Monday, December 24, 2012

It's Christmas Eve!!

**A disclaimer: this will be a photo dump :) I will attempt to put them in coherent order with the following (long) text, but I cannot promise anything. I can promise to try to blog more frequently (sorry, grandparents), but that promise will be empty. We're just too busy when school is in session. I'll make a good faith attempt at it though, I swear. So, without further ado, I bring you...a few more weeks of stuff...

Collin had his Christmas program at school last week. It was awesome, as always, if not a little...well, odd. Let's start with the awesome, shall we? First of all, Collin was in it, and you can't beat that, can you? Second of all, he was wearing reindeer antlers and a sweater vest. I know that the days on which we get to witness this sort of adorable wardrobe display are woefully limited, so I was in bliss. And finally, because Collin goes to a big-ish school, they have a real auditorium, which meant that every parent there got a, wait for it, seat! And, not just a seat, but a seat from which they could see their child. It was amazing. As much as miss his old California school, I do not miss the standing-room-only holiday performances (that you could only attend if you go there hours in advance of start time). We got to this performance ten minutes early and were in the third row. The third row! Huzzah!

Anyway, on to the weird. Even though Collin goes to a private school, it is Pre-K (age 3) through 12th grade. That would be a ridiculous holiday program, no? So, this was just the lower school (PK3-5th grade). The Middle School does a choral concert and the Upper School does a play.

The music teacher began the show by saying, "Today will be a little strange," and she wasn't kidding. The show consisted of five, yes FIVE, numbers by the fifth graders because they are, as the music teacher said, "the top of the heap." This would not have been so bad if each number didn't consist of multiple songs. The first number was a chime demonstration of FIVE songs, three of which she had arranged herself (the other two she followed the tradition Suzuki arrangement, so they were recognizable). It lasted approximately 25 minutes. Oy. Their second number was something called "Tinikling" which was some sort of traditional dancing/hoping over sticks. But, she had the entire fifth grade class up there, participating in an uncoreographed number, so it was really just a gaggle of awkward, almost pubescent children, wiggling until it was their turn to jump, or pretend to jump, because they were too awkward to do it with legs that were too long to wrangle into doing their bidding. Finally, they had their singing number, for which they sang two carols that no one had ever heard of, in the round, making them even further unrecognizable as songs. It was quite the spectacle.

Between numbers, she was in charge of ushering the other classes on and off stage, and providing them with their props, etc. She was quite entertaining to watch, perhaps more so than the show. She'd snatch the boxes of props from the regular teachers when they were 90% done handing them out, and finish it in what was evidently "her way," which to us lay people, looked exactly the same. She'd flit about, "checking things," that looked like nothing, but held up the start of each number by endless minutes, turning an hour long program into quite an epic-lengthed show.

For the first half of the show or so, I thought it was just Bryon and I that noticed this music teacher gone mad with power and control, but as we looked around, it was quite clear that everyone thought it odd, and even the director of the school was looking at her like she was insane, and looking at the kids on stage with mixed feelings, as if she were proud of them for working so hard to perform, but discouraged that they were being showcased like this. It was a look that is quite difficult to describe. But, when the director of the school is caught, repeatedly checking her phone, it might be a sign that your show has lost its luster, and is running too long, as this woman is not one to find the children boring.

It was quite the eye-opener as to why Collin says music is his least favorite extra class. He goes to music, art, foreign language, library, computer and p.e. Obviously, he loves p.e., but he adores Spanish and art, and on some days, his favorite is whichever he went to that day. However, it's never music, because as he says, "she makes me sing."

Collin performed quite well, however. And, he didn't make a big goof of himself, that is, until he realized that he could knock his antlers onto his face like sunglasses. Then, it was all over.

He got pretty excited by that idea, and what you don't see, is that when he returned to his seat, he was so wound up, that he bit his own coat off his seat and threw it around like a dog with a bone. It was quite ridiculous. By chance, our seats were in the row directly across the aisle from the Kindergarten row, so we had to watch helplessly as our child acted like a rabid dog, and then be disciplined by his teacher.

So, enough about the program, and onto the more pressing news: it's Christmas Eve!! I can't be more excited about this. I used to love Christmas when I was little, but having Collin has made me love it more than I ever did as a child, I'm sure of it. There is no day of the year that is more fun for me than Christmas; I get to see him light up with  pure joy and energy (not that he has a shortage of energy any other day). This morning he knocked on our door, dark and early, and said, "I can't go back to sleep," in an adorable and meek little voice. Me neither kiddo, me neither! I'd been"up" for hours. So, I sprang out of bed and ran to his room with him, shouting, "IT'S CHRISTMAS EVE!!!" and we got up and played.

Collin's had a busy week at home, and at school prior to today, of course. He's made gingerbread houses (both there and at home).

At school, even though his class only has eleven students, I was reminded yet again, why I don't teach kindergarten. Oy, the noise, the mess, the chaos. It was so much fun! But, as I left, it occurred to me that it was only 10 am. His teachers had to deal with those kids, those insanely wound up kids, for the rest of the day! They don't get paid enough. Whatever they are being paid, it isn't enough.

He was equally enthralled with the home-constructed house. At home, he wasn't limited to three pieces of candy (well, not until after he'd eaten almost all the candy anyway). 

We took our Christmas tree picture yesterday. It was a bit of a bummer, but happy, nonetheless. We thought we might replace the tradition of taking it in front of the Disneyland tree with going to the National Mall and taking it in front of the White House Tree, but it is so freaking cold, that we decided against it. In truth, pure laziness won out yesterday.

We have been enjoying just bumming around in our sweats and pajamas, and doing next to nothing most days of this vacation. When the idea of actually getting dressed, driving the metro, and then walking in the freezing cold was presented, it seemed like an awfully big commitment. So, we opted to attempt a photo in front of our own tree, and try to include the animals. This turned out to be a feat in and of itself.

Homer would concede to sitting on the couch, but would not, under any circumstances, be persuaded to look in our direction, so long as the dog was involved. Daphne would not, under any amount of coaxing, be persuaded to sit or lay down in front of us, near the tree. She would, however, lay on the couch, with much prompting and with many treats, an absurdity in itself, as she sleeps there all the time. I think she was so interested in why she couldn't be prancing about, that she didn't want to be there just then. Getting her to lay there was half the battle, getting her to look at the camera, or even toward it, and be remotely still was yet another battle. While she is enormous, it is easy for most people to forget, she is still very, very much a puppy.

Case in point: Daphne, acting very much like a ridiculous puppy. 

Try getting a puppy to sit still when they aren't sleeping. I tried putting a Santa hat on her. Forget about that. That was crazy talk. Oh, and for those inquiring minds, my puppy weighs over 102 pounds now (she weighed 102 at the vet last week, and she gains every day--literally, every day, at this age).

She's so heavy now, that when she sits in the car, she sets off the seatbelt alarm, and initiates the airbag sensor, as she is heavy enough to indicate an "adult" passenger is sitting in the front seat.

Our beast: refusing to ride in the back seat (insisting on being ALL the way in the front), and being foiled by what she perceives as a huge jump from the floor to the bed.

Alas, these are the best two shots we have. Somehow, we lost Collin's Jack sweatshirt. It was devastating to discover this yesterday. We tore the house apart looking for it. All I can think of is that we left it in California, the last time we were there.

I haven't seen it in a while, but we haven't needed it, or worn it in a while either. So, he wore my t-shirt. Time to replace it, I guess! It was starting to fit him anyway! It's still crazy to think of how big it was the first year that he wore it. What a silly tradition, right? But that's what traditions are all about, your family, and your silliness. It's definitely our silliness.

Overall, we've been doing the normal stuff: putting up decorations, and the like. This was the day I took the GRE (patooey) for the second time, and that we put up our tree and decorations.

Collin learned that he can climb trees, quite effectively.

And, he saw Santa Claus. He told him a joke, and Santa gave him a hat, which he wore all day, including through the movie, Rise of the Guardians, that we saw that afternoon.

Oh, and he met Belle. It wasn't at Disneyland (boo), but we went to a play. A real play! I was nervous, because it was his first one, but he did great. I was a little afraid that he would be bored because it was Beauty and the Beast, not exactly a "boy" play. He was so enthralled that I don't think you could have dragged him out of there. He's in love with Belle, of course, and thinks she's the most beautiful girl in the world (after me, obviously).

He looks a little bit like a stud here, no? 

Today, we are making some felt snowmen, and some Star Wars and Christmas cookies for Santa. And, we are finally cleaning some bathrooms that are in desperate need of a wipe down. That's our big day. Oh, and we are staring at the clock and waiting for bedtime, so we can put out presents and get very, very excited!

Well, some of us remain confused by life. Mainly, Daphne, who wants to know what that beeping is that comes from the camera.

It seems to happen every time I put it in front of me to take a picture. Strangely enough, there's either a blur of gray in most pictures lately, or this confused dog staring at the lens, waiting for a beep. Silly girl.  She's getting a stocking tonight too. Santa Paws will be visiting her and Homer and bringing lots of treats. What a fun day!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We Continue to Exist

Not only have we been absurdly busy, but our camera has been intermittently broken; so, forgive me for not updating the "world" on the happenings of the McClain Clan.

For example: The Fourth of the July--yeah, we had that here too. It was normal; well, except Collin had to do sparklers one-handed. 

Oh, and family (almost all of you) has visited. Collin summarily displayed his typical personality on all accounts. 

Here's the gist of updates: I got hired at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD right about the same time that we enrolled Collin in Fredericksburg Academy. This is not an ideal situation, because the days I teach, I commute an insane amount. Okay, insane doesn't even come close to describing it. But, we are managing it. Oh, and teaching freshmen and "remedial" freshmen. Oy. It's a lot of work. I like it, but it's a lot, lot, lot of work. The boy loves his school, and to me, that makes the whole thing worth it, commute and all. 

Perhaps the most important (fun) thing that happened in the past few months was the Maryland Ren Faire. Whoa, Nellie was this a HUGE Renaissance Faire. The park is built to accommodate it, and it was a beautiful day. Collin rode a pony; get this, for free! The pony rides were free! Maybe this is normal everywhere, but I'm used to paying extra for everything at a place like this. I'm surprised when they don't charge for toilet paper at the port-a-potties. So, when it was free pony rides, I couldn't throw him on that beast fast enough. Apparently, there is a 3 ride limit for the day. Whatever. Once was enough for him, but he had a great time. 

Other than that, the dog is still doing great. She has her moments of "STOP ACTING LIKE A PUPPY!"But, she's actually pretty wonderful. She lives up to her "Great Dane" reputation most of the time. She's fiercely loyal to us already; she's incredibly lazy (most of the time--unless she's spazzing out and attempting to eat the entire house, literally). She's also giant. When I finally got around to uploading the miscellaneous broken pictures from the camera, it was like looking at a different dog. I don't realize how huge she is until I see how much she's grown. Sure, every man, woman and child that sees her says, "whoa, is that a horse?" or, "what kind of dog is that? It's huge!" but, to me, she's just goofy ol' Daphne. It's remarkable when I see how little she was. 

This is a ridiculous picture of Bryon, but an adorable picture of Daphne. When we first got her, she looked like this. 

Now, she is this big. Turnabout is fair play in this house, so I present you with an equally unflattering picture of me (note the absurd hat--my head was cold). But, you get the idea of how damn tall she is. Fear not, we were playing tag; she wasn't about to eat me. 

Or, for a closer look, the look I think is more impressive, she has a giant head. Oh, and she has an equally giant tongue. 

I found this picture towards the end of the memory card (where Bryon was testing the camera) and thought, why is there a picture of the family room? Then I looked closer and couldn't stop giggling. Too cute, right? Big girl. 

Overall, she has become a happy part of the family. While poor Eddie was never, ever allowed on the furniture, except for our bed, Daphne has flat-out rejected that rule. She's too big to argue with about that, so she has adopted her own spot on the couches (namely, as close as she can get to me without crushing my lungs). She's been known to sit on my lap, or across my legs. Danes prefer to be touching you at all times. It's charming until they have a bad dream and insist on sharing a Queen bed with two people. Anyway, they are cute when they are sharing a big couch with the family. 

Nothing too exciting has happened (thankfully) since the "incident" involving a bowl. Bryon is still working a lot, and now I'm working and, we balance our schedules. I just finished submitting all my doctoral applications. The whole process was probably the most disheartening thing I've ever done. Not a single person I dealt with gave me an encouraging word, or suggested that I had the slightest chance of getting into any school, anywhere on the planet. Apparently, getting into a doctoral program in literature is like getting a spot on the space shuttle. Who knew? Nothing makes you feel like a failure quite like applying to something for which everyone tells you that you have no shot at. Suddenly, all your major accomplishments, which formerly felt so illustrious, feel totally shoddy and shallow. Anyway, I applied to three schools and if I'm lucky, I'll get into one. One. We'll see. Cross your fingers for me. My goal is to be called Dr McClain before Bryon is called General McClain. I want to screw with the protocol office when we get to that point. I've decided that I will pitch a fit if they address us as General and Mrs. Great life goal, right? Don't worry, I came up with something much more eloquent for my admissions essays!  

So, forgive the randomness of the shots, but here's our life, more or less, over the last few months. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Collin's Big Change

Since we hadn't arrived in D.C. yet, Bryon had to select the school Collin would attend without any help. He took all the parameters that we discussed, and did a pretty good job. Unfortunately, there are a very, very limited number of Montessori options in our area. The traffic patterns around here are comparable, if not worse to L.A., so, while there may be another Montessori, say in Manassas, it is almost inaccessible to us, because the afternoon commute (or the morning, in the other direction) would be impossible. This turned out to be a moot point anyway, as none of the other Montessori "options" were feasible for other reasons (more on that later).

Anyway, as last year progressed, I couldn't shake the feeling that while we at a Montessori school, a philosophy and education that I've been nothing but happy with, I was not happy with this school, and furthermore, that this school was not living up to the reputation of the Montessori way. My gut reaction on the first day was hard to shake, and I tried to suppress it and give the school a fair shake, but the school continuously disappointed me.

Firstly, the school was a filthy disaster. Montessori prides itself on cleanliness and organization, and in teaching these skills to children as a way of ordering their environment, themselves and teaching them to hardware patterns for learning. This place didn't seem to follow the basic fundamentals of this part of the philosophy. Sure, their room was set up in the same core areas, like most Montessori rooms (practical life, sensorial, etc), but the carpet was dirty, the shelves were cluttered, the walls were too busy with too many posters, etc. This seems like a minor complaint for a preschool, but when you walk into a standard Montessori room, the very last thing you think is, "gee, this place looks cluttered." In fact, if you aren't used to it, or you don't understand how it works, or haven't seen it in action, you think, "do the kids have enough to look at, or enough to do?"

Furthermore, aside from disarray, they never had any soap in the bathroom and the plumbing was broken. The boys room had a urinal and three stalls. The boys loved using the urinal because of the novelty of it, and because it was nice and low. This would be fantastic, if the urinal flushed. Instead, it filled to the brim with urine every day, and didn't flush. I have no idea how they emptied it every night (a bucket, a plunger?). But, I tried flushing it once, in disgust, and it didn't work. Collin told me as much as well. Since there was no soap in the bathroom, I find a urine filled urinal, coupled with the stall  next door, which Collin called, "the dirty one," abhorrent.

The school used chopped up, recycled tires as mulch in their playground. I don't have a particular problem with this, other than the fact that they are absolutely filthy. Kids get dirty. I get that. But, run your hand over your tire sometime and see what happens. Imagine your kid rolling around in a pile of that for a couple of hours every day, caked in sweat, sometimes with a runny nose, and then being unable to wash his hands because he doesn't have any soap. Oh, and then he has to eat lunch like that, with his hands near his mouth, eyes and nose. He came home so filthy, that I often had to take him directly to the bathtub before he could play. It is my belief that a good preschool teaches some fundamental life skills like how to wash hands, how to recognize when personal appearance is awry, and how to wipe one's nose in a tissue, for example. When 30 kids are covered in head-to-toe soot, why aren't teachers working to help them learn to clean themselves?

Some of this I could get over if he didn't come home injured and humiliated, more than once. On his first day of school, he came home and said that girls cornered him on the play structure and stood on his head, telling him that no boys are allowed on there. From his recounting of the incident, it sounded like it went on for an extended period of time. I couldn't believe that a grown up didn't intervene, and let it go on for so long. I called the school immediately, and I was told that a playground supervisor did intervene but that kids will be kids and that it was just a game. I wasn't comfortable, but was willing to concede that you always have to take a five year-old's story with a grain of salt, and just advocate on your child's behalf, and hope for the best.

Two days later, he told me that a few teachers and aides kept checking his pants all day, accusing him of having had an accident. He hasn't had an accident in three years. Of course, they don't know that, nor would they have any reason to, or any reason to believe me, should I tell them so. He was embarrassed, and the children called him "baby," all day because of it. Apparently, he had gone to use the restroom and found a large piece of poop on the floor. He reported it to a teacher, who accused him of having done it himself. Not believing him when he refused to admit it, they continuously checked his pants all day long for evidence of that accident, or further ones.

Throughout the year, there were countless "little" things that upset me. He came home with a large bite on his shoulder that no one at school knew anything about. I showed them the next day, and instead of being concerned about having been ignorant of such an injury that occurred during school time, or that my kid got hurt, they scolded Collin for not telling them. He came home sunburned after water fun day, despite having sun block, and a form on record instructing the school to administer it. He was so burned that it took all weekend for it to cool down. That same day, they lost his clothes between changing from his bathing suit back into his school clothes, and they had to use his "spare" clothes, which were a pair of long pants (in 100-degree heat). I found him sunburned, drenched in sweat, playing outside in long pants. No one thought anything was wrong with this, and they were quite put out that I forced them to help me find the clothes.

As the first day of school approached, I kept getting a panicked feeling him my heart, that I was putting him back in a school that wasn't right for him. He was progressing in his academics and he was still reading and writing well at or beyond his age-level. He was even doing double-digit math. But, I didn't feel comfortable there. I had to do something about it. But, we already put our deposit down for the following year, which put us in a pickle. Their contract says that if you withdraw your child at any point during the year, you are responsible for the entire year's tuition. Still, I was losing sleep about it. I kept picturing that pit in my stomach that I felt every time I dropped him off.

Then, I saw a little girl at his summer swimming class wearing a Creme de la Creme uniform. That kicked it off. Creme is a school about a mile from our house. On a whim, I called them and we went and checked it out THAT afternoon. They were amazing. They had a water slide, multiple playgrounds and the place looked like Disneyland inside. Included in tuition was two hot meals a day, and aftercare. It was more than impressive. I made them go over every inch of their curriculum, showing me every book and workbook they use for the kindergarten program. While the place was amazing, Collin was already capable of completing the work at their school. He was too advanced for their program. But, now that I'd started looking in earnest, I felt compelled to continue.

I looked for Montessori first. No one bothered to contact me in return, or they were full. So, we had to come to terms with the fact that it was a real possibility that we were going to have to break up with Montessori before we had intended. (As a side note, the public school here is terrible. Their test scores are awful. And, not that I make a sweeping judgment based on this fact alone, but there is a high rate of students on free lunch. As much as I value diversity, I think it should be just that, diverse. The population of C's elementary is only 6% white. That's not diverse). Anyway, thinking outside the Montessori box, and outside the public school box left us with two options, religious schools or private parochial schools. Religious schools (aka Catholic, for the most part) don't take too kindly to atheist applicants (regardless of their stance of "all are welcome here") and, let's face it, parochial private schools are damn expensive.

The search began. It continued. It was exhausting. There are virtually no private parochial schools in Woodbridge. There are virtually none in Dumfries, Manassas, or the surrounding area. There were two promising ones, both about a 30-35 minute commute, in opposite directions, but they were very different from one another. One had a very strict reputation and a strong arts and classics background (think Plato and Shakespeare) and the other was a more traditional private school, with a "normal" education. The more I read about the first school, the more Bryon and I were terrified that it wasn't a good fit for Collin. Collin, as we all know is a bit of a free spirit. A school that gives out demerits for a child talking while waiting in line at lunch doesn't sound like a place that Collin belongs. Collin belongs at a place where he is forced to work hard and learn, but where he learns from mistakes and feels loved in spite of them. The fact that the first school was about 3K more a year was also a chink in its armor.

Seeing the second school, Fredericksburg Academy sold us. It is a large campus, with three main areas, the Lower School, Middle School and Upper School. It has grades PK3-12, so if we were wildly fortunate (or unfortunate, if Bryon's career suddenly took a nosedive) Collin could go there until he graduated. This would be highly unlikely. My dream would be that he goes through 3rd Grade. They had an application process, in which he had to take an admissions test, which was a little terrifying for all of us (except Collin, who didn't realize he was taking a test--we just told him that a nice lady was going to play with him for a while, but if he acted crazy, and not like the big boy that we know he is, she might think he's a little too young for kindergarten and might want him to stay in preschool). We were a little worried he'd be a little too "Collin," and they'd want to put him in Pre-K. Phew, he charmed them and they thought he was brilliant.

The school has exceeded our wildest expectations from the get-go. The kindergarten teachers showed me their entire curriculum and it's perfect for Collin. He's in a class of ten, that's right ten, students. And, he has two, yes TWO teachers. So, that's a ratio of 5:1. Can't beat that, can you? He gets foreign language instruction, music and PE twice a week, in real classrooms (like a full gym). He gets art once a week in a full art studio. They even have pottery wheels, which is super cool. The lower elementary has their own library and computer lab that they use regularly, and he can check out as many books as he wants. The campus has multiple sports fields and playgrounds and he loves it.

Immediately, we've been kept in the loop about every possible thing that has gone on. His teachers are amazing. We have contact information, home phone numbers and email addresses, and three people, who I barely met when we went on our walk-through, found us on our first day just to ask how it went. I can count on one hand how many times anyone at Collin's old school even bothered to speak to us, outside of the obligatory "good morning," nod. The PFA has already invited us to socials and picnics, and we feel like we are part of the Falcon family. I cannot be happier with our choice. Every time we go there, I feel more and more confident in our decision.

Collin came home from his first full day yesterday more full of stories than he did all year last year. He remembered his friends' names (something he never did last year), and everything he did all day. He recounted so many fun memories and activities, that I could hardly keep up. He was so happy that I wish I would have switched him sooner, despite the money. Thankfully, his old school agreed to release us from our contract, after I pointed out that their contract says the word "during" the school year. Since Collin didn't start the year, I didn't see how we were obligated to any of the tuition.

This school has only one drawback (if you don't count the tuition--which I'd gladly open a vein for, if I had to). It's far away. It's in Fredericksburg, and we live in Woodbridge. It's roughly 40 miles south of us. Since it's all freeway, this a blessing and a curse. It has consistently taken me between 30 and 35 minutes to get there, so far. Yesterday, it took me an hour, in the afternoon; but, there were two accidents on the road, so I think that was an anomaly. That was the first time I'd gone at pickup time, so we are still playing with the "how long does it take," scenarios. I start my job in Maryland in a few weeks, and the worst part of this whole thing will be picking him up from Maryland on the days that I have to work. He gets out at 3:10, and I get out at 1:55. Clearly, I won't make it. He goes to their aftercare program those days, and I sit in the car. Small sacrifice, I think, until I either find a job closer to home or to Fredericksburg. If he comes home that happy, and he's getting a good education, I'll sit in the car for a week if I have to. Time to download some audiobook apps!

So, that's the short of it. I know it was long, but it's the short version, trust me. We did site visits, interviews, curriculum reviews, more phone calls than I can count, and had more conversations that lasted well into the night than I can even remember. It was a long and painful process and I'm glad it's over. I'm even more glad that it's resolved happily. All I kept saying was that I want to feel like I'm dropping him off somewhere that he's safe, happy and getting all that he can out of school. I want more for him, just more. Now that I can work, we're able to give that to him and I'm so pleased for it. He deserves the world because he's the best little boy in the world.

So, this is our boy's first day at his new school. He was a happy camper, despite his continuing reluctance to sing. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A "Pup"-Date

Eddie's death left a giant hole in our family. For a family whose known and loved a dog, there's nothing like a dog greeting you at the door, licking your face, and snuggling against your legs while you read and work. While we all knew that there was no new dog that could replace Eddie, it was quickly obvious that a house without a dog was a house that we could not live in.

I'd always wanted a Great Dane, and offhandedly had said that one of these days, long into the future, when Eddie was no longer with us, I'd like to have one. I never realized that he would be gone so soon.  Talking Bryon into a Dane, and a Dane so soon was not especially easy. He likes big dogs too, but not pony-sized dogs. He was grieving for Eddie in a different way than I was, and was content to simply miss him for a time. But even he agreed that he couldn't bear the moment when he came home from work every night, knowing that Eddie wasn't here anymore. Once he realized that I was living that moment every second of the day because I'm home all day, I think it made a little more sense to him that I wasn't trying to replace Eddie, just change the situation. As for convincing him that a Dane was the way to go, well eh, I just figured he'd fall in love with her when she got here. Who doesn't love a puppy?

Great Danes are notoriously loyal and friendly, despite their giant size. They are lazy, docile and sweet and are excellent with both children and other pets. They are often called giant couch potatoes. As puppies, they sleep between 20-22 hours a day and grow at an almost alarming rate to reach their adult weight of 135-170 lbs (females). They ultimately stand between 30-34" tall at the shoulder. I didn't rush into this decision lightly. I read more about Great Danes than I could possibly tell you before I started looking for breeders, and the size didn't deter me one bit. It seemed a selling point. I couldn't imagine anything more pleasant than a giant cuddly dog. The only drawback to the size of a Dane, other than the obvious (giant poop, drool, etc) is that the larger the breed, the shorter the lifespan. In other words, our new dog won't be with us as long as say, a lab.

Anyway, with the decision to proceed in hand, it came to finding a breeder. This is where Bryon was dead set opposed because he feels that selective breeding has far to many negative implications, and I tend to agree, but I shut that part of my brain off and forged ahead to find our new family member. Not surprisingly, it was a bit of a challenge to find a reputable Great Dane breeder in our area. There are plenty of people who have a handful of puppies in the living room because they have a Dane and their buddy down the street has one, so they made a match. Seems like a good idea until you realize that they didn't do all the legwork to check for genetic abnormalities down the line and what crossing the Dame and the Stud might mean for the litter. That's where professional breeders come in. When you are paying upwards of thousands of dollars for a dog, it's not a place to cut corners.

I found a few breeders in the area and not many of them had puppies available. A few had litters coming soon but most of the puppies were already promised to "show homes." Because pure bred dogs are mostly used in dog shows, homes and families that plan to raise the dogs to show and compete get priority. Homes that are pet homes get what's left once show homes have picked over the litter and rejected puppies based on imperfections.

This is the breeders photo. She looked like this about three days before I came to see her. 

There was a litter in Potomac, Maryland that had one female Grey left. I didn't particularly like her as a breeder and I didn't love her facility but once you meet a puppy, I challenge you to leave without it. The puppy was clean and the pedigree was good. I actually did research the pedigree before I went to her house, so I knew I was looking at a puppy that would likely be as good a bet as any, so long as she looked healthy.

So, without much further ado, this is Daphne. I wanted to name her something to do with Virginia or Woodbridge, or even D.C. but Collin and Daddy overruled me and named her Daphne after Scooby Doo, insisting that she's pretty, like Daphne. I can't help but agree. She's left over because she's got a white patch on her chest and two small white spots on the backs of her front feet. Thus, she's not a perfect specimen of the "blue" Dane. She is still AKC registered and a pure bred dane, but we can't show her. Darn. Drat.

She's perfectly wonderful. She's a pain in the ass. And, she's adorable. She's nearly housebroken, which has been fun (not) and she's very interested in eating pretty much everything in the house, including Legos, the cat and the furniture. I've never had a puppy before, so all this exuberance is new to me. The fun part is that she's full of zip and vigor for about an hour and then she's out for four. It's quite something to see. She can't quite make it up to the bed yet without being lifted, but she can get up on the couches and can easily reach your plate, and has stolen meals, knocked over glasses and ruined breakfasts with her big sloppy tongue.

She's made friends with Homer, who has been thoroughly enjoying getting thrice-daily (sometimes more) baths from her (no, seriously, Homer loves it). Seeing them play is really incredible. Homer is clearly the boss of this increasingly giant dog, and not only does Daphne know it, she plays so incredibly gently with him. She has such giant paws, yet she places them so gingerly on Homer that it's really adorable to watch.

She's grown, by my estimation about 10 lbs since we first got her, but we'll find out this week when we take her for her next round of shots. She was 28 lbs at her first vet visit but she was 34 the following week. No kidding. Bryon says he can't see a change in her since the first day we brought her home, but she's becoming a beast.

Her adult Dane face is starting to mature and she's staring to look more and more like a dog with big, long legs. Still, her puppy mannerisms are all there and watching her fall all over herself never gets old, even if she does it at puppy class.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Incident

As I'm sure most of you are aware, the worst day of our lives occurred last weekend. Collin has a penchant for saying things like, "this is the worst day ever," or "this is the worst part of this day," every single time he's annoyed over say, not getting a popsicle, or the wind rustling his hair askew. In other words, he says it all the freaking time. It's pretty annoying, especially when he says it after a day at Disneyland when he's been spoiled endlessly and he says it because he didn't get to watch a movie in bed, or some other nonsensical reason; but, I digress. This really was the worst day ever.

You see, we were all settling in to watch a movie together and Collin decided that we should all share some cookies. Really, he thought that I'd be more apt to allow him to have some if he brought me a few as well. So, he went to the kitchen, got out two bowls and a sleeve of Girl Scout Thin Mints and trotted back to the family room. Our family room is carpeted, but our kitchen is hardwood, and the family room is one step down from the kitchen; all of these things are apparently hazardous if you are wearing socks, and you are five years old.

He slipped, dropped the bowls, which both broke, and then fell on top of the shards. Hearing the commotion, Bryon immediately scolded him for running in the house (which he wasn't--just ask Collin!) before he realized that he'd been hurt (i.e. in the millisecond before he squealed). It's funny how when your children are hurt, really, really hurt, time suddenly speeds up and slows down all at the same time.

From the time we heard him suck breath and let out a squeal, I don't remember how Collin got to the counter or even seeing him move. The next thing I heard was Bryon yelling to me to call 911. I've never called 911 before, and I really hope never to do it again. I am actually pretty proud of how calm I was on the phone and how well I followed directions, considering that I was pretty sure my son severed an artery, otherwise my very calm husband never would've suggested such a drastic measure. The operator told me to gather his medications (thankfully, I did, because when the EMTs asked me what he takes, he might as well have asked me who is in charge of Zimbabwe. My brain had shut down to all but survival mode).

The ambulance and fire truck was there within five minutes (probably less). They barely pulled back the amazing wrap and compression that Bryon did before rushing him out to the ambulance. Bryon did a really good job stabilizing the bleeding, so he was safe on the way to the hospital, which was comforting. The EMTs felt that he wasn't in immediate danger from blood loss, so Collin was slightly disappointed that they didn't turn on the siren, but they did realize that it was a big, big deal and tried very hard to rush the triage nurse into putting him to the top of the list.

Unfortunately, because his bleeding was controlled, the triage desk assumed we were over-reacting parents who called 911 for no real reason, and ignored us for quite some time before putting us in the fast-track treatment waiting room (yeah, right...the kid had a tendon hanging out of his arm!). We waited for over an hour before getting a room. The first NP that game in about fainted when she pulled back the bandage. She ran out of the room like someone was chasing her, picked up the phone and we could hear her basically shouting that she needed everyone, anyone, to come NOW.

A few minutes later, another NP came in with the attitude that the first NP was overreacting, and that she would probably be able to handle it. Of course, she was wrong. For anyone counting, that's twice now that Collin's had a dry bandage ripped off a giant gaping wound, and he's had quite enough of it. He was hysterical by this point because the wound was about 2 inches across the horizontal part of his wrist, then about two inches down his arm and then turned about another 2 inches down the other way, making a sort of backwards "C." The skin in the "C" was totally pulled back into a large flap and the large tendon closest to his skin was totally severed and hanging in loose piece outside of his hand. Pulling the bandage off was incredibly painful to him, and no one had given him anything for pain yet.

Finally, someone called a doctor who came quickly with about three attending physicians, who ALL felt they needed to look at the wound, and also pulled off the bandage. She rattled off a lot of jargon about severed this, severed that, lateral blah-blah-blah, but never spoke to me. She said he could have morphine, but it was hours before anyone brought it to him. So long as no one touched his wound, he was essentially "comfortable." He whined, whimpered and such, but he also chatted and dozed. Eventually, he got the morphine and instead of putting him to sleep, he become very animated and talkative.

Eventually, the nurse came in and told us that he was beyond stitches (duh) but that the surgeon on call at the hospital that we were at didn't feel comfortable operating on such a complicated wound, especially on a child, so they were transferring us to Fairfax where a pediatric surgeon was going to meet us. Collin was pleased because it meant our second ambulance ride of the day. I was terrified and happy at the same time. My little baby boy was getting emergency surgery but he was getting the best care possible.

Fairfax was about a 40 minute ambulance ride, and chatty-morphine-boy enjoyed every second of it. When we got to Fairfax, they met us at the door and within minutes a doctor was in the room with us, aided by a play-assistant, a person that works at the hospital for the sole purpose of entertaining children who are scared at the hospital. She sat on his bed and played Star Wars with him, let him push her with the force and read to him while the surgeon pulled the bandaging off one last time to get a good look. She explained everything to us in real, understandable terms and she was incredibly reassuring and she made sure he got immediate pain control.

He was up to the OR within thirty minutes of arrival. There's no way to describe what it feels like to watch your boy get groggy as he goes into surgery, during which he might lose the use of his right hand. Through the course of the day, I didn't allow myself to think, really think of what was happening until he'd been in surgery for well over an hour. That's when all the "what if's" started to push through my imagination, and I couldn't control my stress, or my body. I started pacing and couldn't sit down until Dr. Root (his surgeon) came out to get me. Once I saw her smile, I felt completely better. Bryon had to go home for a bit to let the puppy out (more on that later!), but he was back only moments later.

Overall, he was in surgery for about two hours, which was pretty good. Dr. Root had warned us that he could be in surgery for as little as an hour, or as long as all night depending on what she found when she went in there. Thankfully, the major tendon that was damaged was what she called a "superficial" tendon, which means that while it's large, it is not terribly useful for motor function. Sure, it's nice to have, but when people need tendon repair in their elbow, for example, they often use that wrist tendon because it is a bit superfluous. Regardless, she was able to repair it, and it's in tact now. We couldn't see  it when it was so bloody, but he'd also damaged another tendon that she was able to mostly repair. She says that he will likely have limited use of the lower knuckle of ring finger, but that's pretty amazing. She'd never seen a wound that large with such minimal damage. He'd opened up the area of his arm where, other than his artery, there are major nerves that would have severely impacted the future function of his hand. The anesthesiologist just kept saying, "wow."

He took about an hour to come out of anesthesia, which was a little stressful because when he'd had his tonsils out, he woke up hysterical. This time, he was quite calm and even funny. The minute that he opened his eyes, I told him he looked like a robot because he was hooked up to so many wires, and he did a little robot dance with his arms and said, "I am a robot" in a crackly voice, which delighted the graveyard shift to no end. He remembers none of this, of course.

He's in a cast now that goes up to his shoulder because Dr. Root doesn't want him to be able to move his arm or his hand while the tendons repair. The major tendon that he damaged runs past his elbow, so bending his elbow would risk the healing process and his fingers need to rest so his wrist heals. He was in a heavier, softer cast for a few days, but it unravelled quickly and she replaced it with the hard one sooner than she'd planned. He likes his hard cast much better than the old one, and so do I. It's lighter and easer to manipulate and he doesn't need his sling nearly as much as he did before (not that he wore it anyway!). He will be in this cast for three full weeks and then, he should be fine.

I saw the wound when they changed casts and it looks amazing compared to what it looked like before. I could only see the vertical portion of the stitching because Dr. Root was diligently holding his wrist bent so that he wouldn't move. But, it looked clean and already remarkably healed. For all those who have been curiously asking how many stitches he ended up with, Dr. Root said she'd never even counted because it was a little ridiculous to do so. There were a few too many too count! So many on the tendons themselves, then internal, then on the outside too. She pretty much said that in a "how many stitches have you had contest," he'd win.

Now, it's just a matter of waiting for the cast to come off, rescheduling swimming lessons (duh), and hoping he doesn't bash the heck out of anything with the big, heavy thing. By the way, did you know that casts are scratchy? And, I'm referring to the outside of them. His hugs hurt now because his arm is so abrasive! Oh, and we are practicing the art of "not getting the cast wet."

Anyway, that's the story of the worst day of our lives so far.

He's back to his usual self, including a big ol' bruise on his face from fort building today. I've never been a nervous mother, hovering over him when he runs, jumps or plays, but I've suddenly become a lot more terrified. I need to stop that, I know. It's just that I've suddenly realized that the world is capable of damaging him.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Goodbye to our Good Boy

As I'm sure everyone is well aware, we had a rough week last week. Eddie, our wonderful and faithful companion, finally let us know that it was time to let him go.

He got sick about six months ago with Cushing's Disease, which is a relatively treatable condition affecting his adrenal gland. He's been on medication for quite some time for that, but he never really responded well to it. Shortly before our trip to California, it seemed to get significantly worse, despite the fact that all his lab work measuring that specific condition (which we check regularly) indicated he should be fine. So, I took him in for a once over at the vet. She did some blood work that wasn't Cushing's specific and an overall exam. She called while we were in California to let us know that Eddie had Leukemia, in addition to the Cushing's.

This was devastating news, of course. Leukemia in a dog is terminal in nearly all cases. In an acute case, like Eddie's, it comes on quickly and within weeks to about a month, the dog succumbs (sometimes, Leukemia can come on more slowly, and develop over a period of months, but it is still ultimate terminal, but this isn't what happened to Eddie). There is chemotherapy for dogs, but in acute cases, if it works, and that's a big IF, because it only works about 30 percent of the time, the dog's survival rate is only increased about 1-2 months beyond what was originally expected.

So, we had to balance the risks/costs/quality of life scenario and decided to just let nature take it's course. We got home on Sunday night and by the following Monday, we had to put Eddie down. I took him to the vet to have her check in on him and determine how long we might need, but his health had been steadily declining. He wasn't able to walk far, as in no further than up or down the hallway, without getting exhausted. And he was drinking 6-8 bowls of water a day. He was having trouble breathing and he was exhausted.

The vet explained that his organs were dehydrated from the cancer and he was having trouble breathing because his blood was becoming thickened from the size and number of the cancer cells, which were now outnumbering healthy cells, making his blood too thick to pump through his heart. She heard fluid around his heart now, and explained that it was time. While he wasn't acting as if he was in pain, merely tired, she said that he was suffering significantly, and it was time to say goodbye. Right on target, from the time he started acting sick, to the time he was succumbing to his illness, it was less than a month.

I called Bryon and told him that he'd better come home from work early, and we went to the vet as a family that evening, and we all sat with him as he left us. He was quite calm, and Bryon and I never stopped petting him for a second. They gave him a sedative before they put him down, which made him very calm, which he was already, but it also made him lose a little control of his tongue, which he was trying desperately to use to lick us in appreciation for all the attention. So, his last act was an attempt at kisses, which was both sweet and a little sad, because he couldn't control his tongue enough to put it back in his mouth, so it kept sticking to the floor. He seemed happy because it kept making us giggle through the tears. Every time we'd help him, and put it back in his mouth, he'd try to kiss us again, and it would flop back to the floor. Silly Eddie with his constant kisses. He was a lick monster, right up until the end.

And then, before we knew it, he was gone. The vet was wonderful and let us stay with him for as long as we wanted. I didn't want to ever leave. I laid with him for a long time and just held him and scratched him and we cried for a long time. She even came back in, just to hug us. Being a vet must be a wonderful and terrible job, all at the same time.

Collin asked to be there, and I was a little nervous about it, but he's never known a day of his life without Eddie and I decided to let him come. I can still remember how the crib rail on Collin's crib was all scratched up from Eddie standing on his hind legs to peer in at him all the time. Or, how Eddie always knew when Collin was about to wake up when he was an infant; Eddie would pace outside Collin's door before he ever made a peep and then lay down and wait for me to get there, as if to tell me, "please come get your baby, he needs you!"

When we got there, I think he was a little unsure of how to handle it, especially when he saw his parents so upset, so he decided that he'd better just play Angry Birds on the phone. So, we let him. He's been okay with the whole situation ever since. We read him Rainbow Bridge and he mentions the Rainbow Bridge about once a day, and makes sure to ask me if we'll all end up there to find Eddie, eventually. He's dealing with it in his own five year-old way. On the way home, while we were still sobbing, he said, "Why is everyone so upset? We can get a new dog, right?"

The first few days were very sad. Every time I came through the door, I fell to pieces. There was no thumping tail waiting to be let out of his kennel. There was no slobbery kisses of excitement to see me. There was no goofy jumping dog, gleeful to see me. There was no bark at the doorbell. There was simply, nothing. Even Homer seems to feel the void. He roams from room to room and simply moans.

Eddie was my first dog. I'd wanted a dog every day of my life and when I was finally on my own, I got him. I visited every local kennel in the area and I was disappointed at each one because no dog there seemed to find a corner of my heart. I was sure that the minute I could have a dog, I'd be happy with any dog I had, but it just wasn't true. There was no connection. The minute they opened Eddie's cage, he bounded out and jumped on my shoulders and licked my face. From that moment onward, he was my dog. I'm glad for every second I knew him, no matter how silly and crazy he's been.

He's been afraid of ceiling fans, he's been afraid of doggy doors, he's chewed countless papers and bits of trash. He's only liked octopus toys and he's cost me an arm and a leg in specialty food. He's also been the only friend I've had sometimes and he's been there when I met my husband, he's been there when I brought my baby home from the hospital and he's been there when I sobbed all night when my friend David died. He knew when I was happy and when I was sad. He wasn't just a good dog. He was a great dog. He will be missed every day.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spoils of the New Garden

We have a huge rose bush in our back yard. I feel that this might be temporary, as the dog's favorite place to pee is on the rose bush.

I picked a couple of roses today and I think they look quite lovely in my Waterford vase. Anything looks lovely in Waterford, though.

Yellow roses are supposed to mean "friendship," right? It didn't feel like a very friendly bush as I tried to clip these off. That thing tried to kill me. It had more thorns than I could ever imagine a bush having!

Collin's Fiduciary Independence

We've been having lots of talks about money around here. Mainly, we have been having discussions centering around the difference between a $20 Lego Set and a $200 Lego Set. Collin spent all of his birthday money on the Lego Tie Fighter and a Genosian Ship. He was thrilled to bits to get them. Then, he realized that he was out of money and began begging for more, more, more ships.

Without means to acquire money of his own, it's hard to teach the boy about saving and spending, or about the value of one object in relation to another. So, we decided to start him on an allowance. It was kind of a hard call because 1) he's still a baby, right? He can't possibly be old enough to get an allowance! and 2) a lot of what we expect him to do, we consider being part of this family, and not really, "chores." For example, we expect him to make his bed every day, get dressed on his own, keep his room clean, feed the dog and let him in and out when he needs to go potty.

Anyway, we decided to add in the task of folding and putting his own laundry away. It was a bit of a tough sell, but he got on board quickly when he realized money was involved. It's going to take a few instructional lessons, but he folded about three loads this week and put it all away himself. He even sorted the loads himself. I was pretty proud.

Originally, we decided that $2 was an appropriate allowance for a five year old. But, after some more discussion, we realized that even if he saves it for three weeks, he won't be able to buy much of anything for $6. (In case you are wondering: Yes, I know his PJs are inside out...he insists on wearing them that way because of, you know, TAGS! Even when I cut them out, he insists that he can still feel them. So, this solves all tag problems, even it does make him look ridiculous)

So, $2 will only end up making him frustrated and it's not really going to teach him much of anything except to be discouraged about doing work for nothing. I like his lack of enthusiasm for receiving $2.

So, we decided to go with what we'd read, which was $1 per year of age. $5 seems like a lot to give him, but we'll see how it goes. He was so excited to get his first five dollars! He was especially excited to trade in his $2 for a crisp $5 bill, which he wasn't expecting.

He spent it immediately. I tried talking him out of it, but kept telling him that it was his choice because it was his money. Showing him all the things that were $10 or $15 couldn't sway him. Telling him that he has a Mommy and Daddy to buy a present for coming up  (Mother's Day and Daddy's Birthday are both in a few short weeks!) didn't sway him. He just kept saying, "I'll just spend it, just this once!" He walked through the entire store with his hand in his pocket, making sure the money was still there, until he was ready to pay. I can't say it wasn't cute.

Anyway, other than that, we went to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum this weekend. He had a blast. We saw all kinds of neat stuff. I'm not sold on the place being better than the LA Natural History Museum, but it certainly is bigger. I miss my LA Museum, I think. It was never so crowded (maybe because it's smaller and doesn't have as much stuff). Still, the Smithsonian does have the Hope Diamond, and I could get used to developing ideas and schemes for owning it. If only everyone in metropolitan DC wasn't crowding around it to get a look, right at the same moment that I want to look. I've been there twice now, and both times, that room is wall to wall people.

Anyway, he saw dinosaurs and caves and the evolution exhibit. He saw the butterflies and bugs and sea life. I think we were there about four or five hours and saw about half the place, going through at five-year-old break neck speed.

His favorite part was near the wildebeest exhibit; they had display about how difficult it is for grassland animals to digest grass. There was an animation of the grass going through their digestive system and exploding out into little gaseous clouds, labeled "POOP!" And, next to the animation screen was a little Plexiglas container of poop. He looked at it for quite a long time, and then returned to look at it again. That boy.

My favorite part was the hall of dead computer monitors.

Oh wait, I don't think that was meant for public display. the partition there, the one that's wide open, has a sign on it that says, "Please leave partition closed." Anyway, it made me chuckle.

Since we were already downtown, we took a little stroll to the Washington Monument. I figured we should start checking monuments off our list when we are down there, right? And, since it wasn't raining, and it wasn't hot, it was a good time to go.

Collin was relatively disappointed that he couldn't go inside; in fact, no one can since the earthquake. But, he was happy to run around the grass like a maniac. He kept picking it too, but I told him to stop because it's the President's grass and since he lives just down the street, he could come out and yell at him for messing up his yard. He seemed sufficiently befuddled by this explanation, so much so that he decided to stop, until Bryon told him instead, that it was actually the nation's grass and he didn't have the right to destroy something that belongs to all of us. The idea of community property confused him to no end. We may not spank our child, wash his mouth out with soap or send him to bed without dinner, but we certainly find odd ways of torturing him, don't we?

We also watched The Sound of Music, this weekend. For a boy who was introduced to Star Wars before age 3, and The Lord of the Rings at four, I was afraid that The Sound of Music might bore him to death. It never occurred to me to encourage him to watch it, but he's been pretty into singing "Doe a Deer" lately. So, I put it on and he snuggled up with me. Surprisingly, he watched about half of it in complete rapt attention. That's a long time for a 5 year old boy with a movie like that. I was impressed, and overjoyed. And, I had forgotten how much I love that movie.

Ignore the awful picture of me. Bryon takes these types of shots and thinks that I'm the most adorable thing on the planet in them. I think I look like some sort of skeleton bird with crazy eyes. But, it's sweet to have my boy in my lap.