Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Braving the Biffy to Find the North Star

I am not sure what part bugs me to most: the dirt and sand all over everything, trying to make meals without the benefit of refrigeration or a pantry, the ocean water activities, or the biffy.

I am afraid the biffy makes the headliner as the part of camping that I hate the most. When one enters the special needs department of bodily output after two kids, endless trips uphill and downhill to the rank Porta Potty hold little appeal. My biggest worry is I am not going to make it in time and disgrace myself. And looking at other people's crap really is something that I don't miss at all once we return home. 

My husband assures me that we were not even really camping. Renting a tent cabin at Two Habors is merely "roughing it". It's the wimpy version of camping. I'd hate to experience the real thing. No toilet thingy at all, no me. That's that.

How did I manage to sum up the inner strength to go on this journey? Okay, that's a little strong. But I did have to suck it up and take one for the team. I was not overly enthralled to face the parts of camping I felt uncomfortable with. I did it for Horse Girl.

Five years ago we crossed the ocean on the Catalina Express to spend a couple days in the sun, surf and nature at the Two Habors camp site. Horse Girl was ten. The Bee was five, still a nursling. It was a magical trip for the girls.

The Entrepeneur loves the outdoors; as an enthusiastic and able camper (former Boy Scout) he is in his element. If the girls had been camping with another me, they would have been miserable (I'm a wimpy scaredy cat and can hardly light the propane stove). Their dad brings adventure into their lives and, thank the stars above, Horse Girl and the Bee don't take after me in the hiking and outdoor adventure department. They are more like their dad -- sure-footed goats on the trail, confident mermaids in the water.

Horse Girl requested to go to Catalina this summer. The Entrepeneur and I had originally thought to take the girls to the Grand Canyon. But Horse Girl rarely requests anything -- she is not generally a demanding kid. This gentle request was something that needed to be listened to. 

It had been a really rough year: adjusting to high school (although despite everything I do get motherly bragging rights that she did do pretty darn great academically, especially considering all her personal struggles that were along for the ride in addition to all the school crap), facing the internal challenges Horse Girl has been dealing with, dealing with therapists and trying to figure out how to best navigate this journey of adolescence. 

I really didn't fully understand Horse Girl's Catalina request until we got there. And in my worst moments, when I wanted to bitch and complain about camping, I had to hold my tongue because I knew this trip was not about me. It was about her. 

When I hiked into the campsite on that first day, I thought about the first time we had made the trip. Horse Girl was ten. Very close to the Bee's age, actually about 6 months younger. Ten. It's such a lovely age. A girl is still full of her own power and strength. She has not gone through all the changes of puberty yet and with it all the baggage that comes with adolescence.  

And that's when I understood. I understood that she was trying to get that back. That feeling of personal strength and power. Her belief in herself and that she could do anything. The feeling of safety in the circle of her family. This realization nearly brought me to my knees with heartache. 

And then, to further mark the symbolism of this trip, Horse Girl got her period. She had been really upset (basically flipping out) before the trip about the possibility of this happening, but then forgot about it in her excitement (maybe it was really just denial). At first, I felt bad about the timing, but I think in the end it was a good thing. She was open with the family about the situation (she had always been extremely private about her cycles even with me) and handled it with grace. It was, as they say, a learning opportunity. 

There were no electronic/internet devices allowed (our own family policy for the trip) and physical activity filled most every moment: walks up and down the hill to the beach, swimming in ocean, snorkeling, kayaking, walks into town and back, walks to the biffy,  and hikes to interesting destinations like the USC Marine Lab. 

Just so you don't get the wrong impression and think I was doing all of that, mostly the Entrepeneur and the the girls were doing the swimming, kayaking and snorkeling. It was really windy (and therefore a cold,  brrrrr) and even though I had managed to get into the water the first time we visited Catalina (it's very gentle water due to the habor so it's perfect for the non-adventureous like me) I didn't even swim until the third day when the Entrepeneur found a private cove that had no wind.

The first day we got the kayak, the Entrepeneur put the girls in and made them figure out how to row it back to the campsite beach themselves.  I was freaking out, but they did it. They were stuck by a boat in the harbor for a bit, but Horse Girl took the reins and played the teacher to her sister while the Entrepeneur and I made the hike back from town to the campsite beach. Fathers help girls to feel capable. Thank you, Entrepeneur!

By the glow of the campfire, we enjoyed the stars while stuffing ourselves with the sticky contents of S'Mores. Horse Girl pointed out the North Star. We wondered how sailors navigated by the North Star. There are people who know how to do that -- find their way by knowing where the North Star is.

The next day the Entrepeneur took us on an adventure to the private cove that I talked about. It's near the USC Marine Lab which is a protected area where an amazing array of fish, leopard sharks, manta rays and other sea life live. The Bee and I walked the two miles to the site; Horse Girl and the Entrepeneur took the kayak. I wasn't sure what the hell I was going to do while everyone was snorkeling, but necessity called for a pack mule to bring the food and supplies and walk one child to the  destination since the kayak only holds two people -- I was the pack mule. Since I didn't know what the area looked like, I was just hoping for a dry, non-scary spot to read my book while everyone had fun.

I was beginning to feel a little grumpy about the whole camping experience. Mainly because I really wanted to be a good sport and swim and stuff, but it was really hard for me. I wanted to be good example of what women can do, but I really wasn't. I was just me with my own hang-ups and fears.

So when the Entrepeneur came back after dropping the Bee off at the secret place after picking her up on the rocky beach at the Marine Lab where we stood and then expected me to get in the kayak with the huge backpack of supplies to bring me to the secret spot, I felt a little alarmed -- I sure as heck didn't want to scramble up wet, slippery rocks somewhere. I was expecting to sit on my ass waiting patiently, not being part of the adventure.

I am not sure what made me get into that kayak. I think the large group of kids and adults that had just arrived at the beach in their dinghies and donning wetsuits right where we were made getting into an emotional scene with the Entrepeneur less appealing. And the backpack had all the supplies, including mine, so I couldn't just let it go without me. I didn't even have a life vest on and was holding my breath the whole way while the Entrepeneur shouted at me to look at the fish below. Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee...

Then the secret place revealed itself. A little rocky beach at low tide, surrounded by great cliffs and rocks. Enclosed, private and beautiful. Magical. Okay, suck it up, lady. The Entrepeneur was right. And we made it without tipping over. I was alive. And dry.

While the Bee and the Entrepeneur took their turn snorkeling (Horse Girl went out first before we got to the secret spot -- two mile hike, remember?) Horse Girl got me into the water (finally) and we had a good time swimming. Actually, I loved it -- there was no wind, it was a totally protected spot. The water was smooth and beautiful.

The Cave
She showed me how to use the snorkel mask (not my idea, hers) -- which really freaked me out since you can't breath in through your nose -- and I got to see the kelp, seaweed and some water creatures. Not the good ones, though. I wasn't brave enough yet to go into the bay to see the fish and the sharks, yet. Not because of the creatures, but because I was having a hard time adjusting to mouth breathing without panicking.

The girls and the Entrepeneur spent hours swimming with the sea creatures. Exploring the wonders of the ocean and exploring a cave before the tide started coming in. I felt so happy that he could bring this magic into their lives. That he could help them explore and seize the day. To own their place in the world. To marvel at the beauty of nature. To believe in themselves.

I felt extreme gratitude.

On the way back, Horse Girl and I took the two mile hike on dirt road back to camp.  She spoke of the importance of being physical in her life (which was interesting in that she had been a complete couch potato since school ended). Being away from Facebook, instant messaging, texting on her phone, and watching TV, she felt much freer. Days spent swimming, walking and exploring agreed with her.

I told her this was a North Star point for her -- physical activity. Your North Star consists of  the internal compass points you use to keep your life on track; when you get off track you need to remember your North Star so that you keep yourself on the right path and don't go adrift. More than one thing can be your North Star and you are discovering those things. She made a discovery.

Her internal compass which guided her to camping in Catalina was spot on. I am glad she listened to her inner voice. I am glad we listened to her.

As the boat back to San Pedro left the dock to bring us back to our everyday lives, I felt a strong tightness take hold in my chest. I did not expect to feel sadness and longing leaving the dirt and the biffies, but I felt acutely that this trip was a sacred moment in time. A unique chapter in our history of our family. If we came back five years from now, when Horse Girl would be twenty and the Bee fifteen, everything would be different. A whole new dynamic.

I stared at the island for a long time.

I felt grateful for the magic that we encountered during our trip. Grateful for the experience of being together as a family knowing that the next years hold many changes. Grateful for the strength and competence Horse Girl found within herself.

I hope that she can hold on to those feeling and experiences -- make them a part of her internal compass to guide her when she is feeling lost and unsure on her path to becoming a woman. May her North Star shine bright within her -- and always be there to guide her.

P.S. My personal discovery was that I actually loved kayaking! the Entrepeneur and I took an early morning jaunt on our last day there (at my request), so hopefully I am somewhat redeemed in the adventure department in my girls' eyes.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Mother-Daughter Group: A Survival Strategy

It all went dark. The curtain came down and the trap door opened dropping us into a veritable abyss of absolute craziness. The first semester of high school. After homeschooling for six years.

My very last post here reveled in the bliss of being child-free for the day and the milestone of having a freshman in high school. Having a high schooler is momentous in and of itself because it's hard for me to believe that I am old enough to have a kid in high school. Brings new meaning to the old adage, "The days are long, but the years fly by".

Those memories of myself in high school feel like almost yesterday. Vivid. Real. Touchable. Yet, they are in essence so very far away. My husband and I always freak at the thought that our daughter is closer to the age that we were when we met each other in college than we are to that very same age. It's a little weird.

I really felt like crying those first two weeks of adjusting to Horsegirl being in high school. It wasn't because she was away. Although, that was rather strange. The Bee and I did feel a little sad and adrift at the change. Mainly, it was that I felt overwhelmed with the paperwork of signing forms acknowledging that I had received and read each teacher's syllabus. And figuring out the teacher websites. The running back and forth to Staples for the very specific items each teacher wanted Horsegirl to have for that class.

Figuring out the homework assignments and adjusting to a grueling schedule was a little overwhelming for Horsegirl. And for me. And for the Entrepeneur. Really, for the whole household. Everything turned upside down. Frantic seems to be a good word to sum it up.

And that's just summing up the actual schoolwork adjustment. Another level of angst was added by the sheer level of human suffering occurring within some of the student body at the school. Second week in began with a suicide of a girl at another school who was close friends with the crowd Horsegirl was hanging out with. Then weeks later another school friend was committed to the UCLA psychiatric unit for suicidal feelings. In general, there seemed to be a lot of medicated kids. And kids with struggles.

I kind of felt like we had been living in an alternative universe for years and we were suddenly dropped in the midst of a place I didn't really understand. I went to a Catholic high school where if you put one toe out of line you were picking up trash in the quad. A private school has the power to kick a student out if they misbehave. So hearing stories about how a girl in class wastes class time arguing with the science teacher about not turning in her cell phone after inappropriate use, making a big scene and finally getting sent to the deans office or about another offender who calls the teacher a "bitch" to her face stuns me into silence. I simply cannot comprehend.

Since we are not in the financial realm to send Horsegirl to a private school here in Los Angeles, we console ourselves with the idea that as a loving and strong family, our daughter is protected from many of these negative factors. We pat ourselves on the back for our wonderful parenting. One really should never do that too soon.

Because then we discover that Horsegirl herself was struggling with adolescent issues which brought with it a new wave of frenetic coping to the family. I hope at one time to be able to write about these when they resolve (now is not the appropriate time), but in the meantime just open to the first chapter in Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and you'll get an idea of what life is like in my world.

You know, I read that book when my girls were really little. Took me while to get to it to -- not a real heart warmer, you know? I think I believed I could avoid the painful part of this phase by doing "everything right" earlier on. But, adolescence snuck up on me.

I don't really feel prepared for this phase: the high school, the life stage of my daughter, her challenges, my challenges, looming independence, dealing with the cold, cruel world -- one's confidence starts to plummet. I am much better at mothering babies, toddlers and younger kids -- I did feel confident. Now I sometimes feel like I am walking through a land with grenades hiding all through it. Small chance of getting through unscathed as an explosion of some sort is more than likely to be set off any point; I'm just trying keep damage to a minimum. As we move through this minefield of adolescence, the mission is keeping whole selves as intact as possible.

A life-saving device? The Mother-Daughter Group. Horsegirl and I belong to a Mother-Daughter Group based on the book The Mother-Daughter Project. The subtitle continues as, "How Mothers and Daughters Can Band Together, Beat the Odds and Thrive Through Adolescence". We began this group shortly before our daughters were ten and have been meeting for a little over five years now. Which, honestly, is an amazing commitment here in Los Angeles, the land of flakes.

Our group was starting to fall apart a little bit due to scheduling conflicts and the distance we live from each other -- the challenge of trying to bypass L.A. traffic and of finding a convergent time with all the scheduled activities was sometimes like trying to solve an intricate math problem. My concern about Horsegirl galvanized me to seek support from the other mothers of this group (okay, I basically begged that we continue for my own sanity and Horsegirl's sake) and we renewed a focused commitment to our group this year.

We began our year with a mother/mother meeting. Talking together we realized that our girls were challenged by similar feelings all expressed in different ways. Being in the supportive presence of these other women really bolstered me (although the menopause discussion left me a little concerned for my future). Seeking support is a definite weakness for me. I will suffer silently -- not always a great strength.

We decided that we had certain topics that we wanted to cover, but also felt that one thing our girls really needed during this anxious time was some extra TLC at home. Our other plan of action this year is to do fun activities together as a group which means a little more effort on our part (we're tired, you know?). But we felt that we need to set an example of positive and healthy good times. So far, so good.

Our Mother-Daughter Group gives us the chance to talk with our daughters about subjects that might not come up otherwise. As a group, we mothers we can broach issues that might feel embarrassing or taboo in a one-on-one setting. There is definitely strength in numbers. And our daughters have the opportunity to openly discuss issues on their minds. And hear responses in a supportive environment. As the girls have matured, we have had many in-depth discussions that I really don't think would have happened without this group.

I remember a mother who dropped out of the group stating that discussions were happening organically with her nine-year-old and that she didn't need a group. I can honestly say now that once your kid is a teenager, there aren't too many "organic" discussions of this nature. Teenagers are often secretive and developing their independence -- having a a formal group to discuss certain issues and topics is enormously helpful.

I am now on my second Mother-Daughter Group with the Bee (so I have two ongoing, different groups -- yes, my schedule is quite, uh, full. Thankfully I only have two kids). The difference between the two groups is readily apparent. The new group is a full of fresh, enthusiastic moms with their first group and they have lots of energy and project ideas (and then there is me -- believe me, I need their freshness!). My first group was the same way in the beginning. Now we are a little more tired. Life happens.

But, I am committed to both groups with whatever energy I can spare. A Mother-Daughter Group has so many benefits, some you may not even see until the time is right. If you have a daughter, I encourage you to read the book The Mother-Daughter Project and create a group in your own community. It's never too late to start a group, but it's easier when your daughter is in the open and enthusiastic ages between 7 and 10 years old. Creating a supportive community is beneficial to mom and beneficial to daughter.

Driving with Horsegirl to our monthly Mother-Daughter meetings, I will, of course, sometimes hear her teenage grumbling and complaining. Heck, I think it's a teenage developmental requirement. But in the end, my adolescent daughter knows we are committed to this group. Through my commitment to our M/D group, my commitment to her during this strange and trying journey of growing up becomes loud and clear. She is worth it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

And the Bells Ring Again

I'm feeling guilty right now. I'm sitting here when I should be doing any number of other projects. Not fun projects. It's all housework and organization -- like washing a sink full of morning dishes, putting the dry goods away from this morning's shopping and also all the dry goods left out in bags still from last week's grocery shopping or cleaning out the refrigerator (Again! Why does it always need to be purged and reorganized? Ugh.) So, I'll put it off for a little bit.

Actually, I'm not really sure what to do with myself right now. I'm not sure if I should be productive and get stuff done so that our home runs more efficiently (please stop laughing now) or whether I should just sit on my fat ass and relax for a few hours. I'm torn. See, I'm child-free for the next 2.5 hours. Well, if you count the time before, I've already been child-free since 8:15 a.m.

The Bee is at tennis camp -- today is her last day. Horse Girl started high school this morning.

I have to pause a moment just to let that settle in. My. Baby. Started. High. School.

I am not sure which is more shocking -- the fact that she is high-school-aged or that she is actually attending a high school. We've been homeschooling for the last five years. The last day of second grade, when the school year ended and we walked home from the school after informing the attendance office that we wouldn't be returning, was one of the best days of my life. I can still see it clearly in my mind and feel it distinctly in my body, walking home with the little Horse Girl. I felt relieved, elated and scared. Mixed emotions.

I feel the same today. Relieved, elated and scared. Having her return back to the school system has not been easy for me. I guess the difference for me this time around is that this was a choice that she made for herself.

I began this year investing in books like The Teenage Liberation Handbook, Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don't Go to School Tell Their Own Stories, and Homeschooling: The Teen Years. I felt committed to continuing the alternative education path that we had started for Horse Girl. Because of her passion for horses and the unique opportunities that arose for her due to educating her at home, I wanted to make sure that she would be able to continue to be able to take advantage of being homeschooled. I felt charged. I felt ready to take on the challenge. 

I also felt a little worried. I won't kid you. I'd read a lot of success stories. I'd read about un-schoolers and about letting your child find their own path. But, I never felt completely comfortable with the total un-schooling life style. I am not a rigid curriculum based homeschooler either. I've been more of an eclectic homeschooler -- some subjects the girls have had to do (math, writing, reading) and others we've bumbled around and tried out different things or followed their interests.

Frankly, as far as Horse Girl, I was getting a little burned out. I felt enthusiastic about learning Spanish together and bought a language program that we could both use. She initially wanted to learn German so she could talk with her cousin; I hesitated over that. I don't speak or know a lick of German, so I would be of absolutely no help to her. She also refused to spend time with friends of ours each week who did speak German. I really did not want to invest in an costly language program that would be languishing unused on our computer desktop -- I had a pretty strong hunch that this is what would result. So, I suggested we start with Spanish, her grandmother spoke five languages, so if she was able to show a commitment to Spanish (which I wanted to re-learn anyways) then I would invest in German. Spanish was also more practical for her with her work with horses.

Well, there wasn't much commitment to the Spanish program. Horse Girl did start it, but then did not want to work on the program on the computer stating that she liked working one-on-one with people. Okay, let's sit down and work together. But getting that accomplished was difficult as well. It's not easy roping a teen in away from Facebook, or looking at herself in the mirror or from episodes of day-dreaming. And then I had to hear ad nauseum about how much she disliked the Spanish teacher she had on Fridays with some friends -- mainly because she like another former teacher who was cooler and younger, but who could no longer teach their class.

I also bought her an expensive math curriculum with a DVD component so that she could work on her own with me helping to clarify things. I really was hoping she would be a little more self-sufficient and I thought she would enjoy that, too, so I wouldn't be breathing down her neck.  Well, that ended up with me completely teaching the math in private tutorial sessions. 

You know, you read about all those brilliant homeschoolers who are self-motivated and accomplish great things. Now, I'm not saying my girls aren't great -- they are -- they just don't want to do any of the educational things that my husband and I feel are important. Math is not optional. Period. Did I mention that I'm not an un-schooler? 

Right around the time that I was reading the aforementioned books and connecting with other homeschoolers to lock in a high school level English/writing class, alternating between fits of despair and moments of determined commitment, Horse Girl drops the bomb. She wants to try high school. And not for academic reasons.

I absorbed this information. I actually listened and didn't start on a long lecture of why I hate the school system. Amazing. Because inside I felt alarmed. And scared. But, I did check out the information on school's website and made an appointment for a school tour. When I mentioned it to the Entrepeneur he freaked out a bit. We got into an argument of course (I'm a first-born and he's an only, so there is always an argument.) So, I put the whole thing off for a while.

The Entrepeneur started checking out private girls schools for high school for Horse Girl. I informed him that the application process happened in October of last year. It was too late to apply. Not to mention, how exactly would we afford that? We'd have to start robbing banks. I'm a crappy con-artist, thief and lier, so I don't think that's a good profession for me.

Near Horse Girl's fourteenth birthday, something gets triggered in me. I look at the school website to find out specific information about registering for school and when the school tours are. I am horrified to find out that the application deadline for the school has passed. I'm thinking, "What the hell? Application DEADLINE? I thought this was a public school." I freak out. A whole torrent of self-accrimination launches forth in my mind. How I'm a terrible mother. How could I do this to my kid? On and on. You know the type of thoughts. Just don the hairshirt.

Of course, I ran into another mother that whose kid was already enrolled in the school for the next year. Our girls had been in pre-school and kindergarten together. She confirmed that the deadline had passed, the school was a charter school and didn't think there was much hope for us. We'd be forced to homeschool. I double freak. But, this also gave me a I-definitely-want-to-prove-you-wrong boost.

There were three more tours left during the school year for the school. I signed us up for the next one. On the day of the school tour, I kept an open mind (which is difficult for me on a school campus.) Horse Girl was there, too. She actually had classes that morning with other homeschoolers, so I had to "take her out of 'school' " to visit the high school. Which actually just meant that I was losing money. But, it was worth it.

It was kind of weird to see my tall, willowy girl wide-eyed, luminous and enthusiastic juxtaposed against most of the other kids who were there with their parents. You could tell most of the kids weren't too excited for the most part. They were forced to go to school. They were nice kids for sure, but they didn't have the same shining eyes as my kid.

Which meant, of course, that she loved it! Horse Girl definitely wanted to go to the high school. After the school tour, the Entrepeneur was enthusiastic, too. Once he knew his girl was happy. And, anyways, the school is his alma mater. So, that was pretty cool.

Not that we didn't have reservations. School would put a definite crimp on horsing activities and opportunities. We also didn't want Horse Girl to be academically marginalized in school -- school just seems to be so much about limitation and labeling rather than truly supporting our youngsters. And we didn't look forward having our family schedule owned by the school system. A big ugh.

But, despite these compromises, we supported our girl. We took Horse Girl to every school event that would give her an idea of being a freshman and being at the high school would be like: "Seniors Speak Out Night", a meeting about Honors  and AP classes meeting students and teachers (I have no idea whether she'll be in Honors classes or not, but wanted to put all possibilities on her radar) and the "Open House and Showcase Night."

I spent hours -- and I mean HOURS -- preparing her for the math placement exam. This was no easy feat. Horse Girl's hormones and teenage brain had taken over and math was at the bottom of the list of important subjects. It's rather demoralizing to spend 30 - 40 minutes teaching a particular math process only to be interrupted with a dreamy request to see if we have a particular ingredient in the house which can be used for a facial. Are. You. Kidding. Me.

Horse Girl still felt enthusiastic about going to school, though, despite having to prepare for the test. Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention. How was she going to go to school if she couldn't get in? After getting all the required documentation for the school together (which involved being stuck in the bank for two hours in the safety deposit box vault because our box lock broke; I was assured by the bank manager that this was a random event that happened every few years or so. How lucky could we possibly be?) Horse Girl and I walked in to the Administration Office to register her for the 2012-1013 school year. Since we were way post-deadline, I was prepared to do battle for my baby. Sorry to say it was very uneventful with her being duly accepted to the school as we were residents of the area, except that I learned that the lady who helped us had a homebirth with a midwife during the seventies. Interesting what you can learn about people.

So, now -- today -- right at this moment, Horse Girl is at school. It's 1:03 - so she either has Integrated Science or World History -- I can't remember which. But English is next. She was up until 10:30 p.m. finishing her Summer Reading Project for English (Really?! It's summer vacation. Don't get me started...) She is wearing her cool new boots and shirt that we bought yesterday ready to take on the high school world. The world of bell ringing and lots of homework. And boys. Sigh. That's probably the part that's the hardest.

So now my time is up. Soon the Entrepeneur and I have to pick up the Bee from tennis camp and enjoy the awards ceremony. Then we pick up Horse Girl at the library. I can't wait to find out how it went. I hope she got those gym clothes. I didn't get anything productive done at all. I did sit on my fat ass (said affectionately.) It was fun. But now, I'm late, hungry and duty calls.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Breastfeeding Beyond World Breastfeeding Week

Breastfeeding's on my brain. This past week has been World Breastfeeding Week celebrated this year from August 1st to August 7th. I feel a little guilty because I feel like I should be out there in public with a sign touting breastfeeding this week, but in the mom zone sometimes I just can't add one more thing to my life to organize and get together. And I don't even have a breastfeeding baby to tote along any more for all the Latch-Ons that are being organized.

My efforts to help mothers succeed at breastfeeding come from leading monthly breastfeeding support meetings, helping and supporting moms on the phone and through my childbirth education classes. Education and correct information help pave the way to successful breastfeeding, but the most crucial element is support. Each mother that I work with I can offer support to and by doing so help to her achieve her breastfeeding goals. So, I work quietly behind the scenes helping one-on-one.

I am disheartened by the current breastfeeding rates. When I read on the World Breastfeeding Week page that according to UNICEF's State of the World's Children Report 2011 only 32.7% of 136.7 million babies are exclusively breastfed in the first six months, I felt shocked. For the United States specifically, our report card is pretty lame -- only 14.8% of our babies are breastfed exclusively for the first six months. Here in California, the rates go up to a whopping 25.7%. We're double the national rate, but still way below where we need to be for our children. Only a quarter of our CA babies still breastfeeding exclusively at six months? This actually meets the Healthy People 2020 Breastfeeding Objectives - but why is the goal so low?

I feel passionately about the importance of breastfeeding. Yes, I know that breastfeeding has incredible health benefits for both the mother and the baby. Yes, I know that breastfeeding is good for the environment. Yes, I know that breast milk is the baby's normal food and that formula is better looked upon as a medicine to be used only when its truly needed. Yes, I know that breastfed babies generally have higher IQ's. I know that breastfeeding has many benefits.

Yet, the main reason I feel passionately about breastfeeding is for a reason that can't necessarily be measured in concrete terms. For me the real power of breastfeeding lies in the strength of connection and the sense of wholeness breastfeeding gives to each new little person born into to this world. A breastfeeding baby is living his biologically correct destiny -- he is designed to breastfeed. Breastfeeding meets his needs for food, for comfort and for connection. Breastfeeding fulfills his efforts at communicating; the breastfeeding mother who responds to her baby, nurses her baby, and holds her baby in her arms enables her child to feel wholly understood. A baby (or child) who feels understood feels good about himself and at peace with the world.

This is a depth of communication between a mother and her infant that can only be found through the act of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is an intricate dance of mutual and reciprocal communication between mother and child. I suppose that would fall under the title heading of "bonding', which I hesitate to use here because it's not specific enough; it's easy for some to minimize breastfeeding's necessity in this role; certainly there are other ways of bonding besides breastfeeding. But the breastfeeding relationship is a very specific form of communication that is different from any other.

Part of feeling deeply attached to another person lies in good communication; for babies, good communication -- which lays the foundation for the baby's sense of self -- starts with breastfeeding. Biologically and emotionally a baby needs to breastfeed. When he is in a mutually responsive breastfeeding relationship, he learns that he has the power to make things happen; his attempts at communicating with mother, the sun at the center of his universe, are fulfilled and he feels good. The world needs more children who feel understood, at peace and good.

When a mother chooses not to breastfeed or weans her baby prematurely (which I would consider six months to be) she closes a door of communication. She breaks connection. She looses a tool that cultivates sensitivity and attunement that can help her communicate best with her child. Her child's best way of communicating and getting his needs met has been unplugged. His need for her can more easily be diverted to a less satisfying object like a bottle or pacifier; a bottle or pacifier can make it easier for the mother to focus on other things rather than holding her baby in her arms and connecting to him. It can make it more likely that she will be less sensitive to his needs and helping him develop a good sense of self which is found through positive interaction with her.

Breastfeeding reminds the mother to stay in communication with her baby. When the mother is exclusively breastfeeding there is no denying that she is essential to her baby -- she is the only one who can meet her baby's needs to connect and communicate in this very specific way that is so essential to his well-being. She is the only one who can empower him fully in this way, laying the groundwork for a healthy and balanced human being.

I nursed both my daughters for many years. This breastfeeding relationship was essential in helping me to understand my daughters' needs and to respond to them; I developed a more highly-tuned sensitivity to their needs and a deep level of communicating with them. In doing so, I helped them to develop a strong sense of themselves. I am not sure why I nursed so long (it certainly wasn't a goal of mine), except that it seemed to be important to them and I trusted that if they felt they needed to nurse, then it must be essential for their development. I know without a doubt that our relationship and their sense of self would have been much different without breastfeeding.

I do not blame or look down on mothers who nurse for less time. I understand that our society is very hostile to breastfeeding and makes it difficult. I understand our birth practices in the United States make it challenging for mothers and babies right from the get go. I know that formula marketing and the formula companies' priorities of putting profits before human health undermine breastfeeding. I understand that many families lack enough support after having a child to help them succeed at breastfeeding. Don't even get me started about the lack of maternity leave for our new mothers. I understand that there are many obstacles.

Yet, this understanding this does not make me feel less sad for the babies who are not being breastfed or are breastfed for only a very short time. This is doing a disservice to our children - a disservice to our future. This is doing a disservice to mothers who also can feel a great sense of empowerment at their ability to provide for their children's needs at their breast. Not breastfeeding is a loss all around on many levels.

Our babies need the sense of peace and well-being that the act of nursing at their mother's breast provides. Our babies need this essential act of communication that can help foster a heightened level of sensitivity that is found in the breastfeeding mother. Our world needs children who feel understood and who approach the world with openness and peace; in order to understand and feel empathy, our children need to experience it first -- experience it at the breast. We need to find a way to keep the doors of this vital form of communication open for our mothers and babies.

Today, World Breastfeeding Week ends, but each and every day it is our responsibility to help our sisters, our daughters, our neighbors and yes, even our enemies, to achieve breastfeeding success. This is the one of surest ways we can bring a balanced sense of self to our children -- helping them become persons with a strong and healthy sense of self balanced with empathy and understanding. Persons who can work on healing and restoring balance to our world. Persons who understand the value of life.

So today or tomorrow, whenever you next have the to blessing to witness a mother nursing her baby, give her an encouraging smile, a wink or even two thumbs up. Let's let mothers know we support and value their efforts.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bird Days Part I: Something to Crow About

It's been a week for the birds. Really.

On late Monday afternoon, on my way to quench the thirst of our parched vegetables growing in the front yard, I was hailed by my neighbor across the street. The problem: Bird troubles.

I walked over to their house to find out the problem only to see a young, black crow smashed up against the bottom stone step, not moving. This did not look good. It kind of looked like it had flown into the step almost like a cartoon character smashes up against a wall.

Just to preface this situation, I think we're known as the animal folks in our neighborhood. We fostered a baby crow nine years ago that fell out of its nest and was injured. No rescue place would take it (believe me, we tried to find a way to foist that responsibility off on someone else.) Nurturing the little crow was an incredible amount of work, but it turned out to be an amazing experience. I still respond internally to the sounds of a baby crow's call -- kind of like once you're a mom, you instinctively respond to the cries of other infants.

In our shared neighborhood history, my husband has also shown the neighborhood kids a variety of snakes, lizards, rats and mice that he has caught. Flashback to the time we accidentally killed two parent mice (actually I think we relocated one prior to our knowledge about the young 'uns and the other was accidentally done away with when my husband took out the drawer to try to catch it and then unfortunately squished it when he put the drawer outside.) Subsequently, we found out that they had babies after the fact. One at a time. We would be sitting in the living room and then see a streak go buy in the kitchen. So, we ended up catching each baby in the humane trap over a course of a week.

They seemed way too young to be able to survive on their own in the wild. They were wee little things (actually, really cute and silly.) Usually, if we encounter any kind of rodent problem, we catch the rodents in a live trap and then move them out to the hills where there are no human residents close by -- this way they have a shot a life or end up being someone's dinner rather then us having to distasteful do away with them in a snap trap or some other killing device.

So, we ended up caring for these little mice babies in a special aquarium box until we deemed them old enough to be let go in the big, bad world out there. It was kind of fun. An educational experience. Did I mention that we home-school?

Okay, we're suckers. Bleeding-hearts. Animal crazy. Whatever you want to call us.

Back to Monday: So, after observing the crow for a moment, I could see he was a fledgling by his feathers -- meaning he was just learning how to fly.  He wasn't a wee one (I felt secretly relieved because, now that I think of it, these same neighbors were the ones we inherited the other crow from. While that was a wonderful learning experience, I really didn't want to try to add another animal rehabilitation endeavor to my overburdened schedule right now.)

The young crow had beautiful, dark mature feathers growing in.  But, his neck was jammed up against the step and he wasn't moving at all. "Please, don't let it be broken,"  I prayed.

I had several warring emotions going on. One was worry for this crow's physical health; I find an injured animal upsetting, especially when its injuries are mortal. Another was worry for me -- hell, I did not want to have take on another animal injury case; I am way overloaded in my life right now. At the same time, I felt in awe of the moment and excited by the opportunity to be in close contact with a wild animal. Such a moment seems sacred to me -- rare and special.

I gently picked him up by scooping him under his breast and under his feet, carefully moving him and cradling him in my hands against my body. I could feel his feet grip around my fingers.  As I moved him away from the step, his head seemed normal -- it didn't tilt in an odd way - which looked good to me. His wings didn't appear broken. I moved my hand down a bit to check out his feet and make sure he wasn't lame.

I noticed blood on my finger. His blood, not mine. I got a little worried, but when I really inspected his feet they seemed to be gripping my fingers just fine. No toes curled up in lameness. Looking more closely, there was a scrape on the top of one leg going onto his foot that was bleeding a little. Didn't look like worse case scenario. Phew.

His mouth opened slightly. My neighbors were concerned about giving him food - so I suggested some dog food soaked in water - but he wasn't interested in eating. Really, he seemed in shock. Of the flight, fight or freeze reactions, he seemed to be in freeze. Poor guy, probably thought he was going to be lunch.

I can't tell you how wonderful it felt to hold him in my hands. It brought back so many memories about our other experience with our foster crow, Henke. To have the chance to hold a magnificent wild animal in your hands is just so cool. I felt a warm feeling in my heart. I loved looking at his blue-grey eyes, feeling his shiny, silky feathers and feeling the weight of him in my hands. I felt really blessed to get the chance to hold him.

He seemed fine enough that we just needed to find a safe place to put him where his parents could find him and he wouldn't get attacked by a cat. First thought was my neighbor's roof. But, once we got up on the balcony and my neighbor got on the roof, it seemed decidedly too slanted and unsafe - we could imagine the poor thing rolling to his death if his foot wasn't really sturdy.

Back to the drawing board. I didn't like the idea of the plants or the ground. Too many cats. The ash trees were really tall -- we would need a ladder and still we had the problem of not knowing the exact damage to his foot and if he would be able to stay in the tree safely. In the end, we ended up putting him on top of their car on a towel with some wet dog food. That way his parents could find him.

My husband later suggested to our neighbors that they might want to put him on their balcony during the night so he would be safer. I didn't know about this suggestion until the morning and I woke up in the middle of the night totally freaked out with alarm because I realized that on the car he was a sitting duck (or crow!) for owls.

My neighbors got busy and forgot to move the fledgling crow. I found this out in the morning from my neighbor when I woke up really early to go check on him. He wasn't there.  We didn't see the young bird anywhere.

There was, however, a big crow poop that looked pretty fresh on the top their car (I am very familiar with crow poop). And no feathers left over from an attack. So, I was hopeful that the little guy wasn't an owl dinner, but reunited with his parents.

As it turned out, the fledgling did survive the night. We discovered this when our neighbor told us that the crow was on their porch hiding behind the large, blue planters. Sure enough, as the Bee and I observed through our window looking at our neighbor's porch, every now and then the little guy would peep out or start strutting around back and forth in front of their door.

He looked good. Neck fine. Wings fine. Legs and feet in darn good shape. Everything appeared to be working. And he survived the night!

That morning we could hear several mature crows calling out and saw them flying around our neighborhood. His parents had to be out there.

The Bee loved observing him and asked lots of questions. Eventually I needed to go grocery shopping and move on with my day -- the Bee was decidedly unhappy about this. Did I mention that our children are animal crazy, too? Apparently, there is a genetic component to this strange madness.

Later, when I our saw our neighbor's teenage son, I asked about the bird and he said that he wasn't there anymore. I felt both happy and sad. Happy, because I do believe he fully recovered and managed to fly off to be with his family again once he figured out what to do.  Sad, because that moment of interaction with a beautiful, wild creature was gone.

And yet, it stays with me -- the moment where two different species interact and affect one another. One gives the gift of caring and help. The other gives the gift of appreciation for the magnificence of life. Something to crow about.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Perch

It's been lonely. No warm legs or cool feet against my body; no arms flung across my face. No warm, soft body of one of my children next to me. Sometimes, I find it just a relief. Not being cramped up -- pushed against the the veritable edge of a shared mattress. Or having the covers kicked off leaving me cold, vulnerable and irritable. Actually, I am amazed I am able to haul my 40+ year old body up there -- there's no ladder. For the last month or two (who can keep track of time? -- it's a blur), I have been relegated to the "Perch."

In our house, it's musical beds and always has been. We bought a California King bed when I was pregnant with our second child, the Bee. And for a while we had a futon on the floor that Horse Girl slept on early in the evenings before she migrated to our bed for the rest of the night. I was happy to have Horse Girl sleep in our bed and having her sleep on the futon wasn't a goal; she simply noticed that her neighbors and friends had their "own" beds, so she wanted one, too -- just in the same room as us. Whatever, works.

For many years it was the "family bed" -- with all of us in the California King. As the girls grew bigger, my husband would sometimes complain about the conditions being cramped. I didn't have much sympathy. When we were looking to purchase a new bed before the Bee was born, many friends who had been through the sharing sleep routine had earnestly recommended that we purchase the Eastern King rather than the California King (the Eastern King is wider than the California King, which has more length). Did my dear husband, the Entrepeneur, listen? Oh, no. He listened to the sales pitch of the mattress guy about how a tall man like my husband needed the extra room for his long legs found on a California King. Mmm-hmmm. Whenever he would be irritated and complain at the cramped quarters, I would laugh and say, "Sure, it's a little tight, but your feet must sure be comfortable!" Remember, guys, the little woman really does have some valuable information occasionally inside that pretty little head of hers -- if only you would listen.

About three years ago, my husband surprised the girls with a bunk bed for their room, a room they had never slept in. We had all been sleeping for months squashed together in bed because the futon had been disposed of when we put our house on the market to sell (this was right when the housing market crashed so you can imagine how that went.) For months we lived in a pared-down, staged house desperate to sell it with the one bed in the bedroom because it would have been "too weird" to have the futon in there, too, along with the bed. And, now that I am remembering, it wasn't even the King we were sleeping on -- it was the old Queen bed because the King was in the back bedroom to create a "Master Suite" which I didn't want dirtied up. It was definitely tight quarters.

Anyways, toward the end of this drama of trying to sell the house, the Entrepeneur arrived home with and secretly put together the bunk bed for the girls. They were so excited. My husband was so excited - he had always wanted a bunk bed. It took another 4 months for me to get together the bedding for the beds, so during that time we were still in one bed, but by this point we had put the King back in our regular bedroom. The girls and I had gone down to the Fabric/Garment District in Downtown L.A. to buy material for the duvet covers - a really beautiful and fresh Hawaiian print with a light green background with orange and yellow flowers. When the beds were finally ready, the girls were so excited to sleep in them. Horse Girl claimed the top bunk. The Bee preferred the bottom. Each girl felt content.

For several months I lay next to the Bee to help her fall asleep and often slept next to her on the narrow twin mattress. Wasn't the best night's sleep, but a mom's got to do what a mom's got to do. Horse Girl appreciated me being there with them in the room, but felt excited to have her own sleeping space. Several months later the Bee completely weaned herself and told me that she could sleep by herself. I sat next to her while she fell asleep.

In my own bed with the Entrepeneur the first night that the Bee wanted to sleep by herself, I felt electrified with anxiety - sleeping without a child beside me feel absolutely bizarre. It did not feel right. I had slept the last eleven years with a baby or child right beside me (most often one on each side of me) -- watching over each child -- aware of her presence, her breath, her needs. I felt at one with each of my daughters. One bedroom away felt like so very far a distance. I felt sadness and loss.

I felt this way for several nights until I was able to adjust to the new normal. I eventually appreciated that I had more room. That I could snuggle next to the Entrepeneur -- we could touch feet while we slept. I realized that the covers weren't being suddenly and rudely kicked off exposing my poor, tired body to the cool elements of the night air. My arm didn't fall asleep and turn in to ginger ale from being stuck in one position without any ability to find an alternative due to a complete lack of room in the bed. I can't remember exactly how long this went on, but, boy, did it get comfortable.

And then, as parenting goes, it changed again. I think the Bee saw a something that scared her on a show or film (I think it was the Entrepeneur's fault) and she has been back in our bed ever since. Matters are further complicated by the fact that the duvet for her bed has been soiled for some time and I need to get it to the laundry mat to have it cleaned (where to find the time?), so there are no covers for her bed; but, she doesn't seem likely to go back for a while. She seems quite content to have her parents on either side of her while she sleeps.

And then, it changed again. Horse Girl, every once in a great while, decides she wants to sleep with everyone. Now, Horse Girl is taller than I (she just celebrated her fourteenth birthday) so she is a whole other adult sized body in our not-as-wide-California King bed. Usually this is when she is working through some developmental milestone be it physical, emotional or mental (see, it's not just babies or toddlers!) While my husband and I groan (only because we know it will be cramped and we will get a dubious night's sleep), we feel comfortable granting her request because we have always had an open-bed policy -- emotional wholeness and security come first.

Sometimes this makes the Bee very upset. When she had covers on her bed, if her older sister decided she wanted to share the night's sleep, the Bee would get angry, stomp to her own bed and sleep there riddled with resentment. I still am not sure if it was the cramped quarters that bugged her or sharing us. The jury is still out.

Horse Girl has been going through big changes. She has been wanting to sleep in the Big Bed for a while now; I am not sure what it is exactly. She has decided that she wants to attend the local High School next year -- that may be part of it. I think that she needs this physical and emotional connection before she embarks on this new journey by herself. I think it may also be the need to be close. She confided in me that she prefers to sleep with all of us and felt chagrined because at her age wanting to do so was "so lame." Since the Bee migrated back to the Big Bed, Horse Girl has been all alone, while the rest of the family is all snuggling together.

Sleeping together with other family members has been the norm for thousands of years. Sleeping in separate beds, in separate rooms is such a relatively new phenomenon for human beings. We are meant to cuddle together in a tangle of limbs like puppies. We are mammals. We seek the comfort of each other. I let her know that her feelings were totally normal and that being apart was simply a cultural ideal that had no relation to biology or, for throughout history, practicality -- who could afford all those beds unless they were enormously wealthy? Sometimes we are happy apart, but most often, we want to be together.

So, that's how I ended up in the Perch - the top bunk. The Big Bed is so squished that, if I share the sleeping space with everyone, I stumble through the next day wondering what is wrong with me until I remember -- oh yeah, that was a terrible night's sleep. The Entrepeneur has no intention of sleeping in the Perch - not enough room for his long legs. So it's the girls and their father.

The Bee felt mad for a bit with me in a separate room, but she has been complaining that her teenage sister doesn't pay enough attention to her, so it's a nice chance for them to bond. I cherish seeing the girls sleep side by side. When I check on everyone, before I make my assent onto the Perch, I see the girls sleeping right next to each other, their bodies aligned together. Sisters, sharing their dream world together. Protected and watched over by the Entrepeneur, their father.

So, for the time being, it is I alone in the Perch Don't know how long this will last. I don't worry about it, because I know that this part of parenting is always changing. I know that my girls are growing so fast and that time moves on so relentlessly that it will be only a short, short time before they are really going out into the world on their own. This time period shall pass and become the source of cherished memories.

I sometimes enjoy being by myself, but most often I miss being next to everybody. There is something so lovely in sleeping all together. On the to-do is list is getting that duvet cleaned up so the bunk beds are ready for the girls when the girls are ready. And maybe a shopping trip for that Eastern King.

Just kidding.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What a Difference a Dog Makes...

Snowy and Luna meeting for the first time
In the delicate balance of relationships, I find it amazing how one soul, one individual being, can make such a difference. Immersed in a the daily struggle for survival and trying to get through the endless web of daily interactions and needs, I failed to fully understand the true impact that an unstable, hostile and aggressive being could affect on our family and our quality of life. Maybe it's easier to see now that we are removed from the situation. But it really makes me aware of how important the quality of our relationships is and how a single living being can completely warp the delicate emotional and physical health of the family as a whole and also for each member individually. That being can be a person or, in our case, an animal.

The story of our late dog, Udo, can be found here. All in all, our experience with Udo was rather traumatizing. The entire dynamic of our family was turned upside-down - Udo's personality and behavior negatively affecting the emotional state of our home (in a constant state of high alert and fear), stressing our interactions with each other and negatively impacting our physical and mental well-being. The real irony to that whole set up was that I initially hoped that getting the dog would have a healing and positive influence for my husband who has to endure a lot of stress with his work. Well, that sure didn't turn out so well.

I guess what's so amazing to me is this was "just a dog" and the negative impact was so profound for us. Seriously, we are still recovering from it. It makes me wonder just how terrible it must be to live with a person in one's household that emotionally takes everyone hostage. I really feel empathy for anyone in that situation - and I don't think it's necessarily uncommon here in the U.S. as there seems to be quite an abundance of emotional instability. I think the constant trying to improve the situation and hoping that things will get better is truly draining. And the altering of oneself to try to appease the other leaves one feeling like a shell of oneself. But, that's material for another post.

On the other end of the spectrum, a different relationship can bring forth a whole other dynamic - a positive one which ripples out like the waves from a stone thrown in water. Sometimes relationships can surprise you. We were sure surprised when we unintentionally adopted a dog named Snowy. Filled with trepidation and fear, unsure and wary, yet reluctantly willing to take the leap to give an older dog a new lease on life - well, boy did that end up bringing a ray of sunshine into our life. Totally unexpected.

This strange little white dog with her small narrow head, spotted inverting ears, curly tail exposing her undignified butt-hole, legs too short, body too long and a disproportionately big rib cage - such a funny and odd arrangement of features, but put all together make such a comical and endearing little character. Who knew that this old gal would bring laughter into our home? Who know that she would bring warm feelings of anticipation at the thought of  bringing her on errands and adventures? Who knew we could actually pet her and she would like it? Who knew that she would be the catalyst for healing?

I sure didn't. I thought she was just going to be a burden. That we were doing a good deed. Instead, she ended up doing the good deed. I feel so thankful to this sweet little soul - to have her in our lives. Now that she is here, it's like when you have a child - we couldn't imagine our lives without her.

Not that it's all perfect. Naaaaaaaw. But her idiosyncrasies pale in comparison to our late dog. I can deal with Snowy shredding kleenex boxes and paper goods and peeing on the floor when we leave her at home because she is quite literally pissed she couldn't go with us. We end up trying to bring her with us whenever we can as a result, to the point that my husband will even bring her to his office on the mornings we have school activities. She has us well-trained already.

So as a tribute to Snowy  (a.k.a."Granny") here are some things we find endearing about her:

  • The Bump: For a while Snowy wouldn't eat her dog food. Now she'll eat it, but she'll often wait for an "upgrade" - that is for some of our food to be added to it. Why fly coach? At the table or while I am cooking, any one of us will feel this sudden bump of her needle nose into our legs - usually it's a "bump, bump"; that means, "Give me some." Well, it works. It's so cute we usually do "give her some."
  • The Shadow: Snowy has been following me around every second of the day for the last few months. We should have called her Tinkerbell. If I leave the room she'll follow me. If she's asleep, she'll wake up and follow me. The poor thing feels so honor-bound to be by my side that she'll often be standing next to me, her eyes blinking and drooping with exhaustion, but still she's there. Maybe this will mellow out as time goes on and she feels more secure. We'll see. In any event, I feel like a have a personal body guard, a guardian angel or a groupie at all times. She even attends my childbirth education classes and manages to snore during relaxation. 

  • The Lookout: Snowy loves car rides. Our late dog used to growl at the kids and not let them in the car and also throw up at least one time on any family car event. Snowy, conversely, loves the whole pack arrangement - all together in the car? Awesome! She positions herself propped up on the armrest between the driver and front passenger seat so she has the best view. She's on the Lookout. It's a serious job. Looking for...other dogs. Here's where her alter-ego steps in. She is very sweet and well behaved on walks and meeting with other dogs on the street. The car is another story. This is Granny's moment to let it rip. And her bark is so bizarre. It starts as a grumbly, gurgling type of sound and then escalates into the strangest sound I have ever heard. We usually end up laughing. It's a little embarrassing, too. She goes bonkers and sounds absolutely bizarre - people on the street turn their heads in astonishment. Some have even laughed. Hopefully, she doesn't take this to heart. Best of all, she doesn't barf in the car. 
  • The Shredder: We love to take Snowy with us when we can. Sometimes she has to stay home for a short while by herself. Well, she clearly doesn't like this. We've come home to shredded board games (that she took out of the closet herself!), kleenex boxes, yoga mats. Sometimes she'll pee on the floor even though we've taken her out before we left on a walk to make sure her bladder is empty - somehow she manages to save something up. Now we'll "accidentally" leave an old box near the door when we leave; the shredded remains go into recycling. Have to figure out some kind of way to deal with the pissing problem. Sigh. 
  • The Scratch: So speaking of pee, each time she takes care of her business (which is quite often as she like to leave her personal business cards for every dog to know she's been there) on her walks she scratches the ground afterwards like nobody's business. She puts chickens to shame. Rivets of dirt and grass go flying - I do not exaggerate. I wish I was. It's almost embarrassing. I have to walk with her on the curb side of the sidewalk so she doesn't destroy everyone's lawns. I also have to move fast when she poops, otherwise she becomes Stinkfoot. 
  • The Trot: Snowy has a darling little walk - it's like a trot. She picks up her feet in the most endearing way with her tail and head held high (well, the head is variable as she also likes to smell all the good smells that are out there.) When another dog approaches she puffs up her body and prances even more. Show off!
  • The Curl: She sleeps curled up with her nose tucked under her tail like a fox or a cat. I didn't know dogs slept like that - a tight little circle. Very cute. I bought a nice bed for her from L.L. Bean that is for small dogs and has padding around the sides. She loves it, but only at night - remember she is following me around all day catching cat naps here and there.
  • The Snooze: Snowy will often be the last to arise in the morning. A dog that sleeps in. Amazing.
  • The What?: Actually I think she sleeps in because she can't hear much. Initially we thought she didn't respond to "Snowy" when we called her because that might not have been her name. We've pretty much figured out she probably can't hear a damn thing. I think that is why she is often the last one up - she doesn't hear any of us getting up in the morning. When we arrive to pick her up at my husband's office, if she is asleep - she snoozes on as we open the door and step inches from her. I think this contributes to her following me around all the time and keeping me in sight, too, since she can't tell what's going on by sound. A little obstacle, but we still love her.
  • The Jump: Somehow I have become her main bonding person (I think it's because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.) When I go out and arrive home, boy is she excited. She jumps up about two to three feet in the air right beside me as she is beside herself with joy. It's astonishing. Never seen anything like it. Boing, boing. Go, Granny!
  • The Mystery: So, speaking of jumping, Granny's pretty darn agile. She can leap into our cars including the truck which is pretty high. She leaps in the air. She can stand on her hind legs begging for treats. She can walk long hikes head of the pack, tail wagging, head held high. I can hardly keep up with her on walks - I come back sweaty. This seems mysterious for a dog whose paperwork we received from L.A. Love and Leashes identifies her birthday as the day before my first born meaning that she will supposedly be 14 years old at the end of this month. If Granny is really 14 and is this peppy and able, um, I want some of whatever she's been having all this time before she met us. Really, I don't know if I'll be in that good shape (if even alive) at age 98. Is Granny really a granny? We don't know - it's a mystery to be sure. 

The only thing we are sure of is that we made the right decision by taking a chance on her. This little Basenji, Jack Russell Terrier and What-Have-You mutt is our little snowy white angel, Heaven-sent to bring some laughter, love and light into our lives. Thank you, Snowy! What a difference a dog makes...