Sunday, 30 September 2012

The summer of pet funerals

Crash died back at the end of June.

He’d been sick for a few months. A lengthy vet visit, several tests and an expensive bill told us that he had either liver disease, cancer or both and unless we could afford to continue investigating through more lengthy visits and hefty bills, we needed to consider putting him down.

Turns out, we didn’t have to make the decision. He passed away one night, peacefully we hope, underneath our bed, while we were asleep.

He came to live with us six years ago after the vet had revived him from a near-fatal car accident. We’ve never known how old he was or even how many lives he might have had before he slowly won Shaune’s heart those few weeks he was in a crate, up for adoption after the vet had sewn him up. At the time, our dog’s diabetes had us at the clinic twice a week to pick up small vials of insulin.

We lost our dog several months later. He was 11. He’d been with me since he was eight weeks old.

I was grateful to have Crash close-by,  his rabbit-soft fur felt so good through my fingers those long grief-filled months after Judge died. I was inconsolable, could no longer even drive down the streets we’d walked him, watching episode after episode of The Dog Whisperer which I found strangely comforting. I was pregnant with Deaglan then, unaware of the change my life would take once a human baby came into it.

I think poor Crash never got the attention he deserved from me. I’ve been so busy these last five years, my lap hardly ever empty. I take comfort in knowing Shaune adored him, thought about his well-being constantly, lovingly, the way we had with Judge before children came and consumed all of our attention.

When he finally found the cat, that summer morning, Shaune ran downstairs to find me, sipping coffee, both kids on my lap. I saw something in his face, something he didn’t have to explain and made up an excuse as to why I had to run upstairs for a second with Daddy. Our king sized bed was pulled out from the wall, revealing missing toys, pacifiers, mismatched socks, and Crash amidst it all, laying on his side, his teeth exposed in a strange almost grisly way.

We’d been readying Deaglan for weeks of our cat's death, had explained that it could happen any time and that once it did, Crash would go immediately to heaven. And yet, nothing could really prepare him for it because when we told him, he cried for days. He began missing Judge too, who he’d actually never met – I was five months pregnant with him when we lost our dog.  For a few weeks he would recall stories of things he and Judge did together.

It was odd and endearing.

About a month ago, we noticed the cleaning fish, the one we got specifically to keep the tank that sits on the boys’ dresser clear of algae – we noticed he was dead. No one had even thought to name him. Shaune and I simply referred to him as The Cleaner even though we were convinced no one had ever explained this function to him, the proof being a tank that was constantly green and slimy, despite our attempts to clear it with different solutions the pet store recommended.

When we told Deaglan he was devastated. 

We took our places, consoling him, reminding him that he’d likely joined Crash and Judge and Grandma Mac and Uncle Matt up in heaven. And still, every few days he tells us how terribly he misses the fish – the one we can’t even refer to by name.

So, you can imagine how sick I am at the thought of telling our four year old of our latest casualties: that last Wednesday morning his Dad discovered his other two fish – the ones with names – Toopy and Binoo,  dead. They'd outlived all of our expectations: three full years, enormous, fluid and shiny. Imagine how grateful I am that the tank is murky enough from the Cleaner’s absence to not yet be noticed. 

Dread fills me every day we don't tell the kids. I know too well a four year old curiosity - the demand to see the dead bodies, ask a million times how it happened. 

This weekend I've been holed away studying for a final exam - I'm taking some industry related courses for work. Shaune took the kids to a bee farm yesterday and to an apple/pumpkin farm today. These pictures were taken this afternoon.

Sinister smiles

Eating apples yet unpaid for.

Finding just the right pumkin

Thursday, 20 September 2012


After every thrift-store trip where he’s been allowed to pick out a new (to him) toy, Deaglan asks me, several times in the following hours, if I think he’s made a good choice.
Of course I always tell him that yes he did indeed make a great choice, and this always seems to mean something to him; I see it in the way his head sort of tilts, a faraway satisfied look on his face. 

How can I say otherwise after watching him deliberate over which thing to choose?
There’s usually one wall filled with bags of small toys – grab-bags if you will, odds and ends you can partially make out but don’t know the full contents of which until after you’ve paid and are sitting on the living room floor with ample room to spread out. 

Sometimes one of these catches his attention – once an assortment of green army men, just like the ones from Toy Story, a few Hot Wheels and a yo-yo – and he asks me if he should get it as his “pick”. I remind him of the other wall, shelves lined with Monster trucks, cars, games and puzzles.  Often he does his best to make the case for two toys because in his opinion one is absolutely necessary to the other.  And once in a while  I find myself indulging him, against my better judgement – that voice in my head warning me that I’m spoiling him – because it’s worth it to see his delight.

For the next few days the new toy is his constant companion. He keeps it within reach when eating or going to the bathroom, and at the end of the night I usually have to pry it out of his sleepy grip, place it on the night table beside him so that it’s the first thing he sees upon waking when he'll again appraise it, ask me a few more times if I feel he's made a good decision choosing it.

I've been thinking so much about this notion of authentication, how we all need to feel like we’re on the right track, doing the right thing. How nice it is when someone reaches over squeezes our shoulders and says, “Hey, you’re doing a good job.”

 We forgot to take pictures of Deaglan on his first day back to school. I was going to take them on the second day and pretend it was the first day figuring he would never know when he looked back, but I forgot to take those too. I didn’t take them the next day or the one after that. I was going to take them tomorrow morning and call it a day. But I just remembered it’s a PD day. 

On those thrift-store toy days Naveen could care less what I think of his choice. He always picks the same thing. If they don't have one, he finds something that resembles it. In the past year we've owned seven toy vacuums and four odd looking plastic contraptions that you push around. I'm hopeful that this just means he'll be obsessive about keeping our floors tidy.

Mostly I'm wrong about these things though.

Pictures we did remember to take. We went to the beach one last time this past weekend and finally rode the train in Port Stanley.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

I thrift

We celebrate small victories around here.

A few weeks ago after Deaglan had successfully slept five nights in the room across the hall, in the top bunk above his brother, we rewarded him with a trip to the toy store. He’d been in our bed for a full year by then; Shaune and I were fed up and ready to take drastic measures - in between bouts of guilt that we could be damaging him by forcing him out.

I’d used all sorts of explanations to justify his prolonged presence in our bed; some based on actual reading I’d done, and others, well just things I’d made up to make myself feel better about the situation. Shaune often grumbled that he couldn’t sleep with Deaglan sprawled out spider-like in our bed but the minute I suggested we consider moving him back to his own room, he jumped on my bandwagon, fabricating some reason why it might be best to let him stay with us. We didn’t have to admit out loud to each other that on some level we loved having him with us and the thought of his absence made both of us a little sad.

But we reached our limit a few weeks ago and after five successful nights in his own bed, we announced to our Senior Kindergartner that he would be allowed to go to Value Village and pick out two toys of his own choosing for this grand display of maturity.

In grade school, one sure way to lose esteem was to admit that you shopped at BiWay (a small scale version of Walmart back in the early eighties). You’d be publicly lambasted (or at least gossiped about) if someone noticed you were wearing Sparx, the running shoes sold at BiWay.

I was one of seven children in a working class family. Popularity was never in the cards for me back then.

By university, I’d discovered discount shopping and thrift stores. I’d lost any interest in popularity by then and embraced Grunge with all my heart. I frequented the handful of thrift stores in my area almost daily, rejoicing in the freedom to express myself on my very limited budget.

After Deaglan was born, when our home began filling up with plastic toys and baby gear, it made more sense than ever to buy used. Seeing how quickly each phase of babyhood whizzed by us, Shaune and I felt a growing sense of responsibility to not add to the vast landfills. We began thrifting for most of our toys and when we were through with them, we either gave them to friends or family, sold them on Kijiji or donated them.

In fact yesterday on the first day of school, alone without the kids to protest, we loaded up the van with old toys, clothes and baby equipment and dropped them off at Goodwill. We wouldn’t have had a chance had Deaglan been home. He’s a hoarder at heart and can think of a perfectly legitimate reason to keep even the lamest Happy Meal toy.

It does me good to know those toys will be recycled.

I also thrift a lot of our clothes. It makes sense to me. And to be honest, I find it awfully fun to go through the racks in search of a well kept item, a name brand I wouldn’t pay regular price for.

The thing is, it’s hard not to spoil your kids these days. Small family size, easy access to everything and the guilt that comes with being full time working parents can sometimes make it hard to say no when they ask for things. A trip to Goodwill or Value Village to pick out a used toy, some other kid has outgrown feels so much cleaner to me than going to Walmart or Toys R Us, not to mention cheaper. 

I like to think I’m doing my very small part for the environment by recycling and upcycling whenever I can. And just as importantly I want to teach my kids that things don’t have to be shiny and new to be treasured.

I love Deaglan’s purity. Just ask him where he got his new firetruck the next time you see him. “Value Village!”, he’ll tell you with both pride and excitement. We could all learn a lot from him.
I thrifted my top and shorts and Deaglan's Superman graphic T shirt.

I always find it interesting to see people's reactions when I tell them I've thrifted something they've complimented me on. If they are impressed with my mad skillz, I know we'd have been friends in grade school. If they get a mildly disgusted look on  their face I'm pretty sure we'll never really connect on anything else either.

There was no thrifting involved in this picture. In fact Kathy one of my best friends got these matching jammies for the boys when we visited her last week in the Niagara area. She also got them those stuffed Simons - genius that she knew to get two of the same thing. Gloriously there was no fighting. We woke up, drove away from our hotel so we could eat our breakfast overlooking Niagara Falls.