Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Charlie the Magnificent

On April 12, 2013, my dear friend and companion of ten years went to heaven. His name is Charlie. He is so awesome that even though he's gone, he will always be spoken of in present tense (that's an English teacher for you!). He's so amazing that he inspired my (yet unpublished) children's book series The Great Adventures of Charlie the Magnificent ©.

When he first got sick, I thought he would, of course, be fine. How could the world's best dog not be able to beat a little liver infection? Nearly a month later, we learned it was not just a little liver infection, but more likely liver cancer. We were at the end of the road, six years earlier than I expected. The collie I had growing up, Duke, lived to be 16 years old. I thought Charlie would live at least that long, despite being much larger in size. After two trips to the vet in less than 24 hours, I found myself cradling my best friend in my arms, crying into his fluffy mane, and trying to summon the courage to do the impossibly: say goodbye.

My journey with Charlie began when he was just 7 weeks old. I was 15, and my family drove from Indiana to Kentucky to see someone with collie puppies. He chose our family, coming up to both my mom and me separately. He put his paws on her knees and sniffed her face. He climbed up into my lap and gave me the first of many hugs, putting his giant fluffy paws on my shoulders. We became inseparable. He had a rough trip home, with car sickness plaguing his tiny tummy. The breeder had given us a plastic bag and some paper towels in the event that happened. By the end of the road trip, he was putting his own head in the bag every time he got sick.

Unfortunately for us, his tiny tummy was capable of producing some big gas. We spent part of the trip with the windows rolled down and the heat blasting, trying to keep warm from the mid-30's temperatures. We joked we should name him Stinky, or Trouble. Eventually I proposed Charlie, the main character from All Dogs Go to Heaven. It was a perfect fit. On the way to get him, we'd stopped at Kroger to get food and water bowls, a collar, a leash, and a toy, all the while listening to my parents reiterate that we might not get a dog that day. The toy we got was a little rubber hamburger that squeaked. It would be his most beloved toy for his whole life, despite the fact that it went missing right before we moved to Alaska in 2011.
Charlie at 7 weeks old.
Of course, we had our issues. The first night he was home, I was convinced I'd done the wrong thing. He cried for his brothers and sisters, whimpering and looking at me with the saddest of eyes. How could I take him away from his family? In an effort to distract him, I put The Lion King on my T.V. He spent every night thereafter for a few weeks falling asleep to The Lion King. For the remainder of his life, he would walk like a lion. I've always called him my lion because of his slinky, lion-like walk. He also slept and sat like a lion. I never had the heart to tell him he wasn't one.

While going through his adolescent stage, he was not the world's best dog. He humped everything in sight, much to the amusement and later, irritation, of my teenage friends. We had him neutered, something I've honestly regretted quite a bit; I would love if I had little Charlie's running around, just so I could always keep him near in some way. He calmed down quite a bit after that, but his exuberance for life would always be unchecked. He loved going to new places and absolutely adored everywhere we lived and went. Whether it was over 100 degrees in the Florida sun or nearing 0 in the Alaskan winter, he'd lay on the deck and soak it in. He lived in three states and walked in both the Gulf of Mexico, in Florida, and Cook Inlet, in Alaska.
Charlie frolicking in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tug of war is his all-time favorite game, especially if he's playing it with his slippery, slobbery hamburger. You always knew if he liked you, because he would bring you a toy. My husband even tricked me, and Charlie a little, but getting a toy and getting Charlie to play with him. When I saw Charlie bring him a toy for the first time, I was amazed; he rarely liked someone enough to do that right away. It wasn't until years later that J admitted he'd roped Charlie into it.
Cuddling with his favorite toy, the hamburger.

Charlie has always been my protector, whether it was from the creepy guy that lived downstairs at our first apartment or the guy who wanted to date me that ended up being a jerk. Charlie spent the entire time sitting directly in front of the jerk, staring at him, completely undeterred. His size, 70 pounds plus fluff, made him intimidating to anyone who would think to do us harm. Despite years of being called Lassie, he never once attacked someone for it.

However, our number one house rule has always been 'No Running', because collies are herding dogs and Charlie was ingrained to herd anyone who ran. My sister got at least half a dozen new pairs of super expensive jeans because she'd run, and squeal, and Charlie would grab ahold of her pant leg, oftentimes putting a tiny hole in it.

In fact, Charlie didn't like anyone moving faster than him. He'd bark at snow machiners, bikers, ATV riders, walkers, and anyone who came within eyesight of our house. Last summer, I had to rescue him from a moose. Two moose walked alongside our fence, and Charlie charged at them, barking his head off. The moose reared up, and could have easily stepped over our 4-foot high cattle fence and squished Charlie and the girls (our other two dogs), but I ran out, 4 months pregnant and screaming my head off in a panic. I sobbed in relief when I had all 3 dogs back inside safely.
Loving the Alaska winters.

Charlie fully encompasses the phrase empathetic spirit. If I happened to be even slightly upset, he would come and give me a hug. He'd place his big white paws on my shoulders and push himself up against me, to the point where I would often end up on the floor because he'd accidentally knocked me over. Or he would come lay his paw on your knee and look at you with his big brown eyes. His facial expressions convey more emotion than any other animal I've met. We had this amazing connection that allowed us to always be in tune with one another.

Charlie with one of my dear friends.
She was sick, and had just sneezed or coughed.
 He came to check on her.
When we discovered I was pregnant, one thing I was super excited about was seeing how Charlie would behave with my kids. I knew it would be hard to keep him from herding them when they ran, but I was so excited for them to have memories with him. That is one dream I had trouble letting go of. Because my son is only 3 months old, he will not remember the way we would hold him up so he could ride on Charlie's back. He will not remember how every time Charlie came in from outside, he would find little man and lick the top of his head. We can tell him these stories, but he won't be able to recall the feel of Charlie's fur as he grasped it in his tiny fist, or the way his wet nose felt when he sniffed him (Charlie often alerted us that little man needed a diaper change). He would lay alongside the bouncer and watch over the baby. The first time I put the baby in his crib, Charlie tried to shove his nose between the slats to reach him.
Watching over my son, his little friend.

 As always, he photo-bombed so many pictures:
Photo bombing a Prom photo

Much like peanut butter and jelly, we just clicked. He always ate my bread crust so I didn't feel wasteful. He loved to lay in the snow. Peanut butter and cheese singles were his favorite people foods, and dentastix his favorite doggy treats. We'd play hide and seek; all I (or anyone) would have to say is, "Where's your mommy?" He would run and find me, no matter where I was. He hated walking on slippery surfaces, like wood floors and tile. He would bounce from rug to rug, as though the floor were lava. Every Christmas, he'd wear a pair of antlers he hated, but would later walk around for hours with a bow on his head. He even helped around the house: I'd drape laundry over his back, and he would carry it into the living room for me. He loved to be dried off, and would even rub himself against walls and furniture to achieve the same feeling if he thought I hadn't thoroughly dried him off.
Love on Halloween, 2007.
Christmas: a time to humiliate your pets.
The longest we were ever apart was two weeks, when I had to go to the Lower 48 because my dad died. Charlie became physically ill in my absence, though nothing was medically wrong with him. He was simply that upset to be apart from me, and that when I left I had been so upset.

When Charlie lay dying in my arms, I wasn't just struggling to let him go. He had been my faithful companion for a decade; we'd been through the rough teenage years, the fun college years, the fun and sometimes rough early marriage years, and finally, the first few months of new parenthood. He'd accepted each new phase of life with gusto, championing any challenge and smiling all the while. We are intertwined, him and I, so that I now feel as though part of me is missing. As always, animation comes through to help express my emotions:

He is my dog, and I am his girl. And that doesn't change, whether he's on earth or in heaven.

On my birthday in 2012

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sweet Dreams and Lullabies

Once again, Disney has come to my rescue.

As someone who didn't grow up babysitting, there was a lot about being a parent I expected to not know. I didn't know how to change a diaper, or prepare a bottle, or get a baby to burp. What I didn't even realize I didn't yet know were the words and melodies to lullabies. Poor little man has heard several (off-key) renditions of Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; and You are My Sunshine.

It was our first night home from the hospital and to say little man did not like the change of scenery would be an understatement. He spent the whole first night either nursing or screaming, both of which were painful. At 4 a.m. I found myself in the rocking chair, trying to sing to soothe him. I quickly realized my lack of lullaby knowledge and fell back on the one thing I did know: Disney songs. And so I began singing him every Disney song I could remember that was slow: A Whole New World, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Reflection, Part of Your World (bonus points if you can name the movies each of those songs belong to in the comments section). I was home alone, as my poor husband had made a mad dash to Wal-Mart to try to find formula, since we thought he was screaming because he was hungry and wasn't getting enough milk from nursing (we later learned that many babies have a terrible first night home, simply because they've suddenly realized they are no longer in the womb and that everything they know is gone and now they're in this new scary place. It makes sense. Birth must be just as terrifying for babies as it is for mothers.).

Finally I remembered a song my dad used to sing to me. I began singing my own little baby to sleep with the same song my dad used to sing me to sleep with while he was traveling. His deep voice would echo across the hundreds of miles of phone line, and I would drift to sleep with the cordless phone pressed tight to my face, the numbers leaving little indentations on my cheek. Because of the mere presence of the word 'Tennessee', one memory always sprang to mind of my parents playing tennis at a park we once visited (it had an amazing playground. The wood was that worn dark brown that driftwood often takes on, and if I recall correctly, it was shaped like a castle). The song is an old Mac Davis song entitled Dream Me Home. It's not really a lullaby, as it involves dissing the man and spending bus fare on booze, but the meaning behind it is sweet and I know all the words, so I look past it.

For nearly 3 months, I've relied on Dream Me Home to soothe my baby to sleep. But last night, it failed me. He stayed awake through two renditions. Finally I remembered my favorite song from Cinderella: A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes. I began singing, thinking I knew only the first few lines. But as a I sang, all the words returned to me. After just one full run through, little man was asleep in my arms and ready to be gently laid in his crib.

I doubt I will ever learn the traditional lullabies, because my son is just like me: he prefers Disney.

Asleep and rocking his Lion King pajamas.

Awesome Disney stuff I've pinned:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The B Word (Not What You Think)

It seems these days as if everyone has a very vocal opinion on the B word-- breastfeeding. Social media has exploded with images of women breastfeeding and multi-tasking (one image shows a mother breastfeeding twins simultaneously while also peeling potatoes). Since I tend to blush profusely when any anatomical terms are mentioned (I even avoid saying chicken breast at the grocery store), I'll be referring to breastfeeding henceforth as nursing.

There are many advocating for it and some complaining about women nursing in public. Everyone is sharing their opinion on one of these flip-sides of the nursing coin, but a third side has gone unmentioned. What about nursing women who are modest, and have trouble nursing in public simply because they want that moment to be private? No surprise, the woman who avoids anatomical chicken terms in public is one of these.

Since my son had a traumatic arrival into the world that I'm not quite comfortable about writing about yet, I treasure the time I nurse him. Of course, every now and then he wants to nurse constantly, and I get worn down by the immobility of it. Because we had a bit of a bumpy road at the beginning, with nursing and healing, I truly grew into liking it. At first, I dreaded every feeding due to a painful improper latch. Once that got diagnoses, and subsequently fixed, we've been quite successful passengers on the nursing train. I had to grow to love it, though. Now I only get that heavy feeling of dread in my stomach when he needs to be nursed in public.

I'm an overtly modest person. I don't cloak myself from head to toe, but I don't want the average person on the street to see my  chest either. The first time I nursed in public was in a dark movie theatre, covered up, and we were sitting in the second to last row, on the far side up against the wall. Every time prior to this, I'd nurse him in the car; this was both uncomfortable and it was awkward to get situated. I also felt like a bit of a creeper, sitting in the far corner of the parking lot.

The second time I braved public nursing was in a restaurant. When you have a tiny baby with you (though he was 9 pounds, 5 ounces at birth and looks three weeks older than he is, he's still in that little-baby phase where he can't sit up), it seems to be socially acceptable to openly stare and say, "awe". I don't necessarily have a problem with that; my issue is getting people to look away so I can get both of us situated and covered the way I like.

The 'covers' currently manufactured for nursing moms aren't all that great. If a light breeze picks up, I'm going to accidentally semi-flash anyone who happens to be looking. Due to little man's funny sounds when eating, people tend to glance over at me. Also, when you have a moderately sized blanket covering you from the collarbone down, curiosity beats social protocol and people stare.

I've heard several horror stories of women being berated for nursing in public, which is part of the reason I get that awful feeling of dread. Of course, if it were a debilitating fear, I would just pack a bottle of my milk in the diaper bag if I suspected he'd need to eat while we're out.

In any case, every woman has the right to nurse, or not, however she feels most comfortable. I hope I've helped give a voice to the modest among us, who fear their loss of modesty just as much as hecklers, but put their babies needs above that. It's truly amazing what you're willing to do for this helpless little person who depends solely on you. Fear becomes much less insurmountable.

Especially if this face is the one smiling up at you when he's full and happy: