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dog

Ice Cream and Nostalgia

Top 5 Reasons 2016 Was One of Our Top 5 Years (of the Past 5 Years)

1.Oodles more readers. Yes, I’m talking to YOU. In case you missed ‘em, here are five of our most-read posts from 2016:

Our Kids Put the Fun in Dysfunctional

Operation: Airborne Lizzie

Be a Cul-de-sac

Swimming in the Rain

Finding My Voice

2. Family adventures. 2016 was an epic travel year. We kayaked with whales. We visited Iceland. We flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter I felt certain would kill us all. Most of all, we scampered hither and yon with our kiddos and actually, kind of, enjoyed being together [even though 3/5 of the family yacked all over Frankfurt, Germany . . . ugh, some things you just can’t unsee].

3. We published our first book. Which we have yapped about incessantly and ad nauseum, but which if you have somehow missed all of that you should still totally check out HERE. [Also, if you read it and liked it and have not yet rated it on Goodreads or Amazon, we’d love it if you could do us a solid.]

Here are 5 more awesome books we read this year:

Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple

Circling the Sun, by Paula McClain

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Somme, by Peter Hart

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

4. Everybody is finally out of diapers and pull-ups – hooray! And 2016 was the first year when all of the children finally learned to sleep in their own beds and leave Mom and Dad alone – double hooray! For those keeping track at home, it has been 12 years of interrupted sleep. No wonder we look so old. Of course, as soon as everyone here was sleep trained, we decided to adopt a dog who is not.  Grrr….

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5. 2016 was the year we discovered podcasts – these awesome radio shows you can download and listen to on your phone when you scrub the bathroom or shovel snow. Podcasts take the menial labor of family life and make it transcendent. Do yourself a huge favor and subscribe to a few today. You’ll never look at dirty dishes the same way again.

Reply All – A show about the Internet, trained rats, and so much more. Ever wonder who invented the pop-up ad? Or why some websites make it almost impossible to reach an actual live person? Or what some of those weird Twitter hashtags actually mean? These guys decode the e-world for the rest of us. Try “Exit & Return,” Parts I and II, or “The Writing on the Wall” episode if you are looking for a place to start.

Revisionist History – Malcolm Gladwell looks back at ideas, events, and people in history and reinterprets them. I’m not doing the show justice in this description. The trilogy about higher education in this country is particularly terrific (“Carlos Doesn’t Remember,” “Food Fight,” and “My Little Hundred Million”).

Radiolab – We’ve been listening to Radiolab on NPR because it makes us smarter, but now we can get every episode and revisit them whenever we want. Don’t take our word for it. Go listen to them. “Patient Zero,” “Colors,” “The Cathedral,” “Birthstory,” or any of the dozens of other terrific episodes.

Heavyweight – Jonathon Goldstein takes people back to revisit a moment in their lives when everything went wrong, and whether it was being bullied at school or loaning CDs that you never got back, he tries to help folks fix what is broken, or at least make peace with it. Try episode #2 “Gregor” for a way in.

This American Life – Still going strong. Still the best in the business when it comes to storytelling. They are 600 episodes in. If you have not started listening yet, I am giddy just thinking about all the great stories just waiting for you.

*There are so many more we could have included here: We Turned Out Okay, Invisibilia, First Timers, 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop, The Writer’s Panel, StartUp, More Perfect, Science Vs, and, of course, Serial.

 

Where did you travel? What did you read? What are you looking forward to in 2017? We love hearing from you. Drop us a line at info@dadvmom.com or on any of our social media platforms.

Twitter – @dadvmom

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Parents = Dope Film Critics

Down with Inside Out

The kids and I saw Inside Out a few weeks back.

My 10-year-old was annoyed it was a cartoon.

My 6-year-old was scared of the clown.

My 3-year-old fell asleep.

But I thought it was awesome. Should be required viewing for anyone between the ages of 9 and 90.

To be fair, becoming a parent has made me a crappy film critic. If the kids are quiet and I have Milk Duds, I’m gonna love the movie, whether it’s Annie or Battlefield Earth. Even if a child stood up and vomited on me (which actually happened during Toy Story 3), I would have given Inside Out two thumbs up. Here’s why: it makes a case for Sadness. It lets us know that Sadness is Okay.

We have really needed that lesson this week.

A few days ago, our dog, Shadow, passed away. In addition to my own grief about the failing pup, I had to figure out how to navigate this event with my kids. Was I going to be strong for them? Or was I going to weep openly? As a child, I remember thinking it was awful when I saw my parents cry. My father wept at my grandfather’s funeral, and I felt like the world might cave in. So, I decided I would be strong for my kids.

I was strong for them. But I was also a big, blubbering mess.dadvmom.com_downwithinsideout_sadnesscrying

I cried when I drove them home from school and told them Shadow was dying. I whimpered when I saw them gather around his soft little body and stroke his fur. I guffawed when my husband took Shadow away. I was emotional. And so were the kids. Katie said it felt like her oldest friend had passed away. She wondered out loud, “what bad thing will happen next?” Lizzie said the next time she saw her best friend’s dog, she was gonna punch it in the nose. I nearly seized upon this remark. “We do NOT punch dogs!” But I was so glad I didn’t. Lizzie went on to explain that it just felt so unfair that anyone else should get to have a dog when we didn’t anymore. She is not a violent person. She was just struggling to translate intense feelings into words.

And Inside Out taught us that that happens sometimes. Feelings like Anger and Fear can get mixed up inside of us. And sometimes it is Sadness that helps us sort them out. Sometimes Sadness even helps bring people together. That’s exactly what it did for me and the girls. We sat on our faded green couch and felt all mixed up for awhile. We laughed about the time Shadow ate fruitcake and remembered how he used to cheat at Hide and Seek. We cried about how he wouldn’t be our night watchman anymore. And expressed remorse that we hadn’t walked him enough lately. Lizzie suggested we get another dog just like Shadow and call him, “Shadow, Jr.” Which prompted me to tell the girls about “rebound relationships” and high school boyfriends, and a whole raft of subjects we had never covered before.  We have lots of Joy-filled afternoons, and I much prefer them, but I would be lying if I did not at least acknowledge that it was the Sadness that slowed us down and helped us take the trouble to understand each other.  The Sadness made us hold one another more closely.

Maybe the girls felt like their world was going to cave when they saw me cry. But I don’t think so.  Plus, it didn’t. We talked for awhile longer and then the kids started hinting about watching a movie. “Even Alexander didn’t have a bad day like this one,” said Katie. We put in a Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was not nearly as good as the book, but it was also awesome, because it reminded us that even the worst days don’t last forever, especially when you stick with your family through the pain.

It would not be okay if I always used my kids to prop me up in my grief. That is called Depression, and there are hotlines and therapists and medications for that.

But I think every so often, it is healthy for children to see us hurt, to comfort us in our sorrow, and to see firsthand that Sadness has a beginning, a middle, and, especially, an end.

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Brokenheartedness

He Was My Shadow

Every morning for the past three weeks, he has woken me at 4am with his pacing. Collar jangling, looking for God knows what. He has been talking to ghosts lately. He wanders into corners, gets stuck, and lets out a hoarse “woof.” I rouse myself from bed to feed him. Sometimes he eats, sometimes he doesn’t. Under my breath, I curse the sleep he is costing me. But he is sixteen years old, and in my heart I can’t really be angry with him.

When we moved him across the country more than a year ago, we were sure Shadow only had a few months left. But I suspect he knew we still needed him. Every night in this new house, he implemented a rotating shift, sleeping next to each of the kids’ beds, then finally settling next to ours once he determined all was well.

I got the call from my wife around noon. He wouldn’t get up to go outside, and one of his eyes would not open. When I got home, he was still breathing, but barely. He was laying right where I knew he would be, in the fur-covered divot by my side of the bed. When I stretched out next to him, he barely stirred. Then, slowly and with great effort, he lifted his head and laid it on my arm. It was heavier than I ever remember it being. He opened his good eye, looked into mine, and let out a sigh.

“I’m done,” he told me. He had settled us into this new home and made sure we would be okay. He had checked every corner and stood watch every night. He was happy, knowing he had taken good care of this family for 16 years. But he was also tired, and in pain, and he was asking me to make this easier for him.

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I know the difference between sorrow and tragedy. I have lost friends and family members, been to funerals for loved ones taken too soon. Putting down a pet is not a calamity. It is its own special kind of sorrow though, different from any I have felt before. My dog, my best friend, was asking me to take him on his last walk. He had given me everything he possibly could. And never asked for anything in return. Until today.

He sighed again, and there was something of an apology in it. “I am sorry you have to do this,” he told me. I pulled my phone from my pocket and called the vet. He said to come whenever I am ready. I said “a few hours,” to give the kids time for their goodbyes.

On the ride home from school, my wife explained to our children what was happening. They came in quietly and gathered around me and my dog. We ran our hands through his soft fur and told stories about his happier days. Like when he ate the whole fruitcake. Or crashed the wedding party at the beach. At one point, we all laughed. Beyond a doubt, I knew this is how Shadow would want to leave us. Everyone gave him one last squeeze. Lizzie laid a bouquet of flowers, plucked from the yard, by his nose. I cradled him in my arms and carried him to the car. I had not held him like that since he was a puppy.

I asked the vet if I could share one last story. He sat on the floor next to Shadow and me, as I explained about Afghanistan and how this dog helped settle me back home. I could not finish. Shadow laid in my lap, his breathing shallower than before. The doc put a reassuring hand on mine. “This is a dog in pain,” he said. “You’re doing the right thing.” He put in an IV. He flushed the vein. And then . . . .

I laid with Shadow for a long time afterwards, as his body slowly lost its warmth. I buried my head in the soft fur around his neck and let out one last cry. “Such a good dog,” was all I managed to say. When I went home, the kids hugged me and asked about heaven. I told them we would see Shadow there, but I was not really sure.

It is 4am now. I am haunting this house alone, desperate for the jangling of Shadow’s collar. He is the ghost now. Last night I dreamed I saw him across a wide river. He was wagging his tail and pacing happily, something he has not done in a long time. I wondered if he was trying to cross over to me. Then I saw his fur, already wet from a good swim. He wasn’t coming back. He was there waiting. If there is a heaven, our dogs are the ones who let us in.

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This essay was reprinted by Fatherly.com on Oct. 1, 2015.