August 31, 2012

goodbye, sweet boy.

July 10, 1998 - August 31, 2012

For the past 5 months Kevin and I have been struggling with what is best for our beloved companion, the best dog in the world, our Wilson.  In fact, we decided the other night as we were laying in bed crying into our pillows that the decisions we've had to make regarding him have been some of the hardest we've ever made.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I'm really not much of a dog person, rather, I'm a Wilson person.  I absolutely loved that boy.
I was 23 years old, and living on Capitol Hill when I decided that I wanted a dog.  One day at work I found an ad in the Washington Post for a peach colored miniature poodle in Stafford, Virginia.  I showed the ad to Kevin and we decided that on a Friday evening we'd make the short drive to check out the puppy.  (Kevin told his law school buddies our plans, but left out the "miniature poodle" part.  You can imagine the teasing he received the following Monday at class!) 
When we arrived at the breeder's home, they brought out to us a highly energenic, friendly, jumpy little peach fluff ball.  I was smitten.  Another couple was there too, and together we were "oohing" and "aahing" the adorable little creatures!  Kevin was quiet, and didn't seem to be too interested.  I noticed that he kept looking at something behind a couple boxes.  I went over to see what he was looking at and there was the most pitiful little thing shaking and shivering in the darkness of a shadow - a black poodle puppy trying to hide.  This dog wanted no part of any of this and he was clearly scared.  Kevin said, "Erica, I like this one.  He needs a home."  And that was that. 
 In his early years Wilson's backyard was Capitol Hill, and we hold many fond memories there.  It was during that time I traveled more than I do now and quite often Wilson would go with me.  In fact (and never in a million years could this happen today) a couple times we SNUCK HIM ONTO FLIGHTS.  Then there was the time (when I actually DID buy him a boarding pass) when a gate agent told me that Wilson was too big for the plane and he would have to fly cargo.  You can imagine my shock and horror.  I refused.  We left the airport and drove all night from Baltimore to Boston.  My BABY fly cargo?  I don't think so!

While living on Capitol Hill my Chief of Staff would often request that Wilson spend the day in our office while Congress was in recess.  Many times when I would show up for work without him, she would send me right back home to get him.  I remember how while in the elevator I would take off his leash.  As soon as the elevator doors would open he would take off like a bullet around the corner, down the flag-lined marble hallway, and into the third door on the left.  He knew exactly where he was going.  He would first visit my co-worker Xavier who would offer Wilson a piece of his morning cake, then he would make his way to Lisa, the CoS, and sit on top of her desk for a rub down.  Lisa would slide over stacks of papers to make a little spot for Wilson to spend his morning.  She would take calls from lobbyists, Members of Congress, constituents, etc., all while petting and scratching Willy.  She said he helped relieve her stress.  And he loved every minute of the attention.

Eventually I moved away, got married, became a mom.  Several years after leaving the Hill I sent Lisa a Christmas card with a picture of baby George on it.  Lisa responded days later writing, "Erica, cute kid.  Congratulations.  One question, though.  Where's Willy?"  The next year Wilson was part of the family Christmas card and she was the first person on my mailing list.
Wilson was a wonderful dog, and would only occasionally find trouble.  He got adventurous now and then, and would explore our neighborhood on his own without permission.  Each time we tracked him down and brought him back.  One time 3 year old George managed to open the front door, and subsequently Wilson got out.  In an attempt to retrieve him George followed him down the street.  I was in the basement getting laundry and completely oblivious.  Several minutes later I came upstairs and saw the front door wide open.  I stood there for a minute staring at the scene thinking, where the hell is George?  And Wilson?  I ran down to the bottom of the driveway, looked both ways down the street, and saw nothing.  I thought, what do I do?  What do I do?  Which direction do I start running?  Do I scream?  Is screaming crazy?  What the hell do I DO!?! 
Then I saw a pickup truck at the end of the street rolling very, very slowly through the intersection.  I thought to myself, "He sees something.  He sees something that doesn't look right.  Oh, my God."  Holding my breath, I started walking toward him, not really wanting to know what he was looking at.  He noticed me, stopped, turned toward me and came up the street.  A young 20-something man was behind the wheel and he said, "Are you looking for a little boy and a dog?"  I could tell by the slight smile on his face that everything was okay.  I said, "Yes!" and he told me, "They're just around the corner.  I told him to sit down in the yard there."  I yelled, "Oh my God!  Thank you!" and with bare feet I ran as fast as I could.  And guess what I did when I saw George and Wilson?  SCREAMED! 

Over the past couple years, though, Wilson started showing signs that he was slowing down.  Last year it started to become difficult for him to jump up on our bed or the couch, and most recently impossible.  He had severe skin issues.  He had ear infections.  The ear infections started to affect his hearing.  Then this past March we noticed that he was acting really odd.  We took him to the vet and they said he had ketoacidosis and that he might not make it.  We took him to an animal hospital and he pulled through but he was never the same.  We were now the owners of a high maintence diabetic dog.  We started giving him a special diet and twice daily insulin injections.  He lost so much weight, and peed constantly due to the diabetes.  He also had a severe heart murmur as well as bladder stones.  Worst of all, the last month or so of life he was completely blind and deaf.  It was pitful to watch him struggle.  This dog, who once could climb up two baby gates stacked on top of each other, could barely get around anymore.  This dog, who once jumped out of a capsizing canoe on the Shenendoah River to save himself, would now jump at the slightest touch.  The joy was gone.
As soon as Wilson's health started to decline I prayed every morning when I walked into the sunroom that I would find that my boy was gone.  No prolonged, depressing goodbye.  No tough decisions to be made on his behalf.  No agonzing waiting game for the suffering to end.  Unfortunately it never happened that way.  A faithful dog will just hang on forever in whatever miserable state they are in.  I guess they are loyal even at the end.
I started to think about putting Wilson down, but I knew that Kevin wasn't ready.  I decided that I couldn't pressure Kevin into making such a big decision.  I would try to bring it up in general terms from time to time and he would immediately shoot it down, and run to the pet store to buy more things to make Wilson comfortable.  It was heartbreaking to witness, but at the same time I was so grateful for Kevin's commitment to our dog. 
When it became clear that Wilson was only going to get worse I really started to ask myself what it was that I was waiting for.  I mean, at what point do we decide that it was time to let him go?  When something tragic happens?  When he starts seizing?  What?  When we hear him crying in the middle night?  That's when I decided that it needed to be soon, before any of these things happen.  I already knew that the joy in Wilson's life was gone.  He was only surviving.  I didn't want it to get to the point that he was suffering.
Kevin was out of town for a few days recently and I was in charge of all the shots and feeding, etc.  It was during that time that I made my decision with what needed to happen, and I spent more time sitting with him, scratching his ears, bathing him and making my peace.  I just needed to convince Kevin.  14 years with a dog is a long time.  We grew into adults with this Wilson growing with us.  I knew this wasn't going to be an easy request.

The day after Kevin came home from his trip we were getting ready for bed when I asked him if we could talk.  He knew what it was about without my saying one word.  He said no, and we just stared at each with tears in our eyes.  We just stared for what felt like minutes.  "I'm not ready," he whispered.  "I know," I said, "but it's time."  He was tired and grumbled a little and said that he wasn't going to talk about it any more.  Then I heard the boys arguing and left the room to settle them down.  When I came back I could tell he was upset.  He apologized and explained that he was just really sad about the idea of it.  We talked more, and honestly, I started to feel some relief.  I knew the end was closer and that Kevin was willing to accept it.
The next day I called the vet and talked at length about when to bring him in.  In the morning when the kids are school?  The vet agreed that the kids were too little to witness the procedure.  But would I have them say goodbye before leaving for school that morning?  Or just not even tell them until they come home?  Would they hate me for not telling them?  Or should we do this in the evening, and have someone watch the kids?  This way Kevin wouldn't have to spend the day feeling like a mess at the office.  Afterwards we could just come home and be together.  At first we scheduled something for the morning.  Then we changed it to the evening.  Bottom line, either way was horrible. 
I sat the boys down and explained everything to them.  George open his mouth and let out the saddest wail you can imagine.  Immediate tears streamed down his face.  It broke my heart.  Teddy just listened and took it all in.  I can only imagine what was going on in his head.  I explained that Wilson would just go to sleep and never wake up, and that he wouldn't even know what happened.  I told them that Wilson would go to heaven with God and he would be our guardian angel dog.  George said, "But Great Grandpa is our angel, can we have another one?"  I told him that we absolutely could have more than one.  George asked what Wilson would do in heaven and I said that he will be able to see again, and hear again and run and play and eat what he wants and not have to get shots anymore.  He cried so hard and I did too.  George twice wailed, "I don't want to live in a house without an animal!"  For days he would randomly start crying and tell me that he didn't want Wilson to die.  I kept reminding him that I loved Wilson very, very much and that George just had to trust me that we were doing the right thing and that we don't want Wilson to suffer.  George would always say the same thing in a crackly voice, "I know but it's so hard." 

I spent a week agonizing over my decision, then telling myself to stop thinking about it.  Back and forth, back and forth.  I would sigh every time I looked at Wilson, apologizing to him in my mind.  Slowly throughout the week I started to get rid of things that I knew I wouldn't want to see when he was gone.  One night I sat out for the trash Wilson's old kennel.  There wasn't really anything wrong with it, other than the memories it would trigger that at the time I didn't want to deal with.  I put away his collar with all his old dog tags still attached from Washington, DC, Boston and Pittsburgh.  Lucky dog, I thought.  We had lived in more places than the average dog.  I went through all my pictures of him - his puppy days, going on trips, playing in snow, sniffing at 3 day old George and on and on.

The day came to put Wilson to sleep.  4PM.  All day I kept looking at the clock and counting down the hours to 4PM.  Agonzing.  I pet him, bathed him, took him outside.  He slept on my lap, I kissed him a hundred times and I scratched his ears until he purred like a kitty.  Kevin came home early from work and had his time with him alone in the backyard.  He took a few last pictures.  I have to say, it was a quality last day with my boy. The kids came home from school at 3PM and Pap and Kekes came over to be with them and the baby while we were gone.  The boys said goodbye and I reminded them everything we had talked about.  George cried and we hugged and cried together.  Teddy told Pap that he wanted a bird and that he would name him Bill.  And with that thought, off we went.

I sat in the passenger seat while Kevin drove.  We kept reminding ourselves that we were doing the compassionate thing for something we loved with all our hearts.  Wilson sat in my lap and buried his head in the crook of my elbow.  I scratched him and rubbed him down.  Tears streaming down my face.

We pulled up to the East End Veterinary Medical Centre in Shadyside and with a heavy heart we went inside, and it was there where we sent our boy on his way. 

The staff, and especially Dr. Fisher, made the process so much easier to bare.  We were hugged, listened to, consoled, understood.  Everything about the experience was dignified, controlled, talked through and most of all, peaceful.  I can't thank these good people enough.  They made the hardest day of our lives a little bit easier.

After Wilson was gone we took a few minutes with him alone.  I told myself to remember his soft hair, his scent, his sweet little nose.  I wrapped my arms around him, buried my face into his soft, warm neck and bawled like a baby.  I thanked him, told him I loved him and asked him to find a good spot for us in heaven.  I told him to look for a comfy couch and that we would see him again one day.  I felt so shattered.  Thank you, Kevin, for holding me together.  You have never said more loving things to me than you did in those moments. 

We will miss him forever.  We are so thankful for having him for 14 years.  He taught me how to be a mom and I'm so grateful for all the years, all the memories, all the times he was there to lick my tears and make me laugh.  The beauty of a dog is that they ask for nothing, not one thing, but for your love and acceptance.  And they give you an ocean of love and memories in return.

Goodbye for now you sweet, sweet boy.  I loved you more than you'll ever know.


PS - I thought I would mention a children's book that was helpful to our family in dealing with the loss of Wilson.  Up in Heaven by Emma Chichester Clark is a sweet story about a little boy who is sad about the death of his dog, Daisy.  Daisy visits the boy in his dreams and shows him how happy she is in heaven; running, making friends, being happy.  Daisy also shows the boy that it's okay to find another puppy to love.  I highly recommend it.  I swear it helped me too!

August 29, 2012

10 1/2 months.

One year old is getting a little too close for my comfort.


August 24, 2012

first day.

First day of 1st grade and 2nd grade!
We were in a rush to get out the door this morning and those pesky boys would not pose like normal people.  Even though I was borderline threatening them to "knock it off or else" (whatever that means), they just would not give me a sweet little smile.  So this is the least clownish of the photos.  Also, it's worth noting that I didn't cry this year.  I guess I'm glad to have the preschool and kindergarten send-offs behind me.  Those were the tough ones!  And Caroline will never go to school because she's just going to stay with me forever.

August 23, 2012

the boy.

Let me tell you about a boy named James.

First of all, he loves spaghetti.

Secondly, he has three cousins in Pittsburgh who think he is awesome.  Especially since he is very willing to dress in camo and shoot toy guns for hours on end.

James is also willing to do what it takes to make his Aunt Erica happy.  Even if that means cramming that handsome face of his into the jaws of a dinosaur.

Or perilously dangle from the top of a cliff.

One last thing about the boy named James.

His aunt and mother are a little weird.

The end.

August 22, 2012

a couple things.

First, Caroline has been keeping herself very busy with paperwork.
 Second, why do you ask if I'm ready for the boys to start school?  What makes you think I am?  I don't ever want to be separated from my children.  Not for a minute.  It's only a coincidence that these back-to-school items have been meticulously placed on the kitchen counter for the past week.
PS - Can you guess which pile belongs to which boy?

August 13, 2012

10 months.

Caroline is now a crawling, exploring, babbling, mimicking and messy eating 10 month old! 

When she's upset she babbles, "Mamamama!  Mamamama!"  Of course I immediately give her whatever her heart desires - like my camera lens cap, for example.

Or an unpeeled clementine because it was obviously so tasty.

One of the many benefits of having this 10 month old is these things keep getting bigger and more kissable.  Her cheeks!  Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em!

I'm still so thrilled to have this little girl!

I know Kevin is too.  Last night I was in the shower when I dropped an economy sized bottle of shampoo on the floor.  It woke up the baby and she screamed and screamed and screamed.  Then the screaming stopped for a few minutes, and then it started up again.  Dang shampoo, I thought.  Did I really need to buy a bottle of shampoo that weighs 27 freakin' pounds?  Is hoarding my new thing now?

When I finished up I went into her room and settled her back in for the night.  Then I went to bed when Kevin said to me, "What in the world was going on?"  I told him what happened and he gave me a funny look.  "What?" I said.  

"Don't get mad," he tells me,  "but when I heard her crying I couldn't stand it so I went in her room and picked her up.  Then when I heard you getting out of the shower, I put her back down and tip-toed out of her room.  She started crying again but I was afraid you would get mad." 

"Get mad at you?" I said to him.  "Yeah, you know, 'Kevin, now she'll be up all night!' was what I thought you'd say," he told me.  How could I be mad at that? 

I laughed so hard just imagining Caroline and Kevin snuggling, and then him tip-toeing down the hallway hoping to avoid my evil wrath.  TIP-TOEING!!!

This is just the beginning for this father-daughter duo, isn't it?

August 10, 2012

little environmentalist.

My girl is getting big.  She's crawling now and today discovered the paper recycling bin.  She's been ripping up (and chewing on) paper for an hour now.

And look at those baby toes.  Don't you love little baby toes?

August 9, 2012

keeping busy.

This morning Elayna and I were talking about how sometimes it's better for boys to keep themselves busy by doing what they want to do without asking.  This is a prime example.  If boys had asked me if they could play in the kitchen sink at 10:30 AM while I'm still trying to pull together the house after the morning shift, I most definitely would have told them no.  Instead, they just jumped in and started playing together.  Keeping themselves busy!  Did I mind?  Of course not, I told them not to splash while I took a picture.

It's hard to believe they both fit.  Am I feeding them enough?

August 8, 2012

prayers answered.

It's Thursday evening around 8PM.  The baby is sound asleep after a bath and a snuggle, George is engrossed in a Pirates game, I am on a health food kick so I am whipping up a batch of rice crispy treats (insert sarcasm here), Kevin is on a flight back home from a business trip and Teddy is playing with some Legos in the kitchen sink. 

Face deep in the mixing bowl I suddenly hear Teddy yell, "Oh my gosh!  My life is over!"  Then he starts to cry.  It's more of a squeal than his usual fake cry (99% of the time it's fake) so I knew he was really upset about something.  I wipe the marshmallow goo off my nose and go over to him and ask him what is wrong.

"My Lego guy's flipper went down the drain!  My life is over!" he says.  I realize he's talking about the garbage disposal so I grab a flashlight, tell Teddy to not go near the switch or my hand will end up in a 1,000 pieces, and I dig out the teeny tiny green flipper thing that almost ended the life of my youngest son.  I give it to him and he clutches it into his little hand and announces, "Thank you God!  I know you're still awake and you heard me!"

August 7, 2012

parenthood reclaimed. sort of.

There are times in every parent's experience when you suddenly realize that maybe your little angel faces might be getting away with a few too many things.  You begin to wonder if it's possible that the rugrats are starting to outsmart, outwit and outlast you.  You then decide to pull in the reins, right?!  You know, batten down the hatches!  Dig in your heels!  Remind them who is in charge! 

Okay, okay, this is a little severe folks.  Maybe you just simply need to use a little psychology on those smarty pants kids. 

That's when Carl comes in.  You know Carl, right?

You remind those children that you are the EYES and EARS of this institution, my friends!

When you notice things are getting a little out of control in the house, you just remind them that you are always watching, always listening.  You remind them that you look through their lockers, and that you listen to their conversations.  Well, nevermind the lockers, but what do you tell them?

That's right!  I am the eyes and ears of this institution, my friend!

And let's say you've had a particularly rough week with little Jonny and he says to you, "Mommy, may I please play in the backyard?"  What is your response?

You got it!  Yes, Jonny, you may play outside but remember this:  I am the eyes and ears of this institution, my friend!

And let's say little Lizzie has put every Oscar-winning actress of the year to shame with her drama and she says to you, "Can I please have a drink of water?  I'm thirsty."  Tell me - what do you say?

Amen, sister!  Yes, Lizzie, but don't forget:  I am the eyes and ears of this institution, my friend!

Then you realize that maybe you watch too many movies, and that when you say these things to your children they just stare at you and say, "Huh?"

Now if your child calls you a neo maxi zoom dweebie, then we have other problems.

August 5, 2012

it was only a matter of time.

. . . before she discovered this.

August 2, 2012

a lesson of sorts.

Here Caroline, would you like to play the xylophone?

No!  Don't hit your brother!  Hit the instrument!

Yes, baby girl, just hit the xylophone.  What?  You think it's boring?

No, Caroline!  Leave your brother alone!

What are you doing now, girl?  What is this? 
Are you taunting?  Mocking?  
And I thought your brothers were bruisers . . .

August 1, 2012

the new baby book.

In keeping with my previous post about how things never really change, here's another topic on my mind:  baby books.

I have to admit that I'm terrible about updating baby books.  I did manage to compile books for the boys but so far Caroline's "baby book" is a pink paper bag full of pictures, notes, hospital wrist bands and appointment cards.  My hope is that I will pull it all together eventually, but until that day comes it will continue to collect dust in her nursery.  Sorry, sweet Caroline.

Someone who was wonderful about keeping a baby book, however, was my mother.
It's a yellow, spiral notebook completely full of monthly anecdotes and milestones from birth to age two.  When she ran out of pages she jotted down her thoughts on scrap paper and stuck it in the back of the book.  It's nothing fancy, and in fact not too pretty either.  (The book survived a flood!)  But it's priceless to me.

Thinking about my love for blogging and my total lack of skill in keeping a respectable baby book for my own daughter, makes me wonder - are family blogs, in a way, the new baby book?

When I read through my own baby book, I find so many things that my mother wrote about that I am relating to and blogging about today.  Remember my post about how the boys like to go into the baby's room in the morning before I do?  In 1975, mom wrote this about my brother and me:
Our experiences are so similar from generation to generation.  Parents today find the same joys, have the same fears and write about the same things as our parents did.  But it's the way we communicate our experiences that seems to be changing.

My favorite things to write about online are the funny, little stories about the kids that represent where they are in their development.  I enjoy preserving moments that I might otherwise forget to tell them when they're older.  I'm sure this is what my mom had in mind as well, and how fun for me to now compare her experiences with my own as a mother.

One small but glaring difference between a traditional baby book and a family blog is privacy.  Blogs are a fairly new frontier, and unlike a traditional book, quite public.  As our children grow older what will privacy mean for us?  And for them?  Will there soon be a generation of teenagers begging their parents to stop with the blogging already?

Also, while flipping through my own baby book today, there was something quite sweet and sentimental about looking at my mother's handwriting.  Handwriting conveys something that doesn't come through with type.

So what do you think?  Do you think a family blog can be the new baby book?  Do you (or did you) update a traditional baby book for your little one(s)?  Or is doing both the way to go?