Post Traumatic Stress


Hello, my name is Finn. I would like to lick your feet, eat some sticks and poop on your floor. 

I have a new baby in the house. As such, I’ve been getting up at the crack of dawn, adhering to feeding and pooping schedules and wearing a lot of sweatpants. I’ve also been struggling with that sense of isolation that only someone who’s been trapped in their house with a helpless creature – day after endless day – could ever understand. On the bright side, no one is trying to latch onto my nipples and make them bleed.

In the almost three weeks since I brought an 8-week-old puppy home, I’ve re-learned a very valuable lesson: keeping babies alive is a pain in the ass.

This goes for the two-legged variety as well. I’ve been reminded how hard it was when the kids were little – feeding them, cleaning them, putting them to bed, singing, dancing, drawing, talking, swinging, wiping, oh all that wiping – tables, hands, faces, butts. I’d forgotten, in all my romanticizing of the early years with my children, just how relentless it all was. There was always another chicken nugget to cook, diaper to change, dance lesson to load everyone in the car to drive to. There is something to be said for having children old enough to heat up their own pizza bagels and then disappear for the night to watch Netflix.

Having this puppy — a situation akin to having an 18-month-old careening drunkenly around my kitchen without diapers – also ushers militant scheduling and containment back into my life. Things that have been missing for a while. Let it be known that I am really good at the latter; when my children were young I was all about confinement and embraced playpens in my house and on the beach and when they needed a little more room, I’d set up a big play yard in the TV room. Now we have a baby gate at each of the three doorways into my kitchen and a play yard filled with toys and his blankie for when I can’t keep my eye on our pup because, apparently, that’s the perfect milisecond to squat and pee on the floor. He should be that speedy when we’re standing outside in the rain.


My new baby – I mean puppy – also requires me to be pretty faithful to a schedule and just ask the ladies I work with at Athleta, I am not always amazing at that. Sometimes I forget to show up for a shift and once I was folding leggings for an hour before someone realized I wasn’t even on the schedule for that day. Caring for infants was similarly haphazard. I mean, I never forgot to feed them or anything terrible, but I’d have a hard time remembering the last time I nursed someone or when they last slept. Maybe it’s just my powers of observation aren’t that sharp. Like, I often wished babies came with LCD screens on their foreheads that would display helpful messages like “HUNGRY” or “HAS 10 POUNDS OF URINE IN DIAPER” to help me figure out why they were crying.

Another thing I’ve been reminded of is that I’m really good at is letting someone cry it out. In fact – as long as I know all their needs have been met – I don’t even hear the weeping after a while. When I stick him in his playpen, the puppy will give it his all for about five minutes – he’ll throw in a little howling for good measure – then he’ll downgrade the session to some whimpering before lying down and resigning himself to his fate. I’ve had people fall on the floor and weep at Target when I refused to buy a Bionicle, so I can easily wait out three minutes of crying coming from a playpen in my kitchen. My children on the other hand can barely take 30 seconds of the charade. They try to shush him or tell him it’s “okay.” Sometimes they even pick him up and cuddle him. Suckers.

I knew what I was getting into with the pup. Or at least, I thought I knew. Like, I figured I’d be responsible for the bulk of his upkeep, but not all of it. I figured, since the children were so incredibly hot for me to get a dog, they’d do their share of standing outside with him at 6 a.m. watching him chew a stick rather than tinkle. But therein lies the rub: the kids were excited for ME to get a dog. Not really US. And so lately, I’ve also been harboring a teensy bit of rage, another feeling I haven’t really felt in a while. It’s like a big ball of resentment festering in my chest and waiting to pounce at the slightest invitation. I mean, it could have something to do with this whole menopause thing, too, as all my estrogen is running out faster than red wine at book club.


It’s similar to how trapped I often felt when the kids were small and I was home with them full time. Their dad could come and go as he wanted but the children were always my problem. I think it’s that way for most women, really, whether or not they work and even in the best of marriages. Meal planning. Earaches. Permission slips. Dentist appointments. These things all tend to fall under a mother’s purview while the dads remain blissfully unaware of all the moving parts that make the family machine run.

It’s probably why I resisted getting a new dog after our very fine dog died five years ago. It was nice having one less thing depend on me. I mean, even though my actual children are older now – some of them even commute and pay income taxes – they still need me. They call me when they’re feeling blue or when good news comes their way. And I’m still teaching them things, like “What are taxes?” and “How the U.S. Postal System Works” (SIDEBAR: a few years ago my son texted me FROM COLLEGE in Virginia to ask if he needed to use a stamp to mail something to Ohio).

I still badger them to get make dentist appointments or to get weird foot things looked at by someone other than me. And with a 14yo, I’m trying to figure out how to set parameters around that magic computer he keeps in his pocket plus I still have another round of high school to get through. Pray for me.

I worry about their jobs; whether they’ll fall in love and have healthy relationships; that they’ll find happiness no matter whom they’re with or what they do. Honestly, when I was so hot to have four kids all those years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Maybe none of us do.

This I do know: I wouldn’t change any of it. Because it is all hard, hard work, raising puppies and babies, but the payoff is what keeps pulling us back in. It’s how we find ourselves back at a breeder or in the delivery room. Waking up at all hours. Loving someone even when they’ve done something less-than-lovable. It’s the little hands on your cheeks pulling you in for a kiss; the pup asleep at your feet; the teenager who holds your hand when it’s your turn to get a shot.

So what is the alternative? Being alone? That might work for some but I guess not for me. I’ve learned that I need to be a part of a tribe, and there’s always room for one more. Provided he doesn’t poop on my floor.

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When Pets Lose Their Marbles

IMG_1344The other night I was sitting on the big, red couch in my TV room, all cozy in my pajamas, watching the most recent episode of ‘Fixer Upper‘ – my latest TV obsession. I was never really much of an HGTV person — but my 17yo totally is –and we wasted a lot of time recently watching ‘Property Brothers’ and ‘Love It or List It’ when she was home sick for a week with the flu.

But our fave home improvement show nowadays is ‘Fixer Upper.’ If you don’t know, ‘Fixer Upper’ features the most adorable couple — Chip and Joanna Gaines – who help other couples find and fix up houses in and around Waco, TX. They have amazing style; it’s all charming, farmhouse-looking remodels with lots of cement countertops and ship lap (I know, I’d never heard of that either).

Even my little guy is hooked on the show. The 12yo told me the other day that when he makes it big as a video gamer (sigh), he’s going to buy a house for us in Waco. What a guy.

We watched so many episodes of ‘Fixer Upper’ while my daughter was recuperating from the flu that we started to feel like Chip and Joanna had become our really good friends. We cheered when Jojo nailed a flip on the trampoline in front of her four little kids in one episode and shook our heads when Chip ate a bug in another. In fact, while we were sitting around in our pajamas one day (obviously I try to spend as much time as possible in my pajamas), my daughter Snapchatted my reaction to Chip plowing through a wall:

So anyway, I was sitting there on the couch when the cat jumped up next to me. She is not a snuggly creature and usually keeps her distance, licking her belly or snoozing for hours on a nearby chair, so I thought, “Oh, how cute. She wants to snuggle.”

I turned my attention back to ‘Fixer Upper’ when suddenly I felt something warm and wet spread across my back.

“Holy shit!” I yelled and jumped up to find the cat urinating on the couch next to me.

Legit peeing, right there on my couch.

She looked up at me, gave her back legs a big stretch, and hopped off the couch like everything was fine-and-dandy.

And since then, I have watched her relieve herself on my couch, a fairly new and nice couch, at least two more times. And while most of my children’s responses to this behavior has been, “Can we please get rid of her now?” the Cat People that I polled suggested she might be struggling with a urinary tract ailment and suggested I take her to the vet.

Okay, some backstory: this cat just appeared one day in my garage in the middle of a snowstorm, a bag of bones and with the side of her face burned. We felt bad and took her in and she set about establishing herself on the family food chain somewhere higher than the dog but lower than me. Her weapon? Pee and poop. She constantly peed on the dog’s bed and pooped once on my side of the bed and whether she succeeded in replacing me as the alpha chick around here is debatable, but she did prove her tenacity.

So the prospect of having to get her into a carrier to get to the vet made me very nervous. I had to have a pal come over and cage her during the Hurricane Sandy aftermath so I could board her until our power was restored and it was like trying to cage the Tasmanian Devil.

I ambushed her one morning last week and wrapped her in a beach towel and dumped her in the crate and headed – with my heart pounding – to the vet.

Three hundred dollars later (more sighing), they drew some blood and told me they could not access her bladder and sent me home with a kit to collect a urine sample myself.

You’re fucking kidding me.

But somehow I managed to trap some pee the other morning and enlisted my 12yo to hold the sample vial while I sucked pee into a syringe CSI-style and dropped if off at my vet.

Good news, I got a call from the vet Saturday morning and everything came back negative. Her blood work seemed normal and her urine was clean.

Which means she’s fucking crazy.

The vet suggested I rethink the type of litter I’m using. She also gave me the name and number of a local woman she calls the “Cat Whisperer.” She’ll come over and assess the situation and help you modify the bad behavior. And it should only cost another $100 or so.

Oh, or I could try putting the cat on Prozac.

And of course, these things only happen at the most inconvenient times, which means I was going away for the weekend and had to go to Home Depot to buy plastic tarps to cover all of our furniture while I was gone.

So that’s pretty much where we stand. I’m headed out to buy a new kitty litter box in the event that the current one is not meeting the cat’s urination standards. And then I’m actually considering hiring the Cat Lady to come over and try to reason with her.

But so far, there’s no moral to this story – as far as I can tell – other than pets are a pain in the ass.

And expensive.

Maybe I should just consider sending her to Waco.

Got any suggestions? By all means, send them my way. As long as it doesn’t cost me any more money. 

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Poop Happens

IMG_0063Today I would like to talk about poop.

Specifically, I would like to discuss animal poop, and even more specifically: my feelings about cat poop.

Because even though I’ve been a reluctant cat owner for, like, four years or something, I still haven’t been able to get a handle on all the poop she makes and just the whole kitty litter box thing in general.

It’s gross.

And right now, it’s become my fucking problem since her real mother—my oldest daughter who carried on about keeping it when we found the half-dead cat in our garage one snowy night—is away at school, leaving me to deal with the little turds that pile up in a plastic box on a daily basis in our upstairs bathroom.

Again, gross.

And then there’s all the litter she kicks up onto the tiled floor after she’s done her business. One of my kids actually refuses to use that bathroom – dubbed the “kids’ bathroom” – because of the specks of grey litter scattered across the floor, and uses my bathroom instead.

In fact, since the litter box was set up in the kids’ bathroom a few years ago, no one really uses that latrine any more. I often come upstairs to use my own bathroom to find the door locked, Z100 blaring on the portable radio next to the sink while my 11 year old stands in the shower for 20 minutes before exiting sans soap or shampoo and leaving a towel on the floor in his wake.

And then there’s my concern about all that weird dust that gets stirred up while I’m scooping things out of said plastic box. The lavender-scented dust floats in the air right in front of my face, which I thus inhale, and I am convinced the matter will be the cause a decade from now of my mesothelioma diagnosis.

How can this be good for my lungs?

What I’d like to know is: how do people have more than one cat?  I can’t even imagine the type of waste maintenance involved in such an endeavor. One of my daughter’s friends recently mentioned his family had four cats and all I could think was, “How does that even work?” I can’t even go there.

I didn’t really grow up with cats, I mean, my mom had acquired one while I was away at college, but I was never involved in any of her upkeep and so still don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing with mine.

But I am no stranger to poop.

Cleaning the litter box is a good reminder of my desire to get off the waste management crew around here for a while. Between the four kids, two now-gone large dogs and the ever-present kitty cat, I have been dealing with other creatures’ poop for two decades. Oh, and let’s not forget the guinea pig, mice, numerous fish and two hermit crabs I’ve cleaned up after – or yelled at people to clean up after – along the way. (Wait, do hermit crabs poop? I don’t remember.)

My ex-husband actually dealt with a lot of the dog poop over the years, so I have to give him that. He’d dutifully walk our first dog to the dog park in Hoboken early in the morning and again after work to do his business and later, he’d go out into the backyard to pick up all the giant piles left by our giant dog.

He also helped out with our kids’ poop management but I probably handled the bulk of the diaper changing. The accidental poops in big boy and girl panties. The poops I’d find floating in the tub after my toddler would sit down and the water acted like a giant enema, freeing waste from little bowels.

When my ex moved out, our golden retriever Rudy was so traumatized by the split he started bypassing the backyard and just pooping on the family room carpet. Super, totally disgusting. The vet actually suggested putting the guy on anti-depressants to help him cope.

Please, I was upset, too, but you didn’t see me pooping on his dog bed. Then again, dogs can’t drink wine.

Aside from the fact that he pooped, that golden was a pretty amazing dog and I miss having him constantly underfoot. At the time though, it drove me crazy when I found all 90 pounds of him stuffed under my desk while I worked or jammed under the kitchen stool while I drank my morning coffee. But he made for excellent company and only needed a scratch on the head in return for his allegiance.

Rudy would shove himself under my desk while I worked rather than stretching out on his giant bed about five feet away.

Rudy would shove himself under my desk while I worked rather than stretching out on his giant bed about five feet away.

It gets tempting when I hear that someone just got a new puppy or see some sad Facebook post about a mutt looking for a forever home, but then I remember all the poop and hold my ground.

I went out with a girlfriend Saturday night who I spent many mornings with walking through wooded trails or along sandy beachfronts while our two dogs raced joyously ahead, free of leashes and fences. They’d always loop back around to check in with us, looking up with great big smiles on their furry faces before taking off again through the brush.

My girlfriend lost her guy not long ago and already has a new dog – albeit an old rescue mutt – to keep her company. “I can’t believe you haven’t gotten another dog,” she said to me over glasses of Chardonnay.

“Well,” I said, “I still have a pet.”

She may not be the most playful creature and her idea of hanging out consists of sitting five feet away and staring at me, but my cat somehow fills the void left when we had to put Rudy down almost two years ago. She’s not exactly fun but I get a kick out of her and she’s enough of a pet right now.

And at least her poops are a lot smaller.










there will be blood

IMG_1647I didn’t go into parenting with the intention of becoming the breaker of hearts. To be the dasher of young dreams.

But it seems it’s a role I am destined to play.

Take yesterday for example: I was lying on my bed working Grey Gardens-style — with my laptop, assorted papers, reading glasses and Kindle strewn about – when I heard the kitchen phone ring.

Now, I don’t know who’s calling your landline, but for the past year or two those callers here seem to consist mainly of robocalls coming from “Unavailable” or Gap credit services to tell me my payment is late. Again. (Listen, why can’t those Old Navy people set up some type of autopay plan so I can make timely payments AND receive my $10 coupons?)

Anyway, I hear the phone ringing and even though I can also hear a number of my children’s voices coming from downstairs, I wonder if anyone is even going to lower themselves to the level of the wall phone and answer it. It’s so beneath them.

But someone does and then I hear footsteps running quickly up the stairs.

“Mom, it’s for you,” says my youngest child, slightly breathless and looking a little excited. I’m about to tell him to tell whomever it is to take us off their calling list, when he adds, “It’s Jack F’s mom.”

I had heard through the fourth grade grapevine that Jack F’s mom has a number of slimy, jumpy reptilian things to farm out before her family packs up and moves across the country this summer (boohoo), so I had a good idea why she was calling.

Apparently, our boys had already discussed this dilemma and my guy was first-in-line to take their bearded dragon off their hands.

Let’s back up right here.

At this stage of my life, I no longer wish to be tasked with keeping anything alive. Even if it’s small enough to fit inside a shoebox.

I’ve kept four kids alive for over 20 years, and I’ll have you know that all of their fingers and toes remain intact. I hate to mess with that track record.

Isn’t it enough that I got guilted into harboring a half-dead cat in when it appeared in our garage during a snowstorm a few years ago, who is now under the impression that she is second-in-line for the crown and has become clinically obese?























I am also trying to minimize the number of creatures whom I need to clean up after, and by that I specifically referring to their poop and barf.

And finally, I really haven’t bounced back since our dog Rudy, a truly glorious Golden Retriever and the finest and truest sidekick a girl could ask for, died suddenly one day last year. My heart is still sore from that loss.

I really don’t know how people can withstand the heartache of losing a pet, and just keep getting new ones. (Interestingly, I also seem to have suffered the same PTSD after losing a spouse.)

Okay, I’m pretty sure that I won’t get attached to the bearded dragon the way I did to Rudy. The thing probably won’t go for walks with me in the woods, lie under my desk while I’m working or try to trick me into petting it all the time. It might have similarly bad breath, though.

We’ve had an assortment of critters over the years: First, there were Bonnie and Buster, the hermit crabs that we brought home from the boardwalk when the kids were little and who briefly lived in a world dominated by pink sand and a beautiful purple castle. I would routinely forget about the two of them, though, between the potty training, half days at nursery school and trips to the playground, so Bonnie and Buster just kind of slowly shriveled up and eventually kerplunked out of their bedazzled shells onto the soft, pretty sand.

Then there was Huck the Frog, who lived about a week and then promptly died while he was placed under our friends’ care when we went out-of-town (He was already looking a little peaked when we dropped him off and then our pals were stuck with wrapping Huck up and keeping him in their freezer until our return. How do you say “thank you” for that sad timing?).

Then there was Chester the Guinea Pig – aka Dodo – routinely ignored by his caretakers, and then doomed when I banished him (her?) to live in the basement, where he/she quickly passed on and fossilized until I came upon the grisly scene one day. We did have a beautiful ceremony, though, commemorating Dodo’s life here on earth and he/she is now shaded for eternity by a gorgeous hydrangea bush.

Then there were the two white mice, whose names I never knew and who, I recently learned, were given the run of the girls’ dollhouse for their daily workout.


I don’t even remember how those two died.

Obviously, the takeaway from all of these experiences is that kids can’t take care of their own pets and I’m not much better. I should stick to killing houseplants.

So, when my oldest child, who I truly love but is maybe not the most thoughtful of people, got a bee in his bonnet last summer that he needed a lizard, I was adamant that the thing was not coming into my house. Aside from the obvious issue that I would be constantly worried that it would slither out of its tank and make its way into my bed, I just couldn’t have any more blood on my hands.

I relented when I saw how the cause united the four children.

“You never let us have pets,” they shouted in unison and then drove off and shortly returned smugly bearing a cardboard PetCo box carrying a bright yellow gekko named Gordon.





















And since then, my eldest has been trying to make his lizard my problem.

By the end of last summer, he decided maybe Gordon should stay here and not head off to college with him, but I made sure that the Gekko and his tank were firmly packed in our SUV when we moved my son into his apartment off-campus in August.

My son has since discovered that keeping something alive takes work, and he has to keep hauling the thing and its accoutrements back and forth for school breaks. He has also learned that some college girls get weirded-out when they end up in some guy’s room late at night featuring a dimly-lit tank littered with frightened crickets. It’s creepy.

So I headed downstairs with my little guy hot on my heels to talk to Jack F’s mom and tell her that it was really nice but I just don’t want to take care of anything else right now.

I watched his face crumple a little, but when I hung up, I suggested that maybe he adopt his brother’s reptile instead. An olive branch, to be sure.

“Mom,” he cried, “This is, like, my only chance to have a bearded dragon. Do you know how cool they are?”

And frankly, I don’t. I just know there’s the word “dragon” is involved and I’m nervous.

My workaround was to try to get his father to take in the soon-to-be-homeless critter, but he wisely texted back, “No thank u.”

And now I’m wondering if I made the right call. If any one of my children is responsible, it’s this guy – even at 10. And while he won’t be able to drive to Petco to buy the crickets and mealworms or whatever disgusting thing a bearded dragon needs to stay alive, he probably would be more on top of its care than some of his siblings were of their pets.

I mean, really, doesn’t he deserve the chance to kill something like the rest of us?