A few gifts from my father:
1. A big, open-minded, bleeding heart.
2. A gritty tobacco-field work-ethic and immutable swearing habit to counteract the bleeding heart.
3. Love of a good laugh.
4. Love of a good story. My dad put the first big stories into my head, ones that resonated and deeply affected me, stories about his tough upbringing, about first dates with 50 cents in his pocket, tin foil Christmas ornaments, his years as a pool shark with a knife tucked in his knee sock, the first time he fired a man at a mill in rural Virginia and watched him walk to his car.
5. Distrust of all hot dogs, and general squeamishness.
6. My face.
7. A love of soul music. He used to sing Rainy Night in Georgia
to me as my bedtime song.
8. Autodidactism. When my dad wants to learn something, he teaches himself. This habit was at first born of necessity, but continues. Teaching yourself takes a certain stubbornness, but sometimes it's the only way.
9. Awareness of song lyrics. He was always calling my attention to certain lyrics, their deceptive simplicity. Now I do the same for my girls. It's how I learned to pay attention to words, meaning, and sound.
10. Enjoyment of tidy mysteries (Angela Lansbury!) and history. Taking these things in with a rational mind but opening a window for questions, for just a little magic.
11. Driving advice - Look over your shoulder before you change lanes. (I do this without fail now. Repetition works.)
One day, when I was in middle school, I came to the fancy corporate office where my dad worked so that we could have lunch together. (Picture a corporate 80s cafeteria in the south. Jello. Biscuits. Salad bar with cubed meat.) We got our food, and sat down with the janitor, Earl. It wasn't just a teaching moment; it was something my dad did often, not just when I was watching.
But luckily I was watching.
Here's to good dads who spend a lot of time reminding their daughters that they can do anything.
Confession: I was once in a sorority. A southern sorority. I'm embarrassed about this, and rarely talk about it, hoping that it will go away, just like my old dance recital videos.
But last year, something happened that led me to reconsider my feelings about those years. Yes - there's still plenty I'm uncomfortable about and even regret (like, say, participating in a Pimp and Ho theme party. Or the inevitable judging of other young women. Not going to lie - I shudder when I think about it. I didn't know any better at the time, and the reality is that I didn't try
to know better either.)
But there was also a lot of good. I just couldn't see it up close; like most things, a little distance helped. What other time in my life has female friendship been such an enormous part of my life? Support. Belonging. Ceremony. There's something to it. There's a weird sort of intimacy that happens that most of us never quite find our way into again. Being intoxicated roughly 70% of the time probably had something to do with it.
I didn't stay in touch with a lot of the girls I was close to in college; I have some regrets about that. But I recognize the lingering affinity for those women, older and younger. And that's what drew me to Emily McQueen.
Emily scared me to death while I was in college. She was high energy, suffered no fools, was funny, smart, and seemed to draw loyal friends. She was southern and yet not. She was one of those belles who didn't look or act like a belle. She did the Worm at parties.
A few years ago we found each other on Facebook and struck up a friendship that quickly turned into a meaningful conversation. To summarize, the writer in me realized Emily was living one of the most beautiful love stories I'd ever heard. The sister in me only regrets that she's no longer here to tell it to you herself. And she wanted to.Read about it here.
My 4 year old may be a better driver than I am.
I undertook a massive garden project yesterday, reclaiming a flower bed that we'd given over to weeds (Because, well, you know. Life gets in the way of weeding sometimes, and suddenly you have a jungle in front of your porch and your perennials are choked and the cats are hiding/pooping in there, and the spiders are laying eggs.) F saw the pile of weeds and ran to the barn, volunteering the use of her John Deere (a non-birthday present from Opa. Thank you, Opa.)
This is a very Vermont sentiment: see someone with a problem or a tough project, and volunteer your man power. You have a vehicle, tool, extension cord, or spare piece of wood for that. You have extra seed potatoes and heirloom tomato starts or your grandmother's lilacs or a spare wheelbarrow or a tall-enough ladder.
Minutes after seeing my epic pile of weeds, F comes zooming down a fairly complicated hill and sharp turn (around my car - gulp) with Z in the passenger seat...and suddenly the girls are loading weeds in the back of their vehicle.
F: Mom. You're probably small enough to drive this.
Me: <knows it's true, sort of wants to try> No, dear.
Then they went to dump the weeds and I felt the need to hover a little bit.
Me: Turn right, Honey.
F: I know.
Me: <scampers behind the Gator, thinking: F looks good, but how can they kill themselves in this thing? Will they run over the dogs?>
F, calmly: Z, you can't push the pedal when I'm driving. Only I push the pedal.
Me: What about dumping the weeds behind that tree over there?
F, calmly, slyly, and very much in control: If you don't move, I'm probably going to run over you.
Me: <stares. Is this what 16 is going to be like?>
F: <Dumps weeds. Hops back in the Gator, tosses ponytails, puts one arm behind the passenger seat like a pro, and begins to reverse.>
Those purposeful strides! Be still my heart!
Now. If I can only write with as much zeal as I weeded that garden...or with as much confidence as my 4 year old drives an SUV.
This week 2 injured kittens found their way into the Dogtor's clinic from the shelter. One was hit by a car, and the other had his paw slammed into a cage by accident. But both are in casts.
Cats in casts can still play and run. This little guy is a purr monster. Here's to strong spirits, resiliency.
I've always been interested in vanity, my own especially. I explore the idea in my story from BOLP, "Saving Face." In "Saving Face" a female veterinarian has her face bitten when a dog wakes up early from anesthesia - weeks before her wedding. She has a crisis of confidence, worried her fiance now feels more obligation than genuine attraction to her. She's aware of the power of her looks, how they are changed, and how the world responds differently to her now that her face is severely scarred.
As the mother of two girls, I already find myself aware of their looks, and I try very hard to ignore them. Some days my girls are the sweaty, booger-faced kids on the playground. Some days, like today, they go to school with garden dirt underneath their nails and cat hair on their clothes. I let them both pick out their outfits in the morning, and sometimes F prances downstairs in a blinding array of patterns that make my eyes bleed, and yet I'm proud of her for wearing what makes her feel good, even if it is a too-small pair of grass-stained shorts over striped tights, paired with cowboy boots and a second hand t-shirt.
Me, at hair time: Tell me your vision.
F: I want pig tails, three ribbons, and a clip in my hair.
Me: Let's do this.
This weekend F got stung by a black fly. Three of them, actually. And one bite made her right eye swell COMPLETELY SHUT. She looked like Sloth from the Goonies. She kept her good eye VERY WIDE OPEN, maybe so that it could work extra hard; I'm not sure.
Come Monday she still couldn't see.
Me, overly happy about the idea: You can stay home with me!
F, annoyed: No. I want to go to school.
Me: But you can only see out of one eye? And you're hopped up on Benadryl.
F, eating yogurt, staring me down with her good eye: I don't care.
Me: People might ask you about it - is that okay?
F, rolling her good eye: I don't care!
I worried, briefly, that she'd get made fun of at school, and had to fight the urge to "save" her from this. But I felt so proud of her for not worrying about it, and I wanted to honor the pluck, the lack of self-consciousness. And I knew I had to shut my mouth before I gave her that self-consciousness. What a nasty gift.
At F's age (4), I'm learning, a wound is collateral. Battle scars are cool, conversation starters, rites of passage. The more grotesque the better. I cringe when I remember going to school after the orthodontist, wanting to wear my "head gear" orthodontics, which were really supposed to be worn at night. What the heck was I bragging about there? My suffering, I think. Oh world. Look how I have suffered and endured. Look at my gear.
And the fact that F's swollen face happened to land on school picture day? Even better. F's wonky eye - but most importantly her pluck - is immortalized.
One of the occupational hazards of veterinary medicine is the fact that you will come across dogs in need. Weekly. Sometimes these dogs are very cute. They might, for example, have big eyes and a smushy snout and long curly ears and Muppet feet.
They might also be deaf, have a UTI, exhibit separation anxiety and snore like a train.
Introducing: Little Edie Bacon, who was found wandering in Bennington, VT. Shelters, groomers, and vets have been called - no one knows this dog, and no one has come looking. Edie Bacon was not thriving in the shelter, and so we scooped her up and are getting her well. Who knows if we'll keep her or simply foster her until another great home is found, but she is loved, receiving good care, and has a couch to sleep on/stink up.
Working with a hearing impaired dog is a new experience for us. When she wanders off, we can't call her. When she yodels and whines we can't shush her. When we leave a room, she can't hear us, and she worries. Edie B is particularly in love with the Dogtor, and when he's out of sight, her world is destroyed, and she sings what F and I are now calling: The Sad Love Song of Edie B.
My friend T over at Wing and a Prayer Farm
hosted us for a round of lamb cuddling, and the Dogtor took some great video footage of the impossibly cute, 2 day old Shetland lambs. (Focus on the lambs and not my weird runner-farmer outfit). Warning
: the wholesomeness of this video may be too much for you. Do not watch if you have a dark soul. Or do watch and be temporarily cured.
Let me tell you, there are few things better than cuddling a lamb. You should seek out this opportunity right away. I left feeling more at peace with the world, and to a woman with skyrocketing environmental anxiety
, that's no small thing.
I also want lambs. God bless their gentle, wooly souls.
Just get outside. It solves nearly everything.
Sprinkler jumping is a quintessential way to fall in love with outside time, right?
I had to work hard this winter to show my girls a positive relationships with the outdoors, teach them to love the natural world. Now that the sun has been out and the garden is growing, we're all having an easier time with it.
Always in the back of my mind, a quote from Stephen Jay Gould: "We will not fight to save what we do not love."
Ploughshares put up a lovely piece
about me, the Dogtor, and our pets.
As an aside, I should admit that I really played that "pregnant women shouldn't change the litterbox" card, and, two years after having my last child, may still be playing it.
Ever imagined what havoc climate change might wreak on hospitality? Picture me serving you up a slim portion of turkey jerky, or in the near term slapping your wrist with my spatula when you run the water too long.
What to do with all this environmental anxiety? Tune it out or take it in? What to say to your daughter when she dreams about becoming a mother, and you worry that the quality of her life on earth may not lend itself to such a decision?My thoughts here, at The Rumpus.
There's also a gorgeous essay by Charles Mann up on Orion
about the "success" of species and what it means for homo sapiens that we've become so "successful." The last paragraph, to me, is such an achievement: Our record of success is not that long. In any case, past successes are no guarantee of the future. But it is terrible to suppose that we could get so many other things right and get this one wrong. To have the imagination to see our potential end, but not have the imagination to avoid it. To send humankind to the moon but fail to pay attention to the earth. To have the potential but to be unable to use it—to be, in the end, no different from the protozoa in the petri dish. It would be evidence that Lynn Margulis’s most dismissive beliefs had been right after all. For all our speed and voraciousness, our changeable sparkle and flash, we would be, at last count, not an especially interesting species.