New York

In honor of the New York vote in favor of marriage equality, there will be a moment of tumultuous cheering on my blog. You may begin.





OK. All done now? Oh. No? Another round? Sure, why not. Here we go!

In  a New York State of MindYay-doodleYahooie



There. Now. Let’s be quiet for a moment and think about what this means and how long it’s been in coming.

A quick history lesson is in order. Back in 1993, Hawaii’s Supreme Court first tried to say the state constitution allowed same sex marriages by default, and that banning them was therefore not permissible. But the state’s voters closed that loophole, adding a constitutional clause that limited marriage to being between one man and one woman. Idiocy won the day. And carried much of the nation. Many states added similar clauses to their own constitutions in response to the Hawaii situation.

In 1996, the US Congress passed the nasty Defense of Marriage Act, which basically says “states only have to respect marriages performed in other states if those marriages don’t involve two people of the same gender”. (May I add, down with DOMA. Efforts to repeal it began earlier this year, but so far have not, to my knowledge, been successful).

Down With That GarbageBoo-Hiss

Some equality minded states tried to move things in the right direction, but on the whole, it’s been a slow, uphill battle. Before New York, only ten of the fifty states allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry or enter into the separate and not-equal state of “civilly united”. That figure doesn’t count California, which isn’t permitting same-gender marriages to be performed while Proposition 8 plods through the court system. An even fifth of the nation, then, allowed any kind of equality before tonight. A couple more recognized marriages performed in other states but lacked the support or courage to support marriage equality themselves. New York just moved off that last list and onto the first, bringing the equality-friendly count to eleven.

That means, as a nation, that we are a bunch of chickenshits. Canada legalized same sex marriages in 2001, and, in spite of a lot of hullabaloo and rabble-rousing, the gay-Canadian-zombie task force has not infiltrated the US.  (Sorry fans. The South Park movie never came true at any level.) Nine other countries also support marriage equality, and they have not devolved into chaos. So the US was watching New York tonight for a number of reasons.

For one thing, New York doesn’t have any residency laws for granting a marriage license. Anybody can go there and get married. Anybody. Now, whether a gay or lesbian couple’s home state will recognize that marriage when they get back is a different issue. But at the level of simple fairness, of the simple legal acknowledgement of a loving bond, New York has opened its doors.

For another thing, California is in Proposition 8 limbo. Poor timing meant that after California legalized same sex marriages, voters enacted a constitutional ban on them: Proposition 8. (At least two groups who turned out in such large numbers to vote for President Obama in 2008 are historically opposed to same-sex unions.). A federal judge threw out Proposition 8, but when he turned out to be gay, his ruling was called into question. And upheld. But it’s been appealed, and the case is liable to go to the Supreme Court, whose decision for California is going to send a nationwide message on the topic. I hope the Big  Court opts for Equality. Even more, I hope the Court refuses to hear the case, which would mean the ruling of the judge who invalidated the proposition would be upheld by default and would send a message of its own. But that battle is a little bit in the future. Right now, people are watching New York, and I’m sure not a few of them are imagining a similarly tight fight when Proposition 8 comes around the horn again.

But perhaps the biggest reason all eyes were on New York tonight was that the gay rights movement really has its roots in New York’s 1969 Stonewall Riots. So this vote had a lot of symbolic meaning. Before Stonewall,  there was a quiet homophile movement, and Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon had founded the Daughters of Bilitis in the 1950’s. But those groups were more engaged in protecting their members, in giving them a safe place to stay in the closet. Only after Stonewall did Kinsey’s statistics about homosexuality and its prevalence gain widespread respect. (Even though Kinsey’s other results about human sexuality had already gained scientific ground.) Only after Stonewall was it common to be openly gay in America and proud of it. Only after Stonewall did the nation have to take notice that homosexuality was not a disease or aberration.

So it can be imagined that with New York adding its name to the marriage-equality rosters, the same kind of momentum might finally bring the national players to a fair decision. And even if it doesn’t, tonight’s vote closes a kind of circle. What started with an act of civil disobedience has come round to a legislative action all but unimaginable when the movement first began.

For my part, I hope New York brings enough people around that equality becomes the norm at the national level. Because the suggestion that marriage equality should be decided at this state-by-state snail’s pace is absurd. I have dear friends who cannot check the ‘married, filing jointly’ box as their federal tax status. Even if their home state recognized their marriage, our nation would not. I have another friend who could not legally obtain a divorce when she and her partner of eleven years split up, because they were never legally married.  It’s a technicality that involves not just the distribution of personal property, but the custody of their two children.

People close to me are punished by this lack of equality, and it’s an injustice that makes me angry. I want to see the United States go the way of New York. I want to get up one morning knowing that our country realizes the rights afforded to straight married couples must be extended to all married couples. And for that to happen, couples must be allowed to marry without regard to gender.  Our national vision must extend beyond some pseudo-Victorian falsehood. I want all my friends and family members to have the same options I do in a relationship, no matter who they love, and no matter what their gender.

In closing, I just want to say a final congratulations to New York and a thank you to those New York senators who did the right thing and voted for equality. I think you should all take a bow.Take a bow

The broken arm entry

As many of you know, Caroline started a new school last fall. In fact, most of you know this story in its entirety, but it deserves to be written down, and Brenna’s post over at Suburban Snapshots got me thinking about it. I’m going to give the back story pretty briefly, largely because it’s worth of its own entry, but also because it will turn any post it dominates into a rant. The short version is that the school Caroline had been attending went from awesome to sincerely dangerous in the space of a summer. The new teacher in what would have been Caroline’s classroom declared that my daughter couldn’t attend without an aide (she doesn’t need one), and generally proved to be a fucking lunatic.

Rather than fight a losing battle with a bunch of idiots, Scott and I pulled her out of school after the first week. Of course, since this school had started late, we were suddenly trying to find our first grader a new school two weeks into the school year in a city where public school is simply not an option, even for my husband who fully supports the public school system. (Tangent: My problem is NOT with public school teachers. Those people are often on the front lines fighting an unwinnable battle. It’s the system that is flawed. It just happens to be worse here than many places.)

Pretty much, this meant that we had exactly one option, Churchill Academy, a school designed for kids with ADHD and high functioning autism. I was terrified. I had heard stories of smart kids getting raced through the curriculum to graduate too soon at the expense of their social skills. I have to pause here and admire the irony that I would ever perceive this as a problem. I was so ready to be done with school by the time I was ten, and I still resent that nobody ever forced my school board to skip me grades. If I hadn’t been able to leave high school for college at sixteen, I’d have probably dropped out. But that’s another story. My story. And this one is Caroline’s.

Scott and I met the principal, Lisa Schroeder, and we were sufficiently impressed. We met Caroline’s classroom teacher, Mrs. Davis, and we were more than impressed. We met a few other parents in the lobby, and we were hooked. But we were scared. It was a Thursday. We left Caroline there for half a day, then picked her up and filled out paperwork that afternoon. We were travelling that weekend, so she started school the following Monday.

Now, Caroline is a pretty flexible kid when nuts come to bolts. Mess with her routine, and there’s going to be chaos, but she’s always ready to make new friends, and she adores her teachers. She was still processing the utter betrayal of the scarybitch from the other school, and was a little reluctant, but overall, she was looking forward to the new experience.

It honestly reminded me of her first day of preschool, and, since it’s relevant, let’s just go there a minute. Caroline went to an awesome preschool when we lived in Lexington. It was called Gan Shalom, and it had everything from the best director to the best kids. It was housed in a Synagogue and followed a basically Jewish curriculum, but there were Montessori elements as well. The environment was so good. On Caroline’s first day of preschool, I got a call from the director. It went like this:

“Hi, this is Ziggy. It looks like Caroline has fallen and cut her lip. It was the only sharp corner in the room! I don’t know how it happened! We’ve only ever had one other child get hurt like this before!”

After a bit of back and forthing, I realized the lip was still bleeding and hurried over to see for myself. It kept bleeding, and we couldn’t tell if she had managed to bite all the way through when she hit the corner, so Scott and I dashed her off to the doctor. The bleeding finally stopped, and the doctor said she hadn’t bitten through. All would be well. I started to take her home, but she, a barely vocal child, demanded to be returned to school. Until I was willing to take her back to her new friends, she wouldn’t turn off the tears.

So. Right at noon on Caroline’s first full day at Churchill, I got a call from the principal. It went like this:

“Hi, this is Lisa Schroeder over here at Churchill. Caroline’s had a fall, and we’re afraid she’s broken her arm.”

“I’m on my way,” I said. But, quite honestly, my soul was still serene. I was figuring this for an injury like the one at Gan Shalom, where a quick trip to the pediatrician’s and (as this was possible bone damage) a couple of X-Rays would set everything to rights. Maybe a splint would be necessary, but I seriously doubted the child had actually broken her arm.

So when I arrived at Churchill simultaneously with the ambulance, I was somewhat taken aback. These people had not struck me as the sort who would call the emergency crews in frivolously. I abandoned my car in Churchill’s entryway and raced inside, still thinking I would be driving Caroline for medical attention myself.

I will never forget the scene in Mrs. Schroeder’s office. Caroline’s teacher was standing in one corner, her skin as pale as my daughter’s. Caroline herself was cradled in Mrs. Schroeder’s lap weeping in a monotonous way that frankly terrified me and chanting, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying,” in between her dry sobs. My head felt seriously light as I walked into the room, and I thought that I might fall down and break something.

Mrs. Schroeder transferred Caroline to my lap and began to talk to the ambulance crew. Peripherally, I heard her saying that Caroline had fallen from the monkey bars at a bad angle, and, although she was keeping her references oblique to maintain some level of calm, and even though most of my energy was consumed with holding Caroline and singing to her, I could clearly understand that the injury was bad. This wasn’t a “think she might have broken” break, this was a “well, it didn’t puncture her skin, but that’s about all I can say good right now” break. I was able to stay calm right then largely because everybody around me was so calm, and all of them were so obviously holding it together for Caroline’s sake.

Although Caroline was calm enough in my arms, she was still crying in that monotone, and there was no question of my being able to put her down. We would be riding out in an ambulance. It took around fifteen minutes to get us out of there, and in the end, Caroline had to be tied to the backboard to keep her from thrashing until she relaxed a little.

While we were working around to this, I was really noticing some things about the school that I would have never realized under good circumstances. This place was geared for injuries. It didn’t dominate, so the first aid kit wasn’t the first thing a new parent noticed, but the supplies were there, and the staff knew how to use them. The stabilizing force on my daughter’s arm? It was a real splint. An honest-to-god medical splint, like what you would find in an ER or urgent care clinic. And it was tight. Her fingers wouldn’t be turning blue, but her periodic physical outbursts weren’t going to knock it loose, either. Which meant the staff had been trained in serious first-aid, not just given some annual CPR courses.

And, just as when she cut her lip at Gan Shalom, everybody there was shaken. Mrs. Schroeder, though a picture of peaceful efficiency, kept coming over to stroke Caroline’s head and apologize. Caroline’s teacher, poor Mrs. Davis, must have said, “I’m sorry” at least a thousand times. They all presented a calm façade, but they were also all emotionally invested in this child who had gotten hurt on the first day of school. And that meant far more to me than the injury having happened in the first place. Kids are going to get hurt. It’s a given. But the reaction of the adults around Caroline at Churchill was what cemented my love of the school.

And at some level, it was Gan Shalom all over again, because Caroline didn’t want to leave the school. Some of her hysteria over the hospital involved the well founded fear that they would poke her with needles. She finally agreed to go to therapy, not really realizing that she had just agreed to go to the hospital, since that’s where her therapists work. But her larger problem was that she had been having fun with new friends and would now miss the rest of that time.

Mrs. Davis held herself together until I climbed into the ambulance after the stretcher. As I turned around to settle myself out of the way of the EMTs, I could see her eyes filling up with tears. And I felt as bad for her as I did for Caroline. And if she had heard, as we drove away, Caroline sobbing, “I want to go back to school, I can’t miss my first day”, I know she would have just sat down in the parking lot and bawled.

The break was as bad as I’d feared in Mrs. Schroeder’s office. When the nurse took off the splint for just a second, prior to Xrays, Caroline’s arm was this terrible S shape, with the skin stretched out disproportionately long. For those of you who have seen the second Harry Potter movie, think of the scene where Lockhardt debones Harry’s arm. It looked like that. When I first saw that film, I decried that scene as bad CGI imagery. I hereby retract those negative statements, because Caroline’s forearm looked just like the rubbery mess a cartoonist might render.

In the end, she had to go to surgery to have her bone set. But she did not need a pin, entirely because the Churchill staff stabilized the arm right away. Because she hadn’t been able to make the injury worse waiting for the doctor, Caroline doesn’t have a piece of metal in her arm to forever mess up the metal detector at the airport. She spent a week in a soft cast and six more weeks in a hard one, but she suffers no long-term effects, even psychological ones.

See the signatures? Her teachers were among the first to sign. I couldn't believe how many people went out of their way just to autograph that thing.

I rather thought that would be the end of Caroline and the monkey bars, but she has proven me wrong. By this February, she could cross them hand over hand, and she’s now working to master dangling from her knees. Her first day at Churchill, while quite traumatic, has proved to be a wonderful thing for our family, as it showed us that the quality of care our child would receive on a horrible day was on par with the care she would get on a good one. We made a lucky move when we came to Churchill, and I look forward to a long association with the school.


One of my college English profs claimed kids don’t screw up grammar nearly as much as adult representations of kidspeak would have us believe. She was extremely knowledgeable in linguistics, and I believe her perspective represented cited studies in addition to her own observations.

I really wish she had gotten her hands on my kids when they were learning to speak. Because they both regularly spout stereotypical examples of children’s language.

It isn’t so much that their grammar is bad (though it is) as it is that they just make up words that don’t fit at all when they can’t figure out what to put in a sentence. This prof pointed out that it’s common for kids to struggle with irregular verbs (who wouldn’t – irregular is the right word to describe them, since they’re messy as all get-out). But usually, the first time they say “losed” for “lost” and you correct them, they thereafter process the exception and move on. Caroline and Sam, however, still say “losed” and, when corrected, promptly modify the word to “loseded”, both adding the unnecessary (but logical) ‘ed’ along with a random ‘d’ to break up the syllables or something. They also do a full out double ‘ed’ ending for a lot of mistaken past tenses: “shooteded”, “biteded” and, my personal favorite, “bleededed”.  As in, “Mama, I hurt myself today in school and it bleededed everywhere.”

Madame Syntax wishes to register a complaint! She did not sign on for kids who cannot even understand the concepts behind some of the weird stuff in our admittedly strange language.

And that doesn’t even get into the pet peeve zone, where all my grammar alarms just blare. I know far too many educated people, including Caroline’s school teachers who use “lay” for “lie”. They say, “Why don’t you go lay down over there”. Or “I’m going to go lay out”. Madame Syntax demands a noun between “lay” and “down”. And she wishes to follow “lay out” with “my clothes for tomorrow” because otherwise the speaker should close the gap between “lay” and out” to make a tacky reference to the viewing of a deceased person’s body prior to the funeral. When you strip down to a bikini and stretch out in the sun, if you are also going to “lay out”, Madame Syntax will be sure to send your family a card of condolence, as well as adding red ink to the draft of your obituary. The best way to remember this rule is that people lie down and they lay down objects.  if you’re going to do something yourself, right now, in the present tense, the term is “lie”. If you are going to put something down, then the term is “lay”. So, I lie down, but I lay down the books. However, it is correct to say “Yesterday, I lay out in the sun, because the past tense of ‘lie’ is ‘lay’. And the past tense of lay is laid. So “yesterday, I laid down my ice water in the sun, and wasn’t that a mistake!”. Or possibly, “I may lie out in the sun after I lay down this book.” And “Yesterday, I lay out in the sun after I laid down my book”.  Head exploding yet? I do understand why some of this stuff is hard, but for pity’s sake, consider my sanity people!

The kids, of course, look at me like I’m crazy when I correct them. They can already sense Madame Syntax coming and turn off their ears at her approach. And what’s worse is that this passive aggressive defense is slowly breaking Madame Syntax down. Not only have I started to talk like my children, adding random bizarre past tense extensions to any number of verbs, but I have also started to type like they talk.

Words like “exspecially” often leave me baffled, even when the spellcheck demons at MSWord underline them with a red squiggly line. “What’s wrong with that?” I’ll think. And this is made worse by my large vocabulary that does often defy Microsoft. So I have to consider those red underlines. Is it really misspelled? Has Microsoft just failed to admit that it’s right, or have the children struck again? Am I, in fact accidentally messing up the language when I prefer my additions to be deliberate and thoughtful?

These are not the things that keep me awake at this hour. But damn they give Madame Syntax nightmares when I lay down my books and lie down at night.


Yesterday, I mentioned that we had gone up to Cleveland for Scott’s 20th college reunion. Although we tend to be big travelers, we usually follow the same route: drive to Kentucky, Ohio or Indiana, do a whirlwind relative sweep, then drive back home. And we’ll be following that pattern in the next holiday season. But this summer, we’ve been shaking things up with the Disney trip and this weekend to Cleveland. We actually flew up north this time, since it would have been too far to drive in a day and the whole event was only two days long anyway.

Scott’s college is neat, and I enjoy seeing it on these every-five-year treks. Plus, they had childcare for the entire weekend, which was just plain sweet. We did the usual reunion things, along with some family-friendly additives that seem unique to Wooster to me. (But I could be wrong. My college is so small that if it had a reunion, it would be an out-back afternoon-cookout affair, so I’m not exactly up on how most colleges provide for alumni progeny.)

At one point, I managed to lose both my computer AND my cell phone. Although I was pretty sure the phone was gone for good, because I thought I’d lost it in the grass where it would never turn up, I never thought either thing was stolen. And, indeed, both came back to me ultimately. (And I never even bothered to doubt that the computer would. The only question about the phone was whether anybody would find it before some lawnmower drove over it.)

Anyway, somewhere in the middle of these events, after I had lost the phone, but before I’d lost the computer, and before I’d gotten either item back, I got distracted by an avian crisis involving a family of cardinals. Scott and I first saw them as we were walking to the student center.

Actually, we saw the male,





then the female,

Mama Cardinal

and got into a debate about whether it was a female cardinal or some other kind of bird entirely. If either of our mothers had been there, the answer would have been provided.

Anyway, we split up for a little while and I immediately saw the male and female birds together. That solved the debate as far as I was concerned, and I went to take a picture so I could show Scott when we met back up. Only the two hopped apart at the whirr of my zoom lens.  Irritated, I followed, taking picture after picture of red underbellies and the undersides of these two particular trees as the birds flitted back and forth between them, never staying still long enough to be properly photographed.

Bird Belly 1

Bird Belly 2. And this was with my 12X digital zoom turned ON.

I quickly abandoned any hope of catching them together and set my sights on the female. When she lit on the ground for a moment, I thought I finally had my shot.

Only I didn’t.

Instead, I had this.

Baby Bird Down


Suddenly, I realized that the two birds were hovering so closely around the student center not to catch stray breadcrumbs, as I had originally assumed, but to protect a downed baby. They weren’t just friendly critters immune to humans. They were trying to strategically distract us and keep us all at the front of the building, so the baby who had fallen would be safe under a tree by the student center’s side. I had caught Mom checking back in on her little chick.

Naturally, since I had the camera out anyway, I took pictures like crazy.

And this wasn’t big enough to be a fledgling, either. This was a downy baby who still had a fluffy head and whose wings couldn’t have had flight feathers yet. The distract-the-humans trick wasn’t working out really well for Mama and Papa, either. Everyone was remarking on the cardinals, and some folks, I later learned, had even noticed the downed baby. But the cardinals were hardly the focus of alumni weekend. We were all passing around them on foot and in golf carts remarking on them like on the rest of the scenery.

Instantly, I felt as pained for those birds as if the chick were my own child. I seized a college student who was working alumni weekend and dragged her outside to present the plight. We two were circling under the tree, trying to locate the nest so she could call the grounds crew to help lift the baby back up, when the full extent of the problem became clear.

There were two of them.

And baby bird 2 was an Angry Bird

While the woman I’d pulled in was keeping watch on the chick over by a trash can, I came across a second one on the other side of the tree.

Every time one of them closed its eyes, I watched for breathing, terrified they would both die before I could do SOMETHING.

We weren’t going to find the nest up in those branches.

That nest was as down as its chicks, probably knocked free by the previous night’s thunder and hailstorm. Those parents were trying to keep two hopping little featherballs from getting squashed under a golf cart or foot. These babies were just barely big enough to have survived the plunge. They couldn’t live on their own. The parents were still feeding them, but if we couldn’t ensure a safe and private place for them to do so, they might stop.

It was too much for my student assistant. I stood guard, and she called for security. While I waited, and after I concluded the nest could not be located on the ground or rebuilt, I thought up a dozen scenarios involving do-it-yourself stores, plastic flowerbed edging, and a rescue team.

 The security lady was much more practical. She went up to the dining hall and grabbed a milk jug, which she cut open and added mulch to. Then, she put on plastic gloves (for germs – birds can’t smell, so it’s a myth that parents will smell you on their babies and abandon them) inserted the two nestlings, then hid the jug in the shrubbery under the tree. (Sorry, no pics. I didn’t want to cause a disturbance.)

Of course, one of the babies immediately flounced out again. The other one stayed put for awhile. When I peeked at the tree later, both babies were out again. But when I checked the next morning, both were IN. (Again, no pictures. I wasn’t going to risk those babies’ safety for anything.) The milk jug was, as far as I could tell, going to buy them the time they needed to grow into fledglings, and I could go back to scolding my own young.


Recently, we went up north for Scott’s 20th college reunion. He went to the College of Wooster, in Ohio, and most of both our families still live a couple of hours away, in the Cincinnati area. His Mom drove up and met us there, and on the way out of town, we caught up with his sister, Judy, and her family, for about an hour.

I have always said that if I’d had to do things in reverse, and choose my spouse based on who I would have for in-laws, I’d still have wound up married to the same guy. From the first time I showed up at their homes, all of them have been welcoming and loving towards me.  And not just to me, but to each other as well.  Scott and his sisters have an amazingly close bond for people who grew up giving each other nicknames like “Angel Child” and “Whale on the Beach”.

Two of those sisters, Judy and Holly, have kids, and the kids are the most amazing cousins. Ryan was only a year old when Scott and I got together. A little under, technically, but I met the kid at his first birthday party, where I met Scott’s Mom, as well. Then, the next month, I met Elizabeth and Courtney at Elizabeth’s fifth birthday party. (Elizabeth turns seventeen this year, in case you’re following the timeline.) Anyway, by  that holiday season, Scott and I were officially an “item” to the point that we spent Christmas with both families, and I got to see the cousins together.

I could not believe how sweet Courtney and Elizabeth were to the nineteen month old Ryan. How much they wanted to play with him at their own ages of five and three respectively. When Ryan got a little sister in Meaghan not too long after that, the cousin-bond grew even stronger. The big kids went out of their way to do things that included the little kids. The little kids idolized the older ones and were rewarded with adoration in return.

But by the time I had Caroline, Meaghan was four years old. Ryan was six, Courtney was almost eight, and Elizabeth was practically ten.  I worried that Caroline would be too much younger to have fun with her older cousins, that the age gap would simply be too big. I shouldn’t have wasted my time. From the day she was born, Caroline was an adored member of their little enclave. When she was just a month old, all of the cousins came to meet her, and even Ryan found her pretty worthwhile.

And it’s always been that way. Sam got the same treatment. He and Caroline now pretty much worship all four of their cousins, who heap love on them in return. When we lived in Lexington, we had the joy of hosting Elizabeth and then Courtney for a week during the summer so they could get to know their cousins better. We moved to Montgomery before Ryan and Meaghan were old enough, but those two have still made opportunities to foster a loving relationship with our much younger kids.

And seriously, it is the kids who make these relationships work. We grown-ups could force them upon each other all we wanted to, and if they didn’t want to be friends, it wouldn’t happen. When we got together with Judy around Scott’s reunion, she and her family were getting ready to leave on vacation. Meaghan was spending the weekend with Grandma B before the vacation, and those two delayed their own departure to see us. Ryan came home early from a sleepover. And both Ryan and Meaghan were excited by their visit from Caroline and Sam.

Meaghan let Caroline and Sam climb up into the bed her Dad just made her. (And may I say, Judy’s husband Will is an amazing carpenter. The thing looks store bought.)

Then, she painted their fingernails and toenails (with enough time leftover for my hands, too).






Ryan played a game of hide and seek with Caroline then held an epic stick swordfight with Sam at great peril to his own vital organs.

Caroline and Sam are growing up with these amazing role models. (Yeah, sorry. I did say that. And it is completely true. All four of the older cousins are truly worthy of admiration.) It was something I never had as a kid, and I love to watch these relationships develop. On my side, they have just one cousin, my sweet niece Kaylee, who is much closer to their own age. They have grand fun with her, too, mistake me not, but it’s a totally different dynamic, and Kaylee is much more of a peer than the cousins on Scott’s side.

 So, I just wanted to take a moment to thank Betty for driving up to see us in Wooster, and Judy and Will for welcoming us even at a hectic time of their own. But most especially, I wanted to thank Ryan and Meghan for taking time to play with and love Caroline and Sam. Caroline’s and my nail polish is peeling, and Sam’s has come off his fingers entirely. But both kids’ toes are still getting compliments at the pool. We love you. We miss you. We can’t wait to see you at Christmas.

Ladies’ Man

We went out to eat for Father’s day, both children in tow. Normally, this is an adventure in death-wishes, as the kids either act like monkeys (and not the tame ones, either) or choose a restaurant that features cuisine whose quality is inversely proportionate to the presence of playlands.  But as a special gift to Daddy, they behaved wonderfully during a grown-up meal. It helped that Sam had just spent two hours napping in the car as we returned from the McWane center in Birmingham, but the real success was in his falling in love with our server.

One of the big excitements of the trip was that Caroline has started eating a meat product. Ground beef. She likes it sprinkled liberally with Parmesan Cheese. Please note: she does not eat hamburger, and first tried taco meat under Scott’s genius deception that it was ground-smoked-sausage. (We had worked her around to smoked sausage last summer when she accidentally ate one of Sam’s nasty little Vienna sausages and loved it. We had then disguised cold hot dogs and smoked sausage as Vienna sausage to get her to try them, and she stuck with them even after she learned their real names.)  She quickly figured out that the ground beef was not smoked sausage, and has even come to the conclusion that hamburger and ground beef are both “made out of cow”. But she will not yet accept that they are the same product prepared in different ways.

As I was explaining this bizarre order to our server, Lauren, Sam caught the woman’s eye and announced, “I’m Sam,” completely interrupting me.

“You’re Sam?” she asked.

Suddenly bashful, he ducked behind my arm and smiled.

When she next attended our table, to tell us Caroline’s order wasn’t a problem, Sam informed her, “I’m needing some apple juice, pwease.” Notice that. He pronounced the “L” in apple, but not in “please”. He was doing it on purpose.

“I haven’t got any apple juice, Sam” she told him. “But I can get you a strawberry lemonade”.

“I love wemonade”. There. He did it again. If I had wondered before, now I was certain. The kid was flirting.

Let me be the first to tell you, he does not get this ability from either of his parents. Flirtation is a skill involving a careful balance of innocence and insouciance, and Scott and I couldn’t pull it off even back when we both were single. I’m too blunt, and Scott is too subtle.

Have I mentioned that I hadn’t even placed my own order yet, and Sam had only mentioned his desire for apple juice in a passing kind of way to me? He saved the request for Lauren.  He was gazing at her, ensuring her attention was all on him. “I don’t wike gwound beef,” he said. “I want the macaroni and cheese.” Now he was doing it with the “R’s”.

“Sure thing,” Lauren told him, nodding very seriously.

Sam got bored waiting for our food, so he stood on the bench and popped his head up to catch Lauren’s eye. He did this only when sitting beside me paging “LuuuuLuuuu come baaack” proved inaudible outside our booth in the noisy restaurant.  Lulu? Once he’d peered around long enough, he found her and cocked his head to attract her attention. He tilted his head ever so slightly, then sat back down smiling. Sure enough, Lauren arrived a few seconds later.

“I need more bwead,” he told her, adding “Pwease” only after I reminded him to use his manners.

“Honey,” I told him, “You need to let Lauren help the other people. It’s very busy in here and…”

“I know,” he said, “and she’s the food teacher.”  Was that what this was? Was it a show of how he acts at school? Is this why Miss Terry adores him even though he’s got some serious behavior issues? (And believe me, Miss Terry isn’t letting his charming butt get away with anything.)

He continued to flirt with Lauren throughout the meal, requesting his own drink refill and telling me earnestly when it took her more than two whole minutes to get back with it, “It’s taking for a vewy long time, but I am going to wait and do a good job.” Was this the same kid I had to fish out of the light fixtures and encourage to instead run up and down the aisles in Red Robin not four whole weeks ago?

I’d be more suspicious of a body double if I didn’t know his grandfathers. Scott and I both lack the aforementioned flirting skills. But my Dad can be a smooth talker when he needs to be. And Scott’s Dad is simply delightful, combining an open nature and a prankster’s wit in an utterly irresistible way. Watching Sam with Lauren was like watching a combination of the two grandfathers. Sam was far more coy than Granddaddy and far more forward than Papa Dave, and it was the ideal mixture of the two personalities. It was as though he’d spent the last three weeks stirring the lessons of Belle and Cinderella in with his preexisting genetic tendencies to produce a full-fledged ladies’ man in a four year old body.

In fact, as we were leaving, he told Lauren, “I’m four alweady.” Like, ‘honey, just you wait a dozen years or so and I’ll be back for you.’ Then, he said, “Bye bye, Lulu.”

And she told him, “You come see me any time, Sam,” as I hustled him out the door.

I can already see it coming.

This is going to get worse before he’s a teenager, and he’s going to run circles around his parents if we don’t learn some new tactics fast. And God help the girls in his high school class, because he’s going to be twisting them around his fingers like so many rings. Look out girls. Here comes Sam.

Father’s Day Cookies

If I ever wondered to what degree the internet had me cookied, I got my answer today. The irritating ad-bar that runs down the side of my webmail was showing a mocked up certificate of some kind for Harold Bradshaw. This would be my dead grandfather who had an MD. So the net demons have grabbed his name but absolutely none of the context surrounding it from my e-mails. The whole “MD” thing has flown under the radar, or I’d see spam inviting him to attend some medical convention, not an offer for a certificate in something sketchy.

Nor have they picked up on his actual relationship to me, because otherwise I’d be getting Father’s Day tips. On the other hand, many of the cookie manufacturers do know about Father’s Day, and they have some guesses about who I need to shop for. I get “reminders” on Amazon that George Powell and Scott Merriman still haven’t received their father’s day gifts (but if I pay extra-supercharged shipping fees, my present can still arrive on time). Sorry guys. You’re getting e-cards and, in Scott’s case, a couple of small gifts to accompany identical physical cards the kids picked out themselves (but wouldn’t share). I won’t be paying shipping. The internet hasn’t figured out that my father-in-law is Dave, but it wants me to shop for Scott’s cousin David, my brother-in-law Will, and my cousin Virginia, who I’m pretty sure is not a Dad. And, quite frankly, I don’t think that if I buy now, any amount of extra money will get a physical gift to arrive on time, as it’s Saturday night and tomorrow is a Sunday.

Just about every store I’ve given my e-mail address to has spent the last week loading me up on Father’s Day ideas. wants to know if Fudge doesn’t deserve a new bed, never mind that he’s neutered and it’s unlikely that he’s fathered anything. (Though he was not fixed when the pound got him at three, so who knows, maybe there are some Fudge-mutts out there wondering about their deadbeat Dad.) says Scott and George could both use any number of nifty gizmos. Like Amazon, they haven’t found Dave either. Sorry web. I am very, very careful about getting my own Dad electronic gifts, and I only do so when I know I’ve got something workable. And I have learned the hard way that Scott and Dave have almost no interest in gadgetry.

Even the less commercial groups attempt targeted marketing. Periodically, I’ll get taken by some social cause and donate either my signature or actual funds, landing me on a mailing list. That means that for Father’s Day, MSPCAA-Angel wants to know if I don’t want to “Give Dad the Gift of Love” by helping stray dogs in Massachusetts. And Emily V. at Care2Action tells me Dad deserves a quiet trip to the Grand Canyon (as opposed to one filled with the noise pollution from commercial airplanes). hopes I’ll make a giant monetary contribution to its political activities, and Newt Gingrich feels my father deserves to know I support him for president. (Two problems there Mr. Lizard. First, I don’t support you for anything. Second, if I did, I’d hide in shame, not advertise it to my father or husband. And how the fuck did I get on your list, anyway? My causes are all liberal.)

So, no Google, nobody on my list is getting a tie from me this year (or probably ever). And I won’t be purchasing my husband, father, or father-in-law electronica to clutter the shelves. Nor will these wonderful men be receiving political propaganda or donations-in-their-names from me. I don’t plan to go in for any last minute gew-gaws or expensive junk. I will probably cook pancakes for breakfast tomorrow, with a little help from Sam and Caroline, and I will doubtless make three phone calls in the afternoon. (The web also hasn’t found my still-living grandfather, the other George Powell in my life, who just turned 96.) I think we’ll have a peaceful day and enjoy each other’s company, rather than spend more money on yet another marketing holiday.

Sally the Pig

We always had a menagerie at our house, with anywhere from one to three dogs, two to over a dozen cats, and various fish and reptiles to fill out the collection. Someone else kept horses and cows in the field, so the place had the illusion of being a working farm. Since the fences were all falling over, I spent a good deal of my life walking down the middle of State Route 286 in my nightgown at midnight carrying a bucket of corn calling, “Come on cow; stupid cow; let’s get out of the middle of the road cow” to the animal whose halter I was pulling.  I also had the trauma, at a very young age, of finding a cow that had gone missing quite dead, it having fallen into a freak crevasse in the field.

The only large farm animal we owned ourselves was actually a family pet, one whose needs we did not know how to manage. But we did so love that pig.

Possibly a Pic of Joey But I Think It Is Sally

Sally came to us much in the same way that Wilbur came to Fern in Charlotte’s Web. She and her brother were runts scheduled for the chopping block at a neighbor’s farm. Only, in the E.B. White classic, Fern is a kid when she saves the pig. At our house, it was my Mom who rescued the runts. She brought us home the two newborns, and we built them a pen in my bedroom, leading to my opinion that they were, in fact, my pigs. Somewhere in the acquisition process, I had misheard the word “sow” and thought female pigs were “sals”.  Making an additional logical leap, I had decided that “sal” must be short for “Sally”. That explains one name. I think we may have called the boy Joey because we were reading Katy No-Pocket a lot at the time, even though our Joey bore no resemblance to a baby kangaroo.

Mom was pregnant when we got the pigs, and Sally and Joey had to be bottle fed. We cradled them in our arms just like real babies to give them their meals, enjoying the soft skin under their wiry hair while they grunted and wiggled in our laps. Of course, they were babies, and they weren’t diapered, let alone housebroken. When Joey suddenly spewed out a cataclysm of green diarrhea in my lap one day, I screamed and leaped to my feet, sending him squealing to the floor. My parents tried to convince me of the gravity of this by asking “What would have happened if that had been the new baby and not the pig?”

When Joey later died, I felt completely responsible for a little while.

Actually, though, both pigs developed parvo, a virus just as deadly to the porcine population as to the canine one. They had to be quarantined to their pen and kept away from the other animals. I don’t remember much about that period except for the smell of green pig shit and Joey’s ultimate demise. (And the eventual dissipation of my certainty of my own guilt.) Sally recovered, though.

She played games with us and destroyed more than one tent

I had a goldfish, and the house was full of animals, but I felt like Sally was mine in a way those others weren’t.

Sally slept as close to us as she could, hooves and all. She trotted around with the dogs and begged for scraps with them, too. She came on walks to the creek just like everybody else in the family.

She came on walks, just like the dogs. (The funny white marks are where a cat chewed on the photo)

As she grew, her feet became a bit problematic, as did her precocious nature. She understood that our food came from the refrigerator, and she was known to force the door open to get a spare meal. There’s a scene in E.T. where the alien raids the fridge and winds up drunk (along with Eliot) on a six pack of beer.

Sally did that. And she did it at around the same time the movie came out, so that we felt she’d perhaps been sneaking off to theaters in her free time. We walked into the kitchen to find cans oozing and scattered, punctured by pig teeth. Sally was sleeping it off in the corner.

Sally’s favorite scratching post was the upright piano in our middle room. As she grew, this got downright dangerous. The piano rocked back and forth as the ever-larger pig leaned in to find her itch. Mom moved the piano to the living room, which solved  that one problem, but the pig wasn’t shrinking.

The one and only time my not-quite aunt and uncle stayed over, Tom woke to a cold pig snout nuzzling against his back as Sally looked for a good way to join them in bed. He bodily lifted the pig, who was probably a hundred pounds by that point and deposited her, squealing, on the front porch, where we found her the next morning. She had previously been an inside-outside pig. Thereafter, she stayed outdoors, more because her hooves were poking holes in the kitchen linoleum than because of her tendency to alarm overnight guests. Pictures of our backyard from that era show grass pockmarked with everything from hoof holes to the “wallers*” she rooted up for herself.

She had her own pool, because her feet punctured the bottom of mine.

For me, having a pet pig was a lot like having a pony, only without the hassles of currying. I rode that pig everywhere. She would let me clamber up on her back, then she’d traipse along at a moderate pace.

And I rode her. Note the state of the yard.

She would also let my friend Jenny ride her, because Jenny was the right size. But the one time Dad tried to get on, Sally took off running and ditched him as she flew by a window. She did not tolerate passengers over a certain size, and Dad had violated the weight requirements, even though he was a thin man. I’m sorry to say I can’t find the picture of myself riding in the nude, but that was my preferred method of transportation. I ran around naked most of the time, so that was typically how I rode the pig. I guess it should have been uncomfortable, but I don’t think it was. Visitors had to pause to decide whether to be more horrified by the naked five year old or by the fact that she was riding around the yard on a 500 pound slab of bacon.

Once Sally passed that quarter ton mark, it was decided that she had outgrown the yard. She was moved to an old tin building that might once have been a stable, and she lived out the remainder of her life in the field. I grew up, got too big to ride her, and she fell back into Mom’s care. She was confined to a little square of space around the stable when she and a bull developed a mutually adversarial relationship that could have been deadly for one of them. And she just kept growing. She was no pot-bellied toy, after all, but a great white pig engineered to be somebody’s meal. Even the pot bellied pigs ultimately get pretty large, but Sally easily outstripped them. She didn’t get enough exercise, got entirely too much slop, and she ultimately reached a thousand pounds.

It was at this point that she became ill again. We called the vet and asked how long pigs lived. The pigs he knew went to the slaughterhouse pretty young, and he told us “about three years or so.” Sally was six at the time, and there was really very little we could do for her. I rather think that if we’d known more about keeping a pet pig, she could have lived a decade or more, but that’s pure speculation.  Most of her life was spent happy and well loved, but those last couple of years, she had been rather neglected. She and the enemy bull had finally made an odd sort of friendship for a little while, but then he had to be moved and she was alone again. The end of her life was really rather tragic, so I prefer to think, instead, of the beginning, when she was our bottle-fed baby, and the middle, when she was a much loved pet.


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* Madame Syntax wishes you to know that the word is “wallow”, not “waller”. I disagree with her. I say that a pig “wallows” in the mud, but the word for the mudhole it makes must, by its nature, be spelled as it is pronounced, “waller”.  She says that if we follow my logic, “victuals” will soon be spelled “vittles”. And she is unhappy that I would be just fine with that.


I’m honestly not sure why we never had a pet snake growing up, unless it was familial squeamishness about feeding it live rats. It certainly wasn’t reptile fears. We had anoles, the occasional turtle, and even an iguana. We loved snakes. Mom somehow convinced all of us, Dad included, that there were no poisonous snakes in Ohio, in spite of the fact that they lived in all the surrounding states. Where other little girls (and many boys) in our area were taught to feel habitual fear, if not outright terror towards snakes, Mom showed us how to keep a respectful distance and developed our collective fascination with them.

We lived in a drafty old farmhouse that was prone to acquiring rodents and reptiles alike. I’ll never forget racing into the bathroom in second grade, jumping over a rope stretched out in the middle of the floor on my way to the toilet, only to realize, once I was seated, that the “rope” was slowly moving.  It had not registered the seismic event of my leaping over it, or if it had it was either too cold (this was early spring) or too busy figuring out its strange environment to care. I imagine it lying there thinking “what the hell? Where’s the grass?”

Later, I tried to write the experience down for a ‘what I did on my summer vacation’ essay when school started back. I got a good grade and a ‘my but you’re creative’ smile, but I could tell the teacher didn’t really believe it had happened. Even in that rural area, people were used to houses with foundations (ours had none), where such a casual visitor would have been unlikely at best. I had tried to explain the experience by saying I had initially mistaken the snake for a toy, but in fact, I had to pee so badly that it had barely registered. I mainly thought “Huh, rope” as I leaped over it on the way to my destination. I only realized what it was on slow reflection.

Another year, Mom took my brownie troop to Cincinnati’s Natural History museum.  We were there for the fossils, the awesome fake cave (to which I returned again and again while my grown-ups looked for me with increasing panic) and the planetarium, which was then located inside the museum. (This was before the museum moved to Union Terminal).  What I remember most vividly about that visit was the snake. Once she’d captured me exiting the caves, Mom took us all over to see a naturalist with a boa constrictor.

I don’t know if this thing was a pet or a zoo animal or what, but it was huge. The other girls and chaperones stood very far away. I walked over with Mom and stroked it. He let it rest on my shoulders, even, so I could feel its weight. I’ll never forget those scales that were smoother than skin. When I take my own kids to see snake exhibits like this, the rules clearly prohibit touching, let alone holding, by the audience, so I must assume that either such commonsense ideas had not yet been put in place or, as so often happens to me, I was just violating them without knowing it. It was beautiful.

Perhaps another reason we never had pet snakes was that, aside from my bathroom encounter with the garter snake that one time, our property had a hearty black snake population all its own. I feel for the Iowa people who lived in the snake house. But that house reminds me less of the place I grew up and more of a friend’s experience. My friend Rachel had to have someone from wildlife control remove a python from her ducts when she moved into a new home some years ago. I forget whether the previous owner simply lost his snake or whether he actually abandoned, it, but Rachel was not happy to meet it face to face, and I don’t think she appreciated my “oh wow” response to her experience.

We never had that problem. Our snakes never overtook the house or required outside intervention. But then, maybe black snakes are more territorial or something, because we only ever seemed aware of one indoors at a time. We periodically found snake skins in the attic, and those seemed to grow with every new find, to the point that by the time we met their owner face to face, we were already aware of his size.

One day, while Dad and I were watching TV, Dad looked out the transom above the living room door and saw this head looking in on us. I don’t suppose transom is really the right word, because it didn’t ever open. It was just three little windows above a heavy wood door, and there was actually a sort of window seat up there on the outside. This was where the snake had arrived. God only knows how he got up there. Actually, we rather think he got down there, rather than up there, and that he had slithered down from a tree to the roof, then crawled through the space in between the porch roof and the house. Possibly. Or maybe he just appeared himself there. If Harry Potter had been written, we would have started howling “Voldemort” and “appirated”. In any case, he was at least four feet long and thoroughly pissed off when Dad used a long forked stick to get him out of the transom area and down onto the porch. We named him Big Brother and attributed our nonexistent mouse population to him for some years after.

As recently as a few years ago, we were walking around Mom’s yard and a baby black snake dropped out of a tree very nearly on Scott’s head. At least we think it was a black snake. Scott was walking behind Mom and I, and the snake suddenly flew past his face and plopped at his feet, where it lay curled for some time before heading off. It was maybe  a foot long, though this was hard to be sure of, since Scott had only gotten that one glance at it as it plummeted by, and it landed in a grumpy coil right at his feet. Its body was gray with brown, or maybe black spots on its back. We were visiting from Kentucky, and we had recently seen baby copperheads that looked a little too much like this fellow for our comfort. He looked nothing like a garter snake, and it was really only our certainty that the black snake population on Mom’s property was high that supported our conviction that this was, in fact, a black snake, not its more venomous cousin. Even Mom didn’t try to argue he couldn’t possibly be poisonous. We just walked away and gave him a wide berth. And really, when dealing with snakes, that is always the wise course of action.


                We had hamsters growing up. My parents allowed them because I was frantic in wanting a puppy when we already had two grown dogs and didn’t need another.  I called my first hamster Olga-Da-Polga, and my sister called hers Frisky. Olga, named for a guinea pig in a book I’d read, was white with gray spots and a mousy little face. Frisky was of a variety called “golden”, though to us he seemed more tan in color. He earned his name by being a spastically active creature. Indeed, Frisky’s friskiness taught us several of our early lessons in rodent care.

                Lesson 1:  Tape the ball shut.

We had one of those clear hamster-balls to give our pets free run in the house. But Frisky could do this thing where he would ram the ball up in between a couple of chair legs or into just about any other tight space, and, while it was wedged there, use his body to twist the lid off. The first few times, we thought it was an accident and blamed ourselves for failure to screw the top on tight. But after awhile, when Olga started getting out too, and when we finally saw him doing it, we  realized we would have to actually tape the lid onto the ball. We got lucky with that pair. They always came back when we left out a trail of chow, never falling victim to the numerous cats stalking the house.

Lesson 2: Get a male

A couple of weeks after we got our new pets, I looked into the cage and started screaming, “Olga Da Polga’s HAVING BABIES!”  We presumed that she acquired her pregnancy in our care, though she could have just come that way. And, though they aren’t born pregnant, hamsters definitely breed like tribbles. Olga had four in that first litter, though only three survived. Frisky killed one. Oops. We bought him his own cage after we learned the hard way how quickly daddy rodents turned into ferocious competitor rodents. Of the other three, one vanished into the walls when it was still small enough to squirm between the cage’s bars, and the other two grew to maturity.

Lesson 3: Maturity comes extremely young in hamsters.

We thought we now had Olga da Polga and her daughters safely cordoned off from the violent offender. But then one day I looked in the cage and screamed, “Olga da Polga and Helen are BOTH having babies!”. We knew who had to come out, because only one of the three still in there wasn’t in labor. We realized the babies had to be kept apart from the (oops) daddy who was the (aw shit man) uncle, as well. (Hamster incest.)Since Frisky had proven so violent towards his offspring at birth, we worried about putting father and son together, but there was nowhere else to put the hamster version of a teen parent, so in with Pops he went.  I guess they swapped hamster sex stories or something, because they did fine.  The next crisis came when, as I was counting the newborns later in the morning, I saw Helen cannibalizing one of hers.

My mother figured out how to stop this while I ran screaming through the house. (Yet  it was nonetheless years before I developed the kind of rodent paranoia stereotypically associated with women of a much earlier generation.)  I do know the fix involved a series of frantic calls to a pet store and some other rodent loving friends on a corded phone that Mom couldn’t quite stretch into the room with the cages. But she threw me outside so she could hear before I saw what actions she took in between setting the phone cradle on the kitchen table and running into the middle room where the hamsters were then housed.

                Lesson 4: Plastic cages

                Between the two mamas, we had some ten little hamster babies. Helen and her brood went into the bottom floor of one cage, while Olga and hers went up on top. These particular homes resembled birdcages, with metal jail-cell bars and a plastic base.  They had been transferred out of my sister’s and my room and into the living room at some point in the murderous chaos, but we all checked on the new families regularly. When babies started vanishing again, we at first feared Helen had reverted to eating her young once more. But Helen couldn’t get to Olga’s crew, and we woke up one morning to find each hamster down by two. The ugly truth came out when we saw one of the cats perched beside the cage, tail eagerly twitching. Where kitty paws could fit in, tiny hamster snacks could be pulled out, and the new location was apparently the perfect stalking ground.

We swapped the mamas with Frisky and son, as those two had been sharing a plastic hut, but that meant putting Helen back with Olga. Helen’s cannibalism could possibly have been related to her having been in the cage with another new mother (her own) at the same time. (Or maybe it was the hamster incest driving her crazy.)  Mercifully, the babies were old enough to seem less tasty by the time we reunited them, or else her body had regained some of its nutrients or something, because she didn’t go on another killing spree once she and Olga were together in the smaller enclosure. Though Olga did bite the piss out of me when we were moving them, so I would have wished her the worst of whatever she got.

After that, we did a better job sorting the boys early (or maybe there was a miracle and both litters contained all girls), but we still had something like half a dozen rodents when all was said and done. Our initial cages, both the wire and the plastic, had been pretty basic. But as the babies grew, we added tubing and additional rooms. Helen eventually pulled the hamster-ball trick one time too many and escaped into the woodwork, never to return.  I think Olga just died one day. And I don’t remember what happened to the other babies (or the baby daddy) as they grew up. But for awhile there,  we had an apartment complex we called New Hamsterdam because of its city-like proportions across a table in the living room.

But slowly, the population dwindled, until only Frisky remained, back in that one original plastic square. He was a fat, lazy, friendly creature who had run out all his friskiness in his youth. He liked to sit on the insides of my arms when I let him get out on the table and walk back and forth between my open hands. He actually grew too large for the hamster ball and his wheel, so he had to exercise through personal contact. Finally, after I think three or more years, he, too died quietly in his cage. After he was gone, we didn’t replace him, though we still maintained quite a menagerie of pets.

It was fun having hamsters for those few years, but I honestly still secretly think things would have turned out better if my parents had just gotten me the puppy in the first place.