Our Children, Their Pets

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have stated in the most definitive tone, “I do not like animals.” Of course there have always been exceptions. When I met my husband, he had two poodles, a standard and a miniature. They were the sweetest things going. Of course, it was kind of love Howard, love his dogs. But Zeno and Tyronne were love-worthy. Definitely. A year into the relationship, I had become their primary caretaker — because that’s what happens. Which is why when my kids were little and asked for pets, the answer was always no. I knew I’d be the one walking the thing on freezing mornings or cleaning its cage, whatever. When my son was about eight, he asked for a pet rat. Being under the delusion that kids change quickly (which they do, but not in this case), I said, “sure when you’re 12.” That may have been the worst lie I ever told them because when my son was 12, I told him no way. And they both kind of resented the no pets policy ever since. (My son did have pet goldfish twice. The first one died in its bowl over a weekend; the second went upstairs to a neighbor’s tank, where it probably died immediately, but those generous-hearted men bought another so my kids could go visit.)

Pretty soon after my son graduated from college and acquired an apartment in Brooklyn, he also acquired two ferrets: Julius Caesar (known as Caesar) and Dizzy Rascal (known as Dizzy). I kind of hated these two animals at first. I mean, what does a ferret do besides

Dizzy and Caesar in their hammock

“ferret around”? Not much except smell a lot. Still, my son loved these two guys, and I developed a certain affection for them, enough to ask about their well-being and sort of take a peek into their cage when we would visit. Maybe I should also mention that we were willing to help foot the medical bills when Caesar swallowed something and needed surgery. It wasn’t just my son we felt for; we cared about the animal. Dizzy died a few months back at the ripe age of 6 1/2 — the lifespan for a domesticated ferret is 5-8 years. So now I kind of worry about Caesar alone in his cage. I may not love this animal, but I care about it.

A year ago, my daughter and her boyfriend adopted a dog they found listed for free on Craig’s List. I was beyond dubious. Craig’s List? They had to be kidding. But they went to look and fell in love with a cute many-breed mutt, definitely part dachshund: short legs, but a larger body and a tail that’s always upright and wagging. I wasn’t so happy when

Landry under the table, hoping someone drops food

after their visit to the vet, they informed me she had said Landry (named after the New York Knick) had one of the worst cases of fleas she had ever seen. Even when I met him, he was just, basically, a dog. And when it became clear that Landry would be living with us for a while, I was resigned. But a lot has happened to Landry in the year since my daughter and her boyfriend brought him home. To begin with, he has learned some commands and words and responds when we speak.  (I am pretty sure that the owners who either lost or abandoned him didn’t speak English.) He does tricks like “shake hands” and jumping on his rear legs to reach for a goodie. He is a top “people greeter.” When someone he knows comes in the door, he wiggles the rear part of his body and wags his tail like mad. Say the word “treat” or “dinner” and he’s all ears. Landry almost never barks. He was not meant to be a watchdog. But he’s a great companion. He likes having his people around — though not too close to his face.

So while I’m happy my daughter and her boyfriend are starting a new chapter in their lives, I will miss Landry a lot. Not that I want another dog.

How do you feel about your grown kids’ pets? Are they kind of like — dare I say it — grandchildren?

Meanwhile a few tips about grown kids’ pets.

  • They belong to your kids. What they eat, when they eat — it’s all up to your kids, not to you, even if you have had plenty of experience.
  • Give advice only when your kids ask. Again the pets belong to your kids.
  • Let your kids know how great their pets are. My daughter actually loves it that her dog was happy to be with us. My son appreciates that his dad plays with the ferret.

Sound a bit like I’m talking about grandchildren? Let me know in your comments.

We Teach Our ADULT Children How to Drive

My 25-year-old daughter doesn’t have her driver license. If you’re from New York City and you just read that sentence, you probably aren’t too shocked. Many New Yorkers never learn to drive. There’s no need to. Subways and buses, which go to most parts of the five boroughs, run 24/7. (Or not, depending on the on-going service disruptions due subway construction. This recent article from the New York Times captures our sense of entitlement, frustration and dependence.) In fact, I had a much easier time of the teen years than did my friends in the suburbs, ex-urbs or car-dependent urban areas: I did not have to worry about my kids driving drunk. Sure I had to worry about all the other things parents of teens do — teens do stupid things and can end up in trouble, or, worse, hurt. And it wasn’t until my son was in college that he mentioned that one night their senior year of high school, his friend Ben had taken his grandparents’ car (with permission) and driven them all to Great Adventure down in Jersey. But back to my daughter. While many New York City non-driving kids do learn in college because getting off campus becomes imperative, my daughter went to school outside of Boston, and was within walking distance of the “T.” (My daughter had one friend in college at Emory who owned a car before she managed to get her license, and got in trouble at a routine traffic check because she was driving without a license. As I said, young people can have lousy judgment.) So here she is, at age 25, without a driver license and maybe about to move out of New York City. (Yes, I wrote those words, and I’m sick over it, but that’s another blog.) Her permit had actually run out. But she took care of that. And now we (and her boyfriend) have been giving her driving lessons. I must say that this time around–she actually did try half-heartedly several years ago–she is fantastic. She steers well, keeps to the speed limit, and shows great confidence and determination. She came upstate for a few days and drove the long way to the supermarket (six miles) and the very long way back. We had even thought of making a trip to the outlet mall in Lee, MA on Friday. I90 may be one of the easiest interstates around. But we woke Friday morning to snow, and that killed our outing. No more driving lessons from us for a while. No outlet bargains for us.

The Marriage Plot

1/15/12 When the Fall 2011 lists came out and I saw the Jeffrey Eugenides had a new novel, I was all “ooo, that.” Then came the so-so reviews, and my interest flagged a bit. Still, a couple weeks ago I downloaded it to my iPad, and, wow, those negative reviews? Totally wrong. First a warning: The Marriage Plot is an “intellectual” novel. There are lots of references to philosophers and writers that were in vogue in the 1980s, when the action takes place. Also, the protagonists are students at Brown University. So we have that. Well, yeah, I read most of the stuff that Madeleine and Mitchell and Leonard drone on and on about, including Roland Barthes. I did get my Ph.D. in English just when everyone at Yale was paying more attention to Derrida and Lacan than to the words writers were putting on the page. Luckily, I was at Columbia, and I could get away with writing a dissertation that totally skirted the semioticians, structuralists and the deconstructionists and just talked about the stories on the page (the Arthurian romances that had originally been inked onto vellum). So in many ways, this trio and their friends are living my worst nightmare, and I found Eugenides’ dissection of that era’s literary wobbly house of cards amusing — and painful. I wouldn’t want to have to read that kind of criticism again; I wouldn’t want to be a graduate student again; I wouldn’t want to suffer love the way these young people do. Suffer they do, but no more than the characters in a Jane Austen novel. Except in a Jane Austen novel, as Madeleine’s senior thesis points out, it’s all about getting married in the end. Not so here in a world where bi-polar disorder was still treated with lithium and homosexuality regarded as not quite normal. Again, it is the 1980s. Garth Risk Hallberg’s essay in today’s New York Times, Why Write Novels at All,” touches on an issue relevant to this novel and to baby boomer writers and readers: just who are these Gen X people in the novel. They’re too young to be us, too old to be our children. Reading this book is a bit like visiting the zoo and watching some species that resembles us but isn’t quite us. Don’t expect to be gripped by this novel. But do expect to be moved. And a little heartbroken. (Clicking on the book cover will take you to the Barnes & Noble site.)

The One and Only Mahaiwe

1/2/12 On New Year’s Eve we went to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington to hear the Berkshire Bach Ensemble perform all six of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti. The founder, harpsichordist and conductor, Kenneth Cooper, was his usual ebullient self, giving a really virtuoso performance of the solo in the 5th concerto. And Eugene Drucker is such a fine violinist. The whole troupe, though, was great — and in a festive mood, as was the audience. Although Howard at one point joked that the average age of the audience was 72, and would have been 74 were it not for the two 20-somethings sitting nearby, the spirit was wonderful. Not everyone attending was a connoisseur of baroque music, but it didn’t matter. When people applauded in the middle of a movement, or between movements, or after a particularly roaring solo, it all felt so right. And being in the Mahaiwe is such a privilege. Built in 1905, it was the home to vaudeville performers, and is one of the oldest theaters in the country. John Phillips Sousa played there once. In 1930 it became a movie theater, and that’s how I knew it when my kids were little. It was dilapidated and freezing in the winter. I saw Saving Private Ryan there, as well as Duck Tales: The Movie (which I deserved a medal for sitting through). At some point the theater suffered a terrible fire, and we figured that was that. But starting in 2005 funds were raised for an amazing and meticulous renovation. My photos do not do it justice. The Mahaiwe is the theater we all dream about: sumptuous details, boxes overhanging the stage. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and featuring incredible acoustics — well, let me say that the next time you’re in Western Massachusetts, it’s worth a visit.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street. Great Barrington. MA 01230
Box Office: 413-528-0100
Mahaiwe Box Office Hours:
Wednesday – Saturday: 12noon – 6pm
plus 3 hrs prior to all showtimes
www.mahaiwe.org

Have you been there? Let me know. Any other historic theaters you love? Tell me about them in the comment box below. As always, I’m at on Twitter @wordwhacker.

We worry about climate change.

1/2/12 So over New Year’s, it was so warm I was outside in just a sweater. This afternoon I ran in snow flurries, and the temperature tomorrow night is supposed to be 10 degrees. The climate this fall/winter has been so up and down. The late October blizzard dumped 18- inches on my deck at my house in upstate New York. (In New York City, there were a couple of inches of slush.) Then there were one or two little snowstorms, but there’s really been nothing like real winter this whole, well, winter. Long term predictions don’t put any snow in the picture. For NYC, I don’t mind. Snow is such a hassle there. It gets dirty quickly, full of dirt from the air and street and yellow and brown reminders that people who walk their dogs don’t always clean up the way they should. But for upstate, the lack of snow has taken its toll on the ski areas. When it’s cold they can at least make snow, but not when it rains. And there has been plenty of rain, so much so that the little brooks near my house have been flowing, hard and quickly and with a lot of noise. I took the photo above a few days ago when the temperature dipped below freezing for a few days: a little ice around the culvert, but otherwise rushing water. Then it got warm again–and some of my spring bulbs have pushed their shoots above the ground. Sometimes that happens in late February, but this January 2. The way plants and nature work in this zone is that they go dormant when the weather gets cold, building up their energy for the next year. A blanket of snow keeps them just warm enough. At least our bluebirds, who winter over, seem happy. They’ve been eating through a feeder full of meal worms every day. Still, even though last year in February I looked out my window at the vast expanses of white and felt quite claustrophobic, this year I miss the snow. I truly do. Would love your comments. And, I’m on Twitter @Wordwhacker.