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2011: Christiana getting some puppy love

My parents got me a puppy when I was four—even though that’s a little young. Of course, I wasn’t really responsible for her, but she was my dog—especially when she’d fall asleep snoring in my parents’ room and then they’d deposit her, still sleeping soundly, with me.

Mom and Dad did not give me everything I wanted, from that horse I never stopped requesting to large stuffed animals. But they said, as early as two, I was busy advocating for a puppy. I kept asking for something “soft and warm and fuzzy”—and though my stuffed animals were well loved, they did not respond back.

I won’t tell you the long sad tale of losing my puppy due to an accident through no fault of our own, yet it didn’t stop me from wanting to have other dogs.

I will tell you, however, that I still want something soft and warm and fuzzy. Thank goodness I live with two creatures that fit that bill! And I’m pretty sure Sherman doesn’t want to be known as soft and fuzzy anyway . . .

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Furgus and Sam share the Puppy Smackdown with one another, but with me, they share the Puppy Snuggle. Armed with my brother’s worn-out bed comforter from the 70s, I cover the big chair where there is just room for me and my two dogs. The Puppy Snuggle is not a time for play—if they want to wrestle, I push them soundly onto the floor.

No, the Puppy Snuggle is quiet time when I can sit with one or two dogs in my arms, flopped over my legs, or by my side. This is what all those studies mean when they say dogs can lower blood pressure—despite all the recent stress in our home, my most recent numbers were 112/72. Yeah—now can I deduct some of the expenses related with my dogs as medical care?

Probably not, but petting a dog or two a day helps to keep my doctor away.

Sam is sometimes vigilant, sometimes sleepy, and sometimes cuddled into me. But Furgus—he is a snuggler extraordinaire. I’ve never had a big dog so willing to be a lap dog, even now that my lap isn’t quite big enough for his not-so-puppyish form. No matter how Springer-Spaniel-wound-up he is in the morning, a moment on my lap turns him into the mellowest old soul you’ve ever seen.

Judge me if you will, but these cuddling sessions keep me from turning to anti-depressants or even to drink. Now this is the soft, warm, and fuzzy puppy love I’ve dreamed of my whole life.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

It’s almost enough to make me forget about the items “Goat Boy” has chewed or the not-so-great responses to commands. Almost, but not quite. Don’t worry, we’ll keep training Mr. Soft, Warm, and Fuzzy, but not so much so that he forgets that part of his job is also to listen to my heart as well as to my voice.


(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

After a twenty-one year hiatus, I’ve returned to singing in the church choir. Can you believe no one remembers me?

Truthfully, I only sang in that choir for a year before night courses and then twins got it in the way. I did, however, put in a few years in another church choir—which wasn’t an easy thing to do when I was young and, perhaps, staying up late and going to pre-smoking-ban bars.

When the director of the current choir asked me where I’d sung, I should have answered, “With my mother—and with any choir she threw me into.”

OK, usually I went willingly, but with my mom, you never knew if showing up at her church wouldn’t mean being told to fill in with the bell choir or to sing the Spanish-language mass or to give musical support in some other way. My brother used to end up as cantor for her.

I may not have the best voice tone or range, but I’ve been taught to read music, count rhythms, and follow a director—or else. My fellow Ritter cousins know what I am talking about! From our early days, at family gatherings Mom would take the kids over to Uncle Carrell and Aunt Dottie’s house to sing. Sing we did—and in as many parts harmony as we could, even if we were always hoping for more people to marry sopranos or tenors.

In fact, I could have answered “The Ritter Choir” to the director’s question. Don’t know the Ritter choir? Well, we most recently met to memorialize Uncle Carrell one day and my mother the next. Sherman is still raving about the gift we gave to send off Mom in a church with the acoustics architects dream of creating. Of course, it was the work of her legacy in action, right down to the cousin on the piano bench and the one directing.

So as I take my place again in the choir loft, I am continuing that legacy. As I remember how to mark music, read while looking at the director, count my rests, and stay in pitch, I am returning to what was begun in me by my mother—my mother who was a lifelong musician both inside and away from the church.

I do this for me, but I also do it for her, even if she’s no longer here to draft me into participating in her church services.

Her life lives on in endless song—how can I keep from singing?

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I’ve been down before, heck I’m most likely down now thanks to assorted losses, but that doesn’t mean I understand what it’s like to have major depression. What I’ve experienced is more that feeling where you hit a bad spot, but you keep problem-solving or trying different things to feel better. You know, you believe that “someday” you will feel better, even if you don’t have a clue when that someday will be.

Major depression, however, seems closer to not believing in that someday.

And as much as I don’t know what that’s like for me, I do know what it sounds like in my daughter. When someone you love has fallen into the abyss of major depression, you just can’t give them platitudes such as “just deal with it” or let them experience every natural consequence of their actions.

To each person who tells me to relax and let her get herself through this blue period, there is this gut response that tells me we can’t afford to see if that will work—the potential cost is just too high—and Sherman agrees.

Until we’d walked with her on this path before, I would have thought they—especially the experts—were right.

This time she didn’t cry for help as early. You see, she’s older and wiser, which may actually mean she is deeper into depression this bout because of the coping skills she has gained over the past few years.

So why, during this period in her life, is this the semester she is studying The Bell Jar? What is purely literary or a treatise on various aspects of society in a time and place long past becomes something more to those who identify too well with the narrator’s thoughts. I’m an English major, for goodness’ sake, but this book has long since moved from the academic to the personal for me—and I still don’t really “get” what Plath is saying in the same way my daughter does.

While I did what I could to get her connected with help within the university, I cannot assume it is enough, even if we’ve been really blessed to encounter caring, knowledgeable professionals—and believe me, after our previous experiences with her depression, we do not trust someone just because of a title or supposed experience. Still, at a time when I do not live where my daughter does, it helps me to have these contacts who can reach out to her if she stops reaching out to them or those closest to her.

Constant vigilance—despite the cost for me. Yes, this is supposed to be my time—to either move on to what’s next or at least to mourn my losses—but I no longer feel this discord with our daughter is something personal or natural to this age in her life.

No, I believe major depression is talking for her, drowning out the sounds of possibility and hope that do exist in the midst of all that seems so hard right now. The good she minimizes while amplifying the bad.

I must fight for the someday of her feeling better while her defenses are down, even as I and others direct her to believe that she can fight for herself. Someday can’t come soon enough—especially for her.

And so, I also pray without ceasing all the day long.

(c) 2011 Trina Lambert

Some years teach us more than we ever hoped to know.

The year I learned my father’s cancer had returned, this time lodging in a lethal location, was the year I discovered just how little real control I had over most things beyond my outlook. My daughter was experiencing seizures we hadn’t been able to manage yet and my son’s AD/HD and his personality were railing against a school day structured the exact opposite of how his brain operated for him at that age.

Yet, I thought I lived in a world where planes did not fly into buildings and cause them to crumble to the ground.

Nonetheless, when the news outside my own home crashed into my home, it felt almost surreal to try to understand that so many homes on the other side of our country were now broken up with private loss. Yet these were fellow Americans who had gone to work or taken a plane trip—and then just fallen from the sky.

For whatever reason, I did not focus on anger even though none of them had really fallen from the sky—they had been forced to the ground by people whose hatred claimed to justify the unjustifiable.

No, what I felt on those early crisp blue September mornings—when the skies remained eerily silent and flags had been planted up and down our street—was our collective sadness. I, like others around the country, gathered in community in prayer services. Our togetherness raised in me a sense of hope. As distracted as I was by my own worries, the actions of so many to restore what it meant to be American buoyed me up.

Maybe I lost track of it all as I needed to retain focus on my own loved ones’ problems, but I don’t know how soon I started losing faith in our ability to work together. Maybe it was as simple as weekly driving by a house displaying a large hand-painted sign that declared “We will never forget—or forgive!” and starting to discover we weren’t as united as I had believed.

Ten years later, I am an expert in knowing that so much of control in life is an illusion. My father’s cancer took him six months after 9/11. Schooling for my son has remained challenging, despite his giftedness. My daughter’s seizures were finally controlled, only to be followed by bouts of depression that continue to linger. Our country has had troops fighting this subversive war of terrorism for most of this past decade.

In some ways I’ve learned to accept those situations—or at least to keep myself focused on what I can and cannot control about them, saving my actions for those that might bring about change.

But what breaks my heart most is how divided we as a nation have become. We dishonor those who did not get to return home that day when we cannot treat each other with respect and work on compromise. The people who removed our collective illusions of control that bright September morning did not believe in compromise either. Despite reports to the contrary, our founding fathers did actually compromise on many matters when they put together this country.

We can attempt to be prepared for outside attacks, but we cannot control what those people think about us. However, as long as we continue to divide ourselves, the terrorists have won—by setting us on the path to our own self-destruction.

Wouldn’t it be great if this were the year when we learned that what we can control is how we treat our own fellow citizens, even when we disagree?

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