When mom died the family dynamics shifted. No one visited, except for the memorial. I was left alone to sort her stuff, pay the taxes and bills, and figure out what to do with her ashes. It was a lonely year. My brother and I were grieving. We talked, but it was hard. Then we had trouble getting organized to bury the ashes. I also felt as if my son had distanced himself. He was busy with work, music, and is in a committed relationship.
The crazy glue, the mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, had left us, and over the past year we each had to discover a new paradigm of behavior in the family. Slowly things began to shift.
In late March, a month before our trip to California, son’s girlfriend texted me a photo and said, “Here’s your new grand baby.” A puppy…yippee. Not exactly the species I was hoping for. But I recognized it for what it was…a connecting point. They invited us to bring Taz and meet the grand-dog and go to the dog park. First we had the California trip, but last Saturday we went to Seattle to meet Dio, a five-month-old border collie/golden retriever mix.
Son has trained Dio to sit at the end of hallway and wait until he calls him. He rolls over on command, sits, lies down, and waits patiently for a treat set down an inch from his nose. He’s crate-trained, the only way you could have what will be a 70-pound dog in a small apartment. Dio rings a bell to go out to pee. They take him for daily walks and to the dog park twice a week. They are also looking for a house with a yard.
The dog park is a nine-acre off-leash complex on Lake Washington where dogs run free, chase frisbees and each other, and hobnob with new pals. A 25-foot wide fenced lane (dog freeway) leads to the dog beach. Owners amble, while dogs sniff, visit and chase each other. It’s a blast. At the beach, water dogs chase frisbees and balls in the water. The other dogs cavort on the beach. Owners sit on benches or stand, as if watching their preschooler at a playground. It’s not a whole lot different.
Taz is crazy and fun, but more mature now. She’s friendly and well-socialized. If a dog annoys her, she moves on. She doesn’t annoy other dogs. And puppies, well, they aren’t that interesting. And Dio was, guess what,…acting like a puppy. Son said Dio was being a jerk. I said he has high expectations, since his dog is already better trained than Taz. I can’t imagine her waiting anywhere for anything unless she was chained to a post.
“He just has to grow up a bit,” I said. “You’ve done a great job training him.”
But J said we should leave the beach because Dio was misbehaving. A lot like a cranky preschooler. And son was setting good boundaries. I didn’t remind him how he used to act when I took him to the playground when he was a preschooler. We began the trek back to the car.
As we walked Taz engaged Dio, who had been preoccupied chasing and annoying other dogs. Tas is fast and agile and ran in great arcs, never allowing Dio to catch her. When he got close, she jumped over and around him. He would land flat-faced in the dirt and skid to stops narrowly missing Taz. It was clear she was teasing and teaching. Finally, he surrendered and rolled on his back in submission.
We cheered and son said, “Good job, Taz.” He was happy to see her teaching him.
We went to lunch, the dogs played more at the apartment and we took photos. It was a great afternoon. A connecting point.
While in California my big brother gave me an art lesson. That might sound like a small thing, but brother has been an artist for 50 years and he teaches art. I’ve never asked for a lesson and he didn’t know I was interested. But recently I had a lesson with a friend. I wanted more.
The last morning we were there, my brother brought out his paints and some paper and taught me to mix water colors–Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, New Gamboge, and Burnt Sienna (the primary colors, red, blue, yellow, and a brown). He said those colors are all I need to get started. He showed me what brand to buy and where. He showed me how to make color swatches and how to practice mixing the colors.
And, he gave me one of his paintbrushes. I felt like a little girl again–the same feeling as when he first introduced me to jazz music–Louie Prima, Dave Brubeck, Ella and others. It was just me and my big brother sharing his love of art or music with me. A connecting point.
A few nights ago I practiced mixing color. I ended up with six different shades of dirty brown and orange. It’s harder than it looks. But I have beginner’s mind … and my brother, a feeling I had missed for a long time. We were both sad when we parted at their house in California. But something had shifted. Now I can call and ask him how to mix watercolors. Or talk to him about politics, or a myriad of other things, rather than recount the latest drama with mom.
The connecting points have always been there, with my son and my brother, but when everything changed, everything changed. I wasn’t sure how or where to connect. It’s possible that the connection never left, but it has been transformed. Our clan never fit the pictures of an intact clan, but it’s not fractured, as mom used to say and I believed. It’s not like the clans where the three children and eight grandchildren gather to visit grammy and grandpa and then the next day 142 photos go up on Facebook. But it’s my clan. And I am connected.