Giving the best of his love

Here’s the song reference.

When we were expecting Bugaboo, we received a great deal of advice from many corners regarding Bo, who is now the elder canine statesman of the house.  Bo was almost insanely protective of me for quite a long time, and, while he had mellowed significantly by the time we were planning our eldest daughter’s arrival (he was 6 1/2 at that time), there was concern from most of the family that he would be displeased about, and perhaps aggressive towards, a new baby person.  I must confess that while we gently dismissed those concerns, Manie and I were just a smidge worried about Bo’s reaction.  Sheila (a border collie/schnauzer mix who left us at the ripe old age of 15 1/2 two days before Christmas of 2008) and Gretchen (a thoroughly enormous Plott hound who died shortly before her 8th birthday in 2011) had always been the very pictures of gentleness towards children, but Bo had a history of being skittish around them.

I don’t think we’d been home from the hospital more than ten minutes before we were able to discern what Bo and Jackie’s relationship would be.  She had managed to poop on the car ride home, so I whisked her into her new bedroom and set about changing her diaper.  Bo bolted past Manie, put his front feet up on the changing table, and, after giving her tiny toes a very gentle sniff, proceeded to bestow upon said toes the tiniest, most delicate puppy kisses I have ever seen a 75 pound dog give.   He has been her constant companion and guardian since that moment.

Bo has had a couple of strokes in the past year, and, at nearly 12 1/2, he walks gingerly and slowly.  He’s relinquished watchdog duties to the younger (and twice as big) Smudgie, although he still makes it a point to let Smudgie know who the alpha dog is from time to time.  He sleeps heavily, and has so few teeth left that we had to switch him over to soft food about a year ago.

Nonetheless, Bugaboo faithfully makes time to pet her oldest friend every day, to sit by him and speak gently to him.  She and Beanie actually have had many altercations over whose turn it is to feed him his “crinkly bags” in the evening, and he knows that if he’s prowling for table scraps, the best seat in the house, for him, is under Bugaboo’s chair.  He doesn’t play much these days, but he sighs contentedly when she brings out handfuls of Transformers, fairies, and toy animals and plays sitting next to him on the floor, and grouches at Mr. Man and Baby Guy if they try to make off with any of her toys.

One of the daily rituals at our house is the afternoon nap.  I am generally awake at 5:00 a.m., and generally don’t get to sleep until sometime after 11:00 p.m., so after lunch, I desperately need to lay down for half an hour (or an hour, or on some blessed and wonderful days, an hour and a half) so I can finish the rest of the day upright.  The boys sleep in their cribs, I stretch out on the living room sofa, and the girls have a daily dispute over which of them will get to sleep on the loveseat.  If there’s something intriguing on television, whoever doesn’t end up on the loveseat usually curls up with pillows and blankets on the floor.  On those days, Bo usually sleeps on the floor of the girls room, which has very soft carpet, while Smudgie sprawls between the floor-sleeper and the loveseat-lounger.

Today, Maryland was playing in the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament, an event I deemed worthy of a little extra TV time.  Bugaboo lost the loveseat lottery today, and thus was, somewhat unhappily, piled up with her stuffed penguins, pillow, and blankets in the middle of the living room rug.  Beanie quickly fell asleep while I was still explaining to Bugaboo that if she found her accommodations unsatisfactory, she has a perfectly good bed in which she could nap.  Finally, she settled in, and Smudgie deemed it safe to stretch out between the couch and Bugaboo’s head, where he stood a decent chance of getting his paws patted.

I thought I heard Bo’s heavy, halting tread coming up the stairs as I drifted off to my own nap, and figured that when I awoke, he’d be sawing logs in the girls’ bedroom.  When I awoke, this is what I saw.

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There are moments when the tears fall before I realize they’re there, and it took me a moment to comprehend that there was nothing wrong with the camera’s focus.  I watched them silently for about fifteen minutes before Bugaboo awoke, pausing to hug Bo before she headed for the bathroom.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for blessing our family with furry members, who have loved us as tenderly as we have loved them, sometimes more so.  Thank You for the many lessons You have taught us through their lives, from the wonder of watching puppies grow to the devotion of caring for a dog who has grown frail with age or illness.  Please help us teach Your blessings that while You created mankind to rule over the beasts, we are to do so with great gentleness and love, and recall that You made Your covenant with all living creatures after the Flood.  We would keep ourselves, and Your blessings, ever mindful that the trust our dogs place in us must be met with the love You show us, that we should look to You as the example of a good and loving master, Who safeguards His charges faithfully and with tenderness meets all our needs.  Please grant that we may love as unreservedly and forgive as readily as the dogs You have sent to guard and teach us.

A love supreme

Here’s the song reference.

Bugaboo awoke while I was in the shower this morning.  When I emerged from our bedroom, still shaking a couple of stray drops of water from my ears, Manie greeted me with somewhat of a mysterious smile.

“Wait until you see what Bugaboo just did.”

Our oldest daughter sprinted down the short hallway towards me, clutching a piece of newsprint handwriting paper in her wee hand.  She thrust it at me with a gigantic grin, exclaiming as she did so, “Look, Mommy, I did this all by myself!  I just wanted to write something, so I wrote this!”

There, glowing blue against the grey paper, were the words to the Sign of the Cross prayer.

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I should point out that penmanship lessons with Bugaboo have been compared to wrestling greased anacondas in the Amazon River.  For several seconds, my jaw opened and closed, but my vocal cords were unable to cooperate with its motion.  Bugaboo stood there, the joy on her face starting to fade to uncertainty, so I resorted to the simple expedient of sweeping her and her paper up in my arms and hugging her tightly.  When I regained the ability to speak, I whispered into her hair, “I am so, so proud of you, sweetheart, and God is too, because you thought of Him.”

She has never before asked for a piece of paper and a writing instrument to simply write down what was on her mind.  Manie confirmed that this was, in fact, what had happened, and that he had not helped her in any way — he thought she was writing one of her pretend letters, which are generally composed of wavy lines running across the page, narrated as she scrawls.   He was as thunderstruck as I was when he saw what she had done.

Manie left for work, and we passed a pleasant hour before the rest of the tribe awoke.  I praised her more for deciding to create her own handwriting practice, and then yet more for choosing a prayer for her practice passage.  As she left the table to tiptoe into her room for a fairy doll retrieval mission, she casually said, “You keep telling me that if we put God first, everything else will fall into place.  So I had God be the first thing I did this morning, and now I’m happy. I should do something for God first every morning so all my mornings will be happy.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, thank You for blessing us with Bugaboo, who sees through all the complexities adults try to impose on faith and reduces it to what it true, right, and simple:  that You commanded us to first love You with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. If we begin each day with You, Lord, the day’s petty annoyances and even heavy trials are bearable, because we have started by remembering that You are with us always and in all things.  Please, Lord, grant me the grace of a prayerful heart, and as we train up Your blessings in the ways they should go, keep us ever mindful that if we put love for You first, while we may be odd in the eyes of the world, we will be doing Your work whithersoever we go.

Getting the boot

After a bit of a grouchy start, occasioned by some pinched thing in my shoulder that hurt badly enough to make my cheekbone ache (not a heart attack, don’t worry), we actually had a delightful day at our house.  There were some questionable-looking grey clouds looming overhead early in the day, but the tribe spent a decent bit of time out-of-doors this afternoon, running and swinging and coaxing Smudgie to chase them into their clubhouse.  He has, for the record, become much more confident about his descent skills, and simply leaps off the open side over the rock wall.  Apparently the slide is too much excitement for our giant puppy.

We made floral crosses out of big swags of fluffy chenille (photos tomorrow), colored pictures in our Stations of the Cross coloring books, and talked about what it means to forgive.  I was actually quite impressed that Bugaboo asked, quickly echoed by Beanie, and I was only to happy to explain to them that forgiveness means deciding not to be angry at those who have wronged us, to love those people anyway the way we would want them to.  I reminded them that Jesus, on the cross, forgave the people who killed him, so if we love Jesus, we should follow his example and not hold grudges.

I’m a definite work in progress on that one.

At any rate, the tribe was clamoring for a little more outdoor playtime after dinner, and with the daylight extending longer and longer, it seemed like a pretty decent idea to me.  Sunshine and dirt are good for children and other growing things.  Down the stairs they sped, Mr. Man in his Spidey shoes, Bugaboo in her crocs, Beanie in her Hello Kitty galoshes that she would wear to church if we’d let her get away with it. I watched from the window as they hopped onto the swings and set about a little post-supper fun, then went back to feeding Baby Guy his dinner.  He loves green beans so much that I have to give them to him one small piece at a time, lest he cram a dozen or so into his face and choke himself.

Not long after I recommenced the green bean dance with Baby Guy, I heard a bit of a ruckus in the yard, closely followed by the sound of Bugaboo pelting up the stairs.  “Mommy, Smudgie stole Beanie’s boot and he’s running around the yard with it!  Please do something!”

Can’t laugh . . . not funny.

I looked out the window and, sure enough, Smudgie was sprinting around the back yard, a Hello Kitty galosh flapping out of the side of his mouth.  It probably says something awful about me that I paused to grab the camera before rushing to the rescue.  When I got downstairs a few moments later, Smudgie had tired of his game (or, perhaps, tired of getting whacked in the face with a boot with every bound) and dropped the precious footwear.  Beanie was dashing over to the spot where it had fallen, and happily reclaimed the missing half of her favorite footwear.

According to the story I pieced together from the girls, Smudgie was lurking around the swingset, trying to catch butterflies, and Beanie kept running into him while she was swinging.  I suspect that some of those run-ins were a deliberate attempt to get Smudgie out of the path of her swing.  At any rate, Smudgie decided to grab one of Beanie’s boots off her foot and start a game of chase-the-puppy.

After that little interlude, three kids and an oversized puppy played happily together in the yard until bath time.  I did note that Smudgie kept a most respectful distance from the swings.

Once I had hosed down the hooligans, we all settled down in the living room to play with blocks and cars.  Smudgie decided he wanted to go outside, and as I rose to let him out, I heard Beanie say, softly, “Smudgie, you don’t have to leave.  I forgive you.”

Today’s prayer:  Lord, grudges are heavy burdens, indeed.  Thank You for the heart lesson Your blessings learned today, that it’s better to forgive than to hold onto anger.  Help me teach them that wrath distances us from You, and help me set a better example of how to answer insults and injuries mildly.  Thank You for Your ultimate example of forgiveness; please grant us the wisdom to follow it.


Mr. Man is a blankie guy.  Whatever may be troubling him, if he can locate his trusty blankie and his thumb (one of those is readily accessible at all times), all will be well.  If he can locate blankie, thumb, and Mommy’s lap, it’s a perfectly glorious day in his world.  Since we have a very tiny person, one Baby Guy, in our midst, Mommy’s lap is frequently occupied, and Mr. Man does not like to share.  His major motivation for learning to go down the stairs was being able to get to his room to retrieve his blankie when he wants it; it’s actually really cute when he stands outside the boys’ room door (he has not, as yet, figured out how to turn the knob to open the door) and calls for his oldest sister to open the door.  After he wails, “Bugaboo!  Door!  Open!” a couple of times, he remembers what he’s supposed to say, and a sweetly wheedling, “Pleeeeeease?” wafts up the stairs.  Bugaboo is a sufficiently kindhearted big sister that she usually puts down her toys and helps the little guy out.  Of course, she then also gets to spend a few minutes playing with the boys’ toys, which is reward enough for her.

Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Man and Baby Guy achieved that wonder of wonders, nap synchronicity.  They fell asleep and woke, each in his own bed, at the same time.  This, of course, afforded the girls the opportunity to catch a Care Bears movie and me the chance to catch a desperately needed nap.  For an hour, at least, there was peace in our valley.

The boys did, of course, awaken, and began chorusing for something drinkable.  While I was listening to their serenade (ahem) over the monitor and bustling about the kitchen to prepare appropriate beverages, the girls came in and asked if they could play outside.  I reminded them that they are required to wear not only shoes, but also pants, in order to do so (what is it about preschoolers and pants?!?!?), and sent them down the hall to attire themselves appropriately.  Bottle and sippy in hand, I clumped down the stairs, managed not to trip over the ever-enthusiastic Smudgie, and opened the door to quell the rebellion.

Mr. Man, as a rule, wakes up in a bit of a sour mood, which is a trait I am embarrassed to admit he inherited from his mother.  He was scowling into his sippy cup as Bugaboo and Beanie, properly clad and shod, raced to and out the back door, with Smudgie hot on their heels.  I sat in the rocking chair, feeding Baby Guy, while Mr. Man surveyed the room.  He seemed to be trying to decide whether to join his sisters or hang out and play with his toys and his little brother, who thinks he is the funniest guy in the world.

As Mr. Man finished his last slurp of milk, Bo shambled into the boys’ room.  Bo is old; he turned 11 earlier this month, and he’s a bit of a cantankerous codger.  He is also the most faithful guardian, friend, and protector four little kids (and their parents, and a ridiculously huge puppy) could ever hope to have.  While he spends a fair amount of time complaining at the tribe for stomping, screaming, and throwing things too close to his tender old head, he also curls up nearby when they are quiet, and never lets the smallest ones out of his sight.  He sleeps by the boys’ door at night.

After a quick perusal of the room assured him that this might be a good place for an ancient wonder to get a little peace and quiet, Bo curled up on the corner of the boys’ rug.  Mr. Man watched him, carefully set his sippy upright on the floor, and walked over to his bed.  While watching over his shoulder, he winkled his beloved blankie out through the slats of his crib, tiptoed over to Bo, and covered his old puppy with his blankie.  Then he put on his shoes and went outside to frolic with his sisters and Smudgie.

Bo had a rather nice nap.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, You call us to comfort the weary and the lonely.  Please teach me to have the same generosity of spirit as Your blessings, who, without reservation, share the things that are most precious to them out of love, to comfort a friend.  It’s the faith of a child thing again, Lord.  Thank You for sending me such blessings as these, who remind me daily what remarkable things faith and its exercise are.

The aliens’ apprentice

Perhaps the only thing that figures more prominently in our children’s lives than crayons (aside from Mommy and Daddy, that is) is dogs. We have two of them, an 11-year-old Classic American Brown Dog named Bo,

and a 10 month old St. Bernard mix named Smudgie.

None of our little blessings have ever known a home without canine companionship.  I fervently hope they never will.  Smudgie and Bo are their friends, protectors, comforters, and playmates; there is a nightly argument over which child will have the privilege of feeding which dog, and for all the tears over puppy teething being the agent of toy destruction, when one of the kids is distraught over some reproof, she or he heads straight for the nearest dog.  Bo, being a bit of a cantankerous codger, tends to head for higher ground when he sees a small person approaching, which means that Smudgie’s humongous, furry shoulder tends to be their favorite crying spot.  I always have to suppress a smile when the little miscreant comes to apologize for misbehaving with long, silky fur pasted to dried tears.  It generally earns the offender a cookie (and a quick pass with a wipe or two) while we talk about how to behave in the future.

Mr. Man loves all things that belong to “his” dogs (if one of his sisters attempts to hug or pet one of them within his eyeshot, he will generally holler “MINE!” at her); he brings them their chew toys and has tried to chew on most of them himself, will lovingly feed them their food one piece at a time, and has even been known to smooth his beloved blankie over them when they’re snoozing.  Of course, in his view, their best “toy” is their water dish.  Mr. Man is a water junkie; he always has a water bottle within easy reach.  Should he find his trusty Batman vessel empty, he thinks nothing of pilfering a cup from Bugaboo’s tea set, filing it from their dish, and taking a hearty swig.  Our pediatrician is firmly convinced that the key to his iron constitution (his current ear infection is, in fact, the only one he’s ever had, and he’s the one who generally gets the mildest case of any bug that goes through our house) is that he does things like this.  Interestingly, there’s a growing body of research that suggests he might be right.  If he’s not drinking out of the water dish, he is merrily splashing its contents all over the kitchen floor, and when I scramble into the kitchen to assess the flood damage, he smiles, grabs the nearest burpie, and crows, “Uh-oh!” as he begins swabbing the deck.

Our dogs, in other words, have learned to be as tolerant of the tiny people as the tiny people are adoring of them.  They bear indignities of all sorts patiently, perhaps with the understanding that the greater the suffering endured, the higher the likelihood of a Pupperoni payoff in their future.  There are, however, times when our little blessings convince me that our dogs know more about turning the other cheek than most people we know.  Today was one of them, and it came from the unlikely hand of Baby Guy.

Baby Guy is 6 months old, and his primary method of locomotion is the log roll, although he can manage a bit of an army crawl when he’s highly motivated.  He can, however, get up a pretty good head of steam with his rolling, so if I have to leave the room while he’s on the floor, I have to make sure that the baby gate at the top of our steps is secured, as he has come perilously close  to tumbling down them twice.  On this particular afternoon, however, Bo chose to take his afternoon siesta sprawled in such a manner as to completely block Baby Guy from leaving the room (he hasn’t figured out how to surmount physical barriers yet, and Bo weighs about 70 pounds, so, to a 6 month old, he is an immovable object).  Bearing this in mind, and since Baby guy was on the opposite end of the room from Bo, I decided this would be an opportune time to see what was happening on Facebook, as the other three tiny people were (noisily) otherwise occupied elsewhere in the house.

I was having a heart-pounding moment over the news that someone had shot at a school bus this afternoon when I heard the most threatening sound I have ever heard emanating from Bo.  In all seriousness, as I whipped around, I was looking for a weapon, because the pitch of his growl was such that I was completely convinced there was an intruder in the house.  Fortunately, I looked down to check Baby Guy’s whereabouts before I leapt off the couch to grab a vase . . . and thus discovered the cause of Bo’s ire.

I suppose Manie and I may have watched a little too much South Park, or perhaps watched one too many programs on SyFy, while Baby Guy was a belly dweller.  To my utter astonishment, Baby Guy was attempting to play a game of “I’ll be the alien, you be the abductee” with Bo.  If you have no idea what that means, this may help.  Suffice it to say that I managed to stop laughing long enough to remove Baby Guy and his hand from Bo’s general vicinity, which action earned me a long, LONG look from Bo before he decamped for the girls’ room in a huff that Zsa Zsa Gabor would have envied.

Notwithstanding the potential health benefits of Baby Guy’s actions, I washed his little hand quite thoroughly.

Today’s prayer:  Lord, You created all the beasts of the earth, and somewhere along the line, You gave humanity the wisdom to befriend dogs.  Thank You for the faithful friends and guardians You have sent for Your blessings.  Please teach me to have as much patience with Your blessings as our dogs do, and to be as tolerant and forgiving of insults as they are.  You send us teachers constantly, Lord, and I thank You for showing me that some of the best ones go on four legs.