Category Archives: Parenting & Pets

Why I run: A reason for every decade

License plateDECADE ONE: In the first decade of my life, I exercised unintentionally, primarily by running away from a little boy named Scott at recess. He was so cute, much shorter than I, and could easily be outrun. On two occasions, he employed his taller, not-so-cute friend named Raymond to catch me. While Raymond held me still, little Scott would jump up and kiss me. Ever since, I’ve loved the name Scott (and eventually married one), but at seven years old, the running was what I loved most. Tearing through the huge grassy field every day was bliss. I hear that kids don’t get to run willy nilly at recess anymore. This is a travesty, and I hope concerned parents everywhere will make enough fuss to return recess to its rightful place.

TEEN DECADE: In the second decade of my life, my teen years, I ran to lose weight. This was entirely unnecessary, but I did not know that then. The more I ran, the bulkier my legs got and the more I ran to trim them down. My legs were monsters. Not really, but with my teenager brain, I thought they were. At least my misperception kept me running, something I enjoyed, whether it was hot and humid or bitter cold. Running was a part of experiencing the world in a newly independent way, breezing down the trail of the old railroad tracks with no one to answer to but myself.

TWENTIES: In the next decade, my twenties, I ran for social reasons. My dad would say, “Gail doesn’t date anyone who won’t run with her.” This was true. My husband ran with me on our first date. Running with me and being named Scott kind of sealed the deal with him, that lucky guy. Unfortunately, he stopped running with me after we got serious. This is another travesty, but a very personal one, so only I need to fuss about it.

When I was 28, on two occasions, I ran with Robin Williams through the streets of San Francisco. We were part of a casual running group that gathered at Fleet Feet Sports on Tuesday nights. When I hear the slogan, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” I think of those early evening runs, along the Embarcadero and up and down the hilly streets.

THIRTIES: Then came the thirties, the years of running to escape. There’s nothing like running after a long day when it seems like everyone wants a piece of you. Responsibilities at work and home escalate like crazy in the thirties and running brings release. But it’s harder than ever to fit it in.

One night, I ran out of the house when my kids needed me. Their father (Scott) was working in his home office, so I was essentially on duty. We lived on a country street and it was dark outside, really dark. Coming out of our long, graveled driveway—running fast—I stumbled into a huge dead deer that had been hit by a car and pulled off to the side of the road. This spooked me silly, calling me to my senses. I turned and headed back home to the kids. Running, as much as I love it, should not come first.

FORTIES: In my forties, I started running for health and preservation: preservation of muscle tone, skin elasticity, energy, and the ability to sleep through the night. At one point, however, I started wondering. The medical community was babblying about running being bad for your knees. We NOW know that weight bearing exercise strengthens your knees, but the studies weren’t out at the time. I was worried because walking tends to bore me; it depressed me just thinking about it. So I put the question into a prayer—like I do with every troublesome issue—sincerely seeking direction. That week, license plates arrived for my new car and the first four characters were: 1RUN. In California, plates start with a number, so the “1” was as close as you could get to an “i”. But I had not asked for vanity plates! This was the result of uncanny coincidence or divine providence. I believed in the later and joyfully went running as soon as I put the plates on my car.

FIFTIES: Now in my early fifties, I run to help me think. For example, I’ve never suffered from Writer’s Block, but I do get Writer’s Sinkhole. Once I spent six hours trying to write one sentence. Well, maybe it wasn’t that long, but I don’t really know because I got lost in the effort, sinking deeper and deeper into this muddy place where I don’t want to give up because I almost have it, but it’s not quite right so I keep up the good fight while my brain gets more and more muddled. The best remedy, I have found, is to run—one mile will do it. My head clears, and when I return to my desk, the writing flows. Other exercise will work, too, as my almost-famous Jazzercise post explains.

BayToBreakersI would be amiss in this personal discourse on running if I failed to mention the Bay to Breakers. There are many races throughout the world that inspire people everywhere to keep on running, but the annual Bay to Breakers is the one for me, year after year, decade after decade. Last spring, I signed my son up to join me. He worried, “Mom, I haven’t been running for awhile,” but I told him that he was eighteen, a picture of health and had nothing to worry about. Sure enough, the photographers for the event captured my son prancing effortlessly in his minimalist shoes across the finish line (while my pained face tells a slightly different story). And do you see the near perfect number—11110—on his running bib? Like my license, it must be a good sign.

Addendum to “A dog to hug”

Dog walkingOn the morning of Sherlock’s last day of life, the family took him on his usual walk, although they didn’t think he would go far because he was clearly in pain. They left the leash at home.

In Sherlock’s wild, crazy youth, he needed a leash, but after a few years, he learned his boundaries. Once the family built a fenced area in the backyard to keep him away from the construction crew during the remodel of their home. On the first day of the remodel, a worker opened the gate, let Sherlock out, and played a romping game of Frisbee with him. From then on, Sherlock patiently waited on the sidelines until someone was ready to play. He never returned to the fenced area and the family joked about the money they wasted on it.

That last morning, without a leash, my sister and her family let Sherlock lead as they held back to see what he would do. They wanted him to lead so he could walk within his pain tolerance. Sherlock chose to walk right down the center of the street, something he had never done before. There were no cars that late morning, so Sherlock could take his thoughtful time. I’m not sure, but I’m guessing Sherlock was taking it all in, saying his goodbyes, and getting a little taste of the freedom he would soon have.

In A Rumor of Angels, there’s a quote from a letter written to Theodore Roosevelt that reads: “God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses.” Today, many of us would make that same statement in reference to dogs.

A dog to hug

When hugging parents isn’t an option

dog photoThe late and loving Sherlock, an Australian cattle dog mix, gave at least two big gifts to Bryce, my nephew, the son of my sister.

First, Sherlock gave Bryce the love of walking. Every day after school, while his parents were still at work, it was Bryce’s job to walk the dog. A chore became a habit. A good habit. Now at college, Bryce keeps it up. He walks for exercise, to clear his mind, to explore, to get somewhere. Walking fills a myriad of needs.

Secondly, Sherlock gave Bryce someone to hug when hugging his parents didn’t cut it. This is one of those gifts that can’t be underestimated. In fact, someone has probably done a study on the matter: “Teenagers who have a dog to hug are less likely to run away.” Maybe I should do this study and make a name for myself.

When Bryce left for college, Sherlock’s health took a turn for the worse. Sherlock was aptly named; he was smart and probably knew that his main calling in life had been fulfilled. In any event, my sister’s family was advised to let him go.

The last night of Sherlock’s life, the family slept together on the floor beside the dog. Sherlock was in pain and could not sleep unless they were all there, literally lying on a thin carpet on the hard floor, on all sides of him. If someone got up to use the bathroom, Sherlock raised his head and wouldn’t lower it until all were close by again.

By “all,” I mean my sister, her husband, and their daughter. Bryce was still at college, a ten hour drive away. My sister grieved that he could not be there. In his absence, she found a framed photo of Bryce to take on their sad trip to the veterinarian.

At the vet’s, they made a circle around Sherlock with a space allotted for Bryce’s photo. Amazingly, lovingly, Sherlock approached each one of them in turn. He kissed (licked for those not accustomed) my sister first. Then he kissed her husband. Then their daughter. And then, without hesitation, though slowly since he was in pain, he turned to Bryce’s photo and gave it a big lick. That is all he could do to say goodbye and it was enough. It was brilliant.

Lastly, Sherlock growled at the vet. It was not a vicious growl, but a knowing one. He knew what had to be done and he wasn’t particularly happy about it. I don’t mean to go over the top here, but his actions can’t help but remind me of Jesus when he asked for the cup to pass him by and yet knew he had to drink it.

But Sherlock is only human…err, I mean canine. And I want to get back to the topic of hugs. Upon a little reading of Dogstar Daily, I learned that dogs are not, by nature, huggers. I suppose this is true because I don’t see dogs hugging each other in the park. But they can learn, if you start hugging them early enough, that it is an affectionate thing for us humans. And in some cases, as in Sherlock’s, the dog will come to enjoy being the recipient of a nice long hug, and everyone is healthier for it.

If Sherlock was just pretending to like the hugs of my nephew, well, I’m even more impressed.

Media violence: A home study

Tom_and_JerryA recent New York Times article by Vasilis Z. Pozios explains that exposure to TV and movie violence is like exposure to secondhand smoke. Not everyone who smokes or is exposed to smoke gets lung cancer, yet no one would refute that there is a clear connection. Research, as explained in this article, is making a clear connection between exposure to media carnage when young and antisocial behavior later.

I like research like this, but I don’t have to have it. My own homespun study gives me all I need to know on the matter. My son, Luke, was almost three when I turned on the TV one morning. Previously, as far as he knew, the TV did not exist that early in the morning. My husband and I had established the practice of turning it on for a few shows here and there, but our kids were not given the keys, so to speak, so they didn’t know what they were missing.

This particular morning, I put Luke in front of Tom-and-Jerry-type of cartoons while I worked in my home office. Now Tom and Jerry is considered innocent and I’m not proposing otherwise, but it is violent in its old fashioned way. Luke was delighted! And I got a lot of work done. But after two hours, Luke wandered into my office, took a piece of paper off the floor, wadded it up into a tight ball, and threw it at me. For a little kid, it was a hard throw! Never before had he thrown anything at me. How could I not draw an association between the violent cartoons and his antisocial behavior?

Don’t worry, I did not ban cartoons after that, but my husband and I continued to keep the keys for the different forms of media at our house. Our kids enjoyed plenty of freedoms in their growing years, but their media choices had to meet their parents’ approval.

I have no idea how to handle media violence on a national level. I’d like to ban it all, if I could, but I have friends, nephews, and plenty of respectable people who would be mad at me. So, I am merely offering my little story to encourage individuals, mostly parents I suppose, to be aware and thoughtful about the influences in your home. Or to at least limit the time spent with Tom and Jerry and their more sophisticated (and terrifying) successors.

Teenage ducks: A parent’s perspective

Teenage ducksMy two ducks have now reached their teenage years, and a few strong characteristics, similar to their human counterparts, have surfaced.

First of all, the ducks like to know you are there. Sometimes they even like to be watched. But they do not like to be followed—not at all, forget about it. If you try to follow them, they will pick up their pace. They may even flap, get some air, and try to escape. They will entirely forget that you are their greatest fan.

Secondly, they have started to produce amazing things. Well, for ducks, the eggs are it, but for teenage kids, their abilities are manifold and hold every bit of pleasure for their parents as the cream-colored egg miraculously produced every morning.

Similar to the first point, the ducks do not like to be threatened. They are aware, at this stage in their lives, just how threatening the world is, and they don’t need anyone making it worse. Take, for instance, the large feedbag I brought to the ducks today. The bag was almost empty, so rather than scoop out the food like I usually do, I brought the enormous bag into their pen and turned it upside down. This caused a great deal of squawking and fluttering about. Please, they were telling me, don’t upset us unnecessarily. You may be a nice human being, but you can still seem like a big scary person to us, so be more careful with what you throw around.

On a lighter note, teenage ducks want to be fed. And fed some more. Sadly, they forget to say thank you, but you love them anyway.

Lastly, ducks expect you to clean up after them, no matter how much mess they make. Actually, they don’t care about the mess. They figure if you care about it, you should take care of it. Thankfully, my teenagers are growing out of this phase, transitioning to true adulthood. My ducks, on the other hand, will duck responsibility indefinitely.

My daughter was a screamer

My daughter started walking at nine months. Then she started screaming. She would toddle into a room on her strong little legs and scream. Then she would go somewhere else in the house and scream. She wasn’t being belligerent or mean; she was screaming, that’s all.

Being a working mom with another toddler as well, I didn’t get a chance to research this. So many books for moms, but so little time when you’re just trying to survive.

The screaming started to get to me. Really started to get to me. One day—I remember it clearly—when I was standing by the kitchen counter, I stopped what I was doing and voiced a prayer. Although it was a statement, not a request, it had the humble sentiment, I suppose, of the first step of the AA program. It was simply this: Lord, I don’t know how much longer I can take the screaming.

The next day, my daughter started talking! As fast as she went from crawling to walking, she went from screaming to talking. That is when I learned that her screaming was her way of communicating before the words came. Oh, glorious words.

The timing, though, was also glorious. Right after my prayer. Such a simple prayer, but I knew immediately that it was heard. These very personal experiences may not mean much to others, but if faith were a muscle, mine got a little more sculpted after that.

Now my daughter is sixteen. And there’s a different kind of screaming in the house. Screaming by me, mostly. It’s not every day, but it’s often enough to wish for a better way to communicate. Time to invite God into the situation again and see what happens.

Beware of dog and bug off

Beware of DogWe used to live at the end of a long, unfinished driveway. In fourteen years of living there, we never had a single trick-or-treater. We had only two solicitors. I was so impressed that they made the long trek to our door that I almost bought something. One of my friends said she couldn’t visit me because the steep dip and the beginning of my driveway gave her vertigo. Another friend got stuck at that dip and never stopped by again.Those who persevered, however, were rewarded. I realize that now more than ever. After we moved, our nextdoor neighbor cried, grieving that she would no longer traverse down and up our rocky driveway, hand and hand with her little boy, and knock on our door. Did I mention our driveway went over a little river, past blackberry bushes and a cute cottage with a cupola, and under trees that blossomed every spring? Sadly, I complained too much at the time about the potholes and unfinished aspect of the whole property, the “diamond in the rough” that my husband discovered and nurtured until the day we sold it.What I didn’t complain about was the wildlife. I loved the deer that frolicked in the tall grasses on the hill behind our house and the foxes that occasionally stole a shoe off our front porch. (Foxes, we found out, like to bring shoes to their young for playthings.) I loved the woodpecker by our mailbox and the baby turkeys that roosted with their mother in our trees.

We did not own a dog for various reasons, one being that a dog would scare away the aforementioned animals. The other reason is that a dog would require us to build a fence. I’m not into fences. I understand they are useful, but I prefer not to have a visible barrier between me and the world, whether that world consists of wildlife or people who are kind enough to pay me a visit.

The only visitors I didn’t want, of course, were criminals, and here, our rough driveway was truly an asset. “No thief would be crazy enough to hit our house,” my husband explained, “There is no quick escape from it.”

Today I happened to drive by our old place. At the driveway’s entrance, three signs are posted. One boldly announces the new owner’s alarm system. Another states, “No Trespassing.” And the third, “BEWARE OF DOG.” Really, is all that necessary?

Blame it on the Brave Little Toaster

BraveLittleToasterWhy my daughter wears tight jeans

When my kids were little, they loved the animated movie The Brave Little Toaster. My husband and I delighted in the fact that our kids chose a show that celebrates adventure, warmth, and above all relationships. In a way, the movie is a statement against our disposable society. The little toaster and his friends are old, neglected appliances and household items, but they are still worthy. With great effort, they find their former owner who repairs them and decides to keep them around.

But there’s a fallout from the influence of this movie: my daughter, as a rule, resists throwing anything away. This morning, when I dropped her off at school in tight jeans that should have been retired in the fifth grade (she’s a junior now), I blamed it on The Brave Little Toaster.

I need to have a talk with her. In our beloved movie, I’ll explain, inanimate things were given personalities, but the movie’s lessons of loyalty, courage, and attachment should be applied to people—not to things and not to our jeans.

Two years ago, I confiscated a pair of her pants that had enormous holes in the knees and a poorly stitched up hole in the crotch. I handed them to my husband. “These need to be thrown away,” I said, “but I’m afraid of my daughter’s wrath.” He was man enough to take care of it. My daughter was flabbergasted. Occasionally she mentions the atrocity of the crime. The worst part is, her friends came to the rescue with hand-me-downs, so now she has even more jeans that are way too tight.

I realize I could have it worse as a parent. I may think my daughter’s pants are too small, but her friends don’t think she has a problem and I’m sure her boyfriend doesn’t mind one bit. Generally, my daughter is a great kid becoming a wonderful adult. And thanks to The Brave Little Toaster, she is extremely thrifty, an overall positive trait. Notwithstanding the expensive prom dress I just bought her, she hardly ever asks for anything new.

What do you do all day?

wingitI moved my office into my home when my kids were one and three. My goal was to do as much work as possible when they weren’t looking. That gave me about two hours at naptime and four hours late at night. Exhausting. Eventually I hired two part time nannies, my expressive mother-in-law and my cheery friend from Australia. My kids regarded times with these delightful people as play dates, rather than ways to get them out of the house so I could work like mad.

When Luke and Shelby started school, I let go of the nannies and tried to get everything done during school hours. I couldn’t succeed; work has a way of filling the allotted space and running over, so after their afternoon snack, they would follow me back to my office. While I worked at the computer, they’d spread their homework and toys on my carpeted floor. They were awfully distracting, of course. Sometimes, Luke would literally drape himself over my feet and lie there while reading his book and making sporadic, little boy noises. But the work went on.

As they got older, I’d occasionally ask them for help with my designs. “Do you this logo or that one?” I would ask. Working at home, a person can get a little desperate for feedback, and besides, kids have unadulterated opinions.

One morning when Shelby was in sixth grade, I drove her to school when she missed the bus. Just as she was getting out of the car, she turned to me with a quizzical expression. Looking straight at me, she paused, then blurted out dramatically, “What do you do all day?”

I was baffled. My answer came as a slight scold, “Are you kidding? I work like a dog! You grew up with my work, you know what I do!”

But secretly, I was delighted and grateful. I had achieved my mission of giving my children the impression that they were the center of my universe, not my work. As far as they knew, I was like Forest Gump, waiting on the bench all day for them to return from school, having no greater responsibility than my kids.

Tommy laid an egg

Duck eggWe found out that Tommy was a female when Tush got on top of her. Confusion all around. Tush, being a male, was renamed to Blue which was a quick fix for the Blue Swedish duck that he is. We left Tommy’s name alone because girls frequently take the names of boys and have no insecurities about it whatsoever.

Still, what a surprise to find an egg yesterday morning! What a treat, a gift. A normal sized, slightly off-white egg was waiting there smack in the middle of the hutch when I peered inside to pet the ducks before letting them out. I call it a “hutch,” but it’s really just an ugly, extra large dog kennel, so I’m particularly proud of Tommy for being so productive.

Right after I found the egg, I heard that my sister’s business partner and good friend had an 8.5 pound baby about the same time Tommy laid her first egg. This must be a sign of good luck for that baby, even though she is four steps removed and Tommy will probably never get to meet her.

This morning, I found another egg. I think it will be a daily event! So if you want to claim a lucky duck egg for a special day of yours in the future, let me know. I’ll put your name on it.

Unexpected child

Sponsored-ChildI received a noticed a few months ago that the child I had sponsored for 15 years moved away from the area, so World Vision assigned a new child to me. I was taken aback because I had been looking forward to choosing a little girl for my next kid. But what could I do now? I couldn’t deny the sweet boy, shown here; I wouldn’t want World Vision to have to tell him, “Just kidding. No one wants you.” So I wrote him a letter. Quicker than with any child I’ve previously sponsored, I received a long letter in return. It told me so many details about his life, I was thrilled. But how could such a little boy articulate so much? I came to the end of the letter, and there it was, the proud signature of his older sister, writing on his behalf. It looks like I have a little boy and a girl—both for the price of one.

Who let the ducks out?

Ducks in the orchardMy daughter has always loved ducks, but stuffed animals only go so far. They don’t go anywhere, actually; they just sit there. So, her best friends bought her two baby ducks for her 16th birthday. The friends were respectful enough to ask my husband and I for our approval first, although I don’t know how fruitful that was because I said “yes” and my husband said “no.” To be honest, my husband conceded, but not happily.

The ducks grew at an utterly alarming rate. They doubled in size in just one week. Now they are full grown waddling around under the apple and fig trees in our little orchard. They are funny. If I’m reading outside, Tommy will courageously poke me with his bill, looking for lettuce most likely.

Once I forgot to close the orchard gate. Hours later, I found them hanging out by the pool, wondering if they should take a dip. I waddled them back to the orchard, then went to work cleaning. Ducks, true to my husband’s stern warning, are seriously messy. The pool deck had been desecrated. But, the ducks are worth it. Having been without pets much of my life, I have to say there is nothing like having a living presence in your care. They far surpass stuffed animals.