pets, can’t live with them…

What do you do with pets who want you to morph into their playmates, 24/7? Read a funny post where the writer felt her cat was a terrorist, stalking her all the time. Meanwhile I kept thinking of Sitka, and Juneau his brother, part-Maine Coones, who want at me all the time.

Whether seated, standing, or walking around, Sitka wants up. He’s like my daughter who when she was 2 or 3 used to come to me with outstretched arms, saying “uppy, uppy, uppy.” Sitka doesn’t say anything, he just stares at me with soulful eyes. But I can tell he wants “uppy, uppy, uppy.” Sometimes I think I should get one of those things new moms use to carry around their newborns. Then I might at least have 2 hands free to do something, other than hold Sitka. It’s impossible to multi-task with him in my arms.

At least when I sit to eat a meal, Sitka’s learned that’s my sacred time. But as soon as the plate is put away, he’s back at my side, demanding to be “uppied.” I have to look him straight in the eye, and say “Not now,” and mean it. He’ll try to outstare me, until I give up and walk away, feeling guilty. That cat can do that to me. 

Even when I sit-a-spell with Sitka in my lap, he’s always inching his way up into my face, trying to wrap himself around my head. Barely able to breathe, I have to remove his grip from around my throat, gently, or roughly, pushing him back down onto my lap. Only if I continue petting him, does he remain in place. If not, the struggle to regain higher ground starts up again. I’ve never had a cat like Sitka before, and I’ve had a lot of cats as pets in my lifetime. Ask my husband.

Juneau, Sitka’s litter mate, is another force with which to be reckoned. That cat could be a footstool, he’s so big and solid. In fact, he often wiggles his way under my feet as I’m blogging. As I rub them back and forth over his body, Juneau seems content to let me. Unlike Sitka who wants me to wear him like a crown or a bike helmet, Juneau prefers I use him to warm my feet. When I do pick him up, it’s like lifting a large bag of groceries. I have to remember to bend at the waist, or I’ll injure myself. With a grunt I hoist Juneau up onto my chest where he pulls back, squinting at me as if to say “Don’t hurt me.” I hold him tight, stroking his back assuring him that it’s okay to be on Sitka territory. Once Juneau settles in, he starts with the body-slamming.

Just as Sitka has his own unique mannerisms, so too does Juneau. He’s the only cat I’ve ever owned who literally throws himself against me, my legs if I’m standing, my chest if I’m sitting. He body slams, as my daughter has often remarked. It’s as if he wants inside my body, as if he can’t get close enough, and just wants to find a way in and stay there. Creepy, right? 

Juneau will even go so far as to nip me to get my attention. While I’m blogging, he’ll stretch up towards me, mewing pitifully. If I don’t stroke him immediately, he nips my elbow. It’s like a bee sting, which gets my attention quick! I reprimand him, after which I coo and pet him. Like his brother, Juneau can easily send me on a guilt trip. He’ll even nip me when I’m holding and stroking him. It’s either to reassure himself that I’m his, or that I’m not giving him my undivided attention. He doesn’t even want my eyes wandering toward the TV. Nope! My hands AND eyes have to be on him. Of course, I’ve had to scold him about his manners, otherwise I’d have nicks all over my body.

While Sitka and Juneau were rescued from an animal shelter, Sunkist is my purebred grand-dame. At $100, she was actually cheaper to purchase from a private owner than my 2 boys who cost $125 apiece to adopt. A 16-year-old Persian, Sunkist sits like a sphinx before me, as if willing me to get down and pay homage. (Here comes Juneau, mewing alongside me. Gotta give him a few strokes.) While Sunkist does allow me to pick her up once-in-awhile, to hold and pet her, and coo sweet nothings in her little ears, she much prefers I crouch on all fours and massage her endlessly. And I mean…endlessly.

Unlike the others, Sunkist has the patience of a sphinx. She will sit for what feels like hours to me, awaiting her turn for my undivided attention. Whether it’s right at my feet, or at a small distance, her head dropping from time to time as if in a doze, Sunkist never wavers in her efforts to get one-on-one time. When I do get down beside her, inevitably one or 2 of the others will try to steal me away. I have to nudge them out-of-the-way, saying it’s their sister’s turn to have at me. Either they get the message, or Sunkist walks off in a huff. It’s her way, or no way.

Where does my dog Mocha, a mixed terrier-beagle, fit into all this? She just takes over the whole show if that’s what she decides. But most of the time, she’s more than happy, or not, I can’t tell sometimes, to let me pay attention to the felines in the family. Being the biggest, and most companionable of all our pets, it’s hard not to give Mocha more than her fair share of my time. Besides walks during the day, we romp around the house in the evenings. Me chasing her around the coffee table, or the other way around. She looks at me in confusion when we play this game as if to ask “Are you Alpha, or are you my pack mate?” Why the confusion? Because I often get down on all fours when we’re carousing. She never bites me, but sometimes she has this gleam in her eyes as if she wants to grab me by the scruff of my neck, as she does her toy, and shake me violently from side to side. Or as with Juneau who allows Mocha to nibble at his neck, seemingly in an effort to clean him.

One thing I can’t bring myself to allow, is letting Mocha lap my face with her tongue. I know others allow this all the time, her vet, Dr. Rice for one. Having seen where Mocha’s tongue has been, i.e. licking her poop hole, I just cannot stomach her licking my face afterwards. Sorry, just can’t. Funny, I’ve no problem when Gretchen, Sylvia’s dachsund gives my face a few quick licks with her tongue. The difference, however, is that Gretchen surprises me before I can turn away, Mocha looks me directly in the eye as if asking “Are we doing this, or not?” I mean when I’ve got the option, I’m always going to say “Duh… I don’t think so.” She settles for my mashing instead. I’m all over her, like Sitka and Juneau are all over me. Mocha just lies there and takes it. I can only imagine what she’s thinking. I hope it’s not “God, she drives me nuts with her mashing!” But as long as she says nothing, I guess I’ll keep mashing and smooshing her.

gotta love those animals…i do!…hugmamma.  

the past, only a reference point

I don’t think it’s possible to escape one’s past. From what I’ve observed first-hand and with others, childhood experiences, good and bad, establish the paths our lives take. Where improvements are possible, we should make them for our own sake, and for the sake of our children. As parents we are empowered to discontinue the cycle of negativity.

Remembering back to when our daughter was to begin kindergarten, one specific memory stays with me. An evaluation was required to familiarize the staff with, among other things, her likes, her needs, her trepidations, as well as our own. On the appointed day, I met with the school psychologist. As I approached her I was nervous, as though I was the kindergartener. In reviewing the form with her, I lingered over a particular answer. The question had asked what qualities we would like in a teacher. It was amazing to think we had a choice. I replied that our daughter was with me most of the day and I was the disciplinarian. Therefore I would prefer that her teacher be more fun-loving like my husband, who enjoyed play time with our daughter. As I spoke, tears welled in my eyes and my voice choked. When I confessed to my guilt at not being more playful, the psychologist assured me that my husband and I were each performing very crucial tasks in our daughter’s upbringing. My equilibrium restored, I left feeling we were on the right path to being good parents.

As a child I wasn’t allowed to play until all my chores were done. Though not unique, it probably influenced the direction my life took. Because my mom was a single parent, working much of the time, it fell to us children to keep our home in order. Once a week I had to clean my room, dust, sweep and mop the living room, weed the small patch of garden at the front of our house, and help my siblings wash the car. Daily chores included setting the table for meals, as well as clearing it off afterwards, and watering the greenhouse plants. When I was older I also had to hand-wash clothes in the water-filled tub; hang them to dry on the clothesline; and hand starch and iron dressy-wear. Then there was homework to be done which, of course, took precedence over everything else. For a number of years, nap time was always part of the mix. So when I was allowed out to play, for I had to ask permission, I enjoyed every precious second, staying out until the sun set if possible. Summers spent with older sisters in Honolulu meant fun, fun, fun. Even though I still had chores to do, there were less of them, and no school meant no homework!

For the most part, doing chores before playing remains my life’s routine. Being 61 and married 40 years has given me license to cut myself some slack. So now I blog before I clean the bathroom. But keeping a clean and orderly home will never be wiped from my DNA, it is too deeply ingrained from a lifetime of repetition, beginning as a child. Just as allowing myself to “play” will never be without a sense of guilt for which I will always apologize, looking for a “pass” from my husband. Raised as 1 of 5 sons, with 7 sisters, he was not as burdened with chores as a youngster. So a clean house is not a must for him, but it is for me. The obsession can also extend to the orderly functioning of my mind as well. If my surroundings are in disarray, my brain seems overwhelmed by what it sees, becoming immobilized. That alone motivates me to straighten and vacuum. Since the presence of dust is only in the eye of the beholder, my mother-in-law living too far away to perform the “glove test,” dusting is one chore which is left for tomorrow, or the day after, or…

I did not insist that my daughter do a list of chores growing up. The cycle was broken with her. I enjoyed keeping house, having youthful energy on my side then. Being a mom was preferential to commuting into NYC to sit at a desk, watching the clock. But perhaps while I was doing what I knew best, keeping house, I allowed our child to have a different life. She was able to find her own passion, not one imposed by circumstances. I like to think that’s why she’s a career ballerina. And, she has proven to be a good housekeeper too. Having lived in an orderly home probably became part of her DNA. Fortunately she tends to play without first having to do all her chores. Thank God!

we are who we are, making the best of it…hugmamma.

discipline and community

My mind may wander during Mass, I may glance around looking for familiar faces among the congregation, smile when a friend recognizes me, admire Father Brian’s recently purchased vestments, puzzle over the types of flowers arranged in vases around the altar. But when we sit and Father begins the homily, he has my undivided attention. My husband agrees that our pastor has a gift for public speaking.

I’m sorry to say I’ve no idea what the Gospel was about. I was lost in thought attempting to make sense of the previous reading, the Epistle. The woman seemed not to understand what she was reading so she stumbled over the words, saying “disciple” instead of “discipline.” I’m always impressed by these volunteers who must appear to understand the words set in front of them, even though they may not grasp their full meaning. Some may take a few minutes before Mass to familiarize themselves with their task, but it’s not always possible to do so, I’m sure. So while Father was reading the Gospel, I was probably feeling sorry for the previous speaker, and thanking God that I had not been in her shoes. Unlike her, I would have been blushing to my white roots.

My ears perk up when I hear Father speaking “regular” English for it makes comprehending simpler; narratives in the Bible require that I focus. And as I’ve said, my mind is multi-tasking. When Father begins with some personal anecdote everyone seems to straighten up, and tune in to what he’s saying.

Father spoke of his early days as a seminarian, and how difficult it was to learn discipline. He did not relate well with the first person charged with instructing the novices. He did better with the next person, the “student master,” who would explain the reason for leveling discipline upon those in his care. When students at the UofW Newman Center asked Father Brian to join them for a weekend retreat, the ‘student master” denied the request. When Father asked if he might attend the wedding of friends elsewhere, he was again denied. The explanation given for the denials was that he needed to focus on the vocation he had chosen, and the community in which he lived. He needed to learn discipline, understanding that he could not have his way in everything. As Father’s words washed over me, I pondered their meaning for me.

Over breakfast my husband and I discussed the homily.  I explained that as Father spoke, I could feel myself turning inward, humbling myself as Catholics of my era are wont to do. Talk about “glass ceilings,” I think Catholicism cornered the market on that centuries before it ever occurred to feminists trying to work their way up the corporate ladder.  Throughout the 12 years I was schooled by nuns from Boston, we students were constantly reminded about our need for humility. So I wondered if I was confusing the need for discipline with the need to be humble, as taught by my religion. 

I was interested in my husband’s perspective since, having been a seminarian, I assumed he’d had more theology than me. Ever the pragmatist he replied that his theological schooling had not exceeded mine and furthermore, every person needed discipline within himself, that it had nothing to do with religion. He was right.

Without self-discipline, we usurp the rights of others, including other species which share our natural resources. Without self-discipline, personal happiness eludes us because we are never satisfied unless we have more. Without self-discipline, we set ourselves apart from our community. Without self-discipline, we are unable to teach our children the values necessary for their evolution as good citizens. 

I think having humility might make it easier to learn self-discipline; but having self-discipline doesn’t guarantee humility. Being a Catholic raised in the 50’s and 60’s, I have to be careful not to mistake being humble with self-reproachment. Catholics of my generation bought into the guilt trip, “hook, line and sinker.” So while I humbly acknowledge my gift for writing, I realize that with it comes the need for discipline, knowing that I have a responsibility to my readers in what I say, and how I say it. I think all writers have that responsibility, though some may not think so.

While I paid no heed to God’s gospel, I think I got Father Brian’s homily. I think I’ll need him as a middle-man to gain entrance to Heaven. Father speaks my language, “regular” English.

pray for me…hugmamma.

NFL, for the men

My recent focus has been women, so I’m turning the limelight over to the men.

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, an interesting article got my attention “Who Forgot to Turn Off the NFL?” I have a difficult time paying homage to athletes with attitude who make a lot of money. So I perused the paragraphs, searching for ammunition to bolster my opinion. The subtitle read “As Football Booms, Once-Sleepy Training Camps Become Stages for Grudges, Boasts, PR Stunts and Psychodramas.” Aha! I thought. Here’s fodder for me to chew on.

The article opens with remarks by Dick Vermeil, former NFL coach,  “Sometimes in your effort to make the team better, you bring in players who bring a lot of attention to themselves,…These distractions are an irritation.” The article goes on to list some of the “sideshows.” Cincinnati’s camera-hogging wide receiver Terrel Owens and media magnet Chad Ochocinco are teaming up as “Hot Summer Couples!” Washington’s defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has failed to pass the Redskin’s fitness test. Might it have anything to do with the fact that he opted out of the team’s off-season training program? Patriot’s quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t yet recommitted, once this final year in his 6-year contract expires. Ed Reed, Baltimore Ravens safety, grumbles that he’s not able to quickly access game film from the team. Minnesota Viking quarterback Brett Favree still “sits on the fence” about retiring (for the third consecutive year). Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steeler’s quarterback, returned to camp before serving “a multigame league-issued suspension after an incident at a Georgia nightclub.”

NFL Network analyst and former Steeler defensive back and Hall of Famer, Rod Woodson describes current league athletes as “mouthier…and less beholden to the idea that all team business should be handled in the locker room. ‘Today’s players seem like they have an agenda every time they speak to the media,’…” Vermeil contends that “the NFL’s summer landscape has become increasingly loony.” even before the training camps commenced. A contributing factor might be the NFL’s increased popularity. According to Harris Interactive, pro football “has risen to a 35% favorable rating among American adults in 2009, a 46% increase since 1985.” In the past decade it’s shown an average 3.7% increase in regular season TV ratings, while three other major U.S. pro sports leagues saw an average 35% drop in ratings.

“The appetite for all things NFL was apparent Friday in Westminster, Md., when 11,506 attended the Ravens’ first full-squad practice, the largest turnout for a nonscrimmage practice in team history. When the big-talking Jets arrived at their camp site in Cortland, N.Y., on Sunday, 1,500 fans lined the street to welcome them.” Woodson seems perplexed that the league is in the news even when nothing’s going on.

Patriot’s longtime coach, Bill Belichick seems to suggest that present day players are being coddled. ” ‘Compared to when I came into the league, there is no training camp,…in 1975, we started camp July 5 and our first regular-season game was Sept. 21. It was forever; it was 2 1/2 months. So has training camp changed? (The players) have no idea.’ 

 The article ventures to add that training camps in earlier times were “far more likely to induce yawning.” The big news in 1990 from the Vikings camp was how to get more touches for running back Herschel Walker, and that 5 players from the Chicago Bears missed their camp startup. The San Fransisco Chronicle reported one day that phone service in the 49ers dorm was temporarily disrupted.

Comparing the hoopla surrounding NFL training camps today, former NFL coach Jerry Glanville claims “that training camps have always been crazy. The only real difference is the impression itself. ‘It’s just covered better…Nothing that’s going on hasn’t happened before 100 times.’ ” He remembers when the Houston Oilers required players to “complete a mile run in six minutes in order to practice. But the team’s star running back, Earl Campbell, couldn’t do it. The team’s coach at the time, Bum Phillips, came up with a solution, Mr. Glanville said: ‘If it’s 4th-and-a-mile, I won’t give him the ball.’ ”

Have the fans unknowingly created modern-day NFL Frankensteins who lay claim to all they see? Or are we unfairly scrutinizing every detail of their lives in an attempt to know them better? Do the players call attention to themselves, or do the fans put the spotlight on the players with unrelenting adulation? Maybe there’s enough guilt to go around.

what do you think?…hugmamma