Evolution and Another Dog Walk During COVID-19

“If all the humans die, which animal do you think would take our place?”

We looked at our unlikely dog trotting ahead of us, sniffing the air, ever-hopeful for a… Bunny? Squirrel? 

“The strongest or the smartest?” continued the 6th grader, knowing the bunny wins every time.

Some conversations last the entire 3-mile loop around the neighborhood. Some return at the dinner table.

Would it be different on each continent? Would the strong win first, then a weaker but smarter species evolve to overtake the strong? Or could the strong one evolve to be smarter? Would the next phase of evolution follow the same pattern as before? Would the next “humans” be like us? Would they look like an animal we already know?

Another doubting glance in the direction of our sweet, old dog.

Walking with My 17-year-old During COVID-19

It was only in the first week of school closure that he realized how hard his Dad was working at the hospital. So, he started setting his alarm for 5am, just beating Dad to the kitchen to make him coffee. Three weeks later, our early morning teenager is still brewing – a treat for me too.

He joins me almost every day on long walks with the dog. I have learned everything a mom needs to know about the more than 100-year history of the Green Bay Packers. How woven the team’s history is with that of the country. Pearl Harbor, Gerald Ford. And… “Remember that game in 2017? We were driving back from the mountains, listening on the radio, and we got home just in time to see…”

I remember the drive, but not the play.

“How do you not remember that?!”

Every day, a minute or so into the walk, he says, “Look at Star’s ears!” Her right ear flops, while the perky left remains alert. “Isn’t she the cutest?!”

And yesterday, there was construction on the road we usually start off on. We were half-way down the block in another direction, when he stopped. “Wait, why are we going this way?” He doesn’t like change, he said. Star had tugged uncertainly too, so we corrected our path.

He grows impatient when I let the dog sniff too long at a fencepost until I remind him that he has nowhere he needs to be. “True,” he shrugs. “So anyway, the players heard about Pearl Harbor in the middle of the game, and they had to keep playing knowing it was happening. That must have been….”

By evening, you would think a 17-year-old might tire of his parents. But he is the first to wander out to the firepit and listen to his Dad talk about the latest in the world of COVID-19. Inform him that Mom doesn’t remember that amazing play in 2017. 

And when the whole family heads upstairs to watch “Big Bang Theory” together, all of his 6-foot, 200-pound self climbs onto our bed to watch.

Now in week three of school closure, remote learning. My return to nagging. “Did you send the email to…?” “Did you do your…?” That desire to hit him over the head with the coffee pot when he rolls his eyes late afternoon, Chemistry still to do, that Statistics project looming.

Nurse Star

Our fourth grader started throwing up at 4:30 this morning, and spent the next three hours lying on the bathroom floor. Sleep. Puke. Sleep. Puke. Sleep. Puke.

After one such bout, our dog Star, with her aching hips, forced her creaky self off the hall rug and scratched to be let outside.

“My tummy hurts so bad,” moaned the little guy, as I lay a blanket over him.

Star re-appeared at the door moments later with a dirty bone dug out of hiding. Passed right by me when I let her in. Dropped the bone outside the bathroom a foot from my son’s feverish forehead. “Here, try this,” she seemed to say, “It always makes me feel better.”

Then returned to her nap nearby… just in case he needed her.

Return to the Playground

When the boys were little, we spent many mornings at the park. It’s where I made my first friends in our then-new hometown. So, it was a little strange when, after not going for a few years, my ten-year-old son and niece veered in while walking the dog.

They climbed, “Count how long it takes me!”…

…and swung, “Come on! Higher!”…

…and spun each other around, “Faster! Faster! No, stop! Stop! Stop!”…

The dog and I followed the path encircling the playground equipment. It brought back  memories of trailing my sons on their tricycles as they rode along that same path. Of moving from one side of the playground to the other, as they did, to make sure I was close enough in case they fell, got stuck, got their feelings hurt. Of standing, eating cold green grapes, next to the big tree they all loved to climb.

I walk past the park almost daily, but a ten-year-old body at play makes the playground look a miniature version of the one in my memory. Had my teenagers been with us, I imagine it would have seemed even smaller. You can get anywhere in a few quick steps. See everything from any bench.

Apparently, I didn’t need to follow so close back then. It would never dawn on me now to interrupt their play with “Not so fast!” “Not too far!” “Don’t jump off that…”

So, as the dog and I wandered, they happily climbed and swung and spun and squealed at each other.

And when we got home, my ten-year-old threw up all over the carpet. Too much spinning, but still the best part of his day.

Walking the Dog Today

Our dog Star, who is not a star, randomly threw herself at a moving car on our walk today. I wasn’t ready, because she typically saves her “crazy” for big, mean trucks and yappy little dogs that look like bunnies.

I don’t know what snapped in that dog-brain of hers. It’s a beautiful day. A regular car. No loud car rumble. No young pup hanging its head out the window taunting her.

But her leash was loose. I wasn’t ready.

My dog was hit by a car today. Or really, the car was hit by Star. A full body slam.

A smack and a yelp.

The car slowed, but drove on.

She hobbled to my side. Sat down, holding her paw up to be checked like she knows the drill. Like she gets injured battling evil cars all the time.

Then Star, who is not a star, dragged me around the neighborhood as if nothing had happened.

I kept the leash tight and Star close. She ignored the yappy dogs. Discovered no bunnies. Didn’t notice the other cars at all, until a little red sportscar passed on our return home.

I don’t know what snapped in that dog-brain of hers, but this time, I was ready. Star and the car survive to see another day.

How to Have a Happy 15-Year-Old

These days, there are two guaranteed ways that I can make my teenage son happy.

The first, I practice almost daily. I bring the dog with me when I pick him up from school. No matter how grumpy he looks as he approaches the car, he is transformed if, when he opens the car door, the dog’s face is there ready to give him a good face-licking. Then, instead of sighing about homework or telling me I ask too many questions, he spends the ride home smiling in the rearview mirror and telling me how cute the dog is.

I learned the second way today. The hard way.

The second way I can make him happy is by screwing up… and getting caught.

“Do you know why I stopped you?”

Yes, I got a speeding ticket, cop motorcycle lights flashing, my son grinning ear-to-ear in the passenger seat, and the dog wagging her tail. Apparently, this was exciting for both of them.

As the police officer wrote out my $160 fine for going 33 in a 20MPH school zone (ooops!), my fifteen-year-old laughed heartily. “This is absolutely awesome!”

Ten Years in the Minivan

What’s the matter with the car I’m driving?
“Can’t you tell that it’s out of style?”
Should I get a set of white wall tires?
“Are you gonna cruise a miracle mile?

Nowadays you can’t be too sentimental
….’

…but the minivan was my signature. I didn’t need the school sticker on my bumper or my carpool number on the dashboard, because everyone knew the red minivan in carpool line was me.

Yesterday we traded it in, and my husband’s car became mine. It’s a much better, safer, cooler car. But I still feel a little sentimental, a need to record and preserve the memories made during the last ten years. Almost exactly. We bought it a few weeks before our third son was born. “We need a bigger car.” And he turns ten next month.

Remember….

….those early days when I had to pin him down like we were wrestling to get him in his car seat? Him screaming? Writhing? Me wondering if I was going to get arrested for child abuse?

….or the time the car smelled so bad even after we had it detailed, and it ended up that some breakfast sausage links I carried with me for toddler snacks had slid between the seats weeks before?

….the time I drove home from a ski weekend in below zero, snowy weather, and our middle son puked all over the back seat? I pulled over at that abandoned-for-the-winter sleepaway camp and changed him out of his gross wet clothes, both of us crying, sure he was going to get pneumonia.

….or a few years later, when he puked all over his friend on the way up to the mountains?

What about the time our youngest decorated his “happy place” by using a sharpie to draw a pirate scene in the third row seat? And then got mad at me because I scrubbed it off?

….or when his brother’s friends laughed so hard at the story that he did it again?!

….or when one of the few girls to ever get in my car climbed in, and after a quick look stated, “Wow! Your car is dirtier than ours.”

Remember the minivan caravan to Mount Rushmore? The camping trips? The embarrassment of swiping another mom’s car mirror in carpool line? The fights over who had to sit in the seat with goo stuck to it?

The day our oldest first rode in the front seat? Or our dog refusing to give it up?

Her nose smudges and dirty paw scratches on the windows, because, barking in my ear, blocking my view of the road, she tried to get at every truck that passed us by?

What about waiting for dad to pick us up at the airport one night? The boys spotted it in the dark distance because, “Mom, it’s the only minivan in the world that goes 90 miles an hour.”

The racing red minivan. A little sticky in places. A lot of dirt. Stories that make us laugh now. It was “still rock in roll to me.”

The Peppermint Failure

Our dog digs. So, I bought peppermint plants.

I got the idea on the Internet. Then I confirmed that it works with the herb guy at the plant store. “Dogs hate that strong minty smell,” he said. “She definitely won’t dig near it.”

Unless you’re Star, the dog who created a little mulch nest in-between peppermint plants, her nose resting contentedly for hours within an inch of that strong minty smell she is supposed to hate.

Or Star, the dog who I discovered covered in mud, digging madly around one of the sprinklers, which was spraying her directly in the face. The peppermint plant she nestled with all weekend is missing. Not a leaf of evidence that it even existed.

So, onto Plan B. Fill hole. Sprinkle with red hot Cayenne Pepper.

That Was Actually Funny, He Said

My teenager and I were sitting on the steps with the dog. It has been a dry winter, and with more than a week of warm February weather, everyone is watering. At our house, the sprinkler needed a quick fix in the yard after it fell off the hose when my son moved it from one spot to another. “I can’t get it back on.”

I was putting my shoes on to help out and hoping the dog poop had been picked up before he had watered the grass. ”If you don’t pick the poop up first, then it’s gross to pick up when the grass is wet.”

“It wasn’t me,” he said. “Dad started it. Blame Dad.”

So, I belted out a little South Park “Blame Canada!”

He chuckled. “Mom, that was actually funny… and surprising.”

“Didn’t think I had any South Park in me, did ya?”