Friday, October 14, 2011

How to Cling to Fleeting Seasons

Chilly raindrops slice sideways through the air.  Trees are blazing with autumn.  The leaves are staying on late this year.  This is my favorite season.  Not the rain, but the colors.  And the crisp sun that promises to return, even in the gray of the sky today.  This season when we light the wood stove, and the kitchen air is heavy with the aroma of apples we've picked at the orchard now baking, and we spend evenings around the table playing games... this is my favorite.

If we get much more rain, the leaves will drop, and I will shake my head at the knowing that winter is on its way.  But right now, it is still autumn.  And pumpkins sit plump and jolly on my porch steps, which still need painting.  I meant to paint those this summer.

My life is like this, I notice.

It's this season of child-rearing which is beautiful and fleeting and full of projects I meant to do and days I have spent doing other things instead.  Because there will always be next spring for porch steps, but days good for apple picking with friends are rare.

I notice that so much of my day is this routine of things I do that just get undone within hours, but in the being here to do them, I am witnessing the season of life I have right now with these kids who grow so quickly.  In the rhythm of life playing out as a series of carpools and swapping out too-small clothes from dresser drawers and shredding boiled chicken for stew, I am here.  In this.  With them.

And hard as I try, I can't slow down time, but I can cling to it by my presence in these ordinary moments, which I am coming to realize are the substance of the comforts of home and family anyway.

The fiery colors of childhood spill out all over my house as piles of shoes that fit feet I can't believe have grown so much and notes about sports and music and little piles of books with dog-eared pages and flour strewn on my kitchen floor and over the little chair pulled up to the counter where my helper has stood.

I stand with my feet in two parts of the same season, as I watch a little one just learning, and I witness the transformation of my oldest ones into young adults, and I feel some days like I'm stradling an expanse so large I may lose my footing, and then some days that space is so small.

And I can't believe how quickly all these years have gone.
Please, eyes, don't miss one single beautiful moment!

The leaves flash their brilliant reds and yellows.  The mountains appear to be on fire above jagged granite.  It's something magnificent to behold.  My oldest paces with her cross country team before the championship.  My son holds his little sister on his lap at the edge of the grass-soaked field, her pink rubber rain boots on proud display above his grass-stained knees.  I breathe deep, the fresh air of autumn rainfall in the Maine countryside.

And I stand for a moment quite still, thankful for a moment like this to savor before the change of season.

"Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts; let them proclaim your power." Psalm 145:4

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saying Goodbye to a Good Dog

The doctor brought her in wrapped in a pink towel, like a baby.  This dog who has suffered recently with pain, the source of which we never could quite identify, wore a small IVin her paw, so when the time was right - whatever "right" is when saying goodbye - the doctor could inject the solution easily into her vein.  I put my face in her fur, and she licked my nose.  "You're a good girl, Fifi," I whispered.

Goodbyes are not easy for me.

I wasn't sure how long it is I was supposed to hold her before cracking the door of the exam room to let the vet know that I was ready.  I mean, I've been getting to "ready" for a little while, because we've all seen Fifi suffering a little here and there, and some days, a lot.  Her little Papillon frame, so small, hunched over in cramps and pain, running to the door, crying out sharp yelps of pain.  Neighbors have come over, one today wearing just a robe, concerned at the sound of her out in the yard, trying to go to the bathroom.

This is no way for a girl like Fifi to live. Fifi thought she was a princess, you see.

When she was tiny, she had a whole day where she was named Coco Chanel.  (That was my doing.)  Lia, at five, told me that wasn't a good name, so we changed it to Fifi.

Fifi rode in the car with me to work at my nail salon.  Certain clients loved Fifi very much, and she would often be found sleeping on their laps.  One woman walked half-sitting, so as not to disturb Fifi when it was time for her appointment, as she tiptoed quietly from the waiting area to my table.  Other clients didn't care for Fifi, and I think Fifi could tell, because she would stand square in the middle of the floor, ears sticking straight out to the side, tail tucked under, sort of glaring.  "Shannon, your dog is giving me dirty looks," one such client announced.  (She was right.  It was true.)

Fifi had a bark that would take you out of your seat.  It wasn't lovely at all.  She was a yapping, tiny dog who I believe, thought she was a cat.  If I was reading a magazine, Fifi would stand on it.  When we had a couch with a cushier back, Fifi would walk along the back of the sofa.  Not a day of my life went by when Fifi's yapping didn't cause me to say, "Good grief, Fifi, shut up."  Until my two-year old started saying, "Shut up, Fifi."  Then I began to say, "Quiet!"  But Fifi was never quiet.

My husband fell in love with me despite Fifi.  She sort of came with the package.  When he first met us, Fifi wore faux fur vests (even though she has real fur), and she often had painted toenails.  Once, he had to drop me off briefly at the store, and he and Eli, who was then 4, went to the McDonald's drive-thru. Fifi was parked in Selden's lap at the window.  He wasn't sure what to say about this little dog wearing a Barbie-brand denim vest with butterflies embroidered on it, except, "Um, she's not actually mine."  Sure, buddy, that's why she's sitting in your lap.  They've always had a love-hate relationship.  That could have well been the end of Fifi's vest-wearing days.

When Sage came home from the hospital, Fifi refused to come when I called her.  I thought she was having an attitude about the baby.  I was wrong.  She was sitting next to where Sage was lying.  Fifi's expression was fully alert, like she was looking after the baby.

Summer vacation weeks, Fifi came with us to my Dad's.  She rode out on the front of the paddle boat while Eli went fishing.  She sunned herself on the dock.  She went out in the bass boat with Selden and strained to see the ripples in the water where the fish were leaping.  When he caught one, she would come close to falling out of the boat to get a first peek.  (He may not have really liked her, but he let her fish with him, so I think underneath the tough exterior, Selden had a soft spot for Fifi..... Although he would probably beg to differ.)

In the summer, we sprayed streams of water from the hose, and Fifi ran circles to chase it, sometimes getting too close to the hose, and then sneezing out nostrils full of water.  You've never seen a worse looking sight than a drenched Papillon.  Ever.  It's not pretty.

My mother provided "foster care" for Fifi for a few months a couple years ago.  She noticed Fifi would bring each individual piece of food up to the couch to chew it, so she set (literally set) Fifi a place on the sofa.  Placemat, bowls... it was elegant.  And Fifi didn't have to run back and forth between bites.  Grandparents really know how to spoil a dog.

One year, my mom bought Fifi a lobster suit.  It was a scream to see her wearing this thing, with claws and antennae.  Fifi skulked.  Though she did expect to be the center of attention, she was certainly not sure a lobster suit was quite dignified enough for her.  The next year my mom bought her a peacock suit.  Fifi wore it, seemingly happy.  Until I noticed later that it smelled like pee.  That dog had a passive-aggressive moment and wriggled out of the suit and peed on it!  And I didn't notice until later, when I was holding her in my lap... Nice, Fifi.  Really nice.

For the past month, though, Fifi has not been herself.  Sure, she's yapped and barked.  She's run like a fool all over the house.  But she hasn't been feeling well.  Her walking became labored.  Her sitting down, tentative.  It was clear she was hurting.

So, the doctor brought her in to me in a pink towel.  I held her like a baby, which I realized I'd not done enough in recent months, what with life so crazy and things so busy.  I put my face in her fur, and a tear fell onto her head.  I wasn't sure what to say to this dog who's driven me nuts and made me smile. Mostly, I looked at her, felt the tiny weight of her all bundled up and cozy in my arms.  I thought my goodbyes quietly.  Memories flipped through my mind like slides.

Walking to the door, I opened it and said quietly to the vet, "We're ready."

Fifi whimpered just a little at the solution the doctor injected. "You're a good girl, Fif," I said.  "I love you.  You're a good girl."  And she was still.