Updates on popular columns from 2018

Reader response to my columns reads like the title of a country and western song: “Special girl, dogs and old cars.” Far and away, I receive more letters about our daughter, Lyra, and issues related to her Down syndrome than on any other subject. But readers also filled my email in-box over columns about our animals and, surprising to me, my 2003 Toyota Matrix.

As 2018 winds down, here are updates on some of those columns.

Dorothy and her 10 puppies.

Our dog Dorothy

We had not meant our house to become a cattery, but feral cats had six kittens under our porch in the summer of 2017. We found homes for three (including two adopted by our son Claude) and kept three. We already had one rickety cat, who himself had been born to a feral mother in 2001.

After a discussion last spring with our veterinarian, Dr. Julie Brown-Herold, we realized our 1-year-old German shepherd could not live in a house with cats. Dorothy, who regularly kills squirrels and chipmunks, relentlessly hunted the cats.

Finding a home for four cats is nigh impossible. Meanwhile, our small-animals menace is gentle with all humans including babies. My friend Sheri Brown, from whom I’d purchased Dorothy, re-adopted her.

The Browns (www.noblek-9.com) have 10 German shepherds on a large property near Alliance. Dorothy, who loves playing rough with the big dogs, is a happy girl. This month, she became a first-time mama and a good one, too. We watched her birth the first six of her 10 pups via FaceTime and visited them when they were 14 days old.

Some people believe it hard, even wrong, to resettle a pet in another home, because the animal would be bereft without its current owner. In my experience, this is not the case. Rescue animals, not all of whom are victims of abuse or neglect, regularly settle in to new homes where they are much beloved.

As with children, it is important to ask what is best for each individual, assessing the situation honestly and with as little ego as possible. Sometimes major changes, no matter how difficult, are exactly what is needed.

Lyra wearing her AngelSense

When Lyra runs

Running, without thought of destination or concern for safety, is a common and terrifying behavior in people with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. I learned this soon after Lyra was born, but she never ran off. That is, until this summer when she did so three times in one week.

I received many letters, mainly from parents whose own children have run. They were grateful to see the behavior highlighted in the Akron Beacon Journal, educating the public about running and its prevalence with these diagnoses. Often, parents of children who run feel judged because most people do not understand how our kids can vanish in the blink of an eye.

One long email response came from a mother who ultimately placed her 17-year-old daughter in a residential facility. Beautifully written, I had tears in my eyes when I finished reading her story. This mom has since begun blogging and wrote a piece about her daughter’s running, which I recommend reading. (https://frommyperspective.blog/2018/11/14/about-runners-it-is-a-real-problem/)

As for Lyra, we now use AngelSense GPS. Lyra’s adopted grandpas, Bruce Stebner and Jim Mismas, paid for the device, which is little bigger than a Matchbox car. We attached it to a belt that Lyra, so far, enjoys wearing.

The more she wears it when home, the more information the GPS gathers. If Lyra strays from our yard — or even to the back end of our yard where we seldom go — Max, Jules and I receive a text notification from AngelSense. We can open the app on our phones and it will show us where Lyra is.

One woman wrote to tell me she installed deadbolts requiring a key to lock and unlock not only on the outside of the door, but on the inside, too. We now have the same type of deadbolt on our front door because Lyra was able to turn the interior knob of the original deadbolt. Our fear was even with the AngelSense, if Lyra were to walk out the front door, she could get to our busy street in the short time it takes AngelSense to alert us and for us to look at the app.

“Keep the car!”

Next to our girl who’s safely carried us far and wide.

That was the subject line of multiple emails I received after writing about my 2003 Toyota Matrix, which has 238,000 miles and needs a new battery, alternator and at least one tire.

These letters, all written by men, were full of fun stories with old cars. One told me of his 1999 Honda Accord, which has “been to 37 states, Canada, was parked for about an hour in front of Fats Domino’s house while I was inside with The Man, and has shared all sorts of other adventures which I can’t share since the statutes of limitations haven’t expired on some of them.”

I grin every time I read that sentence and realize I am not alone in anthropomorphizing my favorite vehicle.

While I certainly do not have enough money to buy a new car, I also cannot currently afford the repairs needed for my Matrix. I have decided to wait for my tax refund in February and then make a decision. I’m leaning toward repairing my girl, unless there is more bad news when I take her in.

Thank you for reading my column and keep the letters coming. Blessings to you all for 2019.

This was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on December 30, 2018.


Beloved car may be nearing end

Carlsbad, New Mexico 2007

According to Buddhist teachings, the root of all aggression is desire. Not being attached to a specific outcome — be it with events, people or things — reduces suffering. Buddhism also emphasizes the importance of compassion and, therefore, detachment is not the same as being emotionally null.

In 1988, I moved into a home two blocks north of Ohio State University’s campus with two roommates. Built in the 1920s, the home was simple. The few kitchen cabinets were original, the interior doors were gum wood varnished in a yellowish tint popular 100 years ago.

My roommates eventually graduated and moved away. I stayed, worked at OSU and bought the house. My then-husband moved in with me and I birthed our first two sons in my little house, which is less than half a mile from Ohio Stadium.

Hugo was born during the 1996 OSU-Michigan football game. The neighborhood, which had thrummed with activity all morning, hushed as though plunged into a soundproof room, just as I began pushing. When he was born 21 minutes after kickoff, I heard the cheers of more than 100,000 spectators, seemingly welcoming a new Buckeye to the world.

Two years later, my husband took a job in Pennsylvania and I agreed to the singularly worst financial decision of my adult life: selling the house. In my peripatetic childhood, houses were temporary, way stations for a few weeks or months. I chose my OSU house and stayed there many times longer than I had my parents’ many houses.

Before we left, I crawled through the hole in the closet ceiling of the bedroom where Claude had drawn his first breath. I walked on the rafters away from the attic entrance and, under one of the roof joists, I tucked my love letter to the house.

Throughout the 20 years since, my nighttime dreams are regularly set in that home. Again and again, I return to the first house that sheltered more than my physical body.

In 2002, I picked out my freshly minted girl, a Toyota Matrix. Hearkening the first and best movie in the Wachowski sisters’ series, I didn’t christen her anything else. The dealership had a red Matrix in stock, but red is not my color. Shipped in from a dealership in another state, my girl is light blue and has a roof rack.

The Matrix has been to northern Michigan and back more times than I can calculate. For many years, she carried us to Vermont for our Buddhist family camp where one year a local mechanic replaced her clutch.

Yes, my girl is a 5-speed. If you haven’t driven a standard transmission, you haven’t driven a car. With an automatic, the car does all the thinking, the human just presses one pedal to accelerate, another to slow down. With a stick shift, car and human merge together. As responsive as a horse who knows by the slightest pressure of a human leg what her rider wants, my girl likes to go fast.

Parents are the maestros of their children’s memories. From holidays and birthdays to predictable evenings after school or summer weeks spent with grandparents. The most significant memories cannot be predicted, but reveal themselves when the children have grown.

Such was the cross-country road trip the three big boys and I took in the Matrix the summer of 2007.

Mountain lake at Yosemite

We drove south from Akron, turned right in Georgia, noodled across the South and Southwest, our path zigging and zagging wherever we left I-10 to visit many treasures, both geographic and archaeological, along the way. We carried on westward until we hit the Pacific Ocean in Paso Robles.

Mount Rushmore

Every bucket list should include driving along California State Route 1, a dramatic concrete ribbon fit tight against the coastline like lovers spooning in bed. We again turned right at Yosemite National Park and made our way back to Ohio. Many days the four of us spent 10 or more hours in the Matrix. Today the boys describe the trip as seminal to their childhoods.

When I was pregnant with Leif, Max bought a minivan and the Matrix became the kid car. Claude drove it his last two years of high school. Hugo did the same.

Claude took the Matrix to Ann Arbor his final semester of college. Six months later, Hugo worked at Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts and the Matrix went with him.

Though her motor is still incredibly responsive, the Matrix has aged into a jalopy. The driver’s side window remains permanently closed with duct tape sealing the edges. An inch above the dashboard, a crack runs the entire length of the windshield. The reflection in the right-side mirror, an off-market replacement, wobbles like a fun-house mirror. I stopped replacing hubcaps long ago.

Seemingly out of politeness, the Matrix avoids more than one major expense a year. I have justified a big repair here, tires there, because it’s still cheaper than a car payment and she has continued to be reliable.

Two years ago this month, the clutch went out and came in at just under $1,000. A week later, Claude took Hugo back to school in Rochester and the Matrix broke down in Buffalo. This time it was the transmission.

Because my first ABJ column had not yet run, I know Jim & Sons Transmission treats all customers like family. They drove a tow truck to Buffalo and brought our Matrix back. I bit the bullet and replaced the transmission, but swore it was the last big fix for my girl.

And here we are. She now needs a new battery and alternator, about $600.

Another Buddhist lesson is that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. I must decide if it’s time to shoot our valiant horse or spend the money so Jules, too, can have his turn with the best little car in Akron. And while I do, she rests peacefully in our driveway.

This column was first published in the Akron Beacon Journal on December 16, 2018.