Saying Goodbye to the ‘World’s Best Dog’

Molly (left, above) with Guinness, Mike and Erica’s other dog and best friend. Molly was put to sleep a few days ago after an accident that was gradually paralyzing her.

My brother-in-law Mike and his wife Erica lost their beloved chocolate lab, Molly, a few days ago.  Mike posted this very moving essay on his Facebook page, and I had to share.  It is a beautiful tribute to how dogs fill the gap left by children who’ve grown up and moved away — as Mike puts it “with the added bonus of no back talk or allowance.”  He rightfully called her “The World’s Best Dog.” RIP, Molly.

This Saturday was the one of the most sad moments in recent memory for my family. Molly, our twelve year old Chocolate Labrador and loyal friend – broke her back a couple of weeks ago running like a puppy around the yard. She slipped, hyper extended her aging back and, well you get it. She seemed fine for several days and we never knew anything was wrong. Then she slowly started to lose her balance, had trouble walking and then eventually – no amount of money nor the greatest of veterinarians could prevent her from becoming paralyzed.

Molly was the dog I never wanted – we already had a friggin’ dog and I certainly didn’t want another one. I liked dogs, but they were just dogs, nothing more. Besides, they shed and they smell and they don’t have the courtesy of cleaning up after themselves. The nerve . .

But my 14 year old son wanted his own dog, so months of wife and family pressure gave way to a trip to the breeder to find a new friend for my son. He wanted a Labrador. He chose her, he named her, he was supposed to take care of her. Of course, it’s the story you often hear – grumpy man doesn’t want stupid dog, but once dog arrives and takes over the house and all the cars – the fabric of the home begins to change. And that’s what happened, this “dog” became an integral part of our lives – transitioning us from a two-kid household, to one where the kids have left home, graduated college and started careers. They never returned, but dog was still there – now “our dog”. And that’s what happens. The dog replaces the kids with the added bonus of no back talk nor allowance.

Molly went everywhere we went. Endless ski vacations, camping, trips to the beach, swimming, hiking, gardening (helping to uproot newly planted flowers), washing the car (stealing towels and other valuable tools). She accompanied both boys to their respective colleges, helping them settle into their dorms.

And in the blink of an eye, 12 years have passed, and this dog is so entrenched into your lives you cannot imagine waking up without those soulful eyes staring down at you. But the years do pass by, and in one of life’s cruel tricks, your dog has aged so much faster than you.

And so on Saturday morning two weeks after her injury and after agonizing for hours, we called a mobile Vet to come to our home to end her life in the place she most enjoyed, her own home in her own backyard. There was no way Molly was going to die in a clinic on cold stainless steel table. We led her out to the backyard and gave her one of her favorite treats, peanut butter stuffed inside a cow bone. She licked away blissfully on a beautiful sunny morning while lying down next to us as we held her. Fifteen minutes later, she was gone.

There is no greater loyalty in the world, no stronger bond then that between man and dog. Unless you’ve known the love and peace a dog can bring into your life, it’s hard to comprehend the anguish surrounding a decision that will end your dog’s life. “Dog people” will know what I’m talking about, others will roll their eyes. Regardless, no matter how humane the decision to peacefully release your friend from the confines of pain and suffering, you never escape the guilt of “but maybe I could have done more.”

I found this poem on the web any years ago. It moved me then, but now of course it has a very special meaning.

Sweet dreams Molly. Thank you for all the happiness you brought to so many lives.


If it should be that I grow weak
And pain should keep me from my sleep,
Then you must do what must be done,
For this last battle cannot be won.

You will be sad, I understand.
Don’t let your grief then stay your hand.
For this day, more than all the rest,
Your love for me must stand the test.

We’ve had so many happy years.
What is to come can hold no fears.
You’d not want me to suffer so;
The time has come — please let me go.

Take me where my need they’ll tend,
And please stay with me til the end.
Hold me firm and speak to me,
Until my eyes no longer see.

I know in time that you will see
The kindness that you did for me.
Although my tail its last has waved,
From pain and suffering I’ve been saved.

Please do not grieve–it must be you
Who had this painful thing to do.
We’ve been so close, we two, these years;
Don’t let your heart hold back its tears.

Suiting Up for Adulthood

Our 13-year-old will dress like a man for the first time this weekend, when he attends his first dressy affair without us.

One of the things about having a “surprise baby” when you are near middle-age – especially if his brothers and sisters are way older – is that you don’t rush things as much. So last weekend, when we finally bought our 13-year-old his first dressy blazer at a “grown man” store, was a little bittersweet.

A few months back John grew out of his boys 18/20 Columbia jacket with the zip-out lining, the one that had seen him through sixth grade and the early part of summer camp. Last fall its sleeves began to creep north of his wristbones. We knew that its days were numbered. We bought him a man’s ski jacket – one that looked like a bigger version of his boys jacket — at a local sporting goods store back in February.

But the blazer was something different. We are informal people who don’t belong to dressy clubs or go to church regularly, and its rare when we need to dress to impress. In the past when John was smaller we were able to get him through most parties with a pair of chinos and a casual shirt. But John has a bar mitzvah this weekend, his first dressy party with his peers and without us, and we have a family wedding in September.

So it was time for the boy who lives in worn tee shirts and elastic-waist basketball shorts to discover the grownup pleasure and responsibility of dressing for an occasion.

The jacket we picked out was navy featherweight wool with dull gold buttons, not brassy like a ship captain’s coat; more subtle and classic. The dapper men who waited on us at the clothing store showed us how the blazer could harmonize with different dress shirts and ties. Our salesman Gary, cheerful despite a bleary-eyed weekend handing out hundreds of tuxes to prom-goers, plucked a light blue shirt and a navy and gold plaid tie from the shelves and slipped them under the jacket.

“This is what all the young guys are wearing to the weddings and bar mitzvahs,” Gary told us. The combination was perfect – polished but youthful, classic but versatile, the perfect foil for khaki pants and a sheepish teen smile.

John was between sizes, and while the size 35 short blazer fit him perfectly it didn’t allow for any growth spurts, which we were sure would come this summer. We chose the 36 regular, a little long in the torso, but a surer bet for September and maybe even freshman year of high school.

John wore these fake muscles when he went out for Halloween as “Battista,” a WWE wrestler.

So now the blazer and its accoutrements hang in John’s closet, above the box of his third-grade artwork and next to his Super Mario Halloween costume of a few years ago, a set of fake padded muscles from another Halloween, and a pair of slippers emblazoned with WWE wrestlers — all things John has outgrown. But we hang onto them anyway, even though we suspect that John is embarrassed by them now. It’s easier for us to imagine our son dwelling in that less complicated world than trolling YouTube for edgy videos or wondering how to ask a girl to dance at a dressy party.

This is our last child and every day he leaves childhood farther behind. The blazer is a reminder of the grownup years that await. This weekend, when our young man wears it for the first time, we’ll feel proud but a part of us will miss our little boy.

How to Win at Bingo

I always liked Bingo because it is totally based upon luck. One does not have to think strategically, or be smart, cunning and ruthless. I suck at Monopoly because it requires all of these things.

In Bingo you merely watch and listen for the rattling of the cage that delivers your fate to the metal cup. You toy with your chips, peer at your neighbors’ cards and take a breath just before the gray-haired church deacon calls the letter. Then another quick breath as you wait for the number. Your ears perk up after each sonorous call, waiting for a triumphant cry from some noodge in the far corner of the room. Each silence gives you a thrill of hope, allowing another rattling of the Bingo cage and yet another chance for victory.

The very randomness that makes Bingo so satisfying also makes it frustrating. In some games everybody else’s numbers are called except yours. The Bingo cards in front of you are as unpopulated as the Great Plains, while others’ cards are spangled with clear red chips as garish as a Times Square hooker. Or maybe you have finally have a row all filled up for the first time that evening, but this particular game requires four corners instead. It’s fair but unfair.

Haven’t played Bingo in years, but yesterday felt like one of those games. It was rainy, boring, lonely, frustrating. My card was empty. I was not busy enough and had far too much time to think, which for me quickly devolves into brooding. A year ago, when I was working at a job that I did not love and pulled in too many directions, I felt a different kind of stress. That felt like having your Bingo card covered with many chips, but nothing that would give you a win.

Yesterday I checked my email and Facebook every few seconds, watched the phone for the red message light, snacked on pretzels, halfheartedly puttered instead of focusing on what I really wanted to accomplish. I was waiting for other people to pull my number and make things happen for me. Big mistake, and one that I have made time and time again. A mistake that I’ve warned my kids never to make, yet I continue to make it myself.

But I managed to pull myself out of it by being proactive, making myself do things that I really didn’t want to do at first, just to overcome my inertia and get me rolling again. I called a housebound friend and made plans to take her to lunch. I finally mailed my daughter that book that I thought she would enjoy. I defrosted some chicken and found something creative to do with it for dinner. By the end of the day the sun was peeking out and I felt better.

And I realized that while both Bingo and life can be random, one can still maximize the chance of feeling on top of the game. Over time I’ve realized that I need these things :

B – Bed rest. If I don’t get enough of it I can’t function.  Do what you have to do to get it…get as physically tired as possible, avoid alcohol at dinner, give up watching “The Walking Dead” late at night.
I – Interests. It could be work, hobbies, anything that gives you great pleasure, or at least gives you something to accomplish.
N – Nutrition. Whatever works for you. For me it’s avoiding white bread, alcohol, sweets. Others give up gluten or red meat.
G – Getting out. If you don’t have a paid job to order your day, schedule other things – workouts, volunteer duties, a walk with a good friend, anything.
O – Others. Stay connected. If nobody’s calling you, call them. Make plans.

And finally – Free Space. If you’re busy it gives you some breathing room. If you’re not busy enough, it will make you restless and bored enough to brood a bit, wallow in self-pity then snap out of it and make things happen.

Thanks to All My Moms

My sister, my Mom Gloria and me, 1956

Happy Mothers Day to all of my readers, both mothers and those who are here because they had mothers. It is early on Mothers Day morning and my home is silent except for the cooing of a mourning dove, the clicking of my husband Bob’s keyboard and the occasional sound of coffee being sipped.

As most moms can attest, mothering is an inexact science. No formulas, algorithms or blueprints guarantee that you will get perfect results, whether you are a tiger mom, an indecisive free spirit, or somewhere in between. Over time you learn to accept that you will do an imperfect job, that sometimes you will nail it and the memories of other times will make you cringe. So forgive your mom for any shortcomings and fervently pray that your own children forgive you.

Mothers Day morning is the perfect time to reflect on the women who’ve inspired me with how they’ve mothered. Like fine art, motherhood is best learned by studying its practitioners – both their great works and their mistakes – then plunging in with courage and just doing it yourself.

Here are some the women in my gallery of great moms. I haven’t always been great at following their examples but I am still striving.

From my own beloved mom, Gloria, I learned the art of accepting people’s quirks. From the time we were little Mom has always told us, “there’s a touch of abnormality in all of us,” and time has only strengthened my conviction that she is right. She lived this credo herself…I once caught her vacuuming my house in her underwear (she was making this mundane task into an aerobic workout), and she’d often karate-chop her hips (to break up the fat) while waiting for the macaroni pot to boil. She also continues to blame the full moon for squabbling coworkers, rebellious teens, and sullen spouses, a coping habit I’ve picked up as well.

Mom also taught us the value of an open mind and open heart. When we were growing up we could tell her nearly everything. Whether we were facing an unrequited love, a mean girl in middle school,

Mom and me today

a backyard volleyball game with unevenly matched sides or other travails, Mom would always tell us that we were okay and life would eventually get better. From Mom we learned to take setbacks in stride and be optimistic. Not surprisingly, many of our friends with less open-minded parents confided in mom as well; I once found my high school boyfriend sharing his deepest secrets with Mom, before he shared them with me.

Mom also mastered the art of being resourceful with little money. She knew the location of every thrift shop, where we found clothes from Saks and Bonwit Teller at Kmart prices. The pasta e fagioli, spaghetti aglio e olio, and other peasant Italian dishes she made because it was all we could afford can now be had at top dollar at many chic restaurants.

Along with my own mom, I’ve been blessed with not one but two outstanding mothers-in-law. Ita, the first, was everything I wasn’t – tall, stately and reserved. A former shop-girl for Worth, a classy women’s boutique from long ago, she had exquisite taste in clothing, decorating and gardening. She looked fabulous even when she was out pulling weeds. She taught me the names and growing habits of dozens of flowers, and while she died several years ago I feel her presence whenever I am around a garden. Ita also taught me not to judge by appearances. It wasn’t until I got to know Ita that I realized that behind the carefully coiffed, Talbots catalog exterior was a very loving, kind woman who could keep a secret and accept people for who they are. Even after my first marriage ended we continued to stay close.

My second mother-in-law, Lois, is Ita’s polar opposite: petite, fiery, opinionated. Lois is a study in fierce advocacy and dogged persistence. She is a champion of the underdog, and if you happen to be one Lois is the one person you want on your side. My father-in-law is alive today despite a battle with cancer because Lois rode herd on his doctors. She knew everything that was on his charts and made sure the doctors and nurses did too.

My mother in law Lois and father in law Gene.

In a more lighthearted memory, Lois worked her unique brand of artistry on the host at El Torito, a Mexican restaurant near her California home. Seven of us went there for dinner one summer night, only to be told we had an hour’s wait unless we wanted to retire to the room where they were hosting a very noisy taco night. But a table with plenty of room for seven, at the window facing the ocean, was unoccupied. While my husband and I steamed angrily near the $1 taco tables, I glanced up and saw Lois getting in the host’s face, her mouth and hands moving expressively as she pointed several times to the table with the view. It was ours within a few minutes.

Another inspiration, my Aunt Theresa, never went to college but became a top advertising executive at a newspaper by working hard, trusting her instincts and being a straight shooter. She continues to inspire me every day. Mrs. O’Toole, a former neighbor, was a study in fearlessness. When her doctor told her she couldn’t travel anymore because of an illness, she told him “Who are you to tell me what to do with my body?” She died in Italy.

Mary, another neighbor, taught us that even single moms can raise outstanding kids. Mary was pregnant and left at the altar by her dirtbag boyfriend, a spineless cad whose parents talked him into abandoning her. Her illegitimate son eventually became a successful construction company owner, who in turn with his wife raised a Beverly Hills lawyer and other successful children.

All of these women had their imperfect moments, and I am sure they have all had regrets, just as I do. But they continue to inspire as moms and as human beings.  Happy Mothers Day!

Is It Ever OK to Look Your Age?

The unvarnished Hillary in Bangladesh.

Cable television, twitter and political web sites are abuzz with the news that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done the unthinkable: she went on a diplomatic visit to Bangladesh wearing casual hair and little makeup, looking every second of her 64 years.

I Googled this to see what all the fuss was about, and agree that Hillary appeared like she was going to a library trustee meeting instead of a summit with a head of state. But she still looks pretty damn good, and I’m sure she didn’t offend the Bangladeshi. You can see for yourself in the photo here. Contrast it with the other photo of Hillary as a senator in New York, where they’re less forgiving of unstylish people.

Hillary Clinton with the New York treatment.

As I sit here, wearing fading lipgloss, smudged Maybelline and drugstore moisturizer, I was wondering whether it will ever be OK to give up on the endless pursuit of youth and glamour and just look our age. Thank God I’m a nobody so I won’t end up on YouTube if I forget to wear eye shadow, which I do often. In our New England town nobody talks about you if you show up at the local convenience store or coffee shop in sweats, or if you have two inches of grey roots when you take the microphone at a zoning meeting. In fact, the au naturel Hillary would be considered pretty smart-looking here; and even smarter when she starts talking and you realize she has a brain.

But culturally we middle-aged women – and men, too — are still held to an impossibly high standard. We spend billions to keep grey hair, wrinkles and stomach flab at bay. We spend hours covering up and camouflaging before we can make an appearance before polite company. We go back and forth over whether to fight old age with everything we got – weight training, no carbs, expensive plastic surgery and face creams – or enjoy life and gracefully accept that ultimately we will lose a few battles with Father Time. Unlike Hillary, we don’t have to wrestle with these questions in front of ubiquitous, unforgiving cameras waiting to surreptitiously capture every wrinkle and sag.

So is there a happy medium between looking as youthful as our kids and looking decrepid? Between looking like you’re trying to hard and looking like you pulled the ripcord?

I think that age can and should be worn with great élan, like a great scarf or a vintage Chanel jacket. It helps to have great genes (like Helen Mirren and Audrey Hepburn), but confidence, intelligence and a sense of insouciance goes a long way to make up for that. It also helps to have an attitude that you have bigger things to do than fuss over your looks. I think Hillary has nailed it.

What do you think? Is it worth the fuss to look your absolute best every single day?  And for a hilariously funny point of view on the subject of Hillary’s fashion sense, visit one of my favorite blogs, Life In The Boomer Lane.

Turning on With Don (Draper)

Last night’s episode of “Mad Men” ended with Don Draper listening to The Beatles’ psychedelic stunner “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and feeling his soigné sixties self slip away.

Anyone remember when that song first came out, when Revolver was released? Were you an adult, a teen, a tween? Regardless of your age, didn’t listening to that song – which allegedly cost the Mad Men producers $250,000 to use – make you realize the world was changing?

If you were an adult whose life soundtrack was Connie Francis or The Vogues, you probably could sympathize in part with Don, listening mutely and realizing that he no longer had the cultural zeitgeist figured out. If you were a teenager or pre-teen accustomed to the adorable Beatles singing poppy, danceable songs, “Tomorrow Never Knows” might have made you a little uncomfortable, as much great art does. It was a huge departure for the Fab Four. Consider that “Rubber Soul,” the Beatles’ previous album, included accessible melodies like “Michelle” and “Drive My Car.” Revolver – and its haunting last track — made us realize that the mop-tops who sang “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” were so Yesterday.

Accompanied by John Lennon’s fuzzy, far-away vocals, sitar music, haunting drums and tracks played backwards, “Tomorrow Never Knows” came from the book “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert, and Ralph Metzner. The song signaled that the era’s most influential musical group was moving forward, dragging pop culture with them, and we had no choice but to follow or become irrelevant.

I think that Don must have been thinking this while he listened to the lyrics, sitar, drums and distortion. While he listens, the scene cuts from the 40-ish Don, to his 20-something second wife Megan lying on a stage (after quitting her comfortable advertising job earlier in the day to pursue the bohemian life of an actress), to Don’s coworker Peggy getting high in the office with hunky colleague Stan (When will those two get together???? My guess is when Stan grows his hair and gets rid of the striped shirts.)

Turn off your mind, relax and float down stream, Don! Or grab another hit from those bottles beckoning from your credenza.

While it’s been 46 years since the debut of Tomorrow Never Knows, its lyrics have a strange resonance for those of us struggling to tune out from the constant electronic disruptions of our plugged-in lives. Those lyrics are the perfect meditation for the rest of your day:

Turn off your mind relax and float down stream
It is not dying, it is not dying

Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void,
It is shining, it is shining.

Yet you may see the meaning of within
It is being, it is being

Love is all and love is everyone
It is knowing, it is knowing

And ignorance and hate mourn the dead
It is believing, it is believing

But listen to the colour of your dreams
It is not leaving, it is not leaving

So play the game “Existence” to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning