Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to me! To celebrate, I offer you flash fiction. This piece was accepted by a publication, but then the publication ran out of funds. So, rather than submit elsewhere, I’ll share with you.

The prompt from my AFCG buddies was “blockage.” Enjoy!

The Great Blockage

Helen later recalled it was her neighbor Tim who had the idea. Trash collection was only once a week and that wasn’t enough. The community’s cans overflowed. Wind swept through the street and the cans fell over like toy soldiers, plastic bags sprawling out of the openings like drunkards passed out in a doorway. Large birds would swoop down and tear at the bags with determination. Stray papers and egg shells, broken cups and worn out toys would scatter every which way. No one wanted to pick up the debris, the nasty little crumbs of each other’s lives.

Then, during a community picnic over the summer, Tim suggested they make their own trash pit. A grass-covered slope near the cul-de-sac would be the perfect spot. A common area intended as an emergency water overflow hold, the slope was already bowl-shaped. Delighted, the community citizens couldn’t wait. They grabbed the nearest trash of chicken bones, paper plates, red cups, and popped balloons from a children’s relay and lined up in a parade to march to the common area. One little girl, not to be left out, ripped off her Barbie’s head and then joined the parade, waving the body and head in separate hands.

Without being told the community members knew what to do. They stood along the rim of the bowl and, one by one, threw their trash into their new pit. It worked. Nothing blew out or scattered in the street.

“What about the birds,” asked Helen.

“I’ll get a net from the store. Spread it across,” said Tony, a man who lived across the street and two houses down.

Tim’s wife seemed uncertain. “But I don’t want anyone to see our pit.”

Several of the community members nodded.
“Trees,” suggested Helen. “We can plant trees along the rim.”

And so it was decided. Helen priced trees at the store and brought back numbers to the group. After much debate, hands reached into pockets and purses and an amount was collected to purchase a net and one tree. Helen was disappointed. She’d imagined an impressive ring of oaks or birches with their silvery bark. With the community’s money, she’d only be able to buy a regular old redbud.

Although disappointed, Helen took her task seriously and purchased the tree, marked down because it was fall. One of the neighbors dug a hole on the rim and then, with Helen’s help, broke up the root ball and settled the tree into place. Helen watered the redbud to get it established. They’d need the tree’s branches to provide privacy because the pile of trash had continued to grow.

All through the winter the people of the community brought their soup cans and take out containers, drink bottles and worn out shoes. In the spring the tree extended its branches. Leaves unfurled. Buds appeared. Helen had done a good job of watering it. And then, when it was time, the flowers budded. Whispers spread through the community and everyone came to see. The flowers were doll’s heads, a wadded up test with a red “F”, and little Jimmy’s half-eaten hot dog from a month before.

Nervous laughter moved through the crowd.

“Its roots grew down into the pit,” said Tim. “The tree is sucking up our trash.”

No one had a solution, but the problem went away. Or, it became less important. The “flowers” eventually withered and fell back down into the pit. And, if there were uncomfortable moments such as when the tree bloomed the credit report of the Smiths, most of the trash was indistinguishable, one family from another.

And then the flowers stopped. The last tennis shoe on the end of the highest branch fell off and into the pit. The tree’s trunk began to grow, to bulge. The children claimed they could hear gurgling sounds such as one would hear in a father’s belly after a big meal.

The community called in a tree doctor. He came with a stethoscope and listened with a grave expression. He shook his head and said there was nothing he could do.

A month passed and a smell emanated from the deformed tree, a rotting, putrid smell. And then the bark split open and a thick black goo oozed down the trunk.

“It’s got a blockage,” said Helen. “It tried to suck up something too big.”

The tree began to shake.

The people gathered around to watch the shaking tree, the oozing tree, the tree that smelled like gangrene. And then a rumbling began in the ground, working its grinding way up the trunk, forcing its way until a black volcano erupted, blowing off the top branches.

“A tire,” said Tim. He seemed rooted to the spot. His hands were clenched in fists. “It tried to suck up a tire.”

“Run,” yelled Helen.

Black droplets of partially digested rubber rained down. The community members ducked and ran, trying to get away from the exploding tree, but with the blockage gone, more kept coming: dirty diapers, mail order catalogues, raked leaves, and sour milk cartons.

Most people had taken shelter in Tim’s house because it was nearest to the common area. They stared at the community in amazement. All the trash, everything so carefully held down by the net had been sucked up by the tree’s roots and made its way out of the redbud’s ruined top. Trash, thick and wet, littered the yards, the pools, the streets. The tree, finished, lay split in half on the rim of the pit.

“I bought it half-price,” said Helen in amazement.

“This is your fault,” said Tim. “Can’t buy a half-price tree and expect it to do the job of a full-priced one.”

Tony, from two houses down, finished the bag of chips he’d been eating while watching the show. Crumbling the bag into a ball, he tossed it into the trash.

Walk for Wishes

On Sunday my family and I will be participating in the Walk for Wishes. We’ll get to the Baltimore zoo around 8 or so and after the walk we’ll check out the animals. Evie especially wants to see the penguins. The older kids are excited to miss church, but sometimes church isn’t in church, you know? Sometimes church is about serving others and that’s what the Make-A-Wish foundation is all about: granting wishes for kids who have a life-threatening illness or condition.

Our story is personal. Evelyn was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 2 1/2 years old.  After the initial “emergency” status of the situation descended to “high alert”, the social worker at the hospital helped us fill out the paperwork for a wish. The Wish ambassadors came to our house to meet Evelyn and the family. When asked, Evelyn went with the age appropriate response and said she wanted to meet the Disney princesses. The Wish people were ready to get us packed, but my husband and I were too tired to think about going anywhere. There was the logistics of traveling with a family of 6, Evie was right in the middle of treatment and had a complicated chemo and surgery schedule. She had to have regular surgery to inject chemo directly into the spinal fluid. And, there was the ever present danger of her compromised immune system. She could spike a fever and we’d be too far from our hospital where everyone knew what size needle to access her port-a-cath and how to take care of a pediatric oncology patient. How to take care of our precious daughter.

The Wish people told us firmly that we needed to use the Wish. That we needed a break. That everything was set — we would spent Evelyn’s fourth birthday in Disney. The Wish people didn’t forget Evie’s twin sister either. Evelyn was always the special guest, but Sylvia was taken care of too. We all were. And, the Wish people were right. That week away as a family showed us how run down we’d gotten, how grim and plodding. We returned to Maryland refreshed, full of energy, and ready to fight again. We also had a ton of pictures and an invaluable family experience with all six of us.

We went from this:

Evie after port replacement (due to infection)

Evie after port replacement (due to infection)

To this:

DSC03026And this: DSC03157And this:DSC02926

 

I hate fundraising — asking friends and neighbors and strangers for money — but this is important. Make-A-Wish isn’t about going on an imaginably fun trip, it’s about being taken care of by a network of volunteers who understand that each moment counts. We were fortunate enough to be taken care of and we’d like to pass that along to other families, the ones coming behind us who are just now finding out about their own health crisis, about their own beloved child.

Please consider donating $5 or $10. The walk is this Saturday. If you care to donate, here’s the link:

Woosley

Love,

Sherri

Too much stimulation

Today is the first day of spring break and I’m already going nuts.

Despite the fact that every school day I’m dragging kids out of bed, threatening everything that can be threatened if they miss the bus, today they are up. One child has gotten into the cookies and is eating them as she reads in bed. (a no-no in our house. CRUMBS, PEOPLE). The radio is blaring from a bedroom with no one in it. The twins are on my bed, jumping on me because they want their iPads. One twin is okay with waiting until later in the day, but the other has a meltdown complete with kicking legs and screaming and I look at the clock and just wonder why. The puppy wags his tail. He’s ready for his morning walk.

The computer is on downstairs and I yell, “No technology until after breakfast, please.” The answer: “We’re reading on the computer.”

Breakfast. Somehow I started the tradition of every snow day and first day of any break we have blueberry pancakes, and eggs or sausage or something else that requires actual cooking. So, I could bust these out by myself pretty quickly, but no. Supposed to be a teachable moment so I let her do the measuring and the stirring and I bite my lip when there is mix all over the counter and floor and she over-stirred the blueberries so that the mix is purple and little deflated blueberry balloon skins are all that’s left.

The oldest girl comes down and flops on the couch, turning on tv. And, now I’m annoyed because I can’t leave the kitchen, but I can’t seem to win against technology. And, I want my kids to go outside and like build a tree fort or something, but without my needing to supervise and without them using their father’s tools and messing anything up. Can’t they learn a foreign language or how to type? But, that would require my finding the program on the computer. And so I don’t say anything except to call the youngest when it’s time to flip the pancakes.

The laundry is going today too because, despite being spring break, there are buckets of dirty clothes. And I ask, is everything REALLY dirty? Even this shirt that I see is still folded? Did you really wear it? Yes, Mom. Three cherubic smiles. (The boy is still in bed. I don’t ask if his clothes are dirty. They are.)

And I start the dishwasher too, but have to stack the breakfast dishes in the sink, syrupy and sticky because there is too much. Too much of everything.

I dump the egg shells in the flower pots outside, tiny bit of composting, and later I see the puppy eating them. Mental note: Take the dog for another walk because who knows what that will do to his tummy.

My agent has sent me notes about the synopsis I need to get done. The kids want to know if they can watch a movie. I suggest they ride bikes. They want to know if they can play DS. I tell them they need to take the puppy for another walk. He’s going nuts because he normally has daily playdates with our neighbor’s dogs. They are all besties. The three of them run and jump over each other and do ridiculous acrobatics and then puppy comes back in and sleeps. But, the humans are on vacation and I texted the dogsitter to find out when the dogs would come outside, but don’t have a time yet.

This is him watching for his friends.

Gabe looking for Gracie

And then the doorbell rings and I realize I’m still in my pjs and my older daughter brings in a package from Fed ex or whatever. I go upstairs to get dressed. And I’m trying to decide if I can make it to critique group tonight. I haven’t been in so long, but I haven’t worked on the story I wanted to work on and I have something else, but it’s handwritten and I’d have to type it up. On the other hand, the babysitter is arranged and I don’t want to cancel on her and my husband won’t be home until late anyway and the coach is picking up the boy for lacrosse practice…and I’m thinking all these things when I hear a man’s voice. In my house.

And one of my kids wanders into my bathroom where I’m half-dressed and I say, “Is there someone here?” Which is stupid, BECAUSE I CAN HEAR THAT SOMEONE IS HERE. And the kid says, “Yeah. The bug guy is spraying.”

Which I kind of hate anyway because I don’t like chemicals all around, and I hate strangers showing up at my door. Especially when I’m not dressed. I throw on the rest of my clothes and hurry outside, but the bug guy is gone. So, the one place we need sprayed is the door in the basement because we get these huge black spiders that lurk in doorways and the bug guy didn’t spray the one spot we needed. And I’m pissed and rushed and the kids tell me that they are done playing Polly Pockets and want to know if it’s time for lunch.

And I tell them no and run to the internet to type these words so I can get my head on straight and figure out what is going on. Not just with the day because nothing really terrible has happened, but I’m frazzled and feel karate chopped.

And, here it is. Too much stimulation. I’m an introvert. I like calm and even silence. I like to drift in my thoughts thinking of story lines or images. And now I feel defensive, attacked. Crazy to make all these demands STOP.

And, I’m tired of feeling guilty. Like every break or holiday from school is supposed to be an opportunity for Pinterest. Why do I have to defend my need and my desire to work on my dream (the synopsis for my novel and a story for tonight’s meeting)? But, I do. My kids work me constantly. The boy literally spent thirty minutes last night quizzing me on his favorite things to show that I don’t spend enough time with him.

Example:

Him: You don’t even know my favorite color.

Me: Orange.

Him: MY OTHER FAVORITE COLOR.

Me: Dark Blue.

Him: (huffy breath) Well, you don’t even know my favorite….

The girls are manipulative.

Me: Go play something real with your Monster High girls or your shopkins. Make up a story and act it out with the characters.

Them: Why DON’T you WANT to play WITH us?

Me: I do. But I have to work.

Them: So you don’t love us. We understand. (Slumped shoulders and eyes that slide away)

Me: We just made breakfast together.

Twin 1: No, you just did that with Twin 2.

Me: Okay, you can help me make lunch.

Twin 1: You always want me to work!

 

And now it’s lunch time. Hope you’re enjoying your spring break!

Sherri

Running Out of Gas

When I was 16 years old I had to share a “lemon” with my older sister. My kids didn’t know what a “lemon” was when I mentioned this the other day and I tried to explain how horrible an olive green station wagon with faux wood panels was…especially to a new driver in the throes of teenagedom where one doesn’t want to stand out. My parents thought it quite a joke. They bought a key ring with a picture of a lemon. In case we didn’t get it, my sister and I, the word “Lemon” was written underneath the picture. Thanks.

(BTW, my middle-aged sister worked her butt off at McDonald’s and bought herself this teeny-tiny adorable car that she jetted around in, driving with concentration, her visor at the correct angle to account for her curled and hairsprayed bangs)

I digress. The point is, I hated this car. And, I didn’t have a lot of money. So, I’d put whatever money I had into the gas tank, drive it around, and then turn it over to my older sister. She did the same to me until one day I was driving and pushing the gas pedal and yet, somehow, slowing down. The cars passed by on my left. I assume the drivers gave me a quizzical look as I grabbed the wheel more tightly and began rocking my body, trying to get that car to move forward.

It went slower. I pulled over to the side. The gas needle was very clearly on E. I got out, left the keys in the car (who would steal it?), and walked to my friend’s house. From there I walked home. My older sister wanted the car, demanded to know where it was. I told her. “Over on Route 22. You can’t miss it.”

What I remember is that sensation of pushing the pedal, but slowing down. The actual action of running out of gas. My character Rachel experiences this. She’s given everything she has in trying to save her son. She’s asked to give more and she does until she physically collapses, the voices around her sound muffled, her vision is blurry, and she collapses.

Has this ever happened to you in real life? It’s happened to me twice in the past month. Yes, I know, that doesn’t speak well to my learning my lesson. I was always stubborn. But, I also struggle with being a people-pleaser. I WANT people to like me even though I rationally know that my desire is INSANE. I say “yes” to too many things.

Teaching an adult Sunday School from Lent to Easter.

Parent helper for the Elementary Science Club for five weeks.

Teaching seven fitness classes a week.

Running a household with six people: laundry, lunch packing, dinner making, homework checking, projects, grocery shopping, shoe shopping, gathering too small clothes for AmVets, buying little gifts from the “Valentine Dove” (yeah…that’s a different story).

Classroom mom.

Supporting my son’s basketball obsession — playing both rec and travel and against the walls of my house — and driving my twins to gymnastics, and keeping track of my daughter’s horseback riding lessons.

Walking the puppy in the freezing cold and rain because he is potty trained and we AREN’T going to regress.

AND I WAS REVISING MY NOVEL WITH A DEADLINE. You know, my personal dream that I’ve been chasing for years.

I was running out of gas, pushing as hard as I could, cutting out anything that wasn’t directly related to work. There was no time for friends (oh, and I gave up Facebook for lent so I didn’t even have that pleasure), no time for reading, no time to enjoy my kids, no time for myself. No time!

And then I was done. I smacked into depression and I no longer had a choice. I had to cut back. That is, I could only do the bare minimum to function. My husband noticed. “You’re such a drag,” he said. My son noticed, “Where’s your sense of humor?” My twins noticed, “Mommy needs a massage!”

But no one stopped me from running out of gas. I was mad — everyone was willing to take from me, but no one was ready to take care of me. I was mad at other parents. Why doesn’t someone else step up and do something about starting middle and high schools later? Why aren’t there more volunteers at church so I don’t always feel like I have to “step up”? Why can’t the kids make themselves an after school snack without completely destroying the kitchen?

Here’s the thing. We’re all responsible for ourselves. Yes, it’s nice when we have a partner or parent or friend who is tuned in enough to advise “slow down” or who will make a nice dinner or give a gift to “fill the tank.” But, we have to take responsibility and not get so low in the first place.

I started doing little things. My husband watched the other kids so I could take my oldest daughter to the nail salon. She got a mani, I got a pedi. It sounds silly and frivolous, but it made a difference. I was doing something because it was fun.

Here’s a list I’m making for the next time I get out of balance, start giving faster than I’m filling. I will take care of myself with:

  1. Real food. When I’m stressed and running from task to task, my eating habits drop. Solution: Turn to veggies and hummus, crock pot recipes, and fresh fruit.
  2. Exercise. My job is to exercise right now. But, in hindsight I should have called in a sub for help and let myself rest.
  3. Sleep. I don’t think I’m the only one to try to get more done in a day by staying awake for longer, but it will catch up to you. Lack of sleep makes you feel hungrier, less able to focus, and more emotional.
  4. Less caffeine. Again, I don’t think I’m alone in drinking coffee to make myself move faster. Same thing. I need rest, not more fake energy that leaves me feeling unable to focus, dissatisfied and impatient.
  5. Physical. I just rescheduled my dentist appointment from December.
  6. Mental. It sounds crazy, but even when you are revising, read a book. I fell in love with books and piling up “to be read” when I finished my “work” was actually harming me. I wasn’t getting the stimulation to my brain and imagination.
  7. Social. Yeah. I had coffee with my across-the-street neighbor this week. First time we’ve done more than wave since December. Yes, she’s a busy mom and artist (photographer) and I’m a busy mom and artist (writer), but we have to make time. Relationships are important.
  8. Family. Spending time with your family that isn’t the “business” of life. My niece came by. She’s on her spring break. It made me so happy to talk to her and then watch her with my kids. Cousins rock.
  9. Look at pictures of adorable animals.  St. Pattys Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
  10. Fun. This is probably the hardest for me. My husband too. We both work hard and push aside activities that are “only” fun.

Do you have any ideas for ways to fill your tank so that you don’t “run out of gas?” Would love to read about them in the comments below.

 

Still Revising — a conversation

Hello, Friends.

I’m still revising. The good news is that I’m in the final act. Here’s my favorite sentence:

If Scott was right that energy paths ran across the lithosphere of the earth connecting land forms and significant natural monuments, and Emesh was right that the earth was overflowing with antediluvian energy activated by Shamash’s dying body, and The Weatherman was right that energy was the key to understanding the post-firestorm changes, then…Rachel’s mind stopped here. She didn’t know exactly what it meant, except that this LaPorte place was something like a nuclear reactor.

It gets readers all on track for Act 3 when everything both falls apart and pulls together, based on the clues and action in the preceding acts. No pressure.

Here’s my bad news. IT’S HARD. You want everything to SHINE and MAKE SENSE and just because a scene is fun or develops character, it doesn’t get to stay. It has to WORK. And sometimes that’s hard to decide.

I agonized over a chapter (chapter 30) this weekend, used my agent’s feedback, talked to everyone I encountered about it. Then, I send my revision off to my critique group. We meet this Friday to discuss and exchange notes.

This morning I realized that I can cut the scene. Just cut it out. Skip the agony. Boil the scene down to the three things I need to keep and move that to a different chapter. But, I’m scared. I’m over-thinking. WHAT IF THAT WAS THE CHAPTER WITH ALL THE BRILLIANT WRITING THAT READERS WERE GOING TO UNDERLINE ON THEIR KINDLES?

(It isn’t)

WHAT IF THIS IS WHERE READERS FALL IN LOVE WITH MY PROTAGONIST?

(If they haven’t by chapter 30 then you have a problem that revising chapter 30 isn’t going to fix)

BUT THIS IS THE CHAPTER WITH A HISPANIC CHARACTER WHO SPEAKS SPANISH AND I CONSULTED BOTH MY HUSBAND AND GOOGLE TRANSLATE TO MAKE SURE I GOT IT RIGHT. I NEED TO BE DIVERSE.

(There are many languages used in this world. Many languages that have been used. Many that will be. Are you going to have each one represented in this particular novel? You might want to check both the word count and your readers’ patience if this is your project. Instead, maybe concentrate on the story?)

BUT NOW I HAVE TO WRITE THAT CHAPTER, AND THE BEGINNING OF THE NEXT, ALL OVER AGAIN.

(Yeah, that’s called revising.)

Next month when I post, I hope to tell you that I’m finished revisions and have sent to my agent….then I get to attack my next novel that is almost there. It just needs some….wait for it…revisions.

Love,

Sherri

Character Development and Revision

Hi Friends,

Happy Holidays. Be safe. It seems like December, for a month devoted to peace on earth, is awfully stressful and full of angry people. Maybe that was just the lady in the car next to me last night while we were stuck in a traffic jam. Please don’t be that lady.

I’ve advanced through the QUERY TRENCHES into the COURTYARD OF REVISIONS. I’ve pulled up a little bench and waved at my new comrades. Some of them I recognize from the DESERT OF DESPAIR. Too much Pilgrim’s Progress, literary style?

Anyway, I’ve been working through my agent’s revisions. First, I really appreciate her thoughtful and insightful questions and comments. The concrete suggestions were, in many ways, easier than the overall questions: How can you weave Adam and Rachel into the bigger story of what’s happening? Why are they important?  And, of course, the character arcs.

So, here’s my confession. I made a mistake at the beginning. The conceit of the novel was: What happens when an ordinary mom and boy who already have medical problems find themselves in the middle of an apocalypse. The story grew from there. I answered questions about what caused the firestorm, what the world looked like after, started stringing images together. What I didn’t do was make my ordinary mom a real person.  That was a mistake. Yes, she is not a superhero in a world taken over by ancient gods, yes, we see her acting and reacting in the new setting, but my wonderful critique partners pointed out this week that they don’t KNOW Rachel any better than they would know someone they work with or someone in their class or a neighbor that you wave to. That is, they’ve seen the outside of Rachel, heard some interior monologue, felt the love she has for her son, Adam, but aren’t FRIENDS with her.

Huh, I said.

All the mannerisms. All the stomach holding (stress has her on the verge of ulcers), all the headaches (verge of dehydration due to lack of self-care and lack of clean water), all the jaw clenching when she’s scared. They don’t have meaning. They are actions that don’t reveal character. ANYONE could do those things.

“So what does she DO?” I asked.

Like sages on the mountaintop (I have a very wise literary critique group), they told me only I could answer that. I frowned at them. Because I wanted a quick answer. I’m on track to get these revisions done by the end of January. I’m ready to move on to my other novel. I’m ready to work on short stories for awhile. I don’t want to go back and do character exercises.

Then they frowned at me.

“Fine,” I said. Which leads to 35 Questions to ask your character. We did something similar in Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s writing class, but my friend Sarah is not here to interview me pretending to be Rachel. Guess I’ll be talking to myself. Which I do anyway, so now I have an excuse.

Here’s an example:

  1. What trait do you (Rachel) most deplore in others?   Being devious and complicated, keeping secrets
  2. What is your idea of perfect happiness? Culture. I love food, music, art, concerts, perfume, fancy clothes, and snuggling in front of the fireplace with a movie at home.
  3. What is your greatest fear?  Failing. I’d rather quit rather than fail. I feel the pressure to succeed and it creates such anxiety that I give up. Like art school. I quit and changed my major to art history. I never opened the gallery in New York like I planned. I never even tried. I blamed the death of my parents, but I know I wimped out.
  4. What do you like about yourself? I like my curly, auburn hair. It secretly reminds me of John William Waterhouse’s painting “The Lady of Shalott.” Did I mention that I’m a hopeless romantic?
  5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? I second guess everything, trying to figure out what to do. I know it makes me look indecisive. I hate it, but I’m afraid of messing up. I need time to figure it all out.
  6. Extrovert or introvert? Definitely introvert. I’m reserved with strangers, modest, and need alone time to work on my drawings. It’s how I figure out what I think — by letting my work come through my subconscious.
  7. What do you most value in your friends? I value loyalty and honesty. With my friends, I can make fun of myself, relax, and drink some wine. After Adam was diagnosed, Nurse Naomi became my best friend because I could always count on her to tell me the truth and because we were on the same journey: save Adam’s life.
  8. What is the quality you most like in a man? A man who can appeal to my senses. I want candlelight, romance, and a phone call or letter after the first date. I want to be swept away with emotion, but it will take time and effort from him! I don’t like drama, but if he can convince me to choose him…I won’t change my mind.

 

The list, of course, has a great many other questions, but you get the point. Fell0w writers — would love to have you answer some of the questions from your character’s POV in the comments.

Love,

Sherri

 

 

 

Fostering Gabe

So, let me acknowledge that it’s crazy. That my life with four kids and a husband who travels for work is full. Let me add in that I recently, after years of work, signed on with an amazing literary agent for my novels and there is a lot of revision in my future. I volunteer at church and at the elementary school. I’m FULL.

Gabe's glamour shot. He's 11 weeks and 11 pounds.

Gabe’s glamour shot. He’s 11 weeks and 11 pounds.

But, I wanted a puppy. Well, a dog. But we got a puppy and now I can’t imagine not wanting a puppy. For about two years now I’ve had this hankering for a canine companion. Every time I brought it up with my husband he would, in a very rational and analytical way, point out that we’ve just gotten to the point where our kids are all in school, they can all read, swim, bicycle. We still have to watch them…but we don’t have to hover anymore. We can go places on the weekends. Everything he said made sense and I would fold away my dog dream. A few days later it would unfold itself and I would want again. I looked at pictures on the internet and read their stories.

I filled out an application at a local rescue, was approved, and picked out the bundle of sweetness that I wanted. I e-mailed my husband every step of the way…because he was in Singapore for business. By the time he came home, she was adopted. I was heartbroken. I’d already pictured us romping through the fields together. She was beautiful and I wish the little pup well with whatever family adopted her. But, now I was on a mission.

My husband asked if my wanting a dog was code for wanting a baby. No. NO. I want a snuggley pet. I grew up with dogs. I like them walking around the house doing their thing. I like when dogs are happy to see you when you walk in the door. I like when they put their paw on your leg and give you THAT look. I wanted my own dog.

Oldest with Gabe. She waited 8 years for a dog in this house.

Oldest with Gabe. She waited 8 years for a dog in this house.

My kids wanted a dog. The oldest girl has been asking for a dog since she was 5. She’s now 13. The twins race up to strangers and ask if they can pet the dogs at all the soccer practices. My boy dreams of a dog like a Jack London book. Them against the world (and all his sisters).

My husband agreed we could compromise. We’d foster. I filled out an application with Big Fluffy Dogs. I’d come across the organization while looking at pictures of Great Pyrs. In the novel I’m about to revise, one of the characters is a white half-wolf (Dido) and I wanted to see photos.

I got an e-mail Thursday afternoon and the phone call Thursday night — there was an 11-week old puppy who needed a foster home. Of course Mike was in New York. I tried to call him. Got voicemail. Had to make a decision. I said yes. My coordinator is Nan. She’s tricky — she LISTENED during the interview and then picked a pup that EXACTLY matched our family needs. She was the first to mention the term “foster fail.” That’s when you realize your heart is not going to let your puppy go. Then, to discuss transport, I spoke to Cookie. I’ve never met Cookie, but I already like someone who would choose this name. I picture a woman wearing a nurse’s coat with chocolate chip cookies with arms and legs and big smiley faces. In the background of her phone I could hear her dogs (she had a puppy that was very happy she was home) and in the background of my phone my twins girls, wrapped in towels and dripping water, were repeatedly asking, “Is that the dog lady?”

Transport. The dogs are sent out from Tennessee and then stop at certain pre-planned sites. For me, in northeast Maryland, I had two options. Both were 2 hours away. I was worried about how to fit in 4 hours of driving on Saturday. The twins had soccer from 9-10:30, we had a neighborhood party at 2:30, my older daughter’s soccer at 4:30, and my son’s travel football game at 8. I can’t remember if Cookie laughed, but she did tell me that the pick up wasn’t going to interfere…..I was to pick up GABE at 2 AM in the empty parking lot of a Toys’R’us.

An emergency trip to Petsmart on Friday after school. I kinda wish I had a picture. The five of us, 4 kids and me, testing out the squeaky toys, voting on the dog bowl, discussing the merits of any and all puppy accessories. One of the twins tried out the cushion for the crate to make sure it was soft enough. Friday night Mike arrives home and sees the dog food dish, the food, the crate. “Is there something you need to tell me, Sherri?”

A few hours later, at 11:45 PM, my oldest daughter and I head out, armed with blankets and water and a dish, etc. Big Fluffy Dogs gives all the information and tells what to do and I read the instructions like a million times. I drank some tea, but my daughter was supposed to talk to me on the drive, keep me awake. Yeah right. She was asleep, sprawled on the backseat snoring, before we turned out of our development.

The men doing the transport were there, the whole process was only a few minutes. I made sure to drive my minivan up to the transport van in a very clandestine manner so that the drivers windows faces each other. I learned that from THE WIRE. “You Sherri?”  “Yeah. You got GABE?” “Yeah.” “Come around to the back of the van.” “Alright, I will.”

No, that wasn’t how it went, but I was so sleep-fogged that I can’t remember the exact dialogue. I do remember commenting on how awake the men seemed and they advised energy drinks and heavy metal music. My daughter woke up. We cuddled little Gabe, she took him, and we headed home.

In the morning, the other three kids couldn’t believe it was real. WE HAD A PUPPY. Look at my son’s face.

We're really doing this? Does Dad know?

We’re really doing this? Does Dad know?

Gabe is hilarious, and he’s definitely family friendly. He’s been inside, outside, slept in a hammock, gone to the park (not a dog park because he doesn’t have his last shots), watched his first soccer practice from the warmth of the car, and tested out everyone’s bed. He does have a crate that he uses during the night and when I go to work.

twins

But, everyone is still so excited, that we have to use a timer at bedtime. He sleeps with each child for 12 minutes and then I have to move him to the next child for snuggles.

I’m not sure how fostering works out — we’re still getting into the routine — but I can’t STAND the thought that this little guy might have been in a shelter, one among many, kept in a crate because there aren’t enough resources to care for all the animals.

HURRAY FOR FOSTERS!

I’ve got to go. Lots to do today.

Love,

Sherri