Farewell, Tennyson

We said good-bye to a member of our family yesterday. Tennyson came into our lives 14 1/2 years ago, wobbly, fuzzy, with a head as big as his body. Yesterday, he left our lives as Tennyson and hippoJon and I held him and murmured our good-byes, freeing him from the cancer eating at his body.

He was never the world’s best dog. In fact, he could have given Marley of Marley and Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog a run for his money. He ate entire socks, underwear, and the center stone to my engagement ring (yes, really). He peed on every bed we ever bought him. He destroyed every toy, including the ones billed for “tough chewers.” Early on, he developed an eye condition that required surgery at a veterinary ophthalmologist (price tag: cha-ching). He dug through visitors’ purses and luggage for Backpacking Tennysonanything in the neighborhood of edible. He shed twice a year like it was his job. He dug through the bathroom trash. He never did learn to heel or fetch. He was a born explorer, compelled to sniff every nook and cranny, and thus an incorrigible wanderer. He demonstrated a go-go-gadget ability to reach items on kitchen counters that seemed well beyond his reach, inhaling his reward packaging and all.

In fact, he was such a pain that I’ve been caught off guard by how brutal this is. The reel of memories has been playing hard these last hours: the backpacking trips where he cheerfully carried his own gear and, against all odds, proved to be a great trail dog; the pressure of his weight as he leaned against me; the years he provided comfort as our Tennyson and Samibaby when we were struggling to have one of our own; the few years he shared with our second beagle, Sami, before she left us too soon; his head buried inside a doggie stocking on Christmas mornings; tripping over him every evening as I cooked dinner; the jangle of his tags as he followed me from room to room, never wanting to be far from his humans; his presence in a thousand unremarkable moments, part of the fabric of our lives for nearly all of our adulthood, woven into the fabric of our family from its start.

So, now we learn how to be a family without him. Lina looked out the glass door at the rain this morning and told Jon we needed to let Tennyson in. When Jon reminded her that Tennyson is gone, she said “Tennyson is dead,” and her lip trembled. Corin has internalized a

Family photo fall 2010

Photo: Katie Schoepflin Photography

lot, as he tends to do, but choked up last night at bedtime as we talked about what he would miss most.

At these times, I always wonder why we do this to ourselves. Why do we sign up for the inevitable heartbreak of losing a pet that becomes a member of the family? I suppose the answer is contained in the grief. We have 14 years of memories that remain.

Rest well, Tennyson. You weren’t a good dog, but you loved and were loved well.

Last year of pre-K

And here they are, Lina’s first day of school pictures. She was so excited.

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Heading to the front steps to wait for the bus

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She admittedly looks much fresher in these than she did when the bus finally showed up 25 minutes late. (No pictures of her getting on, thanks to the rush.) She goes in the afternoons this year, and she’s riding the bus to school for the first time. (I’ll be picking her up to spare her the much longer ride home.) She has a new teacher, aids and therapists. It’s a year of changes, but hopefully it will be good preparation for the much bigger ones to come when our girl heads to kindergarten next year. Truthfully, it’s entirely possible I’m the one who most needs to get used to the changes. After two years with a wonderful preschool teacher, I’ve had my worries about having to switch. But then I caught this moment with her new teacher at yesterday’s meet and greet:

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These preschool teachers, y’all. They aren’t in this for the money or the easy days, I can tell you. There is no mistaking the love on her teacher’s face; Lina is in good hands again this year.

Off to 2nd grade

It’s that time of year again, which comes remarkably early here in the south. The kiddos are headed back to school, with freshly sharpened pencils, unbroken crayons, shiny new lunch boxes and mildew-free water bottles. Corin is beginning second grade, where he has his own desk for the first time. (He sat at group tables the past two years). He was super excited, and while we definitely saw touches of the old anxiety over the past few weeks, he was much more confident walking into his classroom this year.

Every year, we take time to remind Corin that while we want him to do his best in school, the thing that matters most is his ability to show love and kindness to the people around him. “Look for the lonely kids,” his dad and I say. “Stick up for the kids your other friends think are weird. Be a friend to the kids who get left out. We know you’ll be able to do that, because you have Jesus’ love in your heart.”

A fellow mom in our Down syndrome community posts a quote at the beginning of every school year: “I don’t think the worst thing that could happen to me is having a child with special needs. I think the worst thing would be to raise a child who is cruel to people with special needs.” -Matthew Michelson Butman

Special needs come in endless variety, for those who have disabilities and those who don’t. In the end, we all just want to be seen, accepted and included. We all want to belong. I prayed this morning that Corin would be safe, that his mind would be sharp and he would love learning, that he would make good friends. But most of all, I prayed that he would be kind.

Happy second grade, sweet boy. It never stops feeling like I’m leaving a giant piece of me in that classroom.

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Tomorrow is sister’s turn to start her last year of preschool.

It’s springing?!

I double-checked my calendar today, just to be sure. Yep, it’s still February. But today was 79 degrees and sunny, and all over town, flowers are bursting into full bloom. Lina desperately wanted to play outside, and I was happy to oblige. Temperatures are supposed to drop more than 30 degrees by tomorrow, so I figured we’d better soak it in while it lasted.

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“Catch!”

The case for dried sweat

I’m pretty sure the people at my daughter’s school believe I spend my days as a stinky, frizzy-haired mess in exercise pants. I know this because it’s how I pick her up from preschool every day. I come straight from the gym, and I look like it.

I still remember the “oohs” and “aaahs” when I showed up to Lina’s first parent-teacher conference last year. That’s when it dawned on me that a lot of these people had never before seen me in makeup.

I look around at pick-up, and there are plenty of other moms in workout clothes. But not one of them looks like she’s coated in dried sweat and wearing a ponytail that endured an actual workout. This leads me to wonder, do these women actually work out? Do they wear those clothes to hang out at the coffee shop? Or do they know something I don’t about post-exercise grooming? (I’d certainly welcome suggestions for the fly-away hair halo.) Maybe they just don’t sweat like I do.

Also, let’s talk about women who wear makeup to the gym. Look, I’m not criticizing. If you can look that put together while hoisting a 39-pound bar for squats, more power to you. If I try to do it, I wake up the next morning to pores that look like the foothills of the Rockies.

I’ve always been in the “less is more” camp when it comes to makeup, anyway, I suppose, though I find myself using a few more products in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I like looking put-together. I like using cosmetics to give that bit of extra polish, in the same vein as the perfect pair of shoes.

But please, someone tell me it’s okay to look a little rough coming from the place I go to sweat, huff and occasionally grunt through the last set of bench presses. Not that it matters, I suppose. I’m unlikely to change my routine any time soon, which means, I suppose, that it’s time to own my dried sweat look.

‘Til next time

I have just a few pictures from our last day at the beach, and then it’s time to get back into full-swing daily life. Our last day was spent at Grayton Beach State Park, a lovely and relatively quiet spot a few miles west of Rosemary Beach on 30A. It was nice to enjoy the beach with a backdrop of natural sand dunes rather than the usual beachside development. The biting flies were our least favorite feature, but those seemed to be present pretty much everywhere.

The kids were more than ready for an early bedtime. They slept soundly under Mimi and Grandpa’s care while we closed out our vacation grown-up style. We hung with Justin and Katie on the moonlit beach, watching distant fireworks displays at Panama City Beach and Destin, and indulged in late-night dessert at the local tapas and chocolate restaurant. That night, with my toes dug deep into cool sand, watching a shooting star as the waves lapped the shore, I wondered why we don’t live closer to the beach. (Then I remembered all those Florida summers of my childhood and was immediately cured.)

Now we’re back to everyday life, but a little richer with memories. The leaves are starting to turn here at home, and there is much to look forward to about fall in Tennessee. It might just be time to bake something with pumpkin.