Saturday, May 26, 2012

One year ago...

One year ago, my life was very different. My plans were very different. My future looked very different. For some reason, I can't get out of my mind one year ago.

Normally I wax nostalgic around New Year's Eve, looking back on the year in review and marveling at all the things that happened that I never expected, including goals achieved, goals not yet reached, and goals in which I failed miserably at attaining. I wasn't up for that this past New Year's - maybe it seemed too cliche... maybe I was still recovering from 2011 - not ready to reminisce yet not quite secure enough to look ahead.

You know that question they always ask in interviews - "Where do you see yourself five years from now?" That was always the toughest question for me. FIVE YEARS FROM NOW? I barely know where I'll be tomorrow. Why in the world would I think about five years from now? I don't ever remembering planning out "five years from now." I never thought I'd get married. Or have kids and be a stay-at-home mom. Certainly never divorced. Or ever live in Leavenworth. Or end up actually having a job in my field of journalism. Or have a dog. Again, one of my favorite sayings is, "You plan and God laughs."

God laughs a lot, doesn't he?

A year ago, I was completely committed to changing the life of my boys as well as myself. I had weighed the pros and cons, talked ad nauseam to my counsel (i.e. mom and close friends), and done everything I could to carefully prepare everyone for this transition that I had decided upon.

Can you hear God laughing?

Suffice it to say, things did not go as planned. In fact, a year ago today, they started falling apart. As I desperately struggled to avert my gaze from the red flags I was seeing out of my peripheral vision, a part of me had a sinking feeling that even attempting to plan out any portion of my life was futile at best.

I look back on the past year with almost a feeling of awe. Awe at what I went through, as well as what others went through. Awe at the friends and family who opened their arms to me instead of shaking their heads. Awe at the judgement some passed on me without even knowing any better. Awe at the sheer resilience of my kids. Awe at the employer who welcomed me back. Awe at the man who didn't let me go. And awe at myself for making one of the hardest decisions of my life and somehow making it through.

Don't think I'm having a pity party for myself. I learned an enormous amount from this past year. And I know my change of plans pales in comparison to some people's. A year ago, my mom didn't have cancer. (Well, she probably did, but didn't know it.) Neither did two of my good friends. Imagine the year they've had. Endless tests. Chemo. Hair loss. Fatigue. Pain. It's CANCER, for God's sake. And they're all still here. Survivors.

Bet they didn't have that in their plans a year ago.

I like to plan. I like to have things to look forward to. But I usually only plan a few weeks or months out. As far as long-term plans? Well, I've decided to replace the word "plan" with something else - hope. 

In the next year, I hope to be able to come to terms with where I am in life - this place I didn't intend to be. I hope to make the most of it. I hope to travel to one or more interesting places. I hope to progress in my job, which has now become my career. I hope to further try to instill in my kids the desire to succeed, to work hard, and to be good people. I hope to take more time to care for those who need it, especially those who have cared for me. More than anything, I hope to continue and further solidify the strong relationships I have now with those who are so incredibly important to me.

That's all I - or anyone - can hope (plan) for.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Adventures in Dogdom

So, remember a couple of months back when I said I got a dog? And how everyone was so surprised because I didn't seem like a dog person and I was like, "What? I'm a dog person!"

I suck at having a dog.

Here's the story. One day, I woke up and decided to go see a guy about a dog. That night, I had a dog. The End.

There's no in-between. No "I've been longing for a dog for so long and looked and looked for just the perfect one and read all the books including 'What to Expect When You're Expecting a Dog'." Nope. I just got. a. dog.

Since I brought this perfect little beast home, we've had quite the adventures. After the initial "honeymoon" stage, where I dubbed him as "the perfect dog" because he did not bark, bite, shed, shred or piss in the house, he's done this:

and this...

 and this...

And after two months of shed free bliss, he started doing this:
Which is precisely what I had just cleaned out of the vacuum in the garbage photo above. 

THEN, after acting all "Mr. Playa" at the pet store and charming everyone including me, my family, the trainer, and various other dogs and strangers, he decides he's AFRAID OF EVERYTHING. OK, I'm exaggerating. He's afraid of THINGS THAT WALK AND THINGS WITH WHEELS. Which if course makes it difficult to take him for a walk, let alone a bikeride.

So after coming up with a multitude of diagnoses on my own, i.e. 1) he was abused by something that walked or had wheels, 2) he was abused by something that walked AND had wheels, or 3) I have passed my anxiety issues on to my dog, I called up the guy who was instrumental in me getting this dog - Lucas, the Pet Trainer/Dog Whisperer at PetSmart. He first saw me clumsily doing laps around the store with Domino in tow as I tried to come to grips with what I thought I might be about to do - that is, purchase said dog. He approached me like I was wild game, calmed me, and showed me what a wonderful dog he was. "Look how he sits butted up to you. You're protecting him." "See how he goes up to other children. He's so friendly." "He comes when you call him - what a good dog." 

Two months later, I'm on the phone with this Guru to the Canines. "Lucas! He hates things things that walk, especially children, and he hates wheels and he won't go for walks and he freaks out and does an Army crawl for the last four blocks back to the house and now he's shedding and he barks really loud and he ate my garbaaaaaaaaaageeee!!!!" I wailed. Lucas immediately booked me for a doggie therapy appointment the next day (he apparently has emergency hours). 

In an hour, Lucas had me realizing that I can't parent a dog the way I parent a child. I can't "make" a dog do something or expect him to do - or not to do - something because I know it is or isn't right. Just because he isn't a puppy (and we're not convinced he's not) doesn't mean he doesn't still have much to learn. And I'm apparently teaching him the wrong way. And I CAN help him with his anxiety with things that walk and things with wheels, but it's going to take time. In the meantime, Lucas said, "Try this." 
Yeah, it's a Thundershirt. For doggie anxiety. As seen on TV. I don't know who buried their head in their hands or paws more - me or Domino. The kids made fun of me. The neighbors gave him funny looks. He of course is humiliated. Does it work? I don't know - kinda, I guess? For now I've just taken to acting like the head of a S.W.A.T. team - making sure the coast is clear and sneaking him out the back door when all the walkers and things with wheels aren't looking.

So even though Lucas put my dog in a Thundershirt, the boys and I started Dog Training 101 with him last week. While my boys are excellent students, I'm a wreck. I'm too jerky with my hand movements. I get frustrated. I nearly started to cry when I couldn't get him to look at me when I said "WATCH!" (Of course, my 10 year old held his gaze for like 15 seconds.) Oh, and Domino? He did great. And we're back for more this week. By the way, Lucas is the bomb for any of you who have doggie deficiencies. And he doesn't make me feel like the horribly inadequate puppy parent that I know I am. And he's going to fix my dog. Well, not in that way - that's done. But he's going to hopefully make him less anxious. 

I hope he can do the same for me as well.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A senseless death serves as a wake-up call

There is one less teenager at my son's high school. Sadly, he is one more youth taken too soon and without notice.

I didn't know him - I didn't know anything about him. I don't know his parents. But I saw pictures of him, and I read how his friends so emotionally and eloquently mourned his tragic death. I feel their pain, their shock, their grief. And my heart breaks for his parents, because I have a son about his age. And I know there is no way to know what they are going through right now. I think about it being MY son, and I can only imagine. The gut-wrenching sadness. The disbelief. The denial. The guilt. The pain that is beyond all pain. Worst fears realized in one phone call. Never getting to say goodbye in that way because that way was never supposed to happen. Not here. Not to my kid.

His autopsy was inconclusive; toxicology results are pending. However, his death appears to be the result of drugs (this "rumor" pretty much verified by the arrest of a 45-year old man for possession of a controlled substance and a "person of interest" in the boy's case). Apparently, though, people knew. Kids knew. As much as they all loved him, and thought he was such a sweetheart, and a funny, do-anything-for-you-guy, THEY KNEW. Whether his friends toyed with drugs as well - I have no idea and it's not my place to speculate. But the fact that no one was able to get to him in time to let him know that death was imminent is almost more tragic than the death itself.

Facebook posts have clogged the Internet as his friends, past and present, close and not-so-close, pour out their grief with the most amazingly heartfelt and wonderful tributes. Not one mention of drugs. No one daring to taint the memory of this beloved teenager, this boy with the "magnetic sense of humor and beautiful smile". Understandable that his friends are so fiercely protective of his memory, and a part of me tips my hat to them for their solidarity. Yet, it concerns me that we're not discussing this elephant in the room. Celebrate his life, but be honest about his death. Drugs took this vibrant young man, as wonderful as he was. Let's not taboo something that is more prevalent than some of us are willing to believe, as I'm learning. Let's try to save the next life.

I empathize with these kids - their struggle with grief, the denial of these adolescents who have no experience at all with this kind of shock, this kind of pain, so close to them. And in a way I understand - it's too soon to name the "murderer". It's too soon to undermine the memory of this well-liked teen by mentioning the negative hold that drugs had on him. But we need to talk about the killer - the savage Satan that got a hold of this boy and hooked him. This invincible boy. Because as teenagers, we're all invincible, right?

I look at my son. My beautiful, blond haired, blue-eyed son. "My First" I call him. My firstborn. My first mothering experience. My first everything. Tripping over myself and everyone else to try to raise him with good morals and values and self-esteem and compassion and empathy and intelligence and common sense and love. Just as I'm sure these parents raised their son.

But does it matter? In the end, DOES IT MATTER. Someone or something can get a hold of the very foundation you built under your child and sweep it out from under them. And as parents, we may not even know it. We probably don't know it. It won't happen to my kid. It happens to "those kids". "Those kids", we assume, are the bad kids. The kids that grew up without this positive thing or that positive thing in their life. In some cases, I suppose it's true. In many, many others, it's a load of crap.

This is a corrupted, horrible world we live in. We raise our kids in the cocoon of our homes, only to set them free in a world that is chomping at the bit to tear them apart. We try so hard to shelter them from the bad that the world holds that when they finally experience it, they don't know what to do with it. Sadness? Disappointment? Insecurity? Anger? Make it go away. Some way. Any way. I want to feel good all the time. Just like my parents want me to feel. Because when I feel any other way, it tears them apart. And I don't know how to deal with that.

Is that the problem, then? Are we giving too much to our kids and not letting them learn to cope? How can we possibly teach them? It's a far different world than when we were growing up. But we're also raising kids differently - in a way I just can't quite put my finger on.

Somehow, someway, there has to be change. In some ways it can come from the kids, but in some ways it can't. They're looking to us. They don't know any better than what they're taught - and what's talked about. WE need to be the change. And it can't always be the parents. As you well know, an adult friend can say the same thing to a child as his parent and the adult friend will be "right". So expand the network of communication. Aunts. Uncles. Teachers. Clergy. Coaches. Mentors. Any adult that can have a positive influence in a child's life should make it a priority. START talking about it. START making it an issue. START confronting it head-on and doing something about it without worrying about "wounding our child's spirit" or "breaking their trust". WE are the ONLY ones who are going to be able to start this dialogue - to somehow connect with our kids and get them talking - and coping. Because as you know very well, it's not going to get any easier. And in the end, what would you rather have - a child who thinks adults are "so embarrassing" because they want to talk about everything - or no child at all?

Rest in Peace, child of God. May the pain and awareness caused by your death serve to save another child's life.