Timber Tog, The Pirate Dog

Timber and Miles
I’d never have guessed how much I would miss you. That the absence of just one furry, wagging butt could make our entire house seem silent and empty. For a few days after you slipped from our life with a gasp in my arms, I ached with the reminders of you. Your imprint was everywhere- the empty dog bed in the bedroom, the food bin with your name on it in the pantry, the shiny, mocking emptiness of your bowl tucked next to Miles, the second leash swinging hauntingly on its hook in the garage. Some of the worst moments were when I arrived home for the first time to be greeted with a heartbreaking silence at the door, Miles looking confused and alone or when I sobbed and scrubbed the last of your snotty nose prints from the front window, where you used to like to keep watch when we were away.

Right up until the day before you died, you were still stalking the kitchen for scraps. Scurrying to gobble up every bit of vegetable chopped and haphazardly discarded. Your favorite was carrots and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be able to eat one without thinking of you. The way your little, flopping triangle ears would perk up and you’d attempt to straighten your sliding butt into some semblance of order on the slippery wood floor, ever optimistic that some small portion of orange matter might make it into your waiting mouth. You always ate every bit of food with an intensity that bespoke passion, irreverently nipping fingers and anything else that might get in the way. So when you began to look skinny, I was alarmed. By the time I realized how sick you were, it was much too late. Too late for just one more of your favorite treats, an extra dollop of peanut butter, or a scoop of ice cream. Just the night after they diagnosed you with lymphoma, you were unable to hold down even water and when I stretched my hand out to offer you a carrot and you turned your head away, I knew it was already time to let you go.

Timber in the backyard
And yet, for the all the misery and sadness of your few final days, we had ten years. Ten years of companionship and love. Initially we got you as a rolly, polly ball of tan fur and blue eyes for Miles, our Labrador. He seemed desperate for socialization and we lived in a cabin in the woods where he saw more moose than people. We had dogs instead of children and we raised you with the same kind of focus and attention. I recall the first few years as difficult. Your frequent accidents and penchant for chewing meant you couldn’t be left alone for long stretches, so I would take you to work with me in the winter, letting you out on my breaks for walks. We still own the truck that you chewed the insulation out of, its felt lining hanging in ripped shreds. As a puppy, you adored eating your own frozen poop and while you grew out of that eventually, I’ll never forget the time you and Miles got out of the backyard in a snowstorm. We found you across the street, eating the neighbor’s dog’s poop. Later that night you graciously threw it up all over our bedroom. I got pregnant with Owen and we moved into our first home. The very first time we brought you in to introduce you to it, you walked into the corner of the basement, squatted and pooped. Now that I think about it, almost every really great story about you involves poop. Hmmm…

I’m pretty sure you did not appreciate the addition of children to our family. This is where your nickname comes from, as you used to grumble and give a remarkably good imitation of a pirate “arrg” when confronted by little fingers and messy hands. But you braved it. Mostly for the food. It didn’t take you long to figure out that those obnoxious, noisy beings made food rain from the heavens. When they were babies, I used to lower them in their highchairs and let you and Miles lick them clean. It satisfied my sense of fairness. I also have pictures of all the times we used to let you and Miles lick the empty ice cream containers just to get them stuck on your noses. This was not fair, but it was damn funny. You would perform some pretty great tricks for food. I taught you to turn circles to the command “do donuts!” and because you had a little black fringe of fur that looked just like a Hitler mustache, we taught you to rise on your hind legs when we gave the “Heil Hitler” hand motion and said “Rise up!”. My favorite though was when I would tell you to “Attack Daddy” when he was in bed and you would jump up and burrow your head under the covers, pushing into him and growling.

Timber on his couch
You were the howler in the family. No one could talk on speaker phone without you interrupting. Miles was never able to do it properly, not like you. It would only take me imitating a howl a few times for you to join in, throwing back your head and exposing your white throat as you bayed at the ceiling. You were also the one to draw my attention with a whimper or a whine when you or Miles needed to go out, trotting around the house until you found me or waking me up in the middle of the night. While you and Miles never seemed that close, you spoke for him when he needed it, threatening other dogs who played too rough or whimpering your worry when he seemed hurt. And in the evening, when the kids were in bed and we watched TV downstairs, you and Miles shared a cushion on the couch more often than not, spooning.

In the days leading up to your death, I noticed that you had begun to follow me. You were never very comfortable with affection, but out of everyone in the family, you seemed to trust me the most. I remember when you had your surgery to get your ACL repaired and I was six months pregnant carrying your ass end up and down the stairs so you could go to the bathroom. When we clipped your nails, I often got you to hold still simply by laying with you. If I got up and left the room, you usually followed. If I tried to pet you or snuggle with you, you started panting and got up but you’d never leave the room. You wanted to be wherever I was. When you got sick, I noticed you wouldn’t let me out of your direct line of sight. At night you would lean against my side of the bed, laying your head near my hand and panting softly, awake most of the night. I never appreciated the magnitude and beauty of that kind of childlike trust until you got sick, until I held you in my arms, emaciated and shaking and helped you die. I was home to you. I was your mama. Thanks for ten years of simple devotion and deep, unconditional trust. I hope you heard the meaning in those last words I whispered in your ear- “You were always loved.”

Timber on his bed

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Saffron’s Stories: 2 Years

Saffy has her cake and eats it too

Just last weekend, you presided over your second birthday party at Wheeler Historic Farm. It was a warm, sunny fall day filled with kettle corn, apple cider, and wagon rides. You took the honor in stride, devouring your pumpkin dream cake and cinnamon maple frosting with your usual gusto and opening presents with typical feisty abandon, pausing to bestow kisses on stuffed animals and remark on each gift. Several days later on your actual birthday, I took you to the children’s museum in downtown Salt Lake, where you played busily in the vehicles and the supermarket, delighted with the real helicopter that you got to sit in on the roof. We met Daddy for lunch at a little eatery a few blocks away where we had waffles, crisp and caramelized, and you ate all of the spicy mayo for my Belgian fries with a spoon. The next day was Halloween and after some argument and bribery, you donned your little Yoda costume complete with light saber and went trick or treating with your brother Darth Vader, boldly shouldering your way up to each and every door and never forgetting to say thank you.

With these posts I usually detail the ways in which you have changed since I last wrote, but in this case the landscape of your life is so much altered, that’s nearly impossible. Your personality remains fiercely independent, always stubborn. But you continue to cling to your connection with me, troubled by my occasional absence and often needy when you are emotional, sick or tired. It’s as if you love the tempest of life, daring the waves to batter and beat you, laughing at the howl of the wind but only if you can still reach out your hand and touch the safe harbor of my anchorage, the safety of my reassurance. As you’ve become more assertive and aggressive in the last months, we’ve often locked horns in everyday battles. In the end, you relent but not without first pushing the limits as far as you can. You call my bluff daily, hourly and I have to always be prepared to prove myself to you. Over and over and over. I know you are questioning who is in charge here, and that whether or not you like to admit it, it’s reassuring to know that it’s still me. Not yet little one. There will be time enough for that.

I think the thing that most defines you is your swaggering confidence. Because you walked and talked early, you have always seemed capable and more mature than other children your age. This extends beyond that into a strength that you seem to exude, a toughness that is unshaken by challenges or dangers. You love roller coasters and speed, and never hesitate when faced with a difficult task. You thrive on challenge and crave involvement in chores and grown up tasks. In fact, you perform most of Owen’s chores so well that I’ve simply allowed you to take them over, feeding the dogs and loading the laundry. Watching you huffing and puffing joyously while hefting a bottle of laundry detergent up the stairs is a sight to behold. But I have to admit when it comes to potty training, you’re still holding out on me. Your response to any suggestion that using the potty might be appropriate is a resounding negative. And I know however we manage to accomplish potty training it will have to be with subtly and finesse because any attempts to manipulate you will be quickly exposed and refused. Your resolve and intelligence will not allow you to accept anything that doesn’t seem to be on your own terms.

When you began to speak quite well this past spring, I had no idea that by the end of the summer, you’d be speaking in complete sentences. You express a range of emotions and complex thoughts that are startling for your age. Just today, when Owen announced he was going downstairs to empty the recycling bin, you calmly turned to me from where you were sitting at the kitchen counter snacking and said, “I want to get down and go with Owen but I’ll be right back, mommy. Don’t put my crackers away, okay?” Because you recognized that as soon as you leave food unattended in this house, if it is not devoured by something with paws it is usually swept away by the mighty hand of mommy never to be seen again.

Your books continue to be your favorite toys and you insist on bringing them everywhere we go, often remembering long passages from your favorites and reading them to Miles. You have finally discovered TV however, specifically Curious George, Blues Clues and perhaps almost obsessively, Yo Gabba Gabba. You randomly sing songs from the shows and repeat phrases, giggling along with your brother, who usually understands the references more often than I do. You enjoy playing with toys, but not for long periods of time and much prefer to be in my company, helping with whatever I am working on or with your brother, wrestling and tickling.

Sometime in the last few months, Owen has decided that you are no longer a baby and he refuses to cut you slack as often as he used to. I feel like my main role these days, running a close second to cook, is referee. Suddenly, everything must be fair. And if Owen has it or does it, then certainly you will insist on exactly the same thing. Although I knew this would happened eventually, I’m not sure I was prepared for the intensity of the squabbles. I am encouraged though by how often I don’t have to remind you or Owen to be kind to each other. You share fairly often and Owen is always looking out for you without having to be told that you might need help getting down a steep stair, or tying a shoe. Your love and affection for each other is obvious and usually wins out, even in tense moments.

Running a close third to my company and that of your brother, your favorite person is Miles. When you are hurt and need comfort, or when you need to poop but want some privacy, you snuggle up to Miles and finger his soft, silky ears for as long as he’ll allow it. Miles, thank goodness, is ten years old now and extremely tolerant. I’d even hazard that he actually enjoys when you treat him like furniture. When he’s finally had enough and shakes you off and walks away, you wail and fuss at him, following him from room to room until he relents.

Your appetite continues to astound me. As is typical of most toddlers, you are a grazer, preferring to eat on the go throughout the day rather than sit down to larger meals. You never leave home without a snack and a drink and your tastes are varied. Any hour of the day might find you chowing down on carrots and pumpkin bread or downing large quantities of curry and rice. A new favorite is bacon, which is what I refer to any piece of meat in order to get you to try it. Because you agree with the general statement that if it’s bacon, it has to be good. Your father and I love that you’ll try anything and we can usually tell if it meets your approval by the low, humming, moaning noises you make when you’re enjoying something. (Your brother, strangely, made this exact same noise when he ate until he was four or five). You’ll also enthusiastically rate things with an emphatic nod of your head and an “It’s good!”. And in your opinion, soups were meant to be slurped. You’re as slim as ever despite your rabid consumption, always on the tall side.

I expected that your hair would darken this year and although it has a bit, it remains a very light brownish blonde that looks like spun gold in the sun. It grows so quickly that it is now past your shoulders and it’s soft, fine masses curl just enough on the ends to make it flip up. You refuse to keep barrettes or elastics in and we are constantly battling to keep it out of your eyes, which are large and a bright shade of brownish blue flecked with gold. When you are tired, it shows in your eyes, which grow puffy and red rimmed with exhaustion. Your skin is still very pale and creamy white but it’s certain you have rosacea, which turns your cheeks a glowing red when windy or cold. You often put yourself in charge of getting dressed, donning your own shoes and socks when you can and taking on and off your hat, mittens, and coat as you lounge in the stroller when we walk. I buy all your clothes second hand and we often are stopped by people in stores or on the street who remark about how cute you are or how adorably you are dressed. I find it strange because I don’t dress you like a little girl or like a doll. My rule of thumb is not to buy anything for you that I wouldn’t wear myself. And let me be frank- you will never catch me in a pink tutu. Never. And so when you get dressed, I have a drawer full of prefolded outfits organized by season and I let you choose what you want to wear. You seem to care more than Owen did, who is still perfectly content to let me dress him.

I wish I could say that you slept blissfully through the night. You don’t. You will sleep late into the morning, until 9 sometimes if allowed. And you go down fairly easily, usually reading yourself to sleep buried amongst your favorite books and piles of stuffed dogs. But you wake at least once or twice in the night, crying and imploring me to hold you. I rock you in the rocking chair for a few minutes and you usually drift back to sleep. You still say “hold you” instead of “hold me”, which is less adorable at 3 in the morning than it used to be.

Often, I feel as if it is difficult for others to see your feisty, intelligent independence because in public you become reserved, quieter and subdued. When I describe you to family and friends, it almost sounds as if I am depicting someone else because your public persona is so far removed from your private one. There have been times when I wished the world could experience you the way I do, full throttle and intense. But I’ve grown to love that you trust this to us, your uninhibited abandon, and that you keep it for us like a secret, a cherished belonging for the few who earn your approval. I hope we’ll always appreciate that about you, even if the world does not.

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