Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Curmudgeon family goes to the dogs -- Part I -- family history

Not my immediate family, mind you. Long Suffering Spouse and I have not acquired a pet.

But Younger Daughter just did. And Older Daughter tried to.

In fact, in the last month or so, Younger Daughter acquired three puppies, one of whom was the one that Older Daughter tried to get.

I'll explain presently -- but let me back up just a bit first.

I have a complicated relationship with dogs. I like them well enough. I'm not fond of cleaning up after them. (Is anyone?) As near as I can tell, most dogs like me well enough, too.

My parents almost always had a dog when I was growing up. One, of course, was "my" dog.

When I was in first grade or thereabouts one of the kids at school had a dog (of indeterminate lineage) who had puppies (of even more indeterminate lineage). This happened at one of those rare times when my parents had no dog (they had recently gotten rid of a dog, Sam, who turned out to be a cur -- I suppose he must have bit one of my siblings -- or my parents thought it was inevitable that he would).

Anyway, my parents agreed that we could look at the new puppies and, just possibly, pick one out.

I think very few humans are immune to puppies. I'm not, certainly. I was smitten as badly as either of my daughters recently or any of their kids with any of the puppies referred to above. And it just so happened that, at the time of our visit, one of the litter was not yet spoken for.

That became "my" dog.

My parents extracted all the usual promises: I would clean up after the dog. I would feed it. I would walk it. I would take care of it. Day or night. No excuses. No whining. I meant each and every word of every solemn vow when I made them. And, like every kid before and since, I broke each and every one of these vows within weeks, if not days, thereafter.

The dog was still "my" dog because I got to name it.

My father had very specific criteria for dog names: Something simple. One or two syllables at the most. That way, the dog would recognize its name, he explained, and learn to come when called. If at all possible, the name should describe some characteristic of the animal.

I pondered long and hard over this naming business. Eventually, though, inspriation struck.

I remember my father was shaving when I gave him the good news. I had a name: Piddle. Two syllables. And it certainly described a characteristic of the animal -- it seemed to be the animal's primary occupation.

To no one's surprise, except my own at the time, my father's response to my announcement was less than enthusiastic. But he was kind about it. "Suppose the dog gets out of the yard," he asked, putting his mug and brush aside (I'm not that old -- it's just what he used), "and you had to go out to call the dog back. Would it be a good idea to yell 'Piddle' out on the front sidewalk?"

I had to admit that I hadn't thought of that.

"You'll just have to think of another name," he said, and resumed shaving.

I was hung up on this defining characteristic thing. "Will the puppy be very big when he is full-grown?" I asked.

"Not particularly," my father replied. He knew about this stuff.

"Will he be very small?"

"No, sort of in-between."

"So not big or little, but medium?" I asked.

"I suppose, yes."

"That's it then!" I enthused. "We'll call him Medium."

"That's three syllables," my father said, or started to say. But he seemed to know the battle was lost as soon as he said it. I recognize the feeling now, only too well. I'm sure he thought well, it's better than Piddle. And, besides, he had to finish shaving.

* * * * *
Medium became the kind of dog a future Curmudgeon would appreciate. Mean. Ornery. Irascible. He didn't like most people, men especially. He excepted my father and me from his general disdain for the male of the human species, although there was one time, long after we'd moved to Boondockia, that he seems to have forgotten that he liked my father, because one day, for no apparent reason, the dog turned on him, and my father had to remind the dog of their long-standing mutal affection with a 2x4 that he just happened to be carrying.

I realize that looks awful in print. It wasn't quite so bad in reality. You'll just have to take my word for it. (At one point my father explained he quickly realized the dog had simply forgotten himself. "If I thought he really meant to attack me," he said, "I would have killed him. But, instead, I just knocked some sense into him.")

I'm not sure if the explanation helps.

In any event, thus reminded, Medium resumed cordial relations with my father that lasted for the rest of the dog's life.

I was not present when "my" dog died. He lived to a ripe old age for dogs and, by that time, I was living away from home.

However, I thought one afternoon that I had witnessed the dog's demise. We lived on a country road in Boondockia. There wasn't much traffic at the busiest times and there wasn't much concern about the dog being out in front of the house. He had never chased cars before.

One afternoon, however, the dog apparently decided to tick that particular item off his bucket list: He attacked a school bus coming down the street. I saw the dog get run over................. and I saw him come out of the other side, shaken, perhaps a bit chastened, but otherwise unharmed. The bus, likewise, was uninjured and continued on its way. That dog was so mean he could fight a school bus to a draw. As far as I know, however, he never sought a rematch.

Medium had one talent. He could pick things up off the floor and return them to the nearest human. The human's expected response was, "Thank you," whereupon the dog would drop the item or allow it to be pried from his muzzle. For this service, the dog expected to compensated with a dog treat. Which was promptly provided. I mean, it would be the height of folly to keep a mean dog waiting.

Socks, used facial tissues, laundry that didn't make it in the hamper, a kid's toy -- anything on the floor in the house was subject to retrieval in this way. If you didn't want the dog to put it in his mouth, you learned to keep it off the floor.

One day, after we'd moved to Boondockia, my mother was tending to bushes in front of the house when Medium approached with something he'd found outside. He dropped a wriggling, badly injured, and thoroughly terrified baby bunny right in my mother's lap, expecting "thank you" followed by a dog treat. He was not expecting my mother's ear-piercing shriek.

I wound up taking the bunny back into the field next door from whence it most likely came. I don't suppose it survived -- it's possible -- but the dog learned that picking things up outdoors was not as rewarding as picking things up indoors.

* * * * *
I was in high school when my aunt and uncle followed us up from Chicago's South Side to Boondockia. I don't remember, now, if there was some delay before their house was ready but I do recall that their dog came to reside with us for several months during this time of transition.

Taffy was as sweet and good-natured as Medium was mean and ornery. One might think that a recipe for disaster, but exactly the opposite provded to be the case.

Taffy was enormously fat when she came to us. But Medium soon sweated the pounds off her. Both were rejuvenated by the experience.

When his canine cousin returned to her regularly scheduled family, Medium moped to the point that my parents decided to get another dog to keep him company. And they did. From that point on, my parents always had two dogs.

Four, altogether.

Three of them were large enough that, standing on their hind legs, they could rest their paws on my shoulder and take my chin in their mouths.

Dog fanciers will know that there is no greater sign of affection. My wife, who thought she was a dog fancier, but grew up with a miniature poodle and a pekingese mop head and so didn't know better, was scared to death the first time she saw that.

The point is, I liked dogs. Still do. They like me. And, after I moved out of my parents' home, I never, ever wanted one of my own.

When you have a dog, you live according to the dog's schedule. I make fun of saccharine pet food commercials that ooze about loving 'pet parents,' but, disputes over nomenclature notwithstanding, I agree that dogs are people, too. The dog's needs must be taken into consideration. The dog must be let out, even when you want to sleep in. You can't stay too long with friends after work if no one is home to feed the dog at its accustomed time. One certainly can't just disappear for a few days. Vacations must be planned around the dog, if not actually with the dog.

I had five children, ultimately, and each had different needs and interests and schedules. A dog would have only added an entirely unwelcome additional set of complications.

Not that my kids didn't try, when they were younger, to get me to relent on the dog issue. Older Daughter was the most insistent.

In fact, one night when she was in third grade, Older Daughter told us, with absolute and grim certitude, that her teacher required all her students to have dogs. As homework. If we did not get a dog immediately, Older Daughter would fail third grade.

It must have seemed to her to be a brilliantly logical, foolproof plan. Older Daughter knew we valued education and we would never let her fail third grade if we could prevent it merely by taking in a dog.

She failed to take into account, however, the possibility that we might seek confirmation of this 'assignment.'

Not that we were in any way confrontational. Rather, we approached the teacher with the story as related to us by Older Daughter and asked if she could figure out any reason why Older Daughter would come up with such a whopper. Which of course there was: It seems Older Daughter wanted a dog so badly that she had actually made up stories about her longed-for dog and (to mix an animal metaphor) the chickens were coming home to roost. Evidence of said dog had been requested by skeptical classmates.

Toward the end, my parents' schedule completely revolved around their dogs. Boondockia was nearly an hour away from where Long Suffering Spouse and I set up our household. When Younger Daughter was an infant, my parents decided Boondockia was getting too crowded and they sold their one acre home for one set on 10 acres, another half hour (or so) further away. (In the Chicago area the 'half hour' is a unit of distance, used instead of miles or kilometers.)

Even before they got too sick to travel that distance, my parents' visits were always cut short by the need to "rescue the dogs." I suppose it's possible that my parents used their dogs as an excuse to extract themselves from the chaos of my household. At least sometimes. My kids could be rather loud. We live on a major O'Hare flightpath -- and I used to tell the kids that the airport had called complaining that they were so loud the control tower couldn't hear the jets coming in for a landing. I couldn't do anything about the physical damage to my eardrums, but I could take the edge off my nerves with an occasional scotch.

My parents were never teetotalers. In fact, if all the benefits claimed for red wine were true, both my parents would still be alive today. And my father would certainly join me if I offered scotch, though he might ask for vodka instead. These days I drink more vodka than scotch, too. Easier on the insides while still providing the same soothing effect despite the noise made by my 10 grandchildren (or whatever combination is present on any given occasion). The grandkids are at least as noisy as were their parents.

I have thus begun to suspect that, sometimes, when my parents expressed a need to "rescue the dogs" after visiting with us for only an hour, or even less, they were not always sincere. The dogs may have merely furnished a handy excuse when my parents were feeling a tad overwhelmed. But, I am just as certain that there were many instances where they really did have to cut short a visit because of genuine canine considerations.

I don't know how much time I'll have with my grandchildren. (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) But I don't want whatever time I do have to be cut short by taking care of dogs.

So, while I like dogs, I don't want dogs of my own and I've counseled all of my children against owning dogs. And, if you've ever stopped in here at all, you'll know how far I got with that advice.

I haven't forgotten that I set out to tell the tale of how Younger Daughter had three puppies in the last month, including one that her sister tried to get. But, before I get to that story, finally, there is still a little more you need to know first. I'll get to that next time.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Coming soon: Our first gender reveal party

We've heard of them, of course. They make the news from time to time -- when they cause apparent earthquakes in New Hampshire or devastating wildfires in California -- but we've never actually been invited to one.

Until now.

On Saturday afternoon Youngest Son and his wife Danica are planning a gender reveal party at their west suburban home. Hopefully it will not make the evening news.

When they informed me of their plans, using my best patriarchal voice, I strongly advised the kids against doing anything explosive. So, there's what? Maybe a 50-50 chance they'll listen?

Youngest Son and Danica have been longing to start a family of their own for some time. They've had their troubles, which I won't burden you with here. Suffice to say that, after what they've been through, if Danica and Youngest Son want to have a gender reveal party, Long Suffering Spouse and I enthusiastically support it. Even if (no surprise here) I don't entirely understand why a party is really necessary.

When my kids were coming along, gender reveals generally took place in the delivery room.

I was in the delivery room when Older Daughter came along, in 1984, watching the proceedings from my wife's bedside, at the head of the bed. I remember the doctor congratulating me on the birth of a healthy baby girl.

I also remember the thought that flickered through my little pea brain -- how can you tell?

In my defense, you must remember that I'm a lawyer. Like soon-to-be-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, I'm not a biologist.

Also, at that exact moment, I could only see the baby's backside.

But young parents in the 1980s did not typically know whether they were having a boy or girl until the child made its appearance in the world.

Obviously this has changed. It was already changing by the early 1990s, when Youngest Son was born.

Not that there weren't all sorts of people willing to venture predictions in those days. When Older Daughter was coming along, total strangers would come up to Long Suffering Spouse in the grocery, on more than one occasion touching or tapping her belly, and offering prophecies. Long Suffering Spouse took these intrusions in stride. Not once, insofar as I know, did Long Suffering ever slap away an offending hand and say, "Look, lady, the watermelons are over there."

Even without a party to announce it, today's parents can, and often do, find out the gender of their infant long before birth. Long Suffering Spouse has noticed that baby clothes these days are almost exclusively pink or blue (with an occasional Millennial gray, she will concede). She attributes this to new parents knowing well in advance whether they are having a boy or girl. In our day, she reminds me, newborn clothes were frequently yellow or green -- neutral colors that could be purchased before the blessed event but which could be worn by either a boy or girl. I've recently started looking for myself in the course of our increasingly frequent post-Pandemic retail forays and I can confirm Long Suffering Spouse's observations about baby clothes being almost exclusively blue or pink.

This gets me to thinking... has anybody informed Twitter about this gender reveal phenomenon? Or about the predominance of pink or blue baby clothes in the stores?

In the Twitterverse it seems gender is merely a construct, and a fluid one at that. If, in a moment of boredom or curiosity, a little boy picks up a dolly instead of a ball or a little girl plays with a truck, anxious adults start researching puberty blockers and gender reassignment surgeries. I suggest this may be a bit extreme. Sometimes, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, a truck is just a truck.

Anyway, back to Saturday. I wish to venture one of those fearless predictions that will forever exclude me from the ranks of real pundits: Though I'm no biologist, I predict that, on Saturday, we will find out that Grandchild No. 11 will be a boy.

Or a girl.

Just, please God, make him (or her) healthy.