Removals

This month saw two major developments in our lives. My medical problem was finally diagnosed and I had my appendix (along with six  inches of my intestines) removed and have spent this month since the 12th transitioning from agony to recovery.  You’ve been very nice and very protective. On the day I returned from the hospital, not even an hour after returning home, Bella, who had been on my lap, heard the door open and attempted a bank shot off my tummy on her way to the side door. Somehow, with spider-man-like reflexes, before I even had time to put my hands up to stop her, you reached over, grabbed Bella, and put her on the floor. You saved me from having to return to the hospital. No doubt.

And another, more subtle milestone occurred.  It’s much bigger news. Your stuffed animals are now in a bin, the lid has been closed and they have been placed into the garage. Your reaction to this has been interesting. You were definitely reluctant, and have told me that mom “kinda forced” you to do it to make room for your new dresser. There seems to be–from your perspective–both truth and exaggeration in this narrative. The exaggeration, I think, is for my benefit.

A little history…in case you’ve forgotten…

From the time you were 3-and-a-half to about the age of 9, we went into your room and I made your animals come alive and interact with you for 10 minutes every day. No weekends off. And when we missed a day, we’d “do a double,” the following day. (But triples were not allowed and you could not carry a balance greater than 20 minutes.) It was a strict, time-boxed event, with built-in warnings. “Five minutes left. Two minutes left. One minute left. OK, time for a last thing.” And looking back on this, I wonder if you think this was incredibly anal of me. In my defense, we started these play times loose and untimed. But then every session ended with a rage against its ending. I tried lots of things and finally landed on a super-rigid structure with very definite rules. That put an end to the bad times.  Then the regiment stuck.

Some time around the age of 9, you became much more busy with homework after school and trying to fit these evenings in became difficult, so I’d say we probably did this 3-4 times/week, always skipping on bath nights. By the time you were 10, we were down to once a week on the nights mom was teaching at North Park and the occasional weekend. And then since you turned 11, I’d say we’ve maybe made animals talk 3 or 4 times and each time felt like playing to a tough crowd. You don’t seem to have fully accepted this, but you’re over it. I can feel it.

I’ve seen you go from pretending to be one of the animals, to being yourself but with magic powers, to just being yourself–a snarkier, tougher, slightly too-cool-for-school version of yourself. You’ve gone from tyrannical bouts of screaming at your animal friends, even biting them, almost every night to occasionally beating the stuffing out of Monkey. I had to work harder and harder to be funny as you got harder to amuse. By age 11, I’ve definitely reached my funny-on-cue limit. I can’t make you laugh like I used to.  At first, I could just make the animals fart and you’d laugh your head off. Eventually, I had to develop consistent characters, tell more involved stories, get us (usually with your participation or even lead) into fantastical realms and serialized plots.   The extent to which this kind of entertainment is hard work for a guy  my age has definitely been lost on you. Is it now?

Anyway, while I’m not sure we’ve said our formal goodbye to them yet…we have crossed a threshold.

Even if it’s not technically over, it’s over. And what do I think looking back on this? Do I  miss it? That’s a hard question to answer. I can’t pretend that I miss being so in-demand as an entertainer in my home. But every time you got me into your room and we sat down and pulled out those animals, I had a really good time. Even when I was tired or sick or had a really bad day, I would usually find myself locked in and enjoying our play times. What I can say for sure is that I miss having some kind of activity we can do together.

Is it any coincidence that this is a time when you and I are struggling to be closer?

I think we’re growing apart

 

Something is happening. I need to figure out my role in it. The bonding moments we once shared are getting fewer. The time we spend in conflict is getting more frequent. The feeling that you want me around or like me is even getting less frequent. I feel increasingly like a third wheel, the guy on the outside, the 70’s dad behind a newspaper who pats you on the head in the morning and asks you how your day went at the end.

Maybe it’s my health. Maybe it’s your adolescence and the natural separation of parent and child. But neither of us seem to like it. And I hope that counts for something.

You’re trying to get my attention, and I’m trying to get us closer and both of us are failing. My efforts to bring us closer involve conversation. I ask you questions. I try to understand the things you’ve said to me so I know exactly what you mean. You feel interrogated or misunderstood. You physically bombard me, animal like, usually throwing your face noisily into mine (among other physical disruptions). It shuts me down like a frightened pill bug. And that only makes you try harder.

But hey. I’m 43. You’re 11. This is all on me.

Remember when you stayed up late to witness Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech?

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 28: A man passes by a Anti-Donald Trump mural painted on a building in Lower Manhattan on August 28, 2015 in New York City. Trump is leading the Republican presidential field in most polls. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)You may remember it as kind of funny–how sure I was. And how it all came crashing down. Mom had expressed worry. Not me. I was confident. We all wore white that day to commemorate the women’s suffrage movement.  I was never afraid. I was never concerned. I never entertained a what-if scenario that included that Big Orange Turd becoming a member of the club that has Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama as members. Never.

It wasn’t until results started to come in that were surprising and states we thought she’d win easily were too close to call…and suddenly all the many ways Hillary could win became all the many ways she could lose. But it happened. When things turned really ugly and you had fallen asleep, mom made you go to bed. You protested as though you were missing out. You missed my shock, flipping between my phone, laptop and TV over and over again, like I was caught in a ghostly loop. You missed mom crying and then going to bed before it was officially over…and then waking up and crying in the middle of the night when I told her it was done.

And you may not remember this, but my confidence was not at all unusual. (If anything mom’s worry was.) Anyone who had done their homework, dug into the data, followed the news, knew that it was a foregone conclusion: Hillary would win. I don’t know know when it is you’ll be reading this but by now you may have witnessed a predictable election or two. Those are normal. Since the age of modern polling, there have really only been two big surprises to-date and this was the first I’d ever lived through. They occurred in 1948 and 2016.

But there we were as a family the next day trying to make sense of it–a day I had taken off and that I thought you’d take off so we could all celebrate. We decided to send you into school instead. Again, you felt like you were missing out. Mom and I were trying to make sense of it for you first thing in the morning, explaining how we thought this happened, what it meant and what it didn’t mean.

It didn’t seem like you were that upset. You were too young to be as scared and devastated as we were.  To you, it was a little like the bully won the spelling bee, beating that nice kid he just gave a wedgie to an hour ago.  It was a vague injustice. The story with a shitty ending. You did ask how it could have happened. But then you were ready to move on. Which is good.

But I do want to be sure you know that this happened here, at this point in your life.

It’s funny because as you’re reading this–assuming you haven’t found it early–you know how this all turned out. I’m writing it and I don’t. I don’t know how it turns out for him or our country but you know. Was he impeached? Was he actually re-elected? I kind of wish you could tell me. And then you could be the parent trying to make sense of the injustice of it all.

Simon Chester Gallo Bayiates 6/19/04 – 8/5/16

img_5769It was a Friday. Hot. Sunny. An otherwise nondescript August day. I decided to work from home on a whim. And I saw the first symptoms in the morning while I worked on my laptop. Old Man Simon had asked to get on the bed. I’d picked him up like football and put him down next to me while I typed away. But he couldn’t stay still. He panted. He stretched. He shifted. I smiled, even giggled a little, called him a dork. Because Simon–you may well remember, was so unpredictable and odd, nothing out-of-the-ordinary was alarming.

You were downstairs with nana and mom.  And like almost every day of your life, you woke up a little after Simon did; ate your breakfast in front of the TV, not long after Simon loudly snarfed down his food in the kitchen; sat and enjoyed your show while Simon snored next to you on the couch, or tick-ticked from one side of the room to the other. You probably held your nose because he farted that morning and said “Oh Simon!  That’s nasty!”

And then at one point in the early afternoon…I already forget when, we all began to notice his behavior was not normal. Stretching. Pacing. Panting. Unable to lie still for even five seconds. First we thought he was hot. We put some water on his back to see if that would help.  No change. And then we observed him more carefully. The stretching looked funny–half a downward-facing-dog stretch that came on fast, and seemed involuntary.

Nana was visiting and she wondered if maybe it was his back, or his stomach, but I know mom and I were thinking about his brain–something about the spasmodic nature of each stretch, the panting and pacing that followed.  A tortured conversation ensued about whether or not you should go to camp, and if so, how we might pick you up if things looked bad.

Several minutes later, nana and papa were taking you to camp and mom and I were at the vet.  They really weren’t sure what it was, and to rule out a back problem, they gave Simon a shot for pain, and some steroids–and in a weird way, to me, it felt like that was when Simon’s life was over.  Simon stopped being Simon from that moment on. The pain medication made him loopy and drunk-legged for 30 minutes or so, but the steroids–those made him a thousand times more restless, hungry, panting, edgy.

And the stretching continued when we came home.  His paws began to curl. A sure sign he was having seizures.

While nana and papa were retrieving you early from camp, mom and I were speeding down I-94 on our way to the emergency vet in Buffalo Grove. Simon was in the the back seat with me, seizures following on top of each other with the regularity of contractions…though for a spell, he almost seemed relaxed…his last moments of relaxation.

I was mostly convinced that he had developed a chronic condition because of his Cushings disease, and that it would be treatable…until I saw the look on the vet tech’s face when I told her he was having seizures. Then I knew.  They took him in immediately, an IV went into him and we waited.

You arrived with a headache and car sickness from the ride with nana and papa, and shortly after, you threw up in the waiting room bathroom. Mom bought us some food and we ate what we could while we waited. Nana and papa went home. You were hopeful, I’m sure, because you’re not a negative person, and you’re always ready to try, never inclined to give up.

This is one reason we had you leave the room while we discussed options with the vet. This is also why we tried the IV of antiepileptic medication, and why we were willing to take pills home with us and see if we could treat him with those. But when he came back from the IV treatment and immediately had another seizure, when they became more and more frequent, when he urinated during one…hope was lost.

Mom was a rock. (This is something about us you may have noticed. You’ll never know which will be the strong one, but one of us always manages to hold it together. Today it was mom’s turn.) I was a wreck. I choked up in front of the doctor. I cried when you came back in and we told you what was happening. You shouted “no!!!” and you and I clung to each other and wept.

Mom was stoic, resolved–a calm came over her that was clinical, practical and in some ways resembled relief. His long, tortured decline would come to an end, and he would be at peace. You and I were immediately in the thick of grief, and could only seem to console each other.

We were ushered into a small room that was carefully designed to help families let go of their pets. The lights were dim (which was good because your head was still pounding.) There were pictures of families with pets that had passed. A large, comfy dog mattress that could have fit a German shepherd, and a shelf full of picture frames and bric-a-brack.  Our job was to love on our dog and find enough peace to say goodbye. And with the steroids that coursed through Simon, this was a challenging mission. He paced away from our hugs. He sniffed low when tried to kiss his head, and climbed the shelves and knocked over the bric-a-brack when we tried to keep him still.  Your thoughtful mother gave Simon her Red Robbin sweet potato fries and we giggled while he inhaled them from their cardboard container.  He was still hungry.

How do you know when you’re ready to kill your dog? This is an impossible question, but at some point we seemed to have an answer without trying and we pressed a little button that summoned a vet. We knelt down next to him, and listened to the doctor’s careful, soft-spoken explanation. We saw him drift off into sleep and we hugged him, kissed him, dripped tears on his jowls while we watched his tiny black and white belly rise and fall, rise and fall in a medicated sleep. And then again we were asked if we were ready for the final injection. We nodded, held hands, petted our Simon, and watched his belly go still.

I can still hear your tears. A tiny being with such an outsize personality, an expulsive, snorty, smelly, loud, ridiculous little animal, suddenly as still as a stone, as lifeless and invisible as end of a deep woods winter breeze. Gone. Just like that.

She carried Simon gingerly up and out of the room. We packed up our things, and left the hospital. While making our way through the waiting room, we were a walking tableau–two parents on either side of their 10-year-old daughter, her face tear stained, the family’s faces ashen. In the little girl’s hands, she held a dogless leash and collar.  The story told itself. One empathetic owner’s gaze after another met ours as we made the slow walk to the car. We said little during the long drive home. You and I left the car and were headed out of the garage when we noticed Mom wasn’t with us.  She was bent over the steering wheel, crying. Now it was her turn.

Zoe greeted us from the couch, her head hung low, almost submissive, but she seemed to read our sadness and enter a state of mourning–not knowing why, but joining us nonetheless.

We talked that night about your feelings. While we were still in the hospital you described the peculiar mix of emotions you were having, and we told you it was “grief.” “What’s that?” you replied. We had a lot of interesting talks over the next few days about what grief is and how you have to welcome it or else it overwhelms you.

What I’ll never forget is that you were as much a comfort to me as mom was.  It’s the first time we ever went through something like this together, as equals.  You didn’t become so inconsolable that we had to shift our attention to caring for you before mourning ourselves. Instead, you mourned with us.  We all needed and leaned on each other.  Through all this pain, that was something kind of beautiful.

 

The Middle of a Season

growing-up-2-1024x540I can sometimes see the hint of a young woman in you. It takes only one new article of clothing, or a mannerism, a laugh or a figure of speech. For the first time, I see the woman in you emerge often enough to think I’m not being crazy. She arrives, sometimes lingers briefly, but then vanishes again. And I remember how small you are; how briefly you’ve been on this planet.

It’s the middle of summer. You’ve spent most of it biding time with your mother while she Continue reading

The Scream

scream-on-bridge500Yesterday,  I could have told you that I have never heard either you or Mom scream. That’s why when I was laying on my bed, headphones in my ears, relaxing to near-sleep, the sound of sustained, deathly screaming coming from downstairs could only mean one thing: a life-altering disaster had struck my little family. Continue reading

Change

Self_Consciousness_by_ayleAs long as I can remember, your growing up has been a melancholy delight. Challenges have always popped up, but nothing we can’t handle. I may miss the baby I once knew, but I always enjoy the older, more complex girl I’m still getting to know.

This month has felt different. If you ever wonder to yourself: Continue reading