What’s been bothering me

Abigail: I live like a nun in a cloister, solitary, celibate — I hate it. And you, John?
John: I live like a monk in an abbey. Ditto, ditto. I hate it.
Abigail: Write to me with sentimental effusion. Let me revel in romantic illusion.
John: Do you still smell of vanilla and spring air? And is my fav’rite lover’s pillow still firm and fair?
Abigail: What was there, John, still is there, love. Come soon as you can to my cloister, I’ve forgotten the feel of your hand.
John: Soon we will walk again in Cupid’s grove together, and we’ll fondly survey that promis’d land.
Together: ‘Til then, ’til then, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be: Yours, yours, yours, yours, yours.

Early this morning I happened across a 14-year-old e-mail message from Andrea to me making playful suggestions about how to spend a June day. Later, after everyone else woke up and I was making breakfast, Andrea noticed I was acting grumpy and called me on it, but I couldn’t explain why. Later still, noticing that my mood hadn’t improved, she volunteered to take the kids out for a short while so I could have some alone time. I immediately sat down at the piano, something I’m seldom able to do while the kids are around, and began playing (to the best of my extremely limited abilities) the above song from 1776, the musical. The song dramatizes the written correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, in love but separated for long periods at a time by necessity. The final line never fails to put a lump in my throat. Only then did it finally hit me — my life with Andrea is now more like that song than it is like that playful e-mail from 1992.

Andrea and I measure our time alone together in minutes per month. They’re good minutes, but they’re too few and far between. The long and short of it is simply that I miss my wife.

We started dating in 1988, got married in 1999, and had our first son in 2002. (Hmm, another 14-year interval. Strange coincidence.) Now, our kids are wonderful — the best ever, by far. Being their dad is the greatest thing in the world, and if the price for that is spending almost no time with my wife, well, I’ll gladly pay it, but thank goodness for the 14 years we had before kids.

Dr. In and Mr. Out

Strapping the kids into the car this morning for a trip to the supermarket, Andrea commented once again on Archer’s amazing prolixity. At just 2 1/4 years old, he’s chattier than any ten grownups I know; and his utterances are fully formed thoughts, almost always organized into comprehensible sentences and, more often than not, cohesive paragraphs with a sensible, non-trivial logical flow.

Andrea’s comment to me, sotto voce, was that Archer is far ahead of where Jonah was at that age. I felt that was missing the point, apart from being impolitic, especially as Jonah has always impressed everyone with his intelligence, even as a toddler. I reframed her observation thus: Jonah was always the one taking everything in, examining the world, understanding it, recording it, drawing conclusions about it; whereas Archer is the one who lets everything out, exploring his environment more by engaging the people in it.

None of which is to imply that Jonah can’t be outgoing, or that Archer has no interior life. Far from it!

Squeamish no more

It’s a truism that if you’re squeamish, having kids will cure you of it. Thousands of diaper changes (in times of good intestinal health and otherwise), plus occasional helpings of spit-up and vomit on one’s skin and hair, in one’s clothes, and throughout one’s house do the trick quite nicely. But Tuesday night was without doubt the death knell for any remaining squeamishness I had.

Our dog, Alex, is a month shy of her 18th birthday. She suffers from a variety of age-related complaints, including arthritis, nerve damage, and occasional incontinence. She is pretty frail and sometimes needs help simply walking. We seldom leave her alone for more than a couple of hours at a time.

Tuesday night she’d been home alone for just a couple of hours when we returned from dinner. At that dinner, Jonah and I shared a “molten chocolate cake” for dessert, Jonah sitting on my lap as we ate. This was wonderful, father-son-bonding-wise, but it made eating a little awkward, and at one point a piece of cake leapt off my fork on its way to my mouth, bouncing off my shirt and pants and landing on the floor. Being “molten,” it made some big brown stains on my clothes, a portent of what was to come.

Words fail me when trying to convey, in appropriately visceral terms, what we found when we got home, so I’ll have to settle for simply stating the facts:

  • Alex pooped on the living room carpet.
  • She fell down in it and could not get back up.
  • She tried a lot.

We found her splayed on the floor in the center of a tremendous brown circle, smelling bad. Real bad. And clearly traumatized, poor girl.

All of the following then needed to happen at once:

  • Calm Alex down
  • Air her out
  • Clean her off
  • Clean the carpet
  • Keep the kids away from the mess

I got the Alex-related jobs, Andrea got the house- and kid-related ones. Alex and I went out onto the lawn for a while. She was trembling and unsteady on her feet, but after a short while and some soothing talk she was clearly feeling better. So then it was time to get her in the bathtub.

Frail and old though she is, Alex’s coat is still thick and lustrous — when it’s not caked with fecal matter, that is. I spent about a week that night restoring that coat to its rightful sheen. Poor Alex has trouble standing at the best of times, but weighed down with a coatful of water, her feet on bare porcelain, and so soon after lying helpless (and injured from her struggling, most likely) in a pile of shit for who knows how long, was a bit much to ask. So with one hand I supported her weak back legs while with the other hand I directed the handheld shower spray all over her, my third and fourth hands lathering her up with sweet-smelling shampoo. Crippling my weak lower back by doing all this while leaning over the bathtub rim was a given.

A day and a half later and Alex is beautiful again, and seems back to her usual self. I wish I could say the same for the carpet; it’s still discolored and the smell isn’t quite gone. It’s covered with a layer of towels for now. Another couple of assaults with cleaning chemicals and sessions of vigorous scrubbing over the next day or so will tell whether the carpet can be rejuvenated like Alex or whether it will have to be put to sleep.

A darnedest thing

When picking up Archer (age 2 1/4) from daycare yesterday, Andrea asked him, “Do you want to walk or do you want me to carry you?” Archer answered, “Carry me. I had a long day.”