Monthly Archives: September 2014

Stupid Human Tricks (Don’t Try This at Home)


giraffe savmy bendy giraffe daughter

The outcome of genetics freaks me out a little.  One morning while waiting for the bus, I eyed my sister as she laughed and chatted with her way-cooler high school friends.  I was just in the third grade and with my pin straight hair, blue plaid skirt and knee socks, was miles apart on the popularity spectrum.  I watched as they formed a circle around her, and then I heard shouts of amazement:  “No way!”  “Gross!”  “How do you do that?”  As I edged close to the circle, I saw why they were yelling and laughing.  She had done the Arm Thing.

I don’t know what made me do it.  I cut through an opening in the circle and proclaimed, “I can do it, too!”  She rolled her eyes at me and looked around at her friends, as if to say, “Can you believe this irritating pest?”  “You can not!”  she snorted, and that was all the prodding I needed.  I threw my backpack on the ground, planted my loafers on the asphalt and clasped my hands behind my back.  Leaning slightly forwards, I bent my right elbow backwards at a sickening angle and in a fluid yet grotesque movement, twisted my shoulders impossibly until my clasped hands came forward and rested in front of me.  I lifted my chin in triumph, her friends thought I was cool for about two minutes, and then the bus came.

I had witnessed her do the Arm Thing before and somehow just knew I could do it.  It became my signature show-off move, better even than touching my tongue to my nose.  I bragged that if I was ever arrested, I would be able to get out of the handcuffs.   Once people had seen me do it, they’d ask me to show their friends:  “Watch this!” they’d say, “Come on, do your Arm Thing!”  I did it through high school and college by request.  At a college retreat as a college sophomore, I won a Stupid Human Trick contest with the talent.  Turns out, my younger brother was able to do it, too, the irritating little pest, and he often upstaged me since he was a smaller, cuter version of me.

We were double jointed in the elbows and shoulders, I learned.  If I leaned my hands on someone’s desk, my elbows would hyper-extend and look like they’d been put on backwards.  It came from my dad and his aggressive genetics.  We got his nose, his feet, his warped sense of humor, and apparently his build.  I’d never seen him do the Arm Thing, but as a teenager he was built like all of us–thin, gangly, a bit clumsy.  This came from his mother.  In her 70’s she would scrub her entire kitchen floor by hand, folded in two at the waist, her legs straight, her torso bobbing slightly as she worked.  We were bendy. Had we thought about it, we could’ve developed it more and joined one of those Chinese acrobatic troupes as the Amazing American Trio.  I have no idea how my sister initially figured out she could do this.  At some point, maybe she had escaped the back of a police car?  (Hmmm…I will need to investigate this further…).

At least one of my sister’s kids and both of mine have inherited this ability.  They heard me talk about it once and, like me, just knew they could do it too.  I never asked them to try it and certainly don’t encourage it.  Age has changed my doubled joints, alas.  The last time I attempted the stunt, I heard so many crackles and pops as my arms passed my ears that I declared it the end of the Arm Thing.  Let’s just hope I don’t get arrested any time soon.  I’d be shuttled off to the Big House with no hope of escape.

We could have won the genetic jackpot and gotten genius musical talent, a natural immunity to the common cold, or a killer metabolism that kicked in at middle age.  But no.  We got the Arm Thing to amuse and entertain others.  Maybe it was a small gesture to help us through some awkward childhood moments.  Unless some more aggressive genetics invade our gene pool down the line, it looks like it’s a hand-me-down that’ll be there through a few more generations.  As for me, the Arm Thing is just a stunt from my past.  I can still wiggle my ears and touch my tongue to my nose, but the Cool Factor is just not there.  I’ll need to find another way inside the circle.  :/


A long time ago, our family happened upon this idea of what I’ll call “God signs.”   The idea came through a friend of ours who had mentioned that whenever he was faced with a tough decision or was feeling conflicted or particularly low, he had started noticing birds.  Not just birds on a wire or flying by, but he’d be sitting alone somewhere outside and a single sparrow would perch close by.  Now, maybe sparrows are just an extroverted little species or are particularly bold trying to beg for crumbs.  I’ve certainly fed my share of them on the patio outside Panera.  But these weren’t sparrows in a group who appeared to want something.  This would just be a single sparrow, and it would alight nearby and stay for a while.

If you are familiar with scriptures, you might be thinking, as he did, of that verse in Matthew 6 where Jesus refers to the birds of the sky as a reminder that God takes care of all of his creation.  All of it.  Even you.  So worrying doesn’t help anything.  Because it became such a regular occurrence to see a sparrow in difficult times of his life, our friend chose to see the little bird as a “God sign,” God’s way of saying “Hey, I’m thinking of you right this minute.  Be joyful.”

While I liked the idea of God sending little tangible messages as a nudge or nod to people, at the time I was kind of an eye-roller about that sort of thing.  I mean, really, ever heard of coincidence?  We were in the middle of raising our young kids, struggling with a business and the craziness of life in our early-30’s.  I was tired and, let’s face it, had become a little cynical in my faith.  I didn’t get the big, brazen answers to prayers that some people seemed to.  Bad stuff had happened in my life and I just had to handle it.  Nobody with a red cape swooped in to Save the Day.  And while little magical sparrows were sweet and all, that sort of thing would never happen to me.

So when my husband came home and told me about the sparrow thing and the idea of it maybe being a “God sign” and wasn’t that neat, I admit it: I scoffed.  Actually, I think I said OUT LOUD, “Oh, right.  You can interpret it that way if you want.  But God would never do that for me.”  I probably threw in an old-fashioned “pshaw” and then did the eye-rolling thing and said “If I had a God sign it would be something totally ridiculous like a praying mantis.”

Where did I pull that one from?  I don’t have a particular affinity for insects (except maybe bees).  I could’ve picked a lightning bug or Japanese beetle or even a bumblebee, something I saw every day in our yard.  But I was trying to come up with something nuts, totally out of the realm of what I saw on a regular basis.  Anybody can see a sparrow, I thought.  Let’s see you pull this one out of your hat.

You know where this is going, right?  I shelved the conversation in the back of my mind and the next day (the next day) loaded my kids in the car to go to a local blueberry patch, about 30 minutes from our house.  We met some other moms there and spent the morning picking a gallon or two of berries.  After our picnic lunch, when it was time to leave, I got everyone in their car seats and threw my stuff in the passenger seat.  We still had to run to Target for an errand before heading home and the afternoon was getting away from us.  I was distracted and thinking of what was on the list for the rest of the day.  Which was probably why I didn’t see him until I had already backed out of my space.  As I took the car out of reverse and looked ahead to drive out of the parking lot, there he was.  I gasped so loud the kids in the back were startled.  “What’s wrong, Mommy??”

I pointed to the windshield.  There, smack dab in the middle of the glass, staring in at me with a look on its face like “You were saying?” was the biggest, greenest praying mantis I’d ever seen.  I didn’t even know they got that big.  It was a good 7 or 8 inches long, perched sitting up like they do with its arms folded.   I might have seen a mantis when I was a kid sometime.  I kind of remember my dad showing me one he’d found once, but I’d never run across one myself.   Like, in the WILD, let alone this close to me on my CAR.

After a moment of stunned disbelief, I started laughing.  No. Way.  This was before cell phones with cameras on them, or you’d better believe I would have subjected this guy to a photo shoot on the spot.  “Look!”  I told the kids, “Look at this big bug!!  It’s a praying mantis!!”   For some reason, my kids couldn’t fathom why this would be so funny to me or why I didn’t just turn on the wipers and get it off, my usual reaction to unwanted insects.  “Look at him!  Isnt’ he AMAZING??”

I continued to laugh all the way to Target. All the way back into town, 30 minutes away.  I drove at normal speed–on the highway around 50 mph–and he stayed there.  The wind didn’t blow him off.  It was like a mantis shampoo commercial, with the breeze slightly ruffling his wings as he turned his triangle head this way and that.  Mocking me.   God was like “you think I can’t do a mantis? I’ll show you mantis.  How ’bout THIS.”   This granddaddy of all mantises clung to my window until we parked at Target.  He stayed there as I showed him to my kids up close.  Then we had to go in the store, and when we came back out he was gone.

I was chastened.  Touche.  For some reason, a verse from Joshua came to mind, clear as a bell:  “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  I tucked that little gem away.  I’d been deservedly popped upside the head.  Oh me of little faith.

Could it have been a coincidence?  Sure.  Insects are everywhere.  I have seen them since then, though.   It’s usually when I’m distracted, busy working on My List, which good Type A people always have on hand.  I’d not seen one for YEARS, and now I see them every few weeks.  They’re unusual and reclusive.  I’ll just be walking out the door, and there’ll be one sitting on the fence.  And–coincidence or not–I see them when I’ve been deep in thought (ok, worry) about an issue in my life or a relationship.  That Joshua verse always pops into my head.  My spirits always lift and I feel like I’ve been given a nod from above.  Whether it’s been actively placed there just for me or whether I just choose to see it as a reminder of what I should be more mindful of, I have grown to appreciate more of the magic and joy in life.  I’m a lot less dismissive than I was back then.  More full of wonder and ready to notice and receive blessings, however they’re packaged.  Even in a weird little green bug.


I am officially “old” today.  My oldest kid turns 18, the moment she’s been waiting for, when the heavens open up and the angels come down and bestow upon her the title of Adult, Grown Up, Legal.  She can magically do lots of things today that she couldn’t legally do yesterday:  vote, smoke, get a tattoo, buy a house, sign a lease, get married, change her name, buy a lottery ticket, get medical attention without consent, open a bank account, own a stock, get a credit card.  In short, she is now Completely Free to make lots of binding decisions that can affect the rest of her life.  If that’s not enough to age you as a parent, I don’t know what is.

The day she turned 5, I was handing out birthday cupcakes to happy kids in her kindergarten class.  That day, as it turns out, was also the day the World Trade Towers fell in New York City, the Pentagon was hit, and UA Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.  A few weeks earlier, I’d braced myself to hand over my firstborn to teachers at a new school and now all I felt like doing was holing up in a safe bubble at home forever.

Because of the date, every birthday she’s had since then has been filled with memorials and pictures on the news and internet that never fail to bring back the exact emotions of that morning–panic, horror, fear, disbelief, despair.   Instead of giving into that fear, like everyone else, I learned to take a deep breath and forge on.  It was a good lesson for me to learn as a mom early on because over these past 13 years I have been constantly faced with a series of “trusting and letting go” moments as my daughter jumped into life with both feet.

As an Official Adult, she can, as Ghandi said, go forth and be the change she wants to see in the world.  When people ask when her birthday is, she used to kind of mumble the date and wait for the inevitable reaction–Oh.  Like she bore a disfiguring scar that she’d suddenly revealed.  I think the distinction has had an effect on her but not what you might expect.  With each passing year, she’s learned to wear her birthday like a badge, not a scar.  She has adopted a “yes, but” mentality, which has leaked out into other areas of her life.

Yes, 9/11 was a terrible day in our history, BUT it’s my birthday and we can celebrate THAT.  Yes, I messed up big that time, BUT each day is a new one and I can start over.  Yes, children are dying from hunger every day, BUT I can do something about things I’m not okay with (18000 for 18000 is an organization she started with her friend to make a difference).

I love that 9/11 doesn’t hold her back.  I love that she wakes up each September 11 excited about the day and eager to face it, DESPITE the feelings that creep back in each time it rolls around.  I love that she reclaims her right to that day as her own, unmarred by the cowardly acts by despicable men. I hope she will use her Newfound Freedom of Adulthood to do great things and plant seeds of goodness.  Freedom is the watchword of the U.S., our foundation and one of our greatest values.  It is what others tried to take from us in acts of terror, but fittingly, it is also our rallying cry and the cement that binds us together, enabling us to rise up in opposition and stand firm.   Now that she’s 18, and legally “free,” I hope my daughter will spread those wings of hers as she was meant to.  I hope she will come to see her freedom as a gift that’s ultimately meant for responsibility as well as exploration.  And, I hope she’ll have a blast letting her freedom ring!   Happy 18th Birthday, Sav!


All Creatures Great and Small

Last night we were startled by our neighbor’s frantic knock on our front door in our quiet neighborhood.  One of their Yorkshire terriors had been hit by a car just moments before.  She’d scooped up the little dog and run a few doors down to our house, begging my husband Bob to look at her.  As we laid her on our front porch, it was obvious she didn’t have long.  Her entire back end had been crushed and she was already lapsing into her last moments.  It was heartbreaking to listen to her owners sobbing as they stroked her tiny head, no bigger than my fist.  Bob grabbed the stethoscope that hangs at-the-ready on our closet door and did his best to help her owners say goodbye to one of their family members.

Over 20 years ago, after 8 years of college, an internship in central Detroit, and a week-long stint on Plum Island (the infectious disease center) in New York, my husband Bob became a DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine).  I’d read the famous James Herriot novels featuring the quaint country vet, driving to the lovely British cottages to minister to farm animals and family pets.  These books had inspired me to briefly entertain becoming a vet myself once upon a time.  That is, until I encountered advanced chemistry classes and hung up my imaginary stethoscope for good.

We married just after he’d completed his first year of vet school, so instead of hours spent lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes, our early marriage had to weather long sleepless nights of foal duty in the horse unit at school, endless hours of viewing slide after slide of parasites, and a washing machine filled with scrubs covered in I-don’t-even-want-to-know.  But he made it through to graduation day, where each graduate jokingly presented the dean of the college a Milkbone dog biscuit in exchange for their hard-earned diploma.

As a fresh new graduate, he took a job with a mixed practice in a rural west Tennessee town.  After half a year of vaccinating hogs, tromping through cow pastures in the wee hours of the morning, and getting stomped by horses that were strongly against being castrated, he switched to strictly companion animal practice in a bigger city, which suited both of us much better.  We took a giant financial leap and bought our own practice, having to learn on the fly how to run a business (something they only briefly touch on in vet school).  Like any other doctor’s office and fully functioning hospital, we had to purchase pharmacy inventory, surgical supplies, and medical equipment with entirely too many zeros in the price tag.

Sometimes it comes as a surprise to people how sophisticated veterinary medicine is.  Anything they do at human hospitals, we can do for animals in a veterinary setting.  Most medical innovations and techniques were first perfected on animal patients.  Although DVMs and MDs have the same years of training at school, a vet studies physiology of allanimal species, not just that of the human being.   In practice, veterinarians act as surgeons, radiologists, oncologists, fertility specialists, dentists, optometrists, cardiac and orthopedic specialists.  They practice geriatric medicine, hospice care, and act as ob-gyns, and behavior/psych experts.  They practice chiropractic medicine and incorporate natural or alternative medicine such as acupuncture, massage, and nutrition.  This is all standard stuff–it’s not just for the Paris Hilton crowd that carries little FiFi around in their purses as an accessory.

When people are frightened or in pain, they don’t often peck, scratch, or bite their physicians; however, veterinarians bear multiple scars from trying to help their patients who cannot speak to them or tell them where it hurts. Sometimes vets contract serious diseases from their patients.  And quite often, they work on patients they’re allergic to–diagnosing cats or guinea pigs despite the itching and sneezing that ensues afterwards.

If you go to the ER with a broken leg, after they’ve checked your insurance of course, it’s assumed you’ll receive pain management, x-rays, consultation from possibly several different specialists, especially if surgery is needed. You might have an anesthesiologist in the room with the orthopedic surgeon, and you’d of course have several nurses on staff for your follow-up care during your stay and any physical therapy you’d need afterwards.  If you rushed to the ER with your child having broken a leg, most people wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever is necessary to fix everything.  Vets do all the same things, at a fraction of the cost of human medicine, while still paying off debt from school, equipment, and malpractice insurance—just like MDs.  They’re on call at all hours of the day and night, holidays and weekends.  Yet so often people grouse that vets are just trying to do a bunch of unnecessary procedures and tests to make a buck.  Pet insurance does exist (and is a good idea for some people), but vets do not base their care on it.  Do a google search–their salaries are not even close to a typical MD.  I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked Bob a medical question and then said they hadn’t wanted to bother their “real doctor”.

Veterinarians are the Other family doctor, working on the family members who are perhaps the most loyal, trusting, and giving to us.  On any given day, the office phone will ring:   Our lab just had puppies–8 of them!–and they all need shots.   My old collie is having trouble walking. I just lost my wife to cancer and I’m worried Sallie might have cancer too.  We recently had a baby and our normally friendly dog has become aggressive–what should we do?  I’m a 3rd grade teacher at the school down the road, our class pet (hamster) is not eating and I have 25 students who are very concerned.  I was mowing the lawn and came across a nest of baby bunnies that I “rescued” –what do I do with them?   My parakeet caught her wing in the cage.  It’s time, Doc: we need to come in to put Chipper down.

Bob didn’t become a veterinarian because of the prestige or glamor.  He grew up on a farm with horses, dogs and cats and learned that these creatures had something to teach us.  He thought we owed them something back because of the companionship and joy they bring so willingly to us.  Over the years, we have had cats, dogs, hamsters, horses, donkeys, chickens, a guinea pig, doves, finches, fish, and even a hedgehog.  I drew the line at reptiles.  Our kids have seen puppies being born and have witnessed the end of life for many of our pets.  We know the emotional bond that you can share with even the smallest of critters.  He often cries along with families during a particularly tough euthanasia.  He doesn’t mind giving advice or help to people and animals who need it.   Vets are some of the most upstanding and gentle people I know–in any field.  While sometimes it is an inconvenience to take an emergency call during a family event, it’s easy to put ourselves in the caller’s shoes and brush aside our selfish wish for an undisturbed night’s sleep.

It’s an honor to be called on during the critical moments in someone’s family.  The little Yorkie never saw it coming last night, and bless them, neither did her owners.  We all went to bed last night with our hearts heavy for the grief they were feeling and the empty space the loss will bring to their home.   Despite the risks we took getting into this profession, at the end of a day like yesterday, it’s been a privilege.