One of my challenges over the last few years has been getting used to a new kind of quiet.
Interesting how quiet can be so loud.
You all know I complained about Nikki sometimes.
All his jumping and barking every time I came in the door about drove my crazy.
One minute of separation or two weeks, it all felt like eons apart to him.
Sometimes I wanted less exuberance, fewer scratches on my legs and runs in my hose.
But now, when I come home to an empty house, I miss those I’m-going-to-burst-out-of-my-skin-with-happiness greetings from Nikki.
Okay, I don’t miss the jumping and scratching, but I miss knowing that the little tail wagging animal loved me that much.
When I wake up, I’m used to Nikki sidling up to me for a morning greeting. I’m used to him lounging in the sun in the bathroom while I get ready for the day.
When I sit down on the couch, I brace myself for him to pounce on my lap and settle himself.
I go through several adjustments a day.
I don’t think I’ve walked through the neighborhood once since he died.
He kept me on a good walking schedule.
I need to get out and walk without him now.
Cleaning out rooms in our house, I find bones hidden in odd places.
No wonder he whined by the guest room bed. He lost a bone under there.
I had a dream he came back and scratched on the deck door.
I opened the door and said, “Nikki, you’re not supposed to be here!” He looked up at me like he was so happy to be home, and I had to tell him he couldn’t stay because he didn’t live here anymore.
Then, I woke up feeling sad and guilty like I’d turned him away when he wanted to stay.
Even though I know we did the right thing in putting him down, it’s still an adjustment to live without him. He shadowed me every step I took all day long, and I have to get used to him not being near me.
Our empty nest is really empty now.
I’m not terribly sad or maudlin about it, just noticing and sharing the difference.
I confess to doing a few searches for puppies, but I know that getting a new dog is not the best thing for us now.
A house without kids and a dog is a different house.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just different.
We’re just again getting used to a new, loud kind of quiet.
I know his dispassionate confession to Oprah is almost history now, but something else keeps needling me.
It wasn’t his admissions to lying and cheating that bothered me so much. It was a casual reference he made that indicated he forgot what he learned from having cancer.
After receiving my cancer diagnosis, a friend gave me a copy of his book, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.” She said the book inspired her through her breast cancer journey.
With some trepidation, I read it before I started my chemo treatments.
My doctors advised me not to read stories about the experiences of others because of all the horror stories that get told, but I couldn’t help myself. And, every time I read one, I wished I hadn’t.
That’s how I felt about Armstrong’s memoir. I felt compelled to read it, but wished I hadn’t.
His stories scared me because his treatments were so intense and brutal, but I kept reading because I wanted to learn how he got through it, what it taught him, and how it changed him.
He fought cancer the same way he rode a bike up the Col du Tourmalet, the highest road in the French Pyrénées. He did it with ferocious intensity and in his own words, with “a ruthless desire to win.”
I couldn’t help but wonder, did his laser focus on the victory with all his self-proclaimed defiance and arrogance, cause him to skim over the deeply personal, transformative experience of cancer?
While I’m disappointed in Armstrong’s lies, I can’t believe he forgot his cancer lessons.
While cancer robs us of so many things, it also gifts us some intangible, pivotal lessons that if used well can enhance and improve our lives.
Among those gifts are clarity of purpose, dependence on God, humility, gratitude, perspective, greater appreciation for the human body and the fragility of life, self-respect, the supreme importance of relationships based on trust and honor, and many more.
Someone told me my life would forever be divided into two parts — before and after cancer. I balked at that in the beginning, but see the truth of that statement play out more all the time. It’s that profound of an experience.
It’s sad that someone can get through cancer or other crucibles in life without ever really learning from them. But, as flawed human beings, we do. We forget the important stuff all the time.
It’s like working really hard for a certain goal, achieving it, and then forgetting how hard you worked to get there, who helped you along the way, and what it taught you.
Doug recently was telling me about hedonism for some reason, and the theory that we often want something so desperately that we feel we can’t live without it. Then, when we finally get it, it loses its luster and becomes normal, everyday, and overlooked as something special.
When it comes to cancer, however, I hope the lessons I learned are part of my DNA.
We all have life lessons we need to remember. What are yours?
Think about them today and take a minute to honor your experiences and lessons. I promise you’ll be a better person for it.
There are many lessons I need to learn from Lance Armstrong’s mistakes. The most important one is to never forget what matters in life.
As Armstrong listened to his son, Luke, defend him to his friends, he realized, he had to tell his son the truth. He told him to stop defending him because he didn’t deserve it. He had to admit his lies. I never want to have a conversation like that with my children or anybody else.
If we don’t remember the lessons from life’s difficulties, what purpose do they serve but to make us miserable?
Maybe I need to thank Lance Armstrong for admitting that he forgot what cancer taught him because it reminded me to remember.
Nearly 13 years ago, we gave into Annie’s pleas for a dog.
For all those years, he seemed invincible, immune from aging with all his energy and good health. But, all that changed about six months ago as he started to puzzle us with new behaviors. We didn’t view any of his symptoms as particularly serious until the past month when we noticed a steady pattern of changes and physical deterioration.
When we took him to the beach a few weeks ago, he seemed like a troubled, confused animal. One day he stood in front of me, stared into my face, and barked urgently like he was trying to tell me something. Our week there continued with one odd occurrence after another, from him running away from me and getting lost on the beach to him pacing around at night unable to sleep.
When I came home, I took him to the vet, and he found nothing to explain it. The vet confirmed that Nikki’s eyesight and hearing were worse, but didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary for a senior dog. I asked the vet how I would know when it was time to make an end-of-life decision. He said emphatically, “Not now! Look at him. His tail is wagging and he’s doing great.”
Great? Had he listened to me explain how Nikki had day and night mixed up, could barely walk on his arthritic legs, panted nonstop with high level anxiety and nervousness? Did he hear me say his thirst was unquenchable, he was dropping weight, losing his fur, urinating in the house, and acting disoriented?
The vet’s comment made us feel guilty like we were thinking of ending Nikki’s life only because he had become an inconvenience.
Then, Sara came home for a short visit, and immediately noticed dramatic changes from when she’s seen him over the holidays. She confirmed our worries.
During that same time, I cleaned a few things out of Annie’s room, and came across the book, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein. I read the first chapter about an aging dog trying to tell his owner it was time for him to go. The dog said, “I’m old. And while I’m very capable of getting older, that’s not the way I want to go out.” I kept reading and wondered if that’s what Nikki had been trying to say to me.
After talking it over with our family, we decided it was the humane thing to do for Nikki’s well-being and ours. I called the vet, but still worried about whether it was the right thing to do. I think Nikki overheard my phone call because for the rest of the day, he seemed to confirm to me that I’d done the right thing.
When I got his leash out for his walk, he slowly ambled toward me. His walks were the high points of his day. We started out the door and down the drive way and then, he just stopped about a third of the way down and sat. He was done. He didn’t want a walk. He laid down on the pavement and didn’t move.
Later, we put him in his crate while we did some shopping, and when we got home, he tried to stand up and get out of his crate, and his legs just folded underneath him, and his whine sounded like a cry.
When I moved to the couch, he hobbled toward me and managed to get up on my lap, where he stayed motionless until it was time to go to the vet’s office. I noticed he hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink all day.
We read on the internet that a dog will tell you when it’s time to go and it recommended actually having a conversation with your dog to tell them what you’re thinking and to gauge his response.
I know, I know, it sounds crazy.
But, I actually did it. I got down on the floor, moved my face close to his, and said, “Nikki, I feel like it’s time. Am I right? I feel like you have tried to tell me this for a few weeks now.”
I honestly saw a tear form in his right eye. Sara was there as my witness.
The vet said we could drop him off at the front desk and leave or we could go into the office and be with Nikki when they gave him the shot to put him to sleep and then euthanized him. I couldn’t bear the thought of it. (In fact, one of my dear friends offered to do this for me.)
Doug was out-of-town. Annie was at college. Sara and I talked about what felt right to do. We decided dropping him off felt wrong and cold, like dumping off a family member at the ER, casually waving goodbye and driving off. We decided we needed to go into the vet’s office and be with Nikki while he passed away.
We carried him to the car when it was time to go and he sat quietly on my lap while Sara drove. Sara unrolled the window and as Nikki’s last act of utter joy, he feebly stood, put his head out the window and let his ears fly in the wind as he took in his last car ride.
I never could have imagined how emotionally hard it would be to say goodbye to that sweet little puppy — the one who comforted me through chemotherapy, provided endless hours of entertainment and love for our family, and never tired of seeing us walk through the door. He was as excited to see me after a trip to the mailbox as he was after a two-week vacation.
When my nest emptied and my girls went off to college, I still had Nikki to follow me around, keep me on a schedule, and warm my feet under my desk. When Doug was out-of-town, I had Nikki to snuggle up to me on the bed, keep my feet warm, and alert me to anybody even getting close to the house.
As he melted down on to the vet’s table into a deep and final sleep, Sara and I kissed his soft head and told him goodbye and thanked him for being such a good, sweet dog. After the vet checked his heart beat and told us he was gone, we did our best to thank him, and then walked straight out of the vet’s office for the last time, holding Nikki’s leash and collar, and crying like babies.
Yes, we will miss that dog.
And after all my resistance to getting him 13 years ago, as hard as it was to say goodbye to him, if I could go back in time, I’d do it all over again because that crazy little creature enhanced our family life immensely, taught us about love and loyalty, and gave each of us a dose of sweetness that we’ll never forget.
Let me start by confessing that I am not the most romantic woman in the world.
When Sara was a little girl, she called me “pathetic” because I couldn’t think of anything romantic to give Doug for Valentines.
I guess she thought my red toolbox didn’t cut it.
I am a practical gift giver.
I try to be a frivolous giver but it’s just not in my personality.
Sometimes I say, “Let’s not give each other Valentines this year. We know we love each other.”
I say that to save me the trouble of trying to think of a romantic gift.
Even when he agrees to the no-gift idea, he still sends me gorgeous, generous bouquets of flowers.
He can’t help himself.
He is a romantic.
In Myers Briggs language, he is a strong “feeler.”
I am a strong “thinker.”
The way you know which one you are is by considering what is most important to you when you make a decision. If you prefer to make decisions based on objective principles like what makes sense or is logical, you are probably a thinker.
If you put more weight on personal concerns like what is best for the people involved, and what will make them happy, you are probably a feeler.
Thinkers like to analyze pros and cons. Feelers like to create harmony and are motivated by what seems most caring and warm.
This is why I give Doug gifts like red toolboxes and why he gives me luxurious flowers and other impractical, but loving gifts.
I’ve mentioned before that Doug and I took the Myers Briggs test before we got married, and it was very educational. It helped us understand each other better.
When we went house hunting for our first home, we walked into the top-of-the-line builder’s model, called the “Laurel,” a large townhouse with a sweeping spiral staircase in the entry way. The salesman told us it was the most popular model because it also had a garage. (Actually he said it had a “Gar-Arge,” which we forever after enjoyed mimicking.)
Doug immediately said, “This is it! This is the one. We don’t need to look at the other models.”
I immediately said, “We don’t need that staircase and we can’t afford a Gar-Arge.”
“But it’s so pretty,” the feeler husband said.
“And so impractical,” the thinker wife replied.
These types of thinker-feeler discussions are integral to our marriage.
When we stopped at the outlets on the way home from the beach one summer, the girls wanted to buy school clothes.
We went into the Ralph Lauren store and they grabbed arm-loads of clothing to try on.
All of them looked adorable.
“Which one should I choose?” they asked.
“Which one will you wear the most?” I asked.
“Why are you even trying to choose?” Doug questioned. “Why not get them all if you like them?”
The thinker in me could not be silent. “Doug, they do not need all those clothes.”
The feeler in him said, “But they like them!”
The negotiations went on, and since he had the money, he won.
(Obviously, our kids have always loved shopping with Doug. We are just lucky he doesn’t go very often because it’s about his least favorite thing to do.)
So, as Valentines Day approaches, I’m back at wanting to say, “Doug, my darling stud muffin of a Valentine, how about if we forget gifts this year?”
He might say yes to please me because, of course, he is a major feeler, and he wants me to be happy, and for our marriage to be harmonious.
But, I know he will never forget Valentines Day.
He will do something lovely, thoughtful, and sweet, and all I can think of is to give him a new Nats baseball hat and some game tickets because, of course, they are practical…and red. (And he already knows I bought them.)
Last year, I outdid myself.
I wrote love notes on red hearts and taped them all over the inside of his car after he went to bed so that he would be surprised by my tenderness on Valentines Day.
I don’t know how to top that.
He already has a red toolbox and a red tool cabinet.
I am desperate for romantic ideas.
Please send them my way… but only if they make sense and seem practical. At times like this, it’s so much better to be a feeler.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbor asked me to write a blog about how to motivate kids to get good grades.
She asked me how I motivated my kids.
I had to think about it for a minute to remember, then I squirmed a little.
“Money,” I said.
I honestly don’t know whether our offers of cash motivated them, but we tried it.
Our plan was to push them a little harder to get As. So we paid a premium for As, less for Bs and Zippo for grades below a B.
I’m afraid our system turned out to be about as bad as our allowance plans. They started out strong and waned over time.
This happened to the Tooth Fairy too. She was a flibbertigibbet of a fairy really. I think she didn’t know what to do with all those teeth she collected so sometimes she forgot to do her job.
One morning we found a note on Annie’s pillow that said, “Dear Tooth Fairy, you should be fired! You forgot to do your job.”
The forgetful fairy quickly flitted into our house the next night and doubled the prize for the little tooth resting under Annie’s pillow.
But, back to my neighbor’s question about how to motivate her kids to get good grades.
Her problem is really not motivating them to get good grades, it’s encouraging them to get the best grades they can. She believes her oldest son is capable of getting straight As. He’s a smart, talented student with outstanding athletic abilities. She’s sees scholarships in his future and believes he should do everything he can to snag the best ones out there.
I remember asking friends and neighbors the same question about incentives when my kids entered high school. Most people told me they rewarded their children with money, phones, video games or promised to pay their car insurance or give them driving privileges. One woman told me if her children got straight As all through high school, she promised to buy them a car.
We didn’t go that far.
Others used the punishment system – poor grades equalled loss of privileges like getting a driver’s license or playing video games.
Doug’s parenting theory is that the reason parents give their kids things is so that they can take them away. We relied on that for bad behavior but never really needed to punish for bad grades — not that they always got straight As, but we always felt they were doing their best, and if their best only got a B or even a C in some classes, we applauded the effort more than the grade. (I honestly hate the grading and testing system in our schools, but that’s an entirely different blog!)
When it came to grades specifically, compliments for good work went a long way. We hoped gushing over the As or rewarding them inspired them to get more As.
Sometimes their best motivation came from their peers. When their friends were high achievers, they wanted to be too. It also helped that they set their sights early on getting into Brigham Young University, a school with high admission standards. Their strong desire to get into BYU spurred them to do their best, and actually seemed to do more than money. (Remember, however, that our money incentive plan went the way of allowance and the lazy tooth fairy…They faded out over time.
I did a little internet research and learned there is a lot of debate on this topic. Some think financial rewards are shallow and meaningless, and that we shouldn’t reward kids for doing what they should be doing anyway. Getting good grades is what they should be doing anyway so there shouldn’t be any further motivation. Others say that monetary rewards are effective and give them yet another reason for working hard.
While we obviously want our children to develop their own healthy motivation, sometimes it takes more maturity on their part for them to discover their own internal, personally drive and determination.
Some parents recommended rewarding kids with dinner at their favorite restaurant or buying them the new coveted toy or item they want.
I think the best idea I read was asking kids what they really want. Ask them, “What would motivate you?”
Some kids said a weekend ski trip, a new video game, a ticket to a special event or a special item of clothing motivated them.
What do all of my loyal blog readers think?
For all you parents, what works? What doesn’t? What do my kids think? Did any of our parenting ploys work? For all the college students who can still remember what their parents did, what worked? I’d love your answers and advice.
I heard a snippet of a Oprah interview with Jane Fonda that has given me a new perspective on life.
Fonda, now 75 years old, said that she views her life as a three-act play – the first thirty years were her first act. The second thirty years were her second act. And the last thirty years are her last act.
It’s a sobering thought to consider that I am in my second act, and that the third, and last act is not that far away.
I mentioned this to my daughter, Sara, only to share the concept of life being like a three-act play.
She said, “I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
I’m not sure how I feel about it either.
One of my dearest friends will turn 79 this month. She recently went through a painful knee replacement surgery, spent weeks in rehab, then returned to the hospital because of a blood clot. She is still recovering and finding it difficult to bounce back, at least as quickly as she wants.
She’s one of the strongest, most independent, and stubborn women I know.
She refuses to slow down, and resents having a body that defies her will to keep going with the same speed and agility she enjoyed twenty or thirty years ago.
But, now, she simply can’t mentally will her body to move as smoothly and pain-free as it once did.
When I visited her in rehab she complained about being there and said she hated being surrounded by old people who should be in coffins instead of recovery. She didn’t believe she belonged in a facility with old, decrepit people.
I agreed with her. On my way to her room, I saw elderly women in cotton nightgowns with wild, uncombed gray hair, and men shuffling around in hospital gowns.
But, when I saw my friend, she was sitting up in bed, dressed and eager to get out of there. She’d been exercising her knee all day, keeping up with all her friends on her cell phone and through emails, staying current on all the news shows, and steaming mad that the Baseball Hall of Fame snubbed some of her favorite players.
When she finally got home from rehab and her second hospital stay, I visited her again, and she told how she was going to update her will and investments.
“Are you worried something is going to happen to you?” I bluntly asked.
“I’m just being realistic,” she said.
By Jane Fonda’s standard, my friend is in her third act, I reminded myself.
Like Sara, I’m not sure how I feel about that.
When we divide our lives up into three tidy little acts, it seems so brief, structured, and streamlined.
I like Fonda’s three-act play analogy because it makes me believe I can look ahead and create my story arc. I hate her analogy because I know life is never a nice linear path that I can control.
So as I listen to my friend talk about her end-of-life will, her investments, and who will get what when she dies, I remind myself that I’m looking at a woman whose spirit is more alive than most twenty-somethings. Her determination, love of life, excitement about the upcoming baseball season, and her long list of things to do will help her heal. Even if her legs won’t cooperate completely, she will make them move – one way or another. If I know anything about her after all our years of friendship, it is that she will put one foot in front of the other every day and prove that despite the setbacks, detours, and upsets, she is still in control of her life.
She reminds me that it doesn’t matter which act of our three-act play we are living, and regardless what happens to us, we can still control how we respond to what happens.
We can be despondent and give up when things don’t unfold the way we want or we can look at our reality, be honest about what is happening, and re-chart our course to maximize our happiness.
My friend teaches me to choose door number two and to forget about the depressing three-act play and just live the life that awaits me every day. She teaches me that our future is always awaiting our imprint, and that it responds to and shapes around our acts of courage, and our efforts to steer ourselves in new directions. And, while we can’t control some of the things that happen to us, we can control what we do about it.
I think that’s the philosophy I’ll hang on to even though I am in the last part of my second act.