15 May 2008

I Have a Dog. I've Been Had by the Cats

I inherited a pit bull from the kid who failed to read the fine print, i.e.: No dogs allowed in barracks, when he joined the Marines. But he will need to put his top-notch combat training to good use to get her back. She is a keeper. The two cats in residence, on the other hand, were both acquired of my own free will and choice. Every day I wish I could give them back.

Clearly, I am a dog person. That there are cat people in the world – two of whom currently share an abode with me – is a constant source of wonderment. What do they see in the crafty little critters?

Here, in a nutshell, is the difference between the dog and the cats.

The dog goes outside. The cats go inside. Sometimes they’ll go in a box, if they’re feeling generous, but even then they kick damp gravel all over the room.

The dog barks when she’s happy. Even when they’re most content, the cats still grumble.

The dog comes when she is called. The cats come only when it’s least convenient. The moment they sense you want them, they employ their powers of invisibility. If you don’t want them, they appear instantly, then use their Spidey-skills to cling to carpets...furniture...the home teacher’s suit coat...

The dog begs. The cat jumps on the countertop and swipes her sandpaper tongue over the food. (Often in front of horrified guests who swear they don’t mind while surreptitiously dumping the contents of their plate into their napkins.)

The dog squirms in abject humiliation or slinks away when a misdemeanor is discovered – even when she’s not the guilty party. The cats remain at the scene of the crime, casually licking evidence from their paws or – more likely – affecting the vacant stares of a serial killer.

The dog welcomes me home with mad leaps of pure joy. The cats sulk in a back room until they are sought out and placated with gifts of salmon from the doggy bag.

The dog lives to be near me. The cats wouldn’t notice I was dead, assuming somebody else around here learned to work the can opener.

11 May 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

What have you been doing for the last quarter century?

You wouldn’t believe how often I’m asked that. I think it’s because I didn’t publish my first novel until I was forty. People are curious what I was doing all those years I wasn’t writing fiction. Since it’s Mother’s Day, I’ll confess. I
have been writing. Besides eight novels and a book of creative non-fiction, I’ve written two roadshows, four stake productions, a few dozen PE excuses, almost a hundred Teacher Appreciation Day notes, more than my share of Cub Scout and Girls Camp skits, two reams of journal entries and dozens of blogs, not counting this one. I have ghost written for Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the ghost of a gerbil that I claimed “ran away for an exciting new life in the city.” (There was a cat in our home that knew otherwise.) I have also collaborated on dozens of Primary talks and more late-night school reports than I really should have.

Of course my adult life has not been all literary achievement. After all, I’ve shared a home with one husband, four children, two parents, eight dogs, five cats, seven rabbits, one cockatiel, four parakeets, a box turtle, a swimming turtle, two hermit crabs, five hamsters, nine gerbils (they’re prolific little critters), four ducks, ten chickens and pet fish, frogs, finches and bugs too numerous to mention. (I fear that if it is true that we receive our “beloved” pets back in the eternities, the only family we will be fit to live next door to will be the Noahs.)

But my point – and I do have one – is that along with all these people and animals I have loved have come certain domestic necessities. I have compiled a partial list:
When I wasn’t writing I was changing diapers (about 14,600) and litter boxes (2,400) or washing 21,000 loads of laundry, preparing 27,325 meals (if one is generous enough to consider pouring milk on Cheerios and/or driving through McDonald’s preparing a meal), and cleaning toilets about 950 times. (Don’t do the math on that last one or you will never enter a bathroom in my home!)

In my spare time I’ve logged enough carpool mileage to have driven to Mars and back. I’ve rooted for the underdogs at pint-sized sporting events that lasted longer than the Summer Olympics, and sat enthralled through three-hour concerts in which one of my kids played the triangle – off key and at the wrong tempo. I’ve served on ten PTA boards at six different schools, chaired enough carnivals to make P.T. Barnum blanch, outsold amazon.com at school book fairs, and discussed with Kindergarteners the entire holdings of the Metropolitan Art Museum in the Mesa Public School Art Masterpiece program.

Of course, it’s not been all work and no play. I wore out two copies of “The Cat in the Hat” when my kids were preschoolers, and later read all seven volumes of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Aloud. Twice. I’ve orchestrated quality time with my family at Disneyland, Sea World, the Grand Canyon, Mesa General Hospital’s emergency room, and the USMC’s Boot Camp Graduation.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I’m a mother. Not only that, I’m a veteran mother. I’ve survived the terrible twos, the fearsome fourteens, and am now facing the terrifying twenties. Over the years I’ve sent my kids off to preschool, Scout camp, first dates, the senior prom. . .and war in Iraq.

In short (although I know it’s far too late for that) I have spent the last twenty-five years of my life trying – and failing – to be the kind of mother they’ll extol in sacrament meeting this Sunday. No fame. No fortune. Not even enough sleep. But I can live with that. (Or, rather, without that.)

One of my favorite writers, the apostle Neal A. Maxwell, said, “When the surf of centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing, because it is a celestial institution, formed outside telestial time.”

Thank goodness. There’s never been enough telestial time to accomplish everything I think I should do. (Like write. Or sleep.) Thank you, Elder Maxwell, for the assurance to all us mothers that every late night, every early morning – every single minute – of mothering is the best way we could possibly spend our lives.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last quarter century. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Almost. This time I’d make sure I had two female gerbils before I left the pet shop…

published in Counting Blessings as "Sands of Time"