Monday, March 30, 2009

Babies, babies, babies!

At a party last week, one of the women brought her six-week-old son. He's a cute little critter, but I had no experience to share, and I was not one of the women reaching out to hold him. People's cats always wind up in my lap, but babies, nope.

A few nights later, I had dinner at a home of a woman in my church choir. I had already seen her personalized "Nana" license plate, but when I walked in the door, her walls were so plastered with photos of her children and grandchildren it made me dizzy. The other guest, who always brings her granddaughter to church with her, cooed appropriately, but I immediately knew we wouldn't have much to talk about. As she gave the tour of the house, we had to hear who was in each picture and what they were doing, and I began to regret turning down the glass of wine she had offered. It's a lot like those folks who send Christmas newsletters telling all about kids we've never met and never will. When we finally sat down to chat, I summoned the calico cat to sit in my lap. I loved the vibration of her purring against my thighs even as my sinuses clogged up with allergies. Thank God for cats.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm childless and strong

I'm turned 57 years old last week. Don't panic, book editors. I look 47 and have the energy of 37, as you will see. My age is not the point—or is it?

If you had dropped by my house recently, you would have seen me shovel ice from the driveway and sidewalk, move 600 pounds of wood pellets, assemble and transfer a dog crate almost as big as I am from garage to car and back again, take the pellet stove apart and clean it, shovel dirt for two hours in my back yard, walk one big dog for a mile and turn around and walk the other big dog for another mile, pretzelize my body in yoga class twice a week, plant eight cement stepping stones in my back yard, scoop about a hundred pounds of dog poop, fix my own toilet, stand at the top of a ladder moving boxes, and arrange for construction of a new fence, plus all the girl stuff one would expect, the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

When my mom, God rest her soul, was 57 or even 37, she could not do any of these things. She had no idea how, and she barely had the physical stamina to walk to the end of the block. My father and my brother handled all the "guy jobs." With all her needlework, Mom probably had the nimblest fingers in California, but she never exercised the rest of her body, never really took good care of herself. She was too busy taking care of Dad and my brother and me. It was what women in her family did. If Dad had died first, she would have had to call my brother or a neighbor to help the "poor widow."

I refuse to play that role, even though I'm alone now. My husband, who has Alzheimer's, is in a care home, and I don't have children because he had his share before I met him. When the job is truly too big for one person, I do call for help, but I'm smart, I have muscles, and I have no sons to call on. If I don't know how to do it, I can learn.

Part of this comes from being my father's daughter. At 86, he is strong and stubborn. But part of it comes from being childless. I think we have to be more self-reliant. Perhaps I have mentioned my Aunt Edna here before. She celebrated her 100th birthday on Dec. 29. She has been widowed for about 50 years and never had children. She was well into her 90s before she needed help from anyone, and she had already made arrangements to move into a senior residence. Likewise, her sister Virginia, who is 92, lived on her own until she fell last year and broke her neck, but darned if she isn't up and ornery as ever, even though she still has some health challenges to conquer. In Grandpa Fagalde's day, he would have called Edna and Virginia "tough old birds." Well, that's what I want to be, too. I want a big crowd like the one that gathered for Aunt Edna's birthday to talk about how strong Aunt Sue was, not about how sad it was that she never had children.

Now I'm not saying that moms can't be strong. Raising children is hard work, but some mothers just don't learn to be independent or physically fit. I have a close mom friend who is my age and can barely walk. She says she's "old." I'm just saying there might be a connection.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dogs too much for me?

I know this is not about babies; it's about dogs. Again. If I had children who turned big and wild right as I was becoming a single parent, I don't know how I would handle them. They might end up in foster care. Then again, I wouldn't be in my 50s, so I might have the energy to parent them properly. Perhaps if I had had children, I wouldn't have felt so driven to raise puppies. Anyway, that ship has sailed.

With my husband in a care home and his doctor confirming yesterday that he needs to stay there, I'm on my own. I'm grieving and trying to adjust to big changes in my life. I know I'm not thinking straight, but for the first time, I'm wondering if I should find another home for Annie and Chico. The dogs were in the kennel last night and this morning, and it was so peaceful.

When I went to pick them up, I was asked not to bring Chico back. He's too aggressive toward other dogs. I don't see him that way, but he and Annie are very rough with each other, clacking their teeth, throwing each other around, banging into the door, the furniture, my knees. I need to acknowledge their half pit bull-cousin ancestry. They love me and would never hurt me on purpose, but I can't handle them both at the same time. Chico can pull me right off my feet. I wish I'd had these thoughts before I approved a $2,000 fence and the posts were cemented in. I love my dogs. They're only a year old, and they will calm down, I hope, but maybe they're too much for me.

Of course I didn't expect them to get so big, and I didn't expect to be alone at this point.

Even as I pet these big dogs and hug them to me for comfort, they exhaust me. I wonder if I should give them away. I don't want to separate them. They're siblings who have always been together. Maybe the new fence, going up tomorrow, will make life manageable. But are they worth the effort now that my life has changed so dramatically? My father says I should get rid of them. He may be right.

Then again, he doesn't like my stepchildren either.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dogs don't care why you're crying

I'm having a depressed day. It took an hour to pry myself out of bed, seeing little reason to do so. But for the dogs, I might never get up, and now I'm spending the day with these beautiful creatures whose only concerns are eating, sleeping, playing and peeing. My husband's condition is worse every day. I try to wall off my emotions, but it doesn't always work. Earlier I was sitting at my desk, crying. Human children would want to know why I was crying and demand that I fix them breakfast, but Annie just let me hold her. She and Chico both licked my face, and now they welcome me to their pack, no questions asked, no "what's the matter", no "snap out of it", no "I need . . ." You're sad; I'm here. That's it. You rarely get that from a child. Plus you have to suck it up so you don't worry them.

Get rid of the dogs? I can't. A lot of trouble? Oh yes. Expense? Wow. But they're what I've got now, and I'm glad to be in their pack. I took them from their mother; they're my responsibility. They're not like an old computer. They're living beings, looking at me with those big brown eyes, plopping themselves into my lap, welcoming me to their yard. As long as we all eat, sleep, potty and stay together, everything's cool.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Get rid of the dogs?

I'm having an $1,800 fence built for my dogs because they keep jumping over the exiting four-foot fence. Don't anybody tell my father--who believes computers are the work of the devil. He thinks I should get rid of the pups. My life is too complicated to deal with them now, he says. But these are my babies. I adopted them when they were 8 and 9 pounds. Now, at one year plus two weeks, they're about 65 and 70 pounds, but they're still my puppies, and they're the only babies I'll ever have. I can't just give them away. They're family.

Yes, they interrupt my work, my meals, my favorite TV shows. They have ruined the carpet and they're always chewing up something, but I'm proud of how beautiful they are and how much they have learned. When they smother me with kisses or fall asleep leaning against me, my heart melts. I have made a commitment to them, to love them and care for them for life. When they go, I'll get one small old lady dog, but Chico and Annie are family. Sorry, Dad. Maybe this is some of that immaturity that comes from not being a mom, but when you say get rid of the dogs, I'm more determined than ever to keep them.