Goodbye, Nala

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Yesterday, we put our kitty Nala to sleep.

Tim and I adopted her 14 years ago at the Old Town Animal Orphanage. We liked to say that she adopted us; Tim was standing back-to the wall of animal crates when she reached out her paw and patted him on the shoulder. “Look at me! I’m the best one!” And she was.

She was our first baby, and we were anxious new-cat parents. Was she eating and drinking enough? Was that a cough or a hairball? We lived in a tiny loft apartment, and we were paranoid she’d fall from the loft railing.

She used to drink water by dipping her paws into her dish and licking them off, which would have been fine if we hadn’t used super-tough clumping cat litter. During her first week at home, we spent a lot of time fretting and prying caked litter from between her toes.

Before we had the kids, she’d sleep in our bed, curled around my head. She’d wake me by licking my eyebrows and purring into my hair. We adopted another cat, Stitch, a few months later, and she and Nala became fast friends. They were “our girls” long before we had human girls.

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Having had pets all my life, I’m no stranger to this cycle, but it was harder than I expected to see her go. Blood work revealed she’d been sick for a long time, unbeknownst to us; I hate to think we prolonged her suffering.

But it is what it is, and at least she’s not suffering anymore. Sleep well, Nala-boo.

Driving with Dad

A couple weeks before my dad passed away, I drove him upstate to have an MRI. One of his eyes had started to bulge, and his optometrist referred him for a scan to look for the cause.

The previous weeks had been a frenzy of one appointment after the other, hurry-up-and-wait for results, more bad news following bad news. Mom had been the one to take him to each appointment, to advocate for him and parse what the doctors were saying, and to handle the calls when they came in. This was something small I could do to offer her some relief, but it also meant spending one-on-one time with Dad. Given what would follow in the next few weeks, I’m really glad I did.

It was about an hour away, and as we navigated the roads, covered in frost heaves and potholes, with me trying to weave around them, I had to laugh at the irony of me driving Dad anywhere under these circumstances.

First, my family teases me because, when I was younger, there wasn’t a pothole or a frost heave I didn’t hit at least once. I have the dubious distinction of having bent all four rims on my Mom’s old Nissan beyond repair. The mechanic who worked on the car said he’d never seen anything like it.

Fifteen years later, here I was, trying my best to avoid every bump, because Dad had developed a sudden tendency toward carsickness along with his mysterious vision problems and the spot on his lung that we were all in denial about.

Second, there’s a running joke in our family that originated about the time I was learning to drive. Dad would take me out to practice with my learner’s permit, and he’d spend most of those drives glued to the door, one hand on the “oh shit” handle (as he referred to it) and the other gripping the armrest, sucking in his breath when I took a corner too fast or came too close to the curb (which was often).

He was a little nervous with his 17-year-old daughter at the wheel, to put it mildly, and it didn’t help that I was a nervous driver. We were so alike, we were a terrible combination. More than once, he’d slam his foot into the floor as if there were an extra brake, and I’d grudgingly remind him that kicking a hole in the car wasn’t going to help anything.

One day, we came back from one such drive and a mutual agreement was made: No more Dad in the car with Caroline, for the sake of preserving our relationship.

But now I was driving him, because he was too sick to drive himself. Thankfully he was in good spirits, so we were able to spend most of the time talking.

He told me how he used to drive this particular route for his job as a rehabilitation counselor. He spent a lot of time in the northern parts of Aroostook County visiting clients — people who had been injured to the point of being unable to work, often at a job that was the only thing they were trained to do.

The work itself was depressing; there often wasn’t much he could do for these people, many of whom were depressed and in chronic pain, and I think that took a toll on him. His colleagues, when he met with them, were heavy drinkers, the types who spent most after-work hours at bars. He didn’t have much passion for rehabilitation besides the fact that it paid the bills (most of the time) and allowed him to work from home.

It also meant a lot of time on the road. I remember his car — a gray VW Jetta — and how it smelled of cigarette smoke, the ashtray was usually full, and how the back was littered with work files and papers and fast food containers.

That life was hard on his body and his mind, he told me. 40-something with two pre-teen kids, a mortgage, a job he didn’t like, and student loans on a master’s degree he wasn’t using.

Of course, I’d known about his work before, but I’d witnessed those years through the eyes of a teenager. Those were tumultuous times for all of us, for different reasons, but this was the first time I’d thought about it from an adult perspective, as a grown woman with a family to support and a job of my own.

He told me how happy he was that Tim and I had steady work in fields we enjoyed, that more than paid the bills, and allowed us to take the time we needed for our family. Grateful that we’d fared better than him.

At the appointment, he couldn’t see the tiny print on the forms, so I helped by reading the questions aloud. We joked about it to ease the tension — ”How have those menstrual cramps been lately, Dad?” — then he went in for the scan, and afterward we went to lunch.

We talked more over hamburgers and fries, about the small stuff, the kids, his vision problems. I don’t remember the details, but I suppose that’s not important. It was the last time we were able to be a father and a daughter, enjoying each other’s company.

On the way back, he started to feel sick, so I let him rest. We got home to find the MRI office had already called, saying the cause of his vision problems were multiple brain lesions, likely metastasized from the cancer growing in his lungs. That was about the time my denial was forced to confront reality.

We’re coming up on the anniversary of his diagnosis, so these thoughts are predominant. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year; the other night I dreamed about him. There was a point where that would have been difficult, but it was nice to see him again.

It’s true that things don’t get better; they get different. It’s easy to reflect on the hard times, but I’ll always remember that afternoon as one of the bright spots in an otherwise somber time.

Game nights (and days)

This winter, we’re all about the games.

After Santa brought Exploding Kittens for Ellie for Christmas, we’ve made a point of playing a game almost every night after dinner. Gwen is a bit young to partake, but likes to sit alongside us and “help”, or play with LEGOs. It’s nice to have regular family time that doesn’t involve a screen.

Our favorite is Munchkin, because it’s humorous and easy to play, but still feels like an RPG. We bought two of the expansion packs (there are tons to choose from), and we’ll probably invest in more when our current cards start to feel too familiar.

We play Exploding Kittens or Zombie Dice when we’re running short on time. The X-Files is reserved for weekends, since play is more advanced and can take a while. We’re getting the expansion pack for that in a few weeks, which will make it even more interesting.

Other games in the rotation include Clue (my birthday present from the kids), Go Fish (Ellie’s favorite), and One Hit Kill. I love that the renewed interest in tabletop games gives us options that balance ease of play for the kids with enjoyability for the adults.

Christmas 2015

Happy birthday, Ellie!

This day seven years ago brought a world of change to our family, in the form of 7 lbs 13 oz of baby girl, who now looks like this:

Little sister included for scale
Little sister included for scale.

Ellie and I got off to a rocky start. A long labor and rough birth coupled with breastfeeding struggles meant lots of changes to my meticulous, best-laid plans. Her first week outside the womb was humbling and exhausting in ways I’ve yet to experience in any other part of my life, including the birth of our second daughter.

Any motherly instinct I might have had was quashed by well-meaning and sometimes conflicting advice from my friends, family, pediatrician, midwife, and doula. I wanted desperately to do everything right which, of course, is impossible, but never underestimate the power of postpartum hormones to convince you of impossible things.

It took about six weeks before I felt like Ellie wasn’t someone else’s kid on temporary loan. I loved her, adored her, but the role of “Mom” was a tight fit. For a while, I felt more like a failed dairy cow than a Mom-with-a-capital-M. She took my orderly world, tipped it on its side and shook it like a snow globe.

…but snow globes are beautiful when shaken, and things got better. I learned to relax a little, and she learned to sleep a little, and we came to a mutual understanding — that we’d both do the best we could, and we’d probably come out all right.

What is this “cookie” you speak of, and where can I obtain more of it?

Now she’s a bright, growing kid with a mind that blows me away. She’s a voracious learner, a sponge for academics; math and reading and science are all fair game. She loves to be the center of attention, the boss. “Mama, look at this!” is a frequent refrain. She reminds me of myself as a kid, but bolder, more outgoing, more outspoken.

You are getting verrrrry sleeeeeeepy…

In turn, she’s made me braver, more empathetic, and more patient. She’s given me a perspective on life that’s entirely unique to our relationship, as I think first-borns are prone to do.

Thanks to Ellie, I’ve watched my husband and partner of 15 years become a loving, doting father. And three years down the road, I got to witness her transformation from only child to big sister, a role it seems she was born to play.

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From a tiny, squalling baby to a dancing, laughing big girl — I’m so lucky to be able to learn from her. Happy birthday, sweet girl.

Impromptu NYC Road Trip!

My mom is a pretty regular traveler in retirement; between her Road Trek and her little yellow Honda Fit, she spends a fair amount of time on the road. She’d planned a trip to visit a friend in New York in mid December, and thought some company would be nice.

Tim, being the amazing person that he is, and without prompting, suggested I go. He’d take care of the kids and the dogs and the house for the week so I could hang out with Mom in the city.

In related news, I’ve nominated him for Husband of the Year.

So we were off! First stop: Boston, to visit my brother and his fiancée for a night. Fanueil Hall’s tree and light show were pretty, but we reserved judgment until we’d seen Rockefeller Center so we could compare.

Our visit to NYC was wandering in Grand Central Station, an evening in Times Square, dinner and cheesecake at Junior’s, the lights at Rockefeller, and a quick walk through St. Patrick’s. I hadn’t been to the city since I was a kid, so I found it amusing that everything was smaller than I remembered.

Best of all was spending time with Mom. It’s been a rough year for everyone, and being as busy as I am with work and the kids and Tim, it’s too easy to take her proximity for granted. I’m lucky to have a parent who is also a friend, and I hope I’ll have a similar relationship with my kids when they’re older.

We’ll get to repeat this trip when we go down to see Streetcar in May!

So many changes!

Fall seems to be a time of change. This whole year has been transformative, but there are lots of new things happening at Casa de Moore right now.

A couple weeks ago, Tim left his job at Automattic to become a stay-at-home parent, writer, and freelancer.

We’ve talked about this for a long time, so it’s hard to believe it’s finally come to fruition. When we originally moved here, the idea was to reduce our expenses and save money, with the end goal of living comfortably on one income.

It goes beyond our budget, though. Tim has wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve known him. I’m sure it was one of the first things we talked about during the get-to-know-you phase of our relationship, fifteen years ago.

It’s an adjustment, but a necessary one. We’re already seeing the short-term positives to having someone on full-time house- and kid-wrangling duty, and the long-term benefits make the loss of income more than worth it. It helps that my job is secure and still fun and engaging.

Speaking of my job and big changes, I recently started a new lead role at work. Prior to this, I led a “squad” of about eight people; now that’s almost doubled, and with it, my responsibilities. I’m lucky to have a great team and a solid support system in my leads, but it’s going to take a bit for me to settle into the new role.

And finally, Gwen started pre-kindergarten this week, which is mind-boggling and exciting and scary and sad. This will be the first time we have the house to ourselves on the weekdays to work, the first time she’ll be away from us for a few hours at a time, and her first time in a structured learning environment.

She’ll be fine, but I’m not sure I am. 🙂

Variations on a theme

JokesterGwen: “Knock knock!”
Me: “Who’s there?”
Gwen: “The interrupting butt.”
Me: “The interrupting bu —”
Gwen: “TOOOOOOOT!”


Gwen: “Knock knock!”
Me: “Who’s there?”
Gwen: “The interrupting horse.”
Me: “The interrupting ho —”
Gwen: “MOOOOO!”
Me: “Moo? I thought it was a horse.”
Gwen: “Yeah, the cow kinda got in the joke.”

Boston!

We had a great time in the city last week, seeing the sights and hanging out with my brother and his fiancée.

Unfortunately there was no Comic Con for us, as Gillian Anderson canceled her appearance, but we had plenty to do; the aquarium and the science museum were big hits with Ellie, who demanded “more science!” Cheap tickets from a good friend meant we were able to stretch our budget, and the kids saw their first IMAX show.

But their favorite part of the trip was the Legoland Discovery Center. Most of the attractions are for little kids, but it was worth the price of admission just to see the city of Boston made entirely of LEGOs. Gwen plopped herself down in front of a bucket of bricks and basically didn’t budge until one of us prompted her to look around, while Ellie ran from activity to activity with glee.

We had lunch with E, the girls’ former sitter, and they were so excited to see her I thought they’d try to stow away in her car when we said goodbye. It’s amazing how a person can be part of your life for such a relatively small amount of time, but have such a great impact. I keep coming back to how lucky we are — and how lucky the girls are — to have the village we’ve had.

I only wish so many of our family and friends didn’t live a 7+ hour drive away. Ahh, the price we pay for living in the boonies. 😉

A letter for Dad

Dear Dad,

It’s been three months since you passed away, and I’m missing you harder than usual lately. Part of me can’t believe you’re really gone, though enough has changed in your absence that there’s no other explanation.

We had a “happy hour” in your honor at the summer party; you showed up right on time, in the form of a short-lived thunderstorm that drove us all into clusters under the tents. We sang Three Little Birds and Wild Thing. I could picture you playing the guitar alongside our friends and family, but I missed your voice singing along.

The other night, I dreamt I saw your ghost. You walked past the front window and vanished at the porch. It was more comforting to think of you that way, as a spirit; the dreams where you appear alive are harder to process the next morning. So close, and yet not close at all. Sometimes you’re still sick in the dreams, sometimes you’re not. I wake up greedy, wishing I could have more time with you.

Every time I look at the stars, I think of you. Venus and Jupiter appeared next to each other in the sky last month, and I thought you would have loved to see that. It’s the kind of thing that would have brought you outside into the night to look up, held in rapt attention. You were always fascinated by the sky.

I know this sounds morose, but we’re doing OK. You left behind a strong family. We’re not wallowing. Thanks to you, I’ve realized how little time we have, and it’s inspired me to keep going, to do all the things I want to do before it’s too late.

It catches up to me at night, though, and that’s when I write these letters to you in my head. This time, I thought I’d write one for real.

Love you,
Caroline