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Chandra's Blog

 

Entries in evening walk (2)

Wednesday
Mar142012

No training wheels

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia with my oldest son, Hayden, filling out questionnaires, complaining about litter downtown (Hayden, slamming the dashboard, "Am I the only one who cares about trash in the trees?!") and paying our monthly visit to the lovely Dr. Choo.

If you live in the Northeast, then you know we are getting an unseasonably warm and early start to spring, about a month ahead of schedule. Wondering, with every day that passes and moves us closer to April, can we trust this weather? Can we shave the dog yet? Can we shave the Hayden!? (These will be addressed in upcoming blogs...)

 

Following a long wait and relatively painless appointment, Hayden and I were antsy to get home with plans to go on a bike ride and get out in nature. We battled I-95 traffic and arrived home in the slanting late afternoon sun to find Piper (4) insisting that she needed me to take the training wheels off her bike--she was ready to ride a two wheeler. These are the slightly rusty training wheels that I had only recently located in the weeds and under the porch where Max had hidden them after jimmying them off her bike last fall, apparently mortified to have a sister who needed training wheels. (Note: Max has been a seasoned bike rider since all of last May. More on that later.)

We lost a few important mechanical pieces in the process, the hazards of using a seven-year-old mechanic, and ended up reattaching the wheels with various pieces of scavenged hardware and zipties. So I was a little reluctant to take them off again--she and Quinn have been having a great week riding loops on their teetering pink and purple training wheeled bikes, but yesterday Pip insisted: no training wheels. She was ready!

Off they came. Then there was the process of suiting her up. The boys raided her ice hockey bag, just put away for the season, and jammed on various knee pads and elbow pads, and slapped a friend's borrowed helmet on her head. Max's hand-me-down Adidas and black hockey gloves so stiff they stayed curled on her handlebars completed the ensemble and gave her a very 'motorcross chic' look. 

"I want to start on the grass," she said, because she had heard of a preschool pal who has mastered the technique with many bruises but no actual bloodletting. So we went to the lawn, wobbling along the grass towards the edge of a hill steep enough for a toddler to sled down. 

"Don't let go!" she shrieked. I didn't. But then I gave her a little shove to show her that falling down doesn't hurt, just like ice skating, when you're covered in pads. Over she went, and shot me such a look betrayal from under her tilting, too-big helmet.

"I said don't let go."

"But honey," I explained, "if you are going to learn how to ride a bike, I have to let go sometimes."

"No."

If you have never seen Piper seriously pout, I can just assure you, it can be scary.

Her brothers called out that she should try the long stretch of gentle sloping driveway where they both learned so we headed over, me holding her up by the handlebars and seatback. They circled in on their big boy bikes--last year's favorite birthday presents from my parents--and gave advice. Quinn (3) sped down from her house up the hill, training wheels rattling, handlebar tassles fluttering, and insisted she needed her training wheels removed too. 

"Not yet!" her mother and I chorused in unison.

Piper and I ran up and down the long stretch of driveway, the little muscles in her shoulders tensed, with her barking a constant running monologue of "Don't let go! You're not letting go! Hands on the handlebar, and my seat! I don't feel your hand on my seat! Don't let go!" 

Max zoomed by, standing up on his pedals, and called out glibly the same thing we said to him in a thousand botched training-wheel-free sessions, "The faster you go, the easier it is, Pipes!"

Max learned on this same stretch of road last May, quietly, with his older brother, in about two minutes. But this was after three years of whimpering and crashing with me and J. Probably we started him too early, pushed him, eager to have him off and biking with his big brother and the cousins and friends who show up to ride the loop. Inevitably, the second we put Max on the bike, he'd start this high-pitched keening whimper, and as soon as we let go, he'd intentionally jerk the front wheel hard to the left, crash and run back to the house in tears. Every few months we'd try this, and then give up. He seemed content to ride a plasma car behind the pack of bikers, one leg tucked under him, the other pumping crazily to propel him forward. Like those super-crawler babies, why would he ever learn to walk? But eventually, on his own, long after the others, he did. 

And as the afternoon wore on and Pip's monologue of insisting that I NOT LET GO continued, I realized this would not be the day she learned to ride a bike. And I'll admit at first I felt a twinge of annoyance--that I was going to have to hold her up, stooped over, for the rest of the evening walk with the family and that afterwards, I was going to have to figure out how to get her training wheels reattached for the next few weeks, (or months, years...) I was tempted to push her--she could learn today! It could be so liberating! 

But as we continued on our loops in the perfect spring air, Sampson swimming in the pond and shaking his wet and slobber on us, the boys zooming ahead and then back again, catching a snake and letting everyone touch it, baby Harper with her little bare feet up on the handlebar of her stroller, my Mom and Linden and Quinn talking about which berries would be ripe first, I had a whooshing rush of gratitude. 

Why wouldn't I want to run alongside my pedaling daughter and hold her up? How lucky to have the chance to show her in a concrete way that I am listening to her, meeting her where she is, and I am there to literally catch her when she falls? So we went fast on the long stretches, me hunched over and loping awkwardly like one of the Hobbits. I made my finger and thumb into a loop around the crossbar over her handlebars, showing her that just as Max kept bellowing, the faster she went, the less my fingers needed to grab and steady her. And she got it, and she giggled as we sped on down the hill. 

Piper did not learn to ride without training wheels yesterday. Sometime today, when Quinn shows up ready to race around the loop with her, I'll jimmy them back on. But last night, nobody came home in tears. Piper was proud of her accomplishments, of her bravery, of what she had done. When J pulled in the driveway, she crowed, 

"Daddy, I'm learning to ride without training wheels!"

And she is. 

 Piper, March 2012

 

 

Wednesday
Jun012011

WEEKLY DOG BLOG--Sampson, 7 weeks

I have decided to add a new feature to my blog, a weekly entry for fellow dog lovers, puppy breath addicts and those with a high tolerance for the furry and cute. One of the reasons is that, thinking back, my early memories of our original Newf Jonah are pretty cloudy, lost in the haze of the fact that we made the crazy decision to get a puppy and have our first baby at the same time.

Prepare for a weekly feature that will include photos of the famously-hard-to-photograph Newfoundland as he grows (you can almost watch it happen) and a journal entry that chronicles this exciting addition to our family. The other reason? Let's face it: my littlest kid just turned four. It's been too long since I've had something tiny and helpless and endearing to slather with affection and obsess over. 

 

SAMPSON COMES HOME: 

7 weeks, 16 lbs

In January, a few weeks after our Newf of almost ten years died, I happened to come across a farm near Harrisburg that was known for Newfoundlands, miniature silky goats and dried flowers, whose name was Opening Heavens Doors. I thought it might be a sign. Some of our dearest people and animals had recently gone to the other side, so anything that promised some kind of connection to this seemed auspicious. When I perused the website and found a female looked exactly like Dakota, the Newf I'd had since I was 16, the one who marched in Cornell's graduation alongside me and whose immediate acceptance of my then-casual-boyfieind, now-husband J made me think twice about him, sealed the deal. I contacted the owners, paid our deposit and we began the wait. 

 

In the past three years, my children have lost their grandmother to cancer, suffered the sudden departure Uncle Matty G, and then the loss of Jonah, their lifetime canine companion, their constant. I have been a little anxious about the idea of loved ones as 'replaceable' and so the waiting period was important. Waiting to hear if the breeding took, if there was a black male in the litter, and finally, driving to Harrisburg to pick out the newest member of the family. 

 

In the interim, I did exactly what I did when expecting Hayden: I read. Piles of books on dogs and training, though this time around I had the sense to get them from the library. I remember before our first child was born, I had been reading "The Baby Whisperer" and I took a long walk with my aunt, mother of 6 (5 boys and 1 girl) and told her how great things were going to be when the baby arrived, according to this book. There was even an acronym for it! E. A. S. Y.= Eat, Awake, Sleep, You Time! I told her how we would never nurse or feed our baby to sleep so he didn't get used to that as the norm, and how we would not need to change our life for our baby: the nanny whisperer told us to 'invite the baby into our life'. Which, in our appropriately selfish mid-twenties, included lots of job changing, frequent sports-inspired vacations, liquid dinners and constant moving. 

I remember my aunt very politely, gently said something along the lines of 'wait and see when he gets here'. Which, when it happened, turned our lives upside down and created a complete 180 in our parenting views. Invite him into our lives? We had planned a surf trip to the Bahamas for weeks after our due date, reasoning that one of us could hold the newborn in the shade, and then we'd swap. We were so anxious to show everyone that a kid wouldn't slow us down or change us. As the plane ticket came and went, we found ourselves in the NICU at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia, praying for the life of our first born, making promises that included never seeing the ocean again if he would just survive. (You can read about this story here.)

 

The books I checked out this time around, about adding a hairy, four-legged addition to your family or pack, were surprisingly familiar--The Dog Whisperer, and Natural Puppy Rearing. If you subsituted 'baby' for 'puppy' in these texts, the polar messages were exactly the same. I inhaled them, checking in about what resonated and what didn't apply.

 

J scoffed a smidge at my need to revisit texts from the 'experts'. "We've raised two great dogs and three amazing kids in the last 15 years--why do you think you need to read books again?" But I did, just to reaffirm where I stood. I'd read parts of the text aloud, things that didn't resonate, 'tests' we were meant to put our puppy through, and principles that probably do apply when you are the Dog Whisperer rehabilitating pit bulls, but maybe not so much when you have an underactive, home-raised seven-week-old Newf on your hands, or in your family bed as the case may be. 

"Rust" (future Sampson) on left, Q-tip on right, 6 weeks

Choosing Sampson was easier than I had worried it might be, and we wanted to do it quickly so there was no sadness or second-guessing. Taking both was not an option--whoever didn't come home to us was going to a baker. Both boys were on their stomachs on the cool tile floor, front paws outstretched, back legs pointed behind them, in tiny little Superman position. Both would have made great additions to the family, but we chose the sleeker, 1 lb heavier boy on the left.

The several hour ride home, despite the nail in our tire, Piper clipping her neck in the clasp while trying to don Sampson's collar, and Hayden losing privileges for taunting a cross-legged Max with hissing 'pee' sounds and Sampson snoring away was pretty good too. 

Piper, Hayden and Max take turnsAt home, our first night was surprisingly smooth. We sat out in the late evening air and let Sampson and our cats get a gander of each other, and then he wandered into his little spot in the ktichen and passed out. 

Sampson and "hedgie" acasa

 

I had these expectations that we would co-sleep with our new puppy--we still have a musical beds schedule with most of our kids, and Jonah certainly enjoyed his years in the 'pile of puppies' style of family bed. But for whatever reason, Sampson was cooler and more comfortable in his own little spot by the a/c vent and an ice cold stainless bowl of water  in the corner of the kitchen. 

So J and I went up to bed, feeling pretty smug. He had gone to the bathroom several times outside, had lolled in the kids' arms the whole car ride home. No accidents, no crying. I remarked that I felt about him like I had when bringing my babies home: I loved them on principle, but didn't feel like I knew them yet, and I lived in quiet fear of The Night and all of the unknowns it might bring. With Hayden, it was months before he came home, and Max was such an easygoing little fellow that I didn't have a dreadful newborn night until I brought home my third, Piper. Piper and Mama, April 2007By your third kid, you're supposed to be seasoned. You're supposed to know better than to feel like a cocky pro on the maternity ward when your little angel (left) sleeps all through her first hours of life and by god, you're supposed to know better than to rush home. But I didn't. I begged to be discharged at less than 24 hours, and took a borderline jaundiced Piper home to meet her brothers and even did some gardening.

But when night fell, and her thready wails began, I am embarrassed to admit that not only did I call all my friends who had three or more kids and hold the phone up to her for a diagnostic, not only did I call my Labor and Delivery nurse friend on the West Coast, but I actually called the staff at the hospital that I had campaigned to be discharged from, and suggested I bring her back. Just in case, you know, she was crying because there was seriously something wrong with her. I swear you could see the eye-rolls through the phone. 

 

So our first night with little Sampson, J and I went to bed with a small amount of terror in the pit of our stomachs. It wasn't long before I noticed he was gone. J slept much of the first half of the night on the kitchen floor beside the puppy because of Sampson's penchant for putting his whole face in his water bowl while sleeping. I'm not kidding, (photo at end,) and upstairs, I fretted about the peaceful silence, the calm before the storm, anticipating the moment that the howling would begin.

 

3:36 am: you would think harbor seals were being slaughtered downstairs. I took a shift on the floor wondering when was the last time I scrubbed the baseboards, J took a second, I took a third, he took a fourth, and finally at 4:45, little man was up for the day. I carried him outside for the summer dawn chorus of birds and did some halfhearted weeding in my pajamas while he got into some determined grass sniffing. 

Despite the lack of sleep, our first full day has been an early summer delight. Sampson and Piper watered the lima bean garden before she went to her final day of preschool and the heat index got so high that our panting black woolly bear caterpillar had to stay inside with the AC running. Atticus and Sampson face off

 

Early morning, Sampson and Atticus went Round Two. Atticus is our junior kitten of three cats, 2 years old and full of attitude and machismo--he took a soft paw to Sampson's downy cheek in their first few minutes together, and then has made a point of following us everywhere, and then scampering ahead to flop in our path and flick his tail, just so we're clear that he's really annoyed. Shades of toddler Max's fantastical "Ben 10" rage-transformations when baby sister arrived on the scene. If I'd had more than three hours of sleep last night, I would find the video of one of these and post it. Lordy.  

 

Midday, 96 degrees in the shade, we took Sampson to the pool for his first swim. You'll have to ignore my Kenny Loggins thrift store sunglasses--it's crazy sunny out and I am in desperate need of a trip to Target for some more cheap UV protective eyewear, but until then, try to take me seriously in these. (My husband can't.)

Sampson was calm and relaxed in the water, and when Hayden took him in, even tried a few tentative paddle strokes. Could it be? We might finally have a Newfoundland, the famous water-rescue breed, who actually swims?!


First day swimming

Cheering squad of three

 

Aside from swimming, most of the day, Sampson has slept and eaten, gnawed and drooped his little head into the fresh ice cubes in the water bowl. We have done our favorite summer tradition of an evening walk with bikes and it fills my heart to have a dog along again. Piper and all of the kids are getting very good at the art of distraction, (chew a stick instead of the hem of a pretty 3T sundress,) and are taking my suggestion not to use the word "no" with his name seriously. The boys had three mini training sessions and swear he comes when called, can sit on command, and has mastered 'lie down and sleep'. 

Piper and Sampson make their way homeIt's dark again, and the kids are settled, J is home from work, and Sampson is showing off his puppy skill of sleeping, eyes closed, chin-deep in the water bowl. 

Snoozing

Stay tuned for more Sampson next week, when 73 members of the extended family arrive for a reunion, two-year-old cousin Quinn moves in next door, and we might try something really rigorous, like walking him with a collar and a leash.