Rosie the Cat

Rosie, circa 2004. She says, "Phoenix?
Really, guys?"
I'm surprised by how much I cry.

First, when I ran back into the house - the kids all loaded in carseats already - to get lawn chairs from the basement. I saw her from the stairs, lying there on the floor, in a position unusual for her. I cried because I wasn't expecting it, not at that moment anyway, and because I don't want to have to deal with it. And then, later, when M wrapped her in a sheet and tucked her in a box. We went to the concert anyway, Laurel crying the whole way because it took too long and she has "nothing to do" and Mark O fussing because he hates riding in the car when he can't see my face. Tears streamed down my face quietly, until I started laughing after Laurel shouted, "Oh no! We are all crying! What will we do?"

I never even wanted a cat. M convinced me, the year we got our first apartment together. She came to us through one of his work friends. She was a neurotic creature, who didn't like to live with other pets. She had trouble grooming her long hair, and a passive-aggressive way of shitting on the floor when she disapproved of something. When he brought her home, she crawled under the claw-foot tub and stayed there all day. That night, she came scratching at our bedroom door and mewed until we let her in. She curled up at the foot of our bed and slept like that for the next 8 or 9 years.

She was fairly tolerant of our cross country moves and long term house guests and roommates. Late nights and wild parties. We used to have her shaved into the "cub cut" during the summer. She would eventually be grateful to be free of her long hair in the hot weather, but on the first day, she always looked naked and self-conscious. She had an extremely sarcastic and judgmental glance. But she also rubbed up against my ankles while I did the dishes, and kept me company whenever M was away. Her purr sounded almost like a chirp when she was especially satisfied.

When we moved to our current house and had kids, she was already very gray, and not as limber. She used to leap effortlessly up to the window sills or the back of the couch. She could still manage it to the end - even this past week, I saw her get up on the dining room window sill to look at a squirrel running back and forth across our garage roof. But she looked arthritic and unbalanced doing it.

Rosie says, "What is that thing and why
 is it so loud?"
Five years ago she started having kidney problems. The vet tried to give her this fancy, scientifically-prepared food, but she would only eat dry Purina kibble. Hairball Formula. Who knows what's in that crap, but I'm surprised she survived a decade and a half on it. Anytime we would bring home another brand it would sit uneaten in her dish for days.

Since Laurel started walking, Rosie pretty much moved into the basement. She would only come up when Laurel was at daycare, or late at night. However, recently, Laurel started visiting her in the basement, gently stroking her ears and bringing her scoops of cat food. Laurel learned to mimic Rosie's purring noises, but even after they started getting along, she would tell everyone she met, "We have an old cat. She is grumpy."

I'm surprised at how universal death is, for all living creatures. The way the spirit of a person or an animal leaves the body, and how profound that feeling is when you look at the body, at what is left. She was so decidedly gone. I wonder where that energy goes - all the subtle gestures that make up one's personality.

I'm not a cat person, not even a pet person, really. But Rosie was a trusty companion for 12 years and we'll miss her a lot.


Happy Father's Day

There are a lot of dance parties when M is around. I join in, but they are definitely instigated by M, or if Laurel suggests them, he always has the perfect song to put on right away.

Me? Not so much. I join in, but they aren't my thing. I don't make them happen the way M does. When he came back from Austin last week, there was a joyous living room reunion with a lot of twirling, spinning and leaping.

One of the benefits of having two parents is that you balance each other out. You each have your "things." Laurel likes to go out for pancakes with M. He takes her to have her haircut. They listen to Wire and Patti Smith. He taught her how to knead dough. They build giant castles out of wooden blocks together.

When Mark O was a newborn, he would turn his head the second he heard M's voice. Now he loves it when M rubs his head. I look forward to seeing what special rituals they develop together.

I have this memory of walking along a creek with my dad and brother and sister. It must have been summer, because we were school-aged - Danna and I at least. My brother's hat fell into the creek and I can remember my dad chasing it as it washed downstream. It was hilarious to all of us, and he never seemed to get mad about stuff like that. We could get muddy without getting in trouble. Everything was an adventure. When I think of that scene - one tiny snapshot out of decades of memories, it kind of sums up how I think about my dad. And when I look towards the future, I can see Laurel and Mark O following M along a creek bed in exactly the same way.

Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there!


Parenting Observations

I keep writing and deleting posts about working and it's driving me crazy. Situation is not resolved for me, but I'm done talking about it for now.

Anyway, here are some good old fashioned observations of my kids for the record.

Mark O rolls over. He can really only roll back to front, then he tries to crawl, but he can't because he's only 4 months old, so he squawks until one of us comes to the rescue and flips him back the other way. Endless hours of entertainment. Or frustration. Mostly entertainment, because Mark O has a really nice temperament.

He looks interested in food, but we tried some bananas and rice cereal and he's not so into the actual eating part as he is into snatching things off the table and chucking them on the floor. He can't really sit up yet, so it's probably a little early for the food.

He puts everything in his mouth, including his toes. He still likes to be swaddled and suck on a pacifier to go to sleep. He just had a checkup and weighed 12 pounds 9 ounces and was 24 inches long.

The thing I most enjoy about him right now is his smile.

Laurel's favorite games to play are 1. school (adults must be students, stuffed animals need not apply), 2. road trip (usually to the Smoky Mountains or Florida) and 3. get chased by other people's dads at the playground. (Sounds creepy, but it's not.) We recently connected with some other families who take their kids out after dinner, which is awesome. Laurel goes to bed when it's dark, which is getting pretty late as we approach the summer solstice. We went to Hartwood for a concert last night and it makes me really happy to see her take off running in that wide open field, blonde hair streaming behind her.

She's 32 pounds and I'm not exactly sure how tall. When I try to hold her in the rocking chair, there's long legs everywhere and she doesn't fit in my lap so well anymore.

She loves princesses and fairies, visiting the pet store to look at the animals, and cutting paper into itty bitty pieces.

The thing I most enjoy about her right now is her exploding vocabulary. I can't believe how many "big" words she uses, and what she knows about animals from watching tv and reading books. I also think it's funny how much she sounds like me sometimes. (Oh. My. Gawd.)


The Blurry Edges

It's 2am and I nurse the baby while staring at the glowing screen of my iPhone, doing research for a grant. I piece together a 15 hour work week in 15 minute chunks. It all works out, except when somebody won't go down for their regular nap, or wants to be held all night, or gets a fever.

Wednesdays, I drop Mark O off to "have lunch" with M, so I can meet with my reading buddy. He doesn't much like to read and pesters me to buy him candy from Ms. Princess, who sells it outside the cafeteria door. Is it good that I come? Will it make a difference? Push him towards success in school? Or maybe just bring a little happiness to his day? I don't know.

I pat myself on the back for making it to a last minute meeting. I park Laurel in the corner with her headphones and portable DVD player and tell them, "I have 47 minutes." Everyone laughs and coos at the baby. He comes everywhere with me, mostly asleep, but sometimes wide blue eyes open up to stare at the ceiling. I keep gummy bears in my pocket in case I need to bribe Laurel to do something quickly or quietly (she is, by nature, neither).

I do a lot of work for free. It's tedious, but crucial, to be the squeaky wheel. Phone call here, email there. Document everything. It's balance; you have to be mostly polite and friendly, with a carefully measured dose of bitchiness so they don't ignore you.

Learn to say no, and call people out on what they didn't do that they said they would. Pause 3 seconds after delivering that line, and then smile. A genuine smile, to disarm them and let them know that you aren't looking to get them in trouble. You just want a safe crosswalk for your kids. You just want to keep junkies off your porch. You are asking for something completely reasonable.

Hanging fliers and knocking on doors to rally neighbors for a zoning hearing is both altruistic and selfish....we got robbed 3 times in the first two years we lived here and it's a lot of work to keep the drug traffic to a minimum. We make a game of it, "I Spy the next phone pole..." and Laurel runs ahead, blonde ponytail swinging wildly from side to side. She greets our neighbors, hands them fliers, doesn't ask questions about the houses we skip on purpose.

Pumping in my house while the babysitter watches the kids downstairs feels weird, but helps me to separate the "work" from the "home," even as all the edges blur together.

I have this belief that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, at exactly the time I am supposed to be here. At 27 I was poised to land somewhere else with a fancier business card. I walked 2,000 miles instead. It would be nice, I sometimes think, to have been more career-minded. Maybe I'd have a better salary now, some tenure, a 401K. But these days I'm struck by how "enough" this feels. I have enough.  I am enough. This is enough.


Family Camping Review: Bald Eagle State Park

M ran in the Rothrock Challenge this weekend, so we decided to plan a little camping trip to Bald Eagle State Park, which is about 20 miles north of State College. It was really nice to be in the mountains.

The pros....
It was a standard PA state park campground. Clean bathrooms, including hot showers, firewood for sale in the park and a swimming beach. You aren't allowed to drink alcohol at the state parks, so even if people do indulge, they do it discretely. No loud partying types. I saw a lot of different birds.

The cons...
I could hear noise from the highway until pretty late into the evening (audible not deafening). The swimming area is in the same lake where motor boats are allowed, so the water is a bit, err, filmy. Nothing worse than swimming in the Atlantic, but no pristine mountain lake, either.

A bit about the weather...
Last weekend, it was in the 30s....this weekend it was near 90! I prefer camping in cooler weather. It just seems a lot easier to add layers to keep kids warm than to worry about sunblock and shade. However, Laurel really did like swimming at the beach and playing in the sand. The nice thing about man-made lakes in the mountains is that there are trees on the beach! Mark O and I just hung out there in the shade and he happily practiced rolling off the blanket.

On camping with kids....
It's kind of hard to make them sleep, especially in the summer when it is light so long. Mark O is still at an age where he'll conk out when he gets tired, but Laurel had a lot of trouble. If your kids will sleep in the car, try and plan some of your drives to coincide with nap time. We also need to get a bike for Laurel. All the kids ride their bikes around the campground and it's the perfect place since the traffic is slow and sparse.

I need to do some research on baby-friendly bug repellent ideas. My parents got us this awesome screened in dining canopy, but whenever we were out and about, Mark O had a lot of bugs on him. I ended up spraying his clothes with this Deet-free bug spray we have, but I wonder if I can put something directly on his skin.

The Marks.