It has been eight months since my last post. Time passes differently for adults and children. What is eight months for me is a lifetime for my son. M-ito has finished third grade and will begin fourth next week. We have passed through most of a summer. The weather has changed three times with each of the seasons and it is just starting to change again.

I haven’t written on this blog because of the time it has taken to market my novel, write the blog for that website, and keep more balls floating in the air in front of me. But this season of school I don’t want to miss recording. I don’t want my son to miss out on a year when he looks back at this. Really this is a record for him more than me.

What has happened in the last 8 months? Everything.

M-ito is now nine. For his ninth birthday he saved the world with a group of close friends from the infamous Ratzso – once again.

My debut novel Open Wounds has been published.

M-ito has read all the Harry Potter books, seen all the movies, and as of last week experienced most of Universal’s Harry Potter World in Orlando, Florida. He loves them. We just watched The Sorcerer’s Stone … again… last night.

This summer M-ito figured out that baseball camp was the same as school only you learned only about baseball all day. He would like not to do baseball camp next year. He wants to be free.

We have two dogs now – Spike and Gracie, both Havanese. They wake me up at 6am to be taken out. Ugh.

Being a father is still the hardest job I have and the hardest job I know. And I still love every minute of it.

Brother Spike

Mom-ita found a piece of paper she’d used to write things down on that M-ito has said to us. This is from when he was three years old.

M-ito – “If I have a brother or sister what will their names be?”

Mom-ita – “If we have another child and it’s a girl we’ll name her Lil-ita after my grandmother, just as you were named M-ito after your father’s grandfather.”

M-ito – “If we have a boy can I name him?”

Mom-ita – “What would you name him?”

M-ito – “Spike.”

It’s five years later and we are past being able to have a second child. It is an ache in our hearts that won’t fully go away.

We got a dog in July. It fell into our laps. It had been returned by the original adopting family to a trainer that we know who called us and offered him to us for adoption. He was a little 15 pound, 8 months old hypoallergenic Havanese, and he was already named – Spike.

Spike-ito is in the House

We got a dog.

We’re in day three of dogdom.

I can’t believe it.

Momita has bad allergies to all creatures with dander so the fact that a dog has been in our home for three days is still amazing to me. Momita has been promising M-ito he could get a dog for a few years – though I’ve had no idea how this would occur. Then by chance a couple of months ago we found a friend with a dog called a Havanese that has hair, not fur and is hypoallergenic. We tried hypoallergenic before with cats when we first got together – Momita loves cats. But even the naked cat (appropriately called the sphinx) caused a bad reaction. I had given up any hope of dogdom (other than being “in the dog house” myself many times) a long time ago so these promises – well, I didn’t take them too seriously because I didn’t think it possible. Momita and her health is much more important than any pet.

Then she chanced upon this dog and two months later, a number of emails to a dog trainer we know, lots of internet time logged studying the breed and looking at recommended breeders, a date to get a dog was arrived upon – September.  Then a connection to another dog trainer who just happened to have an 8 month old Havanese looking for a home occurred and September became July 18th.

We have a dog.

We’re all getting used to each other. One thing I’ll tell you having a dog is a lot of work and it’s very challenging. Even when the dog comes trained and housebroken. As a family we have to work together to integrate Spike-ito (he came named and we decided to stick with the moniker) into our daily life. I have the morning shift before everyone gets up. M-ito and Momita have the afternoon until I come home from work. Then M-ito and I have the evening.

I’ve had dogs before but as a kid. My dad always had them. But that doesn’t mean I know much about how to care for them or what makes them tick.

I read three books, My Smart Puppy, The Perfect Dog, and The Art of Raising a Puppy. My Smart Puppy was the recommended book and the style used to train Spike-ito. But he’s an adolescent and we’re new owners and so we’re off to the races. We have so many things to get used to.

There are crates, poop bags, leashes, collars (three different types), treats, compressed rawhide bones, dog food, food and water bowls, a dog proofing of the apartment (it forced us to clean up better than ever!), a co-op advisement of  “dog-entering-the building” to be sent to the board, pictures to be taken, commands to be learned (was that down, sit, come, or wait?), whining to be heard (only from the dog), and general anxiety about the new responsibility of a 10lb creature to be dealt with (that’s from all parties including the dog).

And how is M-ito about all this? Walking on air at first. But building a long-term relationship with any creature takes time. This will be a big challenge. And I’ll get to watch and help (I hope) along the way. Oh yeah, Momita and I have relationships to build with Spike-ito also – I’d almost forgotten.

Humphrey the Hamster

The World According to Humphrey is M-ito’s newest favorite book. Muddle Earth has been slow going but he laughs when we read it and he loves the line drawings even if it is collecting dust at the moment. And… I’m still not sure Farradawn has been ousted from first place, but Humphrey is in. And I have to tell you, Humphrey is a pretty cool hamster and a very good book. Betty Birney is the author and she’s tops.

Why is big H good for you? Because it is all about values and good ones at that. It has a good sense of humor – always important in this day and age, has very few explosions (rubber bands not included) and many riffs on friendship and human beings as a species. And of course the characters are basically good, even the bad ones. All are human. All this from a book in the 7-12 year old reader  section. There are five books in the series and probably will be more as the fifth just came out this year.

What do I mean by values? Definitions of right and wrong, good and bad, and then in the course of the book, applied to humans and other species (frogs most notably). Yet the book is complex enough in its problems not to simplify or Disney-fie life. What a talent to have in a writer!

And perhaps what I love the most about Humphrey is my son will almost always wait until a night when I can put him to bed to read the next chapter so I can be the reader. I love reading to my son. I love stories and the two go together so well. I especially love when M-ito dives under the cover to hide from what’s going to happen next and says, “Yes!” when I ask him if he wants me to keep reading. Or giggles when the story is funny and burrows a hole deeper into my side. What a joy it is to hear and be a part of the written word being read aloud.

Now… if M-ito will just help me clean the Gerbil’s cages…

Make-and-Mend Sunday

“What do I do when I’m not doing legos?” M-ito asks. He’s lying in bed, trying to keep his eyes open and failing, though giving it his all. Mom-ita is on one side and I’m on the other. We’re talking about our make-and-mend day – our Sunday. With snow outside (and me disappointed not to go sledding) we stayed in all day. M-ito had a bit of a cold so we decided to play it safe and do no-thing. This entailed the following some-things (not particularly in any order):

  • Working on the “Death Star” lego model that his pop-pop bought him as the big christmas gift of the year. This is an over 3,000 piece model that is taking up a whole corner of our living room as he rummages through the pieces (and constantly asks us to help him find a piece) and the 200 page instruction manual. We figure it ought to take him a good two weeks to finish.
  • Watching Animal Planet.
  • Wrestling and jumping on the bed.
  • Me reading him four chapters of Far-Flung Adventures: of Fergus Crane by Stewart and Riddell (a great read-to and read-along with book for a 6-year old with spectacular pen and ink drawings on most pages).
  • Mom-ita reading him Max’s Words by Banks and Kulikov (a terrific picture book about the power of words and story telling).
  • Watching the gerbils as I cleaned their cages (the two mommies fought so they’re now in two separate tanks of two mother-daughter pairs) and as they watched him play with his Star Wars lego characters.
  • Watching the second half of Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (we’d watched the first part earlier in the week).
  • Watching the Secrets of the Furious Five (a sequel to Kung Fu Panda that we got as a boxed set over the holidays) two times along with learning how to draw Po, checking our Chinese new years and zodiac animals (M-ito is a horse, Mom-ita a tiger and yours truly… an Ox), watching different styles of kung fu based on the animals in the movie – moves modeled by kids, and finally each of us taking a quiz that determined which style of kung fu was most suited to us (M-ito the serpent, Mom-ita and me the crane). The movie, by the way was short at 45 minutes but really excellent and quite a good surprise. It is Po telling five stories, one about each of the furious five and a lesson each learned in order to become a master (courage, patience, etc…). 
  • Taking a shower and had a huge meltdown (M-ito, not me this time).
  • Eating breakfast and linner (lunch and dinner combined).
  • Playing with his Didj (that’s for another column – ugh).

“What do I do when I’m not doing legos?” he asks again, cocking his head to the side, one eye closing. Mom-ita and I list what we remember of the day.

“Oh yeah,” he says and lays his head down on his pillow, Puffy the Puffin, his new favorite stuffed animal, close by his side.

Move Over Noggin

It happened sometime over the last four months. I couldn’t put my finger on the exact date. But today I could deny it no longer. It became official. Now that my son can officially turn the TV on and off without any help, and find his own channels – all this comes with graduating kindergarten – his go-to channel has become Animal Planet. I remember when it was Oswald, and Little Einsteins, and Wonder Pets, and Dora, and Diego. Everything was on Noggin, and Noggin was king. Now it’s shows like, It’s Me or the Dog, Meerkat Manor, Corwin’s Quest, and the Crocodile Hunter. Sigh, he’s growing up.

Of course this also means he’s watching commercials and quoting lines from the advertisement for Activia. Noggin had no commercials. Noggin is genius. Noggin is good. Commercials are capitalism in my living room. M-ito knows all about weight loss and other products I’d rather that he didn’t know about, but with Animal Planet comes the rest of the grown up world and a barrage of products that he doesn’t need. Still he soaks these commercials up and is fascinated by them.

Yesterday Mom-ita called him in for dinner and he said, “Wait, there’s a commercial on. I’ll come in when it’s over.”


The Saga Continues

We cleaned the cage after getting the okay from Marc Marone’s shop in Rockville center. I only touched one of the babies because we couldn’t get him to go back in the habittrail. It was only for a second.

Three days later M-ito noticed a small black gerbil on the bottom of the cage. It wasn’t moving. It had been missing for two days, last seen having escaped the habittrail second floor apartment nest, the day after I’d cleaned the cage. It wasn’t the one I’d touched but it was missing just the same. One of the Mom’s had tried to grab it and carry it back to the nest. Well, grab it is not exactly the right word. She’d tossed the recalcitrant toddler around the cage like a rubber ball. Neither Mom-ita nor I knew what to do so we watched nature take it’s course. We saw the tiny black creature hanging out in the corner later, licking it’s wounds but still free of the nest. The next day the little one was missing. At least we thought it was missing. There are a jumble of them sleeping together in the nest and some are black also so truthfully I wasn’t sure – just pretty sure with a gut instinct telling me he was gone. He was M-ito’s self proclaimed favorite.

M-ito found it and I took it out, a plastic bag covering my hand. I wrapped it up carefully and sent it down the garbage disposal – where a previous infant gerbil, a number of fish, and one hermit crab have gone before. Mom-ita told M-ito it had died.

“It died?” he asked, surprised and upset.

Mom-ita nodded. My heart sank.

M-ito heaved a big sigh.

I called Marc Marone’s Parrots of the World and got the man himself on the phone. “Well, you’ve gone through the worst of it,” he said.

“That’s a lot of help,” I said. 

A week and a half to go before we bring them in to be sorted and we figure out what to do with the whole bunch (ie: who stays and who go’s back to the store).

And just how are we going to transport them to the store? Oh boy…