Thursday, April 20, 2017

Miss Penny Lane Danger

This is Miss Penny Lane Danger. She has been my constant companion for seven years. We got her when Elliott was still an infant, in diapers even, which is a ridiculously dumb thing to do. She was scheduled to be "destroyed" from an organization and a worker there transferred her to another shelter, then another, and then another until how she made it all the way to Mission Viejo. I didn't even know I wanted a dog but then one day, there was her face on my work computer. The shelter was hesitant to give her to us because we had small children. But we took her for a walk on their lawn and when she sat down to rest, Elliott toddled over to her and rested right on top of her, the two of them one heap on a patch of spotty grass. Oliver pulled on her ears and she let him. We took her home that day.

But she was almost 11 and that is very old for a Boxer. She had pesky old hips and a loose bladder. Her excitement to see me every time I came home was so great that she tinkled every time. Every damn time. She literally could not contain herself.

Her hips started to fail her about a year ago. She would fall over, so I carried  her to and from her bed, helping her up when she needed it. I bought her all the magic pills and chews for arthritis. I took her on shorter, slower walks. I laid down and read Mary Oliver to her. I hand fed her turkey and ham and all the things I forbid the boys from feeding her. She loved when I sang to her in the shower. She was a rapt audience.

On days when I was home all day in my writing room, shut up and pecking away furiously, she was at my feet. I talked to her constantly. I asked her questions. She followed me from room to room, coffee refill to lunch break in the yard. I have wept into the crook of that neck more times than I can count.

The thing about dogs is that they don't know how to be selfish. It is us, stupid humans, that do.

And the thing about dogs when they die is that they are not here to help you mourn.

I do not know how to mourn without Penny.

I have no neck crook to weep into.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Just This Once

"Shit," I said out loud, even though I had just explained to E. yesterday that shit is a bad word. So is crap. But not poop, that ones okay.

Pulling up at school, I had forgotten it was flag ceremony day. YOU KNOW. The day that all the OTHER parents stay at school for the ceremony, hovering around the donuts and coffee, clapping for all the kids that get awards, talking with all the other room moms and collective parents. Then, they stay for the hour-long-plus Parent Support Group meeting after the flag ceremony. Oliver tugged on my arm, "Come on mom! Stay! Stay!" Elliott begged me, "Please mom! You can go to the gym later!"

 And for a minute, I considered it. Because I should stay. That is the thing to do.

But I had already done all the things I should do, or was supposed to do. I had gotten up early, before the kids, to work while the house was still dark and quiet. We had breakfast. We got out our Spirit Shirts because it is Friday. We double checked homework, we practiced the spelling words for the test ONE MORE TIME. We packed a bag for basketball practice. We packed lunches and filled water bottles. We built Legos in the living room until it was time to go.

Another mother caught my eye and said dismissively, "Oh come on Jessica. You can't just stay THIS ONE TIME?"She used my elbow to steer me towards the mountain of powdered donut holes. I like this woman. Our kids have played sports together and had play dates and shared class photos and all of the things elementary school parents do together for almost a decade.

All six eyes stared at me, pleading, as I pried those hands off of me and said, "Nope. I'm going to the gym." And then, I just left.

My boys still went to the flag ceremony. They still lined up with their friends to listen to songs and say the pledge of allegiance. They listened to all the other adults there, and followed directions by someone other than their mother. They were in clean clothes, had been well fed, got a good nights sleep, and were surrounded by a community that loves them and wants to see them thrive.

In short, they did not need me. 

But that mother, the one that rolled her eyes at me when she implied that staying for the flag ceremony should take precedence, haunted me as I drove to my CrossFit gym. Halfway through the workout, I was still thinking about it. It irritated me, her assumption that I should drop all other things for the kids, and the underlying belief on her part that if I did not then I was somehow a faulty mother. But it also irritated me that I was allowing it to irritate me.

(I want to pause here, and tell you that I understand (truly, totally understand!) that some parents - lots of parents - choose to  give everything up to focus solely on their children's needs. It brings them joy. They thrive in this situation. To these parents, that wake up and choose this every day, I applaud you. Really, I mean it. Because HOLY SHIT man. How do you do it?!)

But, here is the thing, it is acceptable - and in our best interest - for me to make myself a priority.

When my father died and I found myself drowning in the grips of depression (and probably a mild drinking and sleeping pill problem myself, if I am being honest with myself here) I thought I could work my way out of that depression. Having just discovered running, and then endurance sports, I relied on these things to help see me out of the hole I was in. I was terrified to miss even one day at the gym thinking that it would cost me everything at that moment in my life if I backslid even a millimeter. And maybe I was right, maybe it would have. I don't know.

What I realize now, on the outside of three years, is that it wasn't necessarily the working out alone that did it for me. Yes, of course, the physicality of movement helped. I can sit here and talk to you for hours about the physical benefits, mental health benefits, and emotional benefits of daily diet and exercise or training and eating (and I will, if you let me) all of those things are true but what did it for me in those three years is the decision, actively deciding every day to make myself a priority - if anything, a primary priority - and this is something I refuse to relinquish.

When I picked the boys up from school that day they were fine. No one even mentioned the flag ceremony. On the short drive home we talked about all the things that had happened to all of our family members that day. We laughed and shared stories and were our own best selves. Walking into the door the dogs charged to meet us, Elliott did a new dance move and Oliver rolled his eyes in his near-teenager experimental moodiness. Everyone was included, and no one single person took precedence. For us, we are all our own people. And this is how it should be.

Friday, January 20, 2017

On Education and Democracy

On this election day, I want to let everyone know that I wrote a little piece for Consequence Magazine on Education and Democracy.

You can read it here.

I hope you do.