Back to School Beginnings

This morning, I put my two boys on two separate school buses at two different times and after I watched the yellow bus roll away, I cried more than I care to admit. I’m no stranger to this dance – or the reaction to each first day of school. My firstborn – who was JUST a newborn by the way – is excitedly off to his first day of, gulp, middle school – while my youngest will make his third grade debut. They are excited for the new year, mainly to see their friends, and I cannot wait to see what amazing things this school year has in store. For my oldest, its a milestone into junior high (sniff) and also means the first time in his 11 years of life that he has been in the same school as three of his best friends – no wonder he woke up before his alarm! For my youngest, it means a walk toward independence, being the lone NG brother at the elementary school. As a youngest child myself, I totally get that desire to forge one’s own unique identity, away from the shadow of one’s big brother – but as his mom, I really loved the security of knowing he had big brother on campus to look out for him. Today, he will learn how to look out for himself – if anyone is up for that challenge, I know it is him.

Every first day of school, I flashback to Noah’s first day of Pre-K and all those emotions I felt putting my baby boy on a school bus for the first time. He was so happy – I remember I had to call his name as he climbed on that big yellow bus just to snap a photo. I followed that big yellow bus to school that day, barely able to see from the floodgates that had ensued and joined several other emotional moms are we waited for our kiddos to emerge from that bus into school. I’ll never forget Noah’s reaction when he saw me (despite my best efforts to hide from his view) – “Hi Mommy! I’m going into my school now. You gonna be OK?” Nate’s first journey to school was a bit easier, perhaps because big brother was always right by his side. That is, until today. Gulp. Did I mention I am not good with firsts?

Back to school is always such a bittersweet day – this year in particular because it signals the end of what was probably the most magical summer ever for me.  It was the first summer I stayed home with the boys and while that meant lots of sacrifices by our family to be able to do that, it meant late movie nights, morning snuggles in front of the television, nerf gun battles, countless swimming pool visits and fun road trips to determine where the best ice cream cones within an hour’s drive were located. I’ll miss those lazy days of summer and all that time with those boys – Nate calls it the “summer of us” – and I hope we can find more ways as a family to enjoy those kinds of moments now that the schedule is back to being jam packed with work, school and other activities.

As I reapply my eye makeup and excitedly stalk the clock for the end of the school day – and that big yellow bus to bring my babies back home – I am happily scrolling my social media feed to see smiling faces of my fellow mom’s and dad’s proud back to school photos. Today’s social media feed is probably my favorite of the year because it reminds of the fresh start that back to school brings for all of us. A fresh start – while often scary and hard on the mascara – is an opportunity to begin again. Whether it is literally back to school for a new year or semester or simply a day to reset your resolve and start with your own fresh start, I love the hopeful optimism that I see in all those back to school photos. So, we cry a little about the passage of time and the milestones that we are moving through at warp speed but we also beam with pride at the sheer fact that we got to this point to begin with. Wishing all of the students a great first day of school, an even better second day of school and an amazing ear ahead. Whether it is elementary school, junior/senior high, college or just the school of life, I hope today begins the next chapter of something magical for you. Now, how much longer until those boys of mine get home????

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My Moscato Kitty: A Tribute to Our Resident Pet “Squirrel”

mirandaI wasn’t looking for a grey tabby cat when we were roaming the aisles of PetSmart and wandered past the Pet Adoption Center. With two young boys, two basset hounds and an overweight orange tabby, our house was full. We had been to our local shelter on occasion, mainly in search of a calico kitten like those I’d loved in my childhood but were never seriously interested in adding more mouths to the list of those we had to feed and care for. During this particular trip, the boys were taken by a skinny cat with distinct greyish markings. She wasn’t a kitten but you could see in her face that she was still quite young. She had the awkward markings of an adolescent but seemed a lovely mix of playful and demure at the same time. She paced along the windows in tune with my son’s hand, enjoying the interaction from her side of the glass while he squealed in delight. We decided to go inside and play with her and suddenly, I was calling my husband, letting him know that we had put in an adoption application for a new family member. It had been a rough summer with our oldest son recently preparing for cleft palate repair surgery – so I rationalized it that it would help him get back some of the spunk that the surgical recovery would inevitably zap from him. Her name was Squirrel – a perfect name for both her looks and her personality and that tail – oh that tail – which we soon discovered could go from perfectly slender to larger than a real squirrel’s tail in an instant. We brought Squirrel home, renamed her Miranda and she fit seamlessly in with our busy menagerie of pets. She was a companion for Murray, our five year old orange tabby, peacefully coexisted with our basset hounds – even though she was prone to give them a few good romps around the house, and was gentle and loving in her own aloof catlike way with two very active toddlers. We loved her.

That isn’t to say, she wasn’t a cat that got into her share of mischief. She loved to drink out of water glasses (often knocking them down in the process), found my recently laundered dry leaning to be her favorite place to sleep and was a lifelong food thief- human, cat, dog – it was all fair game to Miranda, which despite her enjoyment of food, always maintained a lovely slender figure. She loved to sleep anywhere the dogs liked to sleep and we often found her, her tiny 10-pound frame curled up on a massive dog bed. Somehow, despite being the smallest in the house, she held her own in the hierarchy of pets because none of the dogs would ever dare disturb her. She would at times, get into chasing sessions with the dogs that usually resulted in the dogs barking at her while she watched and waited from a safe spot high above them, She could’ve given either of them a swift claw to their nostrils but never did – and within minutes of their pursuit of her, I would see the three of them sharing a drink from the waterbowl. She enjoyed drinking out of the fish tank and I was constantly fussing at her for dipping her paws in to swat at the fish. I am sure she could have caught one if she wanted – I think it was just how she entertained herself I nicknamed her my “moscato kitty” after I caught her sniffing and taking a few laps out of my wine glass. I chuckled that she must have enjoyed it, because she remained glued to my side, bellowing at me as I drank the rest. Miss Miranda was her own cat – often staying out of the fray of our busy household – but was a beloved member of our family just the same.

Today, we said a very tearful and very unexpected goodbye to our sweet Squirrel, aka Miranda. She hadn’t been herself for a few days and when I went to pet her today, she made a sound that i have never heard from her mouth before. I knew she was telling me she was in pain. We rushed her to our vet, who quickly determined that her situation was dire – late stage kidney failure, likely brought on by an aggressive lymphoma. The boys and my mom arrived to say goodbye to their kitty and with the arms of her family embracing her, we sent our sweet moscato fan off to be with her Maker. It is amazing how big a hole such a tiny little soul leaves when they are gone. We are so thankful for the time we had with our Miranda – six years doesn’t seem like nearly enough – but are grateful to our friends at Talbot Humane for rescuing her so she could in turn, rescue us during such a tough time in our family’s story. Thank you, Miranda, for being that spicy, water glass spilling, food driven, fish and basset hound tormenter that you were. We will miss and love you forever. Say hi to Sydney and Shelby for us – and have fun chasing those moths in heaven, perhaps while sipping your own class of kitty merlot.

The Beauty & Blessing of a Brain that’s Different

I can still feel the hot tears filling my eyes and the tight ball in my stomach as I prepared for the words I knew our therapist was getting ready to say. She had in her hands, the results of my seven-year-old’s Connor’s Scale, the standard diagnostic tool for assessing ADHD and other sensory processing disorders, in her hands. What she was about to say wasn’t a revelation – it was simply confirmation of what we had probably suspected but been afraid to admit for some time. My sweet blue-eyed boy, my perfect and beautiful baby, had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, mixed with a touch of anxiety and some Oppositional Defiance Disorder. The words that came out of her mouth after that were a bit of a blur but the feelings of grief, hopelessness and fear that hit my heart remain etched in my memory. Contrary to what my husband and I had been trying to convince ourselves since he was three – that he was just having a delayed version of the terrible two’s and he would soon grow out of it – this was our child, suddenly labeled with, well, a brain disorder. All I could muster was a “What are our next steps?,” as I struggled to absorb the information. Those next steps would be a trip to our pediatrician, where the conversation would focus on what interventions would be best for our soon to be second-grader.  I cried a lot in the days following his “diagnosis.” I cried, grieving for the perfect baby I always had. I cried in anger at myself for taking the news so hard. I cried in frustration at my complete lack of knowledge about the world of ADHD. I cried for the challenges I knew faced us as a family. And then I did what all Momma Bears do when our cubs need us the most. I dusted myself off and became a student of the new world that my family and I had been unwillingly immersed in. I researched the pros and cons of medication therapy, I researched cognitive behavior therapies and I researched all that I could about the “brain disorder” that my son apparently had. I reached out to my fellow moms for advice and insights. I’m still very much a student – and yes, I still cry on the challenging days – but as a woman of faith, I am realizing the blessing that my son’s ADHD diagnosis has brought our family.

  1. My son’s brain is wired differently. And that’s actually, well, amazing. His mind (and body) literally never stop. He never stops thinking of ways to turn the playroom into a fortress or ways to make a grand sea adventure out of his bath toys. He questions everything – and sometimes, frankly, I don’t have an answer for the perpetual “why’s” that he peppers every conversation with. That creativity, that drive, that energy, will fuel him long past his childhood days. Maybe that busy ADHD brain – that drives his father and I up the wall at bedtime each night – refuses to stop thinking and dreaming for something truly wonderful – like alternative energy sources or a cure for cancer. Me and my non-ADHD brain is already tired and ready for a nap just imagining the things he can do.
  2. I know my son better, even if I will never understand exactly how his brain works. Ever since he was four, I’ve struggled to really understand my son and why he can’t follow the rules the way other children seem to. Why he refuses to sit still in restaurants, even with his father and I using all our parenting tricks of the trade to reinforce or discourage his behavior – these have been sources of tension in our home since before he started preschool. My husband and I are fairly compliant, color inside the lines kind of people whose childhoods were filled with much of the same conformity. I wondered, is this a cry for attention because we work so much? Knowing that this isn’t a naughty kid but a little boy whose mind is wired differently has helped me get to know my amazing kid in a way that I never knew how to do before. He is funny, whip smart and quick with a jazzy comment – it’s that lack of impulse control to be sure – but on his best days, my son seems to turn that into some of the most compelling and interesting conversations I have ever had. As I read more about parenting an ADHD kid, I find myself saying to myself “Yep, that’s my son” to many of the passages of those books. And all of those seasons of tee ball where we begged him to just stand out in the field for one more inning? Its crystal clear why that was just about a nearly impossible thing to ask.
  3. The club my kid is now in is a really cool one – full of remarkable people. As I Googled everything I could about ADHD, I learned about everything from side effects of medicine to the long-term consequences of ADHD on criminal activity (that was not MY search but one of the not so fun articles my feverish research took me to!) You know what else I learned? Some pretty remarkable people have ADHD. That singer/songwriter/dancer/actor Justin Timberlake? Yep, he’s a vocal ADHD club member. That U.S. swimmer with 28 gold medals – Michael Phelps – yeah, him too. Sir Richard Branson – you know, the guy who founded his own company when he was 16 and is the owner of Virgin Airlines. There’s another one! While not formerly diagnosed as a child, the late Steve Jobs was well documented in sharing his own childhood challenges as a kid whose challenging and often defiant behavior led him to be one of the biggest innovators of our generation! Actor Jim Carry, gymnast Simone Biles, political strategist James Carville and former NFL quarterback Terry Bradshaw are all part of the ADHD club – and there are countless other really smart, successful, really significant people whose parents got the same ADHD news for their kiddos.
  4. The reminder that my Village has got my back. Whether you call them your village, your Mom Club or Wine Buddies, my Village is full of with fellow Moms I already know and love – and now that Nate’s dad and I know that our son has ADHD, we’ve discovered new and old fellow parents are going through the same journeys with their children. Those moms (and dads!) have reached out to me, given advice, shared the good, bad and the ugly of dealing with their own child’s ADD/ADHD successes and setbacks – and made me realize that regardless of whether your child has ADD, ADHD, autism, anxiety, – or is a perfectly carefree kid – this parenting thing is hard work and we need as much support from our fellow parent network to survive it. We forget just how amazing this support system is until it our path is at its darkest, when we need that lift from those that have walked our path and survived it – and I remain ever grateful for the reminder that my Village has got our backs as we take the next, often uncertain steps in our family’s own journey.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not sugar coating the challenges that lie ahead for my son. Do I wish he did not have one more pothole in the already difficult road of growing up?  Do I wish that good behavior was something that came easier for him at school and at home? And that impulsivity, aka lack of filter, that causes him to blurt out exactly what he is thinking? Yeah, I wish I could say that it doesn’t cause that whole business of making new friends just a bit harder for him. And going to a restaurant without worrying that people aren’t applauding after we leave because my kid cannot sit still through the meal – someone tell me what its like, because I doubt I’ll experience it anytime soon.  Challenges to be sure – but I hope and believe the positives we’ll can glean from going through this as a family will help us navigate them. My dreams for my boy haven’t changed one bit – but understanding now how his brain and body work tells me that perhaps my “normal” brain isn’t quite equipped to imagine the dreams already percolating in that sweet boy’s beautiful busy mind!

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Summertime Blues

The boys dancing in the rain - the first cool rain after a lengthy heat wave. What a feeling that was!

The boys dancing in the rain – the first cool rain after a lengthy heat wave. What a feeling that was!

It has been nearly two years since I have published a post to this blog. I’m not sure how that happened – when I started this blog in 2012, I was fairly disciplined about writing and posting, motivated by the lovely comments and feedback, and of course to the inevitable sharpening of my writing that constant writing often does. But, somehow it has been 22 months since I sat at my computer – an event that occurs countless times each day – and hit the publish button on this blog. I write blog posts all the time – in my mind. While trying to settle my mind for sleep after a long day, when taking a long shower or while sitting in traffic waiting for the light to change. So many thoughts – most useful perhaps to only me – but thoughts that help me manage that work life balance that I never seem to perfect. I never started this blog with a grand design to have anyone actually read the darned thing – I just wanted an online diary to chronicle my thoughts so they did not become fleeting memories in the hustle and bustle of my family’s busy life. My boys just completed their respective school years and I am sitting here, the Sunday evening before their first day of camp, an emotional and nervous mess. Regardless of how rigorous our routine is, I thrive on the comfort that routine brings. Wake up, get ready for work and school, hit the carpool lane, work all day while the boys are at school and come home within an hour of the school bus dropping them off to pick them up from my neighbor, who has watched them as though they were her own since they were babies. Tomorrow all that changes. Plenty of families look forward to the relaxing summer pace that occurs when school lets out for the June-July-August siesta. For my hubby and I, whose work schedules remain the same regardless of the season, we no longer have the wonderful comfort blanket known as school, to account for their time while we work. I don’t know why this hurts me – I have been a working mother since they were born – but something them being available for time with me and me not being able to spend that time with them is a hard pill to swallow. I love my work and am self actualized by it, but there is nothing I would rather do than snuggle or trade smiles and bad knock knock jokes with those crazy boys of mine. So tomorrow, we will get up at our usual weekday time and head to camp – at the childcare center that I work for – and get ready for a new, summertime routine. I’ll look wistfully at the cars in my neighbor’s garages (lots of teachers in my neighborhood will be home for a MUCH deserved summer break) and prepare to drop my nervous, excited boys off to their first camp experience. I’m a half mile away if they need me – and I have no doubt I will find many excuses to drop by and see how they are settling in -but the summer vacation routine always takes a bit of getting used to. My oldest son will ask – at least once a Monday – why he has to get up as early as he did during the school year, which will lead to that inevitable questioning of why I have to work when Johnny’s, Jane’s and Jimmy’s moms do not. The silver lining in all of this is the perpetual reminder that no matter how hard it is to say goodbye to these babies of mine, when we are once again reunited at the end of the work and camp day, the smiles and hugs I get will remind me just how loved my husband and I am. To have someone to miss THAT much is truly a blessing – and while it won’t make me any less sad to think of the fun someone else gets to have with my boys while I spend the day in meetings or at my desk – one peek at the menagerie of photos frames featuring those blue-eyed boys of mine will remind me of the love waiting for me when I walk in the front door that night. To love someone and have them return that love is the greatest gift there is. Sweet summertime memories with the three loves of my life await – even if those memories take place on Saturdays, Sundays and after the clock strikes 5pm. Happy Summer, friends!

Slip and Fall? Make it Part of Your Dance

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Ever since my son Noah, was born over seven years ago, I have discovered the many challenges of what most refer to as “work/life balance.” It is a delicate balancing act to be sure – and some days, I feel more like a jack of all trades and master of none. There are days when my work day is full of challenges and defeats – and I can’t seem to drive fast enough to see those rumply crazy boys of mine. They can always be counted on to remind me that while I may not feel at the top of my game at work, to them, I am the center of the universe. That’s pretty great. Exhilarating, actually.

There are other days – like when the youngest goes into full tantrum mode because I asked him to brush his teeth or put his pants on – that my Monday morning return to the office just can’t come soon enough. While my husband Kevin and I are great partners in this dance of being both full-time employees and full-time mommy and daddy, there are some days when I feel more like a clown corralling a giant billy-goat rodeo than a success. Bad employee who can’t stay late because the kids need to get fed and get to soccer practice on time. Bad mommy because I can’t go on all the school field trips because I save my vacation time for their inevitable sick days. Bad wife because by the time the work day is done and the kids are finally asleep, all I have left is a snarky and rather grumpy version of myself. Bad friend because all those catch-up phone calls and girls night outs are put off to tomorrow so I can go to bed and start the dance again tomorrow. Sound familiar?

The September transition from the somewhat laid-back pace of summer, where the only non-work obligations are getting the boys to and from camp or daycare – to the hustle and bustle that the back to school season brings, has made my own personal work-life balance pendulum go from slightly slippery to swinging in complete disarray. Homework. Soccer. Tennis lessons. Playtime. Back to School. Meet the Teacher. PTO Meetings. Housekeeping, Work. Sleep. Life itself just begins to seem overwhelming and completely out of control and out of balance.

There’s a slightly cliched saying that states “When you trip, make it part of your dance.” While I’m still trying to gain my footing, I’ve spent some time recently, reflecting on ways to make MY dance a little more like a cool cha-cha and less like a cartoon version of myself walking across a patch of ice (carrying a baby and three bags of groceries)! I’ve come up with a couple small calibrations to the scale that I hope help us make our entire family’s life a little more organized, a little less hectic and a lot more fun (i.e more fun disco party, less goat rodeo!)  In full disclosure, some of these revelations have come after a couple glasses of my favorite Merlot so I might suggest pouring your own glass before you read any further.

Pick your battles: Some of the battles I engage with my kids about take just about every brain cell I have in the morning – so by the time I get to the office, I am already mentally exhausted by the day’s clothing battle/sibling war/lunch conflict. Monday morning I woke up my youngest fashionista and per usual, he rejected every shirt I selected for him, opting for what was probably my least favorite shirt in his dresser. I shut my mouth, reminded myself I personally won’t see the shirt all day and thanked him for getting dressed like a good boy. You know what happened on Tuesday? “Mommy, will you pick out my shirt for me?” Wow. Just. Wow.

Know your limits: In our family’s continuous effort to save money, we decided to forgo before-care for Noah so that I could get him to the bus stop each morning. It would save us a decent amount of money each week, give Noah extra sleep time and in a perfect world, give us both some great one on one to have a nice breakfast together before heading off to our respective work and school days. That was the intended result. The reality? I rush to finish getting myself ready while he watches TV. He rushes through his cereal or bagel so he can race to the bus-stop to get in a game of foursquare with the neighborhood kids before the bus’s arrival. So after some reflection, Kevin and I put up the before-care funds and everyone is on a new, far more streamlined routine. I get to work almost a full hour earlier – a good faith response on my part in anticipation of any of the possible kid/school/family related distractions that might come up during the workday. Noah eats breakfast with his brother and the other before-care kids – an important part of his own routine. I miss our morning time together  but am already seeing the increased productivity that an extra hour at the beginning of the workday can provide – a priceless commodity for the mommy’s who have mouths to feed and nurture at the end of that workday. Noah’s response to the new morning arrangements floored me. “Mom, I know there is only so much of you to go around. The thinner you spread yourself, the less of the happy Mommy we have at the end of the day.” Pretty wise words coming from a seven-year-old.

Forgiveness is bliss: I’m always apologizing for my words and actions – not necessarily because I’ve done anything malicious but usually in response to something that just didn’t fit into today’s plan. Not volunteering to chair this event at school because there just aren’t enough hours in the day. Forgetting to defrost the next evening’s dinner so relying on fast food meals that aren’t in the budget. Neglecting my daily call to my mom because I can barely keep my eyes open. Sending the boys with their dad to the soccer game so I can sleep in for just 10 more minutes. I could go on for many more words but the reality is that there are many ways that I fail daily as a wife, mother, employee and friend. I know that. I also know that there are plenty of things that those same people I have disappointed countless times love about me anyway. For example, thanks to my early arrival at work, I was able to hop over to school today for an impromptu lunch-date with my blue-eyed boy. He was over the moon excited and it was the best (albeit noisy!) 25 minutes of my day. I went back to work fully refreshed and with a happy heart – and when I kissed him goodnight this evening, his words to me were “That was so cool showing my Mom off to my class. Thank you for coming to lunch today.”

It is moments like this that remind me that no matter how slippery that slope becomes in our family’s daily balancing dance, the people in this crazy disco with me make every single misstep part of the coolest dance ever. Let’s cha cha.

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Who Rescued Who?

DSC_0105For as long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed reading the bumper stickers and various car magnets that can be spotted on the highways and in drive-thrus of my fellow pet lovers. Things like “Doggy on Board”, “My Dog is Smarter than your Honor Roll Student” or “I (heart) my (insert breed here).” My favorite saying is one  I only really came to fully understand this past week. “Who Rescued Who?” I’ve always gotten the sentiment and admired the rescue stories of friends who found their beloved four-legged family members from a rescue. To say that defines how I feel about our new addition, Sarah (St. Sarah Grace Basset-George to be exact), is an understatement. When we lost our two Basset Hounds, Sydney and Shelby, all in the span of seven months, our family felt a bit lost and a lot grief stricken. The boys asked daily why all our pets are in heaven. I couldn’t walk past the pet food section at Target without breaking into tears. We dined out a lot – being home in the kitchen without the deep gaze of a hound begging for a handout was too much to bear.  A colleague suggested that I check out rescue sites for my beloved Basset Hounds, telling me I was destined to open our home to another furbaby. I was skeptical, determined I would let the boys get another pet someday in the way distant future. Well, my head said that but my heart led me to the rescue pages for the Basset Hound Rescue of Old Dominion (BROOD).  I was on their site and Facebook just to “window shop” but one night there was a face that made me burst into tears. I was in love almost instantly – and knew right then and there being a Basset mommy was as much a part of my identify as being a daughter, sister, wife and mommy to my two-legged babies. While that sweet face on the BROOD site was not meant to be, nothing short of serendipity (and what I am fully convinced was a little divine intervention) sent sweet Sarah into our lives.

When we entered into BROOD’s adoption approval process (which I fully expected to take weeks if not months to complete), I had no vision of the dog that I wanted to bring home.  We preferred a girl of course (living with three human and one feline boy certainly helped cement that preference for yours truly!) and I hoped for a dog that was young enough to have some puppy play dates left for our active boys. Our adoption coordinator, Monika, who I fondly refer to as our Fairy Godmother, seemed to intuitively know who we were looking for. Within 12 hours or so of that meeting, I had a photo of a young girl that looked like what dog would result if you mixed my two beloved girls together. Shelby’s tan coloring and milky eyes and Sydney’s freckles and classic Basset snout. While I never set out to get a clone of ether of my girls, if there were a hybrid of them, Sarah would be it. I don’t know how many people agree to adopt a dog without meeting them first – but when I called Sarah’s foster mom, Renea – and felt as thought I had known her for my whole life within five minutes of our phone conversation – I knew Sarah was meant to be.

Within a week of that fateful meeting with Monika, Sarah was on her way from Renea’s home to join our home, which was literally aching to be filled with the clickety clack of doggy feet again. Within 15 seconds of being let out of her transport crate, she hopped up into my arms and promptly planted a kiss on my nose. Her place is my heart was suddenly cemented forever.

DSC_0074Rescued as a stray, Sarah needed some help with housebreaking, something Momma Renea had quite obviously made a great deal of progress on. On her first day as a member of the George house however, Sarah found a quite interesting spot to make her first, ahem, mark – directly in front of the dining room curio that houses both of her sisters’ ashes and framed photos. An homage to her Basset sisters perhaps – but for us it was just another in a series of signs that Sarah was sent our way from our angels at the Rainbow Bridge.

DSC_1687 It has been a week since Sarah’s arrival and it seems like she has lived with us forever. We are all completely smitten with our sweet girl and she knows it – and the loving gaze and continuous wag of her tail tells us that she returns the sentiment. Obedience training and some additional housebreaking are definitely in the cards for our somewhat mischievous pup – but we are confident that she is well on her way to being an upstanding canine citizen. It may be hard to believe that a house filled with two young boys could need any type of energy infusion but Sarah’s arrival has filled our house with a much needed energy and love. To hear my four-year old’s prayers to God go from “Please send back our dogs from heaven,” to “Thank you for sending us Sarah,” and to see the glee in my six-year old’s eyes each instant he lays eyes on his dog are just gifts I can’t articulate a gratitude for. And while Sarah shares some personality traits with both Shelby and Sydney – another “God wink” that our angels are watching over us – she is distinctly her own dog and well on her way to creating her own distinct legacy in our family.

DSC_0049Rescuing four humans who needed to feel the unconditional love that only a canine family member can bring is first on her list of accomplishments.

The other gift that Sarah has given us is a connection to some of the human angels that are part of the BROOD rescue. Our adoption coordinator who traveled an hour one way to meet us and spent tireless emails securing the adoption for us. Sarah’s foster mom, who spent 90 minutes on the phone with me, sharing stories about Sarah, her rescue experiences and various other anecdotes, then sending daily photos of our girl in the days before her transport to us. The transport coordinator and other transport volunteers who scrambled and gave up parts of their entire weekend to get our girl home to us. The countless other volunteers who work so hard every day to rescue these pups and find them their forever homes. These are angels we will never forget – and hopefully friends we will have for a lifetime – all thanks to an ornery basset hound named Sarah. Who rescued who? I think that answer is pretty clear.

This song – one of my favorites – came on the radio on the drive home with Sarah. It means a little something different to me now. 🙂

The Best of What’s Around

5856_1117676303373_1440507_nDear Shelby,
It has been exactly one week since we said goodbye you and I still can’t fathom you are gone. You were a dog who never got sick, never had to go to the vet for an overnight and a dog, who up until recently, was barely showing any grey to match the 12 plus years of living under your belt. I still toss scraps on the floor, still reach down to pet your soft fur and wait to hear the clickety clack of your big Basset Hound paws on their way up the steps. Our entire family feels a bit lost without you – Nate asked me why we keep sending all our dogs up to the sky because “Now we have zero dogs and I want my two dogs!” Noah cries for you – he grew up with you standing guard at his crib, then his playpen and finally his favorite gaming spot on the couch. Your daddy misses his snooze buddy on the couch – the first tears I’ve ever seen him shed were the ones I saw in the moments we sent you over the Bridge.I feel as though there is a hole that has literally been punched in my chest. You were my angel in the months since we said goodbye to your sister Sydney – never leaving my side, always greeting me with a grateful wag of the tail and an undying affection in those milky brown eyes. I would not have gotten through that terrible grief without you. Thank you.

I thought nothing could be harder than saying goodbye to your sister but I was wrong. Your swift and unexpected decline still has me wondering what I could have done better to have given us more days to enjoy your sweet face. Walking into the house that is suddenly a dog-free zone is one of the loneliest feelings I have ever known. I’ve taken comfort in the fact that you died the same way you lived your life with us – full of grace and on YOUR stubborn Basset Hound terms. The day you died, I watched you pace outside and find a hiding spot under the boys’ swing set – a sure sign that you wanted to get away from yourself, your suffering and from us. Had you rallied from this, the remainder of your days would have been numbered for sure and likely full of lots of medicines that you absolutely detested us trying to give you each day. As sad as I am that I did not have time to really say goodbye and properly spoil you in your final weeks, I take comfort in that dignity that you chose to live out your life – and am grateful that your suffering was so short.

I have said for many years that when we lost you and Syd, I would never open my heart to another four-legged loved one. As we packed away your dog bed and begin giving away your things to a puppy that could enjoy them, I felt for sure that was the last I would see of anything resembling a rawhide or a leash.

This week, I was looking at your baby book and came across the phone number of the man who sold you and your sister to me. For the first time ever, I entertained the notion of a puppy, who maybe might even have some relation to you or your parents. Then, as I spent my usual evening Facebook time, a post from a lovely pet rescues I follow came across my feed and tears began to roll down my face. A two-year old female basset was in need of rescue and I was in love. Instantly.

That night, I dreamt about you and your sister – and that 2-year old basset rescue named Aubrie. Since that night, I can’t stop thinking about her story, her face or about how much I loved being a Basset Hound mom. Your dad knows I am a detailed planner so when impulses strike, I don’t know how to overcome them. This time, I didn’t try. I put in an application to be a rescue Basset mom. Whoa! I’m trying not to get my hopes up that this sweet rescue baby will come home with us – I have no doubt there are many others that would love to take her home too – but the fact that my heart went out to her made me realize I can open my heart to a furbaby again. This revelation also made me realize the best way to honor your memory and that of your sister’s would be to give all that love in our hearts to another hound or two. To do otherwise would imply that our time with you was not one of the highlights of our lives! Being your Basset mom all these years was truly the best of what’s around and I can’t imagine a better tribute than to begin a new era for our family. I know that now – and am grateful for the sign from above reminding me as much.

I have faith you and your sister have found each other and are enjoying a good romp or two in the clouds with Lexie, Lucy and all the critters you enjoyed playing with so much during your earthy life. The night you crossed the Bridge, Noah looked up in the sky and saw two stars shining brightly over our house. “Mom, look – its Shelby and Sydney in heaven! I knew they would keep an eye out for us!”  So with this note, I say thank you sweet Shelby Girl for taking such good care of your mom for all these years – and from your heavenly spot at the Bridge keep watch out for us and whatever future hounds we bring in to this house. They will never be you or Syd – nor do we want or expect them to – but I know from wherever you are, you will keep an eye out on us! See you at the Bridge. We will love you forever.

This song played on the radio the day I brought you and Sydney home and has always reminded me of you girls. Thank you for sending it my way again – and reminding me that now you truly are home!

Taking You Home, By Don Henley

I had a good life
Before you came
I had my friends and my freedom
I had my name
Still there was sorrow and emptiness
‘Til you made me glad
Oh, in this love I found strength I never knew I had

And this love Is like nothing I have ever known
Take my hand, love
I’m taking you home…

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Meet Shelby

shelby and noahFor the last 12.5 years, I’ve been a Mommy. While my two-legged children were not  born until 2006 and 2008 respectively, I consider the day I brought my two Basset Hound sisters home that hot summer day in 2000 to be the day I officially became a Mommy. I remember clearly the first time I laid eyes on the gorgeous brown-eyed puppy that would become my Shelby Girl. She was days old but already had the beautiful doe eyes and grace that would become her trademark. She wasn’t as immediately smitten with me as I was with her – when my weekly visits with her seemed to send her scurrying into her doghouse away from me, I considered taking the scrappy runt who always insisted on my attention and affections during those visits in lieu of the sweet, shy pup. The breeder suggested I take both pups out onto the grass to see how I bonded with them. The scrappy, outgoing runt was all over me, tons of energy, oodles of affection while the sweet, shy girl kept her distance, hesitant to show me much attention. It was the moment that I decided to take her sister – who would become known as my Sydney Bean – when that sweet girl walked over and lovingly placed her chin on my lap. Suddenly there was no choice in the matter – I was taking them BOTH home.

Twin bassets were quite the adventure and my sweet Shelby Lynne quickly showed us that despite her more reserved disposition, she was no pushover. She quickly established her alpha status in the house, resulting in more than a couple emergency visits to the vet (for her sister, Sydney, not her) and a final decision by our family to permanently keep the girls separated. Mini baby gates made a great solution and for nearly a decade, Shelby and Sydney cohabited safely under the same roof – Shelby taking over the kitchen, living room, playroom and dining area of the house while Sydney claimed the foyer and entire downstairs. While she couldn’t be trusted alone with her sister, Shelby was as gentle as a lamb with her Daddy and me – and the two little rowdy boys that we would later bring into her life. The photos I have of her standing guard at their playpens are some of my most treasured memories of their childhood.

The reason I call this blog Meet Shelby is because most people have heard me talk at length about my beloved Sydney Bean, who passed away this past May at the age of 12 but know little about our “other dog.” Sydney was a special needs dog with a menagerie of health issues – and all that extra care definitely helped nurture what was already a very strong bond. Before Sydney’s passing, I always assumed Shelby was Kevin’s dog – he spent most of his time in the living room or playroom area and I would often find the two of them snuggled up on the couch, snoring in tandem, with a sporting event on the television. After Syd passed, the baby gates came down and Shelby embraced her role as the sole dog in the house – a role she has embraced and flourished in. Another role she has flourished in during the months since Sydney’s departure? Being MY dog, my constant companion – my best friend. No matter whether I am making dinner, sitting down to eat dinner, working in the office, or giving the boys their evening bath, Shelby never leaves my side. Ever. She has been my saving grace since the sad loss of our Sydney – making sure that no matter how much I miss Sydney, I never, ever have to be alone. So many nights that I have missed Sydney, hearing the clickety clack of Shelby’s claws on the floor or the deep snores that only a Basset Hound can truly master – have made my grieving heart happy.

For all of the health issues that Sydney had during her brief 12 years, Shelby has lived a relatively healthy one. Save for a few urinary tract infections and a couple GI issues as a puppy, Shelby’s visits to the vet have been few and far between. Recently, when she developed signs of arthritis, a quick call to the vet resulted in a rapidly working prescription and a sense of relief that our graceful girl would rebound as quickly as she always has when health blips headed her way.

That’s why I was ill prepared for the chain of events that started last week. I noticed Shelby was limping around more, seemed anxious, was panting and was generally not herself. I also noticed her usually muscular physique looked frail and thin, We made an appointment to see her vet and were no sooner greeted with a weekend that involved bouts of vomiting and basset hound that would not eat even the tastiest treats offered her. Yesterday’s vet visit resulted in a call today that I should not have been surprised to get – but that broke my heart just the same. Our Shelby’s bloodwork was not good. Liver levels are all elevated – not a good sign – and if we can’t get her appetite back, her days may quite literally be numbered in the single digits. Shelby has the best veterinarian team ever so I have faith that we are doing all we can – but as I type this blog tribute, my heart is breaking. I hope to have some more good days and weeks to bond with my faithful friend – but am trying to prepare myself for the very real possibility of losing two beloved best friends in less than one year. With Sydney, we always expected the worst – her health condition just kept us all on guard with anything that went amiss – but to see my graceful Shelby girl, who just started showing a few grey hairs on her always beautiful face – is something I have not had time to prepare my head and my heart for. The silver lining I find in this unthinkable scenario is that if we have to say goodbye to Shelby soon, her decline will have been a rapid yet graceful one that echoes the graceful way she has lived her life. Unlike her scrappy, always vocal sister whose ears were always covered with water, kibble, and bits of whatever dirt and debris she ran those basset hound ears across in the yard, Shelby is and continues to be a lady. Those velvety ears are always clean and free of dirt or evidence of her most recent meal and her throaty, trademark howls were saved for only the most serious of situations (i.e to let us know that a  trespassing squirrel in the backyard or  remind us that her patient wait on the back porch was now over because of the raindrops hitting her head).

So, it seems important that I share Shelby’s story – and her important role in our lives. While she may have been more in the background than her more vocal and talked about sister, she has never loved her human family with any less than 1000 percent of her being. We love you Shelby. Thank you for teaching me how to be a Mommy – and reminding me that best friends truly come in all shapes and sizes.

Confessions about my favorite son…

A Daddy blogger out of Canada came under fire last month for posting that he had a favorite of his two young sons. I’m not sure how I feel about his statement but it got me thinking the unthinkable – what if I have a favorite son and I Just. Can. Not. Admit. It.

My oldest sister insists that both my older sister and I are our parent’s favorites. Like the day I publicly thanked my mother on Facebook for the surprise dinner delivery (a habit she is prone to do for all three of her daughters, by the way) – she good-naturedly chimed in her usual “Well, we know who their favorite is don’t we?” My mother and I have laughed about it too – and she admits there are things about each of her children that she adores – and a few things that aren’t her favorite, too.

So, I will go ahead and say it.

I have a favorite son.  (If you are wondering which one, I will give you a hint – his first name begins with the letter “N!”)

Seriously – my favorite child – well that may vary considerably throughout the day and depending on the situation. When we are snuggling in our pajamas watching Saturday morning cartoons, my Nathan is my favorite snuggler. Minutes later, when my Noah comes in to my room, carrying a drawing he has made just for me (usually accompanied with some tear-inducing sentiment), he is my favorite poet. When Nate comes toddling over to me and for no reason at all, wraps his arms around my neck and kisses me, he is my favorite sweetheart. And when Noah accompanies me to a Weight Watchers meeting and asks why on earth I need to do anything to improve my body because I am, as he says “perfect just the way you are,” he is my favorite cheerleader.

Their dad and I constantly shake our heads at how different our two boys are – and for that I am grateful. As much as I enjoy the sweet brotherly displays of affection and play that take place between my boys on a regular basis, I love how two children with the same set of parents, can bring so many different qualities to our family. Noah, whose looks favor his daddy, is more like his momma in personality. Sensitive to a fault, he hates to fail, hates to not be the best at something – and wears his budding romantic heart on his sleeve. He loves to be the center of attention and makes friends almost instantly wherever he goes. Nathan on the other hand, favors my side of the family, yet is a more laidback version of his father. He is cautious and reserved – and makes you work for his affections. While perfectly social with other children he is familiar with, he is also known to be just as happy to play on his own with a favorite truck or coloring book. He loves to snuggle while his brother, 29 months his senior, still can’t sit still long enough to snuggle through a good movie. Together, they are the perfect combination of my favorite child – and I wouldn’t change a hair on either one of their tousled little boy heads. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days when, quite frankly, neither of them is particularly my favorite – but even on the days when they are at their orneriest, I am always quite smitten with those sons of mine.

So, when my sisters and I chide each other about which one of us is Mom’s favorite, I can rest easy knowing that I probably am my mother’s favorite some of the time. We are both sensitive souls who can be brought to tears in a millisecond – and thanks to my mother’s example, we are both women of faith who would rather lose a fight than engage in any type of confrontation. I know there are plenty of things that bond my sisters with my mom in special ways, too – and for that I am grateful. Recognizing what bonds you to your children and celebrating those bonds, makes that bond even stronger.

Sure, I have a favorite child. He is the one who calls me Mommy.

A Bit of Thanksgiving – in June.

I have always loved the month of June. For me, it has always symbolized the beginning of the sweet summer season and its promises of county fairs, fresh produce and countless days spent soaking in the sunshine. June became particularly special to me a dozen years ago as three very significant souls entered my life – I brought my “twin bassets” home in June of 2000 and met the man who I now share my life with, too. Turns out that young man- now a bit greyer around the edges, probably thanks to me, those bassets and the two boys we have together – was born in June too, so it is a pretty perfect trifecta to cement my affection for the sixth month of the calendar year. I remember vividly where I was and what I was doing the first time I laid eyes on my future husband. June 8, 2000. It was my first week at a new job and I was sitting in a busy newsroom when he walked in. It wasn’t love at first sight – but the fact that I can remember what he was wearing (his grey and blue striped baseball uniform – sigh) and what I was doing at that moment (writing an article about the Eastern Shore’s current drought situation) tells me it must have been something! It took us a year or so of being good friends and movie buddies to figure things out but once we realized that connection, we never looked back. So, here we are twelve years later and there is still no one that sets my heart aflutter quite like my baseball guy.

We’ve been through a lot in our 12 or so years together – a year of being friends, a year of storybook romance, a year of wedding planning, followed by a year of building our first home, awaiting the arrival of our first son, then our second – it doesn’t seem possible that it has been 12 years since that first fateful day in June. Some days we get along better than others – sometimes the things I love and admire most are the very things that drive me insane about this husband of mine. So laid back, so calm in the face of pressure, never worrying outwardly about anything. It is a calming influence to my otherwise dramatic, worrywart personality and for the most part, it keeps us both balanced. Isn’t there something about ying and yang? It is on the days when that laid back personality takes his time tackling his to do list or doesn’t get upset that the house is a mess that my inner drama queen gets fired up – but thanks to HIS influence, I can usually remind myself to take a step back and remember that same man whose propensity for procrastination is the one who instantly forgives me when my own humanity rears its ugly head. The man who always puts me and the boys first, the one who reminds me often to take time for me yet never requests the same in return, the man who faithfully brings me my beloved cup of ice water each and every night without fail – yep, I guess I can look past the fact that he never completely shuts a dresser drawer, refuses to throw anything away and thinks closets and drawers are not nearly as convenient of a place to leave your clothes or shoes as the closest spot on the floor. This is a man who puts up with my numerous celebrity crushes (heck, he even woke me up from a sound sleep this very morning to let me know that “my boy” was on the television!) This is a man who carried a 60 pound senior basset hound up and down a flight of steps at least twice daily in the final weeks of her life because he knew that she and I needed that time together yet never complained that his back or knee were killing him. So as June comes to a close, I am so thankful for a month that not only celebrates my dear husband’s birth but that brought me to his path to begin with. Happy Birthday Handsome – I hope we have countless more Junes to celebrate together!