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.