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Monday, September 21, 2015

What my dead dog taught me about therapy

My sister Emily regularly suggests I go to a therapist.

Before Chester, I may have entertained the thought. But rarely since.

Go to a therapist?” I now counter. “I shoulda been a therapist.”

I love hearing the intimate details of people’s lives and invalidating the distorted views they have of themselves. I delight in learning that my amateur advice saved a soul, solved a problem or empowered a change. I can listen to the sordid details of other people’s lives for hours on end and never get bored.  

I have friends who tell me that my opinions carry more credence than those for which they pay $150 an hour, mere acquaintances who have unburdened their bursting consciences and perfect strangers who have unleashed lifelong secrets over far less than a bottle of wine.  

People talk to me. They think I am perceptive. They know I am honest. And they admire my strong moral compass. But, I don’t know anything the rest of the world doesn’t know.

I just base all my worldly wisdom on three little things:

Respect yourself. Be kind. And don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

Now, I’m no Patron Saint of Simple Solutions when it comes to my own life. It took me until I was well over 50 years-old to stop disrespecting my body. I let a bully posing as a friend continually tear my heart apart for a good dozen years. And I’ve spent a lifetime tossing barbs around solely for the sake of soliciting a chuckle.

However, I fully understand all of my issues. I am probably the most self-aware human on the planet. I lay my life out on the line, exposing my quirks loudly and proudly before someone does it for me. There’s not an action I take that I don’t analyze. A word spoken that I don’t rehash. A mistake I don’t apologize for. I am acutely aware of why I do what I do. Why I don’t do what I should. And exactly which not-so-traumatic childhood events molded me into the weirdo I am today.

There's nothing a therapist can tell me that I don't already know.

Our first dog, Chester, was in desperate need of a therapist.

He was a rescue dog who wagged his tail warmly within the confines of his cage, and as so many are trained to do, hid his true colors until we had signed the papers, sealing the deal that made him irrevocably our own.

He loved to bare his teeth and scare young children, unsuspecting adults and friendly mailmen. He was unpredictable. Untrustworthy. And unlovable.

At least by me.

I tried to get rid of him, I really did. But returning a dog to a shelter is a whole lot more complicated than taking back bath towels to Target. The mere utterance of canine contempt sends animal rights advocates swooping in, making you feel like you committed, rather than just contemplated, full-fledged cruelty, thereby nixing any remote thought of returning to the pre-pet happiness you once knew.

“Would you get rid of a child just because you didn’t like it?”

Uh, yeah. If I coulda. I woulda.

Instead, I called Donald the Dog Trainer to deal with Chester’s aggression issues. Six weeks, several boxes of biscuits and hundreds of dollars later, I was informed that there was absolutely nothing wrong with my dog.

It was me.

The dog was simply following my lead. Reacting to my reactions. Trying to love and protect me. I was confusing the animal. Ruining his life. All I had to do was change my behavior and everything would be just fine.

I am ever-so-aware of my liabilities. I share my shortcomings. I advertise my inadequacies. I take ownership of my failures. But, I didn't raise this stinkin' dog. I adopted him halfway through his adulthood. Could it really be MY fault?

Chester is long dead and we've moved on to Griffey, who is crazier, but cuddlier. The kids are all pretty well launched and our house is calm and quiet.

It would be a perfect time to reconsider my stance on therapy.

But then I got to thinking about the dear, dead dog.

And that's when I had the palm-slapping-forehead moment. 

Uh, duh. Of course it was my fault.

It's always the mother's fault.

Even when the dog's got bigger issues than the both of you.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Toothless, Chinless and My Daughter's Future Husband

I promised Penny (aka Patty) that I’d find her a husband if she'd only bite the bullet and book another vacation.

I really thought we were in this cruise-or-two-a-year thing for life, but she was balking (some nonsense about work and money and leaving her dog, three things that would never, ever deter me from doing anything). Once she conceded, I convinced her that she'd be more likely to find love on a Norwegian Cruise Line jaunt to Bermuda than on a third-consecutive trip to the Caribbean on Carnival Cruise lines.

It all began forty-some years ago when Penny showed up at Springfield High School, as a short-skirted, exotic-looking, adventure-seeking Catholic School transfer. Despite my jock-loving, Lacoste-wearing, country club WASP-ishness, we successfully wove our way into each others' worlds.

After college we were inseparable, sharing season tickets to the Phillies, tiny staterooms on massive cruise ships and lopsided bar stools at the local Fireside Inn. Penny tried her best to guide me in the ways of love, encouraging a little more cleavage, a little more liquor and a lot less rules. And then, still nowhere near married, she up and left for Florida leaving me floundering behind while she became a reputable member of society.

Penny is the most creative person I know. She is smart and stylish and pretty and personable. Sadly, she got saddled with a not-so-smart or stylish or pretty or personable spouse. But we eventually got rid of him so we could become traveling companions again.

We had absolutely no trouble meeting men aboard the Love Boat last week. 

The first handsome gent we met was Ken. He was a seasoned cruiser who split his time between Long Island and Charlotte and shared our common interest in baseball – with his wife Betty. Betty also was fun and friendly and it was immediately clear that theirs was an impenetrable marriage. 

Next came Dave. We met him up on the top deck as we passed the Statue of Liberty, pulling out of New York Harbor. He engaged us in conversation but had no interest in a real engagement. He was on the ship on a casino scholarship along with his lady friend (another Patty), who got to zip around in a motor-coach since she was recovering from back surgery. 

Will from New Rochelle was a nice guy. But then again, so was his wife Michele. And their two daughters were way too cute to contend with.

After announcing to our room steward that we needed to find Penny a husband, and preferably not a crew member, we took to our beds, exhausted from day one of our search.

The next morning, we spotted the perfect companion. His name was Steve and he was handsome, fit, tan and a retired NYC police captain. He even sent a private investigator over to our lounge chairs to find out what our story was. 

"Are they married? Where are their husbands? You mean the one who is married is allowed to travel without her husband?" 

Sadly, the private investigator was his adorable wife of 31 years. Steve and Mel became our very favorite friends. So, that nipped that romance in the bud.

We met Zeke (aka Michael) as we boarded a Rum Swizzle Harbor Cruise while in port in Bermuda. He had a kind face, a nice mustache and listened to us when we talked. He was on his first cruise. With Julie. Who was not only pretty and blond, but befriendable. They were staying in one of those fancy rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that oozed champagne and chocolate-covered strawberry romance. We weren't going to get too far with that.

Jim was perfect. He was a lawyer from New York who had no trouble keeping up with our banter. And banter we did. We bantered back and forth until he mentioned the word “girlfriend” more times than we could count. I assured him that he could dump said girlfriend for Penny, but when she showed up at the bar, young, pretty and glowering, we knew we it wasn’t going to happen.

And then we met Chinless. But first we met Toothless.

Toothless had one long tooth. Just one. He wore a John Deere baseball cap and announced that he could never, ever go on a cruise without his old lady by his side. She was his anchor, his compass, the one who told him what to do and when to do it.

“Have another drink, Hon.”

Chinless was a good-looking guy, but for the lack of a strong jaw bone. He drank Bud Light’s in blue aluminum bottles and unleashed his sordid story with pride. He had multiple children and had multiple affairs. He spoke of his multi-million dollar businesses, offering Penny some priceless advice.

"You want a guy? Wear a ring. I would never go for a woman without a wedding ring. Ringless screams, 'I'm desperate!'"

And so, Penny became Ringless and he was dubbed Chinless.

While docked in Bermuda, we visited the town of Hamilton for an authentic Dark & Stormy (or three) at a pub called the Pickled Onion. While Penny befriended a pink-shorted lad to her left, I pounced upon the cutest boy I'd ever seen (except of course for my own ever-loving spouse). 

When he told me he was twenty-three years-old, I immediately tossed Penny to the curb and started looking out for my own best interests.

“Would you marry my daughter?” I asked, in all sincerity.

He agreed. And I swooned when he messaged her with the proposal.

I know it's going to work out. Even though he lives in a different country.

Well, Penny didn't meet the love of her life, nor did she meet her next ex-husband. But I have no doubt that she will one day find love again. And when she does, I plan to be there to make sure it's someone who is as accepting of me as he is of our vacations without him.