sins of the mother

me todayI am fat. Yes, you read that correctly, and yes, I really said that F-word. I am not being self-deprecating, and I’m not a victim of poor body image. Actually, I’m not a victim, period. By any measure, on any scale, I am fat. I could rationalize it for you, explain all the reasons I may have ended up a fat person, but frankly, it would feel like making excuses, which carries its own kind of shame, so I am confining myself to the simple declaration: I am fat.

I haven’t always been fat. As a child, I was thin to a point that caused my parents some consternation—for me and for themselves. They worried that I might be ill, and that strangers might think my parents were neglecting me. Of course, neither was the case. But at puberty, everything changed. I started to gain weight—and embarked on the single most body-, heart-, and soul-crushing struggle of my life. Make no mistake—there have been periods during my adult life, too, where I have not been fat. Every few years, I’ll decide that I’m up to experiencing that special combination of joy and misery that comes with any effort to lose weight. Inevitably, though, I return to being fat.

Here is what I am not: I am not lazy. I routinely work 10, 12, 16 hour days, not because I have to, but because I enjoy my work. I rarely sleep more than four or five hours in a night. I am not self-centered. I take care of my four dogs and my cat, my sister, and my dad (when he’ll let me). I look out for and support my friends and my colleagues. My sense of responsibility and loyalty demands it. I am not needy. I try to be as self-sufficient as I can possibly be, and prefer not to ask for help if I can avoid it.

I do not make myself a priority. I do not eat a healthy diet. I do not exercise regularly (at least not on purpose). I do not complain when I am in pain or feeling sick. I do not take vacations regularly. I do, however, put a tremendous amount of effort into ensuring that my failings do not affect or are not visited upon those I care about.

And that’s why I am worried about Achilles. Over the past few months, he has gained weight. He’s not a small dog, but until recently, he has always been rather lean. Now he’s starting to look more round.

I feel compelled to stop here and explain my history with this dog. He was born feral—I seem to have a penchant for the type—and was brought to the local Humane Society as a pup. He was adopted twice, and returned, twice, through no fault of his own. When I met him for the first time, he had given up on people. In a last-ditch effort to find him a forever home, his foster mom showed him as pet of the week on the local morning news show.

Guess who happened to be watching that day. There he was with that beautiful hound face and those haunted eyes. Days later, I could not get him out of my mind. My heart told me that if I did not take him, he would never be adopted. So I made an appointment to meet Achilles.

His foster mom warned me about his lack of trust. “Don’t be hurt if you can’t touch him at first,” she said. “He’s extremely shy, and he’s lost everyone he has ever loved.” She explained that she would have him on a leash when we arrived to help him feel calm and safe, and to prevent him from hiding under the bed the entire visit. When offer in compromise Debbie and I arrived, Achilles was sitting on the couch next to his foster mom. After introductions and small talk, she invited me to sit next to her, so that Achilles would be between us. I admit it—I was nervous. I wanted him toknow that if he put his trust in me, he would never, ever have to worry about seeing the inside of an animal shelter again. He’d never have to wonder if he mattered to someone. He’d never have to be afraid of being alone.

So I sat next to him, almost gingerly, and resisted the impulse to reach out to him (fingers curled under to resemble a paw, of course). I settled in my spot and almost immediately, Achilles lay his head in my lap. Only then did I rest my hand gently on his side and run my fingers over his silky fur. I think I breathed, but frankly, I don’t remember. I am pretty sure I teared up, and I know I smiled and looked at Debbie, whose smirk said, “Oh yeah, he’s coming home with us,” as surely as if she’d spoken the words aloud.

Two beings who both craved and feared connection had found each other. You may need to know that your spouse or partner is close by so that you can rest comfortably. I find that same solace in Achilles. I usually fall asleep to the pressure of his head pressed against my shoulder and the sound of his gentle snoring. We keep each other grounded, give each other purpose.

This weight gain is worrying me. I watch him walk to be sure he isn’t in any pain. I feed him super-premium dog food (and very few treats) to ensure his diet is nutritionally sound. I check his skin for rashes. I hold his face in my hands and look into his eyes. Are they bright? Interested? Mostly, though, I am terrified that I have somehow caused this weight gain. That I have somehow managed to make my dog suffer for my sins. That I’ve transferred my fatness to someone who is as important to me as any human I know. And I think constantly about how I’m going to rectify this wrong.

First step: we’re going to the vet. Zach had thyroid issues, so maybe that’s what’s wrong. Right now, I just don’t know—and frankly, that’s what’s so scary. But I’ll tell the vet the same thing I always do: “If it’s fixable, I want it fixed. Whatever it takes.”


Portions of this post originally appeared in another blog of mine. At the time, I wasn’t able to push through to the real story I wanted to tell. With a little more time, however, I think I’ve been able to make the true point I had originally intended.

Westminster is coming in about a month, and as always, I’m pretty excited. I love to watch every year—my favorite groups are the hounds and the terriers. I was over the moon a few years back when Rufus, a colored Bull Terrier, won best in show. Beyond seeing the dogs themselves, I enjoy hearing about each breed: its temperament, disposition, origins. cheap costume Jewelry But by far, the tidbit that always makes me smile is when I learn that pirater un compte facebook the dog is part of a family. That it is loved in a way that is similar to how mine are loved, and that it isn’t being used as some testament to taste or affluence, as I suspect some are

This year in particular, though, I’ve been nagged by memories of an encounter I had with an awful woman at a dog show in Denver, Colorado, about 10 years ago. I can’t remember the breed that was showing at the time, but I do remember this woman saying that she believed all mixed breed dogs should be euthanized, simply because they were mixed breeds. Their existence was an affront to purebred dogs and their owners.

I remember having one of those moments that you hear psychologists and profilers talk about occurring in sociopaths, where they struggle to mimic normal human emotional response to a given situation. I think my eyes widened for a moment, and then I tried movies to arrange my features in a reasonable façade of impartiality. That’s because the only other buy website traffic emotion I could tap into was blind rage, and I knew that nothing good could come from that. Alas, my efforts must have been a dismal failure, because my partner riot points generator no download prescription drug coverage at the time took one look at me and hustled me away before I said or did something regrettable

Looking back, I mostly feel sad for that woman. I mean, I still wouldn’t mind smacking her around, but the truth is that she simply has no idea what she has missed. Every dog I’ve ever had has been a rescue, which means that almost all of them have been mutts. And what complete and utter joy they have brought to my life. Sometimes I catch myself just looking at them, and it feels as if my heart literally swells with gratitude. What could possibly be gained from killing someone who offers only themselves, and who asks for so little in return. I always come to the same conclusion: I don’t get it.

I think the root of the issue is this thing I have about elitism. Call it irrational. Call it absurd. Call it, well, elitist. But I cannot fathom how someone could arrive at the conclusion that a job, education, neighborhood, car, clothes, music or reading preferences—or the dog they own—makes them inherently superior to others. I can’t figure out whether inherent or superior are the key terms, here. A person may be born into a life of privilege, but philosophically speaking, that doesn’t make her life any more valuable, her pursuits any more admirable or worthy, or her viewpoint any more relevant or true. Value, worthiness, honesty: these principles are not the exclusive birthright of the wealthy, and possessing wealth does not imbue you with, well, anything. It just means you can buy more stuff.

I remember reading recently about a world-renowned heart surgeon at the ECU Brody School of Medicine who turned down an offer from Harvard to stay at ECU. Harvard! For ECU? I know! So, a cardiac surgeon can earn an international reputation for his skill and expertise, all the way from rural eastern North Carolina. But the only way you can prove your discerning sense of taste is to buy a $2,000 dog. Right. Makes perfect sense.

I am sure that my proclivity for hating pretension is rooted in my geographical heritage. I enjoy the distinct privilege of living in the South. As a native Southerner, when I set foot outside the region, I’m automatically on the defensive, even if I don’t intend to be.  A lot of times, I’m seen as a rube. I’m met with (very) poor imitations of a Southern accent, and (I essay writer can’t help but roll my eyes here) the inevitable misuse of “y’all.” It’s plural, people. Get it straight

These feeble attempts at humor belie their disdain. Let’s face it, anyone of poise, affluence, and—here’s that word again—taste knows that being Southern makes a person less-than. Less than what? Less than intelligent, less than worldly, less than cultured, I suppose. What’s worse, though, are the Southerners who believe it. Their feeble attempts at humor belie their shame. They’re quick to reassure everyone that they’ve “escaped.” And they’ve put tremendous effort into stripping away any vestiges of their Southern-ness. I can spot them easily, though. All I have to do is watch for the person who laughs the loudest at the use of terms like “redneck” buy valium or “hick” or “hillbilly,” and who can’t wait to change the subject when someone asks, “Where did you grow up?”

I find the whole pathetic spectacle of it to be similar to reactions I’ve witnessed from people I have known who would not be caught dead at the local Human Society or SPCA shelter. For them, adopting a shelter dog is not an act of compassion; it is a testament to their lack of means. My God, you don’t want anyone to think you’re poor or, worse, gauche! Beautiful dogs, with open hearts. That’s not good enough for you? The color is not uniform enough? The head shape isn’t symmetrical enough? I feel angry; I feel nauseous. And when I see this point of view in people that I don’t hate? There is this tiny voice inside me, even if I care about a person, that whispers, “Something in you is not good.”

I may as well go ahead and confess that on top of being Southern, I am 100 percent pure blue collar. One generation between me and farm hands and day laborers. We know from hard work, though. I am proud of this heritage. My dad started working to help support his family when he was nine years old. Nine! My mom was only a few years older when she did the same. And me? I’ve never had to support anyone but myself. My parents made sure of that. They also made sure that I was the first person in my entire family, either side, to go to college, by paying the entire cost out of pocket.

They also taught me that the measure of a person is not in how much money they have in the bank. In my family, a person of pedigree is someone who lends a hand without expecting to be repaid. Who values sincerity and honesty over affectation and artifice. Who is willing to make a sacrifice for the greater good. I remember years ago when my dad took my hand, laying my open palm on top of his. His callused and worn from a lifetime of hard work. Mine soft and unblemished. He looked at them for a moment. I waited. Then he said, “You see that? My hands look like this because I don’t ever want yours to look that way.” Now, if that’s not a man among men—the very definition of elite—I don’t know what is.

Whenever someone talks about privilege, it is this incredible sacrifice—though only one of many—that comes to mind for me. I am driven by the desire to honor that sacrifice—that heritage. And one way I do that is through my love for those dogs deemed unlovable by others. I always say, “Show me the ones nobody else wants.” They are always the ones with the most love to give, if you have the time and patience to tap into it. There are millions of them, just waiting. You won’t catch me buying a dog that costs a month’s salary. That would dishonor everything I learned from my parents about value and worth. So if you’re feeling superior to the lady with the motley crew of pups, don’t. I’m full to bursting with the kind of riches you’ll never understand. And if you’re thinking of running down the plumber or the cafeteria lady, better make sure I’m not within earshot. Or, as we say down South, you’ll tote a cussin’.

the art of awareness

Around my house growing up, if you wanted to get up to no good, you better have the skills of a master criminal. That’s because Daddy knew pretty much everybody around town (and I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that), and Mama? Well, she just knew. And she knew how to use the information she had on you, too. Did your mom sit at home waiting for you, and as soon as you walked in the door, you knew you were going to get a lecture? That wasn’t Mama.

Mama, circa early 1990s

The problem was, I could never be adequately prepared. It didn’t matter whether I had a story ready or not. I never got a chance to use it. Prime example: Summer, 1983. My friend Amanda and I were doing what you did for fun when you were in high school in Wilson—we rode around town on the weekends. This time, in my 1979 Toyota Corolla. No A/C. In July or something. Exactly.

Somehow we met this boy. I’ll confine my description of him to a simple dreamy sigh, to spare myself any embarrassment. And somehow, he ended up behind the wheel of my car, doing doughnuts in the parking lot beside McDonald’s on Ward Boulevard. Swear to God, Ma. Which I never actually got the chance to say. That’s because as far as I knew, the incident was in the vault. Done. No one of the parental persuasion the wiser.

Right up until weeks later, when I opened my big mouth to talk about how someone else had pulled some kind of stupid, dangerous stunt. There we all were. Sitting around that old kitchen table at Mama and Daddy’s house, laughing knowingly at their folly, when Mama said, “Yeah, kinda like when you were doing doughnuts in the parking lot at McDonald’s on Ward Boulevard.”

Stunned. There’s no other word for it. Even today, almost 30 years later, I can feel my jaw drop, my eyes widen, my forehead bead with sweat. “Wh-wh-what?” I stammered. “How did you hear about that?”

See what I mean? No time to remember that I wasn’t supposed to be doing doughnuts in my car anywhere, much less the McDonald’s parking lot. “Are you spying on me?!” I demanded.

Mama, mid-1980s“I don’t have to spy on you,” she responded.

“Then how did you know?”

“Don’t worry about how I know,” she said, with a tiny smile playing at the corners of her mouth.

It was 10 years or more before she would ever confess her secret. “Listen,” she said. “You will find out anything you need to know, if you just shut up and listen. You don’t have to ask anyone anything. You don’t have to spy. All you have to do is listen to what the people around you are saying.”

“And be aware of yourself,” she explained. “If someone tells you something that you didn’t know, don’t let on. Keep your face neutral; keep your body still. If you betray that you weren’t aware, they’ll clam up. But if you just act unaffected, people will bend your ear ‘til the cows come home.”

Damned if she wasn’t right. The best way to learn everything I need to know about anyone is simply to be aware. Pay attention. Stay neutral. Hear what they have to say—or what they don’t say—and keep a level head.

MaiaI find the same practice to be true in my relationship with my dogs. Awareness, combined with an understanding of when to leave things be and when to act, are essential to taking good care of my pups. I was reminded of this recently, when my youngest dog, seo service Maia, started asking to go out more. For Maia, “asking” means coming around my desk, balancing her right paw on the edge of my chair or on my leg, and buy real youtube views pulling at my arm with her left paw. When I’m not working, it’s standing with front paws on the chair or sofa where I’m sitting, and just staring into space, blocking my view of the television. At night, it’s jumping off the bed and walking around to prop her front paws on the edge of the bed near my head, where she stares at me intently until I wake up and get the message

It’s important to understand, too, that Maia likes being outside. Unlike my other dogs, who bark or howl to come inside as soon as their business is done, Maia sometimes just sits, her nose high in the air, enjoying the sunshine, or the smell of newly cut grass, or the pungent odor of wood smoke that wafts in on the breeze as the weather turns cooler. When I open the door and poke my head out to check on her, she turns to me, but her eyes say, “Just a few more minutes?” And most of the time, I quietly withdraw and allow her to continue her meditation.

But lately, something seemed different. She was as energetic and playful as ever, pulling toy after toy out of her basket (because, really, all of the toys are hers, anymore), and attempting to entice one of us to play tug-of-war with her. She still lay in wait for Tasha every time they came in from outside. She still ate regularly, always waiting for someone else to share the meal with her. The only real difference? She asked to go out more often.

Muddy MaiaGoing more often can mean kidney issues. It could be a UTI; it could be a kidney infection. And the one thing you don’t do when you suspect kidney issues is wait. Waiting can be fatal. So off to the vet we went. No kidney infection or UTI, thankfully. But Maia is part Siberian Husky, and one of their primary traits is a thick, dense coat that insulates their bodies for the harsh conditions they were bred to live in. It was this thick coat that was the culprit, because it trapped moisture from her urine, which in turn caused her “lady parts” to become irritated and inflamed. More than a bit uncomfortable for her. The solution started with a course of antibiotics. And now, when she comes inside, she gets a quick cleaning (accompanied by a belly rub, of course) with an unscented baby wipe, to help prevent the irritation and keep it from becoming  an internal infection.

That evening, Debbie, our friend Gary, and I watched as Maia and Sunny played together, and Maia expressed her excitement and joy by attacking the dog bed and “digging” it from one side of the room to the other. While I explained to Debbie and Gary what the vet said, Maia wandered over to get some love from Gary. As he rubbed her ears and she pressed close to him to capture his full attention, Gary asked, “How did you know something was wrong? She isn’t acting sick.”

“I knew because I pay attention,” I said, and tried to suppress Mama’s knowing smile. Just like Mama advised, I’ve learned that the best thing I can do to take great care of my dogs is be present. Watch. Listen. Dogs can’t speak, of course, but they can tell me volumes in their behavior. All I have to do is pay attention.

how I came to love dogs

I could say it all started with PeeWee, but that wouldn’t be true. She was Mama’s dog. Or I could say it was Prissy, our last “family dog,” but again, she still wasn’t really mine. It really began with this tiny red-haired thing–all legs and energy and little stub of a tail wagging itself into a blur.

Lizzie in 1994

Lizzie in 1994

So small, her first collar was a stretched-out hair scrunchy we had lying around the house. Junior’s mom dropped her by for him. He wanted to call her Lezzie, but my sister Debbie was having none of that. They compromised on Lizzie.

Junior lived in an old farmhouse out in the country. I’m not talking about the country as city folk imagine it, where you have to drive more than a mile to get to the nearest Starbucks. I’m talking about the real country, where you couldn’t see the closest neighbor’s house. But you could see the stars twinkling in the night sky, unobscured by all the visual noise of in-town life.

The farmhouse was real country, too. It didn’t take an architect to know that the bathroom wasn’t a part of the original structure. I spent some of the best times of my life in that farmhouse. Ate some of the best meals I’ve ever put in my mouth (Remind me sometime to tell you about the batch of cheese biscuits Junior made practically out of thin air). Had some of the best parties (I’ll be keeping the details of those to myself, thank you very much). And found my passion for dogs.

When Junior moved in, he discovered that one of the things the previous tenant had left behind was a dog. A beautiful, sweet-tempered Shepherd/Husky mix Junior called Ladybug. She loved being petted and happily ate the scraps we left for her. But on even the coldest of nights, Junior never could coax her to come inside where it was warm. We quickly learned that she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. On more than one occasion, one of us stumbled out best vaporizer onto the front porch in the morning only to find the carcass from last night’s dinner there in the yard. I’m talking deer, people. No little squirrels and rabbits for Miss Ladybug. No, ma’am

Within a few months, Ladybug gave birth to several puppies, all black as the night sky they were born under. Poor Lizzie. Not only did she have to endure the indignity of learning to walk on a leash, but with five yipping, yapping balls of fur chasing after her, she also never had a moment’s peace.

Zach and Lizzie, Christmas 1993

Zach and Lizzie, still pups, Christmas 1993

There was one, though, who was particularly bold. He loved to run in, nip at Lizzie’s heels, and run back out of reach before either Lizzie or I had time to react. No amount of scolding made a bit of difference. I could yell, threaten, shake any noise-maker I could get my hands on—it didn’t matter. But sometimes Lizzie would stop, planting her four little feet defiantly under surprisingly delicate, lady-like legs, and stare them all down—daring one of them to try it again. Everyone would stop with her, me included, silent, not daring to be the first one to make a move. Then Lizzie would decide to continue her walk, and the yipping, yapping, and nipping would start all over again.

Keep in mind, these were truly feral dogs. Never touched by human hands. Ladybug was friendly, but when you tried to approach her pups, they’d scramble under the house or the ramshackle barn or anywhere that constituted being away from you. Then, one day I was heading to town (quite literally) and noticed that the pup who loved to nip at Lizzie didn’t make his usual preemptive attempt to escape my reach. He just sat and wagged as I climbed in my car to head to campus. And when I returned that evening, I saw he was in almost the same spot. Just sitting. Just wagging.

The next morning, I decided to move in for a closer look. The poor thing. The puppy’s little nose was encrusted with some kind of mucus. But when I reached out to touch him, he mustered the energy to scamper away. All day I thought about that pup and what our inaction might cost him. I reasoned that I couldn’t just leave him to die. I had to do something. I decided that the next day I would take the little guy to the vet, just to see if there was anything that could be done.

That morning I commandeered Debbie to help me. What a ridiculous pair we must have been, pretending to be out for no particular reason at all, as we closed in on the pup. But there he was, all crusty nose and wagging tail; it almost seemed like he was waiting for us. Debbie threw a towel over the pup and scooped him into her arms, and we hurried to the car. He didn’t wiggle very much, which we took as a sign that things might not be so good. I was afraid to think more than the promise I’d made to myself the night before: “I’ll just see what the vet has to say.”

When we met with Dr. Macmillan, I explained my situation to him. I was in grad school, and I didn’t have much money. But I wanted to save this dog if he could be saved. Dr. Macmillan took the pup from us and sat him on the examining table for a closer 5htp inspection, describing what he observed. Some kind of parasite had chewed around the edges of the dog’s ears, and his little bloated belly meant that he almost certainly had intestinal worms. The nose could mean parvo, but Dr. Macmillan couldn’t be sure without testing. So blood, poop, and urine were taken, and Dr. Macmillan cautioned us that if it were parvo, he did not recommend going any further with his care. He stepped away, and we waited

It wasn’t parvo. It wasn’t heartworms. “He’s a very lucky dog,” Dr. Macmillan explained. Run-of-the-mill worms. Some medicine and a hot bath would work wonders. Bless his soul, Dr. Macmillan gave me free samples of a lot of the meds. Debbie wrapped him back in the towel and we got back into the car to head back home. She unwrapped his head–there was some wiggling now–and said, “So, I guess you have a dog now.”


Zach in 1994

“Yeah, I guess I do.” I responded.

“What do we name him?” Debbie asked.

“I always thought I’d have a male dog named ‘Luke’,” I said. “But he doesn’t look like a ‘Luke’ to me.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”

So, we tossed around some names. I immediately rejected any novelty names like Blackie or Midnight. I wanted him to have a real name. A person’s name. Debbie started naming guys she knew, and eventually she came to her coworker, Zach.

“That’s it,” I said. “Zach. With a -ch, like it’s short for something.”

And that’s when one of the most enduring, heartfelt, and deeply satisfying bonds of my life was forged. Zach was mine, and I was his. It is because of Zach that friends ask my advice about how to handle their dogs. He is the reason that when I decided to start a blog, I wanted to write about dogs. In many ways, he is the reason I am here at all to tell these stories. He will forever be my friend, my companion, my soul mate. And everything I know about trust, loyalty, strength, and self-confidence, I learned from Zach.