Some Spoiled Dogs (8/27/2014)

When you live in a small town, people know you. When you have the privilege of living in a small town in the mountains, people know your dogs, too.

“How’s the girls?” asked one of the owners of the brothers feed store when I went to get dog food one afternoon.

“Spoiled rotten,” I responded, easing up to the counter. “I’ve got three divas piled up on the couch at home, probably fussing because I am taking too long to get their kibble. Ava has already had quite the fit when she realized the bag was empty.”

Ava the German Shepherd keeps a close eye on the food situation. If the bag gets below the halfway mark, she starts pacing around it to make sure if anyone gets any extra nibbles, it’s her. She will even sleep beside the bag, with a paw on it for added protection.

When she was told after their 6 a.m. breakfast – something she has initiated since we’ve had her – that the bag was empty, she had a fit.

“All gone.” I showed her the bag. She stuck her head in to the bottom, licking and snorting for any kibble dust. She even lifted the bag up, her head still enclosed, trying to see if there was any stuck in the corners.

When she pulled herself out, she looked at me all worried and barked.

“It will be this afternoon before I go,” I told her.

The dog promptly threw herself down on the floor with a dramatic “whoomp” and laid there, like a great sorrow had befallen her.

“I thought she was gonna need the vapors,” I told the brother after I recounted my story to him.

He laughed. “Girl, what would you do if you ran out of food and it was Sunday when we weren’t open?”

“Oh, that’s happened,” I said. “It ain’t pretty.”

When running errands one Saturday morning, I asked Lamar if we needed dog food. He thought we were fine; he’s the one who feeds them, so you’d think he would know. But all he was thinking about was pedaling across some mountain that morning and he didn’t have time to go back in to check the food.

“What happened?” the brother asked.

“I ended up cooking the girls some eggs and putting some cottage cheese in it,” I answered. “I am pretty sure Ava liked that better.”

“Those are some spoiled dogs,” he said laughing.

They are beyond spoiled.

I had been trying to fatten Ava up. She was tall and lanky and I was used to my curvy and filled out pit-mix and my athletic Border collie.

But Ava is boundless energy and all legs, running through the yard, chasing bees. So I was feeding her extra goodies, hoping she would gain. I had fattened Venus up when I first met her with chicken broth and wasn’t sure why I couldn’t seem to put weight on Ava.

She had been itching relentlessly too for a while, until someone mentioned she may have a wheat allergy. After a week on the whitefish and sweet potato feed, Ava quit itching, the fur on her hinney started growing back and she was starting to fill out.

“So she likes her food and it helped?” the brother asked.

“Oh, yes, she loves it. They all do, even the picky one does.”

Pumpkin’s the pickiest. Angel Doodle will eat paper towels like a goat, so she’s not exactly a connoisseur.

“And, it’s helped her tremendously. She’s still on the thinner side but she’s just taller than I am used to. When she stands on her hind legs, she’s as tall as I am.”

“What are you going to do when she’s over 100 pounds and taller than you?” he asked.

“Let her do whatever she wants,” I answered. Which she pretty much gets to do now. Dogs are like children and when they are quiet, they are up to something.

One morning, I realized Ava wasn’t on the couch or on her yoga mat, which used to be mine until she got on it and refused to get up one evening.

But she was noticeably absent from her sisters, so I went looking for her, finding her stretched out across the foot of my bed. She smiled without opening her eyes and wagged her tail.

She wasn’t hurting a thing and she knew it. She was just doing what three other shepherds before her had done and I said when I had another one, I would never fuss about them drooling on my comforter again. I kissed her on her muzzle and let her finish her nap.

“I’m going to say it again,” he said, still laughing. “Those are some spoiled dogs.”

That they are, I agreed.

“If I come back as a dog in my next life, I hope I come back as one of your dogs,” he said.

They are spoiled and they are loved. They are part of our family and they know it. And I think they somehow know how good they’ve got it.

Just like we know how lucky we are that we have them.

Education is anything but elementary (8/20/2014)

I never thought I would be one to homeschool my child.

“I am not smart enough to do that,” I would think when I would hear of people homeschooling.

“More power to you,” I told my soul-sister Court when she told me she was homeschooling a few years ago. “You are a better woman than I am.”

So when I made an inquiry about homeschooling on Facebook, Court called me.

“I never thought I would see that kind of status update from you,” she said. “Are you really thinking about homeschooling?”

I told her I was.

Granted, the idea had been brought up for discussion fairly quickly, but it had been in the back of my mind for a while. I had always said if I had the opportunity to work from home, I would homeschool Cole.

The opportunity had presented itself and here I was, two weeks from the beginning of the school year – a month ago now – and I was thinking I would take full reins of my child’s education.

I’m not going to lie; it was a scary thing to consider. Would I give him what he needed? Would he learn? Would he progress? Was I smart enough to teach him? Did I have the patience?

All these fears, worries and questions raced through my head and out of my mouth as I asked Court all these and more.

“What made you think about doing this?” she asked when I finally took a breath.

It was nothing negative to do with the school. I know a lot of people automatically assume when one homeschools that it’s because of the school system. I have to say I think Cole had some of the most exceptional teachers who truly loved my child.

When I went to withdraw him and told the principal, there was a part of me that wanted to cry, because I thought of the memories he had made there, the friends and the teachers he enjoyed. So it had nothing to do with the system.

It had to do with, well, me and the world.

I worry about the things I hear on TV these days. I worry if my child is safe when he’s away from me, even for a second. Sure, I may need a serotonin uptake inhibitor to lessen this irrational fear, but the world is not the same as it was when I was growing up. Kids didn’t have to worry about their safety while learning; all they had to do was learn and eat square pizza with corn. There were days I would hear of something heartbreaking and rush to the school to get him. Or frantically call the school to make sure he was OK. Paranoia and fear, wrapped in a neurotic state of panic is not pretty.

My child, unfortunately also has terrible anxiety – maybe worse than mine – and if I could lessen that in some way, I would.

Aside from wanting to just put my only child in a bubble, I wanted to nurture the areas of his interest – art, science and much to my chagrin, history. The first two, I loved and was thoroughly excited about exploring with him. History -not so much. I am terrible at history and dates.

“If you don’t understand and learn from it, you’re bound to repeat it,” he has told me from his back seat point of view.

But I wanted him to have more focus on those areas. Especially if it meant we got paint all over the kitchen table and maybe set something on fire for experimental purposes.

I also selfishly wanted more time with him. When I looked back over the past nearly 10 years, I realized aside from the first 18 months of his life, he had been in some form of school – day care, pre-K, elementary school – he has spent probably 80 percent of his waking hours away from me.

One day, he will be grown and while now he says he will never leave me and that he and his family will live next door, I don’t know if that will be the case. Children grow up. They get their own lives and those moments we should have taken advantage of are never recaptured.

I told all of this to Court.

“Do you think I can do this?” I asked.

She told me she did. “If I can do it with three, you can do it with one.”

She had a point. But she is pretty much Super Mom.

“Do more research, ask some more friends and pray about it. See what your heart tells you to do.”

So I did. My dear friend Evie sent me tons of great information for me to consider. Her answers to my questions were almost identical to Court’s, her giving me assurance that I could do it. Still, I wondered.

But we took the plunge and started homeschooling this week.

My heart told me it would all be just fine. And maybe, just maybe, I will learn a little something myself.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/15426/

“We’re just gonna ‘bless it'”

Part of our Southern heritage dictates that before or after we say anything disparaging about anyone, we should add a “bless their heart” to it.

I knew this early on; in fact, I would bet good money the first words I uttered after the dog’s name were tagging a blessing onto someone.

But people have come to recognize that when we say those three little words, in all of their glory, that we truly are saying something that probably shouldn’t bear repeating. So I condensed it. Now, I just say ‘bless it.’

I was talking with Mama one day on the phone, or rather, listening to her tell me about someone back home who had worked her nerves something fierce. Not just hers, but Granny’s too, to the point my whole little hillbilly clan was in an uproar.

“What do you think about that?” Mama inquired of me after she finished.

“Bless it,” was my reply.

It took about 10 times to bless something before Mama caught on to the difference.

“What do you mean when you say that?” she asked.

“Well, Mama, we’re always saying ‘bless so and so’s heart’ and when we do, people know we are about to say something that’s pretty dingdang bad. But, if we say ‘bless it,’ they don’t know what we mean.”

Mama thought about that for a while.

“I think I like that,” she surmised. “I think I like that a lot. Bless it.”

I’ve slipped a bless it into conversations with people that could make Ghandi eat a cheeseburger.

In the midst of their catterwalling about life in general, I have just said ‘bless it’ and gone on my way. They smiled and thought I was saying something nice and I didn’t have to say what I really thought. So it worked for both of us.

Mama asked me where I came up with this not too long ago, right after I told her about a situation and had ended it with the bless it.

“I kinda got it from you, Mama dear,” I replied and I did.

Mama used to tell me when someone made me upset, angry or hurt my feelings, instead of doing something ugly to bless that person out of my life.

“How am I supposed to do that?” I asked.

“You’re going to ask for them to be moved on to their greater good, to their bigger blessing, where they can be a blessing to someone or something else.”

“I don’t want them to be blessed, I want them to feel as bad as I do right now.”

“No, Kitten. When they are blessed, they can move out of your life, and both of you will be better off. By blessing them, you in return get a blessing.”

So I started a-blessing with a fury. And know what, it worked.

I’ve been blessing a while now, but some just take a little longer but it’s worth it.

Bless it, indeed.

**previously published, May 16, 2012
http://www.dawsonnews.com/archives/9501/

The First Wives Club (8/13/2014)

Marriage has got some pretty bad statistics associated with it. I read something that said the divorce rate percentages were now closer to 60/40 split instead of 50/50.

I always felt weird, telling people I was divorced. It seemed like I had to offer up a disclaimer of some kind – to let people know I wasn’t a leper of some kind – and maybe it’s because I was trying to tell myself there was nothing wrong with me. I was ‘damaged goods’, a divorced 30-year-old.

I remember having to politely tell someone the reason I didn’t want to date them was because I was trying to find out who I was, after 11 years of being “me and the ex.” It was, at the time, “just me” and I wasn’t quite sure who that girl was – yet.

For me, it meant I was on my own for the first ever – as in 30 years. I was single, two and half hours away from my family, just me and Pepper, the evil beagle. She was the best thing I got out of that marriage. I ate ice cream for dinner, a big deal since the ex had been lactose intolerant.

On my days off, I could actually do absolutely nothing, which was unheard of before. If I wanted to sit and read all day I could, free of any sloth-like comparisons.

A few of my dearest soul-sisters have been divorced. One of them I met as we both were waiting on our divorces to be finalized. I think we were both scared, more scared than either cared to admit. After we made it through, we realized we had somehow survived and come out stronger. I couldn’t have made it through that first year without her, depending on her for laughs and to cheer me up.

When she got engaged a few years later, she called me, and handed the phone to him, saying “You’ve met Mama and Daddy and all my brothers and sisters, but you’ve got one more…” Within minutes of talking to him, I knew my girl was going to be just fine.

Another soul-sister and I were talking about our similar first marriages the other night and it got me thinking.
I had not been allowed to really be myself back then. Especially in social situations with his work, where he feared, I suppose, that I would open my mouth and spew demons into swine. But I had played nice and super polite.

And quiet.

And meek.

The opposite of me, basically.

In those types of situations, I don’t know why, but knowing I am being expected to be little miss prim and proper makes me want to giggle obnoxiously and ask strangers random odd questions. I never did though. But it was a hard undertaking.

Not that I am loud, because I am really quite introverted, I have just learned how to fake it really well.

As my soul-sister and I compared our notes, we found a lot of similarities, which was not surprising. She is the jelly to my peanut butter.

“You know what, it’s sad that we spent so much time, not being ourselves,” I commented.

My soul-sister wondered if we had shared the same ex.

I wondered how I would be now, had I stayed married to that boy. Would I be stifled and shushed, repressed and oppressed, scared to laugh too loud, or worried I wasn’t good enough for his lofty standards?

I would probably be miserable, my soul dying a little each day. It was not a horrific relationship, mind you, but it was that subtle oppression of being told in a million little ways, I was not good enough.

“You know what? I think we learned something really, really important,” I began. “We learned how we deserved to be treated.”

We did. We learned to not settle, to believe we were special and worthy and to be ourselves. We learned, as I think any woman who survives a divorce or failed relationship, that we were stronger and we would go on – I know I learned every lyric to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” during the year following my divorce.

And most importantly, we learned how we didn’t want to be treated ever again and exactly how we should be.

It has been over 12 years since my divorce was final. Mama still mentions the ex every now and then. I usually tell her that I don’t know what he is doing other than what Granny would snoop and find out but that had been years ago.

“You don’t miss him, do you?” she asked me once.

I thought of how one day after our divorce, I had found a stack of letters from him when we were dating and I sat in the floor of my apartment and cried. Not for him, but for the promise that was supposed to be that died.

“No, I don’t,” I said. I didn’t and I don’t.

But in some odd way, I was thankful for him. As crazy as it sounds, I was thankful because by him telling what I wasn’t and never would be, I had found exactly who I was.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/15392/#.U-t8FktluOE.facebook

https://www.facebook.com/southernstory

Of lies and ditches (8/6/2014)

“You lied to me,” Cole announced with all seriousness one day.

I panicked. What was he referring to? I always tried to be honest, well, with the exception of some parental lies us parents had to tell. Y’all know the ones of which I speak.

“What do you mean, I lied to you?” I asked, stalling for time.

“You said the driving age was 30. It’s 16.”

“Who told you that?” I asked.

“My teacher. He told us the way we could remember four times four was it equaled 16 – and that’s when we can drive a 4X4.”

“He was referring to an old law,” I said. A tiny white lie to cover my previous lie. “It’s not like that anymore. You have to be 30.”

Cole gave me the two-minute stare down. “Mama, I don’t know where you got your information, but you are wrong. I can drive when I am 16.”

That’s what he thinks. He can drive when I say so. Right now, I am saying 30.

I didn’t care for driving when I was a teenager. Sure, all my friends were driving and I wanted to get my license but I didn’t want to drive.

It was a traumatic experience for me, learning how to operate this heavy machinery.

Granny had told me one Sunday morning I could drive to church. She got in the passenger seat and my grandfather climbed in the back.

We lived about 10 minutes from church, a straight shot up Hwy. 78 to the church at the crossroads. Easy peasy.

“What are you doing? Get in your lane! Sweet Jesus have mercy, you a-going to put me in the grave before you get me to church. Watch the road. Watch the dadblamed road!”

I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, but she was yelling at me every time I breathed.

“Ten and 2,” she pointed at the steering wheel. “Put your hands at 10 and 2!”

I had no idea what she was talking about. I wanted to cry.

“Why are you in the middle of the road?” she cautioned again.

I didn’t realize I had been. I was trying to figure out what the heck was supposed to be the clock and what was going to happen at 10 and 2.

I glanced in the rearview mirror at my grandfather, who was supposed to be my biggest ally, my defender. He just shot me a possum eating briars grin and winked.

Then it happened.

Horrors to horrors, it started raining.

A pop-up shower that happens on occasion in the south, where out of nowhere, huge drops of rain plopped down on the windshield with a staccato.

“It’s raining,” Granny stated the obvious. “You ain’t driving in the rain.”

This would set me up for a lifetime of thinking if it rained, I shouldn’t leave the house. Period. End of story.

Granny had said “You ain’t driving in the rain” with such authority that it was engrained as law in my brain.

“What do you want me to do?” I whimpered.

I was shaken and scared, from the sudden rain and her non-stop driving instructions since I had pulled out of the driveway. “Pull over,” she stated.

“What?”

“You heard me. Pull over.”

I was within spitting distance of the church, surely I could drive the last little bit in the rain?

She looked at me with that look that could scare a rhino and said, “Did you not hear me? I said, pull over and I meant now!”

So, I did. Right into a ditch.

For a lady on her way to church, she said a lot of bad words. Or maybe, it was a good thing she was on her way to church; she could ask for a lot of forgiveness.

My grandfather in the back seat found the situation to be completely hilarious as he reached that inaudible laugh where all we heard was a wheeze, as tears poured down his cheeks.

“What do you find so dadblamed funny, Robert?” she demanded, turning around to look at him.

When he finally caught his breathe, and wiped his face, he said, “Chicken, the one time -the one time – she finally does what you tell her to, we end up in a ditch.”

I don’t remember much what happened after this; it could be I fainted from the sheer trauma and stress of the situation. We did make it to church somehow.

My friend Melody, who was also my first boss and lived up the road from us, heard about this situation and decided she was the only one brave enough to take on the task, so she offered to teach me how to drive. I put us in a ditch on another raining night, too.

“You will drive when you are 30,” I repeated, shaking off the memories of being pulled out of the dirt by a stranger.

“But…”

“People are not cognitively able to make the types of split second decisions needed when driving, Cole. It is a scientific fact and has been proven their brain is not developed until they are at least 25 years of age to make those types of spatial differentials.”

I had read something similar a while back. And it had enough big words to confuse him for a while.

Just in case of a rebuttal, I added: “And no buts, not cuts, no coconuts – what I say goes.”

He groaned. I had won, this round anyway.

I have six more years to come up with a better argument. Or at least a better lie.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/15362/