Whiskers

Yesterday, a few hours before dismissal, I received an email from Luca’s teacher. She had taken the time to send it to all the parents, something for which I am so grateful.

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Dear Families,

Our classroom pet, “Whiskers,” the hamster, came to the end of his lifetime this morning. He was an old hamster; here before many of the children began attendance in the classroom. We explained to the children that he had come to the end of his lifetime and is no longer living. Death was explained as a cycle of nature – that his body was not alive and that it would change, get smaller and go back into the garden to give back to the trees.

We will read from a book, “Lifetimes” by Bryan Mellonie. Your children’s questions may bring an opportunity for you to explain your family’s perspective and faith.

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I knew the day, the one I’ve been dreading from the moment I had kids, was coming. And, sure enough, it finally came, in the form of a dead Hamster named Whiskers.

I made sure to be at the front of the dismissal line earlier than most days. I was going over questions he may ask in my head, and reminding myself not to project my fears onto him. Just because I’ve always had this great fear of death and loss, doesn’t mean he will.

He was okay when he hopped into the car, smiling even.

I waited a few minutes before bringing it up.

_ _

So, I heard about Whiskers, buddy.

Yeah, he died.

Yeah, your teacher told me. How do you feel?

Sad.

That’s what I figured. I feel sad, too.

Mommy, every living thing dies, right?

Yes. All living things die.

Except for people. People don’t die right?

No, people die, too, buddy. But, people live a long time, a lot longer than they used to. It’s not something you need to worry about, okay?

So, people will die when they turn 1,000?

Well, it’s different for everyone. There’s no exact number – but, usually, it’s when they’re really old.

< Lots of silence and thinking on both our parts >

Hey, how about we go to the bakery and buy a cake for Whiskers?

But, he’s dead, mommy.

I know, but we can still celebrate what a long and happy life he had? It will be our Celebration of Whiskers cake!

_ _

We got home with our Celebration of Whiskers’ Life Christmas cake and, immediately, cut ourselves a huge slice.

Then,  we clinked forks and shouted, “To Whiskers!”

_ _

To Whiskers, indeed.

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The Small Things.

Mommy, I’m ready to go to bed now.

“Finally,” I think, after an hour long, fierce battle of wills.  Just one more Caillou…I’m hungry….I want to cuddle…I’m not sleepy…

I grab frozen blood-worms and brine-shrimp from our freezer, a cup of soy milk, and Luca and I head upstairs to his room.

First, we feed his red fish, Red. Then, we move over to his other aquarium to feed his four African Dwarf Frogs: Luca Zapata’s Froggy 1, Luca Zapata’s Froggy II, Luca Zapata’s Froggy III, and Luca Zapata’s Froggy IV. Apparently, they are the George Foreman of frogs.

Luca rushes back to Red to click off the light and say night-night, then back to his frogs to tuck them in the same.

I turn the sound machine on, pull back the covers, and we both hop into bed.

Scratch my back, mommy.

*flips over*

Now, scratch my tummy.

Once the scratching has commenced, I search for the tag on his blankie, placing it gently between his thumb and index finger, so he can methodically rub it as he searches for sleep. It’s his thumb-suck.

I hand him his soy milk, and he says, “Don’t lay on my blankie, mommy.”

No, you don’t lay on my blankie, Luca.

He laughs loudly, like it isn’t the 100th time he’s heard this, “You don’t have a blankie, mommy.”

One big kiss, several squirms and grunts, then silence.

I lay next to him waiting, listening for his breath to fall into a rhythm that tells me it’s safe to sneak out of his room.

This is our ritual.

Every single night.

As I write these words, tears of pure joy run down my cheek, quickly followed by tears of sheer terror.

Terror of the unknown.

I was talking to my friend Jennifer the other day about the small, special rituals we share with our children.

I confessed to her the constant fear I carry around on my shoulders, that my kids could lose me way before I’ve carried them over into adulthood.

I’ve been scared of death from the moment I’ve found out what it meant. Not because I fear the unknown, but because I love living so much. And, now that I am a mother, because I love watching my kids live so much.

Sure, we’ve got all of our what-if papers in order. We did this right after the accident.

And I know, if something were to happen, that there plenty of people who will love them…as much as you can love someone whose not yours.

But, it’s those small, seemingly insignificant but-really-more-important-than-anything moments, that keep me awake at night.

Who would know to tell him, “No, you don’t lay on my blankie.”

Who would know that you have to pull the plug on the filter to let the frogs know it’s dinner-time, and then wait a couple of minutes until the food settles to turn it back on?

Sure, the frogs would get fed.

And, I know my kids would be loved.

But, none of it would be the way I do it…the only way my boys know it to be done.

The worst part of this worry-problem, is that there isn’t a solution for it.

That makes me panic….the desperation numbs me.

I shake my head back and forth, trying to knock these good for nothing thoughts out of my mind.

I tell myself that it can’t happen to me.

But, deep down I know the truth.

It can.

And, every single time, the realization shakes me to the core.

Leslie: My Photographer…My Friend.

I met Leslie Gaworecki during my search for our wedding photographer.

Even before I saw her work, I knew she was the one for me.

I could sense her gentle spirit and her kind soul….and we just clicked.

And, she did not disappoint….as a photographer, or a person.

She captured so much that day.

Nerves….

Excitement….

Celebration…

Love…

And beautiful keepsakes of the four family members we would unexpectedly lose just two years later…

 

She’s given us a huge gift, allowing us to measure our children’s growth through her photographs…

And, she’s stuck with our insane family all these years, capturing memories sure to have otherwise been forgotten…

Nearly seven years have passed since I met Leslie.

And, things have changed.

I’m no longer the giddy, naive girl I was that day I walked into her office.

I’ve been hit with hard-cold life, tragedy, and blessings too big to count…each event written in soft lines around my eyes.

It’s no longer just me.

My family of one is now four.

And my dear friend is still beautifully chronicling this funny little journey called life.

Thank you, Leslie, for putting up with my crazy. And, for knowing me just well enough to capture who we are.

I’m forever grateful for you, my friend.

And then there was Carcass-Gate

You know, as mulch fun as Mulch-Gate was, it just didn’t smell quite…dead enough.

So, the universe was like, “Imma let you finish..crying, but first let me trap a dead animal carcass underneath your bathtub and watch you freak the fuck out.”

Recap:

Yesterday, I was in ALL CAPS SCREAMING MODE, telling you guys it smelled like someone stashed a body in my crawl space.

“How do you know it’s not sewer pipe?

The people asked me.

And I told the people, “No, I know what death smells like. I’ll never forget it. You know, Nam.”

I’ve always had it in the back of my head that this could happen.

You see, as much as I love old houses, the crawl space is like a haven for junkie raccoons and possums and whatnot. And apparently, since they seek out water sources, they often end up living under bathtubs.

Since we bought this place, we’ve had critters taking up refuge under our house. The first time I realized we weren’t alone was when my dogs started barking at the tub. I initially chalked it up to them having some sort of bad acid flashback, but then I heard it, too. And, since I knew the mushrooms on the pizza I’d just eaten were not of the funny variety, I stopped brushing off my dogs as druggies, and started paying closer attention.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

I would hear under my tub.

And I finally said what I’d always really known out loud. Because that’s the only way to make something true.

Umm, I think we have some four legged roomies living under us.

But, since I love animals more than people, I’ve always insisted that it’s no big deal.

They aren’t hurting anyone. And they need a place to live, too. Why can’t we all coexist? You know, like that song says, “We are the world, We are the possums.” Or something like that.

And coexisting did work well, for about six years.

It’s been fine and lovely and Snow White-y.

And then something had to up and die and BOY THIS PEACE PARTY REALLY DIED.

It’s always a party till something croaks, right?

Yesterday morning, when I walked into my bathroom and THE DEATH SMELL hit me, like only death smells can, I knew we had lost a roomie.

After I poured one out for our fallen friend, I googled “SOMEONE FUCKING HELP ME FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MY TOOTHBRUSH IS IN THERE.”

So, I found a dead animal removal company and they sent someone out.

While I was waiting for carcass guy to arrive, I begin wondering what a carcass guy was like.

Sure enough, he was just as I’d expected.

Ignoring my need to hug him, and say, “I’m sorry you really wanted to be a serial killer when you grew up and now you’re stuck in bright yellow jumpsuit with a flashlight and a wicked grin,” I led him to the bathroom of death.

The first attempt was unsuccessful. The victim was not accessible from the crawl space, and seemed to have lodged his decaying, probably not so furry and cute anymore, body up in between my bathtub and cabinet…where there’s a void in the wall.

Carcass dude is coming back today, with heavy duty wall sawing tools, to try again.

They were really nice about it on the phone this morning. I’m not sure if that’s just who they are, or if it had something to do with the hysterical sobs I was letting out, in between bites of my breakfast burrito.

This stinks in so many ways.

I almost wish it was an actual dead body under there. I mean, then the police would have to find and remove it, right? But, that would be totally sad because it would be an actual person, who doesn’t sleep in their own feces, have 9,000 fleas, and eat rats for dinner. Also because that would probably mean my husband is a serial killer and that I’d been wrong once again in thinking I’d finally adjusted my I only attract assholes radar.

Anyway, after lots of searching, it appears coffee grounds are like magic against the smell of death (totally not a coincidence that Dexter likes his coffee black). So, I laid out bowls of it in the bathroom and surrounding rooms. And, while it has a helped a little, my house now smells like a murder scene at Starbucks.

And, really, not even. Since it’s really cheap coffee, it’s probably more like a murder scene at, like, a Valero or 7-11.

The only positive, is that we were already planning on renovating that bathroom. So, me buying a sledge hammer and cracking the tub in half wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Finally, what the fuck karma? All I do is rescue animals. And this is how you repay me?

WITH A ROTTING ANIMAL CARCASS?

Like, my friend on Twitter said this morning….

Seriously….

Either God is punishing me because I support gay marriage, or because of that one time during Spring Break that involved my toes and a gorilla suit.

But, really, I think it’s just that Karma really is a bitch.

* * *

UPDATE: My amazing everything-man, Don, came over and sawed a hole in the cabinet. And sure enough, it was right where I said it would be.

A sweet, and very dead, baby raccoon! It’s mama must have been hurt and not come back. POOR THING. So sad.

So stinky.

The next order of business is closing off my crawl space.

Carcass-Gate Two is not happening on my watch.

Oh, and I took a picture.

Obviously.

I’m going to post it beneath this cute one that reminds me of Carcass-Gate, to give my squeamish readers time to click out.

Awwwww…

Ewwwww