Category Archives: Family

Once Again, Morning Light

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How good it is to walk in the morning sun again!  Last week when we were still plodding along blindly in the dark, Kiko paused and I didn’t notice (couldn’t see him, never think I really need a flashlight).  My shin hit his rock-hard head.  The blow didn’t phase him, but I found it painful enough to wonder momentarily if I had fractured my leg. Now that we’ve Fallen Back and said goodbye to Daylight Savings Time, it’s great to see where I’m going again.  The fall colors are especially brilliant here in Virginia, and we savor them all the more after the devastating rains of this past September.

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Local color. 

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A bright November morning in Virginia.

Back Home in Atlanta (Follow-up to Fun with Ground Transportation)

The worst part of the drive from the airport is now over, and Daddy is beginning to slow down. We’re in my old neighborhood, and I’m trying to soak it all in, trying not to miss any detail. Some houses remain unchanged for the last two decades, still in need of loving care. Others are in the course of being popped up to three times their size. Some invite repeated renovation; each year sees a new style, wing, or entry. Others have disappeared completely, and I try to remember what used to be on each bare muddy lot marked only by a Porta-Potty. Ever since General Sherman burned Atlanta in his March to the Sea, the city’s state of flux has been fast-paced.

My parent’s house, though, looks very nearly the same as it did when I was last here this summer. It remains essentially unchanged since 1929, when it was built, in a leafy in-town neighborhood of small brick Tudors and Norman cottages. We moved there in the late 1960s, after two years in a suburban rental. Our new house was a mess, but it immediately felt like home. My parents spent years uncovering its classic features–hardwood floors hidden under gold-flecked linoleum and lavender sculpted carpets, plaster walls concealed by wood-grained wallpaper. We gradually updated the kitchen, which still contained its original appliances, chrome-edged, simulated stone Formica countertops and metal cabinets. But we made no structural changes or additions. My mother’s interest in redecoration has not dimmed, but the alterations are smaller in scope now. My childhood room is just as it was when I moved away: the same wallpaper, the antique cherry furniture inherited from my father’s aunt.

I know every quirky feature of the house by heart: the sharply curving narrow driveway littered in the fall with acorns, the sound of the brass knocker rattling as the heavy front door closes, every creak along the center hall, the loud click of the light switch in the stair hall, the bathroom faucet handles that rotate the wrong way, the back hall steps lined with walking shoes and cartons of Coca-Cola, the old ping-pong table in the basement used for storage and craft projects, the view of the back yard from my old bedroom window, and the unique, inimitable smell of home.

It’s somewhat unsettling to be here without my daughter. I keep thinking she’s upstairs in the playroom, which has become a sort of toy museum. She’s probably unpacking the boxes of baby dolls, stuffed animals and Barbies that my mother lovingly maintains. Or maybe she’s setting up a tea party at the little pink table in the alcove, or rearranging the furniture in the doll house. But the table, the doll house and my girl are all at our home in Virginia. And if my daughter were here, the toys wouldn’t capture her attention nearly as much as my old Seventeen magazines and the wardrobe bags full of vintage clothes in the attic. (My mother has a great gift for design and sewing, and for many years she was possessed of a phenomenal energy that led her to make more clothes than we could ever wear).

It’s disorienting, as well, that there is no dog here. If I happen to see a shadow out of the corner of my eye, I think it’s the dog. And each time we leave, I look around instinctively to hug him goodbye. But I’m not sure which dog I expect. Is it my childhood dog, who has now been dead nearly twice as long as he lived? I often think I hear him, my sweet Popi, my stand-in for a sibling. He was a black and white cocker spaniel and chow mix, as aloof to other dogs and non-family members as Kiko is friendly. He often nudged open a partially closed door with his nose, a sound I hear repeatedly in my mind. Popi was so comforting when I was upset—he’d put his muzzle on my knee and look into my eyes with such compassion. Or is it my funny Kiko that I think I hear or see? But Kiko has never set one neat little paw in this house.

Returning to a childhood home is a bittersweet pleasure. The things of the past get confusingly jumbled up with those of the present. Old memories collide strangely with current reality. My brain is stretched in uncomfortable ways, and I feel young and old, happy and sad, at the same time. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t often go back alone to my old home.

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Popi, as a puppy, and me.  It was his first Christmas, and our first in the new house.  Of course Mama made my dress and vest, and my daughter wore them, as well.

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Popi with next-door dogs Felix and Cocoa, outside our back door.
He didn’t like them, but he tolerated them occasionally.

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Popi, not long before he died, at age 15.

On Improving Halloween

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Now that another Halloween has come and gone, I find myself reflecting on the evening, considering some ideas that may improve next year’s experience.

This Halloween we welcomed fewer trick-or-treaters than in previous years. The weather was chilly, but a cold, clear night seems to pep up the kids, not keep them home. The main reason for the deficit, I believe, was that Halloween was on a Monday night.  A Monday night!  For children, it was a day of school and homework, with another early morning to follow.  For working parents, it meant rushing home in traffic to handle costumes and try to deal with dinner.  There is no way around it—Mondays (and all weeknights) are awkward nights for Halloweening.

There is a solution. Halloween should be celebrated on the final Saturday of October.  If we can move Presidents’ birthdays, why can’t we move Halloween?  Congress has the perfect opportunity to make things right with the American people for the distress they caused during the debt-ceiling debacle: they can pass a Halloween-observance law.  I am almost serious when I suggest writing our representatives.  This is the chance for legislators to do something worthwhile, something that would benefit Americans in all income brackets.  This is the first step towards improving Halloween.

The next step is to encourage trick-or-treating among teenagers. I know it’s become acceptable to gripe about “all these big kids” expecting Halloween handouts.  But why should we mind so much?  Isn’t it good for the collective health of a neighborhood and our country that teenagers are out with the younger children accumulating treats?  On this one night each year, shouldn’t we reward their continued interest in the childhood pleasure of candy?  Would we rather they be elsewhere attempting to buy alcohol, cigarettes and drugs?  These older kids, of course, should abide by the same rules we try to instill in the younger ones:  wear a costume, say “Trick-or-Treat,” be polite and show gratitude.  I agree that a logo T-shirt is not a costume, and a sullen silence at my door will not earn candy.

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We found the teen trick-or-treating presence negligible this year. Our daughter and her six middle school-age friends were among the very eldest of our trick-or-treaters.  The only more senior group consisted of three courteous ninth-grade boys who came to the door toward the end of the evening, almost as an afterthought, as though they wanted to see if they could still get candy.  We were more than happy to give them chocolate.  My daughter will soon be a teenager, and I hate to think her trick-or-treating days are severely numbered.  This is only the second year that we have allowed her to go out unaccompanied by an adult on this night.  She and her friends are just starting to hit their Halloween stride; it would be a shame for them to have to stop.

It seems to be the tallest children who provoke the most negative feedback when trick-or-treating. Short kids may observe Halloween without community comment until they go off to college, but those blessed with height better stay home once they reach sixth grade.  Isn’t this height-based discrimination alarming?  My daughter is on track to be taller than me by next year, so I am understandably worried.

If anyone is really working the system, it’s not the teenagers, but the adults who tote around their babies costumed adorably as peapods, caterpillars, fat pumpkins and such. Parents who would never think of allowing their six-month old to put one pearly tooth near a Snickers bar are out on Halloween encouraging tiny fingers to pick out something good and big from the candy bowl.  But that’s accepted behavior, and my husband and I capitalized on it, like everyone else, during the first few years of our daughter’s life.  An essential part of the Halloween social contract is pretending that the candy is intended for those babes in arms.   Because babies are small, cute and very short (again, it’s a height issue), they therefore deserve mass quantities of sugary treats.

And finally, one last point for Halloween improvement: enough with the healthy snacks!  On this topsy-turvy night, when the focus is on the weird, the unusual and the unexpected, let’s get with the spirit and allow our kids (the tall and the small) to indulge in the glory of real candy.  And let’s stop trying to pass off raisins and pretzels as coveted treats; they have their merits, but they are for the other nights of the year.  Halloween should be a much-anticipated departure from the norm.  If we start eating healthier on the other days, we’ll really be able to enjoy breaking the rules on that last night of October.

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Fun With Ground Transportation

Arriving in Atlanta in the early afternoon, the airport is packed as usual. Is Hartsfield-Jackson ever not teeming with humanity? I wind my way through the slow-moving multitudes toward the train (formally, the Automated People Mover). I feel officially welcomed to my hometown when I hear the familiar electronic voice warning “Stop! Do not enter!,” followed by “Doors closing!” After exiting the train along with the herd and ascending the super-long escalator, I see my parents in their usual spot just outside baggage claim. That first glimpse is always a surprise—in my mind I guess I see them as thirty years younger. They probably do the same with me.

After hugs and greetings, my father begins his customary discussion of the unfortunate parking situation. The parking garages are, indeed, in a constant state of reconstruction. There is great difficulty securing an empty spot, and even greater difficulty returning to that spot. My parents never fail to disagree about the optimum route. Once the car has been located, the next issue is threading our way out of the garage. My father continues to be a confident and competent driver, but in the airport parking lot he has a tendency to repeat urgently, “Which way? Which way?,” and to be oblivious to all exit signs. Mama’s suggestion that he calm down does nothing to ease the tension. I’m relieved, though, that Daddy is driving; I wouldn’t want to do it.

In line at last to pay our parking fee, the car ahead of us never fails to be immovable. We watch with incredulity as the driver speaks at length to the attendant, as forms, cash and credit cards are exchanged, maps appear to be consulted and further conversation ensues. The number of documents passed back and forth befits a drive-through passport application office or a border crossing into a war zone. At long last, the car in front inches away, snail-like, but not before Daddy has tried (without success, due to the high volume of cars behind us), to move to another lane. Once at the parking booth, the ticket has usually disappeared under a seat.

Finally out on the highway, Daddy’s limited patience has been severely tested, making the ride to my parents’ house all the more harrowing. In an attempt to make up for lost time, he drives at quite a clip, frequently changing lanes, all the while glancing back to ask me questions about the flight. Mama is a reluctant driver and an anxious passenger (she grew up with older brothers who wrecked cars and racked up severe injuries on a regular basis). Whenever possible, she sits in the back seat, with Daddy chauffeur-like in the front. She strongly urges my father to slow down, advice he clearly does not appreciate. Next time, I vow (as always), to take MARTA and spare my parents (and me) this hair-raising drive.

Fun with Air Travel

This past weekend I did something I have rarely done: I went away alone. My daughter and I have flown regularly together over the years to visit my parents, but these trips have become less frequent with the increasing demands of school. When she was younger, the logistics of child and dog care were too daunting for me to leave home overnight. Once, years ago when my mother was hospitalized and very sick, I flew to see her. But, until now, I have never gone away without husband or daughter, just for fun. This trip to Atlanta was to be a celebratory reunion of old friends. 
Bad weather, bad luck, discomfort and indignity seem to be standard in air travel. Of course, in these days of underwear bombers and terrorist plots, any flight that arrives eventually and safely at its final destination may be considered a success. In my own recent flight experience, delay and frustration were caused by all the usual factors: interminable security lines, thunderstorms, snow, ice, hail, excessive heat, mechanical trouble, alarming noises, strange smells, missing crew members and heavy runway traffic.

A typical flight for me usually begins promisingly enough. The plane arrives at the gate, late but not exceptionally so. Passengers are boarded. We are set to go; all appears in order. The plane is picking up speed on the runway when it stops and the engines are cut. The pilot reports a situation that puts us in limbo. The wait on the concourse is extended multiple times, before we return to the gate and disembark. No information is provided, but we are advised to remain near the gate. On our last flight, the wait on the runway and back in the airport totaled seven hours. Accordingly, I did not have high hopes for this trip.

My low expectations, however, were far exceeded. Security was a breeze.  The flight departed and arrived on time, the weather was beautiful, and my companions were enjoyable. I had the window seat in a row of three. We were all strangers, but we began talking and continued for the duration of the flight. The near certainty that we would never meet again gave us the freedom to dispense with small talk and get straight to life’s big issues. We had strikingly different backgrounds and opinions, but the discussion remained courteous and pleasant. Remarkably, we all recognized that the real value was in sharing our ideas, not in trying to prove a point. To judge by the example of our political leaders and pundits, we would conclude that opposing opinions cannot be aired without stirring up contention, competition and bitterness. It was refreshing to see that this must not always be the case.

Moving up to Middle School (As a Parent)

My daughter began middle school this fall. Things have changed around here. The whole family now gets up before dawn, when the sky is so dark that even the possibility of a sunrise seems remote. D has always preferred staying up, and sleeping in, as late as possible, so the adjustment has been difficult. She tends to be in her deepest sleep phase when the alarm sounds, and continues to sound, unheard and unheeded. The intervention of a parent is required to get her moving. Because she can talk coherently and convincingly from the abyss of sleep, any mere verbal claim of being awake must be ignored; some physical proof is needed. It’s best not to leave the room until seeing her open her eyes or begin to transition from the horizontal to vertical.

 

After completing my duties as wake-up enforcer, my willingness to make breakfast and lunch is still expected. Reminders to bring permission slips, homework projects, violin, etc., continue to be appreciated. The revised parenting rules for middle school apply as soon as D steps out the back door.

The first rule is very specific: No parents at the bus stop. Unless, of course, it’s raining hard and the shelter of a car is valued. For seven years, I accompanied my elementary-school child to the bus stop. For the last four, Kiko came along; he loved to smell the children and their lunches, maybe meet another dog. The elementary bus stop offered a quick social opportunity for parents too busy to get together any other time. I’m fine with not going to the bus stop, now that no other parents are there. Kiko, however, is not. He wants desperately to be in the center of that cluster of kids, and if he can’t, he wants to watch as the bus leaves. If I try to pull him in the opposite direction, he balks and performs his dead-stop move. When the bus passes us, he’s ready to get going, but I can tell that his feelings are hurt.

The second rule is more general, and may be summed up simply in two words: step back. Parents are not to hover, meddle, or fight a child’s battles.  Physically, I’m content to step back.  I’m relieved not to be volunteering at school in some aspect once a week or more. I’m glad to let D email or speak with her teachers to resolve homework difficulties. I don’t want to be the mother who tries to be one of the kids, who pals around with the gang and discusses tween gossip. And it’s gratifying to see my daughter developing a sense of responsibility and maturity.

What I find difficult, however, is distancing myself emotionally. Watching D undergo disappointment or rejection really is more painful than experiencing it myself. I had often heard parents say this, but until I became a mother I doubted its truth. In some cases, my own past sufferings have led to a sense of perspective, and even, once in a while, to a degree of wisdom that allows me to help my daughter cope. But other times, when her hurt is intense, I get the sensation of a scab being ripped from a wound. Various forgotten disappointments in my life come roaring back. I feel my old pain and her young, new, fresh pain, all at once. And then I get angry. I want to stomp around and yell. I’ve learned not to throw or hit things, because the revenge of inanimate objects is sure and swift. My display of anger, I’ve learned, only makes D feel worse.

This school year, I will try to remember that I can’t protect my daughter from all life’s difficulties. I will remind myself, over and over, that a certain amount of frustration and failure is a requirement for growth. I will recall that we didn’t bundle her in bubble wrap while she was learning to walk (although we wished we could have). I will tell myself repeatedly that she won’t learn to deal with and heal from disappointment if I try to bubble-wrap her emotionally.

It doesn’t seem like seven years ago that my husband and I watched the Kindergarten bus pull away with our daughter on board for the first time. We saw her little blonde head peering out from the window, and both of us were overcome. We hurried toward home, fighting back tears. That was in the days when we couldn’t be too involved or protective. We had asked a reliable neighborhood boy, a safety patrol, to see that D got to her classroom. For an extra measure of reassurance, H followed the bus to school in his car. He watched from a distance while D waited beside the patrol as the other children exited, and he saw the two of them walk into the school. He called me to report that all was well. This is the kind of parenting I really understand. I was starting to get the hang of it just as it fades into obsolescence.

Trying to be the Church

On the first Sunday in October, our church tried something different. We canceled regular worship services so we could go out into the community and be the church. While we church-goers know the point of our faith is to do God’s work, we tend to forget this central truth as we sit complacently in the pew. It’s easy to become a passive consumer or a critic of church theatre. It’s also easy to become disheartened, to despair at the enormity of the world’s problems. Our change in routine was intended as a reminder that we must be active in our faith, and that with God’s help, even the smallest of our good deeds is magnified.

There were several projects to choose from: providing lunch for the homeless at a local shelter, renovating an elderly woman’s home, assembling kits for AIDS caregivers, decorating placemats for use in a prison ministry, and a music and fellowship program for nursing home residents.

My family and I took part in the music program at the nursing home. I knew it would be rewarding because two of our most talented and versatile musicians were the headliners. They are the heart and soul of our monthly Bluegrass Night, an event that draws performers and their vintage instruments from all over Virginia.

When we arrived, about fifteen residents had assembled, and the long, narrow room was already filled to capacity. I had envisioned a more spacious, less awkward setting that allowed for a larger audience and more freedom of movement for the musicians. Obviously, trying to be the church affords no guarantee of a cathedral-like work space. Our church that day recalled Christianity’s earliest era, when members met in cramped hidden rooms.

The bluegrass duo kicked off the music with a couple of rousing old standards. I’d like to say that the audience was spirited and enthusiastic from the first bright banjo note, but this was not the case. A few residents smiled, some kept time with nods and light clapping, but the initial responses ranged from torpid to tepid. We invited requests, but the group remained inert.

We had a wide range of musical talent available, so we pressed on. One of our younger members sang and played her guitar beautifully. Another offered two lovely flute selections. A lively original song by one of the bluegrass pair was well received. With each successive performance, the crowd became more visibly appreciative.

A burst of energy accompanied the unexpected arrival of one of our youth, bearing both guitar and cello. When her mother sang a moving a cappella version of In the Garden, we reached a turning point. A frail, pencil-thin man knew every word. He sang along and moved his hands gracefully as though directing the choir. Everyone joined in on the chorus. The audience had finally warmed up, and the group had achieved a sort of unity. The differences between residents and volunteers, so striking at first, were less apparent. When our bluegrass veteran offered an old Gene Autry favorite, a tiny quiet lady in a wheelchair burst to life. As she sang heartily, eyes closed, head back, we could sense the warm rush of memories that swirled around her.

My daughter and I had planned to play a few violin and piano duets. As we arrived, I realized with dismay that I had left my hymnal on the kitchen table. While D has the gift of playing by ear, I do not. My husband made our performance possible; he jumped in the car to locate a United Methodist church and borrow a hymnal. We were in an unfamiliar area, but he was successful, as I knew he would be. By the time he returned, the division between performers and audience had decreased further. Our group had become a pleasant circle of fellowship. The piano was out of tune, but I played softly and minimized the notes so that D could carry the melody. I was especially glad to be her mother that day.

Most people would agree that music is a powerful connector. But given the opportunity, it’s also a vital conduit for the Holy Spirit. That Sunday morning, it was not just the music that drew us together in ways that words alone cannot. God was with us, just as he was in those early house-churches of the first century. With His help, we took some baby steps in our quest to be the church. We didn’t end war, illness and poverty, but we brightened up a little corner of our world. The music carried the breath of God’s presence, immediate, dynamic, and enduring.

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Some Thoughts on my Father

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My father’s birthday was earlier in the week, and he’s been on my mind recently. At every stage of my life, he has been the father I needed. It seems fitting to spend some time trying to define the qualities that make him so special.

The first thing that must be said about Daddy is that he is very handsome. As a baby, he was adorable. As a little boy, he was impossibly cute, but the mischievous gleam in his eye and determined set of his jaw made it clear he was no pushover. As a young man, he was a heart-throb. When my mother first spotted him on the University of Kentucky campus, she knew he was the best-looking man she had ever seen. He was movie-star handsome, and, as an older man, he still is. He has aged slowly and well, with dignity and a kind of easy elegance.

Daddy wears his good looks lightly. He has none of the arrogant entitlement often associated with handsome men. If Mama and I exclaim over an old photo showing him at his fabulous best, he may laugh or remark at how much his ears stick out. He isn’t inclined to talk about himself or his feelings, but his perfectly calibrated sense of assurance is always evident. Daddy is never smug or boastful, but his self-confidence is a sure thing. He doesn’t rethink past decisions, nor is he plagued by doubt or remorse. If he has ever been anxious or worried, he has kept it hidden. His outlook is sunny. When trouble comes, he deals with it and moves on.

My father has nothing to prove. Unless he is challenged. Then, he has no fear. He doesn’t hesitate to offer an opinion at odds with those of friends or acquaintances. Should the need for a physical confrontation arise, he does not shrink from it. He has the grace and fitness of a natural athlete. For a while, Daddy and his office buddies played basketball during lunchtime. The head of the department, a big bulky guy, was a bully on the court. He made up for lack of skill by pushing, elbowing, and playing dirty.  After one annoying shove too many, Daddy punched the boss in the stomach, knocking him flat. My father didn’t hesitate, and he didn’t apologize. When the man got up, he was duly chastened. He never pushed or poked any of his colleagues again. Daddy doesn’t dwell on such events; he isn’t one to bask in moments of glory. He did what needed doing, and that was that.

Daddy is fiercely loyal to those he loves, and his persistence is unmatched when a loved one needs help. Mama wants a heavy piece of furniture moved into a difficult space? He’ll get it there if it means dismantling the entire room. I need a ride to an obscure part of the city? He’ll drive me, and he’ll make sure I get back home.  I awake in the dead of night to discover a gargantuan flying cockroach perched on my water glass? (This was a not-infrequent occurrence in Atlanta growing up without air-conditioning). He’ll be there in seconds, a rolled-up newspaper in hand, and that damned bug doesn’t stand a chance.

If his family feels strongly about something, my father embraces it, too.  My mother has a talent for interior design. She is a serial decorator who likes to refresh fabrics and color schemes often. Once she decides a room needs new paint, wallpaper, or upholstery, Daddy is on board. He does the heavy lifting, as well as whatever else is asked. If I’ve bought a new dress, he loves it. It’s been years since we shopped together, but I remember his offering to buy me anything that caught my eye.  During a trip to Kentucky, my daughter was looking forward to searching for geodes along the river bank, as we used to do when I was her age.  But the old path was gone, and the climb down from the bridge was steep and overgrown.  Most grandfathers would have said it couldn’t be done.  Not Daddy.  He found a way to get us all down to the river, and back up again, safely.  His priority is the happiness of those he loves, and he will go to great lengths to ensure it.

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I realize now, with sudden clarity, that my father’s greatest gift to me is the absolute, unwavering certainty of his love and support. Never have I doubted for a moment that Daddy loves me with anything less than his whole heart. Perhaps even more amazingly, he has always let me know that he considers me the best, the smartest, the most beautiful daughter possible. It’s not simply a case of his telling me so; I think he truly feels that way. Of course I know I’m not, but his believing it means everything.

*My mother is no less remarkable, but her birthday isn’t until June.

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The Joys and Travails of Walking our Strange Little Dog

Every weekday morning, as my daughter heads to the bus stop, Kiko and I are off on our morning walk. He is eager to sample the wealth of smells, sights and sounds the new day brings. His peppy, prissy little walk resembles that of a prancing circus pony. We’re usually out for nearly an hour, and we move quickly. We often meet friends, both two and four-legged; Kiko is an enthusiastic greeter of all fellow walkers. His exhilaration is contagious. Even on those days when I’d rather be sleeping, once out with my little dog, there is no place I’d rather be.  (Here he is, ready to go.)

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Later in the day, Kiko’s joie de vivre is considerably diminished. He has passed a demanding morning sleeping soundly on the playroom sofa. He’s restless, and it’s time for a walk. But he is ambivalent at best. Does he really want to go? Wouldn’t it be better to sleep a little longer? Have a snack? Play with foxy? He is uncertain; he is bored. Perhaps I’m reading my dog too deeply, but sometimes his attitude seems to be one of profound regret.

Only a ride in the car can lift Kiko out of his funk. The slightest jingle of a car key awakens him from dreams of successful squirrel hunting. His favorite sentence is: “Kiko, do you want to take a ride?” These words are the equivalent of the reset button. Upon hearing them, he tilts his head, stretches, shakes vigorously, and he’s recharged. His greatest desire is that the ride will lead to a walk in another neighborhood, one more interesting than our own. When this happens, his exuberance is as boundless as it had been in the morning.

I try to accommodate him. When the weather permits, he goes with me on errands. But even I find it ridiculous to drive the dog around every single day to elevate his mood. There are afternoons when I insist we walk along our own street.

It’s during these walks that Kiko tends to flaunt his array of annoying tactical maneuvers. They include:

• Scrambling like mad as though to avoid an approaching predator, straining sideways at the leash so his body forms a sharp angle to the road. (This requires a great expense of energy for both him and his walker.)

• The sudden dead stop, feet splayed out, head down, collar puffing out the sides of his face dramatically. (He used this move often when H tried to jog with him.)

• The missile launch leading into a fast sprint, best performed after the dead stop.

• The exhausted plop-down, usually attempted in the center of the road.

• The pause to eat grass, which he chews with the thoughtful delicacy of a connoisseur. (More frequent during periods of pouring rain.)

• The double back: once moving, a quick turn-around to head in the opposite direction. (Especially popular when time is limited.)

• The serpentine: darting impulsively from one side of the road to the other, typically attempted when cars are approaching quickly. (Is he suicidal?)

It would seem that simply turning toward home would put an end to some of these behaviors. Unfortunately, Kiko differs from the horse that runs only in the direction of the barn. He remains conflicted no matter which way we’re going. Sometimes it’s necessary to pull him repeatedly by the collar. If worse comes to worst, he can be carried, because he weighs only twenty-five pounds.  I’m very glad he’s not bigger.