Monday, April 28, 2008

Sophie and Melissa Say Goodbye to Max

I had been waiting for a sign from Maxwell that it was time. Though his health has declined significantly in the past year, and his quality of life along with it, he still seemed to take pleasure in our presence and ate with gusto. (Max has been an insulin-dependent diabetic for over three years and this year was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.) I couldn't justify euthanizing him when he didn't seem to be in any pain. What a Catch 22--do you wait until the animal is suffering before making the decision, or do humanely let him go before he reaches that point? Months ago, I had a sad, but beautiful dream. Max's was lying on the hardwood floor of my childhood bedroom, his body had turned to golden sand. The particles were rising in the air, floating away and I was trying to capture them in my hands, blocking his departure. I wasn't ready. Then, last Thursday, Max threw up repeatedly and refused to eat or drink. I sat down next to him on the cold tile floor of the bathroom and petted his oily fur. He managed to work up a purr for me, but his eyes were pleading. What more did I need?

Coincidentally, friends of ours, Ada and Jeff, had come to Philly for a visit. Ada used to be Max's veternerian, before he ws diabetic. On Friday, she gently examined him, gave him some Pepsid-AD and syringe-fed him my mother's chicken soup, leftover from our seder. It's healing powers, however, apparently do not extend to cats. Later that day, Max had thrown up the little food she gave him and his water remained untouched. I was afraid to give him his insulin--I didn't want him to hypo on me. I tried to test his blood, but he was so dehydrated, he wouldn't bleed freely. After three tries, I decided to stop tormenting him. I tried syringe-fed him some water, but he wrestled with me and I don't know how much he actually drank. The next morning, Ada called to check on Max. She reminded me that most vets have saturday hours. In my anxious state, I had completely forgotten the Cat Doctor would be open until 1. I called and they gave me the last appointment of the day.

Before I got there, I made up my mind that this time--no heroic efforts. No tests. No life-extending medicines. It was time to let him go.

Resigned, I strapped Sophia to my body, carried her car seat in one hand and Max in the other. Helen, the receptionist, gave us a room where we could be alone together and brought me a glass of water. I sang to Sophie and Max, trying to soothe both of them at once. In waves, the magnitude of the decision that weighed upon me would hit me, and I'd begin to sob. Sophie looked up at me from her Snugli and laughed, tickled by the sounds I was making, unaware of what I was feeling. Of what was happening. The incongruity of it pained me. After an agonizing 45-minute wait, the doctor arrived and transferred us to a warmer room with a large comfortable chair. She took Max out of his cat carrier. I was ashamed at how filthy he was. Max had long stopped using his litter box and had been urinating and deficating in my bathtub. I would clean it out and sanitize it three times each day, and Kevin and I would give him a bath each week, but his underbelly was still soaked with urine. And he smelled.

I was grateful that the doctor didn't mind and didn't seem to judge me for this. I pet him as she inspected his mouth for signs of dehydration. She tried to take his temperature, but he cried so pitifully that we decided it made little sense to put him through the trial of the examination. She turned to me and said simply, I fully support your decision.

It is a difficult thing knowing where to draw the line. But I had already made up my mind. I nodded, language clogged with tears. She explained what would happen and gave me some time to say goodbye. When she left the room, Maxwell beelined for a corner and crouched down next to a bucket of hazardous waste. I sang taps to him, and hoped that it would not scar Sophie, to whom I sing taps when I put her to bed. (It's not as morbid as it sounds--the words are quite lovely--my father used to sing it to me when I was a child: Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the skies, all is well, safely rest, God is nigh.) The doctor came in and gave him an extra-large dose of Ketamine and Valium to relax him. I asked how we would know it was working. She said that he'd start to put his head down. She left the room and I continued to pet and sing to him. Sophie began to cry for milk, and in the middle of this ordeal, I sat in the large comfortable chair and fed her. The tension around Max's eyes, which held them wide open, relaxed, and he almost looked happy, the way he used to when he would sit with Kevin and me in the livingroom--Kevin on the couch, me on the the chair and a half, and Max perched on the coffee table between us, lording over his people. The doctor returned with the drug that would stop his heart. She placed him on the table. The vet tech took Sophie, and I stroked Maxwell looking deep into his eyes. It's okay, I told him. I love you. I will always love you. You won't hurt anymore. I'm letting you go.

I couldn't tell that he was gone. His eyes remained open, staring into mine. The doctor checked his heart and assured me he had passed. I cried at this reality. They took him away to wrap him in a blanket and duct-taped it closed.

The vet tech placed Max in the trunk and I made the 2-hour drive up to my father's, to bury Max in the yard next to my childhood cats, Patches and Shadow. I stopped half-way in Princeton to feed Sophie. When we finally arrived, Sophie was a mess. We had blown through her morning and afternoon naps. I tried to put her down, but she just screamed and screamed. Dad and I went out to the yard, which was riddled with rocks and roots. We tried a spot next to Patches, then under the lilac bushes, and finally in the abandoned rock garden in the back yard, before being able to break ground. Dad picked at the stone-infested dirt, and I dug up what he loosened. It took a while to dig a shallow Max-sized hole. I want to dig it deeper, I told him. My father thought it was deep enough. What if an animal digs him up, I worried. There's nothing larger than racoons around her, my father replied. We'll put rocks on top. I removed Max from the trunk. Through the blanket I could feel his body, still warm and pliable. Dad took Max out of the blanket and dropped him in the hole. I cried out as his body flopped inanimately and settled. Dad hurried to cover him. Together, we built a pile of rocks over his fresh grave. Standing back, it looked nice. Intentional and artful.

Dad and I returned to the house and spoke for a bit about the funerals we had attended. So much loss these past years. Kevin's mother. The miscarriages. Parents of friends. And now Max. Dad retreated to the television. I fetched the still-miserable Sophia and left, desperately needing some time alone.

Goodbye Max, Mr. Bootles, Max-a-million, Gluteous Maximus, the Notorious C-A-T. Goodbye my companion of 14 years. Goodbye my pet. I love you.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I'm ready for my closeup...

I have a few fading portraits of myself as a baby, looking rather googly, with a bobbing head, large eyes and a wet mouth. A snakeoil salesman came to call and sold my unsuspecting mother several hundred dollars worth of pictures that left us eating cans of cambells soup and pb&j sandwiches the rest of the month so we could pay the mortgage. Yet, it is nice to have these pictures, and ones taken in subsequent years (until suddenly they stop abruptly when I'm 4 or 5): Jennifer, my sister, looking ant-like, her head far too heavy for her slight body, the photo tinted red with age. The two of us posed in matching dresses--her hair curly and wild, mine matted and stuck to my cheecks--holding on to each other in a rare, loving moment.

So when my friend Nancy showed me pictures taken at Babies R Us of her twin boys, Reid and Mitchell, propped up on their elbows, looking very much like they were waiting for someone to bring them a beer, I decided I needed to immortalize Sophia in a down-to-the-diaper (they won't do naked) sexy-baby pose. I went up to my mom's and squeezed Sophia into a never-worn but already-too-small hand-made blue ballerina-esque outfit my mother gave her at birth (one of many such outfits). She fussed as I pulled the cerulean tulle up over her bulging milky-belly. At the studio, we chose a simple, but dramatic black background and the photographer set to work, stacking blocks to prop Sophia in unnatural, adult poses. She did an excellent job of making animal sounds, evoking broad, laughing smiles from Sophia. In between shots, Sophie slumped, and once, almost took a nose dive off of the platform. My mother practically knocked the camera over, diving to catch her, stumbling over the photographer in the process (if only we had captured THAT on film), but Sophia emerged from the experience, unscathed, if not a bit grumpy, with some lovely portraits. All in all, I'm glad we did it. I hope that they are a source of pleasure (as opposed to humilliation) when she is older.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sophie's Gettin' a New Crib

No, not the kind you sleep in. We're talking the MTV variety. That is, a house. Yes, Sophia will finally have her own room and mommy will have some peace. I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about no longer "rooming in" with my girl. I will miss the intimacy of sleeping side-by-side, the ability to look over and see her face placid with slumber, feeling the nocturnal incredulity that yes, she is here, she is real, she is mine. But I will not miss the noxious routine we had adopted.

This is how it went: At first, she was sleeping for five or six hours when we put her down. Then, she would wake every 3-4 hours after that until morning. She would cry. I would wait five minutes to see if she really meant it. She did. I'd get up, in a daze, and go through the motions of feeding her, and we'd both go back to sleep. But pretty soon she realized that if she woke and cried in the single-digit hours of the morning, I was going to feed her, no questions asked. If I didn't, she would fuss and fuss and we both would get no sleep. That's the thing about kids. They have more stamina than we do. Sophie began waking every two hours, then every hour. I'd feed her, going against everything I know to be true. Sated and soothed, she'd drop off, and I'd lie there, staring at the ceiling, wide awake, knowing the next feeding was not far away.

I resisted letting her cry it out. After all, Dr. Sears, that bastard, wrote that babies who cry it out lose trust in their mothers. If I didn't soothe her, she'd form an insecure attachment and then she'd never get into Harvard, or have a healthy relationship, or listen to her mother.

I shared my frustration with some other mothers. One I spoke to had just let her son cry it out. He looked happy. She looked well-rested. I was at my breaking point, and decided to give it a try. That night, I put Sophie in her pj's, read her"Goodnight Moon," gave her a massage, sang taps, and put her to bed. Kevin and I had a lovely dinner on the terrace while Sophie cried for 10 minutes and fell asleep. That was it. None of the hour long soothing sessions where Kevin and I would take turns letting her suck our finger until she'd finally stop whimpering and pass out from exhaustion. Yes she wakes up a couple times during the night, but five minutes later she's back asleep. Or if she is genuinely hungry, I feed her, but then she doesn't wake again until morning. Yes, I'm sleeping on the couch. But I'm sleeping!

Needless to say, I will be happy to have my own room again.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Roll-Over Queen

I'm laying blankets down on our filthy rug, trying to stay one step ahead of four and 1/2 month old Sophia who just figured out how to roll over completely. My goal is to create a semi-hygeneic barrier between her mouth and the cathair that's embedded in the berber, but its not working. There's a sharp black hair stuck with drool to the side of her mouth. I break to applaud her efforts and she looks at me with a dimpled toothless grin. My roll-over queen.

It's a scary development really. "Now you have to watch her all the time," my mother, my boss, my friends warned me the first time she rolled from back to front. And I do. But now, rolling is a mode of transportation. It can take her across a room. And it would be one thing if she was lazy, but Sophia is motivated as hell. She can stay on her stomach for forty-five minutes, air-planeing and butt-arching her way over to a toy I've placed just out of reach. She grunts and retches from the effort, but she always gets her toy. In these moments, I catch a glimpse of her personalitity--determined, perservering, perfectionistic. And I don't know if its a blessing or a curse.