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Warts and all

September 2, 2013

I’ve been dreading writing this post.  I’ve been swallowing hard coming to grips with how to say just what I want to say.  Chewing on it like it’s a piece of gristle for over two months.  Sorry, but if there was an academy award for procrastination, I would walk out with an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

I’m not acting, though.  If there’s one thing I do, it’s tell the truth.  And the truth is, it’s been a frustrating, stressful summer.  It’s not easy to admit that for me.  It was supposed to be easier.

When I last wrote, it was about our first few weeks with Merrows, my son Alex’s service dog.  A snapshot that already looks faded with the passing of time, I mentioned that we seemed to be adjusting pretty easily to life with our newest, furry 4-legged member of the family.

For the sheer logistics of owning a pet, we’re doing a very good job.  Feeding, watering, grooming, medical checkups and shots, attention and exercise–Merrows gets what we pledged to provide.  She seems very happy in our company.

But here’s the tough nut to crack.  I alluded to it in my last blog entry.  Being consistent in reinforcing what makes Merrows a certified service animal is hard.

Folks I’ll tell ya, being handed the leash of a wonderful, well-mannered and smart dog is an immense privilege.  Frankly, it’s the same immense privilege that one assumes when you are blessed with kids.  They pop out of there all warm and wiggling, completely unassuming and willing to adapt to our ways of life.  It’s really up to us as parents to screw it up.  Or not.  The results are dependent on our efforts and focus–and maybe a little luck.  It’s hard work being consistent.

Recall that although my family and I all attended the two-week “doggie boot camp” training course together, it really was mostly my wife learning the commands and bonding with Merrows.  I was busy chasing Alex and trying to keep him safe.  All important, certainly.  But not great when both my wife and I will be working with the dog–mostly independent of each other.

We both work full-time.  My schedule is all over the place.  Wife’s is M-F, 9-5.  And even though Alex is back at school for the fall, Merrows isn’t there with him yet.  She’s at home–still.

The reasons are pretty simple.  Merrows not behaving as well as she should be.  She still gets up from a “down” without permission.  Is not interested in “place” on anything close to a consistent basis.  She even has difficulty jumping into the back of our small station wagon.  Add the annoying and destructive habit of ripping out pages of books/magazines and chewing them–or miscellaneous socks, and she doesn’t quite endear herself.  I cannot help but think it’s because her owners have failed her a little.  It pains me just to type that.

Alex’s behaviors have been frustrating, too.  His moods seem to ride a perpetual sine wave of okay-nice-excellent-nice-okay-crappy-horrible-crappy-okay.  And although he did bounce back to what we could call a baseline “normal” by July, that has dipped back into the red for the past 5 days or so.  Whining, punching, kicking, crying self-abuse.  And he’s growing too, so he’s stronger.  We have a gaping 5 inch hole in the wall near the front door courtesy of his skull.  Luckily he was wearing his helmet.

He’s frustrated.  He’s non-verbal.  He doesn’t get what he wants when he wants them and throws a fit.

Kat’s mom and dad are in terrible health, teetering between assisted living and lengthy hospital stays.  And she’s an only child–with sole power of attorney–so the weight on her shoulders is immense.  I attempt to help, but hearing her folks trying to lobby me for their cause through their own mists of dementia and mental illness place me in an awkward, mostly untenable position.

Which makes life at home so stressful that my ears ring.  I’ll walk in from a trip to the following:  Alex is having a tantrum over something none of us can determine with 100% accuracy, Drew is yelling at him for crying (he’s just trying to cope himself), Kat is on the phone with the hospital, the house is a disaster and smells of stale urine.  And dinner has yet to be decided upon, let alone prepared.

To say we have the ability to pay 100% attention to our kids, dog or even each other is impossible.  Help does arrive in the form of ABA therapists and two trusted caregivers.  But only for a few hours a week.  We are worn out.

So, Alex’s iPad with the communication apps doesn’t (yet) get learned.  And Merrows doesn’t (yet) get the training she needs to succeed as Alex’s unconditional friend and companion.  Honey Do lists get ignored.  I feel like I’m shirking my duty just typing this.

“Comparisons are odious” goes the quote.  But that stench seeps into my mind with unavoidable regularity, like a nervous skunk outside a closed window.  I read Facebook on a regular basis and see many, many examples of friends with typical kids living the life of which Kat and I can only hope and pray.  Maybe if we made some changes…

Should I take a leave of absence from flying?  I make more money than I ever have before.  And–hard to believe–my job is one of the least stressful parts of my life right now.  This is true even on the day before I will be handed my final, permanent position on our seniority list upon completion of this godforsaken merger.  But I never let my family hear me whistling as I pack my bags for a 4-day trip.  It’s respite for me, pure and simple.  And flying a plane is still a blast.

Should Kat quit her job?  We’ve discussed this of late, too.  She’s always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  But that ended when I got furlough #2 in 2009 and she became the household breadwinner.  Trouble is, we would lose her health insurance coverage for herself and the kids.  Alex’s yearly therapies alone have a retail cost far in excess of what Kat earns each year.  Choosing to continue the same amount and quality of therapy under my company insurance plan would be financial suicide.

Hope.  Hope hope hope hope hope.  I have more hope than any of you, just ask me.  I know things will work out, and pray to get to that point.  They always do.  But when?  At what cost?  I’ve found myself fantasizing about winning the lottery.  Powerball is more like it.  I’m not holding my breath…

It’s Labor Day today.  Surprise of surprises, I had the day off.  The day was spent mostly with Drew, Alex and Merrows, though not without a dollop of drama.   I can live without drama, I’ve decided–but that’s my ‘labor’ for the day, I guess.

I often recall one of my favorite quotes by a French philosopher, Simone Weil.  It helps.

“Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in direct proportion to them will flood the soul.”

  1. Finding God Daily permalink

    My prayers go out to your family. It can sometimes be overwhelming, but God is there on those stressful days and in the calm. God Bless.

  2. I hope things get better. We had to make those career decisions last year.

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