At Home in Sparta

The apartment is quiet.  The only lights on are those on the Christmas tree.  Annelise is on her little cot in the living room.  She wanted to spend one night this year sleeping by the tree.  So I relinquished the living room to her this evening and am trying to be as quiet as possible so that she can sleep.  Last night was my last night of work until after Christmas.  I spent today shopping and wrapping presents while she was with my parents, so all we have to do before Christmas is bake cookies and enjoy the time we have together.  Over all life is good right now.

It’s the time of year when I reflect on the past year, and look forward to the new one.  Last year when I packed the Christmas decorations I had no idea where we would unpack them this year.  I knew we probably wouldn’t be at my parents any longer, but I hadn’t quite decided where we’d go.  We ended up in Sparta.  And as I had suspected, nothing went as planned.

My schooling plan got off track a bit in the Spring, and then a bit more in the Fall.  At first I just decided to postpone applying to the BSN program at GVSU.  If I had stuck to my original plan I knew I’d be facing a heavy work load and a large financial responsibility this year.  I just wasn’t ready for that.  Annelise was a year away from Kindergarten and I wanted as much free time with her as possible.  Going to school full time seemed like too much.  And with moving out of my parents’ house I was suddenly facing additional financial burdens.  I vowed not to take out any Student Loans until I’m actually in a Nursing program.  I already have a degree so I’m ineligible for any grants.  The burden of tuition has all been on me.  So a delay of a year seemed like a good idea.  I decided to use that year off to fulfill the prerequisites for the MCC ADN program  That way I’d have a back up plan if I didn’t get into GVSU.

We ended up in Sparta, because it was cheaper than living in Grand Rapids.  It also put me part way between Muskegon and Grand Rapids, which seemed like a good compromise since I wasn’t one hundred percent sure where I would be going to school.

Moving to Sparta felt like a bad move from the beginning.  I kept trying to reassure myself it was the best decision, but it didn’t feel like it.  We’re in an apartment building that I wouldn’t quite call rundown, but it’s definitely seen better days.  Our apartment looks like all the other ones in the building, very beige and blah.  I remember the day I got my keys and went in to look around.  I felt this wave a depression sweep over me as I moved from room to room.  I don’t like apartments as a general rule and had vowed to never live in one with Annelise, but here we were.

I signed the lease in June, but we didn’t start living here until September.  Over the summer I would stay here on days I worked, and very slowly I moved the things from our storage unit and my parents house so that it could be ready for us when Annelise started school in the fall.  As I was unpacking and putting things away I found myself chanting this mantra, “You will be happy here.”  I knew I could let the situation overwhelm me or I could choose to be happy in this space.  I decided we would be happy here.

I began to feel better as the space filled with our things.  Things that had been sitting in storage for the past year.  At first it felt awkward.  These were the things from our Roanoke house.  Almost all of them had been bought to fit our little house on Maiden Lane, and now they felt out of place in this apartment.  It felt kind of silly to put up the bookcase and unpack all the boxes of books.  I was only planning to be here a year and I would never read them in that time.  But as I put them on the shelves it felt like I was becoming reacquainted with old friends, so I’m glad they’re sitting there even if they won’t get read and I’ll just be boxing them up again in the Spring.  I hung pictures on the walls and very gradually this space became ours.

We hit a rough spot financially in August and September.  Since I wasn’t working full time, I was only paid when I worked, no paid time off.  I had scheduled some time off in August, but on top of that I was called off about half my shifts.  With less money coming in and the added expense of the apartment we went under very fast.   I have found that financial insecurity will send me hurtling toward anxiety and depression fasting than anything else.  By mid September I was in a very bad place.  I made the difficult decision to prioritize work over school and accepted a full time position so that I could at least stabilize my income.  Things have gotten better since then.  It means taking longer to finish school and I probably will have to go the ADN to RN to BSN route rather than getting my BSN right away which wasn’t what I wanted.   But without financial stability it’s unlikely I would have been able to keep going anyways.

There are some bad days.  And the bad days tend to be really bad.  But over all life has been good in Sparta.  We don’t know anyone, so we keep to ourselves a lot.  Annelise loves her school and has friends there.  I’m busy with work and school.  And on the days when were home it’s just her and I.  The year we lived with my parents caused a little bit of a disconnect between us.  This time alone has fixed that and then some.  I feel like we have grown even closer.  We spend our weekends riding bikes and going to the park.  And we have a lot of game and puzzle nights.

There have been many times the past few months when I’ve thought about dropping out of school and just living.  Not because school is so bad, but because just living is so good.  I love being a mom and doing the mom things.  I think that if it weren’t for the fact that we live in an apartment, I’d be very happy with our life now.  But then I think about the big picture and how if I want to eventually be in a place where I can focus on being “mom” I need to get out of Sleep and off third shift.  I need to have more earning potential to give us a better future.  So we trudge onward.

I had started to put together a plan to move back to Virginia, because if were going to “just live” that’s were I want to do it.  But the reality is that that is not going to happen.  We made a quick trip to Roanoke over the weekend and I began to realize that Roanoke is very much like an ex boyfriend.  It didn’t work for us there.  I had to make a change and I did.  But now that we’re a ways out from that, I question the decision.  Was it really that bad?  Could we have made it work?  And I keep going back for these hook ups, and entertaining the idea that we can somehow still make it work.  I realized last weekend that at least for now we can’t go back.  I don’t have work there.  School is twice as expensive there. And no matter how much I want to be in Roanoke, I have to think about our future and that means finishing school.  The easiest way for me to do that is here.  So barring some major change of fortune we’re staying in Michigan.

I was determined to be happy in Sparta, and I think that we are.  I hate the apartment, other than that we are happy.  We are outdoors people.  I want Annelise to be outdoors.  She’s at an age when I should be able to just send her outside to play, but being in a third floor apartment has made that difficult.  I try to get us both out as much as possible, but I still feel like we spend too much time inside.  I want us to be in a house, with a yard and maybe a garden.  Annelise wants a “fetch” dog.  Tonight she said, “I think next Christmas we’ll be in a house.”  I hope so baby.  But where?  We’re here until June, and then I’m not sure where we’ll go.  I hate moving.  I hate moving her.  She’s had three different homes and three different schools in as many years.  Next year she starts Kindergarten.  If it’s going to take me two to three more years to finish up school, I want to plant us somewhere that can be home, but I haven’t figured out where that is yet.

Right now things are peaceful.  The bills are paid.  There are presents under the tree.  And we’re looking forward to some fun events this winter.  I’m trying hard not to stress about what comes next.  But most likely when next Christmas rolls around we’ll be unpacking the decorations in yet another home and I’ll have another plan for our future.  Hopefully we’ll still be moving forward, getting closer to the end goal and where ever we are we’ll be happy.

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Our Summer Bucket List

I guess it’s time to wrap up the summer post now that it’s almost Christmas.  I spent the first part of the summer in class.  It was a summer class so it was on a shortened semester which meant I went four days a week.  On top of that I was picking up an extra shift every week to help cover some of the added expenses due to moving, paying a higher tuition and so that I could take more time off in August.  My summer vacation basically boiled down to that one month, and Annelise and I tried to make the most of it.

Starting in the Spring she started collecting brochures of different activities that she wanted to do.  We saved them and I promised her that once I was done with my class we would attempt to do as many as possible along with some of the other tradition summer events.

Asparagus Festival

The Asparagus Festival is in June. And it’s sort of the kick off of Summer.  It’s usually the first week that school has been out and summer is just getting under way.  We usually attend the parade and the craft fair on Saturday and then on Sunday go out to the airport for the Fly-in Breakfast.  This year Annelise was particularly interested in the watching the airplanes take off and land.

Fourth of July

Over the Fourth of July weekend we usually attend the open house at Country Dairy.  Annelise likes to go through the cow barns and watch how they milk the cows.  She’s not a fan of ice cream, but every year she tries a little bit and then I get to eat the rest.

And then of course there is the fireworks.  This year we rode our bikes to John Gurney Park and watched them from across the lake.

Canoeing

The first thing we got checked off our summer bucket list was canoeing.  She wanted to go canoeing.  We were able to do this one while we were in Virginia in July.  Our friends had a canoe and morning John and I took the kids out for an Urban canoe trip.  Beth said she had some shopping to do but I think she was really dodging the heat.  It was a very hot triple digit day.  We launched on Tinker Creek and then went onto the Roanoke River.  We’d packed a lunch which we ate under one of the overpasses.  We weren’t out too long because it was very hot.  I had hoped that we’d get more opportunities to go canoeing later in the summer but our schedule got too busy so this was the only canoe trip of the summer.

White Pine Village

The week we returned from Virginia (literally the next day) we went to White Pine Village.  I had visited White Pine Village several times as a kid and was excited that it was still around and that Annelise was interested in going.  Unfortunately, it was one of those things that looked interesting on the brochure, but really wasn’t for her.  She wasn’t into looking at old things, and she doesn’t like interacting with strangers so the period actors bothered her.  The one room school house briefly held her attention because she had heard stories from my mom about attending one, but that was about it.  When we toured the farm house I explained that it didn’t have a bathroom and that people had to use an outhouse.  When I asked if she wanted to go see the outhouse, she looked at me and said, “Why?”  We only went in a couple of buildings before I called it quits.  Thankfully, there was a Blue Grass Festival happening so we got hot dogs, chips and soda and sat and listened to some bands.  It made the trip not feel like a complete waste.  While we were sitting listening to the music, I caught bits and pieces of the conversation behind me.  It didn’t feel weird to hear “Floyd” and “Pulaski” and “Floyd Country Store” until I remembered that I was in Ludington Michigan.  I apologized for eavesdropping, and commented that I had just come back from Floyd Fest.  Turns out one of the couples was from Pulaski and was up visiting.  The women commented that she had been watching Annelise drink from a Carilion water bottle and how it had seemed normal but off because she was in Michigan.  We chatted a little bit and it was nice to talk to Virginia people again.  When we got home my dad asked Annelise if she liked White Pine Village.  She said, “Yeah, we looked at old things, but it wasn’t very much fun.”  Oh well, maybe when she’s older we can try again.  It was such a dissappointment that I hadn’t taken any pictures.  So this one from their website will have to do.

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S. S. Badger and Milwaukee Zoo

Next was our other trip of the summer.   We took the S.S. Badger car ferry across Lake Michigan from Ludington, Michigan to Manitawoc, Wisconsin and then drove down to Milwaukee to visit the Milwaukee Zoo.  This was basically recreating a trip I took with my parents 41 years earlier.  Although when I went as a child the ferry went directly from Ludington to Milwaukee.

We were both very excited for this trip and had been planning it for a couple of months.  We took the morning ferry across from Ludington.  I decided to take my van over because it wasn’t that expensive and would make getting around in Wisconsin easier.  After parking our car who went on board and checked out the ship.  There were two levels, with food and places to sit on each level.  On the lower level there was a small movie theater, a gift shop and a children’s play area.  After watching them load our van, we found a spot on the deck to wave good-bye to my parents who were on the pier.  We spent most of our trip over exploring the ship, playing in the kids area or having snacks and coloring in the enclosed deck.  Occasionally would walk around the outside deck to see if we saw any land.  It was a four hour trip across and we arrived in Wisconsin around lunch time.  We did lose an hour due to the time difference but since Annelise can’t tell time that hour really didn’t make that much difference.  We drove to Sheboygan, which was about half way to Milwaukee, had lunch and then checked into our hotel.  We spent the afternoon swimming in the pool.  I had originally planned to attend a museum that day, but she was having fun just swimming so that’s what we did.  We ordered pizza for supper and then swam some more before relaxing in our room, watching the Olympics and playing board games.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel before driving into Milwaukee and to the zoo.  I hadn’t originally planned to use a stroller, after all she was four years old and very capable of walking, but since they were only $7 for the entire day I decided to rent one.  Turned out to be an excellent decision.  The day would have been miserable if she had been walking.  I’m sure I saved myself from the whining.  I quickly learned I had to let go of any agenda I had and just go with whatever she wanted.  And so we spent the entire day meandering the zoo without any sort of direction or plan.  She had a map and when she decided she wanted to see something, we’d go find it, never mind that it was on the other side of the zoo.  We zig-zagged our way around, and I think we hit everything.  We stopped for lunch and a trip to the gift shop to add to her menagerie.  The only time I got to dictate what we did was when I insisted that we have our afternoon snack of popcorn and lemonade next to the elephants.  I love elephants.  I have mixed emotions about zoos, and about elephants being kept in captivity, but I knew this might be the only opportunity she’ll have to see a live elephant so we were there sipping our lemonade, munching on popcorn and marveling at those great creatures.  Her favorite animals were the giraffes, the polar bear, and the snow leopard.

After leaving the zoo we drove back to Manitawoc.  She slept most of the way which was a good thing because it was going to be a late night.  I had booked us on the night crossing so that we could get a state room and she could sleep on the ship, but it didn’t leave until 1 am so we had some time to kill.  After getting supper I took her to see a movie.  This would be her first movie in a theater.  We saw the Secret Life of Pets.  I was a little nervous, because I heard that it had some cartoon violence that might be too much for her.  But she was easily distracted, and didn’t seem to notice some of the comments that might be a little much for someone so young.  She was really enjoyed the experience.  She wore her ear muffs because it was so loud.  Thankfully there were only a couple of other people in the theater because she didn’t quite understand theater etiquette and with the muffs on she couldn’t tell how loud she was talking and laughing.

We got onto the ship around midnight.  After getting our stuff settled in our room we found a nice spot on the front deck where we could lay and watch the stars.  I got a cocktail and she got popcorn and we laid out there watching the stars.  There were several people who planned to sleep on the deck, and if I hadn’t had Annelise with me I would have loved to stay out there all night but she was eager to get to our cabin.  The rooms seemed much smaller than I remembered.  She fell asleep quickly.  I laid awake for quite awhile keeping on eye on her, but I did manage to get some sleep before we docked.

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This was the trip that she and I needed.   We’ve always been close, but for the year we were at my parents we drifted apart some.  I was busy with school and work and my mom was doing a lot of the daily stuff for Annelise.  There were times when I felt like we were just living in the same house and my mom was doing all the parenting.  I really felt the disconnect while we were in Virginia.  I also felt it at the start of this trip, but after a day of wandering around the zoo together we were back on track.

Pentwater Homecoming

Right after we got back from Wisconsin it was time for Pentwater Homecoming.  We kind of made it a Pentwater Weekend.  There was the parade, the Fireworks and then we come back to have a beach day, since building a sand castle was on our list of things to do this summer.

County Fair

The Oceana County Fair is always a highlight of Annelise’s summer and I like the nostalgia of it.  We went with cousins again this year.  Annelise and Lincoln rode the rides together, we visited the livestock barns, and ate all the varies fair foods.  This year when it was time to ride the Ferris Wheel cousin Abigail wasn’t around so Mama had to do it.  I thought I could be brave and overcome my fear of heights for the sake of my kid, but wow was it hard.

Camping

Over Labor Day weekend we went camping in Silver Lake.  My sister’s family was also camping and our trips overlapped by several days so Annelise had cousin Lincoln to play with.  When we put camping on our list of things to do this summer I was hoping for something a little more rustic than an RV park, but this turned out to be perfect.  We were in our tent in an RV spot so that was a little awkward, but other than that it was a great time.  We camped for three nights.  The first two the camp ground was full and Annelise had fun playing with her cousin and swimming.  Most of the camp ground emptied out on Labor Day, but we stayed an extra day.  That night we practically had the place to ourselves and in the morning we got one more swim in before packing up.

Mac Woods Dune Ride

While on our camping trip we went into Silver Lake and went up on the Dunes.  In all my years of living in Oceana County I had never been on a Mac Woods Dune ride, so I was long over due.  It was a little windy but otherwise a beautiful day for a ride on the dunes and a stop at Lake Michigan.

Lewis Farm Market

Once again we got season passes to Lewis’.  I don’t think we went as often as we did last summer, but we still went often enough to make the passes worth it.  I love having the passes because we don’t feel like we need to cram everything into one trip, and if we only have an hour or two to go, that’s fine.  It was fun to watch the baby deer and goats grow over the summer.  We ended the summer with the fall activities and pig races which were a hit although Annelise was slightly disappointed because she thought she would get to ride a pig in the pig race.

Sandcastles Children’s Museum

I also got us a pass to the children’s museum in Ludington.  We would typically go on Fridays and make a day of it, first going to the museum then to lunch at the House of Flavors followed by a stop at the lakeside park.

Dirt Dawgs

The other big summer thing was Dirt Dawgs.  She rode on the Dirt Dawgs bike team again.  It was always a great time.  They mastered the Strider Loops and the last couple of weeks ventured off onto the “real” trails.  In addition to riding with Dirt Dawgs we did a lot of riding together this summer.  She started using her pedal bike more so we took a couple of trips into Mears and Shelby via the rail trail.  She also started riding a little on the trails with it.  This was her last summer on the Strider.  Next summer it will be pedals all the time.  I’m looking forward to it because it means more riding for me.

 

The only thing on our list that we didn’t get to was horseback riding.  Annelise had wanted to go horseback riding and while I had planned to do it and looked into several places, we didn’t make it happen.  One place would require her to be on her own horse and the other place would have required she rode with me.  I wasn’t sure which situation I was more comfortable with and she couldn’t decide whether she wanted to ride alone or not.    I didn’t intentionally put it off, but it happened and then school started and we got busy and she stopped asking so maybe next summer when she’s a little older will be better.  She did get to ride on Sandy though, does that count?

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We’re putting together a winter bucket list.  It includes things like skiing and skating and sledding along with a couple overnight trips.  We’ll get started on those right after the first of the year.

Contemplating our Mortality

Last week the SMC blogging community experienced the loss of one of our members.  Oberon at “B” is for baby” died suddenly leaving behind her five year old daughter.  The news was both shocking and scary.  As parents our worst fear is losing our children.  But closely following that is fear of leaving our children alone.  I think this fear resonates strongly with Choice Moms.  There isn’t another parent to be there if something happens to us.  For our kids we are it.

I never met Bethany (Oberon) in person, but we’ve been apart of the same blogging community for almost six years.  Like with so many other bloggers in our community it’s easy to forget we only know each other online.  We’ve gone through fertility treatments, pregnancies, births and parenting together.  We’ve been watching each other’s children grow up and because most of us don’t have a large network of other SMC to connect with in person, we use each other as resources for navigating our unique parenting choice.  When the rumor of her death was confirmed I found myself wanting to turn to her blog for answers for what happened and what happens next. But her voice is silent now.

There were many parallels between her and I.  We were the same age, our daughters are less than a year apart and we were both “one and done.”  As with others in our community, her death has me considering my own mortality.  Because it could happen to any of us.

When Annelise was potty training I had an epiphany; my job as her mother was essentially to prepare her to live without me.  She was on her little potty and I was in the other room talking her through it.  In order to be considered potty trained for school she had to be completely independent and she didn’t want to be.  Every time she’d call me in to help, I’d say “What would you do if mama wasn’t here?” and then talk her through the next step.  I remember thinking, “This is basically what being a parent is about, teaching her how to do things for herself so that someday she won’t need me.”

Like many families we have a plan to follow in the event of a fire.  We started practicing our fire plan when she was two.  But we also have plans for what to do if you find yourself alone in the house, what to do if mommy’s not at the bus stop and what to do if you can’t wake mommy up.  While all families should have emergency plans for us it’s imperative.  Every morning when I put her on the bus and then get in my car to drive to class or run errands I worry about what would happen if I were in an accident.  What happens if I’m not there at the end of the day to meet the bus?  She knows she’s not suppose to get off the bus unless I’m there but what if she gets caught up with the other kids and doesn’t look until she’s off the bus.  We’ve talked about where she can go to ask for help.  But still everyday on my way home from class I imagine myself getting in an accident and my daughter being alone outside our apartment building.  There’s also been several nights when I’ve called or texted family members and friends asking them to call or text me in the morning and to make sure I answer.  While am sure the tightness in my chest is anxiety and not a heart attack and the throbbing in my head is a headache and not a stroke, if something were to happen to me during the night who knows how long before anyone would notice and come to check on us.  For the first time in over a decade I have a home phone line, specifically so I can teach Annelise to call 911.  Bethany’s death made me realize I may not be crazy for worrying about these things and making plans for Annelise to deal with them.

Her death was also a reminder of why I blogged.  As the news of her death was shared online someone mentioned her blog and if her family knew about it.  It’s a record in her own words and with pictures of her journey to have her daughter and their life together.  Some day that will be priceless to her daughter.

When I started blogging at It’s Definitely Possible, I did it as a way to connect with women experiencing the same thing I was.  Then during my pregnancy and the early years with Annelise it became a record of our story.  I know I could have  just as easily written it in a private notebook, but for me it was important to send those memories out into the Universe. The first memories I have are at age three and there are only a handful of those.  Without another significant person in our lives I knew that I was going to be the person who held all of Annelise’s early memories.  I wanted to make sure they survived me.  So I gave those memories to anyone who was willing to read them and trusted that if Annelise should ever need them they’d find their way back to her.  The posts from It’s Definitely Possible, have been taken offline but they still exist and should anything happen to me Annelise will have access to them.  My blogging here is less confessional (and less frequent) but I still try to keep a record of our life together.

I’ve been reflective this past week.  Thinking about the legacy I’d leave Annelise and what memories she will have of me.  I know at this age, if I were to die she would have very few concrete memories of our life together.  What she’ll know about me she’ll learn from the people who knew me or the words I left behind.  More than anything I hope she’ll remember feeling safe and being loved.

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Annelise’s rendition of our family.  Her teachers tell me whenever she draws her family she draws me and then a smaller identical person as herself.

Take me home…

Every morning at FloydFest there were ukulele lessons for the kids in the Children’s Universe which we were camped right next to.  One morning they sang John Denver’s “Take me home, Country roads” and changed the words to “western Virginia” instead of West Virginia.  At the time the sang was written and when John Denver recorded it, none of the song writers had ever been to the area so they may as well have been singing about Southwest Virginia.

I never thought I would fall in love with a place the way I have fallen in love with that little corner of the world.  It was never my plan to live in the South.  I had been trying to move out west and not having any luck with employment when the job in Roanoke became available and I decided to take it.  Even then it wasn’t my plan to stay long.  I thought maybe it would be a stepping stone to a position out west.  Now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.  Well… I guess I could still see myself living out west.  So it must be the mountains.  I apparently need mountains.  But it’s more than the landscape.  I have grown to love the culture, and community.  I plan to move us back someday (hopefully sooner rather than later) and I’m torn between living in Roanoke (the convenience of a city, but still with a small town feel) or living out in the country where we could have same land.  One of my favorite “I’m bored at work” pastimes is looking up land and farms for sale in Floyd.

I jokingly refer to Annelise and I as Appalachian refugees, so our trips back each summer are more like homecomings than a vacation visit.  This year we were there for just over 10 days.  It’s never long enough.  I’m already trying to manipulate my schedule next summer to be there for a couple of weeks.  We never have time to visit all our old stomping grounds or see all our friends.  So if we missed you this time around, don’t worry we’ll be back.  I’m definitely planning a trip for winter break, and possibly a long weekend in the fall.

We left for Virginia right after I took my exam for my summer class.  Drove straight through and got into Virginia about 2 am.  Annelise was a great little traveler.  We only had to stop once in Ohio for gas, supper and a potty break.  She managed to stay awake until we crossed the Virginia state line.

Measuring to see how much Annelise has grown since last summer…

 

We spent the first couple of days in Roanoke trying to catch up with our friends.  First thing I did the morning after arriving was to  go for coffee at our favorite coffee place.  I was experiencing a bit of whiplash.  I had been going nonstop since January and I could finally sit still.  As I sat there sipping my coffee chatting with friends I had these waves of panic feeling like I should be doing something.  I wasn’t use to being able to just sit.

Of course our visit coincided with a heat wave.  Triple digits almost everyday.  So we sought relief in the water.  We spent a day at Smith Mountain Lake.  An urban canoe trip on the Roanoke River.  A morning playing in the Elmwood Park fountains.  And several trips to the Johnson-Deel pool (seriously the best kiddie pool in town).

Of course the highlight of our trip was FloydFest.  It’s always hard to write about FloydFest.  It’s something that needs to be experienced.  I hope we can continue making it part of our summer tradition for many more years.  This year the kids were a little more independent which always makes it easier on us parents.  There was a lot of talk this year about them having their own tent.  Annelise slept in it the first night and did fine, but I didn’t.  I kept getting up every few hours and going to check on her to make sure she was covered.  She spent the rest of the nights in my tent but everyday would drag her cot back to the kids tent.  They’d sit in there and talk about whatever preschoolers talk about.

Pictures are always better than words anyways so here’s some of the highlights this year.

Annelise was particularly drawn to stilt walking, juggling, and hooping.  At some point she may join a circus.  I bought her a Chinese Yo Yo which she has enjoyed trying to get to work and we brought home a set of block stilts so she can practice.

Leaving Virginia is always hard.  While we were there it began to feel like we had never left.  As I drove around town it just felt like we’ve always been there and that’s where we belong.  We got a later start than I had planned so we drove straight through the night.  Its been a long time since I’ve had to do that and the first time doing it without the dogs.  I always felt safe stopping for power naps in rest areas when  Izzy was with me.  I made it all the way into Michigan and to about three hours from home before I had to stop. Annelise was once again a great little traveler.  She slept most of the way and woke up at just the right time for me to get gas and a coffee refill.

I had to jump right back into work when I got back.  But I still had several weeks before classes started, so I kept my work hours at a minimum and we had some other adventures.

This trip confirmed in my mind that slowing down and waiting another year before nursing school is the right decision.  Annelise and I seemed to have disconnected.  This trip made me realize how much I missed this past year while I was working out of town and taking classes.  We just weren’t in sync like we use to be.  At times I almost feel like I was  already dealing with a teenager.  Things have been a little better since we’ve been home and we reconnected on a trip we took to Wisconsin the week after we got back from Virginia.  She’s growing up, I want to hold on to these moments as long as I can.

One Year in…

In the year that we’ve been in Michigan, I’ve gained 15 lbs, my hair is going gray and I’ve turned into a coffee drinker. I’ve completely transformed into a frumpy old lady.  I am not at all happy.  I tried really hard to write this post with out coming out and saying how unhappy I am but there’s really no way around it, and I don’t think anyone who’s talked to me in the past year is at all surprised that I’m not exactly loving my life here in Michigan.

I don’t regret coming back to Michigan.  There have been a lot of days when I have questioned that decision because for me life hasn’t gotten better.   But now my lack of sleep and lack of money is due to school and not just trying to support my little family.  The stress I’m experiencing now is temporary.  I didn’t see an end to our difficult situation in Virginia, so its still the right decision but living it day to day is very difficult.

I believe that ultimately I am responsible for my own happiness.  Two little phrases keep popping into my head whenever I try to solve my unhappiness problem.  The first one is “If you don’t like where you are move… you’re not a tree.”  Ah… if only it were that easy.  Returning to Virginia wasn’t in our original plan.  When we packed up the house I gave my piano away, and as John was loading it on the truck he said, “We’ll hold onto it until you come back.”   I felt that was extremely optimistic.  I wasn’t planning to be back.  Our move to Michigan was suppose to be permanent.  But after a month of being in Michigan I decided I belonged in Virginia and all my decisions since have been geared toward getting us back as fast as I can.

I miss my community.  Since I didn’t have much of a social life in Virginia anymore I thought I would be okay moving to Michigan.  I thought it wouldn’t matter if I did nothing in Virginia or if I did nothing in Michigan.  Only after leaving did I realize how much the Roanoke community was a part of my life.  Sure, I never made plans anymore more and I missed a lot of big events since having Annelise, but the community was woven into my life. I didn’t necessarily need to make plans, wherever I went there would be friends.  If I went for coffee in the mornings, I could pretty much guarantee running into someone I knew.  If there was a band playing I wanted to hear, I’d just go and know some of my friends would be there.  I don’t have that here.

I also miss being among like minded individuals.  I’m a non-christian, pro-choice, liberal, feminist.  To almost everyone around me, even my family, I’m the enemy.  While they would probably not consider me an enemy the fact that they are fighting against everything I am fighting for puts us on opposite sides of just about everything.  For the most part we just avoid controversial subjects, but I have some acquaintances and coworkers who aren’t afraid to let me know just how wrong I am; my daughter is against God’s plan, raising her without religion is akin to child abuse, and I’m not going to be an effective nurse because without God I will be incapable of showing compassion (yep, someone actually said that to me).  Since moving to Michigan I’ve spent a lot of time crying in bathrooms.

So I don’t like where I am.  I’m not a tree, I can move.   But I can’t.  This is where I need to be right now.

The other little phrase that keeps popping into my head is “Bloom where you’re planted.”  That’s not so easy either.  In order to bloom here I need to put down some roots, that’s going to make it harder to move.  Ever since I decided that we would go back to Virginia as soon as I finished school, I’ve been in a mad dash to get done.  The week in between winter and spring semester I came to the realization that this mad dash might not be worth it.  I was communicating with my daughter via Facetime because I was working so much.  I missed her.  I missed being a parent.  My parents sort of took that over while I was working and going to school.  It was my mom that was getting her dressed, fixing her meals and putting her to bed at night when I wasn’t there and it felt like I was away more than I was home.  When I was there between shifts and classes I was studying.  She’d curl up in a chair in my room because she wanted to be near me, and that was our life.  I didn’t like it.  So I decided to slow down.

We’ve moved into an apartment.  While I appreciate my parents help, I want to be the one raising my daughter.  I’m not going to GVSU this fall.  I’ll go back to MCC.  I need one class (possibly two if I need to retake Chemistry) to get into their nursing program.  In the spring and summer I’ll take the last two classes I need for the Grand Valley BSN program and then decide whether to go straight for my BSN or get my ADN at MCC first.  That puts us in Michigan at least a year longer than I had planned.

I’m not thrilled about it.  There’s a lot of anxiety.  I feel like by slowing down I’m conceding and now we’ll never leave and I’ll be stuck here forever.  But if I slow things down maybe I’ll find the time to build some sort of life here and then I won’t be so unhappy.  I’ll be closer to bike trails so I can ride more and this winter I can teach Annelise to ski.  Maybe if I get out more I’ll meet more people and build a community here.  I think having our own space and feeling more in control of our lives is going to help (I’m a control freak, have I ever mentioned that?).  I’m not happy about being in an apartment.  I swore she’d always have a house, with a yard and a dog.  You know… all those things we use to have before we moved.  Of course we still have Kikapu, but she’s more of a cat.  Annelise wants a dog that will run with her.

So that’s me at a year into our Michigan adventure; exhausted, stressed out, and unhappy, but attempting to make the best of it.  Annelise on the other hand is doing great.  For the past year she’s had every kid’s dream… to live at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.  She’s excited about our new adventure in apartment living.  As we were walking up to the building the other day she said, “Lots of people live here.  They’re our neighbors and some of them will be our friends.”  While her mother is a pessimist, she is an optimist.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the things she’s done this past year…

June…

Asparagus festival, swimming lessons and Dirt Dawgs.

 

July…

Country Dairy, Lewis’ Farm Market and Floyd Fest.

 

August…

County Fair, and Pentwater Homecoming.  First trip to the dentist.

 

September…

The start of school and a trip to the zoo.

 

October…

More Lewis fun and Halloween.

 

November…

Baking banana bread with Grandma, and Thanksgiving at Aunt Sara’s.

 

December…

Grandpa was installed as President of the West Michigan Fire Chiefs and of course Christmas!

 

January…

Finally some snow and a happy Birthday.

 

February…

A Valentine’s Date to the Brown Bear and trip to VA to celebrate John Henry’s Birthday.

 

March…

The last of the snow, the first signs of spring and lots of long days watching Netflix’s while I study.

 

April…

Bike riding and tree planting.

 

May…

Mother’s Day, saying good-bye and a garden.

Saying Good-bye to my First Girl

Isolda Vom Lawson

I need to start by apologizing.  I sometimes forget that there are some of you that followed me over from my other blog and we don’t actually know each other in real life so my last post might have been confusing.  We said good-bye to Izzy in May.  She had been sick for awhile and I finally made the decision to let her go.

It was not an easy decision to make and one I had been dreading since before I even brought her room.  I remember a few days after getting the news that she had been born thinking about the life we’d have together and realizing that as a dog she would not out live me and I would have to eventually say good-bye.  The thought depressed me.  She actually lived longer than I expected.  I was told her life expectancy would be somewhere between 10 to 12 years.  She died just two months shy of 13.

She had been sick for awhile, probably longer than I realized.   I began to notice a decline right about the time we moved and initially I blamed it on that.  I thought the stress was having an effect on her and while it probably was I now realize she was probably sick before we moved but I just hadn’t noticed yet.  As soon as we got to Michigan I took her in to a local vet for a check up and to establish a relationship with them.  One of the first obvious indicators that something was wrong was that she was having accidents, not incontinence but she couldn’t hold her bowel movements.  And she had several horrible bouts of diarrhea.  Her digestive system has always been sensitive to change and she can get sick easily so at first I blamed the nervousness of the move.  But it didn’t improve and she began loosing weight.  Before getting sick she weighted around 55 lbs.  She dropped to 38 lbs within a few months of being in Michigan.

Last summer she also developed a tremor in her hind leg.  It grew increasingly worse and I began to notice that sometimes her back legs would drag and she wouldn’t jump anymore.  Her ability to use her hind legs rapidly decreased.  At a vet appointment in December reflex tests suggested significant nervous system damage and an ultrasound found a mass in her bladder.  We could surmise that she had cancer but without further testing we would not know for sure.  I could have taken her to MSU had her put under, opened up, and then put her through chemo. But she was an old dog and I didn’t know how many good years, if any, it would add to her life.  And I didn’t have the finances for that.  I decided to treat the pain, and keep her as comfortable as possible for as long as I could.  We would watch the mass in her bladder because if it grew to the point she couldn’t pass urine she would only have about 24 hours and she would be in a lot of pain.  When we went away in February I was afraid something would happen while I was gone and I wouldn’t be able to get back to her in time.

There were several times between December and May when I thought it was time and I was going to have to make the decision to have her put to sleep only to have her rebound after a couple of days.  Izzy was very stoic so it was hard to tell how much pain she was in.  She would still run to meet me whenever I came home and would gallop through the house because she was excited.  She would still play fetch as long as I was willing to throw the ball.  It was hard to think that she was sick enough for me to be considering putting her down.

But the bad days started to be more frequent.  And the bad days got worse.  There were times when I’d have to carry her up and down the stairs to our bedroom.  She wasn’t able to get up on the bed anymore and so I brought Annelise’s old crib mattress up and put it next to my bed.  On nights I wasn’t home my parents said she would often just stay on the main level and not attempt to go up to my room.  My mom also commented that when I’m not there she would just lay in her bed, that the excitement and galloping through the house was for me.  She was probably in a lot more pain that she was showing.

At the end of April she started to have a hard time moving around.  I was having to carry her up the stairs more frequently.  In the last few days I had put a gate across the stairs so that she wouldn’t attempt to follow me every time I went up or down.  And then one afternoon she fell trying to go up the stairs.  She had lost almost all use of her back legs.  She couldn’t even pull herself up from a sitting position.  In the weeks before this I could tell she was getting very near the end.  I just wasn’t ready to say good-bye yet.  I was at the end of a very stressful semester where I had been too busy to do anything other than work and study.  I wanted more time with her.  I didn’t want to try to squeeze saying good-bye in between class and work.  But the day she fell on the stairs I knew that might be it.  There are two steps that she needs to make in order to get in and out of the house.  Even when she couldn’t make the entire flight of stairs up to the second level she could still take those two steps and now she couldn’t.  I needed to carry her in and out of the house.  Due to her issues with bladder and bowel control she was going out almost every hour (and was having more accidents in the house).  My mother wasn’t going to be able to lift her and I couldn’t always be there.  If she couldn’t get in and out of the house on her own, I knew that it was time.  When I went to bed that night I prayed that in the morning she’d rebound and I could put it off a few more weeks.  But she didn’t and I knew it was time.

I told my parents and Annelise that today would be the day and then called the vet on my way to class.  They scheduled us for the last appointment of the day.  We were some what prepared.  I had already made arrangements with my sister to have her buried on their property and Annelise and I had been having almost nightly talks about what was going to happen to Izzy so this was not a shock or surprise to her.

After I got home from class I spent the rest of the day with Izzy.  Sitting with her when she didn’t have the energy to get up or playing a very labored game of fetch.  I let her eat all the things she had not been allowed to eat before, she looked at me rather suspiciously when I gave her chocolate cake.  And then when it was time my parents and Annelise said their good byes and we headed to the vet.  I made arrangements with them to meet me outside.  I didn’t want to take her into the building because I was afraid it would make her nervous and I didn’t want her to be afraid at the end.

There was a field out behind the building where we played fetch.  Her spirit was so strong right up until the end.  Which I think made it harder for me.  I think she would have continued to fight for as long as I needed her to but it was becoming very obvious that she was in pain.  Adrenaline kept her going for a little while, but the last few times I threw the ball she brought it back using only her front legs to drag her body across the field. She’d drop it in front of me and look up as if to say “throw it again.”  The vet came out and gave her a sedative, then I threw it a few more times while the drug kicked in before we moved to van where I had set up her bed.  I held her while she fell asleep and then the vet came back and gave her the lethal dose.  I held her and could feel as her heart slowed down and then stopped.

During the day my sister, Charity, had gone out and dug a hole at the back of their property.  My dad met me out there and together we buried her.  Then I sat down and drank a beer and said good-bye.  I stayed by her grave until it started to get dark and then I headed home.

A week later Annelise and I painted rocks and took them out to Izzy’s grave with some flowers.  This was Annelise’s first experience with death.  It has been confusing for her.  She knows that Izzy had to leave our family because she was old and sick but she couldn’t understand where she was going or more accurately that she was just going to be gone.  We talked a lot about the “circle of life” (thank you Disney) and how every life has a beginning and an ending.  And that when someone dies they can’t be with us anymore (thank you Bambi and Little Foot).  When I took Annelise to the grave and told her that’s were Izzy was, she looked at me and said, “Are you sure?  Because I don’t hear her barking.”  Trying to explain that Izzy was gone and only her body was buried was a little too much for her to grasp.

We’re all adjusting to life without her.  It was another week after that when I think it really hit Annelise that she was gone.  We had been playing at the Children’s Museum and there was a stuffed dog that reminded her of Izzy.  She didn’t want to leave it behind and became inconsolable as we left.  When I got her into the car in between sobs she said, “I just have so many feelings.”  I told her feeling sad and crying about it was okay.  So she cried the entire way home.  She still lists Izzy among are family members, but will add, “but she’s not with us anymore.”

I think Kikapu is confused, because of course I can’t explain it to her.  For several days I could tell she was looking for Izzy.  Whenever I would take her outside she’d bark and wait for a reply.  She’s gotten more clingy.  She’s started following me around the way Izzy use to.  Nights were hard at first.  She couldn’t figure out where to sleep since she has always slept near Izzy.  She kept trying to get into bed with me, but I wasn’t go to fall for that.  I think she’s adjusting and in her own way attempting to fill in for Izzy.  She’s become a lot more “protective.”  She still won’t actually do anything other than make a lot of noise, but she tries.

I still feel like she should be here.  Malinois are “velcro dogs” they pick their person and stick to them like velcro.  I was her person.  She was never more than a few feet a way from me.  After being together for over a decade I’d grown accustom to moving in such away that I didn’t trip over her when I turned or changed directions.  I find myself still moving in that pattern and then realizing that she’s not there to bump into.  I still expect a nose to push open the bathroom door when I’m trying to pee or push on my elbow as I’m trying to type.  Tonight I noticed one of her tennis balls is still sitting on the patio, just waiting for her to pick it up and come drop it in front of me.  I’m often overwhelmed by a sudden panic thinking I’ve left her somewhere or she’s out there somewhere and needs me.  I’m sure that feeling will go away with time. But for now I miss her.

Our last photo together…

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The last picture I took during our last game of fetch…

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Some pictures of Izzy over the years…

 

 

 

 

Remembering Izzy

July 20, 2007…

HAPPY BIRTHDAY IZZY

How time flies. It’s hard to believe that Izzy is four years old today. So I’m taking a break from bike talk to switch to dog talk and share pictures of my baby. I’m also feeling a little guilty. I had to drop her off at the kennel this afternoon. It’s her birthday and I sent her there for the weekend. She doesn’t know it’s her birthday though, and she get treats when she comes home Sunday.

I got Izzy when she was eight weeks old. When I decided to get a dog, I spent about six months researching breeds and trying to decide what kind to get. I was taking it very serious, because it was almost a test for me. I’m selfish, have major commitment issues, and a short attention span. I couldn’t keep plants alive, and had gone through several cats, reptiles, and fish already. I couldn’t seem to keep an animal around for greater than a year. I’d lose interest and find it a new home. I was worried that someday I’d have kids, and then decide I really didn’t want them (I know that sounds horrible, but I was really concerned about it). I decided I’d start with a dog and see how I did.

I decided on a Dutch Shepherd after seeing one as a police dog. I contacted a kennel that had listed a litter of Dutch Shepherd puppies. They had sold all their dutch shepherds, but were expecting a litter of Dutch Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mixed puppies. I gave them a deposit and had first pick of the females.

Izzy was the only female in the litter. That was probably a good thing, because I also have a very difficult time making decisions. She was mine. A couple of weeks before I got her I received an email from the kennel telling me how she was growing and what she was like. They said she was bold, and was already starting to dominate the males in the litter. I began to wonder if bold was a nice way of saying I had a naughty dog. I guess she tested really well, and I think they were disappointed that she wasn’t going to be trained as a police dog. Her brothers were going to be trained and sold as police dogs.

Her full name is Isolda Vom Lawson. She’s named after the Irish Legend that Wagner based his Opera “Tristan & Isolde” on. (I have one dog named after an Opera and one named after a bike, I’m very diverse). Her official name needed to begin with an “I” because she was part of the “I” litter. It worked out perfect because I had already picked her name before I contacted them. I almost changed it to Isabel, because they flew her out of North Carolina right before Hurricane Isabel hit. I was afraid they wouldn’t get her out in time and I’d have to wait to get her. She arrived in Detroit 12 hours after leaving North Carolina. They flew her to Texas first and then to Michigan. I think she was very traumatized. When I finally got her and pulled her out of her crate, she started howling and wanted nothing to do with me. I felt horrible. I thought, “What have I done, I’ve made a mistake, I have a dog that hates me.” She continued to howl almost the entire way back to Grand Rapids. She finally calmed down when I let her sit on the seat next me instead of in the crate.

These are some pictures from her first night. She was so tiny.

Bold was a nice way of saying naughty. Izzy has been very challenging to say the least. After initially hating me, she now has severe separation anxiety whenever she’s away from me. She’s had some behavior issues. Two years ago I resorted to consulting an Animal Behaviorist (Doggy Psychologist). She’s very smart, and the behaviorist said that she had done a good job of training me. I had to make some changes, and she went on a hunger strike for a week. But I eventually won, and over the past couple of years she’s been doing a lot better, especially this past year. I think she’s finally growing up and slowing down a little, making her easier to control.

 

Here are some more pictures I dug up:

She had her own couch. She destroyed it and I had to put it on the curb this past winter. She went crazy when the garbage truck took it. I had to laugh.

 
She loves being in the woods. When she was a puppy she fell in a creek and for a long time hated water, I had to bribe her the first time she went in. Now she loves it.

All grown up. She looks all Belgian Malinois. The only thing she got from her Dutch Shepherd mother was her size. She’s a little on the small size for a Belgian Malinois, only about 50 lbs.

 

Hanging out with her little sister. I got Kikapu (named after my first mountain bike), on the advice of the doggy psychologist. Having a second dog has helped with some of Izzy’s anxiety. 

 
This is a picture from a camping trip last fall. Kikapu hated it. Izzy loved it, although she panicked whenever I tried to leave the campsite without her. She’s a little over protective, which has come in handy. I don’t worry about anyone coming through my front door. One night a strange guy knocked on my door in the middle of the night. I let Izzy slip through to the screen door and he quickly decided he had the wrong house.
 

 

 

April, 11, 2011…

I is for…

Isolda

Did you really think I’d have anything else to say about I.

I’ve written about Izzy before and if you want to know how she came to be with me you can find it here.

I was trying to find pictures of her as a puppy that I haven’t used before.  I got her before I had a digital camera.  So I scanned a couple of pages from her puppy book.  Yes, my dogs have puppy books much like baby books.

I have a special bond with Izzy.  I think every one who is a dog person has a special bond with their first dog.  Izzy has taught me a lot.  If you remember I got Izzy because I thought I needed practice in case I might want kids someday.  Well I’ve managed to keep her alive for almost 8 years, although she did require therapy at one point.
We’ve come a long way together.  From the beginning when getting her to do anything was a struggle, until now when all I have to do is give her a command and she does it.  I remember when she was about a year old trying to give her a bath and really struggling.  She was not going to let me groom her.  She fought and I cried and wondered if she was just going to have to be smelly her entire life because I couldn’t get her under control to bathe her.  Now all I have to do is say Izzy it’s time for a bath, go get in the tub and she does it.  She doesn’t particularly like it but she does it, and she’ll stand in there until I tell her she can get out.
Meal times use to be a power struggle and she once went a week without eating just to avoid submitting to me.  In the beginning I wondered if I would ever be able to leave the house for more than 2 hours, and then I wondered if I would ever be able to leave the house and come home without everything being destroyed.  I’ve lost track of everything she’s destroyed but the short list is, 2 TV remotes, a heart rate monitor, one pair of cycling shoes, a pair of glasses, a cell phone, several books, CDs and DVDs, and too many bike shorts to even try to count.  I remember coming home to find she had eaten the chamois out of my favorite shorts.  I locked myself in the bedroom and cried.  Granted I left them where she could get them.  I was just so frustrated and really didn’t think I would ever be able to leave the house without first Izzy proofing it.  Thankfully those days are behind us.  I don’t even think twice about putting things up anymore.  She knows what’s hers and what’s mine.
She’s my first girl.  I know there will be others.  There’s already Kikapu.  But I’m sure there will be more dogs in my life.  One day after she was born, but before she was with me I was thinking about her and was so excited that I was getting her when it dawned on me that one day I would lose her.  Barring some great misfortune I will out live her.  I was instantly saddened.  I’ve thought about that a lot lately.  We have less years together ahead of us than are behind us.  She’s slowing down.  I can see it in her play.  She wears out faster, takes longer to recover and spends more time sleeping.  I sometimes feel guilty because when she was this insane overly hyper puppy all I wished for was for her to get old and slow down.
She’s still my girl.  She still hikes and rides with me.  She still loves to play fetch.  It’s her favorite thing in the world.  I’ve been taking more time to cuddle with her, although she hasn’t been much of a cuddler since she was a puppy, that’s sort of been Kikapu’s job.  But every now and then she’ll push Kikpu out of the way, sit down next to me and put her head in my lap.  She’s such a sweet girl.

 

July 20, 2011…

My First Girl

Eight years ago tonight I got the email that Izzy was born. Her full name is Isolda Vom Lawson, but she goes by Izzy. 

Here’s a picture of Izzy less than 24 hours old…

And a more recent picture…

If you’re curious about how Izzy joined our little family I wrote a blog post about it on her fourth birthday which I realized today was half her lifetime ago. You can find it here.

If you’ve read either of my blogs it’s pretty obvious that my dogs are more than just pets.  When I decided to add a little two legged member to the family I knew that my relationship with them would change, and it actually brought a little bit of sadness especially as I thought of Izzy.  She’s my girl.  We’ve been through a lot together.  She’s been my protector, comforter and best friend.  She’s also broken me in and prepared me for motherhood. 

Our relationship has changed.  Prior to getting her everything I read about her breed said that you should have experience with owning dogs before getting one, this breed is not meant for first time dog owners.  I thought I could handle it.  We barely survived puppyhood.  I remember once when she was just over a year old locking myself in the bedroom and crying while she sat outside the door whining.  She destroyed everything (that day it was a new pair of cycling shorts), she wouldn’t do anything I told her, she tried to attack anyone who came near us, and going to the dog park was out because she beat up all the other dogs.  It took a lot of patience, and a lot of training, but now she is a wonderful obedient dog.  I never imagined we’d get to the point we’re at now.

A couple of months ago I was giving her a bath, something that use to be an extremely traumatic experience and would typically have me in tears and now is as simple as Izzy go get in the tub it’s time for a bath (and she really will do it), while I was rinsing her off she slipped and feel down.  It reminded me of something that would happen to an “old” person.  I suddenly realized not only is she not a puppy anymore, she’s not even a young dog, she’s considered a senior.

Her life expectancy is only 10 – 12 years.  Today she turned 8.  While that thought made me sad it also made me realize something else, my child will not remember her.  By the time my baby is old enough to form long term memories, Izzy will be gone.  There will be pictures and stories, but to my child Izzy will be the dog my mom had before I was born.  It makes me sad that s/he will not have a relationship with the dog that basically prepared me for them.

There will be other dogs.  When Izzy turns 10 I’ll get another Dutch Shepherd/Belgian Malinois.  I will probably always have a “Bigdog.”  But there will never be another Izzy.  Right now I focus on the time I get to spend with her, enjoying every hike, every cuddle on the couch.  I know in several months things will change drastically.  I’m excited for her to meet the baby, she’s always loved kids and been good with them.  I’ll cherish the time they get to spend together.  And when she’s gone I’ll make sure my child knows how special she was and how she helped turn me into a mama.

August 25, 2014…

Lost

How long do you look for something that is lost?

Does the length of time indicate how much you care?  As in you look for things you care about longer than those you don’t.  Or does the likelihood of finding it dictate the length of the search as in you’ll look longer for something you’ll likely find because the odds are eventually you will and you don’t spend much time looking for something that you’re unlikely to find because its wasted effort, like the needle in the hay stack?

But what if what’s lost is unlikely to be found but of great value?  Is the search worth it even if its futile?

I began mulling this over about a month ago when we lost the thing that is most dear to Annelise, her Boo.  She has a security blanket she calls “Boo.”  The term “Boo” evolved from blue blanket and there is an entire story that goes with the “Boos” there is more than one (they’re not all blue) and they each have their purpose.  But this was the special, go everywhere with her Boo.  Because I made Boo, I was somewhat prepared for it with a back up Boo waiting in the wings.

It was one of my days off and I needed to go grocery shopping but I also wanted it to be a fun day for Annelise.  We made a plan to go to the park in the morning followed by the grocery store and then home for a late lunch and nap.  We had fun at the park.  She played.  I carried Boo and her water bottle.  We drove to the grocery store and on our way across the parking lot Annelise pointed out the “Baby store” which is what she calls Once Upon a Child. (Probably because of all the baby equipment out in front of the store).  It’s in the same shopping plaza and she wanted to go in so we did.  We looked through some of the clothes, then the shoes and finally the books, games and puzzles.  Then we left and walked down the sidewalk to the grocery store.  As I picked her up to set her in the cart I noticed she didn’t have Boo.  I checked my purse, sometimes she hands Boo to me to put in my bag/purse if she wants to use her hands.  It wasn’t there.  We immediately went back to OUAC and searched all the areas we had been in.  I asked at the counter if it had been turned in but we had no luck we didn’t find it.  I left my number and a description and they said they would call if they found it.  They asked if I was sure she lost it there and I said “Yes, she walked in with it.”  Because she always had it with her.  If she doesn’t as soon as I buckle her seat beat she asks for it (I’ve had to return to the house on several occasions or risk tears by leaving it behind).  Her car seat and bed are the two places she won’t be without her blanket.

We continued with our day.  I tried to explain as gently as I could that Boo was lost and that “new Boo” (the term for the back up Boo) would be her Boo now.  But as we drove home and had lunch I began to wonder how certain I was that she had walked in the store with it.  Had we left it at the park?  I had been carrying it with the water bottle and the water bottle had made it back to the van. 

It nagged at me.  So I packed her up and drove back to the park.  I didn’t tell her why because she seemed to be taking the loss of Boo fairly well.  I looked around and didn’t find it so we returned home.

I checked in with the store the next day and they still hadn’t found it.  Annelise settled in with new Boo, occasionally commenting that old Boo was lost, but I was having a difficult time letting it go.  I just had this nagging feeling that I hadn’t done enough to find it. I should have gone through every rack of clothing not just the areas we had been in.   I should have returned to the park immediately after noticing it was missing instead of finishing our shopping.  I should have gone through the trash bins at the park.  

I felt heartbroken that this item that was so special was just gone and that we had stopped looking.  Annelise has moved on.  She’s stopped call new Boo “new.”  It’s just Boo now.  There’s another new Boo waiting in the wings in case something happens to this Boo.  Annelise watched me knit it and would occasionally comment on old Boo being lost.

One am Sunday night/Monday morning I again found myself contemplating the time we dedicate to searching for something.  I was slowly driving my van up and down the street as the search for my missing dog stretched into its third hour.  The same street I had already been down several times.  First on foot then by bike and now by car.  I had been down every street in the area several times with no sign of Izzy.

She’s gone missing before.  Last time she was gone for 12 hours.  That time I had found her the way you find anything, via the Internet.  I put a plea on Facebook, it got shared and someone noticed a dog loose that could possibly be her.  I got a call but wasn’t too hopeful because it was a ways from our house, but headed in that direction anyway.  As I neared the area there she was trotting down the road cakes in mud and extremely exhausted.

You’d think that since she’d been lost and found before, I’d feel confident that she’d again find her way home.  But I wasn’t.  I remembered a statistic I had read when she was lost the first time about how only 20% of animals are found. Can you really get lucky twice? (I have since learned that statistic is misleading, only 20% of animals in shelters are reunited with their owners.  That statistic for all lost animals being found is somewhere between 60% and 70%).  

And while this disappearance started the same as the last, going after a rabbit when I let her out for the last time before bed, this situation was also very different.  She was five years older.  She was now a senior dog.  I didn’t know if she could take it physically.  I didn’t know how far she would have to travel back after she realized she had gone too far.  And would she even be able to find her way back?  We were on vacation.  We’d been at my parents for almost two weeks.  We’d taken daily walks through the neighborhood but would she know how to find her way back?  Would her instinct to get home cause her to try to head for Virginia?

As soon as she took off and I realizes that simply calling to her wouldn’t bring her back, I returned to the house to dress (I was already for bed) and start a search.  When I realized she’d gone beyond our block I went back for my bike.  I rode in a grid pattern street by street calling to her.  A police officer and another late night biker joined in, but the officer went off duty and the cyclist went home, so offer a couple of hours it was just me.

I literally rode every street in town (it is a small town) at least once.  What lay beyond the town was open fields.  About 1 am I returned to my parents house and then headed out again in my van.  I was losing hope at this point.  I had called her name up and down every street and she hadn’t come.  I worried she was beyond the city trotting through on of the fields trying to find something familiar. Or worse that she had been struck by a car on one of the roads leading out of town.  I knew that if she was able she would try to find her way back, but would it be to my parents house or would she attempt the trek home?  And what if she wasn’t able?  What if she had been found and take in and the person didn’t want to call because it was late?  What if she had lost her collar?  What if she was injured?  What if someone had grabbed her and hurt her (I had just read a story in the local paper about someone being arrested for killing a dog)?  There were so many what ifs?  

I’d already cried, prayed and begged.  When I returned to my parents to get my keys to switch from the bike to the van I slipped into Annelise’s room and because she seems to have a special connection to the Universe, when I kissed her forehead and saw her eyelids flutter I told her to tell the Universe that we needed Izzy to come home.

As I retraced my grid search in the van I wondered what I would tell Annelise in the morning.  How would I break the news that Izzy was lost?  I started to make plans for what I would do in the morning.  I would again turn to Facebook but my reach wouldn’t be as great, I only had a few friends in town but hopefully they would share it.  I’d check with the shelters.  I’d make posters.  I scanned my phone to see if I had a usable picture.  I hoped someone would find her and call the numbers on her tags.  I was thankful that many, many years ago I had thought to include my parents’ number on her tag.  And if her collar was lost I hoped that she would be taken somewhere where her chip would be scanned.

By 1:30 I was running out of city streets.  

The last time she was lost something else happened.

I’d stopped looking.

I’d searched the neighborhood and when I hadn’t found her I reasoned that if she could come back she would have.  Someone must have taken her in.  I returned home, took enough Ambien to knock myself out and slept with the door open in case she wandered back.  In the morning I placed a Craigslist ad, called animal control, hung signs and posted to Facebook.  But she hadn’t been taken in.  She had been out all night.  I never forgave myself.

So this time I would keep looking.  When I ran out of streets I’d venture a little further out increase my search area.  I’d drive around all night.  Not because I thought I would find her but because she deserved to be looked for.  

I had two more streets to go when I turned a corner and saw an animal about a block up.  I tried not to get my hopes up.  I had run into numerous stray cats and one dog that looked like he might be lost, but wouldn’t let me get close enough to read his collar.  But as I got behind her I saw that it was my girl.  The lights scared her and she ran.  I jumped out of the van and yelled to her.  She stopped but didn’t come to me.  I realized that the lights were probably washing me out.  I got back in the van, turned off the lights, opened the sided door and slowly rolled up to her.  As soon as she recognized me (or the van) she jumped in and we headed home.

I seriously hope that is the last time I ever have to look for Izzy. I didn’t allow her to be off leash the rest of our trip.  If she keeps her disappearance interval at once every 5.5 years we should be good.  She’s 11.  Her life expectancy is 10 – 12.  She’s in her twilight years.  While I was riding around looking for her I decided she would spend all those years with me.  There has been some thoughts and discussions in the past about rehoming the dogs, especially Izzy.  My life would be easier without her.  She limits where we can live so I pay higher than normal rent.  Vacationing is hard, simply going away for a day is hard.  And she sheds, all over my house.

While she scares off the occasional random stranger in the night, for the most part I don’t need her anymore.  When put that way it sounds very harsh.  But my purpose in getting a dog and the need that was meet by her are no longer there.  She did her job and now she deserves to spend the rest of her life in comfort with the only family she knows.  While I was looking for her I also realized I need those years with her.  I need to know how her story ends and to be with her when it does.  If I had not found her the not knowing would haunt me.

Thankfully I don’t have to explain to Annelise that Izzy is lost.  Another Izzy wouldn’t be as easy to knit as a new Boo.  After the search, I slipped back into Annelise’s room gave her another kiss and thanked her for telling the Universe that we still need Izzy.  She woke up the next morning, helped me get Izzy and Kikapu’s breakfast like she does and never knew it could have been a very different type of morning.

Annelise with her Boo…

and her Izzy.