Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Puppy Inside

Today, I'm pretty sure I saw my dog longing for his lost youth. It's happened before, in encounters with younger, more vibrant dogs who want to jump, wrestle and play. These dogs always intrigue Bailey, but he's almost fifteen, so they also give him pause. It's as if he's thinking, "Man, I'd love to but I know I'd throw my back out."

Today, a neighbor dog who lives up the street came running through a nearby yard just as we finished our morning walk. Nash is about two or three years old, a mutt with insatiable energy who's always up for a game, a run or a belly rub.

I heard Nash before I spotted him. He came down through the trees, and I thought at first that perhaps he was a deer. Bailey's hearing has significantly diminished in the last year or two, but when we were half way up our driveway, he saw Nash and turned. To say he was riveted would be a gross understatement. Nash ran like a racehorse, down the street and back. He bounded into the woods and out again, approached Bailey with a 'hello' sniff, then crouched as if ready to wrestle. He wasn't even breathing heavily.

For a moment, Bailey went through the motions. He crouched as best as he could with his arthritic hips. His tail went up as if ready to have a go-round with Nash. He never took his eyes off the dog.

But when no play actually ensued, Nash grew bored and ran off down the street again, a flash of black and tan who'd be gone if you blinked. He stopped momentarily to smell the wet leaves, then heard his owner calling from up the block and took off back through the trees and up the hill.

When Bailey and I reached our deck and I told him to go around back as he always does, he stood and looked at me. I motioned for him to go on, thinking perhaps he hadn't heard me. But then he turned and looked across the street for a long moment, to the spot where Nash had just been running to and fro.  He let out a heavy breath, then loped up the deck toward the door and the bed that awaited him inside.

I'm starting to think Bailey is like the rest of us. As we feel the effects of aging come on bit by bit, we learn to adjust and live with them. We buy reading glasses, ask people to repeat themselves, turn up the volume on the television. This all works fine until we find ourselves somewhere with a younger bunch: those who can eat richer food, dance more freely, drink more wine. Then we sigh and hold hands, glad we're not alone, but a little sad for what we no longer have.

So I'm giving Bailey some extra love today. A bit of gravy in his bowl, lots of scratches and coos and calling him my puppy, the one I love most, my best boy. I don't even know if he can hear me. But in this warm, familiar setting he's known for years, I'll try to ease his heart. I can't give him back what he's lost. But I hope our love is enough to make up for it.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Penny Pinched is A Penny Saved

I used to think I had one kid who was a reader and one who was a non-reader. My oldest, like me, has always been content to sit beside a pile of books for hours if left to himself. From the time he was a toddler, he'd sit devouring story after story, regardless of subject. He's gotten more discerning as he's aged, but reading is still a favorite pastime. In contrast, my younger son loved to be read *to* when he was little. Once he learned to read, though, he'd only be caught with a book if it was a homework assignment. Even then, reading seemed like a chore.

But I recently learned something about Ben and books. It's not that he doesn't like books; he's  just more selective of what he's willing to spend time reading. If it's funny, he's hooked. If the topic is one he loves, that's a definite selling point. And if he loves the subject *and* the book is funny? Good luck getting him to the dinner table. 

To help us get to this point, I've been taking my kids to the library since they were infants. First it was for the mommy-and-baby programs. When they got older, there were kids' programs, then teen clubs. But no matter how I got them there, we'd always, always bring home books. It's how we explored lots of different genres, authors and topics without forcing dad to build more bookshelves or breaking the bank. When it comes to books, a library card is a kid's first credit card. You want to take out ten books? No problem! You too? Just put it on the card.

This weekend, I glimpsed how this philosophy may have backfired, at least with Ben. I'm the type of person who will hear about a book, borrow it from the library and, if I love it and know I'll re-read it over and over, buy my own copy. Ben, however, seems to have a greater love of saving money than of owning great books. He recently discovered a series at the library. He read and laughed through the first two books, but the third wasn't available. Since he has accumulated several gift cards for Amazon.com, I suggested he buy all three books, as well as the next series by the same author, on the same topic. That way he could read them all, then read them again and again whenever he wanted. 

"But Mom, I can get them for free at the library."

"Yes, but if you use your gift cards and buy them, you can re-read them all whenever you want."

"I know but... I don't think I want to do that." 

He couldn't quite articulate his struggle. Did he love the books? Yes. Does he have plenty of gift cards? Yes. So what's the problem?

Ben loves money, even representations of money. Gift cards, coins from other countries, pretend credit cards, he loves it all. In fact, I think he loves it so much that to exchange it for something else, even if it's books that he know he'll enjoy, is just too hard.

At first I felt bad that he wasn't taking advantage of this opportunity to own some books he'd really love. But then I realized, that's what *I* like to do. The kid has a sense for the value of money, and a great understanding of the benefits of the public library. Considering both will take him far in life, I didn't push him to buy the books. It's his money and his decision on how to spend it. I've done my job and taught him these lessons. So why contradict myself when he's happy?

I couldn't think of a good reason either.