Not long ago, Richie and I were in a waiting room together for an hour and a half. He was (semi-)watching the movie Brave on his tablet, and I was reading Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Or I was trying to. Because when Richie has a long stretch of quiet to think, the thoughts that come into his head are varied and humorous and telling. And luckily for me, he seldom sensors them before sharing.
My Dear Son,
The weeks of summer are flying by, and you continue to change and grow at a staggering pace. In an effort to remember some of your/our finer moments, I started a list…
What I love: That you have finally gathered the bravery to swat flies yourself. I know their buzzing both irritates and terrifies you; you seem to hear it at a volume far beyond what the rest of us do. And yet, you face your fear and attempt to get rid of them under your own power.
What I don’t love: That the glass slider in our kitchen is covered with so many splotches of blood, guts, and broken wings that I’ve begun referring to it as “Death’s Door.” (Note to self: introduce Windex.)
What I love: How much you enjoyed
Question: How do I know when it’s time to replace the coasters in my living room?
Answer: When you can’t find one because The Big Dog has eaten them all.
My son, Richie, starts middle school in the fall. It’s a big transition for any kid, and even bigger for those on the spectrum. An unfamiliar building, an all-new routine, and unknown challenges invoke the anxiety that often goes hand-in-hand with Autism.
To help the kids with their transition, our elementary school takes all the 5th graders on an outing to the middle school. They get to tour the building, check out a locker, and get a little inside scoop from the 8th graders who volunteer to lead the tours. I’m willing to bet that the leader of Richie’s group was a boy because he told them all about detention. Richie has spoken of little else since.
“If I get detention will they yell at me?”
“If I get detention and miss the bus, will you pick me up?”
“If I get detention will that be on my report card?”
This morning at breakfast, he asked if he would get detention for having Autism.
I wanted to say, “Of course not!” but instead I asked, “What do you mean?”
“If I’m not focused and I’m thinking about something else, what if they give me detention?”
“Oh, Honey,” I assured him, “they don’t give detention for not paying attention. Listen, Richie, you are a rule follower. I don’t think you’ll EVER get detention.”
“Really. You get detention for fighting, for being bad, for screaming at someone.”
“Oh, okay. But what about bad table manners in the cafeteria?”
Today’s word is naplivious.
- forgetful due to afternoon rest
- unmindful, unconscious, or unaware upon awakening:
I was blissfully naplivious and had no idea who I was, where I was, or whether I had children.
It’s been a rough week at our house. For one thing, the schedule is nuts. The end of the school year is approaching, with all its attendant final projects, concerts, field trips, and parties. It’s also baseball season; the Little League schedulers clearly delight in making it impossible to give your kid a decent meal at a reasonable time. Meanwhile, the daily grind continues; my children still expect to be fed three times a day and have clean underwear available on a moment’s notice.
To top it all off,
A year ago today, the home of one of my oldest friends, Miller, was filled with mess and confusion. Already sleep-deprived from over a week of waiting for the chaos to begin, Miller watched as her living room was overtaken by a rush of bodily fluids, squirming neediness, and unknown challenges ahead.
Eight weeks later, she sent one of those puppies to live at my house.
It was the culmination of over two years of me trying to add a second dog to my
pack horde. I believe in adopting rescue dogs, and the six dogs I’d had in my life up to this point had all been rescues of some kind. During these years, I spent way more time on Petfinder than on Facebook. Seldom did a week go by without me shoving my phone in my husband’s face and shamelessly pleading, “How about THIS one?!?!?”
I cannot say no to a rescue dog. Rich, however, is really, really good at it.
Four times during those years (are you paying attention? Two years! Four lousy times!) Rich agreed that the dog should be ours, and I filled out the adoption paperwork. The first, a floppy little black mutt named Marie, had lots of people clamoring to adopt her, and the rescue organization gave her to someone else. The second, a chocolate lab mix reminiscent of my old dog Ted (the greatest dog ever), turned out to not like little dogs, and since we already had our terrier mix, Scooter, we could not adopt her. I can’t even remember what the third dog was; my poor, tender, doggie-obsessed heart was beginning to harden.
The fourth – the heartbreaker – was a big, black, beautiful mastiff mix who was found roaming the streets of Harrisburg. You know my chocolate lab, Ted, the best dog ever? That’s where he was found: roaming the streets of Harrisburg. That day in 1994, I left work early, took him home, and began looking for his owner. He spent the next 11 years loving my family.
Long story short, we didn’t get the Mastiff mix, either. After a lengthy application process and many, many calls and texts between me and the rescue, I showed up at my appointment time with my husband and children to meet the dog we were all aflutter over…and was informed that they had sent him home with another family a few hours earlier.
I stayed off Petfinder for a while after that.
A few months later, I got a call from my old friend Miller (I say “old friend” both because it’s been almost 25 years and because she has quite a few years on me, and we have the kind of loving, soul-deep, take-no-prisoners relationship that requires me to point that out as often as possible). She was in a whirlwind of excitement (she has a lot of those; it’s one of the reasons I adore her) because she had bred her Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and soon there would be puppies!
Rich didn’t need a lot of convincing. We’d spent time with Miller’s Swissies (as GSMD’s are often called) and loved them. His research into the breed didn’t reveal a single reason to refuse; in fact, it convinced him that a Swissy would be a great family pet who would most likely add joy and love to our family life.
And she has. We named her Millie – after Miller, of course – and she’s now a fixture in our house. A big fixture. When we brought her home as a tiny puppy, the first thing she did was walk right underneath Scooter. Now he fits in her mouth. Last night, she walked underneath the dinner table as we were finishing up and while her head was in my lap, her tail was curled up onto Jillian’s plate at the far corner of the table.
Still growing into her body, she is goofy, awkward, and always in the way. Every morning, the dogs prance and beg for me to put them out, but then as soon as we start walking downstairs to the back yard, Millie stops in the middle of the staircase to stretch. Every. Single. Morning. She sprawls herself diagonally, blocking my way, with her front paws three steps down from her back paws, opening her mouth to yawn loudly, and bringing the whole production to a screeching halt. When she’s done, she prances to the bottom of the staircase, turns, and looks back up at me like, “Woman! What are you waiting for?!?”
She has a hunger for No. 2 pencils that rivals my own for Nutella.
And the socks. Oh, the socks! Worn or clean, big or small, cotton or wool…she cannot resist their siren call. She finds them wherever they are. Sniffs them out from under a child’s bed. Digs for them tangled amongst a throw on the couch. Steals them from a neat stack inside a basket of clean laundry. They are scrumptious. And once she’s eaten and “processed” them, I get to clean them up from the back yard.
She’s also not-so-quietly trashing our floors. At almost 100 pounds, she and her claws have done quite a job of “antiquing” the hardwoods. The scratches and divots are something of a memory book for our family: “These are the marks from when she saw the rabbit. There are the scratches from when Uncle Buzz came over and she freaked with joy.”
And she leaks. Yes, that kind of leak. Mostly in her sleep, but also when she gets really excited. We’ve had her checked by the vet multiple times, and there’s no infection; it’s just the way she is. (Hormone replacement therapy may be the solution…who’d have thought she’d get there before I do?) I’m often spot-cleaning floors and gnashing my teeth at the destruction she is raining down on our house (yes, literally).
I love her. I adore her. We all do. Her beautiful face, her gorgeous coloring, the way she “talks” to us when she wants something. I delight in listening to her sleep; she breathes so deeply through her long snout and big chest. Her calm, rumbling exhales are the closest I’ll ever get to sleeping beside a lion. Or a T-Rex.
I have a thousand pet names for her, but when she’s in trouble (same as the kids), she is called by her full, given name: Miller. Rich cracks up every time he hears me, having discovered yet another puddle or stolen, chewed-up sock, exclaim, “Dammit, Miller!” To him, it sounds the same as when the original Miller would shoot me with her dish sprayer, soaking me in the middle of her own kitchen, and I’d yell the same thing: “Dammit, Miller!”
(The human Miller has since remarried and changed her last name to something long and Italian-sounding. But to me, she’ll always be Miller. Sorry, new husband.)
Best of all is how Millie loves the kids. The day we first met her, at three weeks old, she stumble-crawled right into Jillian’s lap. She’s owned Jillian’s heart ever since. Even Richie, who was never all that interested in Scooter, is constantly stopping to pet, snuggle, or consult with Millie.
A few weeks ago, Rich bought Richie a coloring book. Because of the fine motor skill challenges that are part of his Autism, Richie has never been big on coloring. But this was a “Day of the Dead” coloring book, filled with dancing, fun-loving skeletons, and Richie thought it was awesome. He took it downstairs to color, and to my absolute surprise and delight, we didn’t see him again for 30 minutes. Richie coloring for that long was absolutely unprecedented, and I couldn’t wait to see the results. When he finally came back upstairs, I asked if he would show me his work. He led me back downstairs, and showed me this:
I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing. “Richie,” I asked, “this is what you spent half an hour on?”
“I tried to, Mom,” he replied, “but I got distracted into petting Millie. She’s just SO CUTE!”
Happy Birthday, Millie. Here’s to many more years together! And don’t worry; we can replace the floors.