Tag Archives: Tennessee

Dating and the Wisdom of a Dog

Libby in Malibu, 1999

Last night I had a marvelous dream. Charles Kuralt  was interviewing me for a Sunday Morning feature about my dog Libby. Now Libby has been dead four years, but she came back to life last night in my dreams. My sweet Weimaraner was licking my face and charming Mr. Kuralt who was asking me how rescuing Libby from the TN mountains eventually rescued me. And it’s true. I was restless and lost before Libby grounded me. Of course, you may be wondering right now how my story about my sweet dog has anything to do with venturing into the dating world as a newly single mom—but just hang in there. I’ll get to that connection in a minute.

In my dream, I am standing in a field with Mr. Kuralt in the early morning dawn as we watch Libby run majestically after balls. I tell him my story  about moving from New York City to edit a small magazine in Atlanta and how I had to leave the full-bred Weimaraner I adopted with my ex-boyfriend, back in the city. Against the wishes of family members who had witnessed me moving from town to town for newspaper jobs and graduate school—and who didn’t think I had the ability to care for an animal or the stamina to stay in one place long enough to care for another creature—I put in my application to adopt a rescue dog with the Southeastern Weimaraner Society. Within a week, I was introduced to Libby: a petite Weim who had been beaten and left in a snow bank in the Tennessee mountains—most likely by hunters disappointed in her lack of hunting skills and skittish manner. I walked into the rescue society, sat down on a chair, and within moments, a shy Libby tentatively walked over and put her head on my knee. With all of the hyper and happy Weimaraners jumping around in the back yard and some in the house, I looked at this wounded animal, who was so skinny you could see her ribs, and that was it. She had claimed my heart. A few weeks later, on Valentine’s Day, (the same holiday, coincidentally, that both my sons were later conceived) I adopted my first child in 1997.

Libby was extremely skittish and frightened of loud noises. I had to earn her trust and to work with several trainers just to get her to go to the park with me. She would walk down the street with her tail tucked under, ears back, legs crouched low, as if she was just waiting for another loud blast or skate boarder to send her running back home.

As you can imagine, the first year with her was quite challenging. Just when she seemed to be getting better, something would happen that would send her into a tailspin and she’d break free from her lead and run full speed—sometimes into the street towards on-coming traffic—with me screaming and running after her. And the things that really sent her off were usually just big men, wearing hats and boots, who naively walked over to pat her. She was incredibly beautiful and everyone wanted to meet her when we were out on a walk. Sadly, she was terrified of a certain type of man, which I began to think must remind her of of the hunters who had abused her. The type of man that scared her most were tall, big, boisterous, and usually wearing boots and hats. I began to stay clear of men like this too, just out of habit from our walks.

So, when I entered the dating world back in 1997, after my move from Manhattan, it became clear, early on, that certain men just wouldn’t do. As I mentioned, if a large boisterous man who clomped when he walked, even tried to approach my door, she would run in circles barking with her tail under until I finally put her into her crate to calm down. But it was always the same. The men who threw their keys down loudly or didn’t take their shoes off or who came into the house talking loudly and who didn’t make an effort to help calm her down: didn’t last very long. And the ones that would later make fun of her when she was put into her crate, who would agonize her and tease her by stomping loudly or banging on the crate while laughing, were the worst. I knew instantly they HAD TO GO.  Can you even imagine doing that to an abused animal? That’s the type of boy who would bully awkward or disabled children on the playground in elementary school. And you would be surprised by just how many men did that sort of thing to Libby while laughing and then later saying to me: “How in the world can you put up with such a crazy dog?”

I’d be thinking, “How can I put up with You?!”

I mean think about it. Sure, I had a special needs dog who had been abused and required much TLC, but she turned out to be the most loyal and kind friend I’ve ever known. (Read this article I published about how Libby literally saved my life.)

After a few months of watching her, that first year, it was clear that she had a six sense about men. Libby could smell kindness or cruelty in a person—which is a critical ability to have when you are venturing into the dating world. I wish more single moms had her keen sense. She was insanely smart. She wasn’t a Lab you could bribe with a dog biscuit. No, you had to BE a certain kind of person for Libby to love you.

I remember learning much about the character of family friends over the years by watching how they interacted with Libby.

For instance, on the day that I was throwing a party, a new friend won me over by laying down under my desk for almost an hour so that Libby would come over and lay down beside him. He kept rubbing her ears and calming her down as I rushed around the apartment putting things together for the party.

Another friend of a friend completely surprised me by his kindness. Every time he’d see Libby, he’d lie down on the floor near her and put a tennis ball under his chin. He’d smile and giggle as Libby would shake all over and inch closer and closer to him, as she so desperately wanted the tennis ball. After a few times of this, with her timidly taking the ball out from under his chin and running away, the two became fast friends.

It became a joke with me and my girlfriends: Want to know if you have a nice guy? Put him through the Libby Test. (Looking back, I can see how single moms, especially, could really have benefitted from this.) Since Libby is no longer here with us, here’s a condensed list of what I have learned from her.  To find a kind man, who has a chance of developing love for your children, as well as you, stay clear of men who:

  • are boisterous.
  • are aggressive.
  • wear baseball hats indoors.
  • interrupt you.
  • are impatient.
  • make fun of, or taunt, anyone who has been abused or is disabled.
  • hunt birds.
  • clomp loudly when they walk.
  • make sudden and unexpected moves.
  • yell or shout commands.
  • hit you (or children) when you (or they) misbehave and are already scared.
  • drink too much.
  • are very tall and/or very big. (hmmm…maybe there could be an exception here!)
  • break things or bump into furniture often.
  • have an anxious temperament.
  • whose legs bob up and down impatiently when they sit at a dinner table.
  • run their hands through their hair over and over again.
  • often clear their throats in a passive aggressive and loud way.
  • listen to rap or metal rock at loud volume.
  • wear large pinky rings that bang against table tops.
  • drive recklessly or approach turns quickly—causing anyone in the back to slam against a window.
  • have dramatic mood swings.
  • don’t play ball.
  • don’t give belly rubs or back scratches.
  • are always on the computer or iphone, so one hand isn’t free for those belly rubs or back scratches.
  • don’t cook or share home-cooked meals (especially those including bacon).
  • don’t bring home or play with toys.
  • don’t ever go on morning or early evening strolls.
  • don’t understand the value of long, slow car rides with the windows down.
  • don’t like to snuggle while watching movies.

What do you think? Was Libby on the right tract?

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Do Hand-offs Ever Get Easier?

Does it ever get easier to say goodbye to your children? As a single mom who hasn’t had a week off from both her cherubs in over a year, I should have danced a little jig tonight. Instead, I found myself gutted so deeply that words can hardly convey how I felt. Do any of you get this too? If so, HOW do you deal with it??

I’ve been raising these two boys solo for two and a half years. If you follow my blog, you know that my ex lives in London, and we live in Los Angeles. He does visit, but typically flies in and will have them for an overnite or two at a local hotel. And usually during that time I’ll have heard from them, or met them on the soccer field, with a weird feeling of relief. Thanksgiving 2010 and 2009 I flew both boys solo to London—which is nuts!! I was so exhausted from flying there by myself and returning solo with all the bags, stroller, gear, etc. that any time off I had in Europe was hardly enjoyable. I should be thrilled that my ex flew into Los Angeles and is flying them both to Tennessee to see his family this season. All I had to do was pack the bags, buy warm, winter clothes for them, and drive them to his hotel by the airport. That is so much easier than flying solo and doing a hand-off after hours of screaming on an airplane with a sore back to boot!

So why was tonight just as hard as last year?!

I know I need the break. Any sane person would need time off. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. My house is a wreck. I am in desperate need for yoga classes and meditation. I need to spend some quality time with the man in my life. I’m looking forward to all of that! But somehow, I found myself filled with the deepest form of melancholy tonight.

My sweet 10-year-old started to cry as I said goodbye. He turned his head away from me and choked up. Somehow I became brave enough to fight my tears, hug him, and say how much fun he was going to have and how excited all the family in Tennessee is to see him. (I so desperately don’t want to become the pathetic parent whose children constantly worry about when they are away. I want them to have fun and to see that mom is okay and that mom takes care of herself and loves them.) So, I held it together until they walked into the hotel.

I sat in my car for a few minutes in front of the airport hotel. My ex and my older son had already walked out of my sight and I sat there frozen watching my little three-year-old. He was wearing the candy-cane, red and white sweater I bought him, and was struggling with a red carry-on suit case in the hotel lobby. Both his dad and older brother had walked ahead and he fumbled and dropped the case and fumbled again and started to cry. He was still close to the automatic lobby doors of the hotel and I almost ran in to pick up the suitcase and help him steady himself, but something told me to stay put. I just sat mesmerized by the scene, praying that the suitcase would right itself and that he could run ahead and catch up with the others. He finally got the case up and began running (likely screaming too) ahead.

I sighed with relief and then the tears started to flow. Watching him with the suitcase seemed like a metaphor for the dynamic of the relationship between the three of them. My older son and his dad are much closer since they once lived together. So he misses his dad and begins to talk like a chatter-box-cottage (his former nickname at his school in London) with his father the minute he sees him. The two get caught up and little Jamesy has to fight to catch up and butt in. Then, of course, like all two- and three-year-olds will do, he makes sure that they all hear him and my older son gets frustrated with his little brother’s antics as he can no longer get a word in. My baby really doesn’t know his dad very well at all, as he’s been with me almost all the time since he was eight months old and before that his dad was gone two weeks a month anyway. I’m proud that he doesn’t shy away and fights to be heard and seems to hold not one grudge. He is love incarnate and it’s really a gift for my ex right now. Who knows what the future of their relationship will hold?

They’ll have to figure out their own way when they are together. I’m no longer a part of their relationship and I can no longer play referee or try to help. They have their own dynamic, separate from me. And the woman my husband left me for is still in the picture. She’ll be with them this trip and who knows how she’ll behave or how they’ll get along. But again, it’s about letting go of what I can’t control, right?

I guess the emotions trickled up and surprised me tonight as we are so close to finally getting our divorce. Finality always brings back memories and past dreams doesn’t it? I don’t want to go back, and I know my life will be richer and I am stronger because of all this too. But emotions have a way of bubbling up when you least expect them. And for a 100-lb-woman, I have an insane momma-bear mentality. I will do ANYTHING to protect my cubs. So watching them walk away without me, well, lets just say it is one of the hardest things I’ll ever do. I just can’t fathom why anyone would ever want to walk away from them.

Earlier tonight I had packed up most of my son’s infant clothes for my ex to give to his sister, who is expecting in February. I’m still close to her and wanted to pass along the clothes as she, like me, didn’t think she’d have a second baby. She also has a 10-year-old and gave away all of her infant items as I had done. As I was packing up the newborn onesies, sleepers, hats, blankets and tiny socks…I began to feel a pit of sadness open up. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been on my own for a century, and then I see these items and realize that just three and a half years ago I was filled with hope and determination to make sure this miracle baby came into the world safely. I threw up almost every day of my pregnancy with Jamesy when in London and then got chicken pox the week we moved back to the States. I needed a specialist and was put on strict bedrest for two months. While I was on meds to stop the contractions, I just focussed on a happy transition for us all and having a healthy baby. I was filled with hope—but isn’t that how all expecting moms are? And after he was born, with oxytocin pulsing through my veins as I breastfed, I was just filled with love for this beautiful creature. Oxytocin is an amazing hormone that can trigger labor, block pain when a woman goes into labor suddenly (I wrote about this in FitPregnancy), help you bond with your baby and stay positive when you need to most. I researched this fascinating hormone when writing the weekly pregnancy calendar for DivineCaroline where I was the parenting editor. And this remarkable hormone is also released when you orgasm or even just touch, heightening you’re ‘I’m in Love’ feeling. (Read this article.) So you can see, I was in love with family and my new baby while my husband was filled with dread and longing for his former life in London, working at a hip company with young folks, and traveling nonstop.

Well, I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming. I chock it up to breast-feeding and complete denial. But, hey, I’m the lucky one. I can honestly say I’m no longer bitter. And you know what? Somehow,  remarkably, I’m still filled with hope.

Isn’t that amazing?

Happy New Year lovely friends! x