My mom adventures in Fort Collins


Special Edition of Library Book Hoarder: Children’s Books that deal with Pet Loss

In my writing, I try to tell stories with a sense of humor. Parenting small children does lend itself to some hilarious situations. Given the light-tone of the blog, it seems awkward to write such a downer of a post, but I would really love to share the information that I learned recently when we lost our dog.

Beamer (2000-2013)

Beamer (2000-2013)

To say we “lost” Beamer is not entirely accurate. We had the very profound experience of helping our dear dog pass peacefully. It was an uncomfortable but necessary decision, as euthanasia for an animal nearly always is. He was 13 1/2 and his quality of life had deteriorated; he was blind, nearly deaf, partially immobile and occasionally incontinent. But despite his age and all of his obvious health concerns, this was still a very difficult decision.

In many ways, I felt fortunate that we had the time to say goodbye to our dear pal. After my husband and I made the decision, we had a week to enjoy our dog and treat him to one last camping trip and lots of table-scraps. When the time came, the folks at Raintree Animal Hospital made the process as nice as they could. The staff was exceptional and the exam room was prepared with dim lighting to lend itself to a calm and comfortable atmosphere. Yet, it was awful. Both of us grown-ups were devastated. It’s heart-breaking to lose a beloved member of your family.

Despite our own grief, we were deeply nervous about our girls, ages 6 and 3. My heart sank for them. How will the kids do? What will this loss do to them? There are some helpful ideas on how to deal with grief and loss in an age-appropriate way. The Argus Institute at Colorado State offers some great resources here, and the essence is use accurate and literal language (like “die” as opposed to “put to sleep”) and honor the significance of the loss.

My kids enjoy a good book, and that can be a great way to introduce a topic. Here are six books that I read with my kids to initiate a dialogue about the loss of our dog.

1. The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend by Stan & Jan Berenstain–This is a story of the loss of their goldfish, and it’s a very sweet way of approaching the whole topic of pet loss.

loseafriend

2. Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant–This book is a lovely account of the life that awaits dogs after they die; they run, eat well, have fun and God treasures them. I will issue a warning, though: If Heaven and God are not topics you’ve already introduced to your children, this book might be a bit complicated.

dogheaven

3. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley–This book is definitely more about death and grief than pet-specific loss, but it’s such a well-told story. Badger is growing old and he knows he’ll soon go down the Long Tunnel. His friends learn of his death and spend time reflecting on many happy memories of Badger.

badgersparting

4. The Forever Dog by Bill Cochran–This book deals with the loss of a beloved pet from the perspective of the child as caretaker. For Mike, Corky is his dog, and he spends a great deal of his time training and caring for Corky. The two make a plan to be friends forever, but then Corky gets sick and dies. Mike’s mom is able to help him through his sadness.

foreverdog

5. Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas–This story is a tear-jerker, and I loved it. A little girl copes with the deteriorating health of her sweet dog Lulu, and is filled with sorrow upon her death. Ultimately, she mourns the loss, time passes and her wounds grow less painful but she will always have a special place in her heart for Lulu.

goodbyelulu

6. Jasper’s Day by Marjorie Blain Parker–Of all the books that we read together, this one was my own favorite. Perhaps it was a bit long and more appropriate for older kids, but it was the only one that we read that spoke about euthanasia. This book is entirely about the last day that a family has with their beloved Golden Retriever before the dad takes the dog to the vet.

jasper

To be honest, the kids are doing quite well, though the loss still comes up everyday in different ways. The other day, my older daughter struck up a conversation with a dogowner at the park and shared that we had recently lost our dog. I was really glad that she was able to express herself and share this news in a way that was honest and open. In time, I’ve no doubt we’ll adopt another dog, but for now we’re just living life and remembering the love we shared with this kind sweet dog.

All of the book jacket photos were copied from amazon.com. Please find any of these books at your local library.

If you have other suggested reading related to pet loss and children, I’d love to hear from you.



Library Book Hoarder: “Confessions of a Scary Mommy” by Jill Smokler

It has been ages since I did a book review. I read this book recently, and this puppy is begging for a review. Jill Smokler wrote this book to shed humor on the work that many of us do all day as (at least part-time) stay-at-home-moms.

From the scarymommy.com website

From the scarymommy.com website

At first glance, this book looks like a dozen others: A blogger (in this case, a mommy blogger) gets a following, then cashes in on a book deal to make the big money. But this book is a fast read and more humorous than your average day in the trenches. To be fair, I am not a follower of the Scary Mommy blog. For all I know, this book could be a regurgitation of her best blog posts. Each chapter is short and sweet and begins with the anonymous confessions that are synonymous with the Scary Mommy site.

This book is not parenting advice, and it’s not rich with inspiration, but it is a light bit of comedic commentary on the very difficult work of parenting. I didn’t love the author’s writing, and I don’t adore the premise that she bashes her children incessantly for a good laugh, but I do think that she’s onto something. Jill Smokler has pulled the spanx off motherhood and let it all hang out. And that’s okay by me.

Here’s the thing: this book is not pretty but it is authentic. It’s raw. It’s real. I didn’t understand this at first, but it is scary. I use the term “scary,” because it’s scary just how big the canyon is for some women between what motherhood IS and what they present motherhood AS. Motherhood as a pink-fluffy bunny lovey, a cute apron and fresh-baked brownies is amazing. Motherhood is the shrill cry when your kid realizes she left her pink-fluffy bunny lovey in the shopping cart. Motherhood is the apron always hanging on the hook instead of your body and your new shirt covered in Ragu. Motherhood is the fresh-baked brownies that the dog pulled off the counter while they were cooling, but you didn’t know this because you were needed to wipe a butt in the bathroom. The point, I think, that Jill Smokler is making is that this motherhood–the real motherhood–can also be amazing.

We don’t have to b.s. one another. It is freeing to admit that you love your dirty, obnoxious, germ-infested, skinny-jeans-despising life. I do! I know many women who do. I don’t have the answers, and I’d be (mostly) embarrassed to show you the goldfish cracker crumbles at the bottom of my purse, but I do love my kids, my life and my job as mom. But it is scary sometimes.

On a personal note, I am on a bit of a search for authenticity these days. I love my friends and I have so many good conversations with them. They support me and make me smile. I am filled with genuine love for them. Most of my friends live far away, so on a day-to-day search for communication, I have often depended on a social networking site. Essentially, I’ve been lazy. I’ve been lazy about communication, and it has been a challenging few years to feel satisfied with this type of communication. I read here why Facebook stinks. I agree with the article. While the overall idea of seeing photos and reading statements made by my friends and family members sounds delightful, I have found that this is rarely what happens. Instead of reading a close friend’s joyous news or the riveting article someone linked to, I’m struck by my friend-from-summer-camp’s revelation that her bridal gown is going to be two sizes too big, or the link to a zoo animal in need of donations. I waste a ton of time, I rarely communicate with anyone in any significant way,  and I wind up feeling less connected as a result. I am, admittedly, not using this site correctly. I have no “groups” and I have very few filters.  I feel like when I’ve asked this site to “hide posts from so-and-so” it hasn’t worked well enough. If my gun-toting cousin from back home posts a political cartoon bordering on xenophobic, I see it. And I get annoyed.  But I keep coming back like the vicious zit of a large-pored ‘tween.

This book has opened a door to me. If we equate the type of “scary” that Jill Smokler is talking about to being “honest” or “real” or even “raw,” then let’s embrace scary. Being “scary” might be abrasive to some, but it’s as comforting to me as a warm cup of tea in my hand. I wish all of my “friends” on Facebook were big ol’ scary people. Can someone break off and create a new social networking site that would only allow scary people who make scary comments and have scary photos? Because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have to read about your genius kid hitting the potty-training boot camp with the fervor of a rodent on a wheel. Scary people don’t rave about potty training. Ever.

To me, a bit of authenticity is worth a bucket of love. I don’t see Jill Smokler’s book as a major revelation in real-life parenting, and I’m sure she wrote it knowing she wouldn’t be in the running for a Pulitzer. But I do see it as a significant breath of fresh air. It is also a comforting, humorous look into the life you already lead but aren’t always willing to admit: The Scary Life.



Quick Thought: Queen Bees and Wannabees

I am finally reading “Queen Bees and Wannabees” by Rosalind Wiseman. You know the book, it’s a non-fiction account of Girl World, written by a woman who started an empowerment program in the nineties. She did workshops all-over with adolescent girls and her book is essentially a sociology experiment (anthropology experiment??): Cliques, social hierarchy, bullying, etc.

I’ve only just begun, but I had this thought: It gets better.

You know the Dan Savage program out there for gay adolescents? Well, really, maybe we could extend the same message to all adolescents.

I am only 35 pages into this blessed book, and already I’m having flashbacks to my own awkward middle school years, where I started out a petite girl (I remember wearing size 3 pants) and left in eight grade at my present height (5’9″) and weighed 135-140 lbs. That’s saying nothing about the friend drama, only the body trauma.

Sometime soon, I will have to write letters to my own daughters for them to open upon the beginning of fifth grade. It will start with the line, “Before you roll your eyes…”

Image



Library Book Hoarder: Cinderella Ate My Daughter
March 11, 2012, 11:55 pm
Filed under: Library book hoarder | Tags: ,

As the title would imply, we’ve got ourselves a non-fiction account of how fiction is taking over our girls’ girlhoods. Marketing Disney princesses, the “pink-i-fying” of everything from legos to NFL jerseys, mani-pedis for the pre-school set, spray tans and veneers for toddler beauty pagents, and on and on.

From google

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the new Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein is a New York Times bestseller. I have not read any of the author’s previous work, but I want to now that I’ve read this. In this book she’s very honest. You get the impression that though she’s got degrees, tons of research and experience to back her up, she is just the mom of a little girl who is trying to figure out how to be intentional in her parenting choices, and trying to teach her daughter how to find a balance between femininity and feminism.

I was impressed with the pure breadth of the subject matter. From Disney princesses to Barbie and Bratz dolls, American Girls to Riot Grrls, from internet and social networking to tween-queen Hannah Montana (or, at least she used to be our tween queen. Poor Miley…), from Wonder Woman to Twilight, I felt like the author really knew her stuff.

In addition to being honest and comprehensive, the author is also fair in this book. In one chapter, she takes a look at the Toddlers & Tiaras crowd, and comes down firmly on the side of “I don’t know.” As she points out, it’s easy to say you would never tart up your pre-schooler and teach her how to sparkle for the judges. But these families are so much more than that. But as we all know, it’s a slippery slope. For her own family, the author decides she disapproves of Bratz dolls but will give in to Polly Pocket dolls. I love that she is just as conflicted about this current trend toward girlie-girlification as the rest of us. Her anecdote about buying her daughter, Daisy, a Barbie doll in the Target (after repeatedly saying no) is an absolute testament to the kind of writer that she is. Tell it like it is, Ms. Orenstein. Preach it. I’m as confused as you are and I’ve never taken a women’s studies class in my life.

I learned a lot from this book. For one, gender differences are normal, natural, and inevitable. She talks about a study in which even female monkeys prefer to play with dolls and kitchenware. To deny your daughter the right to feminize her playthings is silly. However, I also learned (or rather, felt vindicated) with the fact that it’s completely appropriate to question the commodification of darn near everything. Interestingly, she makes the point that people like Selena Gomez (and before her Miley Cyrus, and before that Britney Spears, and on and on) are selling people on their virginity. The whole “I’m-just-a-girl-and-if-people-want-to-make-me-into-something-far-less-innocent-and-far-more-objectifiable-then-that’s-their-problem” schtick gets old, does it not? And then, when they willingly try to take things to the next level (as an aging teen celeb is apt to do), it’s met with a quandary: “WAAAAITTT a second! My daughter really loves you! How do I tell her that now it’s okay for you to have sex?” No wonder none of these tween-queens have transitioned very well. Good luck, Selena!

I left the book wanting more. There is so much to learn as a parent. Technology is my biggest fear. As the author points out, we’re well attuned to predators who go trolling for the naïve schoolgirl. What we’re not necessarily looking for is the cyber bullying that goes on amongst girls. (And yes, it’s mainly girls who use the social networking sites, and mainly boys who are the “gamers.”) The author was just scratching the surface on social networking. Maybe she’s working on the follow up?

Verdict: Thought provoking read that was both well-written and engaging (I’d say it was “fun,” but I don’t know how girlie-girl I’d sound if I called it that.) I love the author’s sharp wit.



Library Book Hoarder: Three books to enjoy with your kids

Quick note: Since my test audience (a.k.a. my kids) are ages 4 and 2, I’d describe all three of these books as being pre-school age appropriate.

A Collection of Six Carl Stories (image from amazon.com)

You’re a Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day

For Christmas this year, my brother sent my girls the Good Dog Carl collection. This was after we had kept the borrowed library book for the maximum 9 weeks. Back when Scout was just a baby, we were given the original Good Dog, Carl by a neighbor.  You can see, my love affair with Carl goes way back.

Alexandra Day is the author and illustrator. I say author, but if you know Carl books, you realize that this is kind of a misnomer: Carl books are nearly completely free of narration. I say illustrator, but she actually paints from elaborate photos that she sets up to inspire the scenes she creates for her books. Carl books are filled with the most wonderful illustrations of a Rottweiler taking care of a baby (and alternatively a toddler) while the mother is out. It sounds hokey and weird, but it’s not. Reading a Carl book with your kids is giving them the gift of telling YOU the story. The kids can discover things from the illustrations (sometimes with your help, but often times without). This collection has six awesome books in it, and I love them all. (So do the kids!) Carl Goes to Preschool is a good one, but there’s also Carl’s Masquerade. The illustrations are so fantastic in Carl’s Masquerade, with a room full of costumed party-goers. You will have fun asking your child to describe each person’s costume.

If you have never read any Carl books, then get yourself to the library. Start with any book, there are many. Some do come in board book versions, if that is something that you prefer. Be surprised at your child’s attention span with these books. Likewise, if you are a dog lover, enjoy discovering Carl’s antics. Where is my Carl? My dog does do well with the kids, but I’ve never seen him turn on music to entertain them.

Verdict: Storytelling through gorgeous illustrations works for me

Image from Amazon.com

Sofia’s Dream written by Land Wilson and illustrations by Sue Cornelison

This was another one that we discovered from the library and then put on our Christmas list. I’m just going to warn you that this book has a “liberal agenda,” kinda like the Lorax. Sofia is a little girl that talks to the moon, and eventually dreams a dream that takes her up to the moon. There, the moon confides in her the fears he has about our planet. Sofia learns that she must care for the earth. The illustrations are lovely and they do give a dreamy feel to this book about a dream. The words rhyme and the story has a cadence that I enjoy. For me, the best part is talking to my kids about their dreams and asking them if they’ll dream a dream that takes them to the moon tonight. Plus, at the end of the book there is a page about how this book minimized its carbon footprint. Little Pickle Press is the publisher.

Verdict: This dreamy tale with a message is fun to read and look at

Image from Amazon.com

But Who Will Bell the Cats? By Cynthia von Buhler

This was a recent discovery for us. We brought it home from the library a few weeks ago, and I didn’t even look at it when Scout picked it out. Once we read it, I knew it was special. These illustrations are unlike any that I’ve ever seen. It’s clear there’s some photography involved, as well as some drawing. I can’t say for sure, but my guess is that the author and illustrator set up scenes in a doll-house or something like it, and then put her drawings in the scenes like little paperdolls, and THEN took the picture. These are seriously inventive scenes. The story begins with a retelling of Aesop’s fable which you can read more about here. From there on, it’s two parallel stories: the spoiled, fat cats living the life with their princess in the castle, and the sad, pathetic mouse and his friend the brown bat living a life of cold, dank unpleasantness in the basement. But in the end, someone does bell the cats!

Verdict: Imaginative illustrations get me every time—I loved it so much I broke my lenten resolution not to buy something, and bought two of these books on Amazon



Library book hoarder: “The Book of New Family Traditions”
February 12, 2012, 5:36 am
Filed under: Library book hoarder, Parenting | Tags: , ,

A self-professed book hoarder, I hope to actually read a few of the dozens of books I haul home from the library. Occasionally, I am successful. But that’s not always the case. I’ve had this particular book on loan since before Christmas.

The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday by Meg Cox (2003)

The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox is a great resource. Wonderful ideas that pertain to holidays, but plenty of other occasions as well.

I will fess up that I did not read the book cover to cover. However, this is the kind of book that does just fine as a resource manual: find a chapter or topic that interests you, or flip through willy-nilly. The author spends a bit of time early in the book distinguishing “ritual” from “tradition.” Most of her coverage is of rituals. Also included are some fun anecdotal family stories.

I liked:

  • One of the Thanksgiving ideas–a family had a special tablecloth that they used each year for the holiday, and every year each person at the table would sign the tablecloth in pen. Afterwards, the mom would embroider over the name. To commemorate each year she used a different color thread. The tablecloth then became a “visual history” (as the author calls it) of the holiday.
  • Lots of unconventional holiday ideas and various dates to celebrate–celebrate A.A. Milne’s birthday, the first day of Spring, May Day, Arbor Day, back-to-school night
  • Rituals for everyday occasions–Making a big deal out of losing a tooth, bedtime rituals, picking a night each week for the kids to pick the menu and plan the meal (cooking and preparing as is age-appropriate)

What I didn’t like:

  • The problem with any book like this is that you’ll feel like a total slacker. Don’t. So many rituals, so little time. If I utilize just one of these awesome ideas, I’ll consider myself a huge success.
  • The book isn’t super flashy, which is fine, but it’s brevity is a bit boring. So, in my opinion, if you’re going to go light on text, um, maybe spice it up with some fun photos?
  • Also: who are these families? The Vogts of Kentucky have family “Social Justice Night.” The author suggests that families make a homework ritual of announcing a “Country of the Week” to learn about on Sunday nights.  The Tabors of Illinois make grave rubbings every Halloween at a nearby cemetary.

But, I always say that there aren’t enough rituals in our culture. One of the main reasons that I had my girls baptized had nothing to do with religion, but it was to do with the lovely ritual of “welcoming” these kiddos to the world, to the community. I like rituals, and since I’m not a big planner a book like this is helpful to get me thinking about all the things I could be doing.

Verdict: This book is good fun.