Raised By Wolves

Years before our son Noah was born, some of my office co-workers became new parents. Right around this time, Gina and I also got Heidi and were raising her from a ten-week-old puppy. During that period, I could easily draw comparisons between the stories I was hearing about child raising and similar situations we had with her. However, I never opened my mouth because I didn’t want to be that guy who compared someone’s kid to a dog.

I wish I’d known then what I know now, though. I’m not sure where we went wrong, but somewhere along the way, our dog has been raising our son while we weren’t looking.

It all started with Noah’s early vocalizations, which included an approximation of Heidi’s bark. It took us a while to pick up on it, so it’s hard to say how long this had been going on, but after a while we realized a “woop-woop” kind of sound would emanate from our son every time Heidi barked at a passing dog, pedestrian, deliveryman, or gust of wind. Even now, he’ll join in once she gets going, and any kind of toy dog also gets a “woop-woop.”

Naturally, we encouraged this behavior with laughter dog noises of our own. I suppose our son took this as permission to keep going. (Mental note: Noah will probably master dog language before English.) 

Before long, more little signs began showing. Ever since he started crawling, Noah has gravitated toward Heidi’s food and water dish, unable to contain the urge to stick his hands into her water or to try to tip over the dish. He is also fascinated by her dog food container. It didn’t take long for him to figure out how to open the lid, bypassing its limited safety features designed to keep out dogs more than humans. You would think that he would use his newfound knowledge to help his fellow dog-kind by sharing food or at least stashing it away for Heidi to find. But instead, he can quite often be found hiding under the kitchen table, sifting through whatever dog food he can reach, opening and closing the container at will but keeping it all for himself. We have two measuring cups that we use to portion out Heidi’s food, and I’ve caught him on camera with one of the cups in his mouth, clamped against his teeth, while standing innocently near the container. Thankfully, to date he has only tried to taste the food once (that we know about), and it didn’t seem to thrill him.

Of course, babies and toddlers usually have something in their mouths, but I’m not so sure that they always use their mouth as a carrying case while they crawl from place to place. I’m pretty sure Noah picked this up from watching Heidi carry her toys around. He’s successfully traveled with bottles, spoons, and a few toys this way. It’s multitasking the canine way!

Heidi loves when Noah eats, because our little collaborator usually drops scraps off the side of the high chair specifically for her. She happily fulfills the duty of licking them up and waiting expectantly for the next one. Sometimes, however, Noah will be crawling around hours after a meal when he’ll mysteriously lean down and lick the floor. Why do this? Leftover food particles? Just to see what it tastes like? We may never know, but odds are our dog does.

This relationship also extends past food. Ever since we got Heidi a furry new bed that will keep her warm these long, cold nights, Noah has claimed it as his couch when she’s not around (and sometimes even when she is). In fact, the only things Noah doesn’t seem interested in sharing with her is her dog toys – he usually leaves them be. Go figure.

What could be causing this canine imitation? Just a toddler being silly? Flattery in the form of imitation? Some wisdom Heidi imparted to Noah in dog language? Whatever the case may be, I’m just glad that they are getting along and that Heidi seems to be an okay parent, since none of our human lessons seem to be sinking in. I guess I owe her a bone sometime soon.

And hey, there’s always another bright side: we’re going to save a fortune on beds, clothes, education and food if he turns out to be another dog!

Getting The Drift, Part 3

Shoveling. So. Much. Shoveling.

That’s the main takeaway from The Second Day After Snowzilla, otherwise known as Monday. Everything was still mostly closed to give road crews time to clear the streets, but the company that our HOA hired to do just that struggled to complete the job. After watching the snowplow give up halfway up our street on Sunday night as I mentioned before, we were a little disheartened. But to our surprise, later that night, the contractor brought back a tenacious little Bobcat to take care of the rest of our street. This went on throughout the night, as far as I and my immediate neighbors could tell. Luckily, the commotion did not wake Noah.

But even after clearing the sidewalks and a pathway between our cars, there still remained the painstaking process of clearing out the rest of the parking spaces as well as a lane to the street. In years past, the best case scenario after the plowing company came through would be contending with three-foot-tall piles of snow pushed in front of our cars.

This year, we fared much better thanks to a combined effort of the original contractor, a guy who used to live in the neighborhood that owned a giant plow and just wanted to come by, and another contractor that the HOA hired when the original guys were stretched too thin. So even though there weren’t huge piles, there are still only so many places one can put two feet of snow. As an example, before it started melting, the pile of snow next to our house almost reached the first floor windows. And of course, each shovelful had to be walked from wherever I was working to wherever the nearest pile happened to be.

All that said, clearing snow is a game of inches, and shoveling a few square feet can feel like vacuuming the Sahara if you’ve been at it long enough. It’s not my favorite activity, but it did work up my appetite enough to devour many leftovers.

The ultimate action pose.
If I had shovel, I would shovel in the morning. I would shovel in the evening…all over this land.

I will also say this: all it takes is some inclement weather to bring a neighborhood closer together. We learned more of our neighbors’ names this weekend than we had in the last four years, and everyone we talked to was willing to pitch in and help each other shovel, or engage in a quick conversation about road conditions from passersby who had walked far enough to scout out ahead. I got to overhear a group of kids plan out the construction of their snow fort. And of course, those of us with shovels sprinkled in small talk during the requisite breaks to prevent heart attacks.

I really lost track of the day after those hours of shoveling. Somewhere in there, I ventured out with Heidi to investigate the neighborhood beyond our immediate row of houses for the first time since Friday. You can see some of our discoveries in the Flickr gallery below. One of the things I love about our dog is that she’s always game for anything outside, no matter what the weather. This blizzard was no different – she frolicked through deep, untouched snow as we took little-used paths behind houses. She bounded up plowed drifts that might as well have been mountains, jumping and sniffing and digging all the while. It was good for both of us – exercise for her, and a few laughs for me.

As the sun set and Noah headed to bed, Gina and I commented on our mutual levels of exhaustion after her solo parenting while I was shoveling away. With our street and the roads beyond passable following another run by the Bobcat and the announcement that Noah’s daycare was open the next day, the feeling of isolation dwindled.

This would be good news to anyone who would have had cabin fever by this time, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that the whole episode hadn’t lasted a little longer. The power and heat had stayed on, and we made some great food with plenty of supplies to spare. So I would say we had a cozy, if not completely relaxing, Snowzilla experience. Time, and the world outside our little bubble, stood still for just a couple of days. Even after we got word that both our offices would be closed the following day, I knew that the outside world would soon collapse the bubble, ushering in the onslaught of work and other commitments.

Since I fell asleep on the couch last night in an achy haze, I suppose this is my last daily blizzard journal for Snowzilla. I’m sure there will be more storms that will come along and force me to write more. However, despite a botched measurement at Reagan National Airport (I much prefer these “bench” marks from the always-great Capital Weather Gang), this was still a top-five storm for the area.

Certainly, it was also one we will remember forever as part of our little family’s history.

(Read Part 1 and Part 2, if you dare.)

Here’s the Flickr gallery, as promised (link):

Snowzilla 2016

Getting The Drift, Part 2

So this is what clearing out 20 inches of snow from your front steps feels like – maybe like running ten miles in the sand. I’ve shoveled some snow before, mind you, but nothing that comes close to this amount. I remember playing in snow this deep when I was little, but my Dad had already plowed it into giant drifts so my neighbor and I could make snow tunnels. I had to make those giant drifts today myself, shovel in hand, over the course of two and a half to three hours.

It was a peaceful morning in the neighborhood. No matter your opinion of snow, it’s hard to beat the view of an untouched, fresh snowfall as a picture of serenity. I fed Noah breakfast and sipped my coffee, opting for a few extra cups to shake off the cobwebs, since I knew it would be a day of exercise. But I also snapped a few pictures from the kitchen window, one of the only accessible views I had.

As long as you look at it from this far away, it’s nice.

The snow tapered off somewhere around midnight, I’m told (I gave up and passed out by 11:30). This morning, the drifts had almost completely covered our cars from view. A dusting of snow graced our windowpanes and had piled up on against the deck door, giving our vantage point to the outside a decidedly sand-art feel.

In order to do proper measurements of the snowfall, I first needed to dig out a path through the backyard since the deck and front door were impassable. While there, I let Heidi go nuts in her first play session outside in days, attacking each shovelful of snow and my gloved hands at every opportunity. While there, I also created a giant snow slide for Noah to try. At Gina’s urging, I even made some steps up to the side.


Mount Salmons, before it was actually used.

And this is where we had good intentions and wonderful dreams of an afternoon in the snow with Noah, but reality didn’t quite pan out the same way. We went through the intense process of putting five layers of clothes on him, somewhere on the order of sixteen pairs of socks, and an entire snowsuit complete with boots. This, of course, rendered him completely immobile. We sent him down the homemade slide a few times, he cried a few times from not being able to move, and by the time we trudged through the two feet of snow behind the house to get to our front yard, he was fast asleep from being bundled in the equivalent of twenty-two blankets.

So, Gina went back inside with him, and I began my marathon of shoveling. In between shovels, however, I did use the official Salmons Snow Stick (brought to you by Home Depot) to find out that we received anywhere from 18-24″ around our house, depending on the exact spot measured. That’s pretty serious snow.

It’s so serious, in fact, that the word on the street is the neighborhood snow plows kept getting stuck before getting to our street, and Gina and I witnessed one take a pass by our house only to give up halfway and back out of here. It seems we’ll be stuck here a couple more days. Plenty of time to convince Noah to take a few turns down the slide.

Wait a minute…maybe, maybe I can make a even bigger slide that starts at the deck! Yes. I’m going to get to work on that.

Getting The Drift, Part 1

As I write this, we are smack-dab in the middle of one of the DC area’s most historic snowstorms. Snowzilla, they call it, because most of the end-of-days portmanteaus were already used up (Snowpocalypse, Snowmaggeddon, etc.) It has certainly pounded this area and has moved about as slow as the traditional movie Godzilla always did. I saw the first flakes in our neighborhood yesterday afternoon, at about 12:50 PM, and as I craft this post about 32 hours later it’s still lightly coming down. 

I can’t really open our doors anymore to measure the snow, and I’m going to wait until it stops falling to break out my Hoth gear, so I can’t be completely sure how much is actually on the ground. But Facebook posts from our neighborhood put it around the high 20-inch mark.

All that said, I’ve decided to write daily submissions from the suddenly Arctic outpost of our home. Because when two feet of snow falls on the DC area, it means one thing: we aren’t going anywhere for a while. Luckily, we have stocked up on every kind of food imaginable, as well as emergency supplies and firewood, so we are completely okay with not going anywhere. 

Should’ve bought those snowshoes when they were on sale.

This particular set of snow days, of course, is a little different from any others we’ve ever had, thanks to having a one-year old in the house. Even last year, when we had one day off in March (I had to go back and research because I sure didn’t remember it), Noah wasn’t all that mobile. Now, we have to consider keeping him entertained and happy, which doesn’t always equate to relaxing. He’s also at an age where he’s a little too young to appreciate what’s going on, though he does at least play independently for a few minutes at a time.

But all ye parents of toddlers that are home bound, do not despair! You are not alone! We have gotten through today pretty smoothly by offering up new experiences and as many changes of scenery as we could. 

For example: We never spend time in the basement living room anymore, so let’s go there for a while! Let’s dig out little-used toys from the bottom of the basket and play with them! Let’s open the front door just a crack so we can feel the snow! Let’s go from one door to the other and see how bad the storm is! Let’s watch Daddy frantically chop up veggies for a pot roast before Noah gets too cranky and wakes Mommy up from her nap! Let’s build a crappy makeshift couch fort with not enough pillows or blankets! Let’s build a fire and just kind of stare at it for a few minutes! Let’s curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and our favorite hobby and waste away a few hours before we know what hits us!

Ah, that last one is a bit of wishful thinking. I know that future snow days will involve sleigh rides and snowmen. And though I can’t help but be a little wistful for the years when we could just binge-watch TV all day if we wanted to, I also know that eventually Noah will both be more independent and will enjoy snow in his own way, so I’m trying to enjoy this unique “in-between” time as it is. And we’re all safe, healthy, and warm, so you won’t catch me complaining.

More to come.

On The Floor

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the floor lately. No, not J-Lo’s kind of floor. No, I haven’t suddenly gotten clumsier (Gina would say it’s not even possible to be more clumsy), nor have I begun to spontaneously fall everywhere. I’ve just been trying to see the world a little more from Noah’s perspective.

I’ve been crawling around chasing him at bath time to burn off that last little bit of energy he usually has before settling down to bed. I’ve been playing ball with him, which right now consists mostly of rolling it his way, and then chasing it down once he drops it out of his hands haphazardly. (But he’s getting the hang of it.) I’ve been looking up at the Christmas tree with him, trying to see what catches his eye from the underside of the branches. I’ve seen the underside of the dining room table for the first time since we moved – turns out it was made in Malaysia. And of course, I’m now looking under the couch on a nightly basis, trying to find the latest errant pacifer, shoe, or the newly missing piece of the Little People Nativity set that we tried to set up on the coffee table. All in all, I’ve been giving my knees and shins a good workout while leaving most of my clothes in shambles. Love is ensuring that your clothes are going to be covered in dog hair, spit, lint, snot, dried food, or some combination of the above at all times.

The floor, however, can be unforgiving, and it’s not just me that has a love/hate relationship with it. Noah had his first two major tumbles recently, one from the couch onto the hardwood floor of the living room and one from the changing table onto the carpet in the nursery. He’s more at risk for falls because he’s currently in what I’ll call the Jerk Around Randomly Stage, where he will just stiffen his body and propel himself in any direction without warning and without regard for his current elevation, and before we know it he’s losing the fight against gravity. Never have I felt as much guilt as when I looked down to see the kid that I thought was resting quietly on the changing pad instead falling through the air. That’s right, I was responsible for the changing pad incident, and of course it happened so fast that the only thing I was able to do was grab on to the hem of his diaper to try in vain to slow his fall. But at least my parenting guilt is shared by Gina, who supervised the couch fall that also included what is believed to be Noah’s first somersault. We’re not in any rush for a repeat performance.

Luckily, kids are pretty darn resilient, and Noah is completely okay. That’s not to say we didn’t pull a rookie parent move and take him to the doctor after the first fall off of the couch, though. The pediatrician was polite and very thorough in her examination, but I suspect it was more about assuaging our guilt than out of being medically concerned for Noah.

He’s not even walking yet, and Noah’s had some bumps and bruises. I know he’s going to have more close encounters with the floor, and other hard objects, and he’s going to hurt himself, and that’s part of growing up. Heck, I frequently rode a little red wagon with no steering down a steep West Virginia hillside during elementary school, and I turned out okay (yes, of course my friend Joe and I got the idea from Calvin & Hobbes). So, I have already outgrown any outlandish desire to put Noah in a bubble. He’ll have to make his own way eventually, stubbed toes and all.

But now I’m starting to think that a large part of parenting is just trying not to make it any easier for your children to hurt themselves. Am I on to something here?