Monday, December 27, 2010


Today was a great day for at least three reasons. The first was my morning - I got back to the gym for a great workout this morning, the first since the rush of the Christmas season was upon us, with its lack of time and abundance of sweet treats! The second reason was my evening, when I went sledding with Sadie over at her best friend's house in Windsor Farms. Sadie and Bella were hilarious as they rode down the sled together time and again. It was the first time that Sadie has sledded down a hill (versus Mark and I pulling her sled around our local park) and she just loved it, no fear, all laughs, for hours.

But the third reason my day was great was my unexpected bonus hours playing with Daisy.

In the way Mark and I generally divide things, he gets far more Daisy time than I do. It just is the way things fall, far less than by design than just by routine. I seem to require far more sleep than Mark does so he ends up taking Daisy for her early morning and late night walks around the block. I am often the one who heads Sadie up into her bath, or finishes a project with her, and he will take Daisy out for a quick walk when he comes home. I feel like once a week or so, we make a point to switch things up and I will take Daisy. But those walks are generally times of quiet solitude, where I am thinking through the list of what still needs to be done at home, or what happened that day at work, or other deeper issues. I admit, they are rarely times that I spend dwelling on positive thoughts about Daisy. And... it has been really cold here!  So those thoughts that I have are often "Come on dog!  Mama's freezing out here!"

This Fall, Daisy had some recurrent health problems. I felt terrible for her, and worried about her, but in hindsight, I resented having another thing added to my to-do list on the days that I had to take Daisy to the vet. It is clear now that a large part of her issue was not liking the nanny who was with us for a short time between Lisa's departure in September and Tyler coming to save us in late November. But Mark and I were stressed about the nanny situation as well, so while Daisy's position on the issue was very evident, we were more concerned about Sadie at the time.

So the last month has been heaven for both Sadie and Daisy, both adjusting so well to the new nanny.  Daisy came with us to Thanksgiving dinner at Mark's brother's house and the 24+ attendees all remarked at what a great retriever she was, even when she accidentally fell into a fish pond trying to catch a tennis ball that someone accidentally threw in there. And of course, when we had our Christmas party last weekend, 90+ guests got to see Daisy hanging out under the dining room table.  We never shun Daisy, or Sadie for that matter, from our parties.

Then my sister Carolyn came in from Denver a few days ago, as she hadn't been to our house since she and her dog Nella came to the beach with us in late June. And late the first night, after we had all been driving around to look at Christmas lights and she and I were wrapping presents and drinking red wine, she said to me "Daisy has really aged."  And I turned and looked at my yellow lab, asleep right next to us on our new shag rug, and it hit me like a cannon ball... she really looks old.  Her face is almost all white now.

So today, back to today, was a bonus. After I worked out, Sadie's best friend's nanny called and asked if Sadie wanted to come play in the snow with them today. And my afternoon was suddenly free!  Before we left, I looked around the kitchen to survey all that needed to be done in that room alone... there was something on every counter that needed to be put away from our big Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. There were three sets of Playdoh cutting sets that Santa had brought, along with the crusty remnants of various shreds of the doh left out on the counter for two+ days. Laundry needed to be washed and folded, toys organized and put away, perhaps a long bath and magazine read for me, the day was my oyster. But as I was getting Sadie ready to play, Daisy sensed that snow play was in the cards and she ran to get some tennis balls that were hidden from her after Christmas morning and was rapidly dropping them in my lap. Sadie suggested it out loud "Can we bring Daisy Mom?"

And into the car we all went. Daisy sits on the front seat now, generally too achy (or too stubborn) to hop into the hatch back of the Pilot. And after I dropped Sadie off at Bella's, I took Daisy to the park by the house where she and I first lived for three years before Mark and I got married.

Daisy is a yellow lab, and by nature, she likes almost anything.  She is happy to see any visitor to our house, whether they be the cleaning lady, contractor, or a grandparent. She is happy to go for a walk any day of the year, even in the rain. But aside from the deep devotion to her People and tennis balls, she loves nothing else like she loves the beach, and a good snow.

Williamsburg and Hampton, the moment comes out of the tunnel crossing the Chesapeake Bay, she is awake with her head at the window whining for it to be opened so she can breath in that good salt air. She is the first in the ocean (the moment she hops out of the car at the beach house) and refuses to stay in the house when she knows that any relative in our family is down there (she hopped a gate to follow Mark down there one time a few years ago and ran into the ocean thinking he was throwing a ball when in fact, he was surf fishing... but when he saw her go after the bait, he quickly found a ball in his fishing gear and threw it to her). She loves to swim and retrieve and will do it for hours on end at the beach.

But she is just as passionate about the snow, even though she really only knew it her first three years, and then had a break for five years or so until true snowfall returned last year. And as the snow was falling on Christmas Day, Daisy looked out the window whining for someone to take her out and throw ball. Both Mark and I obliged, usually with Sadie and her sled in tow.

Today, the focus was all on her. I was well bundled up and had nowhere really pressing to be for a few hours. And boy did we have fun. I was thinking about all the days that I had taken her to that park before Mark and I got married, when it was really just Daisy and Jill, pretty much every morning and night, retrieving there. Then she could sniff the ball from far away, even if her eyesight didn't follow my throwing it (we use a Chuck-it to throw the balls, so they can go really far). Today she missed the ball's path a lot of times, and it was clear that her eyesight and her nose are not as good as they used to be. She runs a lot slower than she used to, and sometimes will walk back instead of run. But she always wanted to do it again, and again, and again. And several times she did this trick that she did even as a puppy (nothing we taught) where she would spy the ball, and then slink down to the ground and tip tow to it, like she was a lion being sly and quietly approaching something to kill, and then from 10 feet away pounce on the object of her attention. In Daisy's case, it is always just a tennis ball. But in her mind, she must imagine all sorts of wonderful things that it could be instead, and this trick that she has done now for nine years, it never gets old for her, or for me.

She's asleep with me now, at my feet, as I type this. She sleeps a lot more now than she ever has. The vet told us earlier this month that she is in good health but that we would notice her really start to slow down now, and I feel like once he said it, it has been dramatic. While she enjoyed Christmas morning, she spent most of the dinner time asleep on the floor of the living room instead of lining herself up for scraps under the dining room table like she has in year's past.  While she's only nine, she just seems old. Maybe that's because up until a few months ago, she always looked and acted like a puppy. So it is like she went from looking like she was four years old to like she is thirteen in three months.

At my old firm, I worked with a wonderful older gentleman who lived in Atlanta. He became very much of a father figure and mentor to me, as well as a terrific attorney. He could talk to me on the phone for hours a day, which admittedly I resented a little when I had other things to do. But in the midst of a 70 minute conversation, he always dropped these nuggets of wisdom that made the other 69 minutes worth the wait. And one thing he said to me that I always remembered was that the problem with dogs is that they died just too soon. He loved dogs, has always had them, but it was clear that the dogs he loved the most were those that here about 6 years old and older. When they don't chew, need only walks instead of constant exercise, when they would nap along with you instead of wake you up wanting to go out. When a dog became a truly devoted companion. He told me how he buried all his dogs in the back of his property and how he still goes and talks to them a lot of evenings because he really misses them.

Daisy has always been a great dog, she was a fun puppy and I was lucky to have the time and energy to devote to her then. But now, she is just such an incredible companion dog.  Thanks for a great few hours today my Daisy girl. I promise to do that a lot more often. Now could you please promise to stop aging?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Forever Grateful

Yesterday was Sadie's school's Song Fest. Sadie has gone to this preschool since she was 18 months old, but the one-year-old class and the two-year-old class are too young for this wonderful tradition. As Sadie proclaimed proudly, "They are still babies Mom, only big kids like me get to be in Song Fest." She was so excited about it, randomly practicing her songs (most of them with words that I had never heard before, and we didn't have the words, or thankfully, any "practice requirement" from the school). Several kids in her class have come down with strep over the last couple of weeks and I was sure that Sadie would be the next victim, based on her track record of the last three years. But the days were passing, she was humming along (literally and figuratively).

Mark, Tyler the nanny and I all made it to the school's Sanctuary at the appointed time. As did more than a couple hundred other parents, grandparents, caregivers, et all. All of us had digital cameras with charged batteries, most also had video cameras. We were all craning our necks to see our child process in the door.

I was so proud!  I tear up now thinking of watching her coming in. Looking for us way back in the rows of parents. And then her face just lit up upon seeing us. She broke into a grin and waved madly at us. Notwithstanding the fact that over half of the kids were waving to over half of the parents probably at that same instant, my daughter was just elated that we were there. And I, once again, was elated that she was there. That she... is... here.

Of all the comments that well-intentioned friends and relatives said to us about when we were going to have another child, the most memorable one that stuck in my claw so-to-speak was someone who said "You need to have another one Jill, you are going to suffocate the one you have with love otherwise."  Because part of me worried that she was right. 

Can you love a child too much? Will she one day say to me "Leave me alone... don't you have something else to do other than smother me?" 

Even with four children, my mother had an amazing ability to make each of us feel smothered at one time or another. Loved to the extreme? Ummm, not words any of us would have used. But she meddled, she focused, she intervened. She knew what each of her children were doing when we lived at home, at all times. I yearned for a mother who "had a life" other than her kids' lives.

Here I am a career mom, but am I getting soft? Will Sadie judge me the same way as I judged my mom?

I used to be known as being somewhat "contrarian" in my ways. I know more than a few of my partners at my former firm (and a lot more than a few associates) who would say that I have been, let's say, difficult on occasion. Not particularly understanding of others' priorities when it came to my transaction.  Sometimes argumentative. Kind of a bitch, some days, a few would say. I wouldn't say that this is a requirement for a female attorney with a financing/transactional practice, but the few that I have met over the years that do what I do, we all face the same criticisms.  People don't usually refer to us as most agreeable. Or laid back. Or grateful. A ball of fire, yes. Maybe pretty fun once the closing dinner comes along, yes. But appreciative of life's blessings? Humble?  Not so much.  A partner at another firm who I knew, but really hadn't stayed in touch with after having Sadie, ran into me after I moved to my part-time counsel role at my current job.  "I was really surprised when I heard you left the partner role," she said to me.  "You never seemed the type of woman who would give that up voluntarily... I think you will have it back in no time," she laughed.

Sometimes I wonder if Sadie will know me as a mom who had character, and spine, and independence when a lot of days now, I would rather be at the Song Fest than anywhere else. Yesterday she just saw a woman standing on her chair trying to get the perfect picture while tears were swimming in her eyes. I am just so grateful for this kid. I am so grateful to go through life as her mother, to have some afternoons and most every evening to talk with her, explain things, engage in debates, read to her, laugh with her, lay with her, listen to her. I am so grateful to be the person that she reaches for, that she waves to when she leaves, that she runs to when I come home. She is at such a fun age, going through such a great stage.  I honestly can't get enough of it.

Will she grow up suffocated by this love? I hope not. Will I become the dreaded helicopter parent that wants to be present at every occasion? I hope not. But for now, I can't stop feeling blessed.  I can't stop feeling like God gave me this tremendous gift to be her parent. And I am so very grateful for it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Stay just like this... now.

We had a wonderful weekend. In all honesty, we have had an incredible month.

Sadie made the transition to another new nanny in the middle of November, and Mark and I can't believe how fast and how well she has adjusted to another change. Our new nanny was truly an answer to a prayer and she is already feeling like a member of our family. Sadie bonded to her very quickly, and nothing could make me happier. Even in our very chilly last couple weeks, the house has been warm with celebration as they make cookies, lots of great art projects, and play pretend games like turning the house into a restaurant complete with menus, waitresses, and quite an array of choices. It is a wonderful feeling -- Mark and I both remarked the other evening -- to come home and hear Sadie laughing and singing, so very happy with what she is doing.

And thus, the weekends have been great too. We saw The Nutcracker for the first time yesterday. Sadie didn't quite make it though the length of the production -- she and her best friend Bella insisted on sharing their seat and once things got a little scrunched (in the second hour), there was a little bit of a battle over who was going to move :) And I forgot to bring a snack (the play was from 2-4:15 or so) and the lines for the food there were way too long during the intermission. We have learned that Sadie is a different child when she gets some nuts or some other protein mid morning and mid-afternoon for her snacks.

Today we rewarded her great behavior recently with letting her sit up in the balcony at Church. She loved being so close to the choir, and most of all, the massive organ that is St. James's.  There was a few times that my heart skipped a few beats as I worried that she was about to thrust the hymnal over the balcony's edge to the crowd down below, but that never happened. And up and down the stairs we went, first for Children's Chapel during the sermon (kids go to another smaller chapel), then to sit on the stairs of the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and finally during Communion.  Sadie loves going to Church though, and I could use the extra stair climbing workout.

It is nice to be writing this blog about how great things are, rather than sitting at the computer researching  the Internet to see if a developmental phase will pass. It is tempting to want to freeze her right here, right now. She is so loving, so apologetic when she misbehaves. She wants to do chores... loves to help sort the laundry, put it in the washer, fold her sheets up (though most of that happens on the rug in her room, which no doubt has some dog hair on it).  She helps me unload the dishwasher, and puts the silverware away. Pinch me and wake me up!!

I love to see her growing and changing, but it scares me sometimes to see how fast it happens. We received a Christmas card from a wonderful friend from my childhood this week and her grandchildren, who I babysat for when they were infants when I was in college... two of them recently got engaged. Shouldn't they still have their braces on? Speaking of braces, one of my nieces got hers off recently and I just saw some profile pictures she posted on Facebook which are... quite grown-up.  Not in a bad way... but not in the fun loving wide ear to ear grin that I am used to seeing. I won't stop them from all growing up, I just want to freeze my own little one.

I remember when Sadie would wake up during the night for, let's say, maybe 2 years?? Something like that. And I would think "when will this pass??" I was impatient.  Now she sleeps on, very well, from 8:00 last night to 7:40 this morning, and woke up in the best mood that Mark and I can ever remember. Pinch me.

The days do fly quickly, and what I can do is write about them. Try to memorialize the funny things she still says. The way that she has asked me so many times how Jesus could be born in the manger with no doctor there, and then resolved it as she play acted with her own manger and found some hospital equipment under the hay. She's a creative girl, always finding the solution. I just need to listen for it every day.  She has indeed completed our family.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We Decorate to the Extreme

This is our house. Yes, our gingerbread house, but it kind of looks like our real house too. Ok, well not really. But it isn't so far off the mark. We love Christmas decorations. I am actually not sure where this stemmed from in my case. My parents were never without a wreath on the front door, and I remember a childhood "chore" being the one who had to go around and plug in each of the candles in the lanterns every night (my mother can't believe that Mark and I leave ours plugged in all the time). But we never had lights on trees outside, or bushes. The inside was decorated, but I remember the tree always went up around the middle of December. Mark and I put our tree up here on the Friday after Thanksgiving. 
In fact, just the other night we agreed that our tree might not make it until Christmas with all the needles that it is quickly dropping (most of them, on my head as I crawl under it to water it every morning and night, as thankfully it is still drinking). This would be the first year that we had to get two trees for one location (we do have three threes in the house, so getting more than one tree is not that unusual for us actually). I can't imagine taking down the tree and all the decorations to just put it up again, so that would be a first.

The Christmas before Sadie was born, we were moving on December 27th. We were moving to a house whose property line was actually 12 feet from our then-current house. And in the Fan of Richmond, where houses are built on an eighth of an acre I think, saying we were "a stone's throw away" means literally that I could throw a stone, accurately, out of the dining room window of one house into the kitchen window of another, with little effort.  We still needed a moving company (most importantly to empty the attic of our first house, which was stuffed full with no easy way to get items out of, especially for a woman in her third trimester). 

But notwithstanding the move, and the fact that I was due with Sadie in March and had basically sworn off any activities that required any more exertion than growing said child, we decided to put up a Christmas tree at our old house. And since Mark was helping the movers move our belongings as well as finish the actual remodel of the new house (we moved in three weeks before the kitchen was usuable), I was the one in charge of decorating and undecorating the tree. It was still worth it. I remember standing in the old house with no furniture left in it, taking ornaments off of the tree, and thinking to myself that it was still worth it.

So far, this is the best Christmas we have ever had. Sadie's yet to catch anything more than a cold (knock on wood, she usually has an ear infection or strep by this week annually). And she is so into Christmas. Last year, I remember how she was learning Deck The Halls and singing it enough that we grabbed the video camera to preserve her newly understandable voice. This year she sings every song. And she randomly makes up her own songs, all of them praising the birth of Jesus Christ in some totally exaggerated way, while working in Santa, reindeer, and her list, all in one song. It is just so cute to watch. She is loving toward Mark and I and Daisy in a whole new way. It is just really cute. It is like the celebration of the season that Mark and I take to the extreme has really been passed on to her. 

Sure one day, she might choose to take a different path. I now practice a different religion than that which I grew up in (Catholicism), and I sure do a lot of things differently than my parents did. But right now, it is really fun having a mini-me (or mini-us, giving Mark some credit). It is a great Christmas so far, and to think, we are only half-way through Advent!!