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Friday, August 4, 2017

Immigration

There's plenty I could talk about when it comes to politics; health care, marriage rights, simple diplomacy, but there's one issue for which I have particularly strong feelings: Immigration.

It's important for you to know my family's past.

Sixty-seven and a half years ago my father was born in a displaced persons camp in post WWII Germany.  My aunt was 4 years old at the time.  My grandparents, neither of whom were Jewish (just to clarify), had suffered through unspeakable atrocities, many of which they kept secret until the day they died.  My Baba (grandma) had a scar on her chest that 50 years later the doctors told us was most likely an acid burn, but she wouldn't tell us how or why it was there.  They hadn't seen their families in ages, and their options were very limited.  My great uncle immigrated to Australia.  Returning home most likely would have meant death as the Ukraine was overtaken by Soviet Russia.  My grandparents looked at the only option they had...some cousins who lived in Philadelphia.

Neither of my grandparents were particularly fluent in English.  Both were blue collar workers.  The only connection they had was family.  Not a son, daughter, mother, or father.  Just cousins.

My father came to the US when he was 6 months old.  Ukrainian was his first language.  When he started school, his mother would study along with him, learning the language through his Kindergarten homework.  My grandfather opened a barber shop.  My grandparents were hardworking, responsible individuals.  My Baba eventually got a job at a bookbindery.  To get to work, she walked a mile to the bus stop, and then rode the bus for an additional 3 miles.  She did this every day, regardless of rain, sleet, or snow.  When she returned from work, she would cook and clean for her family.  My grandparents kept their kids in school and off the street.

My father excelled at basketball and track and field in high school.  Thirty years after graduation, he was inducted into his school's Hall of Fame for his accomplishments in track and field.  He studied at the University of Tennessee and later the University of Maryland on a scholarship.  Some time after school he started a successful auto body repair business until a car pulled in front of him on a busy highway and he suffered serious injuries.  After he recovered, he was unable to do heavy physical work, so he joined my mom in her accounting business, which he still runs today.

My father (and mother) made sure I studied hard and respected my teachers.  My Baba instilled in me a solid work ethic, and she taught me the importance of confidence and self worth.

I now own a very successful dog kennel.  I employ 15 people, and we're growing.  I've been featured as one of the top 40 individual under 40 years old in my city, and my facility is routinely voted as one of the best.

I share all of this with you to say if the policies the current government is trying to put in place were in effect 67 years ago, my family would not be here.

I can't say what would have happened with my family, but we wouldn't be in the US, and we wouldn't be working to keep America the great nation that it is (we don't need to to "make it great." It's already wonderful).  We didn't have strong connections in the US, we didn't have valuable skills, we didn't speak the language.  We were poor refugees from a war-torn nation, and yet we were still given a chance.  We were given a chance that many people now a days are being refused, and I just don't get it.  I don't understand how anyone can support such policies.  I know I can't.  I hope that this post reminds people who do support these policies that they're often talking about their friends, neighbors, and own family members.  I'll leave you with that and this quote, written on the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

America is a nation of immigrants.  Let's not refuse to help those who need it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Energy and TV

Anna has a ton of energy and no idea how to manage it.  I've known for a while that she's an energetic child, but the complexities of this really hit me this past weekend.  Until she was two, the rule was pretty much no TV.  Then it became that screen time only happened on weekends.  That's still the rule, but we'll bend the rule for mid-week sitters on if one of us is sick and just needs couch / bed time.  The problem is that weekend TV was starting to mean a week's worth of TV crammed into 2 days- hours and hours of TV.  By the end of the day, Anna was tired but she still had pent up energy.  She'd release this energy by screaming, fighting, and being kind of awful in general. 

So, this week, we changed the rule a bit.  We allowed some screen time as we were running errands in the car, and we watched some TV for about an hour on Saturday morning, but otherwise we were outside doing things or inside being creative in the playroom.  The change in Anna was amazing.  Anna was getting the attention and the stimulation she so desperately needed, and she was really fun to be around.  At the end of the day, she still protested that she wasn't tired, but she got ready for bed anyway.  There weren't tears or screams or fighting.  

A big change for us was church.  Anna tends to not enjoy church because it means that she has to be still and quiet for an hour.  That's hard for any 3 year old.  This weekend, though, we cut the TV and played with her before our showers.  Then we took her and all the dogs for a walk.  Lastly, I told her if she was really good during church I'd let her watch her favorite show on the way to lunch and I reminded her of this a few times.  She was absolutely perfect.  She sat quietly and colored the whole time, she participated in the few parts of the Mass she's familiar with (Our Father and Sign of Peace), and she easily listened to directions during the Mass.  At the end, she clearly remembered what we'd promised, because she said, "IT'S OVER!!!  I can watch my show?"

I know it's just one weekend, and it may have just been a fluke, but the difference was amazing.  Meals went smoother, she was eager to try new things, there were fewer tears over everything.  Honestly, the biggest difference was that we did something other than TV time.

In the future, I need to remember this.  I need to remember that TV may mean some time when I can sit.  Where I can distract my child long enough for me to get a break.  However, it also means that I'll want the break more because every other interaction with my daughter will be fighting against her energy and her demands.  Instead of turning to TV when I'm lost as to what to do with her, maybe I'll take her for a walk.  Maybe I'll take her to the pool.  Maybe I'll grab the crayons and a coloring book and color with her.  Whatever I do, by keeping the TV off, I'll keep my daughter and my family happier.  That's definitely something worth remembering!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

10 Years

Cody turns 10 today.

I'm not quite sure what to write.  Words don't come easy to me, and I cannot begin to stress to importance of this dog in my life.  For someone who has never owned a dog or who has never been effected by a dog, you can never understand, and I can't explain it.

Cody came into my life right after college.  In most respects I was happy.  I was back home, I was newly married, and finances were decent.  I didn't have too many commitments (part-time job, volunteering, etc), but I really wanted a dog.  Hans and I lived with Dad at the time (hence the decent financial situation), and he was completely against a dog.  So, I proceeded to beg.  I researched breeds and breeders, I consistently cleaned the entire house, I did extra work for him, all with the hopes that he'd see this and consent to a dog.  Well, I have a pretty awesome dad, because my plan worked.  Two weeks before my birthday, Dad told me he'd consent to me getting a dog IF I got a doodle (he thought they were cool).  I'd figured that would be the case, so I'd been researching, and there was only 1 breeder in the area who had a dog available before Christmas.  Since my birthday is in October, I wasn't willing to wait that long.

I called the breeder immediately and told her I'd be there in 2 days, when both Hans and I could take the day off work.  The second I saw Cody, I dropped to my knees so he'd come to me, and I fell in love.  He was clearly nervous, but he let me hold him and he snuggled.  It wasn't until the next day when, after a few treats and little sleep the night before he crawled into my lap and fell asleep.  That started the most amazing relationship.

Cody has completely shaped my life.  Since the second I got him, everything I've done has been with him in mind.  The ease with which I trained him encouraged me to pursue training as a career.  Caring for him and playing with him eased anxiety in a variety of situations.  I became more social, more comfortable around others (particularly kids).  He helps to keep me educated on health issues because I want to know more about what's going on with him.  One of the reasons I started running was to give him more exercise!

Cody has been with me through so much.  He's seen me through long days at the kennel.  After our first week open, he slept for 36 hours straight!  When I was first pregnant with Anna, one of the things that made me wonder if I was pregnant was how he acted around me.  He was super-protective and would constantly lay across my mid-section.  So, yes, I'm certain he knew I was expecting before I did.  He was there for me when Anna was first born.  There were a few occasions when I couldn't get Anna to stop crying, so I'd hand her to Hans, take Cody to the bathroom where I could have a moment of uninterrupted silence, and I'd just hold Cody, calming myself down.  He was there for me when Mom got sick.  He let me cry, he didn't ask for anything when I was too tired or too stressed to walk him, and he accepted her dogs as new and welcome members of the family.  When she eventually passed, he came with me as I went hiking, trying to escape my situation, and he stayed in bed with me when I was too grief-stricken to function properly.

Cody has always been my easy dog.  Sure, he's not perfect, but he's my easy dog.  I've loved every moment I've had with him.  He's the best dog for career days at elementary schools because he's friendly, he's fluffy, and he does tricks.  He comes with me to shows.  He's fun to groom.  Saying I love this dog isn't enough.  I'm not sure there are words to express all that he's meant in my life.

So, today, Cody is 10 years old.  He's past middle age.  He's a senior citizen.  I know he won't be in my life forever.  One of the great tragedies of life is that dogs don't live as long as humans.  But he will forever shape my life.  My wonderful, beautiful Cody.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Past Week

Guys, so much has been going on this past week!  I'm exhausted, relaxed, and happy.

First, we had Anna's birthday party.  She turned 3, and we decided to invite her entire daycare class thinking maybe 5 or 6 would come.  Somehow we ended up entertaining 20 toddlers and their parents!  Luckily we had rented out a space that could accommodate everyone.  We hosted the party at a local farm, so all the kids had a blast.  We played pin the tail on the donkey and horseshoes, we had delicious cupcakes, and everyone got to feed goats at the end.  Anna came home and slept for a long time.

That said, she now does not understand that not every party is for her birthday.  Sunday was my best friend's birthday.  When we told Anna, she got a little pouty and pointed to herself to say it was her birthday.  When a character in a book we're reading to her celebrated a birthday, she told us, "No.  My birthday!"  Ah, the joys of an only child.

In non-child news, did I mention we're expanding the kennel?  The big move in day is this Saturday, and I'm so excited.  It's really just an expansion of our grooming and training, but it will give us a lot more space to work, and it will allow us to have more than one groomer.  That's huge!  So, we're spending a lot of time prepping for the move in, and we're busy planning an open house, so that's all keeping us on our toes.  I'm a little nervous as to how everything will work out, but I have the feeling it will all go really well, even if there are a few hiccups along the way.

That said, I kind of have to get back to work.  So much to do, but I did want to give y'all an update!  Talk to ya soon!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably heard of the new Netflix series 'Thirteen Reasons Why.'  If you haven't heard of it, I'll sum it up for you.  It's a fictional account of a true event where a young girl committed suicide and left tapes that laid out the thirteen reasons (people) she felt she had to end her life.  It has created a lot of controversy lately.  Some say it glorifies suicide, while others say it's a good way to start a dialogue.  Some say it lays blame on external sources, while others point out how much the world around us can affect us.  I'll say now that I know nothing about the true life subject of this series (other than what Netflix has told me), nor do I live in this modern age of technology as our current teens do.  I can, however, talk about bullying, and I do have strong opinions about suicide in relation to such.

I've mentioned to a few people in the past that I just don't understand why kids are committing suicide due to bullying.  Kids are mean, it's true, but that's no reason to kill yourself.  The response I've gotten is pretty much, "You just don't get it."  So, let me tell you a bit about me.

First of all, I'm now a self-professed nerd.  I love geeky things, and I get really hyped up over school-related things.  I love homework assignments and reading, and I get really excited over spelling bees.  That's who I am now, though.  When I was an adolescent, however, I hadn't quite embraced myself yet, and things were a lot harder.

Like most people, middle school was the hardest for me.  I know a lot of people say that, but few had it to the extent I did.  Even my best friend, whom I met during my middle school years, didn't understand how hard I had it.  She was a grade below me, and she couldn't figure out why I got so upset when she hung out with some of my class mates.  It wasn't until the past few years when I told her just how cruel they were that she understood.

Back in middle school, not only was I a nerd, but I was also kind of a know-it-all.  I loved the phrase, "Well, actually..."  I was competitive, but not great at sports, I was easily frustrated, and I was incredibly awkward.  Puberty also hit me extremely hard, my bathing habits could have been better, and I was definitely NOT a great dresser.  Add to all that, I was the new student in a school where the majority of my classmates had known each other since kindergarten and you have the recipe for disaster.

I started school off hopeful.  I did, in fact, already know a couple of students, so I figured I'd have friends.  I was also open to make plenty of new friends, and I'd like to think I wasn't one of those kids who would only seek out the "cool" kids.  I'm not quite sure where / how, but something went wrong at some point.

First, the kids picked on my style.  We all wore uniforms, so you'd think this would be difficult, but no.  My shoes were too clunky, I wore my skirt too high, AND my skirt was too long.  I wore the wrong bracelets, my socks were rolled wrong.  Anything they could pick out they would.

Next came my grooming.  Puberty hit and so did acne.  Names such as Volcano-face and pizza-face were just a few.  My hair turned both greasy and curly, and I had dandruff.  Kids took to standing next to me and declaring it was snowing. "Hey look guys!  Val shook her head!  Maybe we'll have a snow day."  As I attempted to tame my newly curly hair with every form of hair cut, styling product, and lots of brushes (I knew nothing about curly hair), I got a whole new litany of insults thrown at me.  After one particularly bad hair cut a certain girl decided to give me the nickname of Bush (I'm assuming / hoping this was a very PG nickname).  That name stuck with me for a good 3 years...even after I started straightening my hair and pulling it back into a pony tail.

And then came the attacks on my love life.  These were some of the worst.  One girl asked me if I liked anyone in the class above ours.  We'd been having a laugh a few minutes earlier so I jokingly said, "Oh sure.  The [really jerky, pain in the ass guy].  She laughed along with me over that one ,but then decided to tell everyone I was madly in love with that guy.

Luckily, there wasn't the modern technology back then that there was today, so I was left along when I was at home, right?  WRONG.  The first phone call came when someone decided it would be funny to pretend to be my actual crush and ask me out.  I was so happy to get that call.  I couldn't believe that someone I liked might actually like me back.  When I went to school the next day I was greeted with snickering and jeering.  It had all been a hoax to make me look like a fool.  The next time they called I was wiser.  I demanded to know who it actually was, and they hung up.  When I went to school the next day, however, they'd simply told the story how they'd wanted it to go.  Since I'd fallen for it the first time, I must have been gullible enough to fall for it again, right?  I tried approaching the person they'd pretended to be, but he just yelled at me that he didn't like me and to stay away from him.

Oh, and it didn't end there.  When my dad subbed for the gym teacher they said cruel things about him too.  Those things aren't even worth repeating.

They started doing things just to get a reaction out of me; placing things on my back, calling me names, passing notes to and about me, stealing homework.  It didn't end.  Life was hell from 8:05 am until 2:45 pm, and even if I was left alone when I went home, I was just that.  Alone.  I cried so many times.  All I wanted was one good friend.  Someone I could have lunch with and talk to without worrying that they'd turn on me.  I might have been OK, if I'd been allowed to read during free time and lunch, but the teachers declared that was for "social" time.  Stupid teachers.

For three years I went through life without a friend.  Yes, I mentioned I met my best friend back during middle school, but back then our friendship was new and budding.  We didn't share any classes nor did we have any time during school together (lunch was separate).  And yet, through it all, suicide never even struck me as an option.  I never thought about it.  I'll admit I'm still dealing with a lot of the damage they caused, and making friends is and EXTREMELY difficult thing for me to do, but suicide was never an option.  They never had that kind of power over me.

So, what's the difference between me and these other kids?  Are kids now a days really so much meaner?  I was the least-liked kid in my class for 3 years, and I can't say I was that popular in high school (although high school was a significant improvement), yet suicide wasn't an option.  Are young people being desensitized to the idea of suicide?  Is it something in the diet?  What exactly am I missing.  Kids suck, it's true.  I still don't quite know how to handle teenagers, and I'm pretty sure they still think I'm a major geek, but when did that start being motivation for suicide?

  Can someone please help me out here?  I just don't get it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Epic Tantrums

More on the darling daughter front:

Anna turns 3 in one week.  This is so hard for me to believe.  She's funny, she's smart, she's gorgeous (of course I'm biased).

She's also strong-willed, opinionated, and determined.  These are all traits which will serve her quite well later in life...if I let her make it until later in life.  ;)

Last week was the most wonderful, perfect week.  Anna and I were both relaxed and happy and just in sync.  This week...UGH!  Anna has been clingy, needy, and demanding!  If I'm honest, I think she may be fighting a mild virus, but I'm about to go insane.  She won't let Hans help with anything, and any challenge is met with screaming and ugly faces.  And then there was yesterday.

Yesterday morning went fairly well.  She was a little fussy, but we had a play date scheduled with a friend and she was excited, so that moved her along nicely.  The time with her friend went beautifully, so no complaints there.  When she woke up after nap her mood was fine.  We didn't really have anything planned or anywhere to be, but I did have to get to the grocery store, so I asked her if she wanted to leave right away or if she wanted to wait for Daddy to come home.  She wanted to wait, so we played in the play room for a bit.  She was happy.

The melt down started about 5 seconds after we arrived at the store.  First, she wanted a little cart.  That store didn't have a little cart.  I told her if she could find one she could push it.  She stopped crying for a few minutes and looked around, and when she couldn't find one she started screaming.  I picked her up and carried her into the store while Hans grabbed a cart.  I then distracted her by asking her to find certain items.  This was a fun little chore because she wanted to grab about 15 of each item, and we really don't need 15 onions or 15 potatoes.  When I tried to place some back on the shelf she would scream.  I was trying to keep my cool, so I'd just distract her and sneak the items back to the shelf.  By now, though, I was nearing the end of my rope.  Of course, Kroger didn't have half of what we needed in stock.  What type of grocery store doesn't have bananas, cucumbers, or half & half?  So, I was frustrated with the store for not being well stocked.

After the produce section, Anna really wanted to push the big cart.  This is normally fine, as she's just tall enough to reach the push bar, but this cart was a little wonky, and kept wanting to veer to one side or the other.  And Anna kept running into things.  In an attempt to not break stuff, I would steer the front of cart, which prompted Anna to scream in her banshee voice, "NO!  You Don't Touch!"  By this point I'd had it.  I mean, I'd kept my cool.  I was trying to keep things fun.  But it's really unacceptable for her to yell at me like that.  So, I warned her that if she yelled at Mommy and Daddy like that again we would leave the store.  No sooner had I finished that sentence than did she yell, "NOOOOOO!!!  I STAY!!! GO AWAY!!!" and shoved my hand off the cart again.  I told Hans to pay for what was already in the cart, and I scooped up Anna and carried her back to the car.  She was screaming, "Daddy!  I want Daddy!" and I'm fairly certain some people may have been concerned that I was abducting a child, but we made it to the car where I somehow got her in the car seat.

After that we had to get the dogs from the kennel, and I figured she'd settle down on the ride over there.  She screamed for 15 minutes, "I want to PAY!" meaning she wanted to go back to the grocery store and play at the check out.  I got the dogs and came back to the car to my still-screaming child.  Hans then reminded me I needed a new library card, and the library was 2 blocks away, so I decided to make a quick stop.  Anna cried all through the 5 minutes I was inside (keep in mind Hans was still with her).

I got back in the car and said, "OK, time to go home" and I was met with, "NOOOOO!  I want to go somewhere!  Please!  I want to go somewhere with you!  NOOOOO! I don't want to go home!  I want to go that way."  She would alternate between sniffling softly and utter screams.  By the time we reached home an hour had passed and she was still screaming.

When we got in the house, I tried to calm her a little and Hans put up groceries.  It was at that point she started screaming, "I want to try me!  I want to try me!"  I thought I was may misunderstanding her, so I tried to ask her if she meant something else, but she only answered in the affirmative when I asked if she wanted to "Try you."  I'm still not certain what she was trying to say, but she eventually ran into the kitchen and picked up the onion we had purchased.  I tried to convince her that she did not want to try raw onion, but she wasn't having it.  She wanted to try it, and she didn't want green beans, and she didn't want tomato (it was actually potato).  I finally pulled out some of the cut onion we had in the fridge and asked her if she wanted to try that.  She grabbed a handful of onion and shoved it in her mouth, while I prepared myself for a fresh round of tears.

Can I just say now, that my child is weird!?  She LOVED the onion!  After she had tasted her handful, she got this huge smile on her face and took a few more handfuls.  I asked if she liked it, and she said, "Yeah!"  Now, maybe she was just trying to prove a point, and if that's the case I'm terrified for when she's 13, but things were fine the rest of the evening.  She ate her beans and potato (although no chicken), and she danced to Simon and Garfunkel, and she went to bed fairly easily.

I'm not quite sure what happened last night, but I do know I sat through 1.5 hours of screaming and I went to bed utterly exhausted.  Please don't let this be what the rest of year 3 will be like!

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Time I Left My Daughter In the Car

It's the end of May here in good, ole VA and the temperatures are rising.  While today may be a mild, rainy day, Saturday was sunny and HOT.  Already we're starting to hear reports of children being left in the car, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.  Sometimes it's a frazzled, over-worked mother who made a terrible mistake, whereas other times it's shear ineptitude, but regardless of the cause, we always see those comments from people claiming it could never happen to them, and these mothers / fathers couldn't possibly love their children if this is what they'll do.

I understand this outcry.  It's hard to imagine someone could ever leave a child in the car, and I felt the exact same way for a long time.  I mean, I went years with dogs in the car and I never once came close to leaving one in a hot car (even when they were sleeping soundly).  Surely people who leave their children in the car must be heartless.  Heck, I even argued that if you had to leave a shoe / purse in the back seat to ensure you wouldn't forget your child then there must be something wrong with you.  That is, of course, until it happened to me.

A little over three years ago, I was a new mom.  I had a very new infant and I was running my growing business (trying to put in as much time as possible), when BAM!  All of a sudden I was hit with a completely unexpected life-changing event when my Mom, the woman who was supposed to help me care for Anna and serve a pseudo-nanny, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer.  All of a sudden I was left caring for my infant and my business while simultaneously helping my mom recover from surgery, moving her from her apartment to our house (and a few things to storage), caring for her 2 dogs in addition to my own 2 dogs, dealing with her bills/finances, and also shuttling her from doctor appointment to doctor appointment while I fit my own doctor appointments in there as well.  And that doesn't even begin to factor in dietary changes we were trying to make to help cope with the cancer diagnosis!  It should go on note that all this hassle is what made me decide I only want one child.  I don't need anymore craziness in my life, and I'm happy to shower all my attention on Anna (and the pups, cats, and kennel).

Anyway, I was beyond stressed when my mom's car came due for its annual inspection and needed a few repairs.  Dad said one of his friends could take care of it, so I gave him the keys to mom's car and he dropped it off.  I have no idea how he got a ride from the shop, only that the car was there for a few days.  After a short while, Dad showed up at the kennel one day and said, "OK, let's go pick up your mom's car."  I wrapped up what I was working on, placed Anna in her car seat, and let Dad give me directions as to where I was going.

When we arrived, I got out of the car and followed Dad into the main office.  The mechanic wasn't in there, so I followed Dad into the garage.  Dad was closing the door behind us when he looked at me and asked, "Where's Anna?"  Less than 5 minutes had passed and I completely panicked.  I string of expletives flew out of my mouth as I ran back to my van only to find her resting peacefully.  The temperature in the car, however, was climbing quickly, and I couldn't believe my stupid mistake.

I didn't tell anyone about this for a long time simply because I was so embarrassed.  Dad, to his credit, also chose not to spread the story around.  I can't begin to tell you how much I felt like a horrible mother.  Here was this helpless, defenseless creature, who relied on me for everything, and I couldn't believe I could be that careless.  I wanted to cry.  I held Anna close to me, I let her nurse when she needed to, I wiped her brow, and I thanked God nothing worse had happened, but I also gained a lot of understanding that day.

Now, I doubt I would have forgotten her for hours on end, but who am I to say I wouldn't have left her in the car for 20 minutes while I dealt with the mechanic?  Even saying that makes me feel terrible, but it's the truth.  For a brief moment I was so worn out that I left my darling girl in the car.

Have I forgotten her since?  Not even close.  More often than not I find I'm checking her car seat even on days she's not with me just to make sure.  That one time was enough to scare the living bejeezus out of me, and I doubt I'll ever make that mistake again.  Still, though, I see how it could happen.  I hate to admit that I'm one of those people, but I am.  Simply put, I'm human.

Now, I might get some negative response to this, and that's OK.  I understand where you're coming from.  I just hope you can show some compassion and understand not everyone is as perfect as you.  I certainly am not.  I give everything I have in me, but sometimes I'm just out of things to give.  That's where I'm so thankful for my support system.  I'm thankful for Hans and my dad and my friends.  They're the ones who keep my errors from turning into horrible, horrible mistakes.