Thursday, June 28, 2007

Empty Arms

Starting in the last few months of the 20th century, I began an every-other-year tradition of bringing new life into the Potter Palace. Rachel was the first in October 1999. Her sister Sara joined us two years later in October 2001. Gavin arrived nearly 20 months later in June 2003, and that did it for any additions of the human variety.

My husband loves to tell the story of how the obstetrician, quite, um, impressed, with how quickly I was delivering, remarked aloud, "This is Number Three, huh?" to which I wasted nary a second replying, "This is Number Last! How quickly can you TIE MY TUBES??"

I've wondered how that comment must have sounded to those in attendance at the blessed event. If it came across at all, even a tiny little bit, that I was unhappy about the arrival of our first and only son, well, let me just set the record straight right now and say that was certainly not the case at all. Rachel had begged mercilessly for months on end for a baby brother, and we were just thrilled beyond words that the Lord God Almighty had heard the prayers of that child and granted her heart's desire. It's just that I KNOW MY LIMITS. And I'm pretty sure it was TWO. Three was really pushing it, and at 35 I knew my baby-making days NEEDED to come to an end.

But, I digress. In 2005, the desire to nurture a little one overtook me once again, and I satisfied that need with Chloe, a newborn kitten who meowed for HOURS on end the first few nights we had her. In a sleep-deprived 2 a.m. moment of insanity, I finally moved her, bed, litter box and all, into my closet, placed a ticking clock next to her and threw a towel against the bottom of the closed door to contain any stray kitty anguish that might try to drift into the bedroom ... and finally slept, hopeful that the kitten would outgrow her need to cry all night faster than my babies had.

When another odd year began this past January, I braced myself for the familiar yearnings that I was sure would eventually come. I tried to tell myself that my life is full to overflowing: 1 husband + 3 kids under the age of 8 + 1 dog + 1 cat + 1 full-time job + far more hobbies and extracurricular activities than I have time to manage = INSANITY. The semiannual tradition I'd begun would simply HAVE to be laid to rest this year, I told myself.

But that was before I met Henry.

A few Sundays ago, Chief Potter called while he was out on patrol and announced that he was "bringing something home". Now if living with this man for nearly 12 years has taught me anything at all, it is that 99.9% of the time, the phrase "bringing something home" does NOT mean he's arranged takeout for dinner or that he's planning to surprise me with a new piece of jewelry. Nosiree Bob, it means he's found another stray, and I've got to get on the horn and do my best to find a home ... quickly.

I had only moments to prepare the children for the new puppy's arrival, and when Chief pulled into the driveway, I reminded them several times NOT to get attached, because "We're NOT keeping the puppy!"

He was the cutest little brown furrball ever, and within a couple of days, the puppy had been named twice. The kids called him Brownie, and I named him Henry. They finally agreed to call him Brown Henry which really suited him just fine. He was quite amenable to being carted around by kids (ours and the neighbors) all day long and didn't even seem to mind when they jumped with him on the trampoline. (I had a fit over that one, oh yes I did).

I was certain that someone was going to report him missing sooner or later and tried my best to NOT get attached, but somewhere around the third or fourth day, I had to admit that I was hopelessly in love with the little thing. I gave myself over to the desire to love something tiny and decided that maybe just one more pet wouldn't be such a bad thing. Just sitting and cradling him in my arms as I worked at my computer filled me with a joy I didn't even know I had missed.

Five days after Henry joined us, Chief took him to the vet for his first check up and shots, and he was declared to be in good health. That was on Friday.

Three days later, I came in from an outing with the girls, took one look at Chief and knew something was terribly wrong.

He shooed the girls from the room before whispering, "Something's wrong with Henry. Really wrong."

I stepped out onto the deck and there was my little guy shaking, lethargic, and his nose dripping mucus. We called the emergency vet hospital to get their advice and briefly considered taking him in that evening. After watching him for a little while, we decided that he could wait to see the regular vet the following morning.

At the crack of dawn the next day, I quickly got kids dressed and loaded in the car with little baggies of cereal thrown together for a breakfast-on-the run, and we drove over to the vet clinic. Who knows what prompted me to leave the kids in the car (something I NEVER do unless I am just going in some place very quickly and will be able to keep my eyes on the car the entire time), but on this particular morning I did exactly that. They had their cereal and juice to keep them occupied for a few minutes, and I figured I would just drop Henry off and come back later to pick him up.

He shivered in my arms as we waited in the reception area. Whether it was fear or the illness I wasn't sure, but I held him a little closer and told him everything was going to be okay.

An assistant came out and took Henry to an exam room where the vet checked him out privately for a few minutes while I paced and prayed. I was finally summoned to join him, and when I saw him on the exam table, I suddenly knew why I'd felt so strongly about leaving the children in the truck: Henry wouldn't be going home with us. Not that day. Not ever. He was one very sick puppy. And that was a sight my three youngsters did not need to witness.

As we waited for the doctor to come back into the room, I watched Henry's eyes start to roll backward and his body stiffen. The seizures came every few minutes or so, and I would hold him closely and speak softly until they passed.

The vet confirmed what Chiefand I had suspected: Distemper. He was reluctant to tell me that I needed to have Henry euthanized, but when I asked him what he would do in my situation, he finally admitted that there was only a very slim chance that the little guy could pull through and that putting him to sleep was the most humane choice.

I was given a few last moments to love on him during which time one office assistent brought in a box of Kleenex and another stuck her head in to see if I needed anything. When the moment came and the needle was gently placed under his skin, I cradled his soft brown head in my hands and whispered my thanks into his ear. "Thank you for picking us. Thank you for the last 10 days. Thank you for the love you showed us and for what you would have meant to our family if things had worked out differently. I'm really sorry that they didn't." And with that, the shaking stopped and his eyes closed for the last time. I removed his little red collar and kissed him on top of his furry brown head one more time before heading to the car.

"Where's Henry?" a chorus of voices piped from the back seat.

"He's staying here for awhile," I answered. Not altogether a lie, I told myself.

I'd been through enough trauma for one day. The Chief could handle it from here.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Food and Fun and Way Too Much Sun

Four summers ago shortly after the birth of my youngest, somebody in my husband's clan got the wonderful idea to get everyone together at the family lake house in Oklahoma ... all on the same weekend. They obviously didn't think through the ramifications of inviting THIS branch of the Potter Family Tree, what with our THREE children under the age of FOUR. It was a dreadful pain to pack up two toddlers and a newborn and all the accessories that go therewith (pack-n-play, diaper bags, portable swing, etc.), but when it was all said and done, everyone had a great time - and here's the amazing part - THEY INVITED US BACK FOR THE NEXT SUMMER!!

Here we are four years later (WITH NO INFANTS!!!) continuing the tradition, and I have to tell you, it just gets to be more fun every year. There are no "in-laws" at these weekend food-and-water fests ... everybody's just family.

Each year, the ladies of the family commemorate the weekend in a unique way. One year it was with pink light-up flip flops. The next year it was pink sunglasses. This year we all had matching pink T-shirts sporting our new logo: "The Potter Perfect Pontoon Party Weekend." Cute, huh?

A few highlights for your viewing enjoyment:

I only wish that I'd gotten pictures of the massive spread of food, because the amazing potluck is such an integral part of our fun. We really only eat one meal while we're there. It starts on Friday afternoon and doesn't end until the last person leaves. No one is allowed to talk about dieting, carbs, calories, fat grams or anything else related to health and nutrition.

You're starting to understand why we only do this once a year, right?

Saturday, June 16, 2007


I watched you today as you took our five-year-old daughter's hand and she pulled you excitedly into line to ride Power Keg ... again.

You didn't know it, but I was watching you sit with Gavin, enjoying a cold drink on a hot afternoon while you waited for the rest of us to finish a ride.

I saw how patient you were as you filled their plates in the buffet line at lunch ... while I gabbed away on my phone behind you, unable to end an important conversation.

I've listened with admiration so many times as you've instructed the children in how to do their chores properly and watched as you've shown them just one more time how to make their beds. Or vacuum the floors. Or straighten their closets.

You probably had no idea I was watching. And listening. But I was.

And each time, I offered up another prayer of gratitude for the wonderful gift God has given our family in you. I'm blessed beyond measure, Chief, to be able to call you my husband, and the kiddos to be able to call you their daddy, their Johnson 12 Potter, Big Ol' Good Guy, Daddy Ally, and Black Bart.

Happy Father's Day! You're doing a fabulous job!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Why does this make me feel better?

Okay, maybe it's sadistic of me, but when I read this tonight, I just had to smile laugh my head off. Since I was first introduced to Beth Moore's Bible studies and videos in 1999, she has been to me the epitome of the perfect, polished Southern lady. Always gracious, always charming, always knowing the right thing to say and never forgetting to ask how your mama's doing. Never with a hair out of place or wearing the wrong shade of lipstick and never, ever breaking a sweat. At least not in public. Never missing a quiet time and always with fresh revelations from heaven from the most everyday occurrences.

That's just how I've imagined her to be and so much more.

Imagine my shock and surprise tonight to read that -- gasp! -- she has bad days sometimes, too. And -- gasp! -- that time of the month sometimes turns her into a wicked witch, too. And -- triple gasp! -- she and Keith occasionally disagree fight with each other.

I laugh not because I find humor in her day gone awry but because we all can completely relate. And because (admit it) it's so reassuring to know that underneath the perfectly coifed hair and matched lipstick and polish, we're all just women. And sometimes just making it through the day can challenge even the most spiritual among us.