Clyde (January 2005ish – December 11, 2018)

Clyde came to Giehl and I by way of a co-worker, Elizabeth, whose probably well-meaning neighbor had adopted a big, brindle puppy, not realizing that being bounced from home to home as a young dog had left this particular canine in quite the bad mental state. Elizabeth decided she was better suited to find Clyde (then named “Tyson”) a permanent home, brought him into her already-crowded apartment, and began her search.

We met in the PETA dog park and it was love at first sight. A “trial weekend” turned into thirteen and a half years of incredible companionship.

Since Giehl had already made it known that he wanted to pass his name to a future male child, I decided I could stake my own family heritage on this big, neurotic goof and re-christened Tyson “Clyde,” after my father and paternal grandfather.

Clyde was a hot mess. Six homes in his first six months of life had left him devoid of faith that we would ever return when we left the house. He relieved himself indoors whether we were gone twenty minutes or two hours. He chewed through every piece of wood or upholstered furniture he had access to. The cat-agnostic behavior I observed in Elizabeth’s apartment was soon replaced by a vehement interest, necessitating a dozen years of careful separation of cats and dogs in every home we’ve occupied, a reality that was only changed after we moved to Oregon in 2017.

But oh my God, we loved him so.

Clyde was a big dog, full of enthusiasm for food and squirrels and sticks and adventure. He loved visitors, greeting them with enthusiastic jumps, his enormous paws too often leaving red welts and scratches (we tried to train him, we really did). He could run like the wind, circling the dog park or the backyard with incredible speed, just barely brushing by obstacles. When Giehl put up a five-foot-high temporary fence in the backyard to try to let a few blades of grass grow, Clyde trotted outside, took a look at the fence, took a look at Giehl, and then leaped right over. One summer afternoon, while Giehl and I were at work, Isaiah’s babysitter answered the front door and Clyde took the opportunity to explore the neighborhood. By the time I got home, a youth group who had been painting the house next door had managed to corral Clyde, circling him and using a large zip tie as a makeshift lead to get him back home. When Norfolk winds would cause large tree debris to fall into our backyard, Clyde would enthusiastically pick up a ten-foot-long, four-inch diameter branches and trot them around the backyard, his beloved prize.

One day, we came home to find that Clyde had eaten a box or two of dried pasta. Another day, it was tealight candles that we’d left out on a windowsill, plastic casings, metal wicks, and all. Housesitters who didn’t heed the warning to not leave anything out that they wanted to hang on to lost undergarments, hats, and electronics to Clyde’s giant jaws. Those zooms around the yard sometimes resulted in gashes that never seemed to bother him, but that necessitated many trips to the emergency vet, Dr. Smithwick, who he loved.

Really, Clyde loved all people. He was an enthusiastic fan of humans, even though he’d been treated so poorly by them in the early part of his life. And he was an enthusiastic fan of us, even though we were too often impatient with him. Ten years later and I still regret making too-quick trips home at lunch to let him out, only to get frustrated and angry when he wouldn’t come back in right away so I could go back to work. He just wanted to soak in more of the sights and smells of a world full of possibility. He loved to lay in the sun, from his earliest years to his last days.

When Isaiah came along, Clyde and Emma had to give up their sleeping spot in our room. But they didn’t seem to hold it against him. As big, and to some, scary, as Clyde looked, he was an angel with Isaiah from the moment we brought him home to the moment they said their last goodbye. Perhaps he was especially grateful for all the food baby Isaiah would drop on the floor, for the oatmeal bowls he would leave half-eaten during morning cartoons, for the peanut butter and jelly sandwich leftovers after school.

I have worked mostly from home for the better part of a decade now, and Clyde was my constant companion. When I spent too long at the kitchen table or in my office with my laptop, Clyde would whine until I came and sat with him on the couch. During the last few months of his life, he would pace outside my office door, coming in to lay down only if the (cat) coast was clear, or if I moved Friendly off his bed.

Clyde, you see, always knew where he wanted to be, whether that was on our bed, in the middle of any room, cuddling with one of our other pups, or in the exact spot on an otherwise empty sofa that was already occupied (by human or dog, it did not matter). Many of our photos of Isaiah growing up include the nose- or butt-end of Clyde. He wanted to be in the middle of all the action.

And if you did not notice that Clyde wanted to occupy a particular space, he would stand and stare at you, back up a few paces, and then start to whine. If no satisfactory response was immediately forthcoming, the whines would quickly escalate to short, perturbed barks. “Hey!” “Hey!”

Clyde was a very good communicator. Mostly this communication centered around food. He let us know what he liked (food) and what he didn’t like (not having food…also most lettuces, but sometimes lettuce was okay). He appeared whenever the peanut bar jar came out of the fridge and was incredibly easy to train (except the jumping) because of his high motivation to receive as many treats into his mouth as possible. In his golden years, one of his favorite ways to pass the time was to spend a couple of days hauling around a nearly-empty peanut butter jar, working to get the last morsels out, determined not to waste a drop.

And so when Clyde became a picky eater, when we had to convince him to eat, and when he finally simply could not be bribed even with the tastiest of treats, we knew he was telling us it was time to go. That puppy no one wanted, who’d accompanied us on five moves, through countless bouts of depression, and the first decade of our child’s life…that sweet old man had reached the end of his very well-lived journey.

Clyde, Clidsypoo, Poodle, Clyd-e-ola. I will love you forever. I miss you like mad. I’m sorry for the times I failed to give you the love you deserved. And I’m so grateful for the love you gave to me. I will see you again, you very good dog.

 

 

 

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girl talk

I was at a small party yesterday where I met some new friends and got a glimpse of pre-teen-not-a-boy-not-a-man-hood that made me pretty sure I’m going to need more therapy and advice as Isaiah gets older, not less.

One of my new friends had a little girl, three years old. I’ve always been intimidated by other women, and apparently even as a grown-ass adult, I get scared talking to girls. Will they think I’m a nerd? Do I look okay? Is my face broken out? Do I smell? What if they don’t like me?

So here’s how I broke the ice with this tiny human: “I like your striped shirt and silver sandals!”

Um, wtf?

First, I don’t care what anyone wears. Really. I mean, I might in my head say “leggings are not pants” or “put a shirt on, buddy” but fashion isn’t exactly my forte and I’m genuinely okay with that. Like, genuinely.

But more importantly: what?! My first interaction with a girl and I reinforce the message that being cute is literally the most important (first) thing about her? That wearing well-coordinated shirts and sandals = positive attention? I couldn’t think of anything deeper, like “Do you have a kitty at home?” or “So, how do you cope with the uncomfortable paradox of Memorial Day?” I thought about it all afternoon, and then again this morning. I hope I get a second chance with her. I’m ready this time.

I’ve been trying to remember how much attention Isaiah got for his t-shirts before he would talk to people. I don’t think it was much. Maybe because he was often carrying a truck or a train, so folks would ask him about that.

But damn. If this feminist falls into the trap of reducing females to the fabric on their bodies, what hope is there? And how do I break myself of this insidious habit?

four rules and a mess of an internal dialogue

After an epic tantrum because our little homebody didn’t want to go grocery shopping, a brief post-meltdown nap in the car, and some food, Isaiah and I hung in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s and talked about four simple guidelines for life:

  1. It’s okay to feel angry.
  2. People can’t hear you when you scream at them.
  3. People can hear you when you stay calm and use words.
  4. Sometimes, you just gotta’ do things you don’t want to. And that’s okay, because we’re all in the same boat.

And then, a caveat talk about peer pressure, the differences between obeying mommy and daddy versus strangers and desire versus danger, and a reminder to scream at the top of his lungs if someone ever tries to take him.

Or something.

That last part feels fuzzy in my head because I was also having an internal dialogue about whether or not I should complicate matters, but then thinking that there are important distinctions to make and I want him to have the self-awareness/groundedness/good sense/compassion/skepticism/courage/independence to stand up for himself and for others, even if it means going against the prevailing powers. But he’s five, and how much of this can I distill into four-word concepts powered by a mnemonic device or some other trigger so that he can actually remember or it becomes a part of his DNA? And how much is one parking lot conversation going to matter? No, it matters a lot, because it’s these small moments that make up the fabric of his life and understanding, that form who he becomes.

Hard not to feel overwhelmed.

Safety is so much more than light sockets and hard corners.

Living in fear isn’t an option. For me, or for my child.

Thankful for a community of parents who I know are thinking and wrestling and having similar conversations, and that I’m not the only one feeding him positive messages. It’s not Giehl and I against the world (it’s not even me against Giehl). Isaiah has friends whose parents will see and seize similar opportunities, who reject the idea that since Isaiah isn’t their biological offspring, he’s “none of their business.” Thank God for those men and women (and children, too, who also do their fair share of teaching).

bedtime

Last night, I cried while I stood next to Isaiah’s bed and he drifted off to sleep. I was feeling the weight of what it means to be a parent. Fretting over the lifelong implications of behavior patterns he establishes now. Sure that a rocky week in Kindergarten foretells teenage hooliganism, succumbing to peer pressure, and drunk driving.

Tonight, it was Isaiah’s turn to cry while he went to sleep…well, while he started to think about going to sleep anyway. Since the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree, Isaiah was also distraught about Really Big Things. The questions and comments came fast and furious, his little brow furrowed and his little body restless:

  • “I’m just really sad because I’ll never be a dog and be able to curl up like a dog.”
  • “When people die, do they become dogs?”
  • “Why didn’t you and daddy make me a dog?”
  • “How did you and daddy make me?”
  • “Are there heroes in heaven?”
  • “Where do heroes live? Do heroes live in your heart?”
  • “If nobody gets hurt in heaven, are there heroes and ninjas?”
  • “Will I die when I’m twenty?”
  • “What happens when we die?”
  • “I just really wish I was a baby. I wish I never had a birthday.”
  • “I wish we had a baby.”
  • “I just really like dogs and cats and babies because they’re so cute. Kids aren’t cute. I wish I was never a kid.”

Golly, dude. I’m sorry. Nights like these, I stand there in the dark, stroking Isaiah’s back, singing a song (here’s our current favorite lullaby), and remember my dad coming into my bedroom, sitting by my bed, singing to me, urging me to stop thinking, to close my eyes, keep still, and let myself drift off to sleep. The baby books tell you that “sleep begets sleep.” And I’m pretty sure in those list of begats in the Bible, somewhere it says, “And insomnia begat insomnia.”

 

The album description of our lullaby (Stay Close) says: “Our journey with Jesus often contains stretches of doubt, alienation, and loneliness…This song is a petition to be renewed and for a rich sense of God’s immanence to remain during a difficult season.” I think somewhere, deep inside, I’m desperately hoping that Isaiah doesn’t battle the same demons of depression that I face…and that, if he does, the plea from this song will fuse to that depressed DNA that I passed along, giving him a fighting chance for peaceful nights.

Two Things

1) Today, I pulled a long white hair out of a zit on my chin.
2) Bradley is a mini-Clyde. They are food obsessed, chew on sticks, bark at the tiniest thing, etc. When we toss a tasty morsel of food at Clyde, he snaps it out of the air with precision and speed. When I tossed a sliver of orange at Bradley, it hit her between the eyes, stayed there on the bridge of her snout for a couple of seconds, and then fell to the floor.

Emma (sometime in 2005 we think – October 15, 2013)

IMG_3938Emma.

We knew she was the right dog for our household when she and Clyde met for the first time and she snapped at him when he tried to mount her at the skeevy insurance/dog rescue office where we adopted her. She had been adopted as a puppy and returned to the shelter when she got “too big.” But she was perfect.

Emma  was boisterous and playful. A little instigator, who would drag things off of shelves and counters, only to let Clyde do the eating and take the blame.

She loved toys and she didn’t like to share them. After she and Clyde ripped open their Christmas passages, we would soon hear Clyde whining and inevitably find Emma with a stockpile, either on her bed or in her mouth. I think the most she ever fit in there at once was three giant squeaky toys.Emma on Chair 1 (Jun 25, 2006)

She knew how to make herself comfortable.

She loved to give kisses and sniff our faces. Sometimes she’d follow that with a burp, for good measure.

When she played with Clyde or Bradley and was really into it, she made this high-pitched groaning sound, like she was ululating. It was her expression of joy and it grew to be ours, as well.

She kept a close eye on the trees for birds and squirrels.She was always on high alert for potential yard intruders, and let us know with an insistent bark when something wasn’t right. In true herding dog form, she policed conflicts to ensure that all parties pawed the line, even when the cats tussled upstairs, Emma offered her faithful guidance from one or two floors below.

Emma and Isaiah

When we cried, she licked our tears.

She cuddled, within reason. Eventually she’d just up and leave, heaving herself onto the floor with a sigh. She needed her alone time. But when Bradley laid on top of her for hours on end, or buried in behind her on the couch, Emma was a patient pillow.

Emma was a true lady. Sweet and deeply invested in doing the right thing. She never whined to go out (which we wouldn’t have minded at all) and instead relied on Clyde to whine at us on her behalf when she needed to relieve herself. Even on the table at the vet’s office, before that final injection, she crossed her dainty paws as she tried to relax.IMG_2920

Looking back, we can see that her last few weeks were hard, but we didn’t know she was so sick until that last day, when her face and her labored breathing told us it was time. It was as if she hadn’t meant to intrude on our day, but she needed help that only we could provide.

We will miss you, darling girl. You were an amazing, lovely, sweet, and happy dog. Bradley is doing her best to cheer Clyde up, but you have left a hole in our lives and hearts that will take much time and many tears to fill. We love you, and we will see you again.

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The Past is the Present

Eduardo Galeano’s reminder to my younger self in Open Veins of Latin America is difficult: “Slave ships no longer ply the ocean. Today the slavers operate from the ministries of labor. African wages, European prices.” (279) It is true that I cannot change the past. What I can try to do is give my raced-as-white-euro-american-blond-haired-green-eyed son a lens through which to look at the world that acknowledges the depressing realities of the past and the hope for a reconciled future that we are offered when we join with others to follow Jesus.