Monthly Archives: October 2010

Abby and Abi: A Love Story

When I started dating Mike in 2006, only one of his three siblings had children (actually, that’s still the case).  He had a nephew Josiah, 2, and a niece, six months.  I was delighted to learn that the niece’s name was Abigail and she was born in February.  Can you say “meant to be?”

Maybe, I thought, she’ll be my little soul-mate and we’ll be one of those aunt-niece duos who are totally inseparable because when she’s small I’ll play with her and when she’s a teenager I’ll listen to her secrets. 

Considerable expectations to place on a six-month-old, eh?

Four years later, I’m happy to report that my dream is becoming reality.  Abi is now four and a half, and we are best buddies.  I only see her about four times a year because she lives in Spokane, but when we’re together we make up for lost time.

Exhibit A:  Airplane.  It’s a classic.

So much of what I admire about Abi is that she is the four-year-old I wanted to be.  I was extremely shy until I was about nine years old, so the fact that she bosses us all around at age four is totally awesome.

One of Abi’s most endearing qualities is the way she makes declarative statements without hesitation.

“Aunt Abby?” she said to me in the car one day.

“Yes?”

“You’re the best Abby ever.”

She said it like that, like “an Abby” is an animal species or type of fruit.  Despite that, or perhaps because of it, it totally won me over.

Shortly after the airplane scene, we were laying on the carpet like cats in pools of sunshine.  She crept over to me army-style, and started whispering.  Wendy, her mom (Mike’s sister), was sitting across the room listening to the kid-whisper that’s never really a whisper, because it can be heard from 10 feet away.

“Abby let me tell you a secret,” she began.  “Sometimes I go into the kitchen and sneak M&M’s.  Sometimes I run around when no one is looking.  And…” she paused, because this was a big one, “…sometimes when my mom doesn’t know, I go OUTSIDE.”

Her eyes were as big as quarters waiting for my reaction to her big reveal.

“NO WAY,” I kid-whispered back.

“Don’t tell!” she added frantically.

I promised I wouldn’t.  But, I guess I just did.  Sorry, Abs, I’m sure you’ll understand one day when you have a blog of your own (since we’re soul-mates, you’ll obviously be a writer).

Exhausted by this exchange, she crawled up on me for a quick rest.  Apparently spilling your secrets is a lot of work.

Wendy now has three kids (Eliana is two) so does my affection for Abi mean I’ve rejected two-thirds of my niece-nephew clan?  Of course not.  I adore them.  But they have so many aunts and uncles that they have special relationships with each of us.  After all, until I have my own kids, I don’t have to learn to dance around that timeless question of “am I your favorite?”

I say “timeless” because I’m still asking my parents that question — I am the middle child, natch — and they still say, “You’re our favorite middle child.”  Ugh.  Such a cop-out.

The biggest risk in becoming close with my niece is that it might set up unrealistic expectations for my own daughter, should I have one.  What if I’m looking at her and I’m thinking to myself, “Abi wouldn’t have done it like that,” or “Abi would have TOTALLY HANDLED that sitch,” or “Why can’t you be more like Abi?”

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is exactly how life was meant to unfold — Abi will be older than my daughter, and will therefore have serious Abi-impact on her.  She’ll teach her the special art of bossing people around with enough charm that they actually enjoy it.  My little girl will totally benefit from knowing Wendy’s little girl.

In the meantime, I can’t wait for Abi to be a young adult so I can have her over to my place, where we’ll have a glass of wine and I’ll tell her about that one time she did something ridiculous, and we’ll laugh and cheers to the good God who thought we should be in the same family, with the same name.

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All Dogs Go to Heaven

I promised myself I wouldn’t write another post involving a dog for at least a year, but sometimes life overwhelms promises.

On Saturday morning I got a phone call from my mom telling me that Belle had died in her sleep.  I’ve written about Belle before, and how I have a special affection for her because she’s been in our family since I was 14.  However, I didn’t expect that affection to translate to unstoppable tears at her passing, but it did.

After writing several semi-heartless posts about not wanting to get a dog, it was surreal to feel absolutely heartbroken at the loss of one.  I’ve heard people always say that their dogs aren’t just pets, they are family members, and on Saturday I really understood that.

Part of what is so special about Belle is that we always maintained that she was a good dog because she knew that we had rescued her.  My parents were taking a walk around the neighborhood in 1998 and saw a very cute puppy being walked by its owner.  They stopped to pet the dog and discovered that the owner wasn’t the owner at all, but rather someone who had found the puppy after it had been shoved under a fence from a neighbor’s yard.  This person told my parents they were planning to take the puppy to a shelter since she couldn’t keep it, and instead my parents said they wanted her.

You can imagine our surprise when my parents walked up to our house after their short walk around the block and had a puppy in hand.  None of us hesitated to say YES to this dog.

(I wish I could post a picture of her at that age, but this was 1998 and the only photos my parents have are on actual film.  It’s so strange to think about not having a digital photo to post.)

Ever since that fated beginning, she was as loyal as they come.  She was razor-sharp smart, fiercely protective of our family and home, and a freakishly skilled fetcher.  She was the kind of dog of which all dog-lovers dream.

I didn’t realize the full extent of that protectiveness until part way through high school.  I went to Homecoming with my date and we came back to my parent’s house after the dance.  My parents had already gone to bed, so my date and I walked in the front door and turned to see Belle standing at the top of the staircase.

Like a lion, she slowly crept down the steps, one by one.  She never took her eyes off of my date.  He looked at me nervously and I reassured him Belle wouldn’t attack him, but actually I wasn’t so sure.  As we walked further inside we heard a low, threatening growl and we froze in place.

My date said, “I don’t think, um…maybe I should just go.”

I couldn’t help but smile.  Belle, despite being a lady, was the older brother I never had.

In the last two years she slowed down considerably, no longer able to fetch the ball across the yard.  She also became somewhat incontinent, yet my parents never wavered in their care for her.  I once commented that they were incredible in ways that so many pet owners might not be — they refused to put her to sleep because they honored her life no matter the inconvenience to themselves.

“I hope you remember this when I’m incontinent,” my mother joked, only half-joking.

Just last Thursday my mom was voicing her concern that Belle could die while they are in Israel next week.  She was panicked at the thought of it happening when they couldn’t care for her.  When my mom called and told me she had passed, she couldn’t help but note that this was Belle’s last act of loyalty; her last moment of grace that she would go when they could say goodbye.

I will say that I was absolutely stunned by the display of compassion from people in our lives.  My mom and I both shared on Facebook and through texts that we had lost Belle, and our friends and family could not have been more sympathetic.  I never expected people to care, especially about a pet many of them had never met.

It certainly jolted me out of my dog apathy, because before I lost Belle I would only have said, “I’m sorry” to hear that a friend had lost a dog, and not known the pain they were going through.  I know better now.

In one of my more tearful moments, I turned to Mike and said, “Where is she?”

“Don’t you know?” he replied.  “All dogs go to heaven.”

I smiled at the sweet remark, and couldn’t help feeling comforted.  My mom glanced over at Griffey, her other dog, and said, “Just look at her.  You can’t tell me dogs don’t have souls.”

Either way, I can guarantee you she had spirit.

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Crushing

Mike and I have had a bizarre summer, involving several solo out-of-state trips to non-vacation destinations.  

When I say solo I mean we each went separately.  

When I say non-vacation I mean Iowa, Nebraska and New Jersey.  

I will wait while you recover from the shiver of relief that our summer experience was not your summer experience.  

Add to that that Mike has spent every moment studying for the GMAT and you have yourself a less-than-ideal situation for those golden Seattle months of July, August and September.  

So last week we looked at each other and decided there was only one thing to do that weekend: get out of town.  We wanted to stay within driving distance to keep costs low, so we ruled out anything involving a plane.  We considered going to Victoria, BC, but we had been before and it didn’t feel compelling.  I suggested we head to wine country because it’s crush season (harvesting grapes) and it’s over the mountains so it would be 80 degrees.  

Done and done.  

We drove to Richland, WA early Friday afternoon.  Before we even hit the pass, we felt the champagne-like bubbles running through our veins, the near-forgotten tingle of escaping the city and going somewhere new.  Neither of us had visited this part of the state before, unless you count the two visits to Yakima during high school for state-wide track meets.  Mike and I met during high school track, and we both distinctly remember riding in the bus together to those meets.  We also remember where the coach always took us to eat: Miner’s Drive-In Restaurant.  

Restaurant is a really loose term.  When I have to order my food at a counter resembling McDonald’s, I struggle to refer to it as a restaurant.  

It only just occurred to me:  why was our track coach feeding his athletes fatty burgers during a meet weekend?  Nevermind.  

The nostalgia overwhelmed us so we pulled over in Yakima and visited Miner’s.  As I got out of the car Mike warned me, “Don’t be alarmed if people ask you if this is your Prom night.  It’s just because you’re so overdressed.”  I was wearing jeans.  

  

After arriving in Richland we checked into the hotel and then cruised around to see if there was anywhere fun to go at 8PM.  It didn’t take long for us to notice that Richland is not a city, it is a town.  One that closes at 8PM.  

We stopped at the grocery store to pick up some wine and then went back to the hotel.  We went to the hot tub and were having a splendid time when Mike decided to jump in the pool.  I had zero interest in giving up my little hot heaven for a cold splash of agua, but — am I alone in this? — what is it about watching someone else have fun in a pool that makes you feel like if you don’t jump in this exact moment you’ll always regret how you weren’t living life to the fullest and you’ve become that adult who never gets in the pool?  

Needless to say, two minutes later I was acting like an eight-year-old in the pool and loving life.  This is so much of why I married Michael — he’s gifted at getting me to lighten up.  

And I think after frolicking in a pool together, we’d really set the tone for our weekend.  Therefore, the next day we joyfully shimmied through the following wineries:  Goose Ridge, Tapteil, Chandler Reach, Terra Blanca, and Hightower.  

It was astonishing how gorgeous the vineyards were, how diverse the wineries were and how much money we felt compelled to spend after tasting people’s wines.  We quickly realized if we were the only people at one winery, there was almost no way to escape without a purchase.  However, if the place was packed wall-to-wall, we could taste the wine and then leave without feeling pressured.  

  

  

I’m pretty sure we bought at least one bottle per stop, however.  At least now we have a collection.  

And why not go for the cheesy attractions?  Why not stomp with the best of them?  Apparently saying to everyone, “I feel like ‘I Love Lucy!'” is neither unique nor witty.  In fact, it’s incredibly cliche.  Oh well.  Live and learn.  Oh wait, that’s another cliche.  

We are stomping grapes, though it's not obvious because the gifted photographer failed to include the focus of the photo.

On day two we visited Mercer, Airfield and Two Mountain.  On the way to Two Mountain (which was in a really rural area, comprised mostly of residences) Mike suddenly whipped the car in a U-turn and I started exclaiming, “what?  What’s wrong!?”  

“Didn’t you see that sign!?  Back there!  In the driveway!” Mike yelled.  

“What sign?  I’m trying to read you directions!” I replied.  

“FREE BLACK LAB PUPPIES!!!!!!!!!!”  he exclaimed (there are no number of exclamation points that can capture the look in my husband’s eyes).  

I had to cover my eyes with my hands because I couldn’t think of a better way to react to the news that I am totally and royally screwed.  It’s one thing to have a husband who constantly begs for a dog; it’s quite another to put five puppies of the breed he most wants in his hands and tell them they are his for free.  

We pull into the driveway and see two women come out of a double-wide and wave us over to their backyard.  I look into the backyard and see one little black furball laying in the grass and realize this is going to end badly.  Very, very badly.  

It’s not just one puppy.  It’s five puppies.  And they are perfectly black, perfectly perfect, and rolling all over each other to get to their mom.  There is a large red tractor that they all scramble under for shade and in two seconds Mike is on his hands and knees reaching for them like Lenny in Of Mice and Men.  

It’s not long before the begging begins.  

“Babe, please!  This is perfect!  It’s meant to be!  They’re free!  And we weren’t even looking for them and here they are and they need a home and maybe we could take two and if we don’t take them who will and we could just drive them home right now and I already have a name and…”  

I stare into the sky wondering what these ladies are thinking of me, the monster woman who won’t let her husband have a free puppy.  I turn to the lady to my left for a distraction and instead she is standing there with a box of six-day-old kittens.  

I burst out laughing.  Is the other lady going to appear with a crate of newborn bunnies for me to also turn down like the animal-hater I am?  Is the whole world uniting to bring me down?  

I realize that if we don’t leave quickly we will soon be the parents of five puppies.  I turn to Mike and ask him what the dog would do while we are at work every day from 8AM – 5PM.  Isn’t it mean to take the puppies when they would be alone and inside all day every day?  Is that really the best thing for them?  

But he’s just staring at me with a puppy in each hand.  

Eventually he agrees and we walk back to the car.  When I say “walk,” I mean I walked and Mike did the Charlie Brown sulk.  I finally know what it feels like to be a mom and tell my child he can’t have something he would die to have.  It is one of the worst feelings I’ve known.  

But one of the other reasons I married Mike is that he gets over things remarkably quickly.  We were only in the car for five minutes before he said, “OK, where’s the next winery?”  

That’s my guy.

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