February 18, 2016

At the Top of my Lungs

Reposted from June 2008

It's a good thing I have never been able to sleep in late. Even under optimal circumstances I wake up around 6:30am every day. Which isn't to say I don't enjoy trying to sleep in; an option that's been taken off the agenda since our pets joined the family. Assuming I can sleep through my husband's pre-sunrise routine (only possible when he's feeling magnanimous enough to shower and dress quietly), the kitten begins tearing around the house, which wakes up the puppy in his crate. The combination of not-to-be-ignored whining and the thumpety up-the-stairs and thumpety down-the-stairs wakes my five-year-old son, who always starts my day by belting out, "Mommy! Is it time to get up now?"

It's prophetic that my day begins with so much noise, because if I were to sum up my current existence with one word, it'd be LOUD.

I don't like loud. I didn't expect my life to be loud. In opposition to the mortifying example of my histrionic family, I consciously chose to tone down my loudness gene. I taught myself to think before I spoke, aspiring to a zen-like household, where peaceful silence would produce creative inspiration.


The disappointing truth is: I yell all the time. I holler, I bellow and let loose with staccato bursts of vitriol at the top of my lungs. My husband, the "quiet" one (unless he's getting ready in the morning), often comes in from the outdoors to inform me he heard me halfway down the block.

With such a fond desire for peace and silence, the question is raised: who am I yelling at?

Let's look at a snapshot of my day, say, the hour that has passed while I sat on the couch typing this essay on my laptop, shall we? First of all, be clear that I cannot sit in one place for an uninterrupted hour. The first disruption comes soon after I choose a title for the piece - in the form of a pleading doggy face placed on my knee. It may have started out as a silent request to go potty, but the simple act of taking the puppy across the street to the little park rarely goes smoothly.

First, my son has to find his socks and shoes, because God forbid I should attempt to leave without him, even though the entire trip *should* last only minutes. I haven't yelled yet - but I'm irritated as I wait for him to go upstairs to get a new pair of socks because he left the pair he'd worn earlier where the dog could get them and they are now unrecognizable lumps of drool-drenched cotton - and the tension builds.

He comes down wearing the oversized rubber swim shoes that he loves because they slip right on. Two seconds out the door my son trips over the shoes and does a face-plant on the front lawn. The puppy dislocates my arm to get to the downed boy before he can right himself. Much licking and biting and tangling of leash ensue. Oh, and the screaming. Don't forget the shrill sounds bleating out of my unhappy son.

Then comes my first verbal contribution, beginning with a word that you will soon become entirely familiar with. I shout, "VIPPER! OFF!"

Once the expedition has proceeded an additional hard-won ten yards to the curb, where I've trained my pooch to stop and sit for his own safety, I notice that the neighbor lady is walking her Shi-tzu. The very moment my dog catches sight of that yappy mop of a canine, he transforms into a lunging, barking, snarling, deaf-to-correction terror.

The Shi-tzu yaps viciously back as her owner silently pulls her to the far side of the park. I yell, not silently, "VIPPER! HUSH!" and place my hand firmly over his muzzle.

When the coast is clear, we look both ways and cross the street. My son bolts ahead down into a grassy depression where he skirts a muddy drainage ditch, looking over his shoulder to see if I am watching him. Before Vipper does his thing, he's distracted by, in order, a golf cart driving on the street with two dogs in back, a patch of dandelions, a bird, an elderly couple who call out that I have the best-looking dog in the neighborhood, and a school bus dropping off children.

As soon as he's done his dooky-walk, the stiff-legged step-and-poop, step-and-poop that leaves a long trail of turds for me to search for like rotten Easter eggs in the grass, I glance over at my son. Who is ankle deep in the disgusting ditch-water.

"AAAHHHH!" I burst out, a border-line scream. His head whips around and he lifts one sodden foot to make a quick exit from the scum. Trapped in slow motion horror, I see him trip over those blasted shoes and start to go down. By some miracle, he catches himself and splooshes to safety.

As my boy runs up the slope, flashing his trademark open-mouthed grin, I launch into a strident lecture that echoes through the neighborhood. I hear myself loudly question the thought process that made him decide he could get away with what he'd just done. He stops a few steps away and gleefully examines his slimy legs and feet.

When he looks up with that unabashed grin, I have to turn away to hide my instinctive smile. Only to see that my puppy is pawing playfully at the full dooky bag I'd dropped at the sight of my child wading in filth.

"VIPPER!" I yell, yanking on his leash. The bag is thankfully intact and we manage to make it back home without further ado. Until we enter the serene environment of my lovely home and I unfasten the leash. As I order my son to remove his shoes and wait for me on the porch so I can get the garden hose, the puppy has spotted the kitten, sitting temptingly on a kitchen chair.

One of my least favorite noises is the sound of Vipper's claws scrabbling across my wood floor, and he treats me to a particularly grating version of it as he shoots for the cat like a homing missile.

It's taken me weeks to get used to the idea that my tiny kitten can handle himself in a fight with the enormous puppy. In fact, the casual observer might recognize that the cat instigates the fighting a good portion of the time. Vipper fights with zeal, but is usually gentle, despite the fact that he can and does put the cat's whole head into his mouth. I'm standing on the threshold, torn between my sure-to-get-into-trouble-again-if-I-look-away son and the puppy, who has already covered the cat's entire upper body with a layer of slobber. I choose the boy and rush to hose down his legs and feet. Upon re-entering, I hear another of my *favorite* sounds: an unmistakable meow of pain.

"VIPPER!" I shout from the doorway, even though I can't see what he's doing. "Leave it!" I practically hear my voice reverberate against my neighbors' double-paned, insulated windows.

I will give it to the puppy, though. He doesn't mean to hurt the kitten. In fact, he adores that cat, and my chastisement is usually unnecessary. He appears from around the corner, head hanging sorrowfully. I enter and see the cat lounging on the table. His fur is spit-moussed up into points all over his head and his tail is twitching invitingly.

I sit for a few minutes with my laptop, but upon noticing the time, get back up to start dinner.

Soon the fish is on the counter in an aluminum foil-covered pan while the oven is pre-heating, the dog has been fed, and my son is watching an old Garfield DVD. I'm distracted by the rude, obnoxious things Garfield is saying to Jon. I study my son's profile and debate whether it will be worth it to summarily end the show just to avoid his sponge of a brain soaking up any more sass that he can use on me at a later date.

I may hate noise, but my ears are acutely attuned to it. The slightest squeak out of place and I'm actively listening. The sound I hear now is the subtle crinkle of aluminum foil. My laptop is safely set aside and I'm halfway out of my seat before the bellow of rage escapes me: "VIPPERRRRRR!"

If his stomach wasn't already bulging from his recent meal of dog food, I'm sure he would have hesitated long enough to take another quick lick of the fish I'd laid out, garnished and glazed, within easy reach of his tongue.

Instead, he tucks his stubby tail and runs full-bore for the opposite side of the kitchen island. From there he increases his short lead with a fast trot around the kitchen table and a squeeze through the space between the couch and the wall. My shouts of, "Come here!" bounce off his flapping-in-the-wind-of-his-escape ears. He's in the living room leading me around the coffee table (not for the first time, I curse the many obstacles in our home that allow him to elude me with ease), when he decides he'd better take his lumps.

I'm sure by now my brilliant dog has figured out that the longer the chase, the angrier the mommy. He stops and waits for me to grab him by the collar. I haul him to his crate and tell him to get in, which he gratefully does.

I'm still simmering, angry not at the poor puppy, but at myself for leaving food where he could get it (truth be told, I'm surprised the cat didn't beat him to it), when I hear the sound of the garage door opening.

Vipper begins to whine in anticipation of Daddy the Pushover's appearance. It's always a good idea to take the puppy out for a pre-Daddy pee and to stash him in the crate before Daddy comes home. We've almost got the potty issues under control, but the excitement of seeing Daddy triggers the sprinkler every time.

My husband comes in and gives me an annoyed look.

"What?" I ask, bursting with the need to tell him all that I've endured today.

"I had the window of the truck down, and heard you yelling at Vipper from halfway down the street," he says.

He lets the dog out of the crate and suffers through the usual spastic greeting, which gets more and more frenetic as my husband gently entreats the dog to stop. Vipper is standing on his back legs, clawing at my husband's thighs and nipping at his hands when I can't take it anymore.

"VIPPER! OFF!" I say loudly. The dog places all four paws on the floor and looks up at my husband adoringly. The lesson is lost on my better half, who gives me another disgusted look and asks, "What's for dinner?"

"Ask him," I say, gesturing to the dog.

January 29, 2016

The Warrior Princess Workout

Driving down the road, you fantasize about spending your lottery winnings. In the shower, you have a flirtatious conversation with a hot movie star. Of course, in your mind you're never a flabby middle-aged woman in desperate need of a grey touchup. You are a Warrior Princess with rock hard abs and not a dimple of cellulite. You'd like nothing more than to trade your mundane existence in for a more exciting life, a more exciting you. These days are usually prompted by

Hormones – it comes and goes every month: those periods of such intense yearning that nothing will fill the hole in your soul but watching back-to-back Jane Austen movies or locking yourself away to drool over steamy pirate novels. When that hormonal cocktail is at its peak, you rediscover your old nemesis

Motivation – that which gets you off your duff and makes you think, for a time at least, that you can do anything you set your mind to. You are now Determined (with a capital D!) to take on the world. And the first thing you need to do is wrest back control of your body. You can't be a Warrior Princess if you look like the Pillsbury Doughboy's main squeeze, so you break out the hand weights and pop in a workout DVD. Fueled by hormonal urges, you are on fire…until you're sidelined by

Physical limitations – the vicious circle of soreness that hits after every workout. That nagging reoccurring pain in your shoulder, Achilles tendon or hip. Pain sets in for the duration – you find it hard to sleep, leading to

Exhaustion – that horrible, headachy feeling, like some psychic vampire sucked out all your energy and left you a mere husk trying to live your life. Getting off the couch is restricted to daily living; the simplest chores feel like you're climbing Mount Everest and just the thought of working out makes you want to dig your own grave and take a nap in it. It's now up to

Mind over matter – an elusive force, slippery as a buttered eel. It takes a monumental effort to get moving, but you still recall how it felt last week when you were in the yearning phase. You remind yourself that phase will return - and you don't want to start all over again, do you? But real life is quite rudely intruding on the fantasy and you're having trouble imagining the

Payoff – will it be worth it that your husband (whose beer belly rivals the pregnant lady next door) will find you more attractive? Is it enough that family, friends and neighbors will notice the new you? Does the prospect of living longer with your newfound health make you happy – or do you cringe at the thought of your workouts being

Endless. My God, have I only been on this friggin' treadmill for ten minutes? Ow…ow…what now? Feels like my knee is about to pop out of the socket! Okay, I think it's time for

Excuses – the opposite of motivation. You worked out hard all week like a good girl, so you deserve a break. And a hot fudge sundae…yeah…calories be damned! During the intense chocolate buzz that follows, you are truly happy for the first time in weeks. But it's doomed to be short-lived. You recognize that this is the first of many upcoming excuses which will disrupt your Warrior Princess goal…but you can no longer be bothered to care because now you're dealing with

PMS – we all get it in one form or another, whether we admit it or not. It heavily influences your powers of concentration, and just acting like a normal human being feels like an accomplishment. Especially since all you want to do is devour the contents of the refrigerator and kill everyone and everything that vexes you, most notably anyone who actually resembles a Warrior Princess. You glance over at your hand weights with deep, heartfelt contempt, pleased when you muster enough self-control not to hurl them through the bedroom window. PMS sheds bright halogen lights on

Reality – that which is impossible to ignore on a consistent basis. These are the imagination's darkest days, when fantasy's influence is on the wane. Power through! – is your battle-cry. And you do, because you have to. Then one day while driving to the grocery store it suddenly occurs to you that if you did win the lottery, you'd be mingling with the rich and famous. Best to get a jump on the body you'll need to pull it off. Time to get cracking on that

Warrior Princess workout.