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My Mother My Roommate: Part 2 - Calvin

Somewhere around ten years before my mom moved in with me, my father was still alive and my mom worked as a day care provider - a very special kind of day care provider too. I used to describe it as "Adopt a Grandma." My mom loved her kids in the daycare and to this day still remembers all of them. I remember them as invading the house in waves; first there was CJ, then Colby and Mark and eventually Colby's little sister, etc. My mom was helping to raise a generation of millennials - please accept her apologies.

After several batches, after I was married and living far away from home, when my father was terminally ill from emphysema, she cared for her second to last batch of children. This batch included a couple of sibling girls, a little boy who only wanted to wear stripey socks and and a furry child, a little shih tzu named Nixon. Nixon belonged to the sibling girls, Sophie and Sasha.

How did my mom become a dog sitter? Easy, every morning when the parents of Sophie and Sasha would walk from their townhouse only a block away from my mom's house, Nixon would follow along. Shortly after meeting the little dog who was born on the day our Nation's 37th president died, my mom fell in love. When my mom falls in love with something, she dotes on it. By doting, I mean she feeds it cheese. So, after several, weeks, months, a year maybe, Nixon got his own serving of Kraft American cheese slices and soon took up residence at 725 just like the kids at the daycare.

My father with Nixon ~1999
What this experience did, was introduce my mom to a small, manageable dog that was easy to take care of.  In contrast to my 120 pound Rottweiler mix that was a menace when he was off-leash. Only my mother, the salt of the earth, was willing to watch him. Anyway, I digress. After seeing this love my mom had for animals, another friend, Mary - who happened to be the mother of one of the kids from batch #1, suggested my mom go to the pound to get her own "Nixon."

They didn't expect to find her the perfect companion at the Alexandria Animal Shelter, it just happened. If any of you have ever adopted a dog at the pound, you may know that there are rules: a representative of the shelter has to meet with all of the people in the household, they make an in-home visit and adopters must have a fenced-in yard. My mom was convinced that my dad would never make the incredibly long, twelve mile journey from Arlington all of the way to Alexandria to meet this dog at the Shelter, but she coaxed Mary to convince my dad for her and about an hour later, the three of them stood in front of Felix, a two-year-old shih tzu at the Animal League of Northern Virginia.

I got a call from my mom, letting me know, out of the blue, that finally after 28 years, I had a little brother. She told me that his name at the pound was Felix, but she thought Felix was cat's name. She was going to change his name to Clinton. "Clinton!" I said. "That's ridiculous. So, you're going to have Nixon and Clinton? What a copy-cat. And a shih tzu? Seriously, that thing is going to need a hair cut more often than Dad." I wasn't nearly as sweet back then as I am now :)

Little Calvin
Since the name my mom picked out for the dog didn't suit me, she asked me to name him. She thought I'd like my little brother more if I was blessed with the honor. I thought about a name. I considered the fact that she wanted a presidential name, perhaps an idea inspired from living in the metropolitan DC area. By the way, my disdain for the name Clinton has nothing to do with any political stance (I volunteered for the Clinton campaign in 1992 after all), I just thought it was too contrived. I ultimately picked Calvin, after Calvin Coolidge the second US president from Vermont, where I was living when Calvin entered our lives. My father also had a brother named Calvin so it seemed fitting.

Calvin sleeping on my dad's head
Living 547 miles away from my parents before "the great generation" adapted to email and the web, and when Mark Zuckerberg was still in his freshman year at Harvard, my mom communicated with me through pictures; lots of pictures - Calvin in the backyard, Calvin laying on my dad's side while they both take a nap, Calvin with Sophie and Sasha, Calvin with Nixon - you get the point.

Regardless of my feelings for my mom's new pet, Calvin was great for her. She walked him close to three times a day, resulting in a  65 pound weight loss! Then she started eating better food, and talking to the neighbors and taking Calvin to the pool when it was opened for pets at the end of summer.

Calvin proved to be a faithful sidekick for my mom,  a companion with whom she watched Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Her little bed partner and her support system when my father died from complications from pneumonia. There were few things my mom did without Calvin.

Calvin holding my coat hostage
Calvin was the perfect pet.  So much so, that my aunt Catherine, my mom's sister, even let him sleep in her house on the furniture; a practice unheard of from Aunt Catherine's grown children who would often want to bring their own pets for a sleepover. My mom did not want to leave Calvin at the kennel. She brought him with her and insisted that we drive, because bringing him on a plane was not an option. He was five pounds too heavy to fly in the carry-on.

The first time I met Calvin
When my mom moved in with me she brought Calvin with her. A natural in cold weather, shih tzus love the snow, and Calvin was no exception. Thank goodness because in Vermont there is a lot of snow. He took to life in a new house well, never barked, never seemed anything but happy. The same can be said for when we moved to Chicagoland.

A few years after our move to Illinois Calvin started acting his age. It started with his vision. He developed cataracts, he got an eye infection and he came down with arthritis in his hips, which made going up and down the step in our living room difficult. Both my mom and I recognized this, but didn't really talk about it.

I have always compared the two of them with E.T. and Eliot; one gets sick and the other gets sick or one worries, whilst the other paces the floor - that sort of thing. Thinking about Calvin's mortality reminded me of my mom's and that is not a subject I want to ever think about.

This weekend was the end of an era. My mom and I had to make the tough decision that many pet owners must eventually face. We decided that it was time for my little brother, my mom's little buddy to be put to sleep. Shockingly, my mom handled it with strength and poise. I, on the other hand, did not do well. I kept apologizing to my mom and felt so guilty for not being more present in Calvin's life. Also, I felt remorse for not showing my mom that I indeed did love my little brother.

I feel strongly that we made the right decision, because Calvin was in misery, he couldn't stand, he couldn't go to the bathroom easily and his hacking cough which had been waking us up in the middle of the night, turned out to be congestive heart failure. As the doctor administered the sedative, I watched our little buddy drift into a peaceful sleep and all of us were put at ease because Calvin's suffering had come to an end.

Calvin deserved to rest. He had a tough job for eighteen plus years - being a play toy to a revolving door of rug rats, letting an old lady force feed him eggs and bananas and being dragged out by yours truly for super-long walks with his super-short legs. Calvin's easy job was to make my mom happy. He provided her unconditional love and he always gave her something to talk about. My mom is going to miss the heck out of him and I am worried about what this loss will actually mean for her.

The thing I am most surprised over is the impact this little seventeen pound dog had on me. I am going to miss him too... a lot more than I thought.


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