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That time we had a poodle, our sweet Bella, she ruined our front door. We couldn’t train her out of scratching at the door to be let into the house, and as a result the weather strip around the door was completely shredded. Lyndon, jack-of-all trades, fixed it once or twice, but eventually gave up and vowed he’d not fix it ever again.

He’s a man of his word.

Here’s the problem. The gap between the door and the door frame, tiny though it is, lets in the cold. And a few days ago, it got cold. Several degrees below zero celsius cold, and a strong wind to boot, and as high as I turn the dial on the thermostat, that creeping cold sneaks through the bad-poodle crack.

There’s a grown up boy sleeping on my couch these days. He’s between finishing one session of school and beginning the new thing, and in the meantime he’s sleeping on my couch and eating all the apples out of the fruit bowl. He’s handy with a hammer (do you need a hammer to fix a door?) and today he’s assigned the job of restoration.

Restoration. Fixing the gap so the cold air will stay out, and the inside will stay warm.

My heart could use a little of that, too.

It’s a small bit of wisdom, but there you go.

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Bella in the sun

Bella in the sun

I’m alone in the house when my oldest comes in and, without any preamble or bush-beating or the slightest hesitation, tells me she’s dead. “She got hit on the highway,” he says.

“Who found her?” I ask, and when he tells me it was Colton, my heart cracks open a little. He’s found death so often on the farm.

“He carried her home,” Tyson says. “It’s not pretty.”

I take a towel from the bathroom, one of the nice ones, and I go outside to find my two youngest men with their dad, standing over her little body lying still in the grass. I hand the towel to my husband and put my hand on Carter’s bent head and I reach over to hug my tall, middle son.

“I’m so sorry, Colton,” I say and he nods and the tears fall on his sweet face. I want to take him inside and wash the red off his hands and take off his blood-stained clothes and bathe and jammie him like when he was five. But he’s fifteen and ten years makes a world of difference and all I can do is to stand with him.

We watch as my husband wraps her broken body in my green towel, freshly wind-scented from the clothesline. We gather at the spot chosen, and I can’t help but cry as all three of the boys take turns with the shovel and the pile of black dirt grows beside the hole.

“Find a stone,” says my husband to Carter and Colton, and they leave, mission-focused. When they return, sharing the burden of the carrying, he looks at them and quietly says, “That’s a good rock for her grave, boys.”

In my mother heart I think they shouldn’t have to be carrying broken love in bloody hands or digging black holes or finding rocks for graves. And I know there are big, sad tragedies out there – bigger and sadder than ours – but this is the tragedy that is breaking my boys’ hearts and mine today, and it’s big enough.

With the hole dug and the rock chosen, sweet Bella is laid to rest and Carter and Colton say their tearful, heart-broken goodbyes while the oldest stands a step away, leaning on his shovel, because that is how he is.

“She was a good dog and a good friend, and it’s okay for you to be sad,” my husband says. And the hole is filled and the rock is placed and I watch as my youngest writes his puppy’s name across the stone, and Colton takes the pen and adds, you were loved.

She was.

**********

It’s been a year and there is a new dog on the farm, but today I’m missing the sweet little poodle who loved to cuddle on the couch, who jumped crazy all over us when we walked in the door, who followed me down the back road when I went for summer walks, who chased grasshoppers and snapped at dragonflies, and who loved us like only a dog can.

Time speeds, faster and faster it seems, and I am remembering the sweetness of boys running and climbing and a little dog barking and chasing, and the memories are kind.

Did I ever tell you the dream I had when I was pregnant with my first son? About how I somehow ended up with a baby but didn’t know what to do with him. And how, in the dream, I was busy and had things to do and places to go and so, in the dream, I put the baby in a box and covered him with a blanket and put him in the bottom of my bedroom closet. And I went and did my thing.

And after I had done my thing and much time had passed I would remember, all of a sudden, that oh my goodness I’d left that baby in that box in that closet. And I would rush to the room and stop at the closet door, afraid of what I would find. I’d fearfully open the door, and he would be lying in that box on the floor. Just fine.

I had that dream several times during my pregnancy, and the uncertainty and the terror and the relief that I felt each time were visceral. I woke up, each time, feeling sick.

Then he was born, and I was all thumbs when I gave him his first bath in the hospital, and I worried myself crazy imagining all the things that could go wrong. And the nursing wasn’t working and he cried so much and I was alone in my little home in the middle of nowhere for days on end.

I remembered the nurses’ advice. Their confident you’ll get the hang of it, and you’ll know what to do, and babies are tougher than you think.

But he didn’t seem very tough. He seemed small and helpless and I didn’t always know what to do. It didn’t just come naturally. And I felt like the biggest mommy failure in the world when I gave up and gave him his first bottle. And I remember the hours of crying baby and crying mommy and just knowing I was making a mess of it all.

Yesterday Matilda had her babies. Three tiny, perfect, mewling little creatures that were found under the front steps when Carter went outside to play. He heard them crying and searched them out and came in to tell me that the babies were alone and cold and wet and Matilda was nowhere to be found.

And like a slap it all came back to me. The not knowing how to be a mommy times. The times when it didn’t just come naturally.

For a while we left the babies where they were and just watched through the window. Matilda came and went but she ignored her babies.

She isn’t accepting them, Colton said. She doesn’t know what to do.

Finally we gathered the babies and a box and we put momma in with them, but she just wandered from corner to corner, stepping on the babies and trying to escape.

They’re going to die, Mom, Carter said, and he searched my heart with those big, blue, pleading eyes of his.

Let’s try to get them nursing, I said.

So I held Matilda on a towel on the couch, and Carter helped each baby, one at a time, find a nipple. And it worked. The babies nursed, and it was like Matilda really saw them for the first time. She tongue-washed them, and wrapped herself around them, and it was like she finally got it.

Is this what a mommy needs when she is struggling to find her way? When it seems like her instincts are betraying her? When she’s cross and tired and unlovely.

Because sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes, it takes more than an encouraging you’ll be fine.

Sometimes it takes a knock on a door and a hug and a let’s do this together, Friend.

Two can accomplish more than twice as much as one, for the results can be much better. If one falls, the other pulls him up; nuy if a man falls when he is alone, he is in trouble. Also on a cold night, two under the same blanket gain a warmth from each other, but how can one be warm alone? And one standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two stand back-to-back and conquer, three is even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (Living Bible)

I’m expecting the day to be a long one. A trip to the city with the boys and the dog. It’s hot and the dog is the one I’m worried about. He’s a handful. We have errands to run, and a dentist visit to make (right downtown, of course) and the dog is newish to us and I don’t know how he will travel. And he doesn’t heel or come or sit even, and how will we manage in the busy city?

It is a glorious day. The dog is perfect. The kids are wonderful. The mom is thankful.

We stop to pick up the long-awaited banjo. It has been on order for months, and Colton is thrilled to get it. He dumps out his wallet with the gift cards from Christmas and the crumpled bills and all the change, and it all covers the countertop, every hard-earned cent. The clerk graciously helps him count it out, dimes and nickels and all,  and he has exactly enough. He tucks a few coins back in his pocket and picks up his dream. He can’t wait to try it.

Tyson, who has been dog-walking in the parking lot, finds a banjo-tuning app on his iPod, and Colton finds some Earl Scruggs on my iPhone, and it’s all banjo all the time for the rest of the trip. A little Scruggs and some Steve Martin for fun, and, of course, the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys.

We find a parking spot downtown and leave Tyson with the dog, again. After almost three years, this is Colton’s last visit. The receptionist congratulates him on his graduation as we leave.

We drive to the mall on the south end of town, and park at the back of the lot where there is a little strip of grass and a bit of shade. Colton stays with the dog this time and the rest of us head inside. I buy the mango body butter I’ve been wanting – actually, I buy two, because they are buy one get one half-price and who knows when I will be back in the city again – and Tyson and Colton hang out for a few minutes in the games store. We buy huge, unhealthy cinnamon buns and a bottle of water to share, and we trek back across the parking lot to our shady picnic spot.

Several people walk by and many of them stop to visit for a minute. They smile, and they say, what a good idea, and they comment on the dog. I let the boys carry the conversations, and it makes me happy. The easy way they have with strangers, their willingness to engage.

They fool around a bit with the banjo, and the next visitor, an older lady, is enchanted. She remembers the old days and the barn dances and the boys smile and joke with her. Lovely.

Reluctantly, I pack up the garbage and call the boys to load the dog. We have another appointment in Moose Jaw on our way home, and we need to be on our way.

I leave the city, thankful for the graceful moments we’ve had along the way. Thankful for the helpful clerks and handy parking spots and kind receptionists. But thankful, especially, that we took the opportunity to picnic in the parking lot.

I’m alone in the house when my oldest comes in and, without any preamble or bush-beating or the slightest hesitation, tells me she’s dead. “She got hit on the highway,” he says.

“Who found her?” I ask, and when he tells me it was Colton, my heart cracks open a little.

“He carried her home,” Tyson adds. “It’s not pretty.”

I take a towel from the bathroom, one of the nice ones, and I go outside to find my two youngest men with their dad, standing over her little body lying still in the grass. I hand the towel to my husband and put my hand on Carter’s bent head and I reach over to hug my tall, middle son.

“I’m so sorry, Colton,” I say and he nods and the tears fall on his sweet face. I want to take him inside and wash the red off his hands and take off his blood-stained clothes and bathe and jammie him like when he was five. But he’s fifteen and ten years makes a world of difference and all I can do is to stand with him.

We watch as my husband wraps her broken body in my green towel, freshly wind-scented from the clothesline. And we gather at the spot chosen and I can’t help but cry as all three of the boys take turns with the shovel and the pile of black dirt grows beside the hole.

“Find a stone,” says my husband to Carter and Colton, and they leave, mission-focused. When they return, sharing the burden of the carrying, he looks at them and quietly says, “That’s a good rock for her grave, boys.”

In my mother heart I think they shouldn’t have to be carrying broken love in bloody hands or digging black holes or finding rocks for graves. And I know there are big, sad tragedies out there, bigger and sadder than our’s, but this is the tragedy that is breaking my boys’ hearts and mine today, and it’s big enough.

With the hole dug and the rock chosen, sweet Bella is laid to rest and Carter and Colton say their tearful, heart-broken goodbyes while the oldest stands a step away, leaning on his shovel, because that is how he is.

“She was a good dog and a good friend, and it’s okay for you to be sad,” my husband says. And the hole is filled and the rock is placed and I watch as my youngest writes his puppy’s name across the stone, and Colton takes the pen and adds, you were loved.

She was.

He comes into the house, the small, torn body in his hands. Two are dead, he says, and the mom took off with the other one. Poor momma cat, her babies only hours old.

We aren’t sure who to blame? The dog? The other cat? But the new babe in his hands is so hurt and he wants me to do something. We find a little box and we put in a heated bottle and a towel and the sad little body.

It’s pretty bad, I say, trying to prepare him. And it is. But we try. Because how do you just leave a life, no matter how hopeless, crying on the ground.

He tries to feed it some baby goat formula with a little medicine dropper that I hunt up from the back of the kitchen cupboard. And we cover it and place the box on the ledge of the sunny kitchen window. And I know, as he goes out in search of the mother cat and her other baby, that he’s saying a prayer for this little life.

And he gathers the other tiny bodies from the ground before his little brother sees, and the baby in our kitchen window dies, and we mourn the small tragedies.

It’s the way of it, says his dad. There’s killing and sadness and death and that’s the way of the world. We just do our best.

So the boys fix the cat’s house on the deck with a fresh towel and some sweet smelling food, and the momma returns with the small bundle of calico in her mouth. And it’s not perfect, or right, but it’s good.

 

 

 

Yesterday, I posted the sad tale of what happened when my four men were left alone in the house with a dog who was in desperate need of a haircut.

Oh my goodness! When I came home from my book club meeting, my youngest couldn’t wait to tell me what they had done. I was ushered into the living room to see the creative results of their efforts. Mainly, I think, they just wanted to see (and laugh at) my reaction.

I’ve always taken Bella to a professional dog groomer. We are trying, though, to reduce our expenses and so haircuts for the poodle have been one of those things crossed off the list. One of these days we will buy a hair clipper for her, but it hasn’t happened yet, and Bella had become very, very shaggy.

So, the boys took it upon themselves to do the job the other night. With scissors. Which is very difficult and very time-consuming. Which means they cut the hair on her head, and that was it. Which mean that when I saw her, her head looked about four sizes too small for the rest of her. Plus, they’d decided to leave a tuft of hair (“It’s her crown!”, says Carter) on the top of her head. As if she didn’t look ridiculous enough!

Yesterday afternoon I took up the scissors myself, and managed to trim the rest of her. But I left the tuft. I don’t want my boys to think I don’t have a sense of humour, after all! And today, at nap time, this is where I found my sweet girl.

Dogs are such forgiving creatures.