block daily, regardless of the weather, with the promise of something too long dormant, something it knows I need more than anything else right now. And though my brain knows nature can't provide it just yet, it's going to draw on its amazing tools to remind me to just get up and get out tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow; that each of those tomorrows will ultimately bring me back to the heaven of spring.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Wanted: Comic Relief

I can already tell that this post is going to make me come off sounding like a prudish old granny, but here goes: what the heck is up with comic books these days?

My 13-year-old recently asked me to reserve a book for him at the library called "How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You". It's a few months old, and contains cartoon drawings and humorous ways to tell if your cat is plotting to kill you, such as, "Kneading on You: you may think this is a sign of affection, but your cat is actually checking your internal organs for weaknesses." Sounds funny, right? Kid- (or at least teen-) oriented, right?

Suffice it to say I felt no need, after seeing a few pages, to fully screen the book before my kids got a look. They had seen some of the comics online already at, which is how they came to request the book.

Imagine my surprise on discovering there are words in there like D-bag (spelled out and no, it doesn't mean dirtbag, as my youngest previously thought), dammit and God... dangit.

So what's a mother to do? I think I am like most parents, thrilled that my kids are reading anything. I barely have time to keep up with my own reading, and now I have to screen and possibly censor my kids' reading?

And that's another problem. Now I have to censor comic books? What's next, book burning? I know some Manga drawings can lean toward the, er, sexual side. But this is about a cat. I wasn't worried, and thought I had no reason to be. Sadly, it seems the line was blurred between adult and children's humor when animation for grownups started gaining steam on television. South Park. Family Guy. King of the Hill. And don't even get me started on the stuff they show on Cartoon Network. I don't think much of it is fit for *human* consumption, let alone kids. It's only natural these things would show up on the Internet and in books.

I grew up on Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Magilla Gorilla and Wacky Races on Saturday mornings. I read Peanuts and Garfield books, and Richie Rich and Archie comic books. I can understand the cautionary tale for parents on the dangers of letting television babysit their kids without checking up on them, but books? Is this part of the downfall of publishing?

Thankfully, I have a great Young Adult librarian in my town whose services I'll clearly need to seek out more than ever before. I'd be interested to learn if this is a new phenomenon parents are facing, or if I'm just now being introduced to a years-old dilemma. Anyone?

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Wrong Crowd

Like most parents, one of the (many) things I worry about is that my kids will end up hanging out with 'the wrong crowd', a.k.a. kids that make questionable decisions that might get them locked up or, worse, negatively influence my own children's behavior. To give myself a false sense of security, I clearly and regularly communicate with my kids about our value system and what I expect of them. If nothing else, I figure that if they even *think* about making a bad decision, it will inflict such terrible guilt that they will run screaming for the nearest confessional.

So what do you do when the bad influence is on your pet?

Ever since adopting our beagle Flash, we've treated both of our dogs the same--plenty of play, food, water, walks and lovin'. Flash had never really been trained, so our house with rules took some getting used to, to say the least. We had hoped, as we did when we had children, that the newest addition would learn from the already established, bigger sibling on how to behave and score the most points with his parents. Lately, though, the reverse has been happening, and I'm starting to wonder if Bailey has a previously untapped rebellious streak that Flash has managed to bring out.

Bailey is a very clear communicator. Like a baby's many cries, he has various whines and barks that let us know when he needs something. "I need some water" is different from "I need to go out", and "play with me" is different from "there's a bogeyman at the door and I want to go for his throat before he gives you the package in his hands that is clearly a bomb".

Flash, on the other hand, seems to bark for no reason. Sometimes incessantly. I was starting to wonder if he was hearing cat voices in his head because sometimes, I just could not figure out any reason for his barking. He also barks at every other dog in the neighborhood, whether the dog is present or not. Monty had a walk two hours ago? I smell him, he went this way, bark bark bark bark bark. There's a doberman walking on the next block; I can hear his chain jangling. Bark bark bark bark bark. Spot is inside his house, but I can see him through the glass in the door 100 feet away. Bark bark bark bark bark. Annoying, but not earth-shattering. Until recently.

Bailey, who was always very business-like on his walks (sniff, do the job, keep walking) has changed. If he's being walked by himself, he acts as he always has. But if I am walking the dogs together, Bailey starts barking as soon as Flash does. He may not know why, but that doesn't stop him.

Flash is also a jumper. If I pick up a leash, or start putting on my coat, Bailey will pace and whine, knowing we're going out. But Flash will jump up and down and run circles around my feet. I have to be careful not to trip on him. Well, the other day, Bailey got it in his head to try the jumping thing too. Except that he's twice the size of Flash. And he did it while I was bent over him, trying to fasten his leash on. My black eye is almost gone; the lip swelling faded by that afternoon. The neighbors seem to know better than to ask.

So what do you do when one pet is being a bad influence on the other? I praise Bailey for his good behavior, and scold them both when they act up, just like I do with the kids. And now, I am walking them separately and putting leashes on veeeery carefully. It seems to be helping, and the upshot is that I'm getting twice the amount of exercise I was before. But so help me, if I find Flash smoking cigarettes in the back corner of the playroom, there will be a cone of shame with his name on it.