The Deal

We had a deal.

You broke it.

The fine print CLEARLY stated that you had to live forever- or at least until your 14th birthday, because I was planning an epic peanut butter and banana cake (your favorite).

You reneged.

I reminded you of this as I stood in the shower with you yesterday morning, swaying and singing to you in an attempt to ease the latest attack of spinal arthritis that was tearing through your body.

I reminded you again as I washed, massaged, and fluffed your little silver and black fur until you smelled like cactus water and coconut instead of the mess in which you had once again woken up.

I reminded you again last night as you lay in my arms in the emergency room, shaking as though you were freezing even though your forehead was burning up.

I told you we needed you to cheer with us through one more Superbowl; to cuddle with us through one more This Is Us; to hop under the table during one more meal, waiting for me to “accidentally” drop food in front of your little nose.

I told you I couldn’t get through sad movies without you in my arms; cold nights without you curled against my stomach; or showers without you relaxing on the bath mat.

But as I told you, I saw your eyes searching through mine. I saw those eyes plead with me to let you out of your contract.

So as much as it killed me (I’m a rule follower- you know that, Rocco)…I did.

I kissed your nose, nuzzled your ears, and stroked your paws, and I whispered, “It’s ok. You can break the deal.”

I thanked you- thanked you for getting us through almost 14 years of life; for protecting me during 2 pregnancies; for becoming my children’s first friend; and for consoling me during the greatest losses of my life (until this).

I told you that you’d be taking a nap, and you’d awake to a nice, leash-free life, bouncing from cloud to cloud, enjoying unlimited treats and walks. No more pain, no more shaking, no more goobies in your eyes (you always hated when I cleaned them), and best of all, no more nail clipping- ever. You seemed to like that one, because as soon as I said it, you, who never kissed, happily licked my face.

While I gently told you about your new life, you rested your head on my shoulder and gazed at me.

While the doctor approached, I lifted your tiny bearded chin and whispered, “Ok, you know what to do. As soon as you get there, look for my grandmother- she has the meatballs. I love you.”

And then your head was back on my chest.

And then you were gone.

And then I changed my mind.

I wasn’t ready- you were clearly ready, but I wasn’t, and that’s just not fair, Rocco.

I wasn’t ready to smell your soft, French toast-scented ears (I have no idea why, they just were) one last time.

I wasn’t ready to kiss your nose and run my hands along your just-bathed fur one last time.

I wasn’t ready to look back at your peaceful body one last time as Pat gently led me out of the room.

And you know what, Rocco? There’s a lot of other stuff I wasn’t ready for either- you didn’t consider any of it!

You didn’t consider that I’d wake up and wait to see your head pop up out of your bed, and instead find the space where your bed used to be.

You didn’t consider that I’d get up and start to say, out of habit, “Morning my little moo, give Mommy 2 minutes to get dressed and we’ll go downstairs,” only to stop as I choked on my tears.

You didn’t consider that I’d reach for your leash to take you on your morning stroll; or that I’d save ½ a scoop of Marty’s breakfast to put in your bowl; or that I’d walk around the kitchen like I was learning to ballroom dance because I was so used to you always being underfoot.

You didn’t consider that I’d cry til 2am, fall asleep, and wake up at 7am ALREADY in tears. Or that I’d cry all the way to Vince’s school, and all the way to Grace’s school, and all the way to my job, where I’d stumble in an hour late, looking like I’d been punched in both eyes or stung by a really angry bee.

You didn’t consider any of that last night when you begged me to let you break the deal- did you?!

But you know what? I can’t blame you for not considering any of that. If we’re being honest, there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t consider either.

I didn’t consider the fact that my phone would light up like a Christmas tree with messages of love, support, and shared sorrow; that my sister would cry with me until 2am; or that my friends, who all have hectic lives and should have been asleep, would graciously let me grief-vomit all over them until well past midnight- and then check in with me again this morning.

I didn’t consider that everyone would have a favorite memory of you- the way you ran laps around that first basement apartment and startled Pete, who probably thought you were an over-sized rat. The way you danced around for those salmon burgers I used to grill for you- Jacquie got a kick out of that. The way you always melted into Sasha’s lap before she could even get comfy on our old red couch.

I didn’t consider that I’d be sitting here, trying to type this through a flood of tears, and I’d receive messages from friends I haven’t heard from in years, sincerely expressing how much they loved you.

I didn’t consider how much of an impact such a tiny little puppy could make.

I didn’t consider that anyone could love you as much as I loved you.

I guess you knew what you were doing. You weren’t breaking the contract at all.

You’ll live forever, because you put a tiny piece of yourself in everyone you met.

I hope you know that the moment you left me for that leash-free meatball party in the clouds, you took a piece of me with you.

And I hope you know that I will honor my half of the deal- I will rescue another lonely soul; I will love it with everything I have; and I will bake that peanut butter and banana cake, and on your 14th birthday, I will eat a big slice in your memory- but I’ll be sure to drop just the tiniest bit at my feet, for old time’s sake.

Rest peacefully, my sweet boy.

Coffee

I don’t have a fabulous, witty opening for this post- I just really wanted to share it.

My son made me coffee this morning.

My 6 year-old son, who still can’t quite reach the INSIDE of the hamper with his dirty underwear; who cries very real tears when Pat asks him to make his bed; and who repeatedly asks why he needs to brush his teeth twice in the same day-

That same kid got up early and made me a cup of coffee.

The scene I walked into at 7am has become a familiar one- two protein bars, two applesauce pouches, and two cups of milk set neatly in the cup holders of the couch; 1 Pokemon cartoon playing on Netflix; and 1 kid wrapped in his favorite blanket, smiling at me.

Vince decided last week that he wants to ease the chaos of our morning routine, and I have to say, watching it all unfold has been both hilarious and heartwarming.

First was the Hulu passcode- he asked me to recite it “slowly please while I write it down.” When I peeked into his sketchbook I saw him carefully drawing the entire remote, adding numbers, and then practicing punching them with his thumb.

The next morning I walked into the living room and found him sitting on the couch, proudly smiling and gesturing to his accomplishments like Vanna White.

TV on, two protein bars …and for Grace, a 32oz thermos of the unsweetened almond milk that I use for cooking.  I thanked him profusely, switched it out for milk she wouldn’t spit at the television, and gently explained that we might want to give Grace a slightly smaller cup, so that it didn’t start coming out of her ears.

Morning #2 dawned to Netflix, two protein bars, two applesauce pouches (which he swore he didn’t climb the counters to reach, so I suppose his arms are secretly made of putty…), and a 32oz thermos of the correct milk for Grace.

It was an improvement.

Morning #3, I wandered into the living room to find him fully dressed, breakfast set up, Grace’s milk in a slightly smaller cup…and a cup of coffee on the table.

He was so proud- SO proud.

“Mommy, I made you coffee!”

“Whoa! Thank you so much! How did you make it? You knew how to fill the k-cup?? That’s crazy!”

“Well, no, I just turned on the machine, and climbed on the count- I mean I used a chair to get your green Moose mug because I know that one makes you happy, and I put it under the machine, and pushed the biggest button like you and Daddy do, and it started putting way too much coffee in so I shut the whole thing off and poured some in the sink, but it’s still really good!”

I smiled, hugged him, and took a nice big sip of what I knew were Pat’s used coffee grinds.

Fast-forward a few days and I’ve woken up to several cups of almost-coffee. No matter how many times I’ve insisted that I could make it myself….every day I wake up to used coffee grinds in a green moose mug. Every day I smile, hug him, tousle his hair affectionately… quietly pour it down the sink, re-brew it, and sip it in front of him while raving about his coffee brewing prowess as he glows.

But this morning was the one. I walked sleepily down the stairs, heard the familiar sounds of Pokemon drifting from the living room, and turned the corner to see a smile so wide I was afraid it might get stuck on his little face.

“I did it, Mommy. This time, I really did it! I made you coffee!”

Of course he did- because THIS time, we rigged it.

Before Pat left for work, he filled a k-cup with new grinds and left it in the coffee pot. Haha….we were so clever. We were so sneaky.

We were so over-confident.

I lifted the mug to my lips while Vince buzzed around me like a proud little bee.

“Today I finally figured it out! I took the green cup thing out of the machine, and I dumped all the grinds out into the sink, like Daddy does. Then I filled it with your punkin pie coffee, from the bag with the little pie on it. Then I put it back in the machine and got your green moose mug. Then I pushed the biggest button. Then I went into the fridge and found your special coffee milk, and I used 3 little dabs, just like you do. You use 3 little dabs, right?”

It took everything in me not to laugh.

“Why yes, I do use 3 little dabs!”

I took a big sip- which, to my surprise, actually tasted pretty decent, besides the fact that my teeth were aching and I’d like to know what his idea of “3 little dabs” of creamer really is. Then I wandered over to the sink and found all of the unused coffee grinds we had planted in the Keurig.

Biting my lip, I turned to my still-buzzing bee and thanked him.

“Vince, you don’t need to do all of this, but it’s such a huge help.”

“Mommy, you do a lot, I want to help.”

Swoon.

I guess they aren’t kidding when they tell you, “Your kids are watching.”

He watches which brew size we select on the coffee maker each morning.

He watches how many “dabs” of creamer I put in my mug.

He watches my husband tap the k-cup against the sink and dump the grinds down the drain (as I glare at him with my best, “I guess you want to clog the pipes!” face).

But more importantly, he watches us.

He watches me set up the coffee for Pat before we go to bed, so he has one less thing to do at 3:30am.

He watches Pat research recipes and measure out spices so that I come home to a hot, amazing (no seriously, the man can COOK) meal every night.

He watches us offer each other the “best” seat on the couch, and give each other a quick backrub as we walk past each other.

He watches us hug, and tease each other, and wink at each other across the room.

He watches Pat kiss Grace’s “boo-boos” and he watches me read “just one more page” to help him fall asleep each night.

He watches Pat gently cuddle Rocco when his arthritis is acting up, and he watches me drag myself out in all kinds of weather when Marty needs to burn some energy.

He watches us take care of each other.

And after all that watching, he wants to be a caretaker too.

What a concept. What a damn miracle.

Even if you’re sure they’re not paying any attention to you, I’m telling you, it’s getting through. Somewhere between, “What do you mean you have homework?! It’s 10pm!” and “What do you want for dinner….what do you want for dinner….hello….hello???!!!!”  It’s getting through to them.

They’re watching.

I know.

Because my son made me coffee this morning. 🙂

Cozy & Close

I was just starting to give in to the urge to pass out on the couch when the dance began.

She started with the back leg shuffle. When that didn’t rouse me quickly enough she moved to the full body shimmy. By the time she launched into her “Watch me knock over the mail table with my taaaaail!” grand finale, I was reluctantly heading for my shoes.

Once the mail table goes clattering to the ground, I know I don’t have any time to waste- Marty needs to go, and it has to be NOW. So I had to deal with the fact that I was about to walk through my neighborhood wearing red sweatpants, an old blue t-shirt, polka-dot rain boots, and….wait for it….no bra.

So there I was, being dragged into the street so Marty the Menace could channel her puppy energy, and I found myself thinking 2 things: 1. I hope to God that every one of my neighbors is asleep, and 2. If she sprints any faster I may accidentally whip myself in the face with one of my unruly, post-children C-cups.

And then I found myself thinking something else. This was kind of…nice. The air was crisp and cold, Christmas lights were still twinkling on a few houses, and it felt like Marty and I had the whole world to ourselves.

So of course I used this opportunity for quiet to…overthink.

As we strolled past house after house I marveled at the diversity on my street. There were the few small, lovingly maintained homes towards the bottom; then there was the moldy foreclosure that a very enthusiastic contractor recently decided to give a second chance at life (but I swear I can still smell it from across the street). A little further up were the two that I always assumed were abandoned (I was wrong). Then a few more, slightly larger, “two cars in the driveway and a white fence” suburban homes…and of course the house on the corner that saw its owners disappear late one night and never return. Maybe foreclosure guy will tackle that one next…

And then Marty turned and began trotting around the corner to what Vince always calls his “most favorite part” of Marty’s daytime walks. The cul-de-sac with the “huge houses.”

It’s such a strange sight, really- 5 houses, all tucked away on their own little side street, all unique and gorgeous and beautifully-landscaped. All meticulously maintained.

All silent.

I always find myself studying these marvels of architecture as we pass them, admiring the split-rail fences, the neatly-arranged stones around each mailbox, the beautiful picture windows and long, curved driveways…

But I can never help but notice that those beautiful picture windows are always dark, the curtains drawn across them. And those long, curved driveways are, more often than not, completely empty (and with the way I looked at that moment, I was endlessly grateful for that).

These 5 beautiful houses with a street all to themselves are certainly a sight to see- but they don’t really seem like….homes.

(Disclaimer for people with large homes, before I get any eggs thrown at my front door- I’ve been in houses both gumdrop-sized and gigantic that were delightful- but these 5…not so much.)

As I glanced from one set of darkened windows to the next I remembered Vince’s awe the first time he set his eyes on them.

“Wow! These houses are huge! I really wish we could have bought one of these instead. Our house is nice but it’s so much smaller- these are so big and fancy!”

“These are amazing, but I kind of wanted a small house.”

“Why??”

“When I was a kid we lived in a small house- 6 people and one bathroom. We had to schedule our showers….and when one person was cooking, suddenly the other 5 needed to be in the kitchen. We would all be squished in there like sardines, but we didn’t mind. Our house didn’t have a lot of room, but you were never lonely. The windows were always open, and you could hear laughter, or crazy conversations- or sometimes yelling- if you walked by. When Daddy and I moved into our first apartment I couldn’t sleep for weeks because I couldn’t hear my dad in the living room watching tv. That 1-bedroom apartment seemed huge! I didn’t like all the empty space; I was so used to the noise and the closeness. And that’s what I want for you and your sister- but with 2 bathrooms.”

“That sounds like our house now!” Vince exclaimed.

“Exactly. When we pulled up to our house I said ‘Oh my gosh it’s like a gingerbread cottage!’ I knew right away it was the one. I know these are beautiful- and believe me, I wouldn’t say no if someone wanted to hand me the keys to one of them- but I’m a big fan of being cozy and close. You make so many nice memories that way.”

I kept replaying that conversation as Marty dragged me up the hill. I wasn’t sure if Vince would ever “get” it- why his mother wanted everyone banging into walls and bumping elbows.

I can’t help it. It’s what I’ve always known and grown to love- being cozy and close.

I love watching Vince and Pat chasing each other from the bedroom to the living room with the Nerf guns he got for Christmas, knocking into furniture and picture frames along the way.

I love that I can hear either of my kids crying without a baby monitor, and I can be in their bedrooms cuddling their bad dreams away as soon as they wake from them.

I love Sunday afternoons, when I cook and bake while doing a delicate dance around 2 kids sitting on the counters and 2 dogs lying at my feet in a 6×8 kitchen. (I’m proud to report I have never clunked anyone in the head with a pot, pan, or baking sheet! Yet!)

I love that I can hear Gracie giggling in her bedroom while I sip my morning coffee in the dining room.

I even love how, even though we have two bathrooms, I usually have one kid sitting on the toilet chatting with me while I shower.

Maybe it would be nice to have a little more elbow room…but I wouldn’t trade any of it for the biggest house on the block (well, maybe the gorgeous blue one with the fence – ok fine not even that one).

After Marty had done her fair share of prancing, sniffing and clumsily banging into shrubbery, we trotted down the hill and back home. Through the opened blinds I could see our warmly-lit Christmas tree, the quirky antique dining room ceiling lamp, a red-headed child staring at me-

Wait.

“Why are you awake?!” I whisper-yelled as I got to the door.

“It’s 10:15- I tucked you in a half hour ago!”

“I missed you.”

“I was only up the street, Vince.”

“I know, but I got lonely knowing you weren’t right in the next room. Now that you’re back I can fall asleep. Can you tuck me in so I’m warm and cozy, Mommy?”

A smile slowly spread across my frozen cheeks.

He gets it.