Saffron’s Stories: Three Years

Black Balloon

A little over a week ago, we ushered in your third birthday with a party at our house. I’ll confess that while the festivities themselves were a success, I made rather a big mistake. I allowed you to pick the theme for your party by introducing you to Pinterest and letting you browse. This resulted in a candy festooned, frothy pink monstrosity that was frankly the stuff of my nightmares. Saffy’s Sweet Shoppe opened to rave reviews but I’m hopeful it will be replaced next year by something far less decadently feminine. Guests feasted on rainbow cake lined with frosted m&ms, homemade heart shaped marshmallows that looked like fluffy blue clouds, slabs of cookie dough fudge, animal cookie popcorn, homemade salted caramels and pink lemonade. After playing with koolaid tinted salt dough, everyone scoured the backyard for a candy hunt and then returned inside for the cake ceremony and gifts. You adored the new pink kitchen that your father and I built over the course of several evenings of tense assembly and you and your baby friend, Gavin rushed around it, slamming doors and brewing imaginary tea.

The day after your party, we began a journey we had been discussing for sometime- potty training. Despite various attempts involving extensive bribery all efforts to introduce you to the green plastic potty in the bathroom had been refused. In desperation I announced that upon turning three, diapers would disappear from your life. It was like Cinderella where your fairy godmother turns a pumpkin into a carriage. One day the diapers would be there. And then, on the stroke of midnight, they would be gone. Poof! This is how life works for everyone, I bluffed. After you turn three, all bodily fluids belong in receptacles that are not attached to your body. The end.

This, as it turns out, was the beginning of a week long game of chicken. You seemed resigned to your fate. Since there would no longer be diapers, you would no longer be peeing or pooping. It seemed difficult, but you bore it with a cheerful attitude and the bladder control that would have been the envy of every parent. You once went almost ten hours without peeing. Without so much as a drop or a whimper escaping. Finally, after holding you down on the toilet and begging you to pee while we both cried, you gave in and let go. I will never forgot the look of humiliation and vulnerability in your eyes at that moment. I felt like a monster. Like I had taken a beautiful, wild thing and broken it. But ever since, you’ve been almost completely potty trained. You wear a diaper at night and while I still have to prompt you, you march to the bathroom and go, eager to exchange all that urine for sugary concoctions from your Halloween bucket.

In most ways, you are very much the same as you were at two. Just amplified. If that is even possible. All that intense passion has exploded into long, drawn out battles over every detail of your existence. Clothing, food, brushing teeth, TV, books, bedtime. Any of it at any moment can be the spark that lights that dynamite in your stubborn little body and sends you into violent orbits of resistance. I think the hardest part of all of this constant emotional scrimmage is that it is highly irrational. You may begin to throw a tantrum about having a piece of candy and by the end of a bout of yelling, tears and stomping, you’ll have convinced yourself that you hate me because I gave you said piece of candy. I have acknowledged, at least to myself, that there is no victory with you. There is only congratulating myself on not losing all of my shit and inserting my own frustration into our skirmish. And a lot of the time, I lose that battle as well.

Bagel raper

Your relationship with your brother has changed significantly. You still enjoy one another’s company, but all of the sweetness of that exchange has been tempered by incessant arguments. He’s begun hiding in his room simply to avoid you raiding his closet, stealing his stuff and hiding it around the house. Or beating him over the head with your tiny fists while laughing maniacally. You still comfort each other, but it takes some serious injury to coax sympathy from either of you. You are like distrustful little soldiers, convinced the enemy is only staging a ploy for your compassion to lure you into further conflict. But boy, can you make each other laugh. Digging tunnels under the covers of Owen’s bed, tickling and yelling and grunting indistinguishable things.

Our relationship remains much the same. You are abnormally attached to me and follow me from room to room, fussing at me and generally making a nuisance of yourself as much as possible. You rebuff Daddy’s advances except as they involve the playground, treats and car rides. My only explanation for this continued obsession is that you trust me and even when I do nothing to deserve that kind of reverence, you bestow it out of habit. I know I’m making you sound like a little tyrant, keeping us all hostage in our own home with your violent terrorism. But really, it kind of feels like that sometimes. In the best way that terrorism can feel, I’m sure.

While your articulation is not as perfect as your brother’s at this age, your vocabulary rivals his and you use your language like the powerful tool it is. To manipulate, cajole and endear. Every night, you ask Daddy and I to come to your bed and talk to you while you regal us. You can still be quiet and reserved in public, especially with strangers. But more and more I see you allowing your sense of humor and mischievous assertiveness to charm and entertain. I think you are beginning to understand that the strength of your personality is a force to be reckoned with and that adults find it disconcerting and amusing. And you should definitely use that to your advantage. Maybe someday, there might be college tuition money at stake.

Physically, it’s all the normal stuff. A little taller, a little bigger. Your eyes remain an indefinable shade that melds brown, blue and green and your hair has darkened slightly. It still looks like spun gold in the sunlight and you delight in swinging it back and forth and yelling- “Look, I can feel it on my butt!” You continue to insist that your hair remain unrestrained, often forming a curtain in front of your face that you perpetually push aside. I used to bemoan that hair curtain that separated the rest of the world from knowing the face that I love, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. The way it flies in all directions, messy and untamed. But so soft to the touch and fine, like liquid silk that slips through your fingers. It suits you.

saffy sunglasses2

This past year we have moved to a new house, hopefully our last migration. A beauty of a place with vaulted, open spaces and lots of sunlight. I know you won’t remember much of the other three houses we’ve lived in since your birth and I’m conscious that this is the place you’ll know as home, this is the room you’ll remember growing up in. There are lots of changes on the horizon for you this year. With certainty, you will begin preschool in some shape or form. I hope to be able to teach you to read. I think you’re capable of it. And this will open doors to worlds that I hope you can discover yourself and grow in for the rest of your life. But most of the big milestones of young childhood are past- walking, talking, potty training. You are more your own person than you have ever been and each day, I hope to do nothing more than to help you feel at home in your skin and to inhabit the world with energy, purpose and kindness. Namaste, little one. Namaste.

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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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