Friday, January 29, 2010

Doggie Diet


My dog is on a diet. He needs to lose 20lbs. He doesn’t LOOK fat, but apparently, he is. I guess you’re supposed to be able to see the ribs on dogs. He recently had knee surgery because his fatness caused him to tear a ligament. The vet told me, “If he doesn’t lose the weight, he’s at risk to tear the other.” That’s all I needed to hear. I was still hyperventilating from the surgery price tag. I cut his food the day he had the surgery. He was so drugged up and out of it that I don’t think he even noticed. After a month, he’d lost 4 lbs! Two months later, nothing. Not an ounce. “Cut his food by 25%,” said the vet. So I did. And then my dog started scavenging. It started with the kitchen floor. My dog, who’s never eaten table scraps and never seemed interested, would spend all evening scouring the corners of the kitchen. At night, when I was watching television, I would hear him in the dark kitchen, licking the linoleum floor. He’d start crying for food as soon as he woke in the morning and as soon as I got home from work. But I held strong. He HAD to lose the weight. Then, he dug through a foot of snow to our compost and gorged on blackened banana peels and orange rinds. So I’ve started giving him a mid-day meal of chopped carrots. He’s calming down. The other day, he actually refused to eat some chopped celery that my husband put in the bowl. And I’m starting to see ribs.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Playtime

When I was a single woman with aging ovaries, I wanted a family so badly that it hurt. I was disgusted with the parents I’d see in Starbucks, shushing cocoa-drinking kids while they read the paper or talked on their cell phones. If I was ever lucky enough to have a family, I thought to myself, I was going to talk to my kids and play with them. I would initiate family game night, where we’d play monopoly, and family music night, where we’d sing songs and play instruments. And family cooking night, where we’d make pizza or other kid-friendly meals. I couldn’t wait to build igloos after a snow storm and drive weeble wobbles around on our living room rug.
So this morning, when I was trying to read the Sunday paper and my daughter said, “Mommy, make tower with Aggie,” I of course put down the Travel section to play blocks. It was fun until she started acting out, flinging blocks everywhere and knocking down my towers before I was done making them. Then I went back to my paper, until she came over and said, “Aggie up,” and climbed onto my lap. I showed her a picture of a man in the newspaper who was kayaking. I said, “Look at the man in the boat.” She said, “Boat!” I said, “This is a river.” She shook her head, looked at me very seriously, and said, “No mommy, BOAT.” (Mommy is a real dumbass sometimes). Then she started a kind of rhetorical narration: “Aggie on mommy’s lap. Aggie look at boat.” But as soon as my eyes drifted back to the paper, she said, “Mommy, look Aggie in the eye.” So I stopped reading and talked to her a little more about the man and the boat. Then she used one hand to hold the paper for me while I read. Then she said, “Daddy, look at Aggie. Aggie helping mommy read.” Then she started bouncing on my stomach, so I had to shift her off to my hip. Then I realized that I’d been reading the same sentence, no, make that the same three words, for the past ten minutes. So we went back to playing blocks. And horsie. And various other games, including one where we just run back and forth across the room. I had a lot of fun. Much more fun than I would have had reading about a New Yorker’s experience kayaking down the Missouri River, just outside of St. Louis.
But by naptime, I was ready for a break. I get a lot accomplished over nap time. I practice the piano. I paint. I read. Sometimes I cook. Or go on a walk. I don’t really feel good about my weekends unless I’ve accomplished several tasks. I like to lie in bed and think of everything I’ve done that day. But today, I couldn’t seem to rise from my chair. My husband was across the room, lying on the sofa with a book, to all appearances about to take a snooze. “I don’t know what to do,” I told him.
“Why don’t you paint?” he asked.
“I’m too tired to paint. Or read.”
“Take a nap,” he suggested.
“Then I won’t have accomplished anything.” But as the words came out of my mouth, I realized how silly that was. If I was too tired to do anything, then sleep was the smartest choice. The kids wouldn’t nap forever and then it would be too late. So I lay down on our other sofa and finished the travel section. Then I closed my eyes. I think I drifted in and out of sleep. The afternoon sun moved across our living room. My husband fell asleep, too. Eventually, I heard a little voice through the baby monitor say, “Hello, Grandma. How are you? Aggie wide awake.” Then my daughter launched into a full rendition of the alphabet song. She really belts out the “know I know my ABCs” part. I leaned my head off the edge of the sofa to look at my husband. His eyes were closed, but then they opened and he was smiling. A moment later we heard our son start squawking. Naptime was over.
I felt pretty well rested. I’m never completely rested anymore. I’m chronically tired. It’s been that way for about a year, if not longer. Kids require a lot of energy. Even when we are just playing. Playing blocks exhausts me. So sleeping during naptime, instead of painting, reading, cleaning, or anything else, is still an accomplishment. At least, I’m going to count it as one. And keep on playing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Drunken Rodeo Clown


Recently, I began a small (8x10) painting of my 12-month old son. I was working from a photo my husband had taken a few days earlier. In the photograph, my son is staring at the camera with a funny little twist to his mouth. I’d chosen that picture because the turn of his mouth looks exactly like the turn of my daughter’s mouth in a painting I did of her when she was about three months old. We loved that painting so much that my husband built a frame and hung it in our bedroom.
With my new painting, I spent about ten minutes sketching with charcoal and another hour sketching with paint. When I came up for air, I was pleased with my progress. I cleaned my paintbrushes, but when I returned to my studio, and saw the painting from across the room, I didn’t like how it looked at all. It was an underpainting, so none of the colors were realistic. But unrealistic colors weren’t the problem. My sweet little boy looked mean and scary. Usually, I hang my paintings downstairs so that I can study them in between painting sessions. But I didn’t want my daughter to see this ugly picture of her brother. So I left it in my studio.
Downstairs, I told my husband that I’d like a chance to get back upstairs, later in the morning, to work on the painting some more. In my house, with a 2 ½ year old and a 12 month old, with me working full-time and my husband working part-time and home full-time with the kids, I rarely have time to paint more than a few hours a week. But this was a painting emergency, so three hours later, I was back at it. This time, the kids were asleep. My husband was working in the studio, which is also his office, and I was set up at my dining room table. I began with a big brush, adding more alizarin crimson and titanium white to the face, to get closer to a realistic flesh color. Then I spent some time with a small brush, laying in details like the bumps under his bottom lip and the creases around his eyelids. Up close, everything was beginning to look better. I took a break to let the paint set. There was still something funny going on, so an hour later I worked on it some more. What a luxury, to spend so much consecutive time on a painting. The texture of the paint alone is remarkable, plus it gave me time to think through what I was doing, at a nice, leisurely pace. It reminded me of when I was at art school, majoring in painting. And of when I was single, with so much free time on my hands.
My husband came downstairs as I was finishing up my third painting session of the day. In his arms was the subject of my afternoon painting, my son, rosy checked and smiley, fresh from his nap. My husband studied the painting. “He looks angry,” he said, tentatively.
I looked at the painting. The flesh color still looked jaundiced, and his cheeks, although redder in real life than in the painting, looked fake, like he was wearing rouge that was melting and running down his face. Because I hadn’t painted in all the hair on his forehead yet, he looked like he was balding. Also, maybe because the eyebrows were too dark, he looked pissed off. “He looks like a drunk clown,” I said.
“A drunken rodeo clown,” said my husband. “At the end of a long day.”
“At the end of a long life,” I agreed.
“You nailed the twist of the mouth, though,” my husband said.

I smiled, took my drunken little rodeo clown from my husband’s arms, and turned him away so that he couldn’t see his portrait. No point in scaring the happy little guy. This time I’m going to give the painting a few days to dry, then I’ll work on it some more.