Monday, April 9, 2012

I Don't Know How She Does It

From a review of I Don’t know How She Does It -Allison Pearson: For every woman trying to strike that impossible balance between work and home-and pretending that she has... here's a novel to make you cringe with recognition and laugh out loud...brilliantly dramatizes the dilemma of working motherhood... In Kate's life, Everything Goes Perfectly as long as Everything Goes Perfectly... In a novel that is at once uproariously funny and achingly sad, Allison Pearson captures the guilty secret lives of working women -the self-recrimination, the comic deceptions, the giddy exhaustion, the despair... gets at the private absurdities of working motherhood as only a novel could: with humor, drama, and bracing wisdom.
Recently I accepted a promotion at work. I am now supervising an office closer to my home and the job requires much less travel (the major reason I finally allowed myself to get a puppy... well puppies, plural). This would be great news except for the fact my employer often forgets I have a new job and continues to have expectations of me from my old job.  
A few weeks ago I was scheduled for a meeting with my new job at the same time I was scheduled for an important conference call for my old job. Of course both were in direct conflict with my lunch break when I usually drive home to let the puppies out for a short walk and to use the bathroom. 
I am the guy you see in the neighborhood trying to eat a salad and walk two dogs at the same time; and yes, it is as difficult as it sounds but you would be amazed at what one can accomplish in an hour when one multitasks -and while I’m at it, yes, a sandwich would be more practical, but I’m also old now and my metabolism has taken a nose dive so stop judging me for my choices!
Where was I, oh yes, work, dogs, and multitasking. So since I needed to leave the first meeting to attend the second, I decided to take lunch early and let the dogs out while I took the conference call. Did I say this was a very important conference call? The director of my agency was on the call, the assistant director, chief officer, legal council, fiscal management. It was a very big deal. Knowing that walking the dogs while taking the call would be too distracting, the puppies were relegated to just a quick trip to the side yard to “go potty.” 
“Go potty.” There are many quick phrases that people use to get their dogs to associate using the bathroom with a short command. “Do your business,” “Take care of business,” even “use the bathroom, X (insert pet’s name here).” All excellent choices. Maybe it’s because my Godson just finished “potty” training (see, potty doesn’t sound so bad when you use it in that sense now does it?), but instead of a more adult sounding euphemism, I chose “go potty” for my puppies. It is a choice I have since lived to regret.
I rush home from work during my lunch break, dial up the conference call while I’m driving, open up my laptop to see my notes, grab my salad out of the refrigerator, put the phone on mute, hook up the dogs’ leashes and head out out the door. 
Are you familiar with Blackberry phones? They are a rather convenient little device to have for work. Maybe I should emphasize the word little here. They have these teeny, tiny little buttons that people with fat fingers like me find very hard to manipulate, especially when one is also trying to control two puppies who desperately want to charge down the sidewalk for their usual lunchtime walk but are being forced to stay in the side yard. 
So I’m balancing the phone between my ear and shoulder, trying to eat a salad, and being jerked wildly by walk-obsessed puppies when, “tink,” unbeknownst to me, the teeny, tiny little button that says mute is turned off. The entire Executive team now gets to listen to me standing in the wind pleading “Go potty, Chloe. Go potty, Daddy needs to go to work. Go potty, Chloe. Be a good girl for Daddy...”
Chloe finally “goes potty” and I run the dogs back in the house, check my notes on my computer and only then see the litany of emails that I have been receiving from my co-workers. 
Put your phone on mute!
We can hear you!
Everyone one can hear you, Jim. Put the phone on mute.
“Go potty, Chloe. Go potty for Da-Da.” 
Put the phone on mute, dumb ass!!!
Now you may be asking, “Why didn’t they tell you they could hear you?” Well... 
Meanwhile in Columbus, the entire Executive Team is trying to have a professional meeting with all of my department except for the one and only person joining the conference call remotely. This would be the same person who would suddenly start blabbering “Go potty, Chloe. Go potty for Daddy...” into the conference call. Surprised, and I can only hope a little amused and, if I’m really lucky, maybe even seeing the all to human side of Jim Lake -business professional and also devoted pet owner, the group does not realize in the sudden effort to silence me, they have now turned on their mute button. So, while I am blabbering away about going potty, my boss is very professionally trying to silence me stating “Jim, your phone is not on mute. Jim we can hear you. Jim...” but I hear nothing; Absolutely nothing. 
PS In case you were wondering; I'm still employed. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Dog Whisperer

How would I describe walking my dogs? Parasailing with puppies instead of wind. Trying to control marionettes on speed. Puppy Iditerod without a sleigh. Asian kite fighting with puppies instead of dogs. A ground quidditch match with 2 puppies instead of a flying quidditch ball. I guess I didn’t realize how ridiculous I looked until I saw someone else trying to do it. 
When I first got the puppies it was January and one of the few big snows we had this year. My neighbor was nice enough to snow blow a stretch of sidewalk in front of his house and half way around the block. This was a good thing because since I don’t have a snow blower nor any desire to shovel snow, me and the pooches weren’t going anywhere unless someone else cleared our path. Thanks to the gods of four wheel drive I haven’t had to shovel the drive for 7 years so why start now?
I guess the snow blown sidewalk lulled me into a false sense of security. Being tiny puppies at the time, these two never ventured off the sidewalk because several inches of snow surrounded us on either side. With a narrow path to navigate, they pretty much trotted ahead of me side by side. I smiled smugly and thought how lucky I was I had such perfectly behaved little puppies. Of course then the snow melted and I quickly learned what it felt like to have both arms pulled out of the socket by two hellions driven by their noses to investigate every scent that had lay dormant beneath the snow. I also found out there is not a tree, lamp post, road sign, mailbox, or fire hydrant that these two won’t lunge to and shove their nose in as deep as possible. 
And those gentle, happy, people and pet loving characteristics I so admired in the books on Cavalier Spaniels? That was the understatement of the year. Anything that smiles, talks, laughs, barks, mews or even blinks is like crack to these two. Their tales start to wag so hard their butts shake from side to side and they won’t give up until they’ve licked the objects of their affection to within an inch of its life. Of course it’s not just people or animals they are attracted too either. These two perfect ADHD case studies will become distracted by every car, stray plastic bag, blowing leaf and fallen stick in sight.
A friend of mine has been joining me on my dog walks -or as he more accurately describes it: getting dragged around the neighborhood by the dogs. He being a rookie at Chloe and Talbot walking, I offered some advice so that he wouldn’t end up on the sidewalk like I did the first time I experienced two puppies deciding to go in different directions behind my back then bring up the rear on either side of me only to cross right back to their prospective lanes as they pass -in essence lassoing my feet and ripping them right out from under me. Its a move I like to describe as canine hobbling -Cathy Bates had nothing on these guys.
With this experience in mind, I set off with my friend. Perhaps he’s a quick study or has a bit of the dog whisperer in him, but I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly he picked up on the art of tandem puppy walking. He even introduced a few new moves that, frankly, had me impressed. I myself always thought the behind the back cross worked best when puppies decide to suddenly change lanes behind you without signaling first. He on the other had had an impressive over the head pass off that scored major points with this judge. 
Who knew puppy walking could be turned into a couples sport. A quick “Under!” mid-conversation and and I could duck under his raised arm as my pup darted from sudden right to sudden left. “Over!” and I knew to raise my arm so he and his puppy could pivot sudden left to sudden right because, no, the smells on that side of the sidewalk are actually better than the other side. The only thing missing from our puppy ballet was orchestral accompaniment. In a few short blocks, my friend not only had the moves down, but could even speak the vernacular.  
A typical walk usually consist of some variation of the following key phrases:
“Easy, killers!” means slow down, I’m walking as fast as I can.
“C’mon, guys’” means stop sniffing and move on"
“That’s enough!” means “Seriously, get your nose out of that and let’s move on.” 
“Good, girl!” and “good, boy!” means “thank you for peeing outside even though we all know you are going to pee on the floor as soon as we get home.
“No rocks!” not surprisingly, means no eating rocks. (Who would think chewing on a rock could be enjoyable?) 
“Damn it!” means “I’m sorry I stepped on you but how did I know you were going to go from full throttle to complete stop right in front of me because you smelled something good?”
“No wrestling,” means “no wrestling you can play at home.”
“What are you doing!” means “There are cars coming, dropping to the ground and wrestling in the middle of the intersection is soooo not good right now!”
“Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” means you have one last chance to go potty before we head inside.” (See “good boy/good girl.” We all know you will act like you can’t possibly pee again now but will do so as soon as we get in the house.)
“Get the cat!” means “Max, I’m sorry; but with you as a distraction I can sneak back outside and throw away the poop bags.” 
This weekend I witnessed my dog whisperer friend fly solo with both dogs for the first time. The puppies had went to the bathroom before we left, so I foolishly thought they wouldn’t go again; it’s just a short walk after all, so we left the house without “doggy bags.” Of course a few blocks away from home, one of them decides to do it again. Still guilty from the “If a dog poops in the middle of the road and nobody sees it do we have to clean it up?” experience of our last walk, I decided I couldn’t leave a mess in the yard even if it was a foreclosure with grass a foot high. I insisted we stand there for a while and shrug animatedly to ensure that if anyone was watching us they knew we had no other choice but to leave the poop behind. I then marked the pile with a random receipt from my pocket so we could identify the right poop when we came back to clean up and we headed to the end of the block. In a stroke of incredible luck, some litterbug had left an empty paper-towel roll behind. Against my friends plea not to, I returned to the dog pile and scooped it up. Since I was now carrying the dog poop in front of me like an olympic torch, my friend had to take the reigns of both dogs. 
I couldn’t help but laugh, not because I was carrying a dog poop baton, but because I got to see and hear what my neighbors get to watch everyday as I attempt to herd my puppies around the neighborhood and back. My friend looked like a crazed puppeteer, arms flailing as the puppies darted from one side of the sidewalk to the other. They would at times drag him forward full speed as he pleaded “easy, killers,” and then he would cry “Damn it!” as he fell over them because they came to a complete halt at the smell of something exciting on the sidewalk. They zigged and zagged and wrapped the leashes around his legs until he was wound in a knot. He unwound them and they immediately did it again. We made it home and he coaxed them inside yelling, “get the cat!” so he could shut the door behind them. I can only imagine Max’s reaction. “Et tu Brute?” 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Paranormal Activities

I was having coffee with a friend at Starbucks when a woman came up to our table and asked to speak to me. She put her hand on my shoulder and told me she saw me from outside the window and could see my heart and was compelled to tell me what she saw. She held her hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. She said she wanted me to know she could see that I was a giving and loving person and that I took care of others. She also said she could see that I was going through something and that I was a special person even if I couldn’t see it in myself. She apologized for interrupting and walked away with her son. 
Flabbergasted (and I think I can use this word after a complete stranger sees my heart)I looked to my friend, but he said he could not hear anything she said. As I told him, I could feel the heat of her hand on my shoulder and suddenly felt as if I would cry. I warned him of this (we were in a Starbucks after all -not the place you typically see grown men cry) and I felt something move through me, a warm feeling that moved from my shoulder where she had touched me, around my back as if I were being hugged from the side and then into my chest and up through my throat which was now literally “choking up” and I could feel my eyes tearing.  
I asked him to keep talking to take the focus off of whatever this was I was feeling. He spoke about something else for a while and then we talked about what had happened. We even joked about the fact that during the entire time she didn’t even acknowledge the fact he was there. I said it could have been worse, she could have turned to him and said “...and Satan walks among us!” Luckily she had not. He agreed and pointed out that if he were Satan, he would have really cool cool car; Satan always has all the expensive trappings in the movies, you know. He then hypothesized that maybe she did this regularly -had a quota of people she spoke to each week to make them feel better about themselves. 
Who was this woman? Did she approach me because she had a quota to fill; was she making an effort to change people’s lives by telling them good things about their life? Was she a fanatic that felt compelled to tell people about her visions in Starbucks? Was she emotionally unstable and I was the person she decided to project upon as I sipped my iced chai latte? Or did she really see my “aura” and and offer me her insight?
When I was getting my Master’s degree in counseling, a woman I was taking classes with told me that she performed reiki. (She also told me she was a real live witch, but that is a different matter).I had never heard of reiki before so she explained that it was a Japanese form of healing and spiritual balance given by the laying on of hands. She told me that “life energy” flows through us all and can sometimes become low. With Reiki, a person feels a wonderful sensation flowing through their body as their life energy is restored and they experience feelings of peace, security and well-being.
Being a counseling student, I was studying to do just that: help people find peace, security, and well-being, so I was very intrigued. And I readily admit, I have always tried to understand things on a more “spiritual” level; looking at things outside of a religious narrative, so I found the idea of a healing energy fascinating. Finding an appreciative audience, she offered to do Reiki on me right there in the hallway. She closed her eyes and held her hands on me and I could see she was concentrating very hard. She had squeezed her eyes shut and her brow was creased as her hands moved around me. After a few minutes she stopped and asked me how I felt. Maybe reiki doesn’t work in school stairwells; and the fact she was a witch in a Catholic University performing Asian spiritual healing practices in the hallways couldn’t help matters either, but I felt nothing. I’m sure she was hoping I would tell her I was miraculously more relaxed and at ease, (I was hoping the same) but it didn’t work. I felt exactly the same. She told me she would consult with her Reiki Master. She obviously would need the extra guidance because by then I was even less relaxed because we were now late for class. 
When I was young, there was a TV movie called Dark Night of the Scarecrow (stick with me here; I’m going somewhere with this). As I vaguely remember it, it was a terrible movie about a developmentally delayed young man who was continually being bullied by the folks in his town forcing him to run away and hide. 
As it usually happens in movies like this, he was blamed for a crime he didn’t commit. In this case I think it was the rape of a stereotypical beautiful young girl from town who, while pretty and innocent looking, is of dubious character and would do things like seduce a developmentally delayed young man and then scream that he tried to molest her. 
Now that he had been accused of a heinous crime, our pitch fork wielding, torch carrying town folk had a “legitimate” reason to be even more cruel to the man. A group of men with rifles were tracking him down with bloodhounds, so this time his hiding place had to be real good (because they aren’t foolin’ when they chase you down with blood hounds). The man hid inside a scarecrow in the corn field. (How he managed to perform this miraculous feat, including being hoisted onto a cross in the moments after realizing the town was after him, I do not know, but hey, this is a TV movie so why search for logic). 
The last scene you see is filmed from inside the scarecrow’s mask, through the eye holes so the viewer can experience what it would be like to have angry men and baying hounds track you down. Tension builds and then the hounds stop barking. This being a TV movie, and the need to build up tension for the audience, it takes a few minutes before the men realize it isn’t just a scarecrow the dogs are barking at. You hear our unjustly accused man’s panicked heart beat racing moments before... B-A-M! a rifle shoots. Needless to say, it scared the shit out of me. The rest of the movie was your formula: who is actually enacting revenge; the murdered man come back as a ghost or the poorly plotted sideline character you didn’t realize had a reason to massacre a town? But that is beside the point. The point is, it left me with ambiguous feelings toward scarecrows for years; festive fall decoration, or vengeful, murdering villain? 
I’m sure you wonder where I’m going with this, so flash forward to adulthood and I’m attending grad school with a witch who performs reiki. The weekend after our impromptu healing session in the stairwell, I wake up in the middle of the night sick to my stomach and with a horrible case of diarrhea (I’m sorry but it’s true). I look up and standing in my bedroom window is the ghastly figure of a scarecrow. Okay, so it was the amplified shadow of the actual Halloween scarecrow I had in my yard reflected in the headlights of a car, but you get my point: again, scared shitless by a scarecrow. 
The next morning I got a phone call from my friend/classmate/witch saying that she needed to tell me something. Apparently she had spoken with her Reiki Master the night before and they had performed a distance healing of my energy. In the course of doing so, they had discovered something evil attached so they removed it for me. She warned me that as a result I might experience the opposite of peace and relaxation, maybe even in the form of unusual body reactions... pain, headaches, nausea (or diarrhea?). She then asked me if I had some type of connection to (insert bump, bum, bummm sound affects here) scarecrows.  As they removed the evil energy source that had attached itself to me, she kept having visions of a looming scarecrow. 
A few years later, I started meditating for the first time. One of the meditations I used was a metta/lovingkindness meditation during which you hold someone in your thoughts and say a prayer: “May you have peace, may your heart remain open, may you awaken to the light of your own true nature, may you be healed, and may you be a source of healing to others.” I had been thinking of a particular friend that morning so I thought of her as I did my meditation and said my prayer. Later that day she called me. She asked if I had done something. I asked why and she said earlier she had been doing laundry and I crossed her mind. She suddenly felt very relaxed, so relaxed in fact that she had to hold onto the wash machine to keep from falling to the floor.  
I believe in the healing power of energy. I have not meditated in a while. I guess I’ve just been too busy or too distracted or just not ready yet, but I know I had been able to do something once. Could a stranger who saw me in a Starbucks window actually see my heart? Did she give me a message I needed to hear just when I needed to hear it? I think maybe she did. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My life as a Dog

Right now my house is a maze of dog beds, puppy toys, and baby gates. Lots and lots of baby gates. Luckily for me, my Godson’s parents decided he would not be safe until the house was as secure as Fort Knox. 

Now I have one baby gate at the top of the basement stairs (Talbot rolled to the bottom of those the first day he came home). 

I have one at the bottom of the steps leading upstairs (Note: please spell the word “u-p-s-t-a-i-r-s” when in my home or eight legs will immediately race to the top of the steps. Not an issue, except for the fact they have yet to learn how to navigate back down the steps -please refer back to baby gate number one). 

I have a third baby gate to block off the Living room, one of of the few rooms with a rug (Two words: Puppy and Pee).

And I have yet another baby gate blocking off the dining room and rug number two (I did say puppy and pee didn’t I?)

Every morning is a ritual of shutting gates so puppies can’t get through; and every night is a ritual of opening gates so cats can get through. Well I should say cat, not cats. Max can clear a gate in a single bound, Sophie, on the other hand struggles between thinking she’s a Diva who should have gates opened for her and literally struggling to get her fat ass over the gate. (Note: please also spell the word “t-r-e-a-t-s" whenever in my home, and never, never say it with high inflection unless you want to try to convey the concept of “eat less, move more” to a cat). 

These days, in order to eat at my butcher block table, I have to step through the baby gate to get to the bar stools on the other side. This area beyond the baby gate is now sanctuary to Max, who absolutely will not succumb to the idea that the puppies are here to stay. Unlike Sophie, Max acts terrified every time the two wiggling, squirming, puppies attempt to assault him with a sloppy wet tongue bath. Sophie, on the other hand, has decided if I am going to attempt to become a modern day Noah bringing in animals two by two and slowly turning my home into an ark, is not going to take shit from any newcomers. She knows she’s twice as big as they are and she will bitch-slap a puppy silly if one so much as dares try and lick her.

This past cold, snowy Sunday morning I let the puppies out to pee and took them for their morning walk. We returned home, where, spent from dragging me around several neighborhood blocks in  the snow, the puppies settled into their doggy bed in front of the furnace vent to take a warm nap. I, on the other hand, crawled over the baby gate into the dining room to sit down and eat my cereal and read my Sunday paper at the counter. 
Max, realizing his tormentors were asleep, decided to slink into the kitchen to see if he could beg a “t-r-e-a-t.” He had made it almost half way through the kitchen when he either stepped onto a creaking floor board, walked against a prevailing wind giving his scent away, or otherwise managed to alert the puppies to his presence. They jerked into wriggle, wiggle overdrive and attempted to gang kiss him on the kitchen floor when he decided to leap onto the counter and into sanctuary. What he actually did leap into was my cereal bowl; sending milk and Chocolate Chex into the air... and then onto me, the wall, the table, the bar stools, and the floor -the floor where his perpetrators now happily began to lap up milk and nibble on Chocolate Chex instead of puppy kibble (which I’m certain must be a nice change of pace).

I began screaming profanity at the cat and in a fit of silly rage thought I could actually grab him as he darted under the table. I fell to my knees lunging my arms beneath chairs where Max was now slipping back and forth to get away from the raging lunatic I had become. All the excitement energized the cereal-sugar buzzed puppies who now yapped wildly as they watched me curse and chase the cat round and around the dining room table. 

Finally coming back to my senses as Max wailed in distress, I stood up and surveyed the sticky mess all over my kitchen and dining room. I grabbed paper towels and began to wipe up the floor when the puppies decided to play a festive round of “steal the towel and shred it.” 

Exhausted, I put the puppies in their crate, relegated Max to the basement, and decided to go back to bed. In the bedroom, Diva Sophie lay sprawled across the comforter cleaning herself and giving me her best “that’s what you get for bringing puppies home, Dumb Ass” face. A face which got her locked out of the bedroom while I took a “Calgon take me away” worthy nap.