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- While With My Husband
My husband Brian wouldn’t notice the house was dirty unless the laundry rose up and smothered him.
I, on the other hand, am constantly on alert for the slightest disturbance in what I fondly pretend is our dirt-free household. Wielding spray bottles of cleanser, I stalk the house, hunting my quarry: germs and their allies: messes, clutter and general chaos.
I can spot a speck of dust at thirty paces. Disorder quivers in fear when I approach.
I don’t believe so much in killing germs as I do in punishing them for being germs in the first place. Sure, they die, but they die slowly in my house.
The disparity between my love of cleanliness and my husband’s abject oblivion to even the greatest of messes is, as you might imagine, sometimes the cause of marital discord.
He and the dog blissfully track mud in through the back door onto the clean white tiles of the laundry room. (Whoever installed white tile by a back door should be treated more severely than germs, but I digress.)
I feel my pulse rise and the vein in my right eye begin to throb when I spot it.
“Who did this,” I demand pointing at the muddy paw prints and size 9 men’s shoe tracks.
Brian shrugs. Innocent. Clueless.
The dog is smarter. She knows a trap when she smells one. She slinks from the room and hides on her bed.
I toss a rag at Brian. “Get it up, please. I spent the morning vacuuming and mopping in here. It’s literally, literally, been clean for less than an hour.”
He shrugs and complies. If it were still our first year of marriage, he might have put up a mild protest, but years of living together have taught him the futility of arguing with me when it comes to dirt.
Ironically, and this is the part that drives me craziest, at work he’s painfully organized. He runs an optical laboratory, which requires daily cleaning; and he’s adamant that if his staff shirks their cleaning duties, they’re being disrespectful to him.
Every time he returns home from a day’s work and complains that so-and-so didn’t clean the edger properly, I feel the vein in my right eye throb. I breath deep and take out my aggression on some hapless nearby germ.
I return to the laundry room later that day with a load of laundry and see the feeble “cleaning” job Brian did on the mud by the backdoor. I fantasize about laundry smothering him and wonder if a jury would convict me.
For the first time in my adult life, I managed not to sob like a three-year-old who’s just dropped her ice cream when I confronted the truth: after two trips to the beach, multiple trips to the pool and general wear and tear; it was time to replace my swimsuit.
Feeling like a big girl for not crying, I treated myself to a piece of chocolate. Then I set aside a morning to visit a local retail store so I could shop for a new bikini.
I entered the store full of false hope and optimism – optimism I expected to be quashed when I entered the dressing room.
I strolled through the store and looked for the swimwear department. After circling the store three times with no success, I asked an employee for guidance.
“Swimwear is done for the season,” she said in a voice that implied my question was at once the dumbest, most boring question she’d been asked in her entire retail career.
“What do you mean it’s done for the season?” I asked confused.
“I mean,” she replied irritably, “that we have no swimsuits for sale.”
“But it’s July,” I replied dumbfounded.
“Right, so it’s time for back to school,” she said. It was obvious she hoped I’d go away. She was in for a disappointment.
“Kids don’t go back to school for six weeks,” I protested.
“Still,” her tone became ever crisper, “it’s time for them to get ready. Perhaps you want something new for fall?” She tried to redirect me.
It is a tactic I know well. I use it with my pets and my spouse daily. I had no intention of allowing her to use it on an expert like myself.
“No,” I replied. “I want something new for the pool.”
She steered me toward a rack. “This lovely sweater, perhaps?”
“Sweater?” I repeated incredulously. “It’s ninety-five degrees out! It won’t be sweater weather here for four more months if we have an early fall! What do I need a sweater for?”
“So you’ll be ready for back to school,” she replied curtly.
Irritably, I gave her sarcastic thanks, left the store and did my shopping online. Later, I reflected, that if America’s students worked as hard at their studies as retail stores do in selling them back to school gear, our nation’s students would be first in the world.
“I wish our dog was as well behaved as yours.” I heard this statement many times on a recent family vacation.
My husband and I, his parents, his sister and her husband all rented a beach house together; and we all brought our dogs. There were five dogs in total ranging in size from a nine-pound terrier mix to a hundred and ten pound German shepherd.
It was … an experience.
Our dog, a three-year-old pointer mix named Starla, is a model canine. She walks nicely on a leash, she is housebroken and Brian almost has her trained to fetch beer. She’s easy to travel with and a pleasure to be around.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Though Starla is eager to please, she has energy that makes that pink bunny in the battery commercials look sluggish. I’ve seen her swim for hours only to return home and fetch her toys like she was fresh off a good night’s sleep.
To help her be a polite, pleasant dog, I began training her when she was twelve weeks old. I’ve always had a knack with animals, and I spent fourteen years working as a professional pet sitter. In my time, I learned how to quickly, patiently coerce dogs with no training to cooperate with me.
In a way, Starla being adopted by me was a bit like a kid who has a teacher for a parent. The poor pooch gets away with nothing.
Often, Brian’s father, an avid dog lover, has scolded me for being too strict with her. He prefers a more lackadaisical approach to dog ownership; namely, his dogs can do whatever they want.
Which brings me back to our recent vacation.
We might have been relaxing, but I saw no reason to allow Starla to forget that there are rules and boundaries. If I told her to stay and she got up, I’d correct her. If she bolted out of an open door before being invited, I’d correct her. If she begged for people food, became overly hyper or pulled on the leash during a walk, I’d correct her.
Each time, a family member was on hand to say, “She’s fine, Nora. Leave her alone.” Followed almost immediately (and with no trace of irony) by, “I wish our dog was as well behaved as yours.”
Naturally, I ignored them and corrected my dog as I saw fit.
So while my family members cleaned up German shepherd-sized accidents, I smiled and scratched Starla’s ears. They may not like the rules I make for my dog, but they do seem to like the results!
There are notable differences between the genders, and perhaps no difference is greater than the way men and women prepare for vacation.
Take my husband Brian and I, for example. We are taking a trip to Destin, Florida next week where we will spend time with family, go fishing in the Gulf and consume more food and adult beverages than the city of New Orleans on Mardi Gras.
We depart in thirteen hours. Brian is thrilled and ready to relax now. I’m feeling the time crunch, and I’m dashing around the house muttering to myself and consulting my lists.
I know it takes careful planning to arrange a successful vacation. Anything could go wrong! One might forget to pack something important like a toothbrush or underwear! (I am in no way speaking from experience.)
That’s why I began making lists weeks ago. Then, I threw those lists out and made new lists, which I alphabetized, and color-coded for easy reference.
Then, I booked a pet sitter for the cats, took the animals to the vet for their annual vaccines, stocked up on kitty litter and dog food and neatly printed the dog’s shot records since she’ll be traveling with us.
Today, with mere hours to go before our departure, I did grocery shopping for the week, cleaned the entire house, did the laundry, patted out hamburgers for one of next week’s dinners, planned the route we’ll drive, packed for the dog, packed for myself, watered the plants, painted my toenails, cleaned out the refrigerator and put fresh litter in the litter box so the pet sitter won’t have to and then I wrote this column.
Currently, Brian has packed the dog’s lifejacket and procured fishing licenses for each of us. He plugged a leak in our cooler.
Then I went back to the store and I bought sunscreen in four different spf’s, and purchased new beach towels because our old ones had holes in them.
I know they had holes in them because I looked at them.
Women know what I’m talking about. Men are thinking, “I’ll look at it when I get to the beach.”
If we left vacationing to men, we’d all have beach towels with holes in them.
Watching us prepare for vacation is like doing a study on what makes each of us tick. You can tell where our priorities lie simply by looking at what we put in our bags.
I stared at the package in faint horror. It was an attitude unusual for me. Typically, I love receiving shipments in the mail.
I wasn’t bothered by what was in the package. It’s what that item represented that troubled me.
I poked at it wishing it wasn’t true.
Finally, I sighed. There was no helping it. My husband Brian was adamant. We had to have it, and so he’d placed the order.
Grimacing, I slit the large, plastic envelope’s end and let the contents spill out.
It was a dog lifejacket.
We had become what I’d often maligned: we were people who put a lifejacket on our dog.
“She needs a lifejacket before we go to the beach for vacation,” Brian had said a month before our upcoming beach and fishing trip to Destin, Florida.
“You want to put a lifejacket on our dog, but you wouldn’t wait for me to fasten my seatbelt before leaving the grocery store parking lot last week,” I responded dryly.
“What if she falls off the boat?” he persisted.
“What if we’d been struck by another car?” I pressed the seatbelt angle because I feared where the conversation was going. I didn’t want to reveal my real reasons for avoiding purchasing a lifejacket for Starla.
“I just want her to be safe,” he ignored my attempt to steer the conversation.
“She’ll be safe,” I replied. “She knows how to swim. She’s part Labrador for crying out loud!”
“Still though,” he ignored my protests and shopped online for the lifejacket.
Now, the lifejacket lay in my lap waiting for me to remove the tags and properly adjust it so it safely fit my dog.
Of course, I want my dog to be safe. It’s just that I have some hang-ups about why people put lifejackets on dogs in the first place.
Years ago, I noticed that people adopt dogs to practice for parenthood, and it’s this type of person who is most likely to put a lifejacket on a dog. We don’t have any kids and don’t expect any so I cannot see that we need to practice.
Furthermore, when I worked as a professional pet sitter, I saw parent practice on canines daily, and it was rarely to the dog’s advantage.
I was given instructions such as, “Be sure to brush the dog’s teeth after every meal,” or, “Spot likes to be tucked in for his naps and sung lullabies,” and my favorite, “Please use commands and the corresponding American Sign Language simultaneously. We want our dog to be bilingual.”
I can only imagine what the locals in Destin will think when we strap a lifejacket to our Labrador:
“What is that orange thing they’re strapping to her? Is that, a lifejacket?”
“On a Labrador?”
“Think they have kids?”
Happy Independence Day (4th of July for those of you who haven’t had your coffee yet)!
While looking for something brilliant to post for today, I learned something new. The inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty is part of a larger work. I’ve copied it below so you can look smart at your family barbeque. Well, as smart as you can. Some of you, you know who you are, can only ever achieve so much, but we’re rooting for you!
The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
To be read in David Attenborough’s voice.
It’s time for the yearly migration, when great herds move across the landscape. Each summer, participants travel in an epic, dusty journey that carries them from their homes across the countryside and to their summer destination.
I’m talking, of course, about middle class Americans going on vacation.
Each year, travelers leave behind the tired, brown grass of home for lush, verdant all-you-can-eat buffets of popular vacation destinations where they gorge themselves and listen to bad Van Morrison cover bands.
The massive herds move in a seemingly organized fashion, traversing the landscape like a great ribbon whose members comprise a variety of sizes, shapes and experience levels.
The zebra-like sedans move in coordination, trailing one another at distances too close to believe. Their numbers punctuated by a parade of campers and third wheels that swing their ponderous trunks, flap their large gray ears and trumpet their horns in anger when the gazelle-like compact cars cut them off.
All must travel. All must do it at the same time.
Parents and their young have it the hardest. Boundless, squirming energy threatens to burst forth from backseats across the US. Tired, frazzled and overworked parents seek to calm their offspring with the balm of digital devices.
When things go wrong on the journey, the danger intensifies.
A popup thunderstorm turns the interstate bridge into a raging river. Water, a perilous inch deep, stands between the herd and its destination. Wearily, its members lower their heads and forge into the waters. The elderly and the infirm bleat their flashers in alarm.
The strong are the first to plunge into the current, fearing neither the snapping crocodiles of the rumble strips that line the nation’s interstates, nor the anxious fellow travelers on all sides. They’re beating last year’s travel time, even if everyone in the car has to make do with using a cup instead of taking proper potty breaks.
Only the strong will survive the dangerous journey and even after they arrive at their destination, the danger continues. Their bodies will be burned lobster red in the sun and their feet will blister in ill-fitting footwear. Lurking lions and hyenas prey on ignorant tourists who can’t spot the difference between fake designer handbags and the real thing.
After a week of battling long lines at favorite watering holes, prodding sullen teenagers to cooperate during photo opportunities, and three trips to the store for items forgotten at home, the herd rousts itself for the long, weary return journey, where they’ll stay until next year, when school releases and the family packs up and leaves again on The Great Migration.