Saturday, June 23, 2012

Therapy Kid

The good news?  Our dog Sawyer got her sutures—and even better yet, her Elizabethan collar—removed Friday.  Those damn cones hurt when your fifty pound dog rams them into your legs as you’re trying to steer her toward the back door for a potty break.  She’s not used to being kenneled, but her discharge instructions insist upon it.  No jumping onto her couch—I can’t even sit on it or I feel guilty—or into bed with us at night, although I never did resort to climbing into her kennel with her.  No running around the yard with our other big dog.  The local SPCA medical clinic vet sent her home with the cone head and a warning that we needed to make sure she’d just lie quietly in her kennel for ten days while she healed from surgery.  Now my dog is a lazy old lady just like her owner.  But she still has standards.  She expects to do her lying around on the couch or in our bed.  NOT in a cage like some kind of, um.  Well a pet is different than an animal, right?

Cornelis de Vos (Flemish Baroque painter, 1584-1651)
Image source 

It started out as a small mole-ish growth on her paw.  The Humane Society vets aspirated it and found it to be benign.  Keep our eyes on it.  If it starts to grow suddenly or if she starts licking it like it’s bothering her, we’d have to find another vet to remove it since the Humane Society’s surgery capacity is limited to just spays and neuters.

It didn’t seem to bother her until about two months ago.  I noticed her licking it one day.  More and more.  Then it started to turn pink like she was licking it raw.  Then we noticed it was growing.  A friend recommended the local SPCA since they do low-cost, non-profit medical procedures.  And sure enough they did.  They’ve been fantastic.  If you have a pet that needs medical care, I recommend taking them to your local SPCA medical clinic. 

Finally Friday came and Sawyer was healed.  No more sleeping in her kennel all the time.  Ready to resume snuggle puppy sessions at night.

We certainly deserved it.  She’d had her head trapped in a cone and I’d had my head trapped in a cyclone of anxiety.

Ten days of healing.  Yeah, right.  More like ten days of whining, whimpering and howling.  And you should have heard Sawyer!  Let’s just say I have had many opportunities to test my DBT skills. Earlier in the week in the middle of one of my temper-tantrums, Katie had to remind me to breathe "in through the nose, out through the mouth, Mama." I don't need a therapy dog. I have a therapy kid.

I hope I’m just joking.  I don’t want to form Katie into that mold.  I think it’s good she comforts me when I’m ailing, but I don’t want her to feel like she’s the caretaker.  I’m the parent.  My primary job is to keep her safe til she learns how to care for herself.  But it’s true.  It’s also my job to raise her to know how important it is to care for others.  And to know when it’s time to accept care from others.

Which leads us to the bad news. 

The timing belt on my car went out.  While I was turning into an exit lane so I could get onto the interstate.  At dusk.  In a part of this sprawling town I don’t know.  An area with a reputation for theft and prostitution and meth labs, isn't it?  I couldn't remember and I never paid much attention to the depressing news reports because I only have enough worry in me for things closer to home.  My unfamiliarity with this part of town led me to become anxious, wondering what I should do with no cell phone, no change, no phone numbers memorized even if we managed to find a pay phone and reversed charges.  If it were just me I could have figured something out, no sweat.  While working for Greenpeace back in the day, I'd gotten stranded and simply walked the six miles home.  But I had my five year old daughter with me.  She couldn't walk that far.  I had to stay put and protect her from the unknown, the worst job in parenting.

I’ve been stuck before.  Many times.  That’s what you get when you drive old cars and you’re too cheap to buy a cell phone.  But I usually make it a habit of carrying around a sheet of paper with contact information and at least four quarters in case I can find a pay phone to call someone for help.  Not ten hours earlier, though, I had left those four quarters as part of a tip on the table after our late-Father’s Day lunch at Home Country Buffet.  We left a mess and I knew my dad wouldn’t bother to tip.  Since I paid for his meal it was my duty anyway.  All I had other than my debit card and driver’s license were these four quarters.  I told myself I’d remember to raid Will’s coin jar and put four more quarters back into my coin purse when we got home.

I didn’t, of course.  And I'd left the paper with my contacts on it at home inside the wallet with a broken zipper I'd been meaning to fix or replace.  So there I was, sitting in my stalled car in the left-turn lane to get onto the interstate.  My five year old daughter was bombarding me with questions.

“What’s wrong with the car, Mommy?”

“How will we get home?”

“What will we do with the car?”

“What if someone comes by and smashes our car with their car?”

“Why do you want me to stop asking questions?”

I said, "Let's go find a gas station."  I pushed the "hazard" button on my dash.  We got out, locked the doors, and started walking.  Almost immediately a kind woman pulled over and asked if we needed help.  She, of a clearer mind than I at that moment, suggested I get Katie's booster seat and drove us to the closest gas station.  She let me use her cell to call the library.  I didn't have Will's work phone memorized, so I had to call them to look it up for me.  While on the phone I had them also look up my father-in-law's phone number.  Just in case.

I sat on the phone with Will for what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes.  Stephanie, the kind woman who rescued us, sat and chatted with Katie while Will and I worked out the logistics using her phone.  She teaches vacation Bible school to kids Katie's age, so she was great at keeping Katie calm and occupied while I was busy talking to her dad.

When we had the plan set--Will would call for a tow and he'd leave work to come get Katie and me--Stephanie asked if I had any cash on me.  I admitted, embarrassed, that I did not.  I started to explain my four quarters tip from earlier in the day but before I could get out the story she had handed me all her cash.

"It's just $2.75, but it's enough to make a few more phone calls if you need to or if your sweet girl needs a sucker or some candy."

It's hard to teach kids that it's not ok to take candy from strangers, but if your instinct tells you someone is kind, it's ok to occasionally accept cash to buy candy when you're stranded somewhere kinda scary.

She left us sitting outside the Conoco station in front of the pay phone.  I stuffed the scrap of paper with her phone number on it "just-in-case" inside my jeans pocket.  I noticed a huge old pickup truck parked to the side of the building in the gravel.  A man's legs were sticking out of the open driver's side door.  Like he was lying on the floor of the cab fixing something.  Only he never moved once the entire time we were there.  I suspected he was asleep, passed out, hopefully not dead.  But I made sure Katie and I sat in a position so I could keep my eye on him, and every angle of the building.

We did end up going inside to get Katie a sucker.  The store had a large array of water pipes and other smoking accessories.  No suckers shaped like a bong, I thought as I was suddenly reminded of the candy cigarettes my friend and I used to love when we were kids in the Seventies, roller skating down the sidewalk with our feathers clipped to our jeans by that metal jaws-thing that always made our older sisters giggle when they saw it.

Katie found the suckers as I was hauling her booster seat around the tiny store, trying not to break anything. As we were paying for it I informed the clerk that we'd be sitting outside waiting for my husband to pick us up.  He either didn't speak English or he was completely unfazed by my situation since he nodded his head slightly but didn't so much as smile.

I myself could not stop smiling.  I read somewhere, I think, that whenever you're in a situation where you feel like you could be in danger you should make eye-contact and smile at everyone you see.  Something about showing your humanity to the sociopath, or something like that.  I tried not to think about it too deeply.

Katie and I returned to our seat on the curb of the gas station's sidewalk.  The sleepy/drunk/dead guy was still half-hanging out his truck.  Katie kept looking at my face and finally said,

"Mama, why you smiling so much?"

I didn't want to lie to her but I didn't want to scare her either.  "Well, I've heard it's good to smile at people you don't know so they know you're a nice person."

Katie smiled in the direction of the parking lot at no one in particular with the sucker still inside her mouth.

That only lasted a few seconds though, until she leaned against me and said, "Mama, I'm scared."

"It's ok.  Daddy's on his way to pick us up and this is a well-lighted gas station and I'm here to protect you."

Katie scoffed at that last suggestion.  Who, Mom?  I get nervous watching the fight scene out of the corner of my eye while walking through a room where someone is playing a video game.  I've told Katie repeatedly that I'm a pacifist.  And she's figured out for herself that I'm a wuss.

"How are you going to protect me?"  She asked.

"I'm going to sit here and watch our surroundings and make sure we're safe."  I said in the calmest, most maternal voice I could muster.  I could not allow my personal battle with posttraumatic stress disorder to interfere with my child's well being.

"How you do that?  What if a stranger tries to take me?!"  We'd talked about this before, but always in the safety of our own home.  It felt like we were going through a practice drill this time.

"I'd stab out their eyeballs with my car keys."

Katie's jaw dropped in a Macaulay Culkinesque style.  "How you do that?!" she demanded to know.

I showed her my fist.  Ever since kind Stephanie dropped us off, I had my keys in my hand with the longest key,the car key, shoved between my pointer and ring finger the way I'd seen you're supposed to carry them if you suddenly need to use them as a weapon.
Katie snuggled her head into my armpit.

Several times Katie asked, "But what about the car?  What if someone hits it with their car?  What if the police take it away?  What if it can't be fixed?"

I hugged her side and kissed her forehead and said, "You know what, Punk?  I don't care about the car.  The car could evaporate and I wouldn't care.  I'm just concerned about getting us home.  I'm just thinking of making sure you feel safe until Daddy gets here and we can go home.  Then we can worry about the car.  You are worth so much more than a car."

She burrowed her head further into my armpit and we waited patiently, talking, talking, talking, til Daddy arrived and took us home.  

Where we are now.  And we're fine.  Everything's going to be fine.  The car's in the shop getting fixed.  Timing belt.  Sawyer's all healed and out of her cone, waiting for us to come upstairs and begin the snuggle fest.  After I do a little internet searching for what's the best quality, cheapest pre-paid cell phone, I'll join them.