Goodbye Dad

Dad and Gus

Mickey Cooper

May 28, 1930 – September 14, 2009

Roll with it

Roll with it

Yesterday morning Gus and I made our way up to the fields behind Thornlea Secondary School.  We usually take that route because there are about seven different soccer and football fields interconnected in one enormous open space.  I love to let Gus off leash there every morning because he gets a good chance to really run flat out for a while.  After that, he’s content to continue with our neighbourhood route; trotting beside me along the sidewalks for the second part of our morning walk.

Yesterday when we walked through the opening into the field, I was surprised to find a scene that I didn’t expect.  Instead of empty wide open space, the fields were packed with people and action.  It was soccer Cup Day.

I shouldn’t have to tell you why it wouldn’t be a good idea to have Gus off leash with 7 different soccer games underway.  Remember, balls are his thing!  And yes, he is completely capable of sinking his teeth into a soccer ball and carrying it in his mouth!  Needless to say, I had to change plans.

We turned around and left the field, and picked a different route for our walk.  I was disappointed because not only does Gus love to tear across the fields; he needs that flat out run every day.  I was worried that even a brisk long walk wouldn’t tire him out in the same way, and I’d have to deal with an over-energetic doodle for the rest of the day.

As it turned out, we had a lovely walk, and I found that I actually had a better workout because I was hustling at top speed and swinging my arms the whole way.  Gus was completely happy to stick to my pace, and I think he even enjoyed the change of route.  He definitely got enough exercise; just a different type of workout.  As an added bonus, we ran into an elderly woman we haven’t seen for a while around the neighbourhood.  She loves Gus and was so excited to see him that it really made my day to see how he perked her up.

How often do we have to shift gears or change direction suddenly when something unexpected interferes with our plans?  It happens all the time.  Our natural reaction is to feel thrown by the force of inertia; as if the bus we’re riding on has sharply rounded the corner, causing us to collide with the wall.  There’s a kind of mental inertia that causes us to feel rattled up when we have to change course.  It’s almost as if we have to sort out the collision between where we thought we were headed and all it entailed,  and come to terms with the shift to the new direction that we know we must take.

The inclination to resist that shift can be a strong one to overcome.  Disappointment, frustration, or even surprise can keep our feet rooted to the old path and prevent us from moving ahead as we must.  I keep thinking of Gus and his happy acceptance of the new route we took yesterday.  He just seemed to trust that it would be just as much fun as the one he was expecting, and he simply followed my lead as we turned from the fields.

As our family travels the journey of my father’s illness together, we are experiencing this phenomenon over and over again.  Just when we think we have sorted out what is going on, and have come to terms with what we have to cope with, some unexpected event happens to throw us in a totally new direction.  Sometimes things have gone up, and sometimes they have gone down.  We are doing our best to just roll with the punches, and to regroup and continue marching forward together after each new event.  Sometimes we’ve even been lucky, and things have turned out better than before.    In the end we’ve all agreed that it’s the only strategy that’s worthwhile.

There’s nothing wrong with being alone

Gus looking out the front window

One of the hardest things for me to cope with since having Gus is leaving him home alone.  The sight of him in the front window, with his chin on the ledge, tugs painfully at my heartstrings as I back the car out of the driveway.  He looks so abandoned and forlorn, and I always feel terrible to be leaving him behind inside as I go off out into the world for a time.

Am I crazy to feel this way?  Maybe.  Dog experts will tell you that dogs live in the present, and they promptly forget about what isn’t in front of them anymore.  We have often joked that we’d love to plant a video camera in the house, to record what Gus is actually doing when he is home by himself.  It would probably reveal a far different scenario than the lonely misery I imagine.  Like our kids when they were left home alone for the first time, he likely takes advantage of the lack of supervision to push back the boundaries a little.  Maybe he checks out all our beds, stretches out on the sofa for a while, and has a good long snuffle through all the garbage and dirty laundry he so dutifully avoids in our presence.  Or maybe . . . he does nothing at all, and just relaxes and enjoys the peace and quiet!

Time alone is a rare commodity in our busy lives.  We are programmed and scheduled with work and activities, and these usually involve a myriad of colleagues, friends and family members.  I’ve mentioned before that our house is usually bustling with teens and activity, and that’s the way I truly prefer it.  However, on the rare occasions that I do find myself alone in the house, it feels like a little gift.  Whether I choose to use that time for admirable pursuits like work or housecleaning (you now know that’s not very often!), or I simply sit down and relax with a cup of tea, I find that I end up refreshed and recharged as a result.

Since my Dad has been in hospital for weeks now, our family has pulled together in so many ways.  One thing my siblings and I have done is to ensure that our Mom does not feel she is facing this journey alone.  We have worked out an informal schedule so that someone is always with her at the hospital, and we have escorted her home at night on many occasions.  The other day, in a particularly difficult moment, I suggested that she might want me to move in with her for a bit.  My Mom is an incredible lady.  She has demonstrated a combination of  brilliant insight with a quiet strength, sensitivity, humour and a ton of class.  She very kindly thanked me for my offer, and gently said to me, “I need some time alone each night.  It’s important for me right now.”  She’s completely right, and I understood.

I respect my Mom’s need for space, and I understand that, just like me, we all benefit from quiet time in our own company on a regular basis.  I’m even starting to think differently about people I see having dinner in restaurants alone.   And finally, for now, I’m committed to getting over my hangup about leaving Gus to chill on his own in the house.  Maybe his head is on the ledge so he can make sure I’m completely out of sight before he bounds upstairs to do his thing!

A clean floor is highly overrated

Okay, I’ll admit it.  Right now the floor in my house is filthy.  No, I don’t just mean there’s a speck here or there.  I mean clumps of dog hair in the corners, pawprints up and down the hall, and big splotchy marks all over the kitchen tiles from I’m not sure what. . . that kind of filthy!  Sorry Mom, and all the rest of you who have this impression that I’m neat, clean and organized; but the truth is out.

In reality, it’s pretty much a full time job keeping a white tile floor clean when you have three teenagers and an 82 pound brown, furry, drooling doodle who spend most of their time there.  There are days when I do think it’s worth trying.  Like twice a month, after the cleaning lady has been with us.  I used to tell her that I was going to tape the kids to the walls for a few hours after she left, just to enjoy the clean feeling.  We keep a towel beside Gus’s water dish, and on those days we’re pretty good about standing over him while he drinks so we can dry off his beard as soon as he’s done.  You see, what happens is that he splashes water everywhere while he drinks, and then he wanders all over the rest of the kitchen dripping from his beard for the next 5 minutes or so.  Of course, if there is any dried dirt on his paws during this time, then it rehydrates as he wanders through the dripped water and. . . I think you get the picture.

The other thing about Gus is that, unlike most doodles, he does shed.  One of the reasons we chose his breed is that they are supposed to be “low to non-shedding.”  We always say that Gus failed that class.  It’s not his fault, but he does drop a fair bit of hair around the house, and it seems to accumulate along the baseboards, like tumbleweed.

So what’s a girl to do?  I could spend every spare minute following Gus and the kids around, and mopping, vacuuming and wiping up every drop, hair and crumb.  Frankly, I just don’t think it’s worth it.  If I have the choice of how I can spend my free time, then there are plenty of other options I can think of that will come ahead of floor cleaning.  When it’s all said and done, I hope I will be remembered for the important things I’ve done and left behind; not the status of my kitchen floor.

I came upon this little poem by an unknown author.  I think it sums up what I’m trying to say:

Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed;
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there’s not much time,
With rivers to swim, and mountains to climb;
Music to hear, and books to read;
Friends to cherish, and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes, and the wind in your hair;
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go (and go you must)
You, yourself, will make more dust.

Remember, a house becomes a home when you can write
“I love you” on the furniture…..

Dear Bo

Sweet gus cover shot

Hey!  So, my Mom just read me an article in the paper all about you, and I thought it was time I dropped you a line.  I was a little disappointed when the Obamas chose you instead of a Labradoodle, but it looks like you’re doing a great job over there!  Pretty cool that you even have your own baseball card.  I don’t really know what a baseball card is, but maybe I can get one too if enough people want to know about me one day.  I’ll have to look into it.

I heard about all the stuff you’ve been doing, and you remind me a lot of myself when I was younger.  Don’t worry, you’ll soon learn that there are lots of things that taste better than sneakers and magazines, and I’m sure your family will start to keep things tidier so you don’t get into them as much.  Mine did.  Just make sure you don’t eat anything that’s labelled “top secret” – you’ll probably get heck for that!

I think it’s great that your goal is to make friends with foreign dognitaries.  I bet there are some cool dogs that come to visit you from faraway places.  Sometimes we have to be the ones to remind our people that we all have so much in common, despite what they seem to think.  Some of my best friends are totally different than me, and we all hang out at the park together just fine.  I even get along great with lots of little tiny dogs, even though their owners are sometimes worried because I look so big and powerful.   I’m pretty good at knowing how to run and play nicely without hurting them.  Sometimes I get a little possessive if another dog takes my ball, but my mom has learned that we usually work things out ourselves if our people just stay out of it.  My family has made a ton of new friends because of me, and everyone gets along just great.

I’m glad to hear that you’re helping Barack to deal with all the stress of his job.  Good for you!  I know that my mom has been writing a lot about how I help her to unwind, and how getting outside every day with me helps her to balance out all the other stuff she has to deal with.  Whatever your dad does, it sounds pretty stressful, so he’s lucky to have you around to help out.  He sounds like a cool guy if he can pause to appreciate the magic of the moment late at night with a bag full of poop.  I think he and my mom would get along great.

That’s really neat that your favourite food is tomatoes – me too!  In fact, I’ve discovered that the local ones really are the best, and they’re in season right now.  We have lots in our backyard, and I’ve been helping myself whenever no one is looking.   Have you been able to check out the ones from Michelle’s garden on the lawn?  I’ve heard that her garden is really something, and I’m sure the tomatoes there are great.  Give it a try.  Just be careful you don’t trample all the other stuff – you might get in trouble for that.

I hear you’ve been to charm school.  I did that too when I was little.  I don’t know why, but our people get so excited when we do things like sitting or shaking a paw whenever they ask.  I can even do “high five” and “roll over.”  Truthfully, it all seems kind of dumb to me.  I mean, have you ever seen any of them tell each other to “sit” all of a sudden when they’re just walking along or doing their thing?  Whatever.  All in all it’s no big deal to me, and they get so excited when I do it right on cue, especially if someone important is watching.  Besides, I usually get a cookie anyways.  I love cookies.

It sounds like you’ve got things all figured out over there.  Especially the part about loving your family.  When it comes right down to it, that’s really what matters most.  I’m sure Malia and Sasha are crazy about you the way my family is about me.   It seems like every ten minutes someone is coming over for a hug or a cuddle.  And if my mom and dad are hugging, I usually bark and nose my way into the hug too.  It makes us all feel good.

Well Bo, I just wanted to say hi and touch base.  Keep up the great work.  It sounds like you’re becoming pretty famous and you’re doing a lot to remind people of some simple but important stuff.  Hey, if you’re ever up in Canada; look me up. I know we could have a lot of fun together.   I’m sure your dad has people who can track me down.

In the meantime, all the best,

keep on doing what you’re doing -it’s all good!

Love, Gus

Always carry a second plastic bag

After having Gus for three and a half years, I’m pretty good at getting organized with everything I think I need before we go out for our walks:  hat, sunglasses, ball, treats, water bottle, leash, and of course, a doggie poop bag.  Sometimes I feel like I’m back in the days of having toddlers again.  Back then, we used to leave the house for an outing looking like we were going away for a week! Anyways, off we’ll go and everything usually rolls along as planned, including the inevitable poop.  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, “keep your eyes on the prize,” I pride myself on being a completely responsible dog owner, and I never leave a poop behind in the grass.  So, the poop goes in the bag and the bag goes in the nearest garbage can, and that’s the end of that.

Except. . . once in a while the unexpected occurs.  For some reason that I can’t explain, there are occasional days when Gus breaks with routine and poops a second time during his walk!  Now, pardon me for going into so much detail about all this, but I’m trying to make a point here.  The first time this happened, I actually looked at Gus and said “what are you doing??”  He looked up at me with a look that said “if you don’t know by now what I’m doing, then you haven’t been paying much attention.”  Okay, maybe his look didn’t really say all that, but I had no business questioning his business, did I?  I mean, if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.  The problem was, I had already used my poop bag. I was sort of left not holding the bag, if you know what I mean!  It was an uncomfortable sort of feeling.

Being a resourceful kind of girl, I managed to deal with that situation using a bunch of leaves that were conveniently handy on the ground.  Not ideal, but certainly eco-friendly!  Another time I was caught off guard like that, I actually knocked on a neighbour’s door and politely asked for a plastic bag.  He was more than happy to cooperate.  After that, I learned my lesson.  Now I always make sure that I have at least two or even three bags on hand whenever we go out.  You just never know.

The boy scouts had it right when they chose “be prepared”  as their motto.  In life, we just don’t always know what’s around the next corner.  If we plan for what we anticipate, and then add an extra measure,  we’ll likely be ready in case of the unexpected.  Overpreparing a little helps to build confidence that we’ll be able to handle whatever gets thrown our way.  If you think one bag will do the trick, then  throw in an extra one or two and you know you’ll be fine.  Who knows,  you may even be able to come to the aid of a friend in need!

The thrill of the hunt

Gus with his soccer ball

It happens all the time.  We’ll be out in the field or cruising along the sidewalk, and suddenly Gus will dive into a clump of bushes.  I’ve learned that, on these occasions, there’s nothing that will distract him or lure him from what he’s doing.  For several minutes he will frantically root around and dig with fierce determination, and he always eventually emerges triumphantly with something in his teeth.  We have amassed quite a collection of his trophies:  zillions of assorted balls, mitts and gloves, a hat or two, and even the occasional shoe that he has proudly carried home after discovering them abandoned here and there around the neighbourhood.  For those of you who have been missing these items, I’m really sorry, but with no name tags it’s hard to know who to return them to.  As far as Gus is concerned, the rule is “finders keepers.”

Truthfully, he usually loses interest in these discoveries soon after bringing them home.  In fact, he often will dig up and carry some new item all the way through the neighbourhood, only to drop it on the grass down the street from our house.  It’s as if he is content to have unearthed and claimed the treasure, but really isn’t too hung up on owning it for the long term.  The thrill was in the hunt itself.

I know exactly how Gus feels.  If you are like me, then you realize that we are now in garage sale season.  Just this morning, we passed several signs on our walk, and of course we detoured so I could have a look.  I don’t know why, but I just can’t resist the chance to poke through someone else’s old castoff bits and pieces.  Sometimes there is something specific I’m looking for.  Right now I’d be thrilled to discover an old student desk for Rebecca’s new apartment at school.  But most of the time, I’m just in it for the chase.

It truly is a form of treasure hunting for me.  I can feel my pulse quicken in anticipation as I dig deeper through boxes or piles of this and that.  I get a real adrenaline rush when I suddenly discover something of value – even if it is only valuable to me.  Over the years I have acquired some beautiful heirloom silver pieces and antique cameras and radios, and recently I found a brand new food dehydrator -something I had been planning to go out and purchase.  I have stocked my bookshelves with bestselling novels and sought-after cookbooks; I bought Jeff a turntable that he wanted,  and I have even picked up a few pieces of art.

Like Gus, I occasionally get home and realize that my “treasure” really is just junk.  Sometimes what looks like gold doesn’t glitter quite as brightly in a different light!  No problem – we’ve made our share of donations to Goodwill, and we’ve recycled quite a lot of stuff by holding many garage sales of our own over the years.  And okay, I do have to admit that our basement doesn’t really have too much empty space anymore.  I don’t care.  As entertainment goes, it is pretty inexpensive, it’s local, and in today’s world it’s considered eco-friendly too!

Gotta go now – there are a few more sales we didn’t hit this morning, and the good stuff will all be gone soon!