Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fat Lily and the Beauty Pageant

Weiner dogs have long fragile backs. I lost my last dachsie, Piper, after she jumped off some utility stairs at my moms. She just stopped. Couldn't move at all. Became incontinent immediately and my brother was brave enough to take her to the vet and let her go. I was such a mess, I wasn't even able to be there for that sacred time.

So when Gus and Lily were small, we did not let them jump on anything. When they got fixed, Gus gained about 5 pounds, fulfilling his name-sakes reputation. Gus, is named after the fat mouse in Disney's animation Cinderella. He's very short from head to tail, fat and round like a good 18-pound German sausage. Gus is so "grounded" we've always picked him up. Not a lot of "body flight" as the ballroom dancers say.

While the 9-pound Lily is longer and prettier, she will fly around the room and across the furniture.  She has always been so skinny. We named her after Walt Disney's wife Lillian Belle, which is also the name of the last car on the train that goes around Disneyland...and she is shaped like that. Yes, we are that couple.

Lily has the perfect dachshund face and as specimens of the breed go, she could be dog show material. A beauty queen of the breed. Until she gained three pounds.

A month ago, Lily stopped jumping on anything. I was so used to seeing her race around, the stillness in her was shocking. I thought of Piper and it sent me to tears immediately. I knew what was coming. We came home from our final dress rehearsal for How To Succeed, the show was opening the very next day, and she was using her front legs to pull her back legs around. I freaked out and so did Andy. She is Andy's girl. We went to the overnight emergency vet...just walking in there makes my debit card cough. But what do you do when your dogs are your children?

We had just gone through our final miscarriage seven days earlier and I had wrecked our car on my way to the college that week. My reflexes were not strong enough to avoid the lady in front of me when she slammed on her brakes. So watching Lily disintegrate before my eyes, and losing a baby in the same week....too much.

As I sat in that waiting room, the prayer went like this: "Heavenly Father, you promised me that you would not test me more than I could handle. This is officially the breaking point. I just want you to know, that I've been a big advocate for you, but if I lose this dog tonight I might have to be admitted to a rubber room forever. I mean it. Please, please..if you won't spare me, spare Andy from that." ;-)

The vet explained that he thought Lily had four or five worn out vertebrae and possibly a virus in her back. She needed a $6000 surgery in Las Vegas. We explained that we were school teachers and that was not possible. I thought I was going to die. I kept reminding God of the talk we'd had the night before, over and over. Didn't he know I was about to lose it? L.O.S.E. I.T.

We decided to treat her aggressively with steroids and an anti-inflammatory/painkiller which we have done, faithfully, for a month now. Today, she runs around like it never happened. There is a God and I've said it again and again. But the steroids make her appetite insatiable and she eats more than Gus. SO.... yep...she has gained three pounds. It has slowed her down for the time being and they say she'll lose it once she's off the meds. Lucky! However, she will no longer qualify for the miniature division at Eukanuba this year. (Just kidding. We are not that couple).

So now it's official,  no one in our family will ever qualify for the miniature division in anything...not even the mid-size division. Welcome to the family Fat Lily. You will never wear the crown you so deserve, but you are a queen in our house.
When I was in 12th grade, I hung out with eight amazing women. Once I got beyond the "fix me" stage, I attached myself to powerful, brainiac friends. Combined GPA 3.9 (I was the reason it wasn't a 4.0). They were also band, choir, drama and debate geeks. They make movies about us now...we're the ones on the receiving end of the slushy. But...we never got slushied. Who would dare? We were raised by Mormon women. There was a kind of Charlie's Angels meets the Chess Club mystery to us. Go ahead, cross any one of us and you'd be pulling a flute out of your dark places.

I digress.

Anyway - we were talented. Most of us played the piano, we all sang and played various instruments. We may have lacked curling iron and makeup skills but we were convinced that mankind was causing global warming and the United States was selling arms to Nicaraguan civil war factions in 1983. We had evidence. So when the "Miss Lehi" committee arrived at lunch to pass out registration flyers for the local beauty pageant they did not miss our table in the cafeteria. We had "Will Win Interview and Talent" written all over us. But there was that swimsuit competition that stood between us and the scholarship. (The truth is...I was probably the only one that still needed a scholarship.)

Swimsuit division...small problem for seven of the eight of us. BIG problem for me. Could I lose 50 pounds by pageant time and did they actually make a swimsuit in a Triple D cup size? BIG problem(s).

Miss Lehi herself came to the end of our table...with her flyers. She was in recruiting mode so she was wearing the C.R.O.W.N. She had bangs as tall and as stiff as the Chrysler Building. Maybe the crown was stapled to that crispy wave of hair? I truly don't remember who the girl was, but this is a moment, a flash, in life that was so powerful, it brings me to tears still to this day. I don't cry because of the memory of it happening to me, I cry because I teach kids that are that age now and I see them walking around in a fog of self-doubt which leads to a lack of self-respect which leads to a whole textbooks full of problems...and it makes me crazy. Been there, still doing that.

Anyway..I'll soapbox that later...

Perky Miss Lehi, started around the table handing a flyer to each girl "here you you go, you play the flute don't you? you like the crown? It could be yours!....Hahaha. "Blah...blah...blah...I really have no idea what she said - hey, it's been thirty years. But when she came around the table to me she said "Do you need one?"

I'm sure she didn't know how closely I was looking at her behavior. Or how offended I would be, because I was always on the defensive...always in some kind of emotional karate chop position. She didn't know I was reading all kinds of subtext into it, like a good actor does. She didn't know I was in a war with my jeans on a daily basis and wearing sweatshirts to hide my enormous...blessings. It was a fair question. "Do you need one?" Not "Do YOU need one?" or "Do you NEED one? Really?" She just asked me if I would be needing a flyer. But she didn't ask anyone else.

Maybe she knew I was on my way South for school. It would be tough to be Miss Lehi from a distance. Maybe she already knew that I wouldn't be caught dead in a swimsuit in public. Maybe she knew that my parents would have to sell a child to pay for the fabric for an evening gown (which I would make myself...hehehe...blindfolded...just kidding!). Maybe she knew I had already been asked to run the lights for the pageant so I would be...busy that night.

But I wish she would have asked everyone else...just one other skinny person! I wish she had thought to put a stack of flyers in the middle of the table and let us reach for one if we needed it. I wish green smoke hadn't come out of my ears. I wish....I wish.... I wish I could flush this tiny episode from my memory and G.E.T. O.V.E.R. I.T. That flyer does not define me! It's been thirty years for crying out loud.

I just remember the feeling in a bubble. The reverberation in my ears as the earth slowed to a stop. The question required an answer... and I squeaked out "No," while shaking my head like the question was ridiculously rhetorical. I wondered if my face was bright red and I tried to seem aloof. I was the actor in the group after all. So when she left, I immediately changed the subject. Several of my friends, smart girls that they were, offered me their flyers. They wouldn't be needing them. I can't remember if any of them competed. I didn't help with the lights, I know that. I think I probably went out drinking that just kidding...But the little girl inside of me, always wanted to wear a damn crown. Since the second grade play when the fairy's in Farmer Brown and the Coyote got to wear crowns and the carrots (me) got to wear green pipe cleaners sticking out of a head band.

Years later, I mean, twenty years later, I was teaching at Lehi High School...weird, I know. My beautiful student Natalie had won Miss Lehi..and I was like "...meh..." She's smart, gorgeous and talented, no surprise there. But then...she was supposed to honor a "Woman of Distinction" on her last night as Queen. Someone that influenced her in a positive way. There was a plaque involved and an acceptance speech.

My friend Diane, who ran the pageant, told me to make sure I bought a ticket. She knew how much I hated pageants, but encouraged me to support Natalie. So my sisters and I sat through the pageant and at the end, to my semi-surprise (my sister also told me not to wear jeans, I knew something was going on) Natalie had named me her Woman of Distinction. There was a crown on the plaque. I felt confused and embarrassed. I had said a lot of negative things about pageants over the years. So the first thing I blurted out over the microphone to 1000 townies was "I hate pageants."

Never let someone that has no politic-ing skills improv.

After the half laugh/gasp died down I got to explain that Natalie had changed my mind about pageants because she was genuinely a queen in real life. I felt like, if a pageant could find a real queen, and not a trumped-up faker, that was okay. And this kid, was really that. She didn't even know the story of the flyer.

And she's a teacher now. Uh huh.

If I haven't said it before - Thank you, Natalie, and Diane, Paula, Kate, Renita, Jean, pageant pushers - You inspire me every day! Are there more queenly women on the earth? I think not.

So I have my plaque up in my office, eye level as you walk out the door. It reminds me to act accordingly every time I leave. It doesn't fail, though I often do. It's message is that everyone, no matter what you look like on the outside, is a queen if they act like one. God is no respecter of persons or dogs and my constant prayers about Lily have been answered - reminding me yet again, that I am His child, a potential queen on an eternal scale and no registration flyer is needed. I must work harder to earn that crown!

As for the swimsuit division, I'm hopeful that bikinis are allowed in the next life, because that's all Lily and I are ever going to wear. Ever.

Oh...and the crowns.