Jun 08, 2017, 07:01AM

I Need to Unplug

Trying my best on a short vacation.

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There are birds here. They make a constant hooting sound. My first thought was "owl?" Turns out they are probably doves. There are also roosters. Cock-a-doodle noodle. There are woodpeckers, finches, and pheasants. A heron approached on spindly legs, down near a creek behind us.

The evenings are frog concerts; a never-ending encore of sex-starved hits from the frog crowd. We are here to relax, after driving six hours through the shrinking vegetable fields and the fracking hills of golden dust. But I can't unplug. The dogs think we've moved permanently, and the sounds set off their wild instincts. The three-year-old female can't settle down at night. Sleeping was a chore.

A hummingbird pays a morning visit, asking me why I can’t relax.

We’re with friends. We have a baby due in seven weeks. She grows ever more visible in the belly. We’ve been preparing. Packages arrive and furniture is assembled, moved, and we now sleep in a different bed, one that fits in the new room. We’re lucky to be able to rearrange our stuff and prepare this way. The nursery will be ready in a few weeks. Dresser and changing table. Crib. Comfy rocking chair. Alphabet quilt which my mom sends from Boston. Mom wanted to send dozens of childhood items stored in dusty brown boxes in her attic. The quilt was a fond memory. Each letter gets a square, with an animal or an object. A green alligator crawls along the "A."

We drove down here after a long week. Departing on a Friday morning, the Keeshonds in the back. It’s now Sunday morning. The ratio of hours driven to actual time here is kind of ridiculous, but complaining about a short vacation is also ridiculous.

The puppy, now three, is having adjustment issues. JoJo gets hot very easily. Her coat is thicker than 99 percent of other dogs. She tries to avoid the sun, especially when the temperature tops 70. She'd love the northeast, but she lives in California. JoJo doesn't deal well with closed doors, or being left behind in a new place (even with her brother for company), or walks that last longer than 20 minutes, or strangers, or doorbells, or loud voices.

JoJo loves snuggling, belly rubs, cool breezes, the shade of a tall tree, attacking her big brother, chasing squirrels, and she loves meat. I know, I know. She’s a dog. But really, she’s a carnivore. Unlike her big brother, she spits out all kinds of vegetables. Yet the smell of salmon has her spinning and hopping. Tuna brings a serious face. Steak elicits extreme concentration. She’s a very small wolf.

We wonder how she'll respond to a dramatic loss of attention. She shows her jealousy whenever the older dog gets any attention. The adjustment will be real and incremental. A less-neurotic person might conclude: “She’s a dog. She’ll figure it out.” A veterinarian might conclude: “Yes, your baby will replace your fur baby. Life will be different for both of the dogs.” People used to grow up with “outside dogs,” rarely allowed to set paws in a living room and never on a couch. It’s generational as well as cultural. Our dogs have been on every available piece of furniture we own, from the beginning. I’m wrapped up in JoJo’s issues. I’m wrapped up in job-related issues. I’m wrapped up in baby preparation issues. I’m wrapped up. I haven’t found ways to settle down lately. To restore myself. We’re here, in someone’s small vacation home, with the birds and the bees and the roosters. We watch the Celtics in the NBA playoffs. We read. We go out to dinner. The feeling of almost-there encroaches upon us. The dogs finally settle down, at the end of the night.

We love our pack. The whimpers and the calm sighs, the inadvertent farts and the upset tummies that lead to messy middle-of-the-night shits. The emphysema-breathing and the apple-tree hounding, and squirrel-chasing and false alarms barking madness. It’s all part of the equation, of raising two dogs from the time they were eight weeks old. When they sleep peacefully at the end of the day, there is a blanketing comfort that tends to smooth out the minor bumps.

I was taking an improv class two years ago. A rumpled, lanky high school teacher in his 50s happened to be in the class. He was given the eight-week class tuition as a gift by his students. He asked me why we chose to get a second dog. He was a dog lover, but seemed confused about the need for two. I said simply, “We wanted a pack.”

Now here we are, two years later. About to expand our pack again. Eventually, I’ll learn how to unplug, hide my phone, stop checking email, stop obsessing about the NBA playoffs, and remember how much I love books I can hold in my hand. Eventually, I’ll let life wash over me. From time to time. I imagine the little girl will help me put things into perspective. I need some help unplugging, but I do know how to improvise. 


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