Moxie Mom On Life and Kids

MOXIE MOM on Life & Kids

Post-Passing Thoughts

This morning I caught myself checking to make sure the toilet was flushed in case Leon needed a drink (he refused to drink out of his water bowl). And then a nanosecond later, I remembered I didn’t need to think about these kinds of things anymore.

For the most part, we have said our good-byes and have moved on to the rest of our busy lives, but we catch ourselves now and again. Curt had to go through the grieving process a few days after we did, upon his return from a climbing trip. His sadness opened it all up for the rest of us again—well, mostly me because I’m the one who remembers giving Leon to him as a birthday present. The kids were more intrigued by the idea of a man shedding tears and whether a cat’s passing would inspire them.

Lately, I have developed the unconscious and unsettling habit of looking at animals in terms of, well, grave size. I couldn’t help thinking one afternoon, when I saw a dachshund, how easy that animal would be. And then one morning a big, beautiful, white dog with longish fur walked past our house with its owner, and Leah wondered aloud what kind of dog it was. “Wouldn’t that be cool to have a dog like that one?” she said. My first thought (to myself) was, “Wow, that dog would take a big hole.” And then things like, “Gee, you’d have to have a big yard,” and “Ours would never work,” and then, “Oh, but with an animal that size, you’d probably cremate.” It’s weird, I know. My family has no idea.

I didn’t know about cremation for animals until I talked to a friend who’d had her cat put down last year right about the same time. It makes sense, of course. But I’m a farm girl and the urban way of doing things had never occurred to me. Friends and I have joked about pet insurance and when you would need it, and I’ve always said no way. But what happens when you have a young cat and she gets hit by a car or something and she needs surgery—how can you not pay up? I’m just glad I didn’t have to make that kind of decision because, like I said, I’m a farm girl.

I’m not pining, just so you know. But, yeah, these thoughts do flit through my mind.  I do hope the grave size thing goes away soon.


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Good-bye, Leon

We are feeling bereft around here because we’re missing our kitty pal of the last 15 years. Leon died yesterday morning before breakfast in a painful-to-watch passing to the greater beyond. Curt is on a climbing trip so he doesn’t even know yet, but the rest of us are feeling a little wrung out after an emotional weekend. Now that it’s all over and the grave has been dug and the gravestone placed, the kids are moving on faster than I am. It wasn’t easy being vet, mortician, and gravedigger all in one.Leon's grave

Here’s what I keep noticing: We don’t need to fill Leon’s bowl anymore or worry that he’s not eating enough. I don’t have to close the basement door to keep him from sneaking into the crawl space to do his business. The cat door no longer whispers open. Nobody follows me into the bathroom to wait for me to turn on the sink tap (Leon’s favorite source of water). We have nobody to rub against our legs. There’s no purring in the house. Our lives feel a little empty.

We had known for some time Leon was declining, but I never expected the final days to arrive so soon—somehow I had pictured later this fall. But on Saturday afternoon I found Leon in the yard looking dazed, and I bought him into the kitchen to get a look at him. He immediately went out the back door onto the stoop and then stumbled and turned back to the door, vague and unsure of himself. His back legs didn’t work right. He issued a tiny silent meow, and then another, gazing toward me but not really seeing. In that moment I knew he was dying.

I brought him inside and lay him on a towel on the kitchen floor. A few minutes later, Ty arrived home from a friend’s house and we studied Leon together. “I don’t think he’s doing well,” I said. I wasn’t ready to say the D word out loud just yet.

“Mommy, I think he’s dying,” Ty replied. And then I started to cry because, of course, he was right, only I didn’t expect him to come to it so quickly. Ty, less emotional than I, set about conducting response tests, touching Leon, talking to him, waving his hand in front of his eyes. We discovered Leon didn’t blink. He stared straight ahead and only turned his face to us if we spoke to him. We looked up symptoms of dying cats on the Internet: disorientation, reluctance to eat or drink, breathing changes, loss of vision, and restlessness. Leon fit the profile.

Leah was at a friend’s house until late evening, so Ty and I were on our own for dinner. That’s when the emotion hit him, and he started to cry, large silent tears rolling down his cheeks as he poked listlessly at his dinner. We gave up on eating and went to sit with Leon. We talked about pets and the cycle of life and how it’s his time and how we really don’t want him to linger in pain.

I told Leah on the way home from her friend’s house. She walked into the house and took one look at Leon, who had crawled into a corner, and burst into loud wracking sobs. The last time a cat died in our house, Leah was three and doesn’t recall. (And our cat was staying at my parents’ house, where it was quieter, so I didn’t actually witness anything.)

Burying Leon on Sunday morning wasn’t easy, but it gave us a sense of purpose. At last, here was something we could do and do well. Leah painted a stone with his name in bright yellow. We planted orange mums to honor his marmalade-colored fur. Leah’s long-time friend and animal lover brought a vase of red dahlias and a bag of chocolate chip cookies for comfort.

Leon is well-remembered and missed, just as a good friend should be.


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School Routines

So you know how you’re supposed to start your kids going to bed early a week before school starts so they’re prepared for the shock of the early schedule? We don’t do that. In fact, on Labor Day weekend, our kids typically stay up later than almost any other time during the summer, and they start school absolutely ragged. Their teachers would throw up their hands if they knew.

Here’s the thing: every year we get together with a group of friends, originally mine, some of whom date back to my high school years, one of whom goes all the way back to my toddlerhood, and it’s just so fun to see everyone. Each year is different. The group waxes and wanes, sometimes large, sometimes small, some folks traveling from England or Hawaii, others from nearby Seattle. This year was smaller, the Seattle crowd only, but still there were six kids ranging in age from eight to fourteen, along with lots of good food and wine and conversation. The adults stayed up late talking while the kids either got wild with each other or slumped in a corner chair waiting for the powers that be to see the necessity of bedtime. (When your kids are begging to go to bed, you know you’re a slacker parent.)

I feel a little guilty starting the school year this way—Leah would much prefer to stay home and put her already ordered things in a finer-tuned order. But the adults love it so much,  many of us try to make it every year.

On the upside, my kids come home from school each day ready for bed a little earlier. Tonight bath and shower time started at 7:30, no reminders from me whatsoever.

I figure the routine happens whether you start the week before school or with the first day. It’s all good. 


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Winthrop Camping

We crammed in a camping trip to the Winthrop area last weekend, and with rain looming this weekend, I am so glad we did. I got my last blast of heat (mid-90s) before the fall weather sets in.

We camped up the Chewuck Valley north of Winthrop at a forest service campground, which Leah was dreading because she likes to shower every day, and pit toilets are notorious for spiders. Amazingly she did fine—she encountered no spiders—and willingly washed her face in the river at the edge of our campsite every morning and brushed her teeth strolling among the pines. Although she brought a mirror along (that proved indispensible for my contacts), she’s more of a camper than she realizes.

Besides river play, biking, and ice cream in Winthrop, we drove up to Harts Pass one day, the highest elevation you can drive to in the state. A stunning place, truly. If only the drive weren’t so epic. If you don’t like heights—and I don’t—this is one road to avoid. Of course, by the time I figured this out, we were in the middle of it with no turning back.

In truth, most of the (unpaved) road is fine, but there’s a narrow stretch called Dead Horse Point (we learned this afterward—probably a good thing) that hugs the cliffside for half a mile, zigging and zagging around the curve of the cliff with alarming frequency. A posted warning sign tells drivers of the “Hazardous Driving” ahead, but as far as I’m concerned the heads-up only amps the stress. Luckily I was sitting in the back seat on the inside and didn’t bother to look over the cliff out Ty’s side (“Don’t look, mommy, you wouldn’t like it”).  Sheer drops, no guard rails, lots of fallen rock and gravel, many blind curves, and all kinds of potential (it seems to me) for slippage. What, I wondered, do you do if you meet a car coming the other way?

View of North Cascades from Slate Peak At the top, I was very surprised to see so many people, ranging in age from two to seventy-two. How did they get up here? Who drove? Well, I couldn’t help thinking, if that old couple there can drive up here, we can certainly drive down. Seeing all the visitors helped me relax into the spectacular views of the Cascades and (mostly) stop thinking about the drive down. Really, the views don’t come any better. Slate Peak, at 7488 feet, is just a short jaunt from the parking area and here you can see far into the wild blue yonder. We also hiked out along a high ridge line trail, which we had almost to ourselves.Ridge walking near Slate Peak, Harts Pass

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to bask in the wilderness quiet for long. That evening, a group of what I can only call party animals rolled into the unofficial campsite across the river from ours. They blasted 70’s rock, mostly Led Zepplin, from their truck stereo and laughed and cackled at top volume while their tiny children meandered down to the river and back. My kids were intrigued at first—Ty mostly with the swearing—but by the next morning they were appalled. Thankfully the local sheriff shut the party down around 9:30pm so we got to sleep at a reasonable hour before the tunes started at 7:30 the next morning.

When the party left the next day by about noon, Ty and Leah, personally affronted, hiked up their shorts to stride across the river and do garbage pick-up because, they said, surely there will be all kinds of trash. They were right. We carted it to Winthrop before heading home.

Ah well. You never know with car camping. Which is why I’m silently plotting to get our kids into the backcountry next summer (Curt will be thrilled to hear I’m thinking along these lines). I’m guessing there won’t be spiders to contend with, but I’m hoping Leah won’t freak too much about the idea of bears.

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