Kitters

A couple of months ago, one of my students came in with a peculiar look on his face.

“What’s the matter?” I asked him.

“There’s a kitten out in front of the school.”

I was taken aback for a moment. This student wasn’t the kitten type, but I could tell he was disturbed by what he saw. Winter was still in the air, and the temperature was hovering right above freezing. “Is it still out there?” I asked. He nodded sadly. “Is it alive?”

“Barely,” he replied in a wavering voice.

“Go get it.”

He looked at me with hope in his eyes. “Can I?”

“Yes. Go get it right now. We can’t let it die out there.” He scurried down the hallway quickly. A few moments later he returned with a tiny black waif of a creature tucked inside his jacket. His face beamed with a happiness I hadn’t seen in him before.

“It’s so little,” he said, holding it out for me to examine.

Its eyes were glued shut with the slime of sickness. He was having trouble breathing due to the crusty film that had solidified over his nose. I quickly removed the bright yellow scarf from around my neck and wrapped the pitiful creature in it. I handed the kitten to the nearest student and sent another to the environmental science teacher to get an eyedropper and some cat food. Another student ran for a warm, wet paper towel. They carefully cleaned the gunk from its eyes, and it greeted us with a tiny howl of distress.

The students took turns passing him around, the warmth of their hands bringing this poor creature back to life. It mewed pitifully, and drank dropper after dropper of water, its tiny paws clawing at the hands that held him so sweetly. The students gathered around, quickly forgetting their own troubles as they tended to the tiny black cat. Refill the eyedropper. Wipe the eyes. Sighs of “awwwww” when it would sneeze and shake its tiny head clear. Let me hold it. My turn. Be careful, it’s so little.

I know these students. I know the lives they endure and the pain that they experience. For a single moment, they were in charge of their destiny. In helping something helpless, they were empowered. You could see it in their faces: empathy. They took turns feeding and stroking the kitten. One would wipe the yellow goop from his eyes while another would refill the eye dropper and hold out a morsel of cat food for it to devour. Finally content, the tiny kitten fell asleep in their arms, a faint but distinct purr coming from the bundle of yellow fabric. There was something in the eyes of some of these kids I haven’t seen before. Happiness. Hope.

“What should we name it?” asked the student who found it.

“Kitters!” came the immediate reply. And that’s how Kitters got his name.

As the day progressed, the tiny kitten gathered strength. I had no idea what to do with him; it was obvious it had a cold of some sort. I couldn’t bring it home; if I brought one more black cat into the house, I was sure D would divorce me. To test the waters, I sent a picture.

“Look what showed up in my class today:”

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Response: “Uh huh.”

Hmmm….. I knew this would be a tough sell. The day wore on, and the kitten gained strength. By the time my conference period rolled around, it was walking around my classroom, meowing happily. Every time I moved around the room, it followed me, and when I would stop, it would look up at me expectantly.

“MEW!”

The MEW was always punctuated with a tiny sneeze and a shake of its head. Kitters had spirit.

I did not want to love this kitten, but I couldn’t help it. I sat back in my chair and giggled as it climbed up my pant leg, settling into my lap before the purring commenced again. I absent-mindedly stroked its tiny ears as I read my email, until it settled into sleep, its rusty motor settling into a comforting rhythm.  How quickly his life had changed from utter misery to this.

My in-laws are active in a local cat rescue shelter, so I’d called them in hopes of finding some help for Kitters. The kitten had been thrown from a moving car in front of the school on a freezing cold day; several students had seen it. It was a miracle the thing was alive, much less unbroken.  My father-in-law came to pick it up halfway through the conference period; I gave Kitters a kiss on top of his sweet head and passed the bright yellow bundle of cloth to him. He was taking him straight to a local vet to get him checked out. Several of the students stopped by my classroom to check on him; three had already called home and were willing to adopt him. It was a good day in the world of teaching.

About a half an hour later, I got the text from my mother-in-law.

“The kitten needed to be put down. Vet said very contagious eye infection secondly to respiratory virus.”

And just like that, he was gone.

I was devestated… not just for the tiny life that was quickly taken away, but for the hope that he had brought into the lives of my students. I was upset that they didn’t even give him a chance to fight. I knew he was sick, but like my kids, he was a fighter, and God knows I’ve seen what the power of love can do. In the span of a single day, I saw emotions in kids that I didn’t think they were capable of feeling… and I couldn’t bear to tell them that it was gone. We had a moment together, something wonderful and special, and like most things in life, it ended. I wasn’t ready for it.

For the first time since my father died, I cried in my classroom. I knew that they would all be waiting for a diagnosis when the bell rang. I took a deep breath and pulled myself together, and for the first time in my life, I did something to my students I swore I would never do.

I lied to them.

It took two weeks of telling them Kitters was at the vet, no, he wasn’t okay, no he probably won’t make it… until the day passed that I just couldn’t lie to them anymore. They, like me, were devestated. Some cried. The boy who had found him took it especially hard; he had already set up a place for Kitters to sleep when he brought him home. I told him there were plenty of kittens out there who needed a home that would love to belong to him.

“Yeah, but Kitters was a fighter.” I knew exactly what he meant. And we never even gave him the chance to fight.

It was a bad day for teaching.

These are the things that you don’t hear about at school. These are the moments that you can’t put into words, that can’t be measured or evaluated. These are the moments that you can’t share with parents, administrators, legislators…. these moments can’t be bought with funding, or standardized with testing. These are those teachable moments that no one can understand unless you experience them. Because it’s not always about the data, or the assessment or the curriculum or the standards…

…sometimes it’s just about being human.

Darwinian Fitness

A few months ago, I finally gave up my obsession with Apple products and switched over to an Android phone. While there are a few features I miss, I honestly can say that I prefer the Android platform over the iPhone; I find Google to be remarkably helpful, if not a little creepy at times.

Phone: DING!

Me: What is it, my incredibly smart phone?

Phone: Your drive home will be delayed by 15 minutes due to an accident on I-45.

Me: Thank you, Stalker Phone.

Phone: You’re welcome. Would you like me to put another pint of Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz on your shopping list? It appears you finished the last pint while watching The Voice last night.

Me: Uh… yeah. Don’t judge me, Phone.

So it took me a little while to adjust to another operating system. The phone apps automatically update without me having to worry about it, but I had to figure out which ones I actually wanted to use. I have an HTC One M8, and I REALLY like the camera. Of course, it’s not a Canon, but in a pinch, it can take some pretty decent photos when I don’t feel like lugging around my professional gear. I’ve also grown fond of painting and sketching apps on both my iPad and my phone, so I decided to link my Flickr account.

And this is where everything went horribly wrong.

Apparently, Stalker Phone assumes that EVERY picture you take is worthy of saving and uploading to Flickr.

EVERY. PICTURE.

Now, I don’t go around taking selfies. And I’m well past my prime for nudie pics (not that I’m against them, but I’d just like to look good when I take them). But I just happened to start a new weight loss program, so I wanted to document my starting weight in Evernote with some measurements and pictures. So I stood in front of my bathroom mirror in my gym shorts and a sports bra and took the most unflattering photos I have ever taken in an effort to motivate myself. I saved them in my Evernote Fitness File, and went about my business.

A week later, I finished a sketch that I wanted to upload to Flickr, so I opened the app to find a shot of Koal I’d taken earlier that day.

“That’s peculiar,” I thought to myself, as I scrolled down. “I don’t remember uploading that.” I continued to scroll down when the realization hit me. Oh. Dear. God.

And there it was.

48 hours, this picture was out in plain view on the Internet. Of ALL the pictures I’d ever taken, and wouldn’t even mind if they ended up on the Internet, WHY, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PHONE, DID YOU POST THIS ONE?????

DELETE. DELETE. DELETE.

And now I live in fear of my own phone.

North of The Wall

Saturdays in the country are never boring.

A few weeks after the deer in the pool incident (just one of several pool incidents in the short time we’ve been here), Pixel returned from his morning romp in the back 50 acres covered in mud. The damn dog just refuses to stay clean since we moved here. He doesn’t even look like a doxie anymore; he’s just a muddy swamp rat.

D left to get groceries, so I threw the dog in the tub and commenced to scrubbing. Since he has alpecia (the only dog I know with male-battern baldness), he no longer has a wiry overcoat. He’s covered in super-soft fur , so he truly resembles a teddy bear. Unfortunately, that super-soft fuzziness picks up leaves and sticks easily, resulting in gnarly mats in less than 10 minutes. So I wash, pluck, condition and trim constantly. This particular morning, I was more than a little pissed off at him, so I gave him an extra spray of Bath and Body Works sparkling body cologne so he was glittery.

“There,” I said with smug satisfaction. “At least you’ll be pretty for a few minutes.”

About that time, D returned with the groceries. The moment he opened the door, Pixel darted out and ran straight for fence. I silently cursed both the dog and my husband, and began to put away the groceries. A few moments later, D returned with the final bags and said, “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Something is shreiking out back.”

I walked out the back door and immediately realized that the shreiking was Pixel, howling and crying in pain. I could hear him behind the fence, deep in the woods, but there was no possible way to get to him. The sound was horrific, like he was being torn apart. All I could do was call out to him.

“Pixel!  Come here, baby!  Pixel!! Pixel!!!”  My hands began to tremble in fear as I heard him moving towards the fence, his piercing cries evident that he was in serious pain. When he finally made it to the fence, I saw him run past a clearing to the hole he had dug beneath it, and following close behind was the biggest coyote I had ever seen. My heart dropped. I’d heard this happened, but I never thought in a million years that it might happen to us. I couldn’t think fast enough as I watched the coyote coming in for the kill as Pixel continued to run for his life.

“D!!” I screamed as the two dogs fell out of sight behind a line of trees. “Get your gun!! Get your gun!!”  I heard Pixel continue to shriek as Dan burst from the back bedroom door, gun in hand. About that moment, Pixel burst through the trees, running directly for Dan before falling at his feet.

At first glance, it appeared that he had escaped with only a bite. Near the back of his long abdomen there were two deep puncture wounds where the coyote’s teeth had pieced his skin. As I attempted to calm him, I tried to pick him up and he screeched in pain. I looked at D helplessly.

“Get him to a vet,” he said. I knew at that moment that Pixel was in serious trouble. We wrapped him in a towel and I took him to the nearest emergency vet. He whimpered in pain as I set him on the backseat, but when I tried to move him, he screamed. I did my best to scoop him from underneath as I walked him in; the vet took one look at him and immediately took him away. A moment later I heard him shrieking again, his cries so loud that I could hear them in the lobby. My heart broke.

Thirty minutes later, the diagnosis stunned me. Four broken ribs, two broken dorsal vertabrae, and several puncture wounds, the most dangerous one piercing through the wall of his abdomen. The coyote had snatched him right behind the shoulder blades, crushing Pixel’s ribs in his powerful jaws. The vet believed that he shook Pixel viciously before snapping at him again, getting a bite on his head before landing another bite in his long, soft belly.

“I don’t know how he’s still alive,” the vet said. “Honestly, with these wounds, I would have  layed there and let him kill me.”

The words were a death sentance. I understood what she was telling me. She continued with the bad news. The puncture wounds were so deep that they feared his intestines were pierced. An ultrasound showed that his liver had been nicked as well. There was no way to guarantee that he would survive the night, and the vet wanted to do emergency surgery to explore the wounds.

This is that moment as a pet owner that you hate. How much do you spend on an animal? Especially when you have a family? Do you put yourself in debt and try to save an animal that is probably not going to make it anyway? I called D with the heartbreaking news. Together, we decided that we were not going to sacrifice our financial stability on a dog with horrible odds. I sobbed as I told the vet our decision. She understood, but wanted to keep him overnight for observation.

Around midnight, she called again to let me know that Pixel’s condition was dire. She implored me again to do the surgery, but we simply couldn’t. The cost of care was already pushing $2000, and the surgery would take it upwards of $5000. I hung up the phone and sobbed in D’s arms. I knew he’d be gone by morning.

But he wasn’t. The next morning, I called to check on his condition, which had not improved, but it also had not deteriorated. The vet cautioned us not to get our hopes up; the wound to his abdomen was deadly. If bacteria from the coyote’s mouth didn’t cause an infection, then it was likely that the intestines would begin to leak into his stomach cavity and he would develop sepsis and die quickly.

Later that day I came up to the vet and lay on the floor with Pixel. He was heavily medicated with morphine, but the moment he heard my voice, he started to wag his tail. I put my head down next to his and stroked his fuzzy face, not sure how much longer he would be with us.

24 hours later, the dog was still hanging on. At that point, we had to move him from the emergency vet to a regular one. Again, the prognosis was grim; he liekly would not survive then next 48 hours. All we could do was wait.

I called my mother, who has always been my rock in situation like this. She drove all the way to Houston from New Orleans just to sit with the dog while I had to go to work.

A couple of days passed…. the dog still lived.

We decided it would be best for him to have someone in the house with him all day to monitor him, so Mom took him back to New Orleans to recover. A couple of months later, Pixel has returned home. His bark is considerably quieter. He has a horrific indentation where his ribs used to round out near the top of his shoulders. The punctures on his head and abdomen have disappeared, leaving little knots of scar tissue. He wobbles slightly, and still yelps when you lift him from underneath.

But his first night home, when I let him out in the backyard, he headed straight under that god-damned fence. I stood out in the dark with a sad little LED flashlight, calling his name for over an hour. About two hours in, he would dance just close enough to the fence where I could see him, then dart back into the woods.

Three hours in, I threatened to wrap him in bacon and throw his fuzzy ass over the fence if he dared to come back. Finally, I had to call it a night and went inside, worried sick as I laid in bed imagining all the ways he was going to die.

Close to midnight, I heard a scratching at the back door.  When I opened it, he stood there wagging his tail happily, covered in mud and dripping dirty water on the tile floor. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I did both.

It’s amazing how a fuzzy little face can twist your heart so terribly. I never wanted a little dog; they’re yappy and needy and annoying… yet I love him anyway. He defied all odds with his survival, and it just proves that sometimes the sheer will to live and a whole lot of love can make miracles happen. I’m 100% sure that if we weren’t there, he would have died. I’d like to think that he heard my voice calling for him and that gave him a reason to fight, but even if it was only a determination to survive, I can’t forget how he collapsed at D’s feet with complete trust that we were there to help him. He has a fighting spirit in his fierce little package, oblivious to his limitations.

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And that’s exactly why he’s grounded now.

 

Gravity

I recently lost my old fitness band, so I researched several new ones before settling on the Fitbit Charge HR. I originally wanted the smart watch version, but it got horrible reviews, so I decided to go with the smaller band that included a heart monitor. The model had yet to be released, so I had to wait patiently (HA!) for it to hit the market.

It finally arrived last Sunday. There’s something about a shiny plastic box with good package design that makes me happy; I admired the box for several minutes before tearing it open and playing with my new toy. It took several minutes to synchronize it with both my computer and my phone, but I finally figured it out.

I ran to the bedroom to change into my running clothes, checking the time on the new band every few seconds. As I tied my running shoes, I scrolled through the display again.

I took 58 steps already!

I called to the girls, who wanted to join me on their scooters. As they got ready, I walked around the kitchen, watching the pedometer. 77. 78. 79. 80. Finally, they appeared at the door. 95. 96. 97.

We walked to the end to the driveway as I synchronized my playlist with my Runkeeper app (which also feeds into my Fitbit app), and we were off. Meghan Trainor set a happy beat for my feet to follow (you lie, lie, lie baby!) and it felt awesome to get moving again. The weather was perfect. I pressed the button on the stats again: .04 miles and counting!

Yea!

We reached the end of the street, and turned right. The road slopes ever so slightly, and the spot where the asphalt ends is somewhat treacherous, so the girls gravitated towards the middle of the street. I called ahead and warned them to move closer to the side, in case traffic came. I realized I needed to heed my own warning as well, so I moved slightly right.

I could feel my legs wanting to stretch and break out into a full run, so I looked down and pressed the button again, trying to see where my heart rate was…

… and promptly face-planted straight into the asphalt.

My right ankle gave out, pitching my body to the left, where I landed simultaneously on my left hand and knee, the tiny rocks embedded in the asphalt ripping through my skin. I laid there for a moment on my back, stunned, until the pain set in. The girls immediately scooted back over to me, both cringing as the blood started running down my hand. My ankle hurt so bad I couldn’t stand up, and when I lifted it, I could see it had already swelled to the size of an orange.

Meghan Trainor gave way to Taylor Swift. I’m sorry, Tay Tay, but I can’t shake this one off. I called D to come get us.

About a half an hour later, I lay in the bed, ankle wrapped and iced, scrapes bandaged, and realized my Runkeeper app was still going.

.17 miles.

And this is why I shouldn’t be allowed to have technology while I run.

Riff Raff

When we started looking for our new home, we had a certain price range in mind. We were lucky enough to stumble across an incredible deal in a beautiful neighborhood, but we are definitely one of the “lower end” homes. Our house sits on almost a full acre at the end of a heavily wooded cul de sac; everyone on the street has automatic iron gates.

I found this incredibly amusing when we first moved in. I mean, I’m just a little redneck girl from the country, and now I have this fancy-schmancy gate with a remote control. Not like the gate at the front of the neighborhood, oh no…. my OWN fancy gate. So when I described the amenities of my new house to anyone who would listen, I made sure to jest about the gate that would “keep the riff raff out.”

The gate runs on solar power, with two small photo cells that recharge the main battery. What I didn’t realize is that the photo cells only get sunlight during PART of the day, because the cul de sac is heavily wooded, casting the panels in deep shade. That’s fine, most of the time. Unless it rains.

So, the first time it rained, we were not prepared.

The alarm went off at 6:00am, as usual, and it was still pitch black outside. We got ready for work, I loaded Alex into the truck, and hit the button, ready to start the day.

Nothing.

Why is it that when a remote control doesn’t work, we still feel the need to hit the button repeatedly, as if it will magically start to work for no rational reason?

“Open, damn it,” I cursed the tiny grey box. The red light flashed in response, but the gate ignored my plea. D came out, ready to go.

“Open the gate,” he said. I narrowed my eyes.

“I’m trying. It’s not working.”

“Press the button.” I narrowed my eyes further.

“I TRIED THAT.”

Now here’s the thing about me & D; we have an awesome relationship. He truly is my best friend in many ways. But when it comes to matters of home improvement, there are moments I’d like to drive a long screw through his head with a power drill, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. For whatever reason, our incredible patience for one another’s shenanigans quickly poofs into smoke at the slightest home challenge. So add the stress of the new commute, plus getting Alex on the bus that will be rounding the corner in less than three minutes, not to mention it was cold, wet & rainy (a deadly combination for me), I bit my tongue until I tasted blood to keep from chunking the remote at his head. After all, he was going to get wet and be late to work, too.

I quickly ran through the options in my head.

1) Call Out: ”Yeah, I’m not coming in today because my gate won’t open.” I figured I wouldn’t get much sympathy for that one.

2) Ram the gate. No, that can’t be a viable option. Yet.

3) Go figure out why the damn gate won’t open, despite the fact that I have absolutely no prior knowledge about solar cells or iron gates. Sure, that sounds awesome. I’m sure I could come up with the solution in under three minutes.

D grabbed the flashlight and handed me an umbrella, and we walked down the driveway to the solar panel.

“What do you think is wrong with it?” he mused, moving the flashlight around the large metal case.

“It won’t open,” I replied. He shot me a dark look.  ”Try opening the box.”

As soon as he touched the back panel, it fell off onto the ground, making a small splash in the puddle that was forming beneath it.

“Well, that might have something to do with it,” D mumbled. He started to reach his hands into the box to mess with the clamps on the battery.

“What are you doing?? Don’t do that!” I snapped.

“How am I supposed to fix it?”

“You’re standing in a puddle!!”

“Do you have a better idea?”

I leaned forward, trying to see, but the umbrella tilted, sending a small river of cold water straight on top of his head.  ”I can’t see,” I mumbled when he dropped the flashlight to protect his head from the stream of water.

And this is how divorce happens.

After a few moments, the tension started to skyrocket, so we decided to just unbolt the whole freaking control arm on the gate, manually push the damn thing open, and wait for a sunny day to fix it.

And that’s when I realized God was putting me back in my place, because it became obvious that the fancy-schmancy gate not only keeps riff-raff out….

…. but it also keeps it in.

(But the damn deer can still get in somehow.)

Another Day

“What are you doing this weekend?”

“I’m doing the laundry, and Dan is out digging up a dead body.”

“Hahah…. wait a minute. You’re not kidding are you?”

“Um, no.”

“You guys are so weird.”

“I know, right? Who would want to do laundry on a day like this?”

Oh, Deer.

Early one chilly Saturday morning, I was laying in bed when Pixel started to bark incessantly. This is a big deal now, because since we’ve moved, I had to put a bark collar on the dogs to keep them from annoying the neighbors (which is another story to come).

So when Pixel, the biggest puss of my two doxies, is STILL barking, there is something big going down.

He was barking with more ferocity than I’d heard since we moved into our new house. His normal yap-yap was punctuated with an uncharacteristic snarl and growl. I shook D awake.

“The dog is going crazy,” I informed him. I expected him to pop out of bed and grab his gun, but he did nothing. I pulled my robe around my shoulders as I moved towards the patio door. If something was going to kill me, then I was going to… meet it at the door, damn it. I know taekwondo. Sort of.

I slid my fingers between the blinds, and saw Pixel barking furiously at something that was making a huge splash in the shallow end of the pool. His lips were curled back in a vicious snarl, baring his teeth as he yap-yap-yapped at the monster frantically thrashing in the pool. My eyes took a moment to recognize what I was seeing; my brain took a few more seconds to comprehend.

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed. Now D was paying attention.

“What is it?”

“There’s a…. a…… freaking DEER in the pool!” I exclaimed over Pixel’s yapping. I moved quickly from the bedroom to the living room, watching the deer thrash about helplessly in the water as it started moving towards the deep end. Pixel followed him along the lip of the pool, never shutting up.

“Oh my God!! D! What do we do?” I cried, compelled to act before we had a deer drown in our pool. It was too large to pull out, and it was too cold to get in, anyway (Sorry, Bambi, but until that water hits 85 degrees, you’re sleeping with the fishes.) Not to mention the trauma that would ensue with my children when the story got back to them since the last deer incident.  And to top it all off, I’m pretty sure a deer carcass would clog the filter.

The dog, however, was blissfully unaware of the situation he had gleefully created. He also  had no comprehension that one good deer kick to his stubborn little head could silence him forever, so my only solution was to yell at the dog.

“Leave it alone, stupid! What the hell are you going to do with it when you catch it???” I yelled through the window. “It’s TEN TIMES your SIZE!!!”

“YAP! YAP! YAP! YAP! YAP!!!!!!” he answered.

Thankfully, God took pity on me (or the deer was actually an accomplished swimmer), because as it thrashed towards the deep end, a hoof caught the sun shelf and enabled it to catapult itself out of the pool, running for the safety of the street. I looked over at D, who looked as stunned as I was.

“Nobody is ever going to believe this one.”

Apparently, the country is no place for a deer.  :/