Wednesday, July 11, 2007

RIP, Doc Oc

While in Alaska, we got a call from our pet-sitter. Luke's guinea pig, the aptly-named Doc Oc (what could be more villainous than kicking litter and turds onto my floor?) had, sadly, died. We weren't sad for ourselves, really, since we always wound up caring for this messy, biting animal, but we knew that Luke would be very upset when he discovered that his only pet was dead.

We decided not to tell Luke about Doc Oc's demise until we got home from vacation. Luckily, when we arrived home at 7 a.m. from a night of flying, Luke was asleep. Sleep-deprivation was not something we needed to add to the mix when we were gingerly telling Luke about the death of his beloved villian.

The day before we flew home, I had casually said to Luke, "You know, when I was a little girl, my dog cocoa died. She was very old and just fell asleep and never woke up."

Knowing Luke and his intensity, as well as his great love of television and junk food, I ad-libbed a little extra, throwing in, "and my parents let me eat lots of candy and watch a lot of T.V. the day cocoa died since I was sad."

So when Luke woke up from his long nap that day we came home, he asked if our pet sitter was in the house.

"No, Luke, Charlie just came to our house to take care of Doc Oc but he slept at his house," I told him, realizing that now was the time to break the news to Luke.

With a nervous stomach, I told Luke that Charlie had called a few days before and told us that Doc Oc had died. Luke cried. He cried quite a bit. But he didn't scream. He didn't freak out. His reaction seemed appropriate.

And then, when he was done crying, he asked me, "Can I watch T.V. and eat candy now?" And I said yes.

I wasn't sure what we should do with the body, but I knew I wanted it out of my freezer. (Yes, we told Charlie to put the body in a plastic bag and put it in the freezer. What else were we to do? And, too, this carries on a family tradition that involves a dog and a suitcase and a deep-freeze.) So I told Luke that we would decorate a special box and put Doc Oc in it. Then we would have a memorial service and leave the box out in the hall for the pet buriers to pick up. That's all this city-dwellin' mom could come up with on two hours of sleep.

Luke made a great box, and at the service Luke asked me to say a prayer and he would share some of his favorite memories of his pet.

"Dear God," I prayed, "Please be with Doc Oc up in heaven and tell him that we miss him. Please give him lots of space to run around in and lots of produce to eat. Please take good care of him until Luke comes to heaven, too, in a long, long time. Amen."

Luke seemed satisfied with the prayer, and began his part of the service, speaking in a strange, sing-song sort of monotone.

"I remember when Doc Oc bit me on the finger," Luke said. "I remember when he ate his food. I remember when he sat in his cage."

Craig and I, in our sleep-deprived states, were beginning to get a little hysterical at this point, so we cut Luke off and carried the box to the hall.

A half hour later or so, after Craig took a furtive trip to the dumpster, we told Luke that the pet buriers had come. And in his sugared-up T.V. daze, he raced out to the hall with a look of childish, joyful belief, happy that the mysterious pet buriers had done their job.

I hope you are somewhere with a lot of space for running and a lot of produce to eat, Doc Oc.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Don't Hurt a Forest Troll's Feelings

Camping the other day, hanging out around the campfire, a little old lady walked through the edge of our large wooded campsite carrying a folded up tent in a carrying bag.

"A forest troll!" Luke shrieked loudly. Certainly loudly enough that the woman, as well as many other campground neighbors, surely heard. "A forest troll carrying a bomb case!"

We were feeling well embarassed when Luke added, as if for good measure, "Eeww! Gross! The troll is so tiny and wrinkled!"

The ensuing discussion, I think, did make an impression on Luke. The impression that he is supposed to talk quietly about forest trolls carrying bomb cases. One might hurt someone's feelings. But nothing seemed to dissuade Luke from his belief that this was a troll. And we focused on the hurting feelings issue more than the species of the creature.

The next day, when we were visiting with Wade Hampton Miller after hitting his bus, Luke, ever the social butterfly, threw into the conversation that he had seen a forest troll carrying a bomb case the day before.

"Do you have lots of imaginary friends?" asked the musician/bus driver.

"It wasn't imaginary," Luke said in a stern and deadly serious voice. "And it wasn't my friend."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Reunion, Alaska Style

We have been in Alaska for the last two and a half weeks, and I think I'm finally adjusting to the pace here. It takes me a while. Everything moves more slowly in this largest of large states. The daylight stretches on forever and the mountains surround us and reach for the sky. Life moves like the tides, inching up and down almost imperceptibly, against this monumental setting. I get anxious to hit the Chicago streets, one kid strapped on my back and one in the stroller, and visit bookstores, bakeries, parks, and friends at least one-per-block. Instead, every outing takes planning, two carseats, one vehicle, and large bottles of sunblock and mosquito repellant. The other day, stuck at the in-laws house without a car, I spent two hours looking under rocks for bugs with Henry as my only company. But once I gave in to this slower pace, I began to enjoy it.

When in Chicago, I run into friends all over our village-like neighborhood. It seems I can't walk anywhere without running into several friends and many acquaintances. In Alaska, these meetings-between-friends happen less often, but take on seemingly epic proportions. I visit the coffee shop where my sister works, only to run into my in-laws, whose friends happen to stop in, joining us for coffee. Then, it turns out, my sister has become friends, all on her own, with the friend of the in-laws. And I find these connections everywhere, snaking through almost every interaction, almost every day.

A few days ago, we were coming back from camping in a borrowed camper. Now, we used to scorn campers, but having kids and getting older and creakier, we decided to give it a try. The day before, on our way to the campground, Craig had crashed into one of the millions of roadside coffee stands (coffee too! monumental!) but thank goodness, the person working inside merely said, "Don't worry about it. This thing gets hit a lot harder by bigger RV's."

So we decided to stop, out in the middle of nowhere, to get some ice cream. As we pulled into the parking lot, we passed by a stopped bus in order to park in a spot in front of it. And again, Craig underestimated the size of the vehicle he was driving (vehicles too!) and he hit the side mirror of the bus. We got out, and the bus driver was nowhere to be seen. But moments later, walking out of the outhouse tucking his shirt into his pants, came Wade Hampton Miller, the musician who had played at our wedding ten years before.

"Are you Wade Hampton Miller?" we asked. After we reminisced about our wedding for a few moments, we asked if he was the bus driver, which, indeed, he was. As we waited for the insurance guy to show up, we spent over an hour catching up with this old acquaintance. We ate ice cream, and then burgers, and we talked about weddings, kids, camping and driving busses.

It was a scene right out of Northern Exposure.