Friday, April 29, 2016

Fish and fish dreams

Back in January Brad and I decided we didn't have enough chaos in our life. The girls had been asking about getting another pet, so we gave them a choice: They could either get fish or a kitten.

In an unexpected move, the girls chose fish.

So, a couple days before that big blizzard, we bagged a couple of fish – Jovie picked a black Molly and named her Anna and Lily got an orange and black Platy and named her Eliana. 

The joyful day.
When Anna and Eliana survived a week, I decided that Brad and I needed fish, too. So I picked up a sunburst Platy for Brad (he named it D.W. for Darrell Waltrip. Because NASCAR) and I picked out a beautiful golden-finned Molly that I named Kelly Taylor. Because 90210). 

From, left, Eliana, D.W. and Kelly Taylor.

Well, it turns out Kelly Taylor probably should've been named Steve Sanders, not only for the fact that the fish is obnoxious and annoying and pesters poor Anna all day, but also because she is, in fact, a he.

Jovie's fish Anna did not appreciate the ceaseless attention from Kelly Taylor (whose name I stuck with because it makes me giggle). While she did get bigger, she also seemed, well, anxious. You know, as anxious as a fish can seem. I became convinced that she was pregnant because her belly was growing and, well, Kelly Taylor. One day I found her at the bottom of the tank, alive but not really swimming around. Today is the day! I thought. Fish babies!

As it turned out it was a landmark day in our little aquatic realm. But not because Anna was having babies. During one of my many visits to the tank to search for little Molly babies (they're called Fry, according to the internet) I found Anna not moving, and as it turns out, not alive.

Jovie took the news well. Mostly because I told her she could get another fish.

So, I took the girls and one of their friends to the pet store to find Jovie a new fish. She selected another black Molly and named it Anna (we called her new Anna for a while, but Jovie, figuring the memory of Anna I had been honored long enough, decided we could just call her Anna. Interestingly enough, Lily still refers to the little boy who arrived in her classroom part way through the school year New Mason because there was already a Mason in the class. When I suggest that he could just be "Mason" she tells me he has to be New Mason because they already have a regular Mason. So much for self actualization.)

And because I like the idea of a fish that picks up some of the tank maintenance duties we got a Plecostomus (the garbage disposal of aquariums worldwide). I told the girls' little friend that the Pleco could be her fish, but that it'd live at our house (I really like her mom and didn't think it would help our relationship to force her into the weighty responsibility of fish ownership). 

So that's how we got Winter:

Tee hee hee. Sucker.
Brad mentioned that maybe I should stop going to the pet store because our tank wasn't big enough for my new-found love of fish. I promised I wouldn't purchase any more fish (unless, of course, we had any more floaters).

And I kept my promise. 

The problem was, that Anna (i.e. New Anna) didn't know I'd promised that there would be no new fish.

As it turns out, she thought there should be, like, 20 new fish.

New Anna's babies!

It was a very exciting day. Until the internet told me that unless I separated the fry from the other fish, they'd probably be eaten or sucked into the filter and suffer horrific deaths. Something I didn't want the girls to witness. So we collected the babies and sent them back to the pet store.

Correction, we collected most of the babies and sent them back to the pet store. 

Anna wasn't quite finished having babies. So now we have a Pleco, two Platys, two adult Mollies and four baby Mollies. Scratch that, three baby Mollies. I recently discovered that one of the babies – despite months of survival – got sucked into the filter. It was horrific.

So why am I share this fish tale? 

It seems as if they've swum their way into my subconscious. The fish and the fish tank have become symbolic somehow. I know this because I keep having dreams about them.

In the first one, Kelly Taylor and crew kept jumping out of the water. My friend and I had to frantically put them back in. And they'd jump out again.

In the next one, the tank was enormous and contained extra fish and a turtle and shrimp and other critters. But I forgot to clean it. It became algae covered and filthy and I found the turtle, dead floating upside down (do turtles even do that when they dye) and the fish struggling to survive. I felt awful – frantically attempting to clean it while faced with obstacles.

Then last night I had a dream that I was cleaning the tank, trying to suck out one of the dead babies from the bottom but I wasn't paying attention and sucked out all the water, leaving the fish buried in sand (for some reason there was sand, not gravel at the bottom of the tank). I raced to get fresh water for the fish but was stopped by a kid who was either one of my nephews or my brother (when he was a teenager) -- I yelled that he needed to leave me alone because the fish were going to die, but I couldn't get the water fast enough.

I told Brad about the dreams, and he suggested that maybe because the fish are totally dependent on us for their survival in their little closed environment, that my dreams were somehow related to feeling like I'm not meeting the needs of things that are dependent on me. Which feels kind of true.

I told my friend about the dreams and she suggested that the dreams were related to stress. That the fact that I put the other fish in danger by trying to clean out the dead fish somehow meant that I should be focusing less on the dead (or past?) and more on the living (and present). Which also feels true.

They are both very wise I think.

But it could also just be that the fish are in actual peril...

Oh right, we ended up getting a cat, too.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

That time I pretended I didn't need my antidepressants

Jovie and her pink blank-let.
Recently, I'd been thinking the grass might be greener over in the magical land where I don't have to take an antidepressant.

I'd been feeling as if I'd become too complacent about things I would've normally felt justified in being angry, anxious or sad about. Not having these authentic reactions made me feel as if I weren't really holding the reins of my life (well, I'm not sure I'm ever really holding the reins of my life). It's seemed like there were issues that I should take action on but wasn't because. Meh. 

In addition to this omnipresent air of "meh" I started feeling like I was missing emotional cues in my interactions with others. Like I was hearing them on that deeper level.

I understand this all sounds very vague and perhaps not grounded in reality, practical thinking or sound medical. 

But that's how I felt. 

So when the family was tackled by a stomach virus last week, all the nausea and vomiting seemed as good an excuse as any for a self-prescribed cleanse of my antidepressants. (I.E. I just sorta kinda stopped taking them for a week).

And the grass was greener. It was lush and springy and filled with wildflowers. You know, metaphorically speaking. But very quickly it was overtaken by prickly weeds and brambles and those shrubs with the giant thorns on them. My idyllic wonderland transformed into the Fire Swamp from "The Princess Bride." It was all very adventurous and wrought with emotions. 

And while I didn't run into any ROUSes, I did become convinced our family should adopt this cat:

His name in Pretzel ... because in our house,
we prefer to name our pets in such a way that
we would be comfortable eating them in the event of an apocalypse.
That was a joke FYI.

This all came to a head Tuesday night. 

One minute I was raging to Brad about how awful the kids had been during a playdate I'd hosted earlier in the day (the pièce de résistance was Lily hissing at and scratching her friend like a cat and spitting on me. Like, for real, actual spit. On my face). Then I turned to philosophizing about how ideas shared in Mark Ronson's TED Talk on how sampling transformed music, could be used for integrating communities and businesses in York. Then I was lit-rally* laughing so hard I snorted over this raunchy video on Tosh.o (don't watch it, Ma!) about a video game called "Genital Jousting" (seriously, Ma, just don't.). 

Then Jovie wandered out of her bedroom bleery eyed and ruffle headed with her pink blanket, so obviously, I started bawling.

"She won't do this forever," I sobbed to Brad. She won't be little forever. She won't carry that greying, fuzzy pink blanket everywhere she goes. She won't need me to tuck her back in. She won't grab my face between her two little hands and kiss me on the nose.

It wrecked me.

You seem to be a little all over the map tonight Brad observed.

It was a gentle observation on his part. 

An emotional map of my day would've resembled one of those "Family Circus" panels where Billy runs hither and thither all over the neighborhood, except mine would've had stops at screaming at my kid in the kitchen, giggling at stupid-funny internet memes and flopping on the couch in tears while the girls stare in confusion and concern.

I wasn't just all over the map. I'd crumbled up the map, torn it, stomped on it, spilled chocolate milk on it then used the remnants to blow my nose.

The map was useless.

I confessed to Brad and to a friend that I'd accidentally on purpose sorta kinda forgotten to take my antidepressants for almost a week and that I had a strong suspicion that my epic journey through the mystic realms of all the emotions ever was an unintended result.

I don't know what the answer is here. I don't want to take antidepressants for the rest of my life. But I also can't afford to jump aboard a nonstop emotional roller coaster every day either. I have two little kids to take care of. A dog. Nine fish. Two cats, one of which is currently attacking my fingers in vain attempts to stop me from typing (should I take this as a sign to give up the dream?)

It can take up to a year for antidepressants to help your neurotransmitters to reset (i.e. restore the nerve pathways that were broken down by stress and depression). So ... what's that? Five more months? Maybe six. 

I can do that. 

The grass isn't so bad here anyway. Winter's gone and it's getting greener every day.

I took my pills. And you know what, Jovie and her blanket is still one of the sweetest things ever.

I'll end with this cuz it's pretty and a little sad (H/T to Beth for finding it):

*If you get this reference to "Broad City" than you and I are automatically besties for life. I will send you tickets to my celebrity cruise as soon as I secure the boat, book the the celebrities and get over my unjustified hatred of cruise ships.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Goats and other tales of calamity

Lily: Much better suited for managing Annabelle the Sheep and Izzy the Goat than I.
The barn was calm Saturday morning.

It was overcast, but there was no chill in the air. The horses were slow to come in for breakfast, so I took my time. Stopping to scratch the soft spot behind Jenni the pig's ear. Snapping pictures of trees in bloom. Chatting with the hens who always seem to be fussing at me for unknown reasons.

I enjoyed the cacophony of song birds rejoicing at the new season. 

OK, maybe that last part is a little generous. Really what those birds are doing is advertising their availability to certain female birds. And reveling in all the tail they're hoping to get.

But this is a family blog. So it's much more pleasant thinking that they're just out there cheering on the hyacinth pushing through the dirt and reveling in the warm breezes.

This pastoral jubilee along with the assuredness of having nine months as a part-time farmhand under my belt, allowed me to stop and really appreciate the simple life. What joy! What satisfaction! What happy industry marked my hours there!

I even found myself waxing poetic about the worn metal notch on the water pump that allowed me to hang up my bucket instead of setting it on the dirty ground. How thoughtful of that resourceful person generations ago who thought to add this handy detail when forging the pump. I found myself thanking the unknown inventor of the water pump notch out loud – recognizing that seemingly small deeds can span decades, maybe centuries even, tethering us all in this web of human connection. 

Farmer Jim would've appreciated that.

If you find yourself rolling your eyes a little right now, don't worry. My little detour to bucolic bliss town ends here. 

The culprits? 


Who else?

See, the water pump notch inventor inspired me to think ahead about the chores to be done. Rather than rush around to make up for things I forgot to do, I decided to be more deliberate. 

This started with opening all the stall doors – which would make it easier when it came time to let the horses in. 

Only Ally was ready for breakfast at this point, so I opened the paddock gate for her.

She walked right into her stall. And because I'd already opened the door, I didn't have to race ahead of her to open it while she wandered over to the other horses' food buckets, nabbing breakfast wherever she could get it.

The other horses still weren't ready to come in, so I visited the sheep and goat enclosure. As usual, Lola and Izzy were bleating at me. The sheep were in the back staring expectantly. I refilled their water bucket and got breakfast for Fiona the goat, who is older and skinny and in need of a little extra TLC.

I couldn't feed Fiona in the enclosure though. Why? Because the sheep and goats always act as if they don't spend their entire day grazing on lush grass and clover and the crackers farm visitors share with them. Whenever there's the slightest whiff of food activity they attack the bowls with a fury and militancy I've only seen exhibited in my children when given access to a bowl of ice cream. 

Had I brought the food to Fiona, there's no chance she would've gotten to eat any of it. 

So I had to get her out. 

I was stunned when she rose calmly and followed with only a gentle prodding of her collar.  I was even more stunned when the others stayed back, allowing Fiona to exit without a lot of hullabaloo.

I was just about to close the gate behind us when the hullabaloo struck.

Annabelle, the willful karakul sheep rushed the gate, squeezing past me despite my best attempts to block it. I pushed it closed against a growing tide of wily livestock. 

The sheep raced to the feed room and was attempting to root out any delicious morsels she could find.

Meanwhile, meek, mild-mannered Fiona was in a horse stall (you know, because I'd had the brilliant forethought to leave them open), helping herself to a bucket of horse feed.

I grabbed a bowl of grain and lured Annabelle back to her enclosure. Lola and Izzy were climbing the gate. I opened the latch, pushing them back. Shaking the bowl of grain in one hand I tried to get Annabelle back into the enclosure while holding the rest at bay with my other arm. I was like Chris Pratt with the raptors in Jurassic World. Minus the Jedi mind tricks. And the ability to maintain control.

The gate had to be wide enough for Annabelle to feel comfortable to get through, but not wide enough to allow the others to escape.

Annabelle came in lunging at the bowl of food. Izzy and Rosie the sheep got out.

I guess the gate was too wide.

Now Izzy was snacking on horse feed. Rosie wandered nervously up the barn aisle. Unsure of what to do with her newfound freedom.

I got Rosie back into the enclosure easily enough. Let's be honest, she wasn't sure she wanted to be out to begin with.

As usual, Izzy was a bit more of a challenge. I grabbed a half-eaten bucket of horse food (no thank you Fiona) and enticed Izzy into the horse paddock (she squeeze under the fence to get in there anyway). I closed the gate using the metal bar, but not the latch. This is important to note.

I got Fiona out of Tessa's stall and gave her breakfast in the barn aisle. 

The rest of the horses started coming in. I'd just put Sonny in his stall when I heard the metal bar thud.

It was the thud of idiocy on my part. 

Because there's a reason for the additional latch on that gate. That reason is goats.

Specifically goats, who let themselves out of the paddock by nosing back the metal bar, which allows the gate to swing open, given said goat access to whatever feed and hay they want (which is all of the feed and hay).

Izzy was out again. This time eating Fiona's breakfast. 

Another bowl of feed. More food shaking and pleading with the goats to go home. Another onslaught of sheep and goats, punctuated by being horned in my posterior by Annabelle. 

I escaped. Closed the gate. Latched it. Stopped to take a deep breath. Wipe the sweat from my brow.

The horses were stomping and whinnying at me. Asking what was taking me so long. 

Back when I was admiring the simple ingenuity of the notch on the water pump, I wanted the lesson of the day to be about the benefits of being purpose driven. Of identifying a thing to be fixed or improved and improving or fixing that thing. Of being thoughtful and deliberate. 

There's a quote Brad likes to share with me periodically when I'm bemoaning his constant list-making.

"If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail."

I tried it his way at the barn on Saturday. And I'm pretty sure I still failed.

Which leads us to that other quote, "The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray."

To this canon, I'd like to add my own reflection:

"When goats are afoot, plan for the apocalypse (or, at least a minor headache)."

For the record, I still love goats.

Which is maybe the real lesson in all of those: Sometimes the things you love, are also the things that drive you crazy.