A Stroll Up Memory Road: Fireflies in the Garden

Image via Wikimedia Commons: "Gluehwuermchen Im Wald" by Quit007 ©2010. Some Rights Reserved

As an adult, I lived in three different houses on one block of Mountain Road. Four, if you count the apartment I shared with my second wife. I now live about a half a mile from there. Most days, particularly in the warmer months, my walking route takes me around these former residences. My emotional relationship to these places vary from the insignificant to the life altering, but because I see them so often, these connections tend to stay in the back of the memory bank. They’ve become part of the background scenery.

These are some of them: my daughter was born on one of these addresses; I lived across the street when I graduated from college; my family had a small garment business in an industrial building — now converted to condos — at the beginning of the street; I faced a “dark night of the soul” at another one of the residences at the end of the Road and lived to see the morning light. That was two and a half decades ago. I also see the house where I last saw my father alive, in a cold day in February, thirty years ago. This house, overlooking the Island of Manhattan and the Hudson River, is vacant. It waits, along with a few of the neighboring properties, a rebirth by redevelopment into high-end housing units. Continue reading

Pooch 911


I have a new, deep appreciation for the mysterious life-saving power of hydrogen peroxide. Pooch life-saving power, that is.

There are three things I know that can make a dog very sick and could potentially be fatal: Grapes, raisins and chocolate. The gravity of the situation depends on the size of the dog, the amount consumed and the speed with which first aid is administered.

This past week I had an incident involving my dog Celeste and a handful of raisins that had me praying to the pet gods and begging doggie to throw up. I’ll tell you how it all started, the 45 minute high-drama and the happy ending.

Doggie and toddler relaxingIt all starts with an afternoon snack I offered my son Nicolas that I could not be certain he had not shared with his best friend, pictured here.

Three o’clock is Curious George time. Well, almost anytime at our house is Curious George time. There is always a request for crackers at the beginning of the show. “Cracker’ means a number of things. It could be Veggie Sticks, or corn chips or actual crackers, either cheese or wheat. Occasionally it also means raisins.

That was my offering this past Wednesday afternoon.

Our dog Celeste likes to be close by around snack time. She’s discovered that toddlers are really messy eaters and they tend to drop a lot of the stuff they’re supposed to be eating. Nicolas also likes to share his food and Celeste , who always seems to be hungry, is very appreciative of his generosity.

After I put some raisins in a cup and  I walked back into the kitchen to tend to my cortadito — the version of cafe con leche that I’ve nearly mastered. I walked back into the living room not more than five minutes later by my calculation. Nicky asked for more raisins. He was extending the empty cup in my general direction without taking his eyes off his favorite monkey.

“Buddy, that was fast. Did you eat all these raisins?”

Without missing a beat, he points to the dog.

“Este!” he said.

“Did Celeste eat the raisins?”

He smiles and goes back to watching the show.

“Nicky, did Celeste eat the raisins?” This time my voice is a little louder.

Another smile but not definitive answer.

Panic interrupts our afternoon routine like an unexpected breaking news bulletin. I google “can dogs eat raisins?” even though I already know the answer. I click on a Snoopes link and get the confirmation I was afraid was out there: Raisins and Grapes Harmful to Dogs.

ASPCA information that raisins are harmful to dogs

Terrifying reading!

Next I find a video that suggest making the dog vomit as quickly as possible is the suggested first aid. Hydrogen peroxide is the preferred method. Suddenly, this has become a life and death situation.

I call the vet’s office. Some desperation is setting in. They tell me to call Poison Control.

As I listen to the recorded greeting, I hear that this service has been available since 1975. Then it says that due to budgetary realities it will now cost sixty five dollars to talk to a vet. Please have your Visa, Master Card or American Express ready.

Anguish joins the desperation. I don’t have sixty five dollars.

I stay on the line. I lady vet comes on the line and I blurt out the financial reality first and the emergency situation next. She wants me to detail what happened. In some cases, she says, pet pharma might cover the fee.

I explain that part of the problem I have is that I don’t know for sure if the raisins were indeed “ingested” by the worried looking dog (dogs, like kids are really good at picking up on cues. They see you worried, they will worry. Especially if you’re looking at them when you’re doing the worrying). She agrees that I can’t take the risk of assuming it was baby who ate the raisins. Lady Vet agrees with the internet info. Given the weight of the dog, three (3) teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide — 3% solution — is what they recommend as well.

“Wait five minutes,” she says, “if the dog does not vomit, then give her another three teaspoons. Call us back if you need us.”

I am grateful for the generosity, and for the confirmation of the method to be used but mostly for the fact that we have the solution on the bathroom shelf. I also have a syringe that we use to administer baby medicine.

Holding down a 90 pound dog by yourself, to inject a nasty tasting liquid into the inside of the cheek is the kind of procedure for which I’ve had no training and no preparation. You do it because you believe your dog’s life depends on it. When you adopt a pet, you’re entrusted with their welfare. They look up to you to save them from their own ignorant behavior. The same rule applies to babies.

Twenty five minutes and two and a-half doses later, there’s vomit. Jubilation!


I can stop feeling guilty now. I kiss the pooch.

After the tears, I make sacred vow that toddler, dog and raisins never, ever, under any circumstance will be alone in the same room. So help me pet god!

Dog and child loking out of window
Partners in crime and BFF

NOTE: Besides chocolate, grapes and raisins, onions and macadamia nuts can also prove deadly to a dog, according to Snopes.

As a Parent


(Editor’s Note: A post by a guest-blogger who is the only person in this world who loves my son Nicolas as much as I do — maybe even a little more than me — his Mom, Anita).

Down Syndrome, Parenting

My son, Nicolas, was born in September of 2006.  I was 43 when I got pregnant.  I had miscarried a few years earlier and the doctors weren’t sure if I could get pregnant on my own.  So when it came time for the screenings for Down syndrome I chose not to do them.  I felt this was the child I was meant to have.

While I was in recovery from the delivery my husband came to tell me that a geneticist had looked at the baby and was sure that he had Down syndrome.  They needed to do a chromosome test but the doctor was pretty certain.  I don’t think I was entirely surprised; something in the sono pictures had looked a little off and one of my OBs had hinted that there were indicators.  But in spite of my suspicions I was disoriented by the news.  There were so many questions and I had so little knowledge. I was tired and overwhelmed and grief stricken.  Friends sent me books that I couldn’t bring myself to read.  I was lost.

Then two things happened that began to change everything for me.  I fell in love with my son.  He was so tiny and so beautiful.  I would let him fall asleep in my arms and I felt so at peace.  In that moment everything was perfect.  Then, when my son was just a few days old, I got a visit from one of the Parent to Parent moms.  Her son attended Stepping Stones and he was three years old.  She brought photos and began telling me stories about her son.  “We went skating this past weekend,” she said.  “He couldn’t really skate very well but I picked him up and carried him around the ice with me.  He said, ‘Mom, I’m flying.’”  The woman told me other things, about her son attending church and fishing with his dad.  But while she was talking about her son on the skating rink I realized that I would have an involved life with my son.  I felt assured that I would do baby things with him and children things with him.

Nicky is three years old now and he is an amazing boy.  He is funny and curious and busy, busy, busy.  Far from being disappointed, I have been delighted and blessed.  He is a special kid in the best sense of the word.  And even though we haven’t tried skating yet, we do everything I would have done with a son who didn’t have Down syndrome.  We go to the playground and make pizza, we read and draw and play with (and eat) Play-doh.  He loves Curious George and Dora the Explorer.  He loves our dog and cats and his sister.  But most of all, he loves running around outside.  That sounds like a three year old boy to me.



Today was one of the Ten Best Days of the year for us, weather wise, in Hudson County, New Jersey. The combination of soft breezes, cloudless skies and the agreeable temperature combined to coax more than a few of our neighbors out of their houses. We were persuaded to go for a stroll as well.

Leading Mom, Dad and dog Celeste on our regular loop around the reservoir was our son Nicolas, in the stroller, pointing straight ahead, like the baby general that he is. We came across folks raking the fallen leaves, others cleaning their cars, and some strolling, just like us. Celeste was happiest of all. She loves having the family together, and if we’re together outside, even better.

I was aware that as long as I am able to live in the moment — which I admit I seldom can — today’s walk was perfect in every way. And for the amount of time that I could hold that reality, there was neither fear nor lack but a deep recognition that all was well with the world. My steps were bathed in appreciation and a certain joy as I went walking on a late fall afternoon with my loved ones.


Later, as I was rocking my son to sleep, all of the news of the last few cycles came up in my awareness. The images of destruction and death and loss from the recent suicide bombings in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the senseless shooting at Fort Hood in Texas pile up in my brain. I was shaken. I try not to inflate my gratitude by comparing to those who are suffering today, not being able to know the depth of their pain. But I can’t resist the thought that a parent, who held a son yesterday, like I am holding Nicolas tonight, will not have that privilege again.

On some nights when she takes a turn putting our son to bed, my wife sings James Taylor songs as lullabies for Nicolas. For me, using Om as I rock back and forth on the comfy chair in his room, has worked really well for the last couple of years. It doesn’t immediately put him to sleep, but it does calm him down. Lately, Nicolas has been joining me in the omming. I’ve also been teaching him the word amen. He’s got the first part down.

Tonight, the sacred mantra in Nicolas’ room is a prayer of intercession for those enduring the inexplicable horror wrought by the lost and the frightened on the innocent. Om is also a prayer of gratitude for us able to enjoy a family stroll. Tomorrow’s weather forecast looks even better…

A Father Named Mom

Joy and Pride copy
Joy (l) and Pride (r) share an apple.

That’s me!

So named by my 3 year old son, who apparently believes in the economy of parental naming. He calls both his parents “Mom.” And he has been doing it since he started calling us anything, a couple of years ago.

My son has the best sense of humor of any 3 year old I know. His Mom agrees with me on this. Granted, I don’t know too many kids that age — most of my contemporaries have kids in college or grandchildren — but of the ones I know, he’s definitely the funniest.

So the first mistake here was laughing in front of him when he called me Mom that memorable first time. I was just grateful that he was calling me anything. You would be too. When you hear your only son, born on the year of your fifty-first birthday, address you, you go softer than at any other time in your entire life — even if you’re being called by the wrong parent designation.

I laughed the second time also. The third and on and on. I even told my friends, in between chuckles, that the kid was calling me “Mom.” They thought it was funny as hell. And I continued answering to Mom until about a year ago. That’s when I got him to call me by my rightful name: Papa. Which he did, just that one time.

When I insisted, he smiled and called me Mom again. His sweet, mischievous little face thoroughly enjoying his power. The toddler wheels turning: “Mom = funny! Papa = predictable — not funny. I’m sticking with Mom, sorry.” I try reasoning. No go. I called him by a name other than his own, hoping to teach him a lesson about identity. No go. Toddlers have little room for reason. Instinct and spontaneity are their main tools. That and cuteness, of which this kid has deep reserves.

So that’s one of the games that my son and I are playing these days. He’s enjoying this one more than me.

We’re also beginning to play catch. “Mom” is enjoying this one more.

Nicky running