On the first Wednesday night of the month I was out to dinner with some of my most favorite ladies in the world and one of them had brought up this “elf thing.” Most of us had not heard of this phenomena. She described it in great detail and not terribly positively either, I might add. I decided the entire concept of having this “elf” creeping around your house was…creepy. I mean, really? “You never know know where the thing might turn up next!” that’s what I’m supposed to tell my anxious little, sleep challenged Monkey? Yeah, no. Definitely, no.
Then we got the confirmation that Copper’s health was about to take a serious downturn. The stress in our house ratcheted up a dozen notches with each subsequent phone call or vet appointment. I began reading reviews on books about breaking your child’s heart in one simple step. I was very concerned that I find just the right books to say what I could not seem to say on my own. It’s one thing to write it here, “Monkey, Copper is dying. Soon he won’t be here anymore and we are all going to be very, very sad.” but it’s a whole other ball of wax to look my little cherub in the eye and get those words to pass through my lips.
I needed a story, something to make it OK for me so I could try to make it OK for him. I also needed a story that did not end with, “And then his Mommy and Daddy got him a puppy and everyone was happy again!” Because…oh, fucking hell no. That isn’t the way our story is going to end1. So, the only way to be sure that the “and they find a way to heal” portion didn’t involve anything furry was to go and look. I strolled through the book store and passed an endcap that looked a little something like this…
And I laughed, “Hahahaha!” with bitter undertones because I was there to look at books that would make me cry in public. I was not exactly shiny and happy at that moment. I read the books, I made a wise decision and I moved on.
But the crappy news did not stop, no it did not, so soon I was once again in the same bookstore looking at yet more books that would make me cry in public because 4 books was not enough to make me feel prepared2. I had to walk past the endcap again and I found myself glancing at it out of the corner of my eye. Yes, he was still creepy but…no. I had other things to focus on, like death and dying and…*sigh*
I pulled out my phone to check an e-mail and it was a notice that I’d been tagged in a status on Facebook by the lovely Holly Roos that said “FINE. I’ll stop paying bills, get dressed and go to the damn store. Thanks Melissa Jackson Welin. ;-$” I’m not exactly sure how it all happened because we had both been pretty firmly on the “Sure it’s cute but who has time for that.” side of the Elf on a Shelf argument when I’d left my desk.
I turned on my heel3 grabbed one of the damned elves and just like that…I was suddenly one of “Them.” I would have been more embarrassed about my sudden change of heart except that Holly was right there with me, as your best friends always are. I’ve taken her excitement about it as permission to let my freak flag fly (as Paula would say). Every night since, instead of spending hours on the computer researching and counting down the days to the Day of Doom, I’ve been immersing myself in making magical moments come to life for my little Monkey.
So, fine, it is still a little creepy if you think about it too hard and, yes, everyone else is doing it too which immediately makes it uncool but, guess what? I’ve been uncool my whole life and if that’s what it takes to get my son’s face to light up each night as he wishes our little Sneak good night and then again in the morning as he calls out, “Would you look at that!” when he finds him, then so be it. He might just be a “lame” stuffed toy but there is magic in him…I’ve felt it every day since he joined us. He hasn’t worked a major miracle, I’m still sad and obsessed about what’s going on with Copper4, but I consider it a minor miracle to feel any sort of true happiness right now…and the time I spend with Sneak, plotting, I’m truly happy. I’m going to miss the little dude when he’s gone.
- At least, not until Mommy can get her mind around loving another dog and it not being a betrayal of the perfect, little beast who has held her heart for the last 13 years. That, my friends, will take some time I suspect. [↩]
- Hey, quick interesting aside, I have discovered that no matter how many books I buy, I still do not feel prepared! Who knew? [↩]
- Not stilettos, sadly [↩]
- You may have noticed. [↩]
Once upon a time there was a young girl living far, far away from home. She was lonely and unemployed, depending on another for food and shelter and companionship. That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on one single person, especially one who was often away from home on deployments. She was so lost and needy, a puppy seemed like the perfect solution. It would be a distraction, it would be someone to love, someone to talk to during the long days.
She found a group of amazingly dedicated dog people, people who treated their animals with the respect and kindness they deserve1, people who opened her eyes to the true cost of those pet store puppies. Armed with this new knowledge she drove to a nearby Humane Society to find the puppy of her dreams.
There were two maternity pens filled with little, wiggling, brindle-colored, lumps of love. She stood and looked at them but no one of them spoke to her heart. Sensing her hesitation, the shelter worker suggested that she look at the pens of adult animals in the rear. She told her that there was a young, female English Springer Spaniel in the back which was exactly what the girl had wanted!
They went out back and headed straight to see this little girl in need of a home but it wasn’t an English Springer Spaniel at all. It was a Brittany Spaniel, which are perfectly lovely dogs, but not what she had been hoping for. This particular young dog was a whirling, spinning, bouncing ball of energy and completely overwhelmed the young girl looking for her first dog. She would make someone a lovely pet but she would need a great deal of training.
The shelter worker encouraged her to look around and left her to walk from pen to pen. Each pen was full. There was so much excitement and happiness in those pens, they were all so thrilled to see her. She could hear them begging, “Pick me! Pick me!” What started out as a fun and exciting trip suddenly seemed so much harder. How could she pick?
She hit the next to last run in the hall and turned to retrace her steps, there was no excited, barking dog in that last pen…it was empty. On an impulse she peeked in the run, though, and saw the saddest, little red dog sitting in the back of the pen. He was pressed against the concrete wall, his ears laid back, his face turned away. He looked pretty sketchy, to be honest.
She turned and continued her trip through the rest of the shelter. The shelter worker pulled dog after dog from the pens and let her take them in the yard to play. After an hour, she was covered in dog hair, her arms were scratched from the over enthusiastic play attempts, she was exhausted and she still hadn’t found the one. Every time she returned to the kennel building she peeked at that sketchy little dog in the last run. He never once turned to look at her.
She felt guilty for writing him off, she finally asked the worker about him. He was new, he’d just been turned in that morning by his owner. They didn’t know his name or how old he was. They had just been handed his leash and his owner had left. Reluctantly, she asked the worker if they could take him outside.
When the worker unsnapped his leash in the fenced yard he took off as fast as his legs could carry him, much to the girl’s disappointment. All the other dogs had been eager for attention. She squatted there on the ground and watched him race to the furthest point of the yard where he squatted to pee and pee and pee and pee. He stopped long enough to poop twice and then he peed again. When he was finished, he kicked his feet out happily behind him, turning in a circle as he did it. He looked like he was dancing. Then he turned his smiling face toward her and raced straight to her with his astounding, gravity defying ears perfectly erect. He was the one, she knew it now. She never once doubted him again, he was hers, she was his…this was her heart dog.
It took a few days for Copper to reveal his name to me, I know it sounds silly but we tried on dozens of names until we hit on one he responded to immediately. He has been the keeper of my secrets for many, many years. One of those secrets was this…there were two things I wanted to give him more than anything…a yard to play in and a little boy of his own. I knew he would love them both. I was wrong on the yard, Copper would much rather lounge on the couch than play in a yard but I was right about the other…he loves his little boy.
- a few of them are still friends these many years later [↩]
We visited with the oncologist today and it seems that there’s more going on here than we had been told.
Copper’s white blood count really impressed her, she hasn’t ever seen it get so high before. He is an overachiever there. His liver and kidney values are a little wonky but she thinks he can handle the potential treatment options. His pancreas numbers were off and his urine sample was off too. Basically, he’s an old dog with cancer and maybe more. Wouldn’t that just be ducky?
We still aren’t certain which type of cancer it is. Either I misheard or my vet wasn’t clear but it’s still possibly sarcoma. It will take up to 2 weeks for the additional tests to come back. Regardless, this is an aggressive cancer and it is widespread in his mouth.
We were given a bunch of different options ranging from surgery to remove up to 1/2 his lower jaw to simple pain management with a few other possibilities in between. We have eliminated the surgery, it’s too much for a dog his age. I can’t put him through that. We’ve also eliminated the simple pain management. I want more than a couple weeks to possibly 2 (messy, uncomfortable) months if I can get it.
SO, the plan, the plan, the plan. What is the plan?
- Copper is having his WBC checked again to be sure it’s dropping after a week and a half on the antibiotics. If not, we have even bigger problems than we thought.
- Copper is having an abdominal ultrasound to check for a possible bladder tumor.
- Copper is having his lymph nodes aspirated to be sure the cancer hasn’t spread. They feel OK but this is the only way to know for sure.
- Copper will stay on his pain medication, his antibiotics and we’ll add an anti-inflammatory.
- Copper will begin radiation next week.
Beyond that it’s just a bunch of “If”s.
None of what we are planning, though, is a cure. This is not fixable. We can keep him comfortable, we can buy him some time…maybe enough time for something *else* to get him. She is hoping we can get another 4-8 months. I’m holding out hope that I’ll see him become a 17 year old dog…
I added another book to our library of pain, I really like this one.
In spring, when City Dog runs free in the country for the first time, he spots Country Frog sitting on a rock, waiting for a friend. “You’ll do,” Frog says, and together they play Country Frog games. In summer, they meet again and play City Dog games. Through the seasons, whenever City Dog visits the country he runs straight for Country Frog’s rock. In winter, things change for City Dog and Country Frog. Come spring, friendship blooms again, a little different this time.
It’s about the loss of a friend and finding a new one. It’s for Ages 3 and up. It made me cry. Everything makes me cry right now though.
A few weeks ago we were asked to participate in a video social story for the fragile X clinic here in Boston. The clinic wanted something they can share with new patients to help them with their first clinic visit. It’s quite a good idea, isn’t it?
We were not their first choice. While they wanted it to be realistic, they didn’t want it to be too real, if you catch my drift. Unfortunately for them, everyone else turned them down. We were going to decline as well but, once we established that they understood that if we used Monkey it would likely be very real and that they were going to do voice overs1, we caved because it is a very good idea.
I then spent two weeks breaking out into a cold sweat and nearly vomiting every time I let myself think about it. There were many times that I wanted to back out but we had made the commitment and they were counting on us. So. I sucked it up.
On the morning of the filming we were running late…which is the perfect way to start off an already sure to be stressful day! After we arrived at Children’s Hospital we met with the whole crew plus the clinic coordinator and the clinic director. Already this visit was much different from our normal clinic visits. I mean, we hardly ever have a camera crew these days. Cutbacks, you know.
Monkey did really well or the first 10 minutes of us standing around and chatting but then he began to get antsy2. We decided we had made him wait long enough and finally got down to work. None of what we were asked to do was unusual, it was the same things we do every time we go, but we had to do them multiple times. For example, we walked up the stairs 3 times before we headed toward the elevators.
I had been really worried about how Monkey would handle all of this and for a few minutes I thought we had just wasted everyone’s time. He wasn’t happy, he didn’t want to do the same things multiple times…until we finally got to the first set of elevators. They asked us to ride up and down several times and Monkey approved. Heartily. That seemed to break the ice for him because after that he did exceptionally well.
He even began interacting with the videographer, Adam. He was fascinated by the camera and enjoyed helping Adam set it up and break it down between locations. Now that he was fully warmed up he even started to ham it up a bit. When we had to film the check-in process he was greeting the receptionists and asking how they were doing. When I sat down to fill out forms he asked for his own pen and paper.
The one thing that surprised me most happened when we were talking to the OT. She asked us a few questions to give an idea of how the OT visit starts and while we filmed this, he sat in a chair, by himself, and quietly played with the bristle blocks. We were floored!
Of course, the whole experience wasn’t that easy. He had plenty of moments when he whined about what we were asking him to do and after 3 hours he was D.O.N.E. We tried a break and a snack to no avail. They assured us that they had enough film of him, which was good because they were not getting one more second of snot free film. That would have fallen into the category of being too real for sure.
We were all a little stressed after we left and though we had promised Monkey a ride on he Green Line as a reward he was in no shape to collect. We all went home and had comfort foods in our PJs and I even grabbed a nap.
I’m not sure how long it will be before the video is done. Monkey pretty emphatically does not want to watch it. I agree with him but curiosity will win out in the end. I’m hoping that they really did capture enough of the reality of clinic visits with a child with fragile X. I would hate for a new family to watch this and think, “Yeah, right!” but I don’t really want them thinking, “Who let these idiots in?” either. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!
These days when people ask me how I’m doing, I tell them, “I’m fine.” That’s what we tell people who don’t really want to know and most people, they don’t want to know. They have enough going on in their own lives, they have their own hurts and worries…they don’t really want to be burdened with someone else’s.
There are a precious few people who ask, though, who really and genuinely want to know. They know I’m hurting, that my family is heading irrevocably towards even more hurt. When these people have asked how I’m doing I’ve been telling them, “I don’t know.” Which is the truth…I’m feeling so many things, some of which make me very angry with myself, all at once and at different times of the day or phases of the moon, that I don’t really know what is going on at any specific point. When I’m asked, I have to think about it. I don’t really want to think about it. I don’t want to dig too deeply into the black caverns of my mind right now because what is lurking in there feels a bit like a bottomless pit of despair.
Right now I’m focused solely on Friday. On Friday we will take our beloved Copper to the oncologist and see what there is to be done. Right now I’m holding on to the hope that Copper will be healthy enough to attempt a treatment that might give him another 6 months or a year (I don’t dare hope for more though I’ve heard stories.) Right now I’m focusing on the fact that, although I wrote it off initially, chemo may be an option for him because they treat animals differently. It’s not an all out assault aimed at remission at all costs but rather a tactical action aimed at giving us all a little bit more of the good times.
I always thought that what I wanted was for Copper to pass easily in his sleep and I do still want some version of that but having a bit of advanced warning is turning out to be a gift in its own way. We have time to prepare Caleb for the loss of his best friend. We have time to spoil him. We have time to make sure that there is not a single regret when he does pass. I’m taking him for rides in the car that don’t end at the vet, I’m taking him to the pet store even though it takes 3 times as long with him because every bag of food must be inspected. Twice. I’m feeding him as much as he wants and he gets treats every time I pass the treat jar and he’s nearby. For a beagle mix, that’s just a tiny slice of heaven right there.
So, as much as it sucks, we’re taking advantage of what we’ve been given and keeping our fingers double crossed that maybe we will get just a little bit more…
Even though I won’t let my thoughts dip too closely to that pit just yet I’m not in complete denial. Should you ever find yourself in the position of having to prepare your child for the loss of their dog, the following books have been very useful for us.
This can be used to explain death of a pet, relative or friend. It explains that death is a part of life and that, eventually, all living things reach the end of their own special lifetimes. It’s for ages 5 and up and this is where we started.
This book is for ages 4 and up. A little boy and his dog, Corky, make a promise to be together forever and it works until one day Mike comes home and Corky isn’t there.
This one we borrowed from school, it’s for ages 4-8. It’s about loving and losing your first pet. There is an epilogue “Losing a Pet” that offers some ways of coping with this loss.
We have not bought this book yet but it comes very highly recommended by some pretty smart people. It’s for ages 4 and up.
If you have had the pleasure of meeting us you know this is, perhaps, an1 understatement. Eric is the one who keeps the house running smoothly and I’m the one who comes up with all these great “ideas” that send the household into chaos. Basically, I’ve got an awesome wife2.
“Turtles?” you say. “You’ve never mentioned turtles before!”
I know, and there is a really good reason for that! These are dream turtles. I have never had turtles of any sort until last night but I love them fiercely. I love them in, maybe, unhealthy ways. I love them so deeply that this morning when Eric woke me up, I jerked away from him and gave him my back because he had killed my turtle eggs. That bastard! Once I was fully awake and realized that 1. I was now awake whereas, previously, I had been dreaming and 2. I have no turtles, all was forgiven.
Of course, poor Eric had no idea why I was so violently pissed off at him when we hadn’t even said good morning yet. We were late, very, very late, so I didn’t have time to explain it either. It wasn’t until we’d finished breakfast that I finally remembered to tell him.
“Remember this morning when you tried to cuddle with me?”
“Did I…growl…at you?”
“No, you didn’t say anything. You just rolled over.”5
“Oh, I thought I might have but you totally deserved it! You were an asshole in my dream!”
“My turtles were getting it on and then she laid eggs and you put them in a pillowcase and smashed them on the floor. You killed my turtles.”
“You killed them!”
“Fine, potential turtles and you killed them. I’m still kind of mad.”
Yeah, Eric says, “…” a lot. He really does deserve that medal…
I so desperately want to invite Monkey’s last IEP team leader to visit him at the new school. I want her to see what he is capable of. I want her to consider that perhaps they didn’t handle him1 in the best way possible. I want her to see that she still has things to learn.
I know this all sounds bitter but I’m really not, not anymore. Sure I have moments when we are celebrating a new achievement and “In your FACE!” pops into my head but mostly…mostly I want them to do better because there are other kids headed their way who could benefit if they saw what this school does. Which is insane, the two schools are part of the same district. They are .8 miles apart, a 4 minute drive, and yet they are years apart in practices.
What I wish she could see is what Eric described to me yesterday at pick-up. First, on the way out of the school, the principal said goodbye to Monkey and addressed him by name. That has not ever happened in any of our schools. The principals were out in the halls in the mornings and afternoons but they never knew us, they never knew him. For the first time we feel like we are part of the school and not on the fringes. That attitude, recognizing that WE too belong to this community, results in some pretty amazing experiences for a family like ours.
For example, when they stepped out the front door, Eric bumped into a new friend we needed to catch up with. While they stood and chatted a most amazing thing happened…Monkey approached some kids on the playground and engaged them in a game of chase. We see this sort of thing with his classmates but these were not classmates, in fact, when another child approached one of the other boys and asked him what he was doing he said, “Playing chase with this kid.” He didn’t even know Monkey.
This school does such an amazing job of including kids with special needs, and autism in particular, that the rest of the school just accepts them. It’s no big deal to play chase on the playground with a kid who screeches excitedly. He’s just another kid.
Lest you think this is an isolated incident, after they finished playing chase Monkey approached two boys who were playing volleyball over the main gate of the school. He stood and watched them, he loves to watch kids play, but they weren’t satisfied with that. They decided he was going to play too and made sure to throw the ball to him.
Such a little thing maybe, playing chase or ball on a playground, but the acceptance of Monkey with all his little quirks is so casual that it becomes a huge deal to families like ours. And it starts with the principal who decides that we belong and that learning Monkey’s name is important. It starts with teachers who buy into that idea and decide that creating acceptance of all students is just as important as math.
- or us [↩]