Life is (Almost) a Dog Park

December 6, 2008

I used to think life was a playground. You know, there were bullies in pinstripes and ball hogs in pumps. In a corner would be the fair play buddies, the sunshine sisters smiling in all weather, the go go guys running their sweat-dripping games. No more. Now I really believe life should be a dog park.

We spend 6 or 7 hours a week at a nearby dog park with Puppy Face, “we” being me, son and daughter and Puppy Face being the year old Roscoe, half German Short Hair Pointer and half French Bulldog. People watching has nothing on dog watching. The subtleties of the canine social gathering is an intricate weave: the give and take, nip and bump, bark and growl, tug and push. Roscoe is a regular in the 4-6 pm bunch. He’s the happy guy, a runner who delights in being the fastest. He’s sleek and beautiful to watch when he races against another sprinter, or glances over his shoulder to see the pack chasing him. A pitbull owner described Roscoe as an undercover bulldog, since he looks mostly pointer but will growl when his boundaries are being encroached. Confident, not arrogant. He never tires and rarely wants to head home. I scoop his 40 pound body up and walk him out, with him riding my hip and mouthing his squishy ball like a pacifier.

The dog park has all kinds. Jake is the shepherd mix who has been known to start fights. He’s come a long way, I heard, thanks to the work his owner devoted to him. Roscoe outran Jake’s nips and learned quickly to neutralize his aggressive body language; a week ago I saw Roscoe try to get Jake to play tug. Duke, a 70 pound Rottie a few months younger than Roscoe, is one of his best friends. They greet each other with face licks. Before Roscoe developed a great affection for the squishy ball (he carries it continuously at the park) he used to play tug with Duke. A piece of rope would work, and often Roscoe would be the one to offer an end to Duke. Despite their mismatched sizes, Roscoe held his own; he’s 40 pounds of solid bulldog MUSCLE. The complete delight of two dogs testing their strength against each other compels humans to stand still, watch and smile.

Yesterday a new bloodhound showed up. Lucy is a referee. Whenever another dog became a little too pushy or crossed some canine line in the sand she would let loose with a string of deep baying reprimands. Lucy approached the offending dog while talking, loudly; even Jake backed down with a slightly irritated look on his face. Lucy was either irreproachable in her reasoning or simply too annoying to argue with on the matter.

Honesty is a common language in the dog park. A dog might not like another dog; they will communicate that in various ways, in varying degrees, and if they can’t avoid each other or resolve the problem they’ll escalate it until it is resolved. Few dogs carry around hurt feelings or nurse grudges for long. Not at the dog park. Take me to the dog park. 

Will the other dogs play with me, I wonder?

Cross-posted to Princess Hedgehog Chronicles.

Happy Birthday, Mom

November 28, 2008

November 26, 2008. Today is my mother’s birthday. The day is a marker now, as another year has passed without her at the other end of the phone, her melodic voice dancing across the wire.

Our voices are the same. As a teen it was funny how many of her friends launched into phone conversations with me before my giggle alerted them to the fact that they had the daughter, not the woman. Now when I want to hear her voice I can comfort myself by talking, using her cadence, phrases and sighs. What I can’t do is replicate her singing voice. Standing next to her at Mass I would feel warmth flow down through my body as I listened to that voice resonating with deep timbre. When a song ended I would look up at her and silently wish, “Please don’t stop.” Maybe I continued attending Mass to hear her voice; I know that the chords of certain hymns will bring me to tears. Somewhere, imprinted in my heart, she’s singing to me.

Mom was only 67 when she died. The cancer was diagnosed mere months after my dad died — from cancer — and she went from a relatively good prognosis at Stage I to spine and brain mets within two years. When I discovered that I, too, had breast cancer I was not surprised. Her father had been diagnosed with breast cancer and later died from prostate cancer. It was a matter of when, not if my turn would come. I did think I’d have more time, though.

By some weird coincidence today is also the day I went to the oncologist to talk about several falls I’ve had and can’t really explain away. Back pain, aching ribs. Headaches when I rarely get them. It’s the first time I’ve gone to the oncologist out of fear. Agent of Doom #2 says he doesn’t think the symptoms are cancer-related but he wants to reassure me and in oncology that’s with a brain MRI. The date for that test happens to be the day before the anniversary of my mom’s passing. Symmetry. I find comfort in that.

Only twelve years ago I was holding her hand, telling her in the voice we shared to go, to find peace, hoping she could hear me through the morphine haze. My brother had finally fallen asleep in the hospice bed a few feet away, and my sister had just gone into the bathroom when the labored breathing stopped. While I waited for her to take another breath I held my own. How could she bear any more? Yet I wanted her to open her eyes and be my mom again. I remember the mix of raw emotions flooding through me as I realized my mother had taken her last breath in my presence. By the time I told my brother and sister what had happened I felt the whirl of grief being replaced with sweetness and calm, like the sound of her voice on Sunday morning. 

You went first, Mom, and I learned a few things about advocating for the patient. Now the patient is me and I’m doing my best to get the right care, the right tests, the right docs. Thank you for taking some of the fear away. 

Love to you, always.


Cross-posted to Princess Hedgehog Chronicles.