Pet Compassion

    Michael was in first grade when I summoned the strength to make the right decision and put my cocker spaniel down. Nicki was 17, old, sad. I had known much sooner than I acted, that it was time to let go. 

I just couldn’t.

And then one day, I could.

    And I did.

I went by myself, told no one but the immediate family. 

I thought I handled it well enough when I told Alex and Michael, when I gave them a chance to say goodbye.

    Maybe not.

    I received a note from Michael’s teacher the next day.

    Apparently during “pretzels” time when the kids shared the likes and dislikes of their day, Michael said that he hadn’t liked when his mother killed his dog.


    We had to put our dog down again.

    Technically, this one wasn’t ours. But with only one in the family, we all laid claim to the little guy at one point or another.

    I told Michael what was coming, offered the idea of going by Auntie Dawna’s to say goodbye to Logan.

    He took a pass.

    Logan was a good dog.

    As his aunt, I took on an occasional dog sitting shift or two. Last summer, he and I got in quality time on the beach in Maine. During designated doggy hours, I walked/he ran; I threw/he fetched. We played, made friends –mostly the four-legged kind- and took in vistas of the Atlantic surf that force the deep intake of an appreciative breath. Salty sea air –cures all that ails you.

Well, apparently not all.

    Logan left us just before this year’s Fourth of July beach party.

    Appropriate, since he wasn’t a fan of the fireworks.

    We’ve put off fully processing his departure.

    But we did much processing beforehand.

    Somewhere in the midst of those many conversations, I would offer the observation that we often handle end-of-life decisions for our pets far more humanely than we do for the people in our lives. With our pets, we formulate a plan and take steps of action that assure they leave us without pain and with a form dignity intact. 

I don’t like to think about dying. I’m one of those without a plan.

    And I should know better.

    There isn’t anything worse than watching someone die.

    I know why Michael didn’t want to say goodbye to Logan. He’s always hated transitions and saying goodbye is the worst sort.  

I’m with him there.

    I don’t like that we lose people too soon.

    There are always conversations unsaid, hands not held, hugs not given.

    We want another year, another week, or just a day. A single moment, even.

When Logan left us, he could still run the beach, fetch a tennis ball. The last memory we’ll all have of him is likely a happy one. I wish I could say the same was always true about the people in our lives.


    Most of us know rationally the steps we could take to offer a compassionate ending to those we love. But we hesitate, just a bit –and it’s usually just a bit too long.

    Our hearts hold out for the chance of that one more moment, even when our heads know it’s time to let go.

Rock and Roll Fever

    I’m probably too old to go to rock concerts. 

    I go anyway.

Not just to share the experience with my kid. He’d prefer I didn’t. And it isn’t to name myself at an in-vogue event. They are; I’m not.

    I actually go for the music.

    A gazillion years ago, some long-ago forebears of ours came out of their caves and started making noise. Most of them likely uttering guttural, pretty unpleasant sounds. Grunting –probably the root vocabulary of teenage boys. 

    But then there were the others. Emerging from those very same caves, sometime after the last hunting party had gone off for the day, they made their own sounds. I imagine upon their less-stressed entrance to the day, their attitude wasn’t so much ready-for-the kill, as ready-for-breakfast. And the tenor of their voices, less get-going and more get-down.

I imagine them humming. 

Against the grain of their tribesmen, against even the instinct of their survival, they heard –and listened to- the beat of a different drum.

I live with one of those.

Even on the worst of days, he still emerges from his own cave –with music. In his heart, in his hand, by way of an instrument, and in his hum.

nd as much as he hates the possibility, he gets that from me.

Music is passion and even if I can never be its direct participant, I can connect to the notion of doing something you love –merely for the sake of doing it.

So I go to rock concerts. And often find myself too close to stoned and sweaty 20-somethings, singing along to lyrics I probably shouldn’t know. And I watch the guys on stage and live vicariously. The best of them are still shouting and strumming about the inequities of life. The youngest rail against the closest of their authority figures –parents, teachers. But those with a bit more depth take on other enemies of the day –big business, big government –the “man.” They’re burning with their own passion, but also trying to light a fire under those oft-apathetic kids in their audience banging their heads to the beat. Rockers try to send a message. With their music.

A long time ago, another generation did this with gusto. They built a genre around a war and made a difference.

It would be nice if Michael and his ilk could do the same. 

But it’s doubtful. 

It’s not that they lack talent or intelligence or even passion. What seems still missing among he and his bandmates are those other necessary components that enable one to reach a goal: a lot of work, sacrifice, follow-through. 

His dream is like a distant island. He’s more than willing to put his feet in the water, swim a few strokes in its general direction even. But a stray piece of driftwood, a rough sea, and he’s fully sent adrift. What he really needs is a good solid boat. Problem is, building one takes a whole lot of effort. Forethought, exertion, follow-through. Maybe even a bit of tutelage under a good boat builder.

    I go to rock concerts and hear the music. I get lost in the lyrics and sucked into the dreams. Because I still believe that dreams can come true. Not just for the guys on the stage fulfilling their own. But also in their dream of reaching the masses, getting a message through, making a difference.

One of Michael’s favorite bands is pretty intent on not just playing the music. The lead singer has the audacity to believe that he and his music can make the world a little better. But he’s not a kid anymore.

I wish Michael would listen to one of his heroes:

    “…I’m tired of living in the fable. A real sky I long to see. The journey must continue. It does not start or end with me….”

Michael needs to do more than put his feet in the water if he expects to make it to that island. He needs to build a boat.

Still Waters Run Rough


    My son wants to borrow the canoe.                    

    I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal. Not really.

    He’s almost 17, knows how to swim, would actually don the lifejacket at the first sign of turbulent water in the passive Ipswich River. And, even though he might disagree, he’s not that much of a risk taker.

    All good.


    A few buts, actually. Big buts.

    First of all, the canoe caretaker is daddy. And it’s pretty unlikely that dad is going to willingly hand over the oars anytime soon.

    See, Michael’s track record with daddy and canoes –Not so good.

    Two episodes stand out, neither of which involved our canoe, but in both cases daddy swears Michael shaved a decade off dad’s life span. 

    In Michael’s first canoe adventure, I was away for a girls’ weekend. Dad was in charge.

    For most of you, this sounds like a benign lead-in. For those of you who know the dad-in-question, there’s likely an “uh-oh,” sputtering through your brain.

    As it turns out, “uh-oh” is the accurate response.

    In my defense, though, my weekend escape was neither. It was less than 48 hours, did not occur over a weekend and I was only 120 miles away from home. This was not me selfishly jetting away from it all. And Michael was supposed to be in school for most of the daylight hours. Dad’s on-call duty should have been minimal.


    New England’s weather is fickle. Okay, that’s an understatement -particularly with regard to this specific March Monday/Tuesday weather event .

    I really don’t understand why the kids got out early on the Monday, but clearly with the school underwater, classes were canceled on Tuesday.

    Underwater, no school, canoe. You get where this might be going?

    In dad’s defense, I may have made onnnnnne tiny error before I went AWOL.

    I turned off Michael’s phone. Don’t ask why. That’s a whole other story.

    But , and I don’t want to make myself sound ancient with this statement: people actually did manage to communicate with one another before cell phones. Honest. Children would leave their homes, go out for the day, and –believe it or not- return. It happened all the time when I was a kid hanging around with the dinosaurs. And we didn’t use smoke signals or flares. We just went out and came back. Okay, in the case of my brothers and me, we often returned at the piercing call of my father’s whistle echoing through the neighborhood. Or we simply adhered to the streetlight dictate –they came on, we went in. By the time I was 17, though, I was on my own.

    And on this particular day, so was Michael.

    Well, not entirely on his own. It was Michael, Sunshine (a boy, not the star)a canoe and a town flooded with water. Lots of water. 

    They literally did laps around the high school track –in the canoe.

    How cool.   

    And maybe that should have been the parental reaction. One hundred year history was being made and Michael was able to grab himself a front row perch, albeit from the seat of a canoe. He spent the day communing with nature and creating memories that will no doubt last his lifetime and beyond.

    Harmless fun.

    Save for one little issue.

    Dad didn’t know where he was.  

    This is where their version of events differs. Michael swears he informed dad when he was leaving; dad says no such communication occurred.

    And oh yeah, did I mention Michael had no phone?

    Or that his dad invariably jets to worst-case-scenario where his kids are concerned?

    On the ride home from New Hampshire I noticed that my own cell phone was on vibrate. I hadn’t heard it for awhile. And by awhile, I mean to the tune of 26 missed calls. Seriously.

    Dad was freaking out and apparently didn’t appreciate doing it alone. When I got on scene, I was able to talk him out of calling the police and summoning the scuba teams.

    Long story short: Michael survived.

    So did dad -barely.

    In the second episode, I have to admit that even I was edging around the panic position. To the extent that  I said yes when the parents of the other boy asked if it might be time to call the authorities. But by that hour, Michael had been gone for nearly twelve, had been radio silent for six and was almost three hours overdue on his dock time.

    We were burning daylight, as his dad kept reminding me. And we knew Michael was in the water –somewhere. We just didn’t know where. The last news update was that he had successfully canoed to the ocean. Hardly info that would quell rising nerves.

    Again, he survived. In fact, his next morning Facebook post referred to the best day ever, and boasted of his river run to Crane Beach.


    And my friends wonder why I often say my son is trying to kill me? Actually, my friends don’t ask any more –most of them have teenagers of their own. They merely agree: they’re all trying to kill us.

    So while I fully support Michael’s notion of a leisurely run on our local river, I can’t really blame dad’s reluctance at bringing the canoe home from the office. With the 20 years Michael’s already trimmed off dad’s life clock, time is ticking pretty furiously. And while Michael may have some motivation to get dad further out of his life, dad has no real desire to hasten his own demise. Because even dad agrees now, Michael is trying to kill us.

See You At The Beach


            There must be a mathematical equation confirming that the velocity of time increases exponentially with age.  Why did the years before I turned 16, 18 and 21 crawl?  And yet the time watching my son zip from two to ten, my daughter turn from dress-up to makeup, has passed in an eye blink.  When did “time flies” go from being the phrase of my parents to the refrain of my peers?  My rational brain knows it could not have been a single moment that began the process.  However, I can’t help but wonder if the bearing of children doesn’t somehow set that clock in motion at an unyielding rate.  I only know that the minutes seem a bit more swift of late, the moments a bit more precious.

            It was one of those frigid Spring afternoons, dreary and raw, when I bumped into an acquaintance.  Emblematic of our lives, it was a rushed hello and a dash out the door.  But before the goodbye, she said she’d see me at the beach.  Only in New England would a thermometer hovering still below 50 prompt the notion of a day at the beach.  But the yearning is easy to identify with.  In the shadow of our children’s footsteps, we race from sporting event to piano lesson, from pre-arranged play dates to carefully selected club meets.  Perpetual motion behind the wheel of an SUV.  In such tiny towns, how is it we spend such an inordinate amount of time in our automobiles?  If our winter roads are so harsh how do we move so speedily through the shortest of days?  And the routine only accelerates when the clocks bump forward.  Spring sports verses end-of-year school activities and obligations cause universal conflict.  The holiday bustle has nothing on overscheduled children coupled with the rising temperatures of Spring Fever.  This break neck pace hurtles on for the too many of us who acquiesce to the race.  Continues, that is, until the summer bell.  Until we can tear up the weekly scheduling charts, put aside the lists of required reading, and take a moment to join in the collective end-of-year sign.  Take a moment, perhaps, to dip into the frigid Atlantic waves, turn the cell phones to mute, leave the wristwatches on the nightstand and spend a day at the beach.

            From my narrow perspective, there is a defining lift of burden with that last bus note, that last spring game.  It isn’t just that my own work schedule slows to a trickle or that it seems there’s less to accomplish and more time in which to do it.  It’s more a sense of the throttle decelerating, a life planing to a more even keel.  And it all harkens back to the day when cloud watching had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the dragons in their billows; when the walk to the post office really wasn’t about the bill in my hand.  With the caveats of the adults in my life who warned “how quickly they grow,” I frequented the museums and parks.  There were rambling bike rides with the little girl in back nodding off en route.  There was “Mommy and Me” day for the kindergarten boy.  On one trip to the beach, we went off on a tangent and instead took the subway to Faneuil Hall in Boston in search of the “rock dove” from our bird chart.  The commuters must have wondered about that five-year-old kid jumping up and down because he finally could check off pigeon from the chart.

            Today, the simplicity has been supplanted with the temptations of their twenty-first century lives.  While my children willingly maintain their position at the center of their own universes, there’s less space in there for Mommy and Daddy.  Instead, we’re often relegated to the neighboring orbit.  Held close by our gravitational pull rather than theirs, we hover with an assortment of competing celestial objects: school, sports, clubs, after school jobs, friends, boys.  It gets a bit crowded.  So my offer of a day at the beach today has appeal only if it includes the invitation to a friend or two.  Unfortunately, the time I enjoy spending alone with my kids doesn’t always coincide with the time they wish to spend with me.  I am not, however, so thick that I don’t take the time they still give, even if it’s at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night.

            All this to agree with what we all agree upon.  That life is short and time truly does pass by more quickly than any of us want.  And to offer what I am certain is unneeded advice to my friend awaiting the birth of her first child.  There will be a day in your future when you will have too much on your plate.  Papers, work, a messy house.  There won’t be time for the park or the beach.  Go anyway.  Ignore all but that tiniest of your responsibilities: that little person who’d love to show you his sandcastle.  As a matter of fact, sacrifice the manicure and dig right in.