While I’ve done my best to condense it, I want you to know this missive is long, so you might want to get a snack.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and our lives are even stranger than that. So let me paint you a picture. I won’t need to review much history. Just a simple span of 72 complicated hours will suffice. I’m convinced God’s got a sense of humor. In fact, I find His timing to be downright hilarious.
But I find Him when I look for Him – because He makes Himself known.
On Friday, Grace’s beloved beta fish, Ariel died. I wasn’t too heart broken, as the fish had made it about one year – high achievement for something the size of a half dollar. So, we went to get another fish, and decided on two tiny tiger barbs. Grace was elated. At Noah’s strong suggestion, she named them “Barbara” and “Barbarian.” This is the saccharine “Dawson’s Creek” moment in the story. We are headed next into “National Lampoon” territory.
At the same time, Grace and Noah were approaching the last of their summer camps; it was a traditional, north-woods camp experience that we deemed their “big finish” to the summer, but which required a physical for entry. Their pediatrician couldn’t get them in until September. Had I waited too long to make the appointments? Yes. Yes, I had. So we took them to the Target “Minute Clinic” for a check-up, and a signature on the all-important health documentation. We did this on a Saturday. Two weeks before the start of school. After gymnastics and karate classes. Before Jesse’s nap. On a SATURDAY.
Two hours, three screaming children, and two signatures later, Matt was headed home with the kids in my car, and I was headed home with a trunk full of groceries in his. A party followed that night, wherein Jesse peed himself and spent the rest of the evening undressed from the waist down. I’ve apparently gotten lax in potty training the third time around, because while this isn’t the first of our training mishaps, I’ve yet to see fit to stick a spare pair of undies and shorts in the car. Apparently, I’m too good for a back-up plan.
That evening, I reviewed a copy of the MRI report sent to me by my doctor after my recent brain scan. You see, Behcet’s (Disease) is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. After some disconcerting neurological symptoms appeared (including memory loss and problems of cognition), I underwent an MRI which revealed subtle changes in the white matter of my brain, probably due to cerebral vasculitis (up to 20% of Behcet’s patients suffer from a sub-set of the disease involving the brain). Not knowing when to leave well enough alone, I hit the internet hard. What came up was “vascular dementia.” I turned to Matt. “Well, it’s official. I’ve finally lost my mind.”
We thought we would sleep in on Sunday, and give everyone a chance to recover from the previous day and get ready for a busy week. Zelda – our Texas Heeler dog of previous reference on this blog – had other plans, and decided she would set to work destroying not only an entire wall of basement insulation, but the heirloom crib that’s been in Matt’s family three generations. We had begun the post-apocalyptic clean up job before we realized that the shop-vac was missing its filter. Matt headed to Home Depot, and I re-settled my over-stimulated, under-slept three year old in his bed for a nap no fewer than four times before we began repairing in earnest. Jesse then repaid my patience by knocking down the hall table and sending a filled vase careening down the second floor landing. “I forgive you!!!” he yelled at me – clearly not understanding the concept. “I FORGIVE YOU!!” He was desperate. And heart-wrenchingly reminded me “I a GOOD KID, mama! I a HERO!” This is what your preschooler says to you when you have said something you regret to him (or screamed it, perhaps?) in the midst of a reprimand.
With the basement finally in order, we sat down to dinner. I filled Noah’s plate. Noah’s eyes filled with water. He stifled a gag, insisting, “There’s gasoline in the brussel sprouts!” I fought the urge to retort, “Well you better not light a match.” Sunday night, Matt and I collapsed into bed, making it until 4:00 am, when Jesse got up and insisted, “it’s mornin’ time!”
Monday morning, the kids were scheduled to be at camp by 8:45 a.m. In a flurry, I sent Matt down to our neighbor’s house so he could feed their dogs and let them out. Our friends were taking a well-deserved trip to the beach, and we had agreed to dog sit. Matt was back within five minutes, and pulled me aside.
“Prince is dead.”
I don’t know what I looked like at that point, but I’m pretty sure I made whatever face cartoonists draw to indicate surprise. I think there was an exclamation point above my head.
For you dog lovers, let me say that Prince was 13 (that’s 91 in people years if you’re doing the math), on heart medication, and of limited mobility. There was no indication of pain or suffering in his passing, and Matt was there to be with him at the end. It was definitely that sweet dog’s time to go.
But I wasn’t thinking about that when Matt came home. All I could think of was how to pull off a three ring circus in 90 minutes.
Thinking fast, we decided to get Grace and Noah to camp, drop Jesse off with the neighbor’s nanny, go back to the house to tend to our neighbor’s other dog, and load their deceased dog in the back of Matt’s car so I could take it to the vet and Matt could be ready for his 10:00 a.m. conference call. All this, I was going to attempt with a husband who had a (1) rotator cuff tear and (2) compound fractures in his shoulder. He literally cannot lift his fork without moaning.
Somewhere between the mania of heartache and humor, loading Prince into our car, I looked at my husband and blurted, “There’s no one I’d rather carry a dead dog with than you.” Because it’s true. Because I love him the way only God can show you how to love another person – through all the mess and in spite of it.
God was in an open pet shop, and the smile on Grace’s face when she gingerly held her new fish on the way home. God was in the signatures on the medical forms that got Noah and Grace into, as Noah called it, “Camp I-Wanna-Pee-Pee.” God was in an excuse to redecorate because a vase was broken, and Zelda’s wagging tail and cocked head – so excited to see us, and covered with insulation. And God was in Matt’s re-scheduled meeting that meant he was with me Monday morning, and able to help – instead of in North Carolina, as originally planned.
“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalms 40:2) Thank you Lord, for a firm place to stand. Thank you for reaching out your hand to me when I’m covered in mire, because you love me, even when I’m a mess.
I’ll sign off for now. I have to go flush Barbara down the toilet.