This Business of Being Siblings

As I was walking out from a coffee shop with my brother, he commented on my children, He copies everything she is doing. A glance behind and I could see my daughter was twirling around, hiding behind a sign, and jumping through the bike racks. All with her younger brother right behind, a step-for-step shadow of each movement. My brother responded thoughtfully, It’s interesting to think, what would he be like without a big sister?

It is an interesting thought but the beauty of it is that there is no other way. He was a second born child and he will always have an older sibling to mimic, an older sibling to get mad at, an older sibling to be jealous of.

My brother, Peter, joined me at the Episcopal church I attend while he was visiting. He sat with us in the church and as we moved about heads turned and eyes discreetly yet noticeably followed him wherever he went. My brother is Catholic Dominican friar and dresses in white robes with a rosary dangling from his belt and a hood draped across his back. It is very medieval looking. He introduced himself to all who were bold enough to question his ensemble; those who were not will still remember him. He has this tendency. A tendency to be remembered. I have no doubt that people who never noticed me in church before will now remember who I am.

As a young child, many didn’t know it but my second name was “Pete’s sister.” When meeting my middle school history teacher, “You must be Peter’s sister,” she exclaimed, seeing our remarkable similarities within an instance. Meeting an upper-classman in high school, “You’re Pete’s sister, right?” Whether it was academic achievements, athletic accomplishments, or a visit to the headmaster, Peter somehow managed to burn an imprint of himself within others.

I am a second born child. My life knows nothing other than an older brother. Who would I be without him? Who knows. Who would my son be without his sister? Who knows. One thing I do know is that having a sibling makes jumping through bike racks more fun.

The Flow of Paint

My mother is a creative being. I don’t mean in the way one’s mom makes ants on a log for a snack or uses a safety pin as a zipper. I mean in a ladybug costume making, Star Wars party throwing, Christmas advent calendar sewing, thank-you card watercoloring, scrapbook compiling, kind of way. She breathes technicolor and dreams in blank canvases.

As you can imagine in my formative years I was exposed to many interesting art projects. Paper making with a sieve, rug weaving, painting furniture, shrink art necklaces, and sewing outfits for teddy, to name a few. Despite the fact that my pores do not seep art like my mother’s, in me she has borne a mind of creativity. I think sometimes my mom believes she failed at teaching me about art because I lack her enviable ambition, her desire to learn new techniques, and take more classes. After all, she has an entire room in her house dedicated to this.

It is true that I possess probably less than 10% of her knowledge but beyond this fact she can be entirely confident that creativity flows within me. Lately however, with two kids to raise art work has been sorely neglected and when I look into my art room my heart is heavy. Colored pencils, paintbrushes, gouache, card stock paper, stickers, albums, it goes on and on. My recent goal of simplifying my life does not run parallel with my collection, plus, each time I attempt to tackle a project I’m paralyzed by the overwhelming possibilities of what to create. What I’m looking at is a complete perpendicular intersection of stagnant stuff and opportunity. One in which I decided I must choose a direction.

I recall a watercolor instructor once stating that she only uses a 1/2” width paintbrush and paints using only Prang watercolors. You know, the kind that kids use in art class. This artist travels all over the country teaching watercolor. Can it really be so simple?

My favorite part about ridding my life of the unessential is that my true passions become revealed. Whether it’s my closet or my kitchen amidst the piles and piles of possessions an unveiling of the soul occurs. When I cleared out my books recently I decided to pick ten which were most important to me and start there. Within the pile were two Spanish books. I haven’t spoken Spanish in years yet I couldn’t let go of either book. I realized the importance of my desire to conquer a second language.

After I finally sat down to clear out my art supplies here’s what I learned:

  1. No one needs 20 different colors of tags to use as embellishments for scrapbooking.
  2. Scrapbooking is not my passion.
  3. 21 coffee stirrers to use as smudging agents are unnecessary.
  4. Markers, pens, and paint, oh my.
  5. My passions are watercolor and calligraphy.

Watercolor and calligraphy supplies are what I preserved in my clean out. This purge has been difficult but at this point in my life my art isn’t as important as doing it with my children. I am thrilled when my daughter asks to paint and her smears of color can be proudly displayed on the refrigerator. My own art will come. That blood does not cease to flow it just changes direction.

I hope to pass on to my children at least a fraction of what my mother taught me and I pray that the paint between my fingers lasts into my years of wrinkled smiles and age spotted hands.

Thanks Mom.

Grey Matter

This poem was inspired from a question asked to me by my father-in-law. Some time ago he asked me if I was happy. He was referring to my marriage with his son and the life we have built together. I answered a simple yes but have always been haunted by that answer. How do you put the emotions of happiness into words? Yes does not seem to do justice. Yes, beyond my dreams still doesn’t do it. Here is my answer. It still seems too simple but it is what I can muster. To my father-in-law, you have raised a good son who puts his family first. I am loved and protected. To my husband, thank you. (Again, I cannot figure out how to separate paragraphs so spacing is off.)

Grey Matter

He goes about his day on an axis,

turning,

rotating,

a slight tilt as if to correct any misunderstanding of perfectionism.

Work is important.

First job of organs under stress needing immediate attention:

appendix, cancer, gall bladder, thyroid.

Second job of serving his country with a flag on his arm:

teaching, flying, medicine at its moment of highest desperation.

Family is cornerstone.

Sunday picnic at the park with bagels and cream cheese,

helping a frustrated jacket zipper or code brown at bed time,

then air through the hair on their way down the slide,

a smile that spans his big daddy heart.

Sacrifice is accepted.

4 AM alarm and running with a head lamp,

football with a joystick and big screen up front,

lager after hours enjoyed in his slippers,

Email forgotten, perhaps intentionally.

When I ask, Could you put them to bed tonight?

Sure, he replies with fatigue in his eyes.

I settle on the couch ready to lift my feet.

I hear shouting, things falling, both kids are now crying.

Footsteps to the stairs, I hear from above,

Could you please help? 

Of course.

For you, always

of course.

The Tug

Sometimes I think I’m hypnotized by my children. Overwhelmed by their beauty: the blue in their eyes, half-toothed smiles, their creamy skin. I am enchanted by their affection: the way they bury their head in my shoulder, sit in my lap for a good story, share their fudgescicle with me. My chest aches as I feel my heart swelling with my love for them.

I think, “I want more of these wonderful beings.”

Then dinnertime comes around. The baby is below my feet trying to adjust the knob on the stove; he begins crying not because I nudge him out of the way but I can’t figure out the reason. The toddler pushes a chair into the kitchen knocking down toys in her way and begins rifling through the fruit basket on the counter which contains goldfish crackers I forgot to remove. She dumps the crackers onto the floor for the baby and continues to eat some herself. “I want water!” she demands. The baby continues crying, I’m still unsure why. He’s looking up at me with tears streaming down his angelic face. Crying, crying, crying. I almost forget about the vegetables on the stove and quickly give them a stir. The toddler hits the baby on the head to make him stop then offers him a goldfish cracker. This does not appease him. I stand in the kitchen, grease spattered shirt and spatula in hand, not sure what my next move should be.

I think, “I don’t know how people have more of these beings.”

A True Companion: Part III

PART III

The last two posts I’ve written about my dog, Coda. You can read them here and here. Even with all the trouble she has caused we have always trudged through. We love her no matter what and have tried endless training strategies to curb the unwanted behaviors.

Lately, I find myself giving her more negative attention than love. The barking. She barks at everything. The begging. The neediness. The growling at the kids. Because there are two little ones in the house to take care of first and foremost, I’ll notice it’s late in the day and I haven’t given her so much as a scratch behind the ear. When this happens I go find her and cuddle up next to her and give her some much deserved attention. Her love is simple. Pet, scratch, cuddle. I watch her eyes soften as I stroke her back. She calms and her muscles relax as she takes in the soothing scratches.

Exercising her has been the most challenging. Getting myself out the door has become a feat; exercising Coda tends to fall to the bottom of the list. Going for a run includes bundling up a two-year old and five month old, pulling out the double running stroller, and getting them both buckled in. Adding a dog to the list (who pulls awful) and possibly a car ride to get there is just hard. It’s not impossible; just hard. By that time I tend to be out of steam. It’s one more thing tugging away at my oh, so short patience.

I’m not saying this to complain. It is what it is. The reason I wanted to post about her was to remind myself how much I love her and of what we’ve been through together as a family. Although I’m not out on a walk with her right now (which, of course, would be her preference) I’m thinking about how she makes our lives more full.  It weighs heavy on my heart that I’ve treated our sweet loving dog as a burden. She is no such thing. She is a cherished member of our family.

With that said, I end this in listing why this dog steals my heart. I’m so glad my husband insisted on rescuing her from the humane society eight years ago.

  • Loves some good ‘ole scratches.
  • Always up for any form of exercise.
  • Is kind to other dogs.
  • Points at birds even though we’ve never taken her hunting.
  • Frolics in the snow; sometimes bounding like a deer. Also loves to eat snow.
  • Never runs too far away in the foothills.
  • She dreams; snarls and chases birds in her sleep.
  • Howls when she hears a siren; even if you are the siren.
  • Loves to smell breath, especially morning breath.
  • Says goodnight at the side of the bed with a nose nudge.
  • She is my shadow; following me around the house from room to room, always laying close by.
  • When I am upset she comforts me with a warm body and wet nose.

    Old and regal.

    Old and regal. (Photo courtesy of Kim Hendrickson)

I love you, Coda.

A True Companion: Part II

PART II

As I left off yesterday, lately it’s been a struggle with my dog, Coda. But in order for me to help you understand I need to explain life with this true companion.

Coda is extremely anxious. Separation anxiety would be a mild term. Anxiety tends to run in the Shorthair lineage but I think it’s safe to say Coda’s could tip the scale. When we first brought her home we discovered she would get into things when we left so we decided to buy a kennel. The first was a very nice metal bar kennel. The kind that dogs can see out of so they don’t feel enclosed. We tested it out by putting her in it and stepping outside the front door to see how she would do. She barked. And barked. And barked. Five minutes turned into ten, turned into twenty; even with a few greetings and scratches from us in an attempt to calm her. We finally relented. We backed off completely and slowly progressed the time upwards so she could tolerate short spurts at a time. She was getting better but the barking never stopped completely. Then, one day we returned home to find her out of the kennel but the kennel fully intact. Our first thought was that someone had broken into the apartment. How else would she have gotten out? We looked around for missing belongings. After careful examination of the kennel itself we discovered that she had some how Houdini-ed her way out of the corner panels where the sides attach to each other. You know, the ones that have three hooks evenly spaced down the edge. Normal, right?

IMG_8897We trudged to the store and bought another kennel. This one was a thick heavy plastic with a sturdy lock for entry and exit. No bars to break through. After only a few days she managed to claw and chew her way through the kennel. You know, where the side meets the base and there’s a seam. Her claws were bloody and her back developed a sore along her spine where she arched as she attempted to claw her way out. Normal, right?

She had also taken on a very annoying habit of assuming “dead dog” position whenever it was time for us to leave. At the first mention of going to the kennel she would run to the back room and drop to the floor, a complete dead weight. We had resorted to dragging her down the hall to get her in. We toiled over whether putting her in the kennel was the right thing to do. She hated it so much and we felt awful putting her in. But it truly was the safest place for her to be. She couldn’t get into anything there. But what were we to do?

Off to the store again. Another kennel arrived home. This time with no metal bars or seams. This one was a “top/bottom” type kennel which bolted two thick surfaces of plastic together on the outside of the kennel. Finally, she could not get out of this one. Over the months, she eventually calmed down enough to tolerate it and we didn’t come home to a nervous panting dog. But she always hated it.

You might be wondering what were these “things she got into.” Just for fun I’ve made a list of everything I can think of.

  • 2 kennels, as you already know.
  • Pulled books off the shelf and chewed on them.
  • Gnawed on a hand mirror.
  • Loaves of bread, no idea how many.
  • Trash, too many times to count.
  • Sticks of butter, not sure how many.
  • Bars of soap, x2.
  • Bottle of lotion.
  • Half a lasagna, at parents house for Christmas.
  • Half a pizza.
  • Two boxes of See’s truffles.
  • Box of chocolate covered peppermints, at parents house for Christmas.
  • Container of Dove chocolates, at a friend’s house.
  • Container of vitamins, at a friend’s house. She got her stomach pumped for this one.
  • 10 lb bag of grapes from a friends vineyard. Another stomach pumping.
  • Chews on the door jamb anytime we leave with suitcases in our hands. Don’t worry, a friend is always scheduled to come get her.
  • Chewed through the bottom half of a door and ripped up 6×6 ft of carpeting trying to get out of a room. (One of our attempts of trying to not use the kennel.)
  • Ate an entire pear cake; a fancy Christmas dessert that was consumed off a cake pedestal while we were upstairs in the house.
  • 5 lb bag of sugar, ripped open and strewn across the carpet, then licked up so that the crystals crusted into the carpet.

And in the time that I started writing this post to now,

  • Another box of fancy chocolates, a wrapped present under the tree for Christmas.
  • Salt dough ornament of Simon’s handprint. Torn off the tree from about half way up. Grrrr.

That’s what I can remember, at least. One would start to think that we as pet owners don’t take the proper precautions to prevent these issues. Most of them have happened when we’re visiting family or friends are dog sitting but I’m certainly not saying we are innocent. We do our best and over the years have figured out what needs to be done to keep her out of trouble. (For those of you who are concerned about her kennel difficulties: she has free range but all doors are closed and counters are clean before leaving. She rests peacefully on her blanket on the couch.)

Alas, we love our 65 pounds of volcanic anxiety. But when a baby entered this household, tension bubbled over Coda’s needs.

Stay tuned for Part III…

What struggles have you had with your pets? What did you do to help the pet/yourself?

A True Companion: Part I

I’m starting off the year with the first of a three-part post about my dog. I’ve been frustrated with her lately and wanted to remind myself of how much I love her. Every relationship is give and take.

PART I

Lately it’s been hard with our dog, Coda. She’s a 10-year-old German Shorthair. A good dog but not without some struggles. Derek and I adopted her from a humane society when she was two. At least that’s how old the vet thought she was. We don’t know anything about her history before we came along but she did appear to be well taken care of. She knew some basic commands and showed no signs of physical abuse. We brought her home two weeks before we both started our graduate school programs. Some might say that was a bad idea.

But Coda quickly became a true companion. When we were buried neck-deep in exams and research papers she helped get us out the door. German Shorthairs are well-known for their high energy levels and need for exercise. I’m not talking a walk around the block or even a jog around the neighborhood. I’m talking trail runs of one to two hours. Even then sometimes she seemed like she was ready to go out after getting home. Derek would take her for a run, return home, and then I would head out with her and do the same thing over again. A high-five was always in order when we managed to tire her enough that she would collapse on the floor, her tongue hanging from her mouth in exhaustion. Exercising our dog was practically an Olympic sport. We literally planned our days around it.

Coda is also the reason Derek and I often caught up on life. In an effort to get her all the exercise we could possibly fit in we headed out for early morning walks and late evening rambles. Coda would frolic as we talked about everything from frustrations at work to dream vacations. I think back on these times fondly. It was a quiet, peaceful moment together amidst busy and hectic days. These memories span such different periods of life, too. Grad school and stress over classes. Meeting new friends. Making friends for life. Moving to Oregon and starting our first jobs. Another move in Oregon and mulling over buying a house. Do we stay, do we go? Job satisfaction or lack there of. Moving to Idaho where we did buy our first house and found great jobs. Discussions about starting a family. Without even knowing it, Coda provided us an outlet for planning our life.

Yes, she is a wonderful dog and an important member of our family. It wouldn’t be the same without her around. This is why I’m saddened to say that I’ve struggled with her presence lately. More on that next time…

Mt. Adams, 2007

Mt. Adams, 2007

Boise Foothills. Coda's happy place.

Boise Foothills. Coda’s happy place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a pet who has provided wonderful companionship? One that has served as a member of the family? Or perhaps has helped you make important life decisions?