Where would you most like to go and why?

I think of this question and one word comes to mind: home. A visual: the yellow brick road, red heels, a gust of wind and then… nothing but the searing North Sea, rain and currents all the way to Norway. But then I regain my resolve and think further afar.

For one living abroad there is nothing so tempting about the idea of going home. Oh little windswept farm, where art thou? I imagine myself back there, somehow back in my teenage bedroom with the walls unchanged, the Oscar Wilde quote on the ceiling, the candles on the dresser. I imagine looking out over those flood-plain fields and remembering all the places I wanted to go: India, Africa, Nepal, the rain forests of Brazil, the remote Galapagos islands. All those years spent dreaming of the faraway lands, the stories I would write.

And now I am here, dreaming of being home dreaming of strange continents, fervent cultures, and strange, jarring sounds. Imagining the dream of all five senses in overload. If I had to pick one of those destinations for my “one place” it would probably be India. My heart always cries out for Africa, as my mother was born there and my Grandma was a citizen of Kenya until very recently. I have never visited “true” Africa, but I long to, although part of me fears what I might find if I do. What I might feel – the guilt, the agony, the crippling sense of inadequacy when I think of how little I’ve done with my privileged birth.

So India it is. India – a strange, mystical land. My Grandmother was born in Kenya but raised in the Seychelles, where she describes the population as half African, half Indian. With her dark golden skin tones, petite frame, and long, thick hair my Grandmother is most often taken for Indian, rather than Kenyan, and I remember her pride when I dressed in a sari for a school project. I think, from that moment, when I closed my eyes I always imagined myself as a little bit Indian – running over the lush hills, exploring the vibrant markets, speaking rapidly in the diverse, ever-changing dialects.

If I were able to go anywhere on this earth I think India would be my first calling. Somehow I think it would give me a sense of peace, to transport me back to a point in time before my birth when the world was a more diverse place, a more interesting and exciting place. I imagine the adventures I might have, the things I might learn about myself.

I have every expectation that I will visit India in my life – hopefully soon – and if I don’t I know that the regret will be stamped on my heart forever.

What is the difference between falling in love and being in love?

Love is a difficult topic to write about. It’s hard because it’s nearly impossible to verbalize, and almost certainly different for every single person. Also, I personally feel that people that write about love as though they know what’s best sound conceited, self-important, and invariably detached from the reality of other people.

That being said, several questions on this list revolve around the topic of love, and so it is time to tackle the topic head on. And so I am writing with an obvious focus on what is true for my life, my marriage, and the limited knowledge that I have of other people’s relationships.

Falling in love, for me, is infuriatingly easy. I am a product of the 1990’s, of the Richard Curtis generation of Romantic Comedies, and the generation where paupers become princesses. I also grew up knowing a great deal of love: love from my family, love from my friends, and love from the community that I grew up in. Love was a constant in my life, I never felt the absence of it, nor the need to seek it out. I also saw many young girls in my high school getting pregnant, but never really talk about “love”. Sex was the appeal in my high school class, not romance, but I always felt connected with the notion of recreating some epic, literature-worthy affair of the heart. I easily found out that teenage boys are easy to create romance around, they are blank canvases that allow themselves to become pictures of whatever we girls want them to be.

It’s easy to love as a teenager, because falling in love is about hope, and need, and fear. As an eighteen year old setting off for college I was full of hope and full of fear, I was also in need of comfort and security – so I took my high school boyfriend with me and he was my transition, and I his. Once we settled into a “new life” we gave each other up amicably: there was never any question about ever trying to retain anything past the hope and fear and need.

Fast forward ten years and I’m married – just past our four year anniversary – and I think that I fell in love with my husband for the same reasons as that first boyfriend: I was in a period of huge change, and he represented all of the hope, he calmed all of the fears, and he fulfilled all of my needs . He was a constant. In fact, the period of change that I was going through lasted several years, through our courtship, engagement, and marriage. I believe that however much we protested we were already “an old married couple”, we were still falling in love past our first anniversary.

In fact, in the years we have been married there have been periods when I have felt that we have fallen even more in love – we are currently going through one of those periods – and they all hinge around a trying time, a moment when one of us is scared, hopeful, or in need. I think that falling in love doesn’t happen once, I think that it happens cyclically, and that being in love is the quiet and patience between the “falling”, and the trust and faith that the cycle will repeat.

Of course, I have explained this theory to my friends in the past, and I don’t know that anyone has ever 100% agreed with me. I think my theory scares people as it suggests that marriage is only made strong through challenges – I know a lot of people feel as though the best marriages are a calm and tideless sea. Like I said – love is such a personal thing, and I have no business speaking on behalf of other people or trying to counsel them to my way of thinking. But for me, and for my marriage, I think that this is how I would define the difference between falling in love and being in love.

How Adopting a Dog Inspired Me

Starsky learning to smile!

Their names are Batman and Starsky, like the cartoon and the TV Show. But I call them Stinky, Scruffy, Stinky-Four-Paws, Paw-some the Hound, Scruffaluffagus, Monsieur Hound, Scruff McGruff, and Chunk. And they answer every time. They are my best friends, the only thing I am loyal to, and the number one topic of conversation in my life. My baby-dogs, my children. I have learned so much from having dogs: growing up we had cats, and I was always a “cat person”, I didn’t understand why everyone enthused about having a dog so much. sure, they’re cute, but they’re basically just cats that can’t look after themselves, right?

Wrong. And I didn’t realize how wrong I was until Batman was placed unexpectedly into my arms. He’s basically never left. Even now, three and a half years later as I write this, he is laying morosely on my feet – he wants to go outside, but he’s mad because I won’t go with him and he won’t leave me. Batman was not, regrettably, a “rescue dog”. My husband and I stumbled across him at one of those pet store events where they have lots of puppies in a big pen. We weren’t even in the pet store for a reason – we were simply trying to walk off a big dinner and ducked into escape the heat. But Batman, literally, jumped into our lives, throwing himself off a high table in the process. It was love at first snuggle, and we left that store a lot poorer and a lot happier.

Over the last three and a half years I’ve started to believe that I really did “Rescue” Batman. All dogs need homes, after all, and my husband and I have been able to give him a fantastic life. As a Dachshund, we have kept him agile and exercised, not exposing him to some of the “cruel kindnesses” many uninformed owners do in error.

However, when the time came to find a second dog, our heart was set on adopting from a shelter. After nearly 18 months of visiting shelters on an almost weekly basis, my husband and I found Starsky. He was immediately the dog we were looking for. Four days later (he had to undergo surgery) we bought him home.

Rescuing an adult dog from an abused home was not without it’s problems. After an hour of having him at the house he managed to jump our back fence even with me standing only a few feet away from him. After a half hour of frantically tearing through the neighborhood yelling “come here, puppy” (he was unnamed at that point), I returned sobbing to the house to find him curled up next to the drivers side of my car. He wanted to go for a ride. In fact, for the first week the only way we could get him to enter the house was to drive him into the adjoined garage in the car and let him walk through the basement. But it’s a journey, and I’ve learned so many great things about our family, and the whole experience has inspired me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. Here are some of my top unexpected bonuses from rescuing a dog:

  1. The love… oh, the love! Seems a little expected, but it had to make the list simply because of the amazing ability to love that dogs have. Starsky came from a home where he was clearly kicked and starved, but he came to us wanting to love. My husband and I joke that he doesn’t understand cuddling, and for weeks neither of us could comfortably pick him up despite him only weighing 12 lbs (he is now a healthier 15 lbs). When we would try and cuddle him he would get over-excited, desperately wantingto love, but not really knowing how to reciprocate.He also does this with Batman. Batman is always giving his “little brother” kisses, sniffs, and playful puppy ear tugs. Starsky generally freezes at these signs of affection, but every now and again he will work himself up and charge at Batman, trying to lick him all over. Fortunately, Batman isn’t easily put off, and see’s Starsky’s enthusiasm as endearing rather than frightening! One of the moments that bought actual tears of joy to my eyes was Starsky approached a sleeping Batman and curled up next to him on the couch, resting his chin on Batman’s back.
  2. Waking up is three times as awesome!When I was single waking up really was my least favorite thing to you. You know, all that dressing and combing and lack of conversation. When I got married, it got a bit easier with the husband and his ability to talk back, occasional “you look nice”, and sleepy recollections of his dreams about Transformers (Men!).The first morning we had Batman I woke up to the sound of hound-mewing: little tiny cries of “Mommy, I needs a pee!”, and – I’ll admit it – I rather grumpily picked him up and shuffled outside thinking “at least a cat can toilet itself”. However, potty time kind of became our thing, and pretty quickly my alarm would go off and I would immediately fling back the covers and head to the back door, four chubby puppy paws skidding behind me in anticipation. For the three years he was an “only child”, Batman and I’s morning stayed pretty much the same, we were on the same page.

    With Starsky we faced the challenge of trying to crate one dog while the other slept rather self-satisfied in the bed with us. After four mornings of waking up after 3 hours broken sleep to a basement covered in shredded dog bed I caved in and Scruffy joined the “big bed” gang. Now my morning ritual has been restored, only Batman’s four paws have been enhanced by the choir of Starsky’s paws skipping along side him. Eight paws of excitement!

  3. My husband is kind of a big deal.Some distant relative told me that you never know a man until you have children with him. I always believed that the opposite would probably work better. However, as far as dogs go, that relative was right. The hubs and I entered the venture of parenting together, but the second dog was really my idea – I wanted the sibling experience for Batman, and I thought it would appease my sense of guilt at working long hours.Our first few days with Starsky at home were exhausting, and I felt as though the hubs didn’t really support what it was we were doing. A couple of times I almost willed him to ask me to take the dog back, because I felt certain that’s what he wanted. But he persevered, and by the end of the first week it was a no brainer on whether the situation was improving.

    My beloved has done everything from clean up mid-night vomit, clip gnarly toenails, and clean our solid wood table for urine stains. He also routinely herds Starsky back towards the house when he escapes (that dog should have been called Houdini!).

    Skip forwards to today and Hubs and Starsky are thicker than thieves. Scruff McGruff howls with excitement when the spousal Jetta pulls into the garage, throwing himself with (rather alarming) joy at the door. He sits on the “male side” of the kitchen table, patiently waiting for dinner to finish, while Batman tries to beg, climb, and perform a soliloquy in order the forage food from my plate. Seeing my husband carrying Starsky around – he’s the only person trusted enough to do it, even more than ME – has really taught me a lot about my husbands capacity to love and adapt to situations, but also show me how far he will go to keep me happy. Although, I maintain, things that make me happy make my husband happy too… It’s part of marital law.

  4. Y’all need to get some exercise.I have always been a big fan of exercise, but recently have found myself at a point where I have not been able to work out for an inconvenient health reason. This makes me sad. Batman was always easy to exercise just in the house and the neighborhood, as he would run around the house and gardens until he collapsed. Starsky, however, is more of a natural sloth. He is bigger framed dog that his big brother, with much longer legs, but he will sit or lay down until he is actively engaged in some kind of activity.This need to actually participate in his exercise program, paired with the fact that he needs close supervision owing to an unidentified lameness in his back leg, has called for regular family walks. This makes me happy. Now I have a reason to get out and walk slowly without feeling like an unfit, flacid, almost-thirty something. If people wonder why I’m not running and give them the “look at my tiny, limping dog” look. It works every time.

    These walks have helped all of us – my knees are getting stronger, the husband is getting some fresh air, and we get plenty of time to talk. Batman gets the exciting world of five miles of other dog’s markings, and Starsky’s leg has improved to an almost perceptible shuffle in a few short weeks! Bonus!

  5. Are you mom enough?Yeah, sorry Time Magazine, I borrowed your sensationalist headline. Only I’m not talking about attachment parenting, I’m talking about adoption. This will sound completely gratuitous, but the sense of personal worth you get from adopting an animal – not just a dog – is amazing. Everyone should experience it, even if you just adopt a goldfish. I adopted a goldfish once. His name was gentle and he lived to be four years old by eating other goldfish. He was a bit of a bastard. But my point is, like the woman on the front cover of Time Magazine, you get to carry around a little piece of warmth in your heart knowing that, because of you, this animal is cared for and safe. No. Better. Feeling.One of the most surprising things that has happened to me is the sheer number of folks that come up to me to talk about Starsky and, after learning he was adopted, will thank me or shake my hand for choosing to adopt. People tell me all the time that they don’t have it in them to adopt, but that “would love to”. Do it. It’s a revolution, and we can all be heroes.

So that’s my five most important things I’ve learned and/or experienced through adopting my baby. This is also probably the longest-ass blog post of all time. My macbook is telling me we are over 1800 words, and my watch is telling me we are after 11pm.

So adieu, good world, I am settling into a bed filled with paws, snores, and amore (yeah, that one was pretty bad). If anyone reading this has an adoption story about a pet, not just a dog – I really do love cats too – please feel free to share. Spread the word!

Batman and Starsky being carried around by their Daddy!

Shoeboxes at Christmas

 

Children Opening Their Shoeboxes, courtesy of operationchristmaschild.org.uk

One of my favorite childhood traditions was putting together shoeboxes at Christmas. These shoeboxes were to be filled with gifts and sent to Africa where children would open them on Christmas morning, children who otherwise would have nothing.

Every year as sure as purchasing advent calendars and helping my father pot the tree came the choosing of the shoeboxes, usually stored away throughout the year whenever one of us got a new pair of boots or sensible Clarks sandals. We children would solemnly select our shoe box from the collection and then busy ourselves with imaging the child that would receive it. My mother always allowed us to choose the type of child that would receive our boxes (we could select between genders and from certain age categories), and would the help us choose appropriate gifts to put in the box. Of course, there were toys and books, but also we had to think of gifts like toiletries, clothing, medication.

As a family we would talk about what these children might need, and it was through these discussions that I first learned the difference between being poor and living in poverty. Looking back as an adult I realize that we didn’t have much growing up, although I failed to see it at the time, but there was always warm water and clean clothes, toothpaste, bandages, and sanitary products. These were the things I learned others did not have. I remember my mother teaching me about the differences between my hair type and the hair type of girls like me living in Africa, and helping me choose the right type of products to send over, as well as brightly colored hair clips to compliment their skin tones.

After our boxes were full we would wrap them in bright christmas paper, choose a christmas card and write a short message with a photograph of ourselves. My brother and sister typically just wrote “Merry Christmas” and signed their names, but I always wanted to write more, after weeks of thinking about this faceless child I felt a profound connection with them and wanted to express that. To this day I wish I had copies of those cards that I wrote aged six, or twelve, or fifteen.

This might sound like a strange Christmas tradition to a lot of people, especially a strange memory to rank in my favorites, but to me it symbolized Christmas. It was part of how we did things, and part of our Christmas day was talking about which toy we thought they would play with first, whether they liked the books we sent, and how we hoped they were able to be with their families as we were with ours. It may sound overly sentimental, but it was genuine to the point that I took the tradition to university, where I helped organize the Shoebox Appeal for our campus. The following years I made charitable donations to schools in the developing world instead of giving “conventional” Christmas gifts.

Why do I bring this up as one of my favorite memories? Why do I indicate this as one of the reasons I respect both my mother and father so much? Let me explain. Other than the previously mentioned fact that my family had very little monetary excess when I was a child, my parents managed to raise my brother, sister, and I in a way where giving was more exciting that receiving. Neither of my parents practice any religion, and yet they managed to educate us in the exact meaning of Christmas in a way that was applicable and appropriate to all three of us. Both my brother and sister are atheists, I am a Christian that chose to be baptised as an adult, and yet we still agree that Christmas should be celebrated in the way our parents taught us.

Of course, I have plenty of other favorite childhood memories, and plenty of other reasons to respect my parents, but this one seems the closest to my heart. Every time I buy a pair of shoes I am still loathe to throw away the box, I find myself ferreting them away in corners and daydreaming about wrapping paper, toothbrushes, and books. It is the spirit of Christmas to me, and I am reminded every year of how fortunate a child I really was.

 

 

To learn more about the Shoebox Appeal visit: http://www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk Visiting this website taught me a lot about how the mission has developed over the years. I wish they would start this in the United States

What are you Uncertain About?

Uncertainty: the birthright of my generation. I could probably start a list of the things that I’m uncertain about, and never finish it because I’m forever adding things. I’m generation Y – as in “why does everybody seem so calm, can’t they see the sky is falling?”. We’re neurotic. I blame the fact we we raised watching 90’s TV shows where everything was colorful and everyone got along – I’m currently watching Ally McBeal on Netflix – and then we graduated into this “real world” and, frankly, it terrifies us. We’re delicate and unprepared: I mean, did anyone ever get murdered on friends? Now every time I turn on the TV there’s someone dead in a dumpster and some gravelly voiced woman muttering terrible philosophies on life.

I digress from my point. Another hazard of our generation. Digression, procrastination, and confusion. My actual subject matter today is about children, and whether or not I want children, and all of the complexities that go along with it. As most people have gathered from my blog, my “babies” are my two dogs – I don’t have any of hairless, squawking kind. But I challenge any 27 year old married woman to deny the fact that no matter how resolved you are in every aspect of your life, if you don’t have children there is an unspoken judgement from the rest of the world.

I can hear people laughing – mainly men – stop it! My husband thinks I’m crazy. That’s because when people meet him for the first time the most in depth their conversation gets is “so what car do you drive”, or on very rare and intimate moments “seen any bands lately”. When I meet someone for the first time I am immediately “scanned”. I have developed this term to define the process in which a woman views another woman. Imagine the full body scanner that caused so much panic earlier this year (FYI – been through it and it’s not a big deal, I expected them to shower me off with radioactive waste or something), only this body scanner is done with one long gaze. These women scan you for wedding rings (check), baby weight (I could be confusing in that area) and diaper bags. My small leather clutch is a ten foot billboard declaring my lack of offspring. And then come the questions, normally posed in the following way: “how long have you been married?” “Oh really, and you don’t have children yet?” (I can feel the smugness radiating from their Sherlock Holmes like deduction of my attire). And then they wait for my response.

I used to shy away from answering these questions, or at least squirm uncomfortably in my shoes. Now I say “Well, we have two dogs that are our babies, I don’t know if we’ll have children”. And I promise that the unanimous response to this question is: “well, if you have dogs then you’ll have children eventually”. Like it’s a fact. Even when I wail that I’ll probably be a terrible mother (I have actually dropped a baby in my life), my friends console me with “no you won’t, look at how much you love your dogs”.

Yes, I love my dogs. I really love my dogs. I love my dogs almost too much – last night I actually slept without my required three pillows because Batman had nested on top of them and I didn’t want to wake him. But that doesn’t mean I’m mother material. I have run out in front of traffic for my dogs, I have extracted things from their bottoms, I have cleaned up literally gallons of hound-emissions. My dogs ate my favorite pair of shoes, and when I replaced them they ate the replacements, and I wasn’t even that angry. Yes, I dress them up in sweaters when it’s cold, and there may be special halloween outfits in our closet; and, yes, I let them sleep in the bed with me; and, yes, I carry them around in my arms and tell them I love them ALL of the time. This makes a crazy dog person, it’s doesn’t mean I am practicing at parenthood.

I love my dogs because they are dogs. They aren’t going to grow up and call me names and say they wished they’d never been born, or get some pregnant by some guy with a lip ring and a fake phone number. They’re definitely not going to run up a credit card bill, or get arrested trying to buy alcohol underage. I’m not going to have to endure seeing them start their own lives without me. I admire anyone that has the courage to bring another life into this world, and is strong enough to go through the rollercoaster of crazy that having children brings into your life. I especially admire people that are so certain of their decision at such a young age – but that’s not me.

The “children” debate is one that has been on the table for a long time, and I’m still not sure of the answer to it. Truthfully, I wish I had more clarity on the situation, so that I least I could start working towards that end goal, but I don’t. Some of my friends have advised me to force the issue and make a decision and try and “grow into it”, but I think it should be an organic thing.

So, other than questioning my hair color, my favorite food, the maximum justifiable amount to spend on shoes, and whether or not to paint my dining room, I would say this is the biggest uncertainty in my life at the moment. But one thing I’m certain of is this: getting asked if you’re “next” when someone get’s pregnant is actually kind of creepy – stop it, people, I’m more than a uterus. I also have really good hair.