Monthly Archives: March 2010

Gus: The Homecoming!

Hooray!  Our little Gus came home this afternoon!

It has been a very mellow homecoming for him, as he is still coming off the anesthesia from this morning’s neuter surgery.  He took a short walk around the block downtown near the shelter and started off quite jauntily before suddenly halting in the middle of the sidewalk, at which point Matt carried him to the car.  He was very happy to get in the car and rested quietly on my lap all the way home.  When we arrived, we took him out front where he happily found a spot to make his own, if you know what I mean, and then came inside.

So worn out was Gus that after a little time hanging out with us, he was shown his new crate.  The sweet guy just walked right in and lay down for a nap!

Later, he came out and approached Matt, who showed him his doggy bed.  Gus climbed right in and hung out there for a while.

He’s gone out every couple hours but is mostly mellow and resting at home.  There have been no problems with his house training so far.  When we sat down to dinner, he walked right back to his crate and hung out there while we ate.  He’s not supposed to eat until morning due to nausea, but he drank a little water.

Gus really perks up on a walk.  This evening we had to stop him from running, since he’s not supposed to do that for a while post-surgery.  I was pleased to see him so alert and happy after so much grogginess.  He is so obedient, he’s surely had good training.  Tonight I suggested to the kids, “Should we take Gus for a walk?” and he ran around the corner and looked at me with the most adorable, alert expression.  He came right to me for his leash and waited quietly at the door until everyone was ready.  While walking, he responded to “Walk, Gus!” when he started to dawdle, and got right back on track.  Matt noticed that at alleys and corners he responded to “stop” and “go”, and sure enough he is very good about stopping the moment his walker stops, and waiting until we move again.  He has no problem being the follower of the pack.  I was so prepared to need to train him in all that!  The kids are excellent with the praise, especially Baxter who read a couple of books on dog communication last week.  At one point, he said gently, “You’re such a good, good boy!” and Gus picked up the pace and wagged his tail happily.

Right now the boys are playing quietly near him and Gus is standing under Baxter’s desk, watching from a safe distance.  Lyle stopped to croon, “You’re so CUTE, Gus!”

I agree.  It’s been a great first day!

Finding Gus

Last fall, right around Halloween, a friend remembered that we were considering adding a dog to our family and mentioned that she was getting a puppy from a neighbor’s litter.  The pups were a hypoallergenic breed.  We went into Full Crazy Mode, visiting the sweet little puppy and trying to figure out if we should or could do it.  In the end, we finally decided against it, despite the fact that we had fallen head over heels for the pup.  It was too difficult for us to tell if we were allergic to the little guy with our fall allergies in full swing, and Matt and I weren’t prepared to tackle first-time dog ownership in such a spontaneous way.

Since that time we have essentially “interviewed” friends and family who own dogs, read some great books about it, and, over time, gained what we think is a pretty clear idea of how much is involved.  Our kind downstairs neighbors offered to let us have play dates with their Bichon-Poodle mix to watch for allergies and give all of us a better sense of having a dog around the house and in the community.  Throughout the fall, the boys and I took him for walks and played with him at our house a couple afternoons a week.  Baxter has enjoyed taking him out in the neighborhood on his own and has proven to be very responsible and loving with him.  Matt joined us for a walk one day and realized it was the first time in his life he’d walked a dog.  A couple weeks ago when we had this dog visiting for a few hours, I saw Matt spontaneously decide to go back out and take another walk with him, just for fun.

We live in a fabulous dog neighborhood.  The beach is just down the block and adjacent to that is a large park and a path along Lake Michigan.  In my 7-unit condo building alone, there are already 5 dogs.  I rarely hear any of them, and we enjoy having them around.  There are so many benefits to owning a dog, but Matt and I especially look forward to having more time out in our neighborhood getting regular exercise and socializing with neighbors.  I met so many new people on our walks with our neighbor’s pooch.

By late winter we were both fully on board with this plan to add a dog to our family but weren’t sure of the timing and cost (especially thinking we probably had to go through a breeder due to our allergy issues), and so although it was never far from our thoughts it was on the back burner.

Fast forward to last week.  I happened to have a meeting on Clybourn that turned out to be right next door to PAWS No-Kill Animal Shelter, a beautiful facility in Lincoln Park that I’d heard great things about.  I had some extra time so I went in and took a look at the dogs, and was quite surprised at the number of dogs that were hypoallergenic breeds.  And for only $200!  My cousin in San Francisco had just adopted a great dog at a shelter the weekend before, giving me all the more reason to hope we could take this humane, lower cost route to finding a no-shed dog.

I found a dog I loved on Wednesday; when I went back to the shelter with the boys on Friday afternoon, he was no longer there but two other possibilities had arrived.  By Saturday afternoon, when all four of us were available to go back to PAWS, and we had left the house in puppy-ready condition, there were no good matches left.  Poor Baxter watched his first choice dog walk out of the building with another family.  Although we had talked and talked about this possibility, he was despondent.

I remembered that a friend suggested we also try the Anti-Cruelty Society downtown, and so – in a rather depressed state – we headed down there. Now you only need to go to one more typical shelter like the Anti-Cruelty Society (which, I’m guessing, isn’t anywhere near the bottom of the barrel!) to realize how unique and lovely PAWS is, and I highly recommend you try them first if you are in the Chicago area.  But from the sidewalk, as I tried not to freak out over the scores of loud, barking dogs in cages inside, we saw a small white dog that looked remarkably like our neighbor’s dog we’ve been spending time with.  The four of us got to him as fast as we could, and brought him outside to walk and play.  He was not at all happy in his cage and was obviously rattled by the 3 days he’d spent there, but we quickly found him calming down and responding to our requirement that he walk alongside us.  He sat on our laps and was very friendly with all four of us.  He didn’t jump (as I did) when Lyle randomly shouted “Boo!” in my face, or when Matt purposely dropped a set of keys nearby a couple times.  Furthermore, although he was eager to get to the other dogs out on the patio, he stayed with us when commanded and didn’t bark once in that entire hour.  He appeared to be in decent health and was the first shelter dog I’d liked that wasn’t underweight.  After talking through his medical exam and having our interview with the shelter staff, we decided to adopt him.

We named him Gus.  Gus is a 3-year old Bichon Frise; the jury is out on whether he is also part poodle, and he certainly looks an awful lot like our sweet neighbor dog, he’s just a bit bigger.  The poor guy hadn’t been neutered yet and so they’re doing that this morning.  We’re counting down the hours until we can pick him up today at 4pm (7 hours and counting!).   It was heartbreaking to leave him behind in the shelter, and I tried to convince them to let us take him home and we’d pay to get him neutered today, but they aren’t allowed to let a dog go without neutering him first.

In the end, though, it was rather helpful for us to have a day at home knowing which dog we are taking home.  We finished up our preparatory shopping (helpful to know you have an adult dog rather than a puppy) and Matt had a chance to buy and install a gate.  Although Gus is 3 years old and supposedly house trained, we’re keeping our expectations low, especially after the trauma of leaving home and spending 5 days in the shelter.  We’ve removed all rugs and anything interesting to chew (other than plenty of dog toys) from our kitchen/dining room area, and put together a cozy crate, dog bed (for daytime naps when we’re home) and eating area for him.  Cords are under wrap and we put up hooks to hang the leash by the back door.

On Saturday night, Lyle was working in a journal that asked him to draw a family picture.  We were touched to see him draw four family members and a dog.  He also made a welcome home sign for Gus that he turned into a “welcome mat” to go in front of his crate.  I’m still working on helping him understand that if he wants to keep it intact he might need to find another spot, but it’s extremely sweet.  Baxter is a serious dog lover, so this is his dream come true.  He stayed pretty distant from Gus on Saturday because he had been let down so badly when the other dogs he’d loved weren’t available that morning, but he is beyond excited.  It has been very hard for him to get through these 48 hours.  The boys each chose a special toy for Gus at a local pet supply store yesterday, and we’ve got food and treats ready for him. Gus couldn’t come into a more prepared or excited household!

All this doesn’t mean I’m without fears.  Gus seems like a laid-back, responsive dog.  It will be helpful that he’s not a rambunctious puppy.  He was reportedly in a home with children and was not aggressive with them.  At the same time, we don’t know what his first three years have been like.  How was he treated?  What are his experiences with humans?  Why was he surrendered?  I will also be grateful when a private vet spends time examining him and can give us more information and guidance about him.  And although it helps that we’ve spent loads of time with a Bichon-Poodle mix without allergy problems, that will remain my greatest fear, probably for a couple months.  I’ll jump at every sneeze.  It’s not helpful that now we’re experiencing our typical spring allergies and Baxter and I are already sniffly.

I will be the primary caregiver for Gus and with that joy will come a lot of changes for me as well; I don’t know yet how he will do when I need to be away for part of the day, and I will have to adjust to keeping the dog’s needs on my radar at all times when I schedule my days.  It helps to have referrals to great dog-walkers and pet-sitters who can help out as needed.  But this is a time of change for me already.  Knowing that I need to figure Gus into the equation ahead of time will allow me to make decisions that work for all of us, and I’m completely dedicated to doing that.

And so it begins.  Wish us luck!

We are Studious…

…very, very studious.

Meltdowns of Volcanic Proportions

It was an emotional afternoon for the Wonderfamily today. Baxter, who has been out of it all day and brought home some less-than-stellar papers from school, melted down about school work that is apparently simultaneously too easy and too difficult, and informed me that he’s exhausted all the time at school, despite his 10.5 solid hours of sleep every night.  “Maybe it’s because I’m growing so fast,” he suggested tearfully.  Indeed; he has grown an inch since Christmas.  We cuddled on the couch for a while and talked about feeling overwhelmed and the winter blues, and a while later when I turned on some music I watched him whirl in circles and boogie to his heart’s content.  He seemed more himself afterward.

For his part, Lyle pulled a stunt I hadn’t seen in a long while, that of purposely making requests that he knew I would say “no” to (such as getting McDonald’s for dinner out of the blue, or getting his bike from storage and riding it just as I was beginning to make dinner) and then falling apart over each denial.  “I haven’t gotten to make a choice in YEARS!” he wailed.  (Matt later pointed out that just last night he got to make the choice to wear his swimsuit to bed in lieu of pajamas, so that isn’t 100% accurate. But you probably already knew that.)

I’m not entirely sure why the crazy hit our little household this afternoon all of a sudden – and for both of the boys – although in hindsight I realize that I talked with them about the fact that I will increase my work hours again this summer on our drive home from school.  At the time they seemed to take it in stride, but I have a feeling it had an impact on little Lyle.  Perhaps it didn’t help that we happened to have our former nanny (who took care of him 3 days a week when he was younger and I was working intensely, something that upset Lyle) here babysitting this evening. It’s possible that I didn’t time that conversation so well.

Or maybe it was a fluke, a one-off.  Whatever the cause, I was most fascinated by the way Lyle handled it.  In the middle of more loud demands from him, I observed aloud that he was really very frustrated and angry, and that I’d like to see a picture of how mad he was.  He likes to draw, and went right at it.

First, he brought me this scribbled piece of his mind:

“I’m so mad, this is all lightning around me!” he yelled angrily. (He didn’t mention that he had become an At-At.)

Then he took off and created another:

“I’m as mad as THIS VOLCANO!!” was his next very loud assertion.

Finally, he grabbed two pieces of paper and asked for help finding some tape.  While I stood by the stove, maddeningly not doing what he wanted, he created his piece de resistance:

“This is me exploding with anger!” he shouted,  his tone matching the violent eruption of this very tall volcano.  “There’s lava EVERYWHERE!”

I exclaimed over the magnitude of the eruption and how angry he must be. I noted that it must be awful to be so very mad.

And you know what?  That was it.  Emotionally, he erupted right along with that massive volcano, and the catharsis of drawing it and showing me just how bad it was seemed to be what he needed.  Without another word about it from either of us, he puttered around the kitchen, chatting happily about Bakugan toys while I made the wrong dinner and didn’t ride bikes.  It was a win-win.

More Better than Money

In the middle of the night last night, Lyle woke to find something in his mouth.  “I thought it was an Umbreon,” he stated most bizarrely at breakfast, flashing his adorable grin with the new hole, “but then when I spitted it out I saw that it was my loose tooth!”  He put it on his nightstand and carried it up in his hand this morning to show us.  (What, no drama?)

Putting him to bed tonight, I had him check to make sure that his teeny tiny tooth was tucked inside his Tooth Fairy pillow – the one that was mine as a child.  The kid was fairly jumping out of his skin with excitement.

“I’m going to get money from the Tooth Fairy!  What’s more better than money?!” he yelped.

Laughing, I suggested there were actually many things more better than money.

“Oh, yeah!  Cupcakes!” he exclaimed.

“Can’t you think of anything ‘more better’ than money and cupcakes?” I asked him. This led to a long, convoluted conversation about how on cable he once saw a commercial for Cupcake Pebbles cereal – my utter disgust was interpreted as a sign that I didn’t actually believe there was such a thing and he had to bring Baxter (resident expert on cable commercials, apparently) in to prove that these existed. No one seemed to understand that I was just grossed out, not actually disbelieving.

“What about your family??” I asked, trying to get back on point, which prompted him to say, “Mmmm…” as if unsure, and he held up his two hands about six inches from each other, adding, “about this much.”  Ah. Thanks.  When I named specific people in his life, and say, the whole concept of LOVE, he readily agreed that all those things were “wicked awesome” (I’ve trained him to speak ‘New Hampshire’ just for kicks).

“But…nothing is more better than money,” he concluded.

Milestone: Making Dinner

The boys and I were home together on Monday, thanks to Casimir Pulaski.  At some point in the morning they asked for a snack and I suggested they go make their own, so off they ran.  I am constantly working on independence with these boys; one of my greatest hopes is that they grow up to be men who can do as much around the house as their father does.  I pondered this as I heard them getting out cheese, crackers, and apples for their snack, and realized that with nothing on the agenda for the afternoon, it would be a good day for an endeavor I’d been meaning to suggest for a while: letting this 5- and 9-year old pair do some cooking on their own.

The boys loved this idea, and excitedly pored over our kids’ cookbooks while they ate their snack.  I told them they could make a snack, dessert, dinner, whatever they wanted, as long as we had all the ingredients in the house, and that they’d be doing it on their own.  Although I happen to prefer the recipes in the Pretend Soup cookbook, they chose two recipes from Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual.  By some miraculous twist of fate, they actually chose a dinner (burritos) and dessert (brownies) that we had all the ingredients for.

One of things I loved about this experience was seeing Baxter stopping to think about the Big Picture®, right from the start.  He figured out on his own what time they should start making each of the recipes, based on how long they were estimated to take and when we wanted to eat dinner, and he accepted my suggestion that they might want to add more time to the plan since it was their first time making each one.  It hadn’t occurred to me how much executive functioning is required to plan, prepare, and make a meal; it’s wonderful practice for kids and I was happy to see how much it’s developed in Baxter this year!

With the brownies, I helped by getting out many of the ingredients since our baking ingredients are so high in our cupboards that even I can’t reach them without a stool.  Once everything was out on the counter and I’d instructed Baxter on how to turn on the oven to preheat, I stepped away.  I set up my computer at the dining room table, just a few feet away, and did some work.  I watched in amazement as they accurately measured ingredients, took turns, and discussed how it was going.  I saw Baxter automatically get out a knife to level the dry ingredients, and watched Lyle find a spoon to retrieve the many egg shells he’d dropped into the batter. Baxter laughed and exclaimed, “Oh my God, Lyle!” when Lyle dumped the egg on the counter and the shell into the bowl. Lyle enthusiastically repeated my mantra when baking with them, “Mistakes were made, messes were cleaned up!” as he cheerfully fished out the shells.  They asked me a few questions (“Mommy, why isn’t there a 3/4 cup here!” and “When the oven preheats, why doesn’t it keep getting hotter?”) but I only got up to take pictures.

I realized watching them that so many things I assumed they knew – such as where we keep the mixing spoons and the use of different measuring cups for liquids and solids – had to be discovered when doing the job themselves.  I think that even when we’re teaching our kids so much by our sides, they can’t fully learn the skill until they have the opportunity to problem-solve their way through it on their own.  For the record, if they had messed something up – like left eggshells in or not mixed it well – I would not have said a word.  They’d have learned from their mistakes when they bit into crunchy brownies or got a mouthful of salt.

Spreading Crisco on the brownie pan almost made Baxter gag.

Those textures freak him out.

Taking turns stirring the mix.  I was relieved they didn’t ask for the Kitchen Aid!

Overheard:  Lyle – “Can I eat some sugar with my hands?” Baxter – “No, that would taste…overwhelming.”

They worked hard at mixing and to their credit it was well-blended. I didn’t anticipate that.

Overheard: Baxter – “This is starting to smell really exciting!”

The only thing I had to help with was lifting that heavy bowl so they could scrape it.

Licking the spoons was, of course, a highlight worth waiting for.

He was a mess, but a very happy mess.

Looking good!  Baxter put it into the hot oven on his own-

it was very hard not to intercept with that, but I succeeded.

Later in the afternoon, they started the burritos.  I realized that despite all the baking the boys and I have done together, I’ve rarely cooked with them.  This is due in part to the time of day when I make dinner – if they’re not doing homework or practicing their instruments, it’s their first downtime to take a break before we eat. Also, frankly, I think kids are just generally more excited about the outcome of baking projects.  Between inexperience and the fact that this meal was to be concocted over an open flame, I stayed closer by while they made the burritos on the stove top. Baxter made his own, melting butter on the pan and then turning up the heat to lay his tortilla on a pan and adding ingredients before folding it over and covering it to cook.  He learned how to control the burners and how to coordinate everything while wearing an oven mitt.  Baxter also chose the vegetable to have on the side – I thought corn was a perfect choice!

Lyle made his as well, standing on a stool and feeling pretty cautious around the gas burner.  I worked with him to figure out how much he could do safely, which was most of the process.  I have to say, those burritos were really quite delicious!

Baxter loved his burrito and was so proud of himself!

So was Lyle!

I put Baxter in charge of cutting the brownies for dessert.

The boys thought we should each get a quarter of the pan, at which point we intervened.

Everything was delicious and I couldn’t have been prouder of the kids.  We talk about so many important childhood milestones, but I’ve decided the day that your kids plan, make, and serve you dinner themselves is a pretty great one.