Sunday, September 22, 2013


Our dear dog, Georgie, died last Monday. Georgie was with us, Matthew and I, for ten years, half of Dory's life. She was a lovable girl, very gentle, comfortable with strangers only if Matthew or I were there. She came from the streets, this gorgeous Border collie/Spaniel/mutt mix, having spent most of her early life (we think) living on her own.

She was protective of me. Once, when I was home alone and had a handyman in, she hurtled a baby gate, going up steps, to get to me and she stayed put between this stranger and myself the entire time he was there.

She did not settle into indoor living easily. She was inquisitive, destructive, and yet she hated crates. When we buried her, Dory insisted we not put her in a box, saying, "Georgie wouldn't like that." Dory was right; Georgie hated containment.

She hated fireworks, thunderstorms. So many nights Matthew and I took turns staying up with this poor animal coming out of her skin at the crashes and bangs accompanying a later summer storm. Typically she alerted me to a night time storm by sitting on my head. As she got older, it got easier. I liked to think she felt safe. Probably her hearing was starting to go.

She loved us for loving her. She wanted only to be with us, as much as she could. Georgie opted to be in stressful situations, us shouting at the television during a football game, rather than be in a room on her own.

She was always gentle with Dory, always so easy about this crying, crawling, inquisitive baby, this unruly toddler, this little girl who dressed her in princess clothes, namely plastic, gold-painted crowns, and old nightgowns of mine. I once carried Georgie's train.

I hated all the mess of a dog, the hair, the dandruff. She has a hodge-podge bed on the floor of our bedroom, an old, torn, cotton blanket and a cheap and flimsy brown-and-red dogbed. We washed them frequently the older she got as her bladder gave out. I'm not ready to wash them and put them away, this mess from when she was here.

I loved her so much. I didn't know how much, not really, not in everyday life. There were flashes of it, flashes of her head on my lap, my hands buried in the ruff of her neck, when I knew it then. But not in the day-in, day-out experience, especially not after our baby arrived. It was only in the last year I came back to her, came back to loving her, noticing her, really paying attention to her. I don't think her love ever waned, not if the way she stuck to me, stayed under my feet, settled outside the door of the bedroom when I put Dory to bed gives any indication of devotion. A dog is unwavering devotion embodied

Her death itself does not worry me. I do not doubt her spirit survives, fleeing her old body for new pastures. She was old, she was ready. She and we were blessed with a quick, and easy death. It is not the death itself that bothers me; it is the absence of her everyday physical presence. I miss the head in the window when our car pulls up, the attempts to tunnel to China through the floor, the awkward ballet performed around her in the kitchen while cooking dinner. There is the everydayness of an animal that tethers us to home and the house feels so still without her in it.

Georgie was the best dog. She was entirely ordinary, exactly as good as every other good dog that's ever existed. The house is so quiet. I miss my girl.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Photo-Op Lost

We have three raised vegetable beds in our backyard, two long rectangular ones and one small, square Dory-size one. Dory plants in a hither-and-yon fashion, picking up handfuls of seeds and hurling them into the space. This summer, entirely by accident, she grew some Mexican sunflowers, tiny carrots, and many, many weeds. We finally uprooted the lot of it and now she has a bare bed, an empty palette.

Hence mudpies. We went out yesterday morning, a shockingly balmy day for September and we filled her bed with lots of water and made a mix of mudpies, mud balls, which we chucked at the wall behind the garden, and a mud monster.

I have to stop here and add, none of this comes all that naturally for me. Dory's five and I think this is the maybe the second time she's ever done real mud play. I don't naturally think, let's build mudpies! in the same way I don't naturally wear light cotton dresses and get caught in slow-motion with my head thrown back, hair blowing whimsically across my face, laughing. Were I to make an advertisement for Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger or J. Crew, it would be of me in jeans, in a chair, knees under my chin, looking up from a book to say, "I'm reading. Can I help you?"

However. I'm in the middle of Kim John Payne's book, Simplicity Parenting, and he's caught my attention on an assortment of subjects, particularly the complicated nature of children's play. He advocates for very few toys, very simple toys and lots more play in nature. He advocates for it far more eloquently and with much better expression that I just did. Nonetheless, there it is. Mr. Payne mentions a bit on mudpies and I, reading it, sat up in bed (or sort of pushed Dory over to the side a bit and shifted around) and thought, We could do that! We could make mudpies!

We did and here's the part that caught my attention. First, it was really fun. Second, I did laugh, but never anything Mr. Lauren or Mr. Hilfiger would care to photograph. And third, and somewhat related to the last, I did not have my camera. By camera, I mean phone, and I intentionally left it inside, cutting the two of us off from the world of electronics entirely. Yet, there I was, watching my straight-backed daughter, in her pink tank top and purples shorts, mud up to her knees, face creased in delight and I had no way to record the moment. None.

And then I thought- do I need one? Do I need to capture every single beautiful moment on film? Or really, do I need to capture every beautiful moment on digital recorder and perhaps, one day, transfer it to print?

I once called Dory the most well documented child in history and a father standing next to me marveled at it too. We can capture everything. And we do. But do we miss it, somehow, in the very act of seizing it? By needing a physical copy or the means of making a physical copy, do we lose the presence of the moment itself? We are blessed in a time when we will be able to show our children photographs, digital recordings, their childhoods captured and available for almost complete reproduction. Yet I wonder sometimes if we're losing the wonder of the moment simply by needing to hang onto the moment. I once spent a portion of a ballet open house watching the performance through the few inches span of my cell phone. I have every moment of six little girls dashing madly around the room to Skippy the Squirrel, yet my memory of the scene remains hazy. I have another video of miniature princesses performing a simple routine in Market Square, but mostly I remember cursing over the lack of close-up capabilities my camera held. The other day, I watched a commercial, for a cell phone, I think, of a children's play, with every grown-up in the room grappling to get close enough to record the show. The scene turns into a crazed fight, and the camera pans back to show the couple at the back of the room, also watching through a lens, have the best seat in the house. Why? Because their camera's zoom is unbeatable. Is that the message behind that scene? Is that your takeaway?

I did not seize the camera and we have no evidence of Dory, the Mud Monster, with mud up to her elbows, thighs and covering the better part of purple-shorts bottom. I cannot post any shots here of her flinging mudballs madly at the wall, laughing or chasing me with a garden hose. And they were beautiful shots, endearing, surprising, really, really funny. Yet the memories I have are crystal clear and by telling the story here, feel clearer yet.

I have a vague sense there's an even larger message behind this idea, something about us needing to record our lives so we can fill each other in digitally, something about the lack of personal touch and communication in the world these days. But that's out of my range, that's not really what I'm thinking about. Mostly I'm just glad I laid my camera down for today, that I got up to my elbows in mud, too, because I wasn't balancing a phone between thumb and pointer finger and watching her in high definition. I watched in real definition and I was delighted by the quality.

And, it's not lost on me, how I write this and fling it into cyberspace, that faux world where so much of our lives exist. There's a place for all of it, isn't there? There's a balance. I'm trying to find mine.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Writer Spider

We went to pick strawberries yesterday at King's Hyrdrofarm. The day was sunny, the sky blue, the temperature still mild. The strawberries were fading fast, at the end of their season and we came away with juice-stained fingers from many half-eaten berries. I found the number of insects, especially spiders, to be reassuring. When we first came to their farm, the Kings assured us of their conscience farming practices, yet the presence of insects tends to announce what might not otherwise be seen: we are taking the natural path! I know, in our little backyard patch of a garden, I picked off (and no doubt ate) a huge quantity of tiny little slughsdon't want to think about the number of slugs I expect I ate this year on my own lettuces in our backyard patch of food. This lovely lady
we learned, from Janet King, is Argiope aurantia, also known as the Writer Spider. Janet explained the spider makes designs in the web, like writing. You can see the zig-zag cutting through the bottom of her web. We wondered if this was the inspiration for Charlotte, from Charlotte's Web, and Dory expressed several times how she did not like this spider and also described the general color and shape of her to Ms. King. We left and I kept thinking- if this is homeschooling, sign me up. I felt filled up on the experience, my heart ready to burst at the simple pleasure of this simple day. I've missed my home. I've missed this daytime freedom. I'm feeling excited. Homeschooling appears already to be in progress...