Sunday, June 20, 2010

Don't forget to stop and smell the fertilizer.

My daughter pointed and shouted-“Jack pooped! Jack pooped!”

That would have been great except that our dog Jack--and his gifts--were in the kitchen. Location, location, location.

We adopted Jack a few months ago from PAWS, a local no-kill shelter. He’s seven-years-old and eight excitable pounds of Jack Russell Terrier. My Mom’s cat is twice his size (it's freakishly tall for a cat and Jack’s kind of small for a JRT). Jack and my family are pretty happy with each other, but there’s one big issue. Although he’s potty trained, he really prefers not to use that training.

We’ve gotten to the point where he doesn’t pee inside anymore (Thank You, Jesus) but he still likes to poo in the comfort of his own home. To which I might add, “Don’t we all?”

I can stand outside in the yard with him for ten minutes without any luck.

"Jack! Go poo-poo!"
He looks at me.
I wait for 30 seconds or so.
"Jack!!! Go poo-poo!"
Repeat for nine more minutes.

He sits next to me, watching the yard, looking up at me, scratching his ear with his hind leg, and eating grass. TEN MINUTES! It’s a long time unless I use it talking with friends or checking email on my phone. I ignore him as he goes about sniffing. Later I’ll hang up and gaze down to search for anything I haven’t smelled yet. He stares back with his huge Chihuahua-like eyes, adoring and patient.

I take him inside and within a half hour we’ll find it somewhere. The smell makes me snap to attention. I get a visual on Jack, and scour the perimeter of the floor around him. Sometimes he’s still next to it. Small-dog poop logs. He’s quiet and fast, like a stealth bomber. A lot of the time I turn around, there sits the payload, and he’s already gone.

Anyway, Heather and her family were over for dinner. Yes, the same Heather who nominated me for the Makeover (Thanks, Heather!). We were having take-out from India Pavilion (if you’re in State College, try it) when my daughter sounded the alarm.

“Jack pooped! Jack pooped!”

This was the first time in the year and a half we’ve been friends with Heather and Ashley Holleman that they’ve come to our house for a meal (I never invite people over when the house is messy. Yes, it was messy for the entire year and a half). As hostess, I wanted the dinner to be pleasant and enjoyable. I refrained from cooking expressly for the purpose of sparing our company from a crappy evening. Or an evening on the crapper, for that matter.

But dogs and babies are never upstaged. Jack had already showed them how he can repeatedly chase and fetch a ball (an endless activity to which Sisyphus would have preferred his boulder). Perhaps copping a squat was the only other trick he knew.

Needless to say, Public Displays of Jack’s Rectum were not approved as the evening’s entertainment. I mentally translated the French word ‘Merde’ into English and turned to find it. I was relieved because it didn’t look like much, but in passing to get the paper towels it registered that it was a little smashed on one end. Maybe in a rush he stepped on it. Great, now our white carpet would have the cutest trail of footprints made out of poop.

By the way, the carpet was white when we moved in. Who in the world installs white carpet? People without young children or pets.

Just then I noticed Heather’s youngest daughter was in the kitchen (yes, you can see it coming). She was standing on her left leg, looking down at the bottom of her right foot. I rushed over to her. There was a piece of poop smashed between her toes. It was a small percentage of Jack's complete movement, but on the bottom of a four-year-old’s foot it covered a lot of territory.

Heather’s daughters both look like adorable pixies. Their smiles swirl with mischief, no doubt passed down from their Dad. But at that moment, the girl looked up at me with worried eyes, for all the world resembling one of those morose “Precious Moments” figurines. And then it slammed into my head: the image of a dainty Precious Moments figurine holding out a porcelain foot, tenderly painted brown.

There are critical moments as a parent (or parent figure) when you MUST NOT LAUGH! I closed my eyes and grit my teeth hard. I didn’t want to bust a gut right there; after all, to a four-year-old, stepping in poop is high level drama—I mean ‘trauma’ to be taken seriously. Plus I wasn't laughing at her. Besmirched Precious Moments figurines are enough to make me chuckle.

Heather got up and began to move around the table to come over. She said something like “Jen can you give me a paper towel?” But I already had one in my hand and since it was my dog’s poop, I felt I should clean it up.

Have you ever witnessed when two couples, or families, go out to eat and one couple tries to pick up the whole check? And there’s a tussle over who gets to pay, who gets to be the giver? It’s hard to receive from people you love if you feel they give you so much already. It’s frequently like that between me and Heather.

So ignoring Heather’s paper towel request I bent down and took her daughter’s tiny foot in my hand. I marveled at how small it was. My daughter is a year older, so I hadn’t seen a foot this size in so long. I wondered wistfully how could already have forgotten the look of my own kids’ feet from a year ago, two and three years ago.

Those memories of my kids’ expressions, funny habits and small feet are plastered over daily by the experiences of them right now. It’s a good trade, but sometimes I feel sad that back then I was too tired and stressed to sit and memorize them at significant points. You think loved ones don’t change much, until you see pictures. You don’t think you’ll ever forget a face, and then you realize you have.

But, my spirits were still high from the ‘precious moment’ of laughter a minute before.
And I was happy because I’d gotten there first and was able to give Heather the gift of not cleaning poop off her child. Well, no more than one usually cleans off a child.

I nestled the girl’s ankle in my palm as I wiped her foot clean. Heather stood silently over my shoulder, or maybe I just didn’t hear her, but I felt her there. She trusted me to care for one of her beloved daughters. She accepted me—by accepting my gift of service—reflecting all that love. I realized there was nothing else I would have rather done but whatever made me feel that loved. The poop was so worth it.

I was grateful I found love in all the wrong places. Sorry, I had to say that. You know how it is.
Actually, not the wrong places, just the unexpected ones.

My dog gave me crap, and somehow I received love.


  1. Hi Jen,
    are you sure that Jack of yours doesn't have a little Chihuahua DNA in him somewhere?
    I have a recommendation - they make puppy training pads that you can get (kinda like a big flat disposable diaper) for small dogs who like 'indoor plumbing' they are a godsend...

  2. Hilarious and poignant at the same time. You are a gifted writer, Jen!