Thursday, April 28, 2011

And Then There Were Four

Kelsey Veldman, 1986-2009.  Noelle Veldman, 1996-2011.
About a lifetime ago, not long before Valentine's Day, my husband stopped by my work unannounced one day and dropped a little ball of white and black energy onto the lobby carpet, and she ran straight over to me (or, that's how I remember it anyway), and an adventure/challenge was about to begin.  He had gotten this sweet little Dalmatian puppy from a co-worker who had, in turn, gotten the then six-week old puppy for her two children for Christmas.  Less than two months later, they could no longer handle her, and the co-worker, on the verge of a divorce to boot, somehow finagled my husband into taking her as a surprise for me.  Of course, I didn't hesitate; I wanted her immediately.  As much time as I had spent with dogs, and as many different types of dogs as I had before didn't really prepare me for what I was about to experience.

My mother suspected.  She was aghast when I told her I had a Dalmatian puppy.  She immediately sent me this packet of articles about the breed, which was a current trend because of the live action 101 Dalmatians movie with Glenn Close that had come out the year before.  Sadly, there were scenarios like this puppy's playing out all over the country, some of them with much sadder endings.  As a result, there was a plethora of information about them, cautioning people both on behalf of the breed, but also on behalf of human sanity, not to run out and buy one without understanding what they are like.  Which, in a word, is challenging.  Her first family named this little bundle of holiday joy Noel (which I changed to the more sophisticated - or so I thought anyway - Noelle), but Greg at some point adopted the moniker, lovingly, "Spotted Idiot", and that would be what he often referred to her all her life.

I am not sure that Dalmatians are necessarily stupid animals, but they are not good students.  One article in particular that my mother sent, and kept referring to whenever she called, told the story of this poor, harried woman and her Dalmatian mis-adventures, including finding her dog up, all fours, on the kitchen table.  I, too, found my dog standing unabashedly on the table a time or two.  Jumping up on the counter and trying to take whatever she could reach with her long neck was another favorite activity.  She was not a bad dog.  She just never seemed to get it.  She had this look on her face always of "Wha - ?  Did I do something?"  Like the lights were on, but no one was home.  I sometimes wondered if she was actually the most clever of all the dogs, because that complete innocence was hard to be mad at.  Cheyenne can aggravate me entirely, on the other hand, because I know she is intelligent enough to understand what I am saying and just chooses not to.  Eventually, we broke her of standing on the table and jumping on the counter.  From what I've read, that's actually a high achievement among the breed.  But, admittedly, she was never the most receptive of all my dogs to commands, and in her younger days she could be quite the handful.

Because the other thing about the breed is their energy.  They want activity.  I've never been a routine dog walker until I moved here and circumstances forced me to.  I simply worked too much.  So, that energy had to have an outlet somehow, and it was to irritate the dickens out of her family, including the four legged ones.  Our oldest dog Precious would get so annoyed with her she would take her entire snout in her mouth and clamp down, much like you take an unruly child by the shoulders and squeeze.  Occasionally she would clamp a little hard and leave marks.  I once had someone ask me if Noelle had been in a car accident.

Noelle was not fond of other dogs.  She accepted the dogs that came before her into our fold, Precious among them, and she did well enough with puppies, but she had a territorial jealous streak with other adult dogs, notably the females.  And she was unpredictable.  She started a few fights in her day.  She rarely had the chops to end them ending up with a bleeding ear or a cut above the eye.  If I dog-sat for a friend, I had to segregate her.  And as tensions grew when Kelsey became ill, the skirmishes increased until our vet suggested a behavior specialist.  I considered it too.  I actually also considered trying to find a new home for her at one point, it had gotten so bad, but when Kelsey went off to treatment, the fights magically tapered off, and it was rare after that.  It's amazing how much dogs feed off our energy.  When I was calmer, so was she.  When the household had a better karma, so did she.

And, of course, there was the Dalmatian smile.  I knew nothing about it before she came into our life.  Many people don't, and they mis-interpret it as a snarl.  It's not.  It's literally a toothy grin.  In Noelle's case, she grinned so fiercely, she would make herself sneeze.  My daughter's friends were often amused by it.  Strangers were afraid of it.  If I was leery of them, I wouldn't hip them to the secret that she wasn't snarling, she was laughing.  Worked wonders.

Ultimately, the thing most notable about Noelle is how much she loved me.  God knows why.  I worked so much, I was a horrible dog owner.  But, she was devoted to me.  Completely.  She wanted to always be by my side.  Which is why it was hard to leave her behind when I came here in advance of everyone.  But, by this time, she was older, in bad health, incontinent, and an all around handful once more.  It wasn't best for her or for me to travel with her, try to unpack a house with her, and deal with her in the dead of winter.  I left her with Greg, knowing she would hate the time away from me.  I would never, as it turns out, see her again.

She is the second of my dogs to die since I've been here.  I've said it before, all my dogs were young together, now they are old together.  But, I never really thought we wouldn't get her here to be with me at least for a time so I could be with her at her end.

My husband is on his way as I write this to bring the remaining dogs to me.  As he prepared yesterday to pack up to leave, he noticed she had lost control of her back legs.  He called me, and I told him where to take her.  A few hours later, he called to say she was gone.  She had a seizure in the vet's office as they were discussing the options, and he made the call to end her suffering.  Now I have to live with leaving her behind.  He did the right thing, but did I?  What will be the ultimate cost of my search for peace of mind after losing my daughter?  Is it so high.  So high.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Paying the Price

I have been so worried about money.  I cannot even tell you how worried about it I've been.  I must dream about it at night because I have been grinding my teeth so hard, I have aggravated a bad tooth and have a horrible toothache as a result.  But, of course, that just makes me worry more, since only one of us is working, and we don't have health insurance as a result (ironic for a woman who supported health care reform).  But, moving across country is one level of pain, maintaining two households is another.  I cringe when I walk out to the mailbox everyday, wondering which utility is going to be in there for me today.  Greg is down there in Texas spending money to update that house to put on the market, I'm up here trying to fix this house after more than a year of being vacant for one and being decorated by an older woman with a clear love for floral for two, and we're burning through cash like we've got not only a money tree but an entire orchard out back somewhere.

My stockbroker was shocked when we reviewed my finances the other day.  I know she thinks I am nuts to have done this to myself.  I tried to explain to her that I wasn't getting any younger; if I was ever going to pull a trigger and make a dramatic move, it had to pretty much be now.  But, she's right, I know, financially, there really wasn't much more of an idiotic decision that could be made.  Of course, I realized yesterday, as I obsessed over this expense and that one, trying to scheme a way to pay the deposit to put myself on the Penguins season ticket waiting list, all of this that we have spent is less than a month of residential treatment would have been for Kelsey.  And, in calculating the cost of trying to find some peace of mind, isn't just about any amount of money worth it?

Plus, I know my job in the family is to be the worrier.  I've always worried about money.  I figure somebody has to, or we wouldn't have any.  I'm not starving, neither are Greg nor Marissa.  I can take it down a notch probably, but it is just not really my nature.  And, at the end of the day, after I painfully queue up all the bills to be paid and try to budget for the next round, when I ask myself if I regret the decision to come here, the answer is no.  I would do it all again.  I just wish I could tell my subconscious that so I could relax my jaw.

Yet, the real cost of my moving, as it turns out, has nothing to do with the green I burn, and I am not the one who pays it.  It's the people I should be present for back in my old world and am not.  It's a steep one too.

I knew when I left that I was leaving some people behind that were in the process of or on the threshold of going through some major life changing events.  One of my dearest friends had a family member struggling with cancer, and she knew the long-term prognosis wasn't good.  I just hoped, as I pulled out of town, that things would stabilize enough that they wouldn't have to face the inevitable for a while, and when it did finally come, I could come back there for her.  That, alas, was not the case.  My friend lost her family member this past week after a trying, horrible last few days.  On Monday she takes one of her dogs, who is violently ill, to the vet, and I could tell she's not too optimistic about the outcome.  I should be there for her.  I can call her, text her, email back and forth, but sometimes, at the end of the day, you just need a big hug and someone to look you in the eye and say, "It's okay if you cry.  You can do it on my shoulder."  Yet here I am, 1,400 miles away, and it's not even remotely possible that I could fly back to be with her.

Early this morning, I had a horrible dream where I was trying to cover up two separate capital crimes, the whole time trying to justify to myself that I wasn't a horrible person because there were reasons for what I did.  Right before my mind cut me some slack and let me wake up to the happy reality that this was, thankfully, just a dream, Dream Me came to the realization that no amount of rationalization could change the fact that I was just flat out guilty.  As guilty as sin.  As I walked Cheyenne around the block in the quiet of the Easter morning, I tried to shake it off and wondered what in the world my brain was trying to work out with that one!  Then it hit me.  I feel a pervasive guilt at letting my friend down.  Should I?  I don't know.  Can it be wrong to try and start again, out from the shadow of The Beast who engulfed us all?  But can it be okay to walk away from people who rely on you in the process?  What I do know is I probably ought to stop watching Law and Order right before I go to sleep.

Eventually, there will be other situations like my friend's.  At my age, many of us have aging parents.  Some of us are beginning to develop health problems of our own.  And, as I have learned all too well, things just happen in life that none of us can predict, and some of them are horrific.  There will be other times where people I know and love will want me there, and I will be here.  All I can say is I love you all, and will support you as well as I can from wherever I am.  I can only hope that will be enough.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thoughts I had in My Quiet Time

When I emailed back and forth to a young co-worker/friend on Friday, trying to wrap up some business she coordinates with me, she sent me a sincerely worded message to enjoy my peace and quiet.  The words nearly dripped with envy.  I knew how she felt.  I remember feeling exactly the same way at one point.  Her daughter is just over six months and she works full time, trying to maintain nursing, which is a logistical nightmare at work (I have some funny stories about my efforts in that arena, but they weren't funny at the time).  I've not met her husband, but I gather he's like a lot of young fathers - young, and therefore a little bit like the proverbial deer in the headlights realizing the sudden shift their lives have taken.  Her in-laws moved there recently to help care for the baby when she's working, but that adds its own layer of stress, I am sure.  You're struggling to establish your own family dynamic, and I can just imagine the in-laws being such a large presence in your life disrupts that a bit - even if they don't intend for it to.  And, you're juggling all those balls on very little sleep.  Mother's Day is the most precious day on the calendar because your husband feels obligated to give you some down time - even though at some point, you'll be changing diapers, cleaning spit up, dealing with your own mother and generally doing all the normal things you do because Life is a bitch and she could care less what day it is.  Maybe, just maybe, you'll get a chance to take a bath and relax for half an hour, or you won't have to cook that night.  I think my love for taking a bath re-emerged during those days when my daughters were babies.  I could escape all that chaos just for a while and let the tension soak away.

You can't help thinking back to those long ago days - like, two years ago maybe - when your stomach was flat and your breasts perky and you were dancing the night away or attending some concert, or just hanging out with friends over coffee with no worries or obligations.  And you tend to long for those days, even as you glance down at your daughter's lovely face and love her more than anything, and know that you wouldn't trade that for all the world.  Then, a vague sense of guilt sets in just to complicate the whole adventure a little more.  I remember all of that.

So, I didn't lecture her, as some in my position might have, and tell her to savor the moments she has now because they'll be gone in a blink of an eye.  Or, worse still, tell her to not take them for granted in case something happens.  I know full well that she will look back on this time fondly in about 15 years, when she's waiting up for the little vixen, who has broken curfew and is likely out with some boy my friend doesn't approve of - because, simply, he's a boy and they seemingly live for only a few things at that age, none of which make you happy when it is involving your daughter.  My friend will be tired, worried, mad and resentful all at the same time, and she'll think back to the time when her daughter was such a bundle of joy, easy to control, in complete love with her mother and dependent upon her for everything.  I know that these days will seem like a piece of cake in comparison.  I can say that to her, but it's her future and too hazy to grasp in the middle of her right-now exhaustion, so I don't.

I also don't have to heart to let her in on the reality of the empty nest:  it's not all that empty.  Between work, bills, house, young adult child struggling to be a young adult and probably eventually grandchildren, those fantasies she has now about the time when she and her husband can go off sailing around the world or even curling up with a good book or her favorite soaps isn't going to come around when she expects it to.  If it ever even does.

But, I really don't want to tell her what I've seen of women even further along the road than me.   Women like my mother, or my mother-in-law, or some of the sweet older ladies on my block.  That there will come a time in her life when the quiet envelopes her like a blanket, and she will wonder what happened with her life.  Where did it all go?  She will look at herself in the mirror and see a virtual stranger there.  Or she'll see her grandmother.  She will have some spare time finally, but she may or may not have the energy to use it.  Just sitting in a comfortable chair watching pay-for-view (or whatever it will be then) is a pretty good night's entertainment.  She'll look at the photos of the children and grandchildren that grace the stairwell as she goes up to bed at night, feeling the weight of the walk in her knees or in her back and she'll wonder what they are doing and why they don't call more.  She'll worry about whether her retirement will see her through to her end, and how to put a little away for the people in those pictures on the wall.  She may be scared about that, hopefully she won't be.  She will think back to the days when her first born was young and so was she, and how carefree everything will seem to her then, and how the cacophony of the days that seems so jarring now was actually like a symphony, and she was like a ballerina; graceful, vibrant and full of life and love for that little bundle of exhausting joy.

I don't tell her any of that.  I know she will find it all out.  She is on a journey that many of us have traveled before, and many will follow, but stopping to ask for directions is not really something we do well.  We just can't see who else is on the road with us well enough for that.  So, I tell her to kiss her daughter and to have a good weekend, and I hope that she gets a little rest.  And then I ponder all of that in my quiet little empty nest.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Uncivil War

On the 150 year anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, I was having a little sparring match on a friend's Facebook page with an admittedly conservative friend of hers.  I thought it was innocent enough and in good fun.  Against all good and sensible advice, I've never been too careful to steer away from political debate or from showing my hand as a social progressive.  I more or less figured the founding fathers fought for our right to free speech, and as long as we keep it civil and respect one another's point of view, debate is healthy.  It's the American Way.  You know all this, I've blogged about it before.  Yesterday I got up to see that the individual made a final comment about waiting to see when they vote my "house boy" out of office next year.  Really?  You really said that, and worse, put it in print?  I didn't respond.  Or, rather, I guess, I am responding here.  (All of this over some cute foster kitten pictures my friend posted.  What could be more apolitical than kittens?)

I have to say I feel heartsick.  I read in the paper earlier in the week in an op-ed that Donald Trump is picking up the banner of the Birthers and pushing that crazy, nuthouse theory.  Really?  Did Ross Perot die and his spirit inherit your body?  I knew you were a little flamboyant, but I didn't think you were flat out nuts.

And then there's Michele Bachman who has taken over the Sarah Palin role of making me embarrassed to be female.  Really?  Do these people really believe the stuff that comes out of their mouths, or do they just spout it for political gain?  I decided I should be fair and watch her on a Fox News interview. If the word Obamacare came out of either her or Sean Hannity's mouth one more time, I was going to come unglued.  I did not make it through the whole thing.  But, really, it comes down to how you put forth your views:  fine, if you want to espouse your opinion on the budget, that is not only your right, but your job.  I disagree with you, but that is okay.  But, she is on that lunatic fringe Birther wagon too.  What is it with these people?  Can they not accept that a native born African American man would be crazy enough to try and govern all of us?

I worry about how all of these nasty comments from people who should be educated enough to know better must impact the Obama children.  True innocents in the war of politics, maybe one of the few criticisms I have of my president is that he exposed them to such ugliness at such a young age.    But, mainly, I wonder how it is that we have evolved so little from the days of the Civil War.  Have we really not learned to co-exist with one another, all races, all genders, all faiths?  No, clearly we have not.  There are two towers no longer gracing the New York skyline as a result.  But, how much better are we from those men if we think it is okay to call someone of color, President or no, a "houseboy"?

The fact that we are such a nation of racists (and that slur goes both ways, there are people of color just as racist as some of their white brethren) is undeniable.  Sadly, a couple of weeks ago, a 90-year old man not far from where I live was found murdered in his home.  It made big news around here.  That same day a nineteen-year old African American male was shot in a drive-by shooting.  I know about it because I saw a picture of his family hugging one another in their sorrow on page five (or somewhere in the middle) of the paper.   The story of the unfortunate white man lead for a few days.  If you ask anyone in the media if the young man who was shot mattered less than the older man who was strangled, they would adamantly tell you that he does not.  Yet, subtly, he does.

Just consider the facts.  I am a lazy researcher, but without any trouble at all, I found plenty of statistical evidence from the comfort of my couch:

From, I found that, at least in 2006, black men made on average $13,334 less than white men.  From, I discovered that the percentage of businesses owned by African American men in the county where my friend lives is 2.8% of the total.  I read these horrible stats online:

"Black professors hold less than 5% of faculty positions. Less than 5% of the K-12 teaching force is black. About 85% of this group is centered in urban areas.
Of all the doctoral degrees awarded in 1990, just 3.5% went to black men and women.
The attrition rate of black university students at many prestigious universities is greater than 60%.
Most NCAA universities refuse to release attrition rate for athletes. An NCAA study showed that nearly 75% of Division I black athletes failed to graduate.
While black students represent 16 % of all public school students, they make up nearly 40% of those classed as learning disabled.
There are more black men in jail than in college."

I will never understand what it is like to be a person of color.  But I do understand what it's like to be judged based on nothing but a pre-determined prejudice and lack of understanding.  We fear what we don't understand.  We hate what we fear.  My family, in our struggles to survive ED, were often the subject of misunderstanding, fear and sometimes hatred.  So, I, in turn, hate that snap judgment that people make about others.  And maybe that makes me all the more thin skinned about an ignorant comment tossed out on Facebook with no thought or consideration at all.

I feel a strong need to get back to the zoo and talk to my gorilla friend. He is undoubtedly more evolved than some of his visitors, and I need a little sophistication right about now.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Balancing Grief and the Checkbook

I grabbed the envelope on my way back from Cheyenne's noon walk. Rain was just beginning to fall in earnest, it was grey and chilly, and she was pulling on the leash, ready to head in, so I paid little attention to it. I glanced the Texas seal on the front and assumed it was something for work, so I took it upstairs and opened it without looking at it again and pulled out the document absentmindedly. And there it was. It was the renewal form for Kelsey's driver's license. And there was one of those moments I would imagine every parent who has experienced a loss has now and again. That gotcha moment, where it's like someone punched you in the gut while dropping a ten-ton building on your head.  You never really know what's going to do it to you, and when or where you will be when it happens, or even why it'll hit you that way.  It just will.  Somehow seeing that evidence of her existence in that simple, auto-generated form in my hands did it to me then.

I handle those moments better now than I used to, but I was still tempted to pack it in for the day, curl up in a ball and watch some long, long, preferably violent movie on TV. But, it was the middle of the workday; I had not only work to do, but also lots of personal paperwork to go through to be able to get ready for Mom's last tax return. So, I took a break and ate lunch away from my desk, taking the downtime to watch squirrels frolic in the cold rain (gotta love squirrels, they scamper about no matter what is going on with the weather) and then got back at it.

I won't lie. The company didn't get my best efforts the rest of the day, but I made up for I think by working through the hockey game, even though by then I was tipsy, so we will wait to see how good that work really is. But, the point is, life keeps coming at you no matter what you are feeling. You can't go to the zoo everyday. At some point you have to work to pay the zoo membership.

For parents of children with ED, that's something you grapple with early on. You're trying to deal with handling this complicated disease you really don't understand (because, face it, unless you suffer/ed from it, you really can't), taking your child to a whole series of professionals most likely, fighting with the insurance company almost certainly, worrying over their education in the midst of the disease and trying to coordinate with educators who only see your child as a problem, dealing with the psychological ramifications this all has on the rest of the family, and then the utilities come due. Or you're out of milk. I've blogged about that before. Comparatively speaking, this is probably easier. It's quieter. The Beast is a loud monster roaring destruction through your life. Grief is slow and silent, yet equally destructive.

Yet that's the way of things. If I want the electricity to be able to sit here on the computer while the heater kicks in to chase away the soggy grey, I have to pay for that service. And to make that happen, I have to work. It's simple. I can't fall apart every time something tweaks me. Yet it isn't simple. I understand my husband's pain and desire to fold into himself and away from a job where people constantly brought him their minor little complaints and presented them as though the sky was falling. But, if we all did that, all of us who have ever suffered loss, where would the world be? No, you can't do that. You cannot retire from life and its obligations. And maybe that's what helps propel you through the process. Maybe that's a good thing. If you have to work, if you have to get up and have somewhere to be every day and people who rely on you to perform, that gets you past all of this sooner rather than later.

Bottom line, you have to find your "zoo spot" and allow yourself indulgences to begin to feel life and the joy of it again, but you cannot ignore the daily grind to do it. The work gets you to the play. I would ask my husband, a year gone from leaving his job, if doing that really made his grief more bearable? Of course, as I would ask it, I would have to remember, I tore the family apart to move clear across country, and quit the job I had to do it. And, if I didn't remember it, I'm sure he would remind me of it.

For now, I've got some work to do. Then later I'm off to see that violent movie.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Day of Little Marvels

I've said this before, but books on grieving didn't help me much.  Not that I would discourage anyone from trying them as a resource - Greg found them helpful and has read a few.  Marissa read one that she thought so highly of, I bought it for a friend.  But, personally, they just deepened my sense of bereavement because they laid out a long road to regain some sense of peace, and I didn't believe I had time for a long road trip into hell.  I couldn't take four years or longer to recover from the loss of my daughter; I had another daughter, a husband, an ailing mother and a lot of responsibility.  And that's just one aspect of what freaked me out about what I was reading.  Of course, the authors lay out the process so people know that what they are experiencing is kindred to what others before them have endured and can be assured there is some light at the end of the very long, dark tunnel.  I got that, but it didn't help.  So, I set them aside and tried to find my own way through.  As anyone around here can tell you, that's dangerous because I clearly have no sense of direction.  But, I threw myself out there, with help and support from friends, and found some real moments of happiness along the dark travels.  Yet, you can't shortcut the process, I've found.  You cannot spend your child's entire lifespan trying to care for them, worrying over them, loving them and even sometimes hating them, and then imagine that life will bounce back quickly once they are suddenly gone.  It just sucks.  It just fucking sucks.  And, gradually, I'm learning that it will probably always suck, and I can't rail against that.  It just is.

So now, what do you do with that knowledge?  How do you push through it and live a life?  I think that is an answer I am still seeking.  In the almost 22 months I have been on this path, I've mostly been bulldozing my way through the days, trying not to dwell aside from the words I type here.  Now, in the quiet I constantly find myself in, the only other occupant of the house (other than maybe a spider or stinkbug here or there) not being much of a conversationalist, I probably think too much about it.  But, I am determined to heed the meaning of the eagle, just old world superstitious enough to believe there has to be real meaning to his presence in my yard.  I want permission to live a life with joy.

And therefore, when I woke up Sunday morning and ran down a mental list of my options for the day:  clean house, work (that was a multi-part option: employment work, work on taxes, file paid bills, yard work, fun stuff like that), paint Marissa's room or go to the zoo.  After some deliberation, I decided to listen to the eagle and go to the zoo.

There have been some times in the last two months when I have questioned where I ended up.  I work from home, so I could have taken us back to Montana just as easily as here.  Nuts, I could have moved to Alaska.  I could have at least been closer to the family and moved south of the city.  But, I'm literally twelve minutes from the Pittsburgh Zoo, so I think all in all I'm somehow where I'm supposed to be.  Say what you want about keeping wild animals in confinement, I believe sincerely the staff of the zoo are - for the most part - dedicated to the animals and the preservation of the species. (I have my doubt about the man wandering around sweeping up trash, I think he's in it just for the measly paycheck.)  And the zoo has some incredible features.  Watch any movie shot in the city and I guarantee you the zoo will figure into it somehow, specifically the arched viewing areas around Pier Town where visitors can watch polar bears, sharks and sea otters swimming from an under water viewing area.  But, it's also the proximity visitors can get to the animals and still keep both man and beast safe from one another.  In short, I love the Pittsburgh Zoo. But, I tempered my expectations of my visit.  I had a special experience there a few years ago that I've related before, but, I told myself, you can't expect something like that to happen again.  And it didn't.  Other marvelous things did.  My gorilla friend was outside busily munching on leafy vegetables, enjoying the rare sunny day.  I recognized him, but he was happy with what he was doing and paying the spectators no mind at all.  I was okay with that, I was just happy he seemed content, and thought that was enough to make the visit a success.  I had no idea I would get up close and personal with a deer named Buttercup and two kangaroos, whom a woman my age with her grandchildren assured me she had never seen be so attentive before.  I watched as a polar bear repeatedly walked up to the glass and literally bump it to the thrill of the spectators (turns out, I think she was agitated waiting for lunch, which arrived a few minutes later, but nonetheless, it was an incredible experience for all of us).  I watched painted dogs play with their pups, taking full advantage of the spring day.  Tiger cubs came up to the glass to check us out, curious as to what we all were doing there.  Peacocks were preening for a potential mate along the walkways.  And the list goes on.  The animals seemed thrilled with the mild western PA. day and were anxious to reward us for it.  I had one incredibly magical experience after another, and I was so glad I had made the choice to come (even though I got turned around leaving and ended up just slightly lost).  For the entirety of my visit, finally pulled away by hunger and the idea that my own wild animal back home surely needed a potty walk, I was not a mother who had lost a child, I was not a fading, middle aged woman, or the person who is struggling to maintain two households on one paycheck.  I was just a wide-eyed spectator to all the little marvels the occupants of the zoo provided to me.  That was real joy.

The lesson here is for any other parent who is in "our club" as Greg calls it.  The Pittsburgh Zoo is not everyone's answer, I realize, but there is hope for some happiness if you just allow it for yourself.  I cried somewhat randomly later that night, I am sure out of guilt over having a good day when my Kelsey will have no more days.  Forgiving oneself is a long, long process.  I'm not there yet, but what I will remember ultimately is not the tears, but the wonder of the day.  I think that is worth fighting for.  How can you be truly present for those people who love you and need you if you're not truly present for yourself?  Allow yourself to live a life so you can be.  That is the lesson of the day at the zoo.