Friday, May 15, 2015

Saving A Life On A Friday


 
As soon as I pulled up to the building last Friday I knew there was a problem. Emergency vehicles surrounded the Rec Center where I work. It was a trick to find a parking space that didn’t block one of the trucks.

We have sheriff’s cars out front every now and then. Teenagers acting up. Someone trying to sneak in a back door. A random stolen bicycle. But we never have multiple ambulances, fire trucks and sheriff cars.

There was an energy in the building as I walked through the front door. Where usually I am greeted only by the front desk person I am there to replace, that day many of my managers were lingering about, mixed in with deputies and paramedics.

Not wanting to be problem, but knowing I’d need to know the situation if I were taking over the front desk, I finally got some information out of one of my bosses.

On Fridays we have many older people fill up our basketball gym, playing pickleball. It’s a popular sport here in Colorado and they rarely have low attendance. One of the players left his game and went to the sidelines, holding his chest.

Several friends came over and asked if he were okay. He assured them that he was. Said this happens every now and then. He even declined a chair to sit down in.

Then a friend who is a retired nurse walked over, took his hand, looked in his face, and yelled out, “Someone call 911!”

She saw what many of us would not see – the distinct signs of a heart that is failing.

The deputy who works at the high school next door to our building happened to be driving by when the call came in. Before our front desk guy had finished his call to 911, she was running through the front door.

When she got up to the basketball gym, the man had just collapsed.

Every person who works for our large Parks and Rec Department is required to take First Aid/CPR classes, every six months. From the director down to the part time janitors. Every single person. And this is why.

The first person to reach the fallen man was our head maintenance guy. Right behind him was a lifeguard, who heard the call from the pool. Together they started CPR. For what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes, they pumped away, keeping the blood flowing, until paramedics finally arrived. There was some delay as they figured out a way to get the ambulance to the back of the building, to avoid a large stair case inside. Maintenance Guy and Lifeguard kept pumping away.

Then the professionals took over. The other pickleball players surrounded them, making a stunned circle of witnesses.  

I sometimes grumble under my breath about yet another CPR class. It always feels like we just had them, and suddenly it’s time again. Kneeling on the floor is always uncomfortable and pretending to wrap someone’s head in gauze is only fun when you’re a four year old playing doctor. Then I hear the stats - that a large percentage of people who receive CPR don’t make it anyway. It’s easy to feel like ‘why bother?’

I was cured of that attitude last Friday. Later in the evening we got an update. The man had a fully blocked artery. He was receiving treatment and would go home in the morning. Go home. Back to his life with his family. Able to celebrate Mother’s Day with his wife on Sunday. Because a couple of people knew how to pump that oxygenated blood to his heart, when his heart was not able.

As you’d expect, the staff was pretty shaken up the rest of the afternoon. The young lifeguard was found wandering the hallway, after she handed her job over to the paramedics. One of my supervisors asked her where she was going. “Back to the pool. My shift isn’t over.”

She was a bit dazed, not sure what to do next. After you’ve basically saved another human’s life, it’s hard to transition back to regular life. The supervisor gave her immediate permission to go home, for a paid afternoon off. She definitely earned it.

There was a meeting with all of the people who had been present, who had helped, who might need some emotional support. Our maintenance guy was as dazed as the lifeguard had been. When I was able to call him that evening, to tell him the incredible outcome, he just kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you for calling. That’s amazing. Thank you for calling.”

It was a humbling afternoon. I’ve spoken to many of the pickleball players who witnessed the incident. Most of them said, “It was scary. We all knew it could  have been us.” One of those things that makes you consider mortality, and good health, and surrounding yourself with the people you love.

That notice will come around again soon. Times and dates for the next staff CPR classes will be emailed out to each department. I’ll have to double check my family calendar and find a time that fits on one of my days off. But this time around I won’t grumble

This time around I know that if I’m told that 90% of the people who receive CPR die anyway, I won’t think, ‘why bother?’ I’ll think of that man - that husband, dad, grandpa, and brother, who is alive today because someone knew CPR. He was spared brain damage, paralysis and death.
The ten percent is why we take the class. I’ll never forget that.

 

 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Creating A New Fan


I found David Sedaris almost a dozen years ago, when I worked in a library in New York. After reading the first book I knew I had to go find every other thing he'd ever written. I've been a fan for a very long time.

So when the opportunity came my way to see him perform in person of course I jumped on it. It was the autumn of 2013 and I took my 22 year old daughter because she would often read his books too, when I'd check them out from the library. Being a core writer for GeekMom.com, I wrote a post about my love of Mr. Sedaris's work, and in return was comped some pretty sweet tickets, just a few rows back from the stage. It was like having him in my own living room.

The best part of the night, however, was about an hour before the show. The promoter kindly let daughter and me meet up with Mr. Sedaris, for a mini meet and greet. I asked him to sign my artificial leg, the one I have been collecting signatures on for several years now. He also signed the book I brought from home. We had a quick, fun chat, then the interaction was over. We left with some pretty great memories to store in our memory banks.

This year I noticed he was headed back to Denver. I emailed my kindly rep and she confirmed that he'd be stopping in the Mile High City on his massive book tour. I wroteanother post for GeekMom, this time about how much I appreciate the way he so casually references prosthetics in his essays, making my life feel a bit more normal. Once again I found tickets with my name on them, waiting at Will Call.

This time around daughter no longer lives locally. Hubby and middle son are spending the week in Utah. Oldest son is also residing in another state. It was down to youngest son. Fourteen year old Sam. Who had never read a single thing written by Mr. Sedaris, except for the essay I read to him every December, about holiday traditions in other countries, called "Six to Eight Large Black Men". It is our version of The Night Before Christmas, just a bit rougher around the edges. And much more likely to induce a few good belly laughs.

In trying to sell the idea to Sam I said I had great tickets to a cool author's night in Denver. In a really cool old theater. Down on 16th Street Mall, where there were lots of fun stores we could poke around in beforehand. In fact, we might even splurge and get dinner somewhere downtown. I figured food speaks to the most reluctant teen boy.

"So what's it going to be like?" he asked.

"Well, David Sedaris writes funny essays, about his life," I replied. "He will read some from his books and then answer questions from the audience at the end. And it's funny. I promise."

"So, he's like a stand-up comedian?"

"Well....kinda.  Something like that..."

We left the house at 5 pm, allowing plenty of time to run some errands, then find parking in downtown Denver before the show. We picked up our Will Call tickets about 6:40 then stood on the sidewalk out front, trying to decide if we should walk around the outdoor mall area for a bit, until it was closer to the 7:30 show time, or just go ahead and find our seats.

Surprisingly, Sam wanted to go ahead and go in.  What a lucky decision that turned out to be.

As we walked into the lobby I noticed a woman who seemed to be my rep, my favorite rep, who continues to get me these sweet tickets to amazing shows. I waited for her to turn around to make sure it was her, and started to walk her way, intending to thank her for this latest set.

She turned around. The man with her turned around too. It was David Sedaris himself. It took me a second to realize it was him. I just wasn't expecting to casually run into him in the lobby. After our eyes met, his gaze quickly looked down and saw my leg. He looked back up and said, "Hey! I know you!"

It was one of those hard to comprehend moments.

"Yes," I said (I think....it was all kind of a blur).

"You signed my leg last year." I then whipped out the small manila envelope I had in my hand and pulled out the picture I'd had printed earlier that day. It's a picture of my signed leg, next to the signature page on my book where he'd also signed. My plan was that 'just in case' I had the opportunity to get a signature, I'd get the picture signed, then frame that picture to hang in my home office. It's much easier than displaying the actual leg.

I couldn't have imagined we'd accidentally run into him in the lobby.

He graciously signed my picture and as he looked over at Sam, he stuck his hand out. "Hi! What's your name?" he said.

Sam hesitated, in the way you do when you're so flustered you can't even remember basic facts about yourself. "Sam", he finally said. When asked how old he was, Sam managed to do the math correctly.

David then said, as he laughed, "Oh Sam! You need to do that again! You need a stronger hand shake than that!"

They shook hands again, playfully, but much more seriously this time on Sam's side. David chatted with Sam for a minute, telling him to be sure to check in with him after the show, come to the front of the line, because he had a special gift for him.

I had just been telling Sam, on the drive to Denver, how Mr. Sedaris is known for bringing small gifts to give the teens who are dragged along to his shows. I truly believe he's seriously under-estimating how much those teens love his shows, especially the dirty jokes part. But the kindness is appreciated.

Sam promised Mr. Sedaris he would come see him after the show, at the signing table. And then my kid who had informed me in a very strict voice on the drive down, that  there was NO way we were waiting for any signatures or any schmoozing after the show, was dedicated to meeting up with his friend David as soon as the show was over. 

No matter how long he had to wade through the crowds who were exiting the theater.

Since we were a bit early, and still floating a bit from our accidental encounter, Sam and I had nearly an hour of great chat time. We talked about a wide variety of topics, while we lounged in our seats, watching people slowly file in. It was one of those magical hours that you treasure when you're a mom to teens, especially teen boys.

The tickets were not as close to the front as the last set, but they were perfect. My seat was on the aisle, where I could stick my left leg out into the walkway. It's the seat I pick when I get my first choice at every event, so I can stretch out my artificial leg, when it's feeling a bit cramped during the course of the show. And since Sam had met with Mr. Sedaris before the show, seeing him clearly during the reading wasn't nearly as important.

After a lot of laughing and a lot of great essays, the show was over and the crowd worked their way to the exit. Sam helped me up the sloped aisle, which is a tricky thing for me to navigate, especially when I'm forced to 'shuffle' with the crowd. I'm not great at shuffling, or slopes, so together they are my nemesis. It was nice to be able to hold onto my baby boy's arm for stability, and as he helped me physically up the aisle, he helped me mentally once again try to grasp that this five foot ten inch kid is my baby, all grown up. Another treasured mother/son moment.

Just as promised, when Sam approached the table, Mr. Sedaris noticed him and stopped his book signing rhythm. He paused the next person in line and turned his full attention to my boy, who was beaming. "Oh good! You're here!" he said, as he reached under the table for his personal bag.

"Sam, do you ever dress up?" I thought it was a reference to the fact Sam had worn his favorite t shirt and hoodie to the show. But instead it was the deciding question for which gift he gave Sam.

In the end Sam ended up with a small business like card that has tiny lettering on it. All it says is "Stop Talking". He and Sam laughed about all the situations Sam could use it in, and Mr. Sedaris acted like he had all the time in the world to give my boy.

As we exited the theater I didn't want it to end. The perfect night out with my boy.

Another amazing meet up with one of my favorite authors. A beautiful cool night in downtown Denver, after days and days of rain and snow. I walked as slowly as I could down the sidewalk towards our parked car.

Sam fell asleep on the drive home. We chatted a little, but being a teenage boy, he wasn't prepared to analyze every single thing he did and didn't like about the show. The one thought he kept coming back to was, "I wonder what prize he would have given me if I said I DO dress up sometimes..." 

It's a question that will plague him for a very long time. Or at least until he has a chance to run into his friend David again. 



Thursday, February 19, 2015

Graham Crackers


The big plastic bag of graham crackers sat in the bottom of my pantry for over two months. Like every other year, I bought way too many when I’d done the comprehensive shopping trip for the annual gingerbread house party. It’s okay to run out of candy canes when building gingerbread houses. To run out of household siding is not forgivable.

After all the colorful scraps of candy and sticky smudges of white frosting had been cleaned up I was left with a lot of crackers - eight packages still sealed, the rest gathered into Ziploc bags. They were banished to the bottom of the pantry until I could figure out what to do with them.

By mid February I was ready to have them gone, so I could have the floor space for cases of juice boxes and stock piled kitchen supplies. I work at a Rec Center with an active kid’s program.  I decided to haul the plastic bag of crackers into work, to see if I could pawn them off on the director of our children’s’ programs.

I got to work and immediately forgot about the donation crackers that filled out the bottom of my work bag. By the time I remembered them, the director had gone home. I considered just leaving them in the break room, with a note for the director to find the next day. Then I remembered something.

Every Thursday night at our Rec Center, the lobby is filled with kids getting out of swim practice. They huddle in packs around the front doors, the girls with their wet hair swept up into loose buns and the boys with their damp towels draped around their necks, as they wait for parents to come retrieve them. They are always hungry.

When they are not scavenging from the vending machines, they are digging into the bottom of backpacks, looking for any morsel to calm the ravaging hunger that was stirred up by too many laps in the pool. Most have not had dinner yet, even as the clock says it’s past seven. I wondered if these foragers might be interested in my old graham crackers.

I dug an old paper plate covered in a Christmas scene out of the back of our break room cabinet. I ripped open a few packages of crackers and stacked them high on the plate. The plate went onto the center of my front counter. Within minutes there were teenagers sniffing around.

“Are these free?”

Once I said the magic ‘yes’, you would have thought I’d opened up a large box of hot pizza. The crowd moved as a unit, from the couches and front lobby tables, to come hover over the front desk and a single plate of stale crackers.

It shouldn’t have surprised me. I instantly thought about the days when my kids were in elementary school and we’d ski on the weekends, back when we lived in Utah. I knew that a long day of skiing did things to kids’ bodies that were much like the effects of a long day of swimming. A special deep kind of hunger set in and on the drive home my kids would eat just about anything. In those years I used to save every last stray cracker, every heel from the loaf of bread, every snack in the cabinet that was rejected on a regular day of after-school hunger. I collected them all in one big Ziploc, which was brought out on the drive home from skiing. And it never failed that the kids would practically fight over who got that last heel of bread or last scrape of peanut butter out of the jar. That hunger made everything taste good.

I was witnessing that same hunger in the water logged swimmers in my Rec Center lobby. The first plate of crackers was gone in two minutes. I dug into my bag and opened two more. Then two more. As round one of swimmers headed out the front door to waiting parents, dribbling crumbs in their path, the next round headed out of the locker rooms. “Are these for anyone?”

The most surprising reaction came from the parents who walked by the desk. As they saw the kids taking crackers, they gave me the questioning look, I shook my head, and they quickly grabbed one for themselves. More than one looked over their shoulder and said, “You forget how good a basic graham cracker is!”

Graham crackers. That box on the snack shelf of the pantry that is rejected over and over, as more exciting options like Ritz Bitz and Chips Ahoy get all the glory. Unless someone takes the time to spread some chocolate frosting in the middle, no one thinks about a graham cracker being the perfect snack.

But at the end of a long day, a day of school and swimming, or office jobs and work meetings, in the pocket of time before the real food makes its way to the dinner table, sometimes what you need is something simple. Something basic and plain. Something as delectable as a single graham cracker.

 

 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Louie Vito - Nicest Guy at X Games.


If you've followed my writing on GeekMom.com, you already know that I'm a huge fan of the Winter X Games. With four kids, three of them risk seeking males, we have religiously watched the X Games for most of their childhood. We never dreamed we'd ever live close enough to go in person.

Immediately after we moved to Colorado, we looked up the dates and made plans to attend. I was able to go with a media pass, because of my connection with GeekMom, and it was an incredible four day weekend, full of great new memories.

We've now attended three years in a row, and I hope to be a regular for many years to come. There are many reasons why I love the X Games (which I've written about many times for GeekMom.com) and one of the big ones is the accessibility of the athletes. The path from the end of the Super Pipe, back to the snowmobile that takes athletes up the mountain, weaves through the crowd of excited fans. There is a lot of high fiving, a lot of selfies snapped. This even happens during the competition.


On the drive home this year I was formulating all the articles I'd be writing about X Games this year. And the one I was most excited about was this one: Why Louie Vito May Be The Nicest Guy at X Games.

Louie Vito is a rock star in the snowboarding world. He has earned just under 45 medals in major events, from as far back as 2006. The things he can do in that Super Pipe are no less than amazing. Like many of the professional athletes, Louie looks forward to X Games because of its relaxed mood. He competes just as hard, but he also spends a lot of energy hanging out with the crowds.

I first noticed it in 2013. Most of the athletes are willing to high five, or bump knuckles with the fans who line the fences, but Louie took it a step further. Anyone who asked (or hollered at him) was given the picture, signature, or even hug that they wanted. Watching the guy, you'd never know he was in the middle of a world class competition, just waiting for his next run.

Last year I had my son Sam with me. In the midst of Louie's schmoozing, I asked for a picture. Of course he obliged. We came home with this gem.


And again this year, Louie was in full hospitality mode. He chatted with fans, he took selfies, and he signed his name over and over. When an older gentleman handed him a cell phone, and asked him to talk to his wife, Louie didn't bat an eye. He chatted with her for a few minutes, and ended up asking her why she hadn't come to Aspen.  All in good fun.


This year I got a series of pictures, of Louie doing what he does best. I had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes and told him I was going to write this article. He wasn't looking for the press. His answer was, "This is why we're here. If you don't love this part, there's no reason to be here." This is a guy who appreciates his fans and recognizes how they play into his career.


And finally I snapped a picture with Louie and me, and then Louie and my daughter. He flashed that genuine, huge Louie smile, then turned around and got back to 'his crowd.'


If I had the authority to hand out medals at the end of X Games, the first one I'd present would be a shiny gold one. It would be just one of many in Louie's collection, but I think it would be one of his most important ones. Engraved on it would be the words "Louie Vito - Nicest Guy At X Games".

See ya next year Louie. And hopefully many, many years after that.

Side Note: I'm keeping my eye on a young man named Scottie James, a boarder from Australia. He's talented, he's young, and he's good with the crowds. Watch out Louie, you might have a stiff competition for the Nicest Guy medal next year. 

Here are a few more gems, of Louie, doing his thing, working the crowd, and even taking a picture of one of the other athletes with fans, graciously playing photographer. And in the end, signing my artificial leg for me. Nothing surprises this guy.









Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Patriots Husband + Seahawks Wife = Can This Marriage Be Saved?


I knew it when I married him. He'd grown up in NH, so naturally he had a lifetime membership in the Patriots Fan Club. I've always been a Seahawks fan. I've never lived in Seattle, which makes it more interesting. 

I picked them to be 'my team' when I was a teen, growing up in Missouri. I liked their uniforms. Through the years I fell in love with their heart. I loved being a 12 who was representing my team in the no mans land that is every state outside of Washington. I'm pretty thrilled that after all these years, they still have the coolest uniforms in the NFL. 

Hubby and I made our opposite team loyalties work. We enjoyed our football Sundays. He did his best to catch his Patriots, and I was giddy when my local television station would play a random Seahawks game. We lived all over the United States, in the 25 years that we've been married, and in no state was my team a priority. For our years in New England, his team seemed to belong to every state on the east coast. I was jealous.

We never had issues concerning our opposing teams because the Seahawks rarely, if ever, played the Patriots. His team would have their runs of successes. Many playoff games and Super Bowls. While my team struggled to figure out who we were. I cheered for them anyway.

In our frequent moves, we happened to move to the mountains of Colorado in 2011. We were geographically closer to my team than we had been back in New York, but I knew there was still no chance my games would ever qualify for 'regional interest'. It was all about the Broncos, all the time.


Two years later I got a new prosthetic leg - a Seahawks leg. Yes, I'm such a crazy 12 that I chose to have our logo plastered all over my artificial limb. I wanted to take every step with my team.

You know what happens next. 

After thirty years of rooting for my Seahawks, it was finally our turn. But the team we were facing was the one I had just landed in. I lived in the beehive of fandom that is the Broncos. My Seahawks leg was not welcome here. My go to line was, "Hey, I've been a Seahawks fan for over 30 years. No one cared until this year!"

After the thrashing that was last year's Super Bowl, I tried to lay low for a bit, out of respect for my heartbroken neighbors. I cheered on my own, in the privacy of my own home, and clung to fan groups online.

Then came another record breaking season. And, after much angst (and maybe just a few voodoo trances flung toward the television) the Broncos fell out of the running. Surrounded by my crestfallen neighbors in Orange, I literally breathed a sigh of relief that Sunday.

Then came the final games. I knew in my head, by studying the tables, that it was a possibility, but until it got as close as a single game, I couldn't let myself go there. There was no way hubby's lifetime team would face my lifetime team in a Super Bowl. It just couldn't be.

Now here we are. We celebrated that quarter century anniversary just three months ago. We've had our ups and downs through the years, and we've made it this far with plenty of days that still put smiles on our faces. But this game is coming up. This game.

Our son, seeing what the match up would be, his mom's team against his dad's, and knowing we'd just had a milestone anniversary, texted us from his home in Kentucky. "Well, at least you had a good run."

The hubby is wisely traveling out of state this week for work. He's left me to obsess on the fan pages, wear my blue and green gear (and leg!) every day, and just generally be obnoxious as I celebrate my team. A team that is thrilled beyond words to be playing in back to back Super Bowls.

Before we know it, Sunday will be here. All the years of following our two teams, supporting each other when teams would struggle, and rejoicing together when teams did well, this day will come. After the wonderful naive years of being able to claim our spouse's team as our own, we are on the opposite sides of the field now.

Hubby will be back in town Friday. On Saturday we'll go get our Super Bowl food supplies, walking past the Broncos merchandise on clearance. Most likely we won't even mention the game. There will be too much anticipation in the air, leaving no space for words.

We'll get out of bed Sunday. I'll click on this Hawks covered leg and don my favorite Hawks shirt. He'll pretend he's not nervous. The perfect poker face. He'll take his spot on the couch and I'll take mine. 

And then we'll see what happens.




Monday, October 6, 2014

A Mother's Road


As of August 31st of this year my mom has been gone for exactly 20 years. 

Almost all of my adult years have been lived without her. Although I strongly believe she's watching over me, I still miss her deeply, especially on the day she died and on her birthday. Last year my heart was comforted in a new way.

As usual, I posted a small message on Facebook on the anniversary of her death. Along with the usual condolences, I got a new kind of message. It was from a childhood friend I had lost touch with through the years, and only found again because of mutual friends on Facebook.

Sarah and her sister Emily lived in my neighborhood when I was very young. We all went to the same elementary school. Then we moved out to the country and my family exploded with foster children. I began to treasure the times I got to sleep over at Sarah's house. Her family was almost the polar opposite of mine.

Her mom was the only divorced parent I'd ever known. The three of them lived in a small house just a few blocks from our elementary school. It was quiet and calm and peaceful at her house. My family lived 15 miles out of town, in a house that was overflowing with my own four siblings as well as a revolving number of foster siblings. It was never quiet, calm or peaceful at my house.

I didn't like having sleepovers at my house. It felt like there was too much intrusion from all the other people who lived in that space. I loved going to Sarah's house, which was calm and cozy and where her mom strategically stayed in her bedroom so we felt like we were all on our own.

What I didn't know, until just last year, was the as much as I loved hiding out at Sarah's house, she loved coming to my house. She loved seeing a huge family all sharing one space. She loved the constant interruptions. She loved watching my mom coordinate our family circus.

So on the 19th anniversary of my mom's death last year, Sarah sent me a message through facebook. "I saw your post about your mom. I am very sad for your loss. She made a significant impact on me. She had a truly amazing spirit. In fact, he dedication to foster care was inspiring to me. Yesterday, I finally got the approval to adopt children of my own. My plan is to adopt older siblings from foster care. I have been thinking about doing this since spending all that time with your amazing family. The reach of your mom's inspiration is long and deep."

Her news touched me deeply. And somehow it didn't surprise me to find out that it had all come together on one of the two days of the year that I celebrate my mom. I chose to think of it as a way my mom was watching over not just me, but my friend Sarah.


I expressed my excitement to Sarah, about her brand new family, and told her to consider my mom an honorary grandmother to her future children. I assured her that as much as my mom watched over my own kids as they've grown up, I was sure she'd be watching over Sarah's.

And I told her one more thing. "Watch the date of October 11th".

My mom's birthday is October 11th and if I've learned anything about how my mom still speaks to me, I've learned that she loves to work through her special days.

Sarah received her two little boys last fall. They've been working on becoming a family for almost a year now. They've turned her life upside down in all the best ways. She's finally getting to experience all the joys and pains that the rest of us have already lived through with our preschoolers. And she's given a stable new life to two little brothers who had not known much of stability before they crossed her threshold.

Over the weekend I got a text from Sarah. "When's your mom's birthday?" is all it said.

I knew it. I knew it would happen, but still it took my breath away.

When I answered 'October 11', Sarah immediately replied.

'October 10 is final termination of parental rights. We start official adoption October 11th'.

There it is. She's still out there. Watching over me. Watching over my children. And watching over a little girl named Sarah who is all grown up now, and is making life choices because of her amazing influence.

Happy New Family... Sarah, Timothy and Andrew. 

You are surrounded by people who support you and will love you in your growing up years. And you'll always be watched over by a very special grandma whose life decisions 40 years ago changed the course of your lives today.




Monday, April 21, 2014

Goodbye Kitty Kitty


My 17 year old son came into the kitchen yesterday and said, 'So when does Ruffie get a post?" I was confused. Our family cat, named Ruffie, died a week ago, after being a part of our family for a dozen years. But I was unsure what my son was talking about.

"You wrote a long post about Kylie (our poodle) when she died. And you wrote a post about Max (our new dog) when he got lost over Thanksgiving. When are you going to write a post about Ruffin's life?"

Oh. I get it. And yes, I do need to document that fluffy creature's place in our family and in our hearts. In the midst of a day I really don't have time to work on my own blog posts, here I am, writing about Ruffie.

A dozen years ago we were settled into our new house in Utah. We had moved around the country for my husband's job and finally felt like we might call this new place home, for a long time. As promised, we set out to finally get a family pet.

Or at least toddler Sam and I set out. It was going to be a surprise for Christmas.

Sam and I went to the local shelter and walked in the door, knowing what we wanted. I read off the list to the manager -

Not a kitten

Two to three years old

Potty trained (well!)

Good with lots of kids

There were about eight cats that met the requirements. We walked back to look at them. I looked at the ones on the top row while Sam took in the cages along the bottom, his eye level.

They were all sweet. There was no way to tell which one was supposed to be ours. Our first family pet. The pet my kids had waited for, and dreamed about, for years.

Then one fluffy kitty on the bottom row stepped up his game. He sat back on his haunches and batted his paws in the air, like a dog who is begging. He swiped and swiped at the air in front of Sam. And Sam was hooked.

We came back several more times, and the 'praying' kitty was still there. Finally, we put the money down and told the manager we'd be back with the rest of the family to pick him up that weekend, the weekend before Christmas.

Husband sneaked off to the store to buy a litter box, food, a dish...then hid them strategically in the garage. The big kids had no idea they were going to be pet owners soon and Sam did a great job of not mentioning our many trips to visit the kitties at the shelter. In his mind, it was just like the zoo trips we took on a regular basis.

That Saturday morning we got up early and told the kids to get ready and get in the van. We were going to find a big surprise. Before lunch time we drove the back roads that led to the shelter, roads that were not familiar to our children, so the curiosity just grew. When we pulled up to the small, unmarked building, the only clue they had was Sam, yelling out "Kitty!" as he saw the place he'd visited many times.



The kids piled out of the van and filed into the shelter, not believing they were finally getting a cat.

The manager on duty went back to find the kitty, the one I'd already paid for. He wasn't there. After all those trips and all that narrowing down of kitties, our perfect kitty was not there. He had been taken, along with a big group of other cats and dogs, to the pet fair being held at the local WalMart.

We were horrified. The kids were devastated. The manager was frantic.

She quickly called the people at the pet fair. They said our kitty had not been adopted yet. It was good news. We rushed back to the van and headed off to Walmart.

Sure enough a huge tractor trailer was in the parking lot. It was filled with cages. Only a few people could go in at a time. Hubby decided to go get our kitty.

He came out with a dirty, smelly cat with matted hair. It seems he'd been put in a cage that was too small, and not been checked on regularly. The kids didn't mind. He was a kitty and he was ours.



We talked in quiet voices on the drive home, not to scare him. Once we got him inside, Hubby got the job of putting him into a bath. It's not a myth that cats hate water. Our new kitty fought and fussed, but came out looking clean and a lot more comfortable.

We named him Ruffin. Well, we didn't name him, the shelter had. And the kids were too adamant that he keep his 'real' name. I lobbied for a name that people might understand better....like fluffy, or powderpuff. They wouldn't have it. His name was Ruffin, a name we'd have to repeat every time we'd tell it to people. We finally came to say, "Ruffin...like muffin with an R".

But, like most kitties, even after years of calling him Ruffin, he still only answered to 'kitty kitty', said in the right tone of voice.



Ruffie fit in our family nicely. He was potty trained and polite. He snuggled with anyone who needed it. He got passed around the family and never seemed to be rattled. This was important in our household of four kids and dozens of friends.

He religiously cleaned himself and kept his fur fluffy and soft. I never had to bathe him, even after he'd been outside, chasing grasshoppers.

When we moved from Utah to New York, he made the long drive with ease. He loved our New York house even more than our Utah house. In New York we had long grass in our backyard that led to woods. There were not only grasshoppers to chase, but endless ground hogs and chipmunks to stalk. Many times he'd bring his prize to the front door and lay it on the step. Hunting kept him happy and tolerant, when he was being hugged a bit too hard later in the day.

He never seemed to age. As the poodle showed many signs of slowing down, the kitty just lived, from year to year, like he was the two year old cat we'd adopted at that far away shelter. It was hard to realize he was getting old.

He moved with us one more time. This time from New York to Colorado. It was harder to let him out in our new backyard, because we often had wild animals come through, and many of our neighbors had lost their small animals to mountain lion attacks. Ruffie did his begging/praying routine by the back door, as we tried to say, "Not today, kitty" in our most comforting voice.



Six months ago he suddenly seemed old. He stopped grooming his fur. I had to give him weekly baths, which he hated, but seemed to feel so much better afterward. He got mats in his fur, from laying around all day. I had to shave the back half of his body, leaving him with a humiliating haircut. He soon rarely left the spot under the shower chair in our bathroom. He got frequent love, as the family members cycled through to do their business. We moved his food, water, and litter box up there, and created his own little retirement home.

The only exception to his shower chair cave was anywhere Isaac happened to be. Isaac is the 17 year old who asked me to write this post. He's the Dr. Dootlittle of our family. He's a pet whisperer. He and Ruffie have grown very close in recent years. 

I could be snuggling with a fluffy kitty on my bed, watching TV, and as soon as Ruffie heard Isaac headed downstairs to his bedroom for the night, my kitty pal was gone. Leaping off the bed, padding down the hall way, ending up curled up to his favorite person.

Isaac carried him around like a baby. He seemed to enjoy it. When the rest of us would try it, he'd squirm and jump down. Isaac could do anything to him and he'd always come back for more.

When Isaac walked into the house at night, Ruffie came running. He knew when his favorite guy was home and casually, without seeming too needy, would hang out anywhere that Isaac was. Playing video games? Ruffie was curled up on the couch behind him. Watching a movie? Ruffie walked the back edge of the couch, reminding Isaac that he was there. That cat loved my boy.

And my boy loved him back.



On Sunday, Isaac came to us and said, "Where's the cat?" I don't really keep tabs on him. He's so independent, I just wait to hear him fussing if he needs food or water. But Isaac knew where he was at all times, and he couldn't find him in his regular spots.
We weren't concerned. Ruffie liked hiding places and I assumed he was just lost in someone's bed covers, or tucked away in a closet.

Then Isaac came back in the room, crying. "He died", was all he said.

It was hard to comprehend. Especially for a boy whose time at home was spent practically attached to that kitty.

Sometime in the night, Ruffie had crawled under the bed in the guest bedroom and taken his last breath. I would assume he went peacefully. He never showed us signs of pain. It was devastating for Isaac to be the one who found him, but also appropriate.

The first person to touch him, to pet his still soft fur, and to tell him goodbye, was his favorite person. I have no doubt he was watching from kitty heaven, sitting on his haunches, doing his begging act, to say, "I loved you too, Isaac."

It's the biggest loss my boy has ever had. It hurts deeply. In the past week the rest of us have missed hearing Ruffie padding around the house. We've missed petting him every time we went into the bathroom. But Isaac has missed him in a deeper way.

His arms are empty. His bed is not quite as warm. He plays video games by himself. He's going to have to learn to come in the back door and not have his first instinct to be 'finding the cat'.

We will bury Ruffie's ashes in a hole next to our poodle's ashes, in a cozy spot under a tree in a beautiful park called Elk Meadow. We will stack rocks on his grave and say sad and loving things about him.

Then life will go on. My boy will carry around grief for his kitty for a very long time. The bigger your heart, the deeper it hurts.

Some day we will get another kitty. Because Isaac will be leaving home soon for schooling, we aren't sure what our next step should be. But for now we've put away his litter box, run his bowls through the dishwasher, and learned to live with the wide open bathroom floor that no longer contains our kitty.

Ruffie was a huge part of our family. He grew up with the kids and they will all miss him. But Ruffie knows that he was loved and he led a good life. What stray kitty wouldn't love being cuddled by a tall teenage boy?

 He was a blessed kitty indeed.