Pumpkin pie baklava and a post-operative dog.
The Boy loves playing with the dog — sometimes, he gets a little too excited about it.
The dog occasionally gets a little too excited as well, taking matters into her own jaws.
And all the while, the Girl has been working on her flip.
We’ve been taking Clover over to our neighbor’s fenced in backyard while we wait to have our fence complete. Our neighbors, who are absolutely the best neighbors one could have, told us to feel free any time to bring the dog over to let her have unfettered free play, and we take them up on that generous offer daily. They even set a plastic chair out for whoever — usually K — is there with the dog.
Right now, I sit in that chair, and I glance over at our house and see K leading E into the house. It’s not clear if he’s hurt or in trouble, or perhaps neither, but for a moment, I’m an outsider looking at my family as if I were the neighbor.
What do I know about that odd family that lives next door?
The wife is a sweet and hard working woman from Poland, who has a slightly noticeable but endearing accent and a penchant for phrasing things in an unusual way. She’s clearly devoted to her children, and spends a great deal of time with them, often down at the little corner recreation area the family has made in the far corner of the lot. She fusses at her children from time to time, but I’ve never heard her yell.
The daughter was such a little girl when they moved here, a regular princess. How she’s changed and how she’s stayed the same. She was always dancing and prancing about as a princess as a little girl, but now I see her out in the driveway sometimes, roller-skates on, improvising some dance routine with the seriousness of an accountant. And how tall she’s grown: she’ll soon be as tall as her mother, I think.
Then there’s the little boy, who is always so eager to help. Every time I’m out washing the car or the camper, there he is, eager to help.
That’s what I think — hope, believe — my neighbor thinks of my family. And what might my neighbor think of me? That I’m helpful, a good father and husband, a good neighbor — all the normal things, I guess.
He runs around the pack of children that are kicking wildly for the ball, circling the periphery without ever penetrating. At one point, the ball comes right to him. He looks at it and then glances around, his expression saying, “Well, I’m not really sure if this is mine or not, and I don’t really want to take it from anyone unfairly.”
I’ve told him several times that he has to penetrate that group, force his way in, push people out of the way if necessary.
“I try,” he insists, but I’m not convinced he even realizes what he’s doing. I try to take a video of it, but the sun is shining right into the phone, making dark silhouettes of all the players.
Even in the best of conditions, I’m not sure he would see the issue. When he runs, he does so with such intensity, such ferocity — his arms pumping wildly as he runs as fast as he can — that you would be forgiven for thinking he’s running down a challenge of existential significance. He sprints towards the ball, then slows and resumes his position as an outsider, a virtual on-looker.
On the way back to the car, he shows once again that it’s all irrelevant, that there are more important things to be concerned with, both as a child and a parent. Particularly the latter. Holding his Gatorade that he got as an after-game snack — most parents just bring juice boxes, but someone went all out, I guess — he declared, “I’m only going to drink half of this. L likes Gatorade, too.”
I’ve never been good about tool maintenance. Other things are a different. The bike I ride to school looks and rides like it’s brand new. My chain is always glistening; my cables are always in tip-top shape; my bottom bracket spins like there’s no tomorrow.
But tools? I let perfectly good things wear out. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? But when we retired our lawn mower a few months ago and bought a new, shiny Honda after a fair amount of research, I decided things would change with that mower. I began hosing it off thoroughly after each job, even the underside of the mower deck. (Having a fuel shut-off valve helped a lot.) Today, I took it a step further: I dug out an old brush and actually brushed off the stains forming on the underside of the deck.
“If you could only get that way about our cars,” K is surely saying to herself.
We usually are going counter-clockwise, Clover and I. When we reach the yard — that yard — we approach it blindly. I know it’s there, but a stand of trees hides that fact. Clover knows soon enough when we’ve reached that spot, though: the two dogs come tearing at her, barking madly, stopped only by the fence. She pulls and pulls the opposite way, but I pull her in close to me, pet her and reassure her.
“It’s okay, Clover. They won’t touch you.”
Eventually we make it past the house, but she’s positively terrified.
That’s been the reality for a while. Today, we went the opposite way. When we approached the road from up the street, she recognized the house almost immediately, hesitated, then walked on. The dogs came out; the dogs barked; Clover kept walking.
It’s all we’ve been hearing about for obvious and logical reasons, but still, it’s not every year that we’ve had thoughts and worries about what a hurricane could do to us here in Upstate South Carolina. Irma was just such a storm, though. For most of last week, we heard on local news that it might impact us significantly, that it might reach us still a hurricane — even a Category 2 hurricane — and not merely as a tropical storm or depression.
In the end, it turned to the west just a little, and the resulting path took it fairly far west of us. Or so it appeared on the map. What we got today — and are still getting to some degree — were sustained winds in the twenties and thirties with gusts up to fifty miles an hour.
My concern was which direction the wind would be blowing. It turned out that most of the day, it was blowing in the most stressful direction: east to west. From the back of our house, with several large trees, each of which with the ability to do significant damage should one fall. What we got was a bunch of leaves and small twigs in our carport and a renewed leak from an upstairs door that was poorly installed. In short, nothing major. And for that, we are very thankful.
As a precaution, though, school was cancelled today. We spent the day feeling a bit like Sally and her brother in Cat in the Hat. Our story might be renamed Puppy in the House, though, for it was especially hard on Clover. How does a Border Collie pup get her energy out when she’s afraid even to venture into the hard to relieve herself?
And how does the day end? With an announcement that, due to fallen trees on roads and extensive power outages, we have no school again tomorrow.
It’s been a week of firsts and almost-firsts for the Boy. Yesterday, it was soccer. He did not want to play, pure and simple. He was fine with the races, the drills, the silly games. But when it was time to scrimmage, he panicked. Eventually, he got up his courage and went into the game, but there was a long period of waiting, watching, and fussing — just a bit.
Today, it was Cub Scouts. “We’ll start by making some slime while we wait for everyone to get here and settle in,” the den leader said. No go. He absolutely did not want to do anything but bury his face in my belly. He finally joined in, but as with soccer, there was a moment of hesitation.
Back home, we were in the familiar territory — swinging, bouncing on the trampoline, playing with the dog.
A spendid Sunday, like so many others.
We’ve added another animal into our family, and now four or so weeks on, we’re all finally settling into some kind of rhythm of normalcy. Clover is still full of surprises, to be sure, but we know each other much better at this point. We know that if she’s chewing on something she’s not supposed to, it’s usually enough just to give her something designated for chewing. But every now and then, the rhythm skips a beat, we are less than vigilant, and Clover gets a hold on something she’s not supposed to have, like an inflatable rubber ball.
Which she promptly pops with her pin-sharp puppy teeth. And so she has a new chew toy.
Our new openness to new animals might get carried away if we’re not careful, though. We’ve had a black stray cat wandering around our house lately, undoubtedly drawn by our compost. We’ve made friends, then determined that the poor thing is pregnant.
What else can you do but temporarily — “Temporarily, kids!” K and I have both reiterated — adopt the animal. We’ve been feeding her while we confirm that she is indeed a stray. Monday, we take her to the Humane Society. In the meantime, we argue about what to call her for the next couple of days: Midnight or Nightmare.
Having a puppy is like having a newborn in the house — that’s what we’d heard. There is a certain amount of truth in this: Clover requires a lot of time and attention. And like a baby, she can’t be just left unattended. But the attention is easy to give: she’s such a sweet puppy, always eager to get a belly rub or a scratch behind the ear. Eager to please. Genuinely remorseful-looking when corrected. Or is she just playing us? Probably a bit of both.
And she’s so curious. Those two things combine to torture our cats. Bida tends just to hiss. It’s all it takes after a snoutful of claws a couple of times. But Elsa runs, and so what does Clover do? Chase her, of course. Isn’t she just trying to play? It’s not just Elsa and Bida, and that’s a little worrying. There’s a little black cat that comes around often enough, and Clover tried to make friends with her, to no avail.
She remembers the encounter with Bida that left her with a slightly bloody ear, so she kept her distance.
The Boy is having a bit of trouble with her, too. She’s still trying to herd him, and the herding is getting more intense. She nips at his shoes, chases him when he walks in the room — the tail is always wagging, but like Elsa, the Boy is starting just to avoid her at times.
Unless there’s a toy to play with, like a stick.
Still, despite it all, we’re all pretty much wrapped around her paw.
How could we not be?