Fat Chance

by Pari

How do we do it?

How do we get anything done?

I have good reason to ask those questions because I’ve accomplished squat for a week. Yeah, sure, I’ve had some incredible coups for Left Coast Crime 2011 (more on that in another post), but I’m talking about writing . . . getting the damn words on the page.


I can trace the current chaos in my life to an exact moment.

One month ago, the breeder of our late dog Finn called.

“I’ve got this puppy,” she said. “Now. . . I know you probably will never buy an animal from me again. But I’ve got this ten-month old pure bred yellow lab and his owner just had a stroke. If you like him, you can have him for free.”

I didn’t dare speak.

“I understand he’s a little fat,” she said.

Could we do it? Could we bear to bring another dog that wasn’t a little puppy into our home after we’d failed with the previous rescue dog merely two months earlier?

“Well you can bring him on by. I’d like to meet him at the very least.” O, foolish, foolish me!

Fat didn’t begin to describe him. The dog looked like a harbor seal. He was also incredibly sweet, totally loving with my children and . . . unable to run across the yard without looking like he might have a coronary.

We fell for him hard.

That was it. He was ours.


There was one little problem. We’d already entered into a contract with another breeder for a brand new puppy—a black Labrador.

Last week, we brought said puppy—his name is Loki—into our home. He’s now eleven weeks old.

I feel like I’m dealing with an infant and a toddler all over again. Unless I stick Loki in his crate and put Chance in a separate room, I can’t even hear myself think let alone attend to whatever muse has the courage to enter our house.

Did I mention that it’s the end of the school year and there are all the last-minute chidren’s activities that strangely crop up this time of year? Did I mention that my husband is working gawd-awful hours because the company he works for is splitting from another company and he’s right in the middle of it all?

Wah wah wah.

I have no tolerance for my children’s whining, but I find myself doing it now. I manage a sentence or two in the new book and then it’s time to take Loki out for a potty break. Another sentence and Loki and Chance are going at it—growling and barking so that I can’t begin to concentrate. A word more and it’s time to pick up one of the kids from school or get the food to a classroom for some end-of-the-year party.

I know it’s going to get better. I do.

Chance is looking good; if I ever fail as a writer, I can open a doggie boot camp. The poor guy has lost at least 10 pounds and is looking quite suave. He’s settling in very nicely.

When the kids are out of school, I’m actually going to put myself on a schedule — 8-noon, Monday-Friday – so that I can get back to my own business.

Five more days . . .

I’m embarrassed that I’m not more of a super writer, more of a professional, who gets up at 3 am to write. But right now, I’m pooped, or, actually . . . Loki just pooped in the front room. Oh, no!

Stop that, Chance! Let go of that pair of underwear!

Loki! That table isn’t for chewing . . .


Tell me,
when was the last time your life was utter chaos? How did you handle it? How did you manage to regain, to tame it?




48 thoughts on “Fat Chance

  1. Chris Hamilton

    When is the last time it wasn’t utter chaos. My daughter is 15, which means she has all the activities of a 16-year-old, but none of the drivers’ license. Her school is halfway across Tampa and her practices for synchonized swimming are almost completely across Tampa. And, it’s the end of the school year, the time at which her favorite words are "Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you that I need to be at…"

    My son is involved in Scouts and baseball, but baseball ended for the year this weekend. Then there’s the Florida Writers conference blog I try to update every day (it’s a fantastic conference, you should come) and another blog I try to update every day.

    And, oh, yeah. This thing called a job, which, blissfully, isn’t insanely busy right now.

    This summer, my son is going to upstate New York for three weeks to visit the grandparents and my daughter is going to Europe with the other grandparents. In theory, I’ll get a mess of writing done then.

    Unless we get a hurricane…

  2. Lucas

    I don’t have kids, but I’m a substitute teacher and my wife teaches kinder. I’ll echo Chris’s comment: when isn’t everything utter chaos?

    As for wrangling the time, I’m still working on that. Right now I’m trying to work on my writing when my wife goes to the gym, if I can stay awake. Which explains why I haven’t written anything in the last month…

  3. billie

    Pari, chaos is a regular guest here. I think when it’s the kind associated with kids and animals you mostly have to embrace it and stagger onward, as it sounds like you’re doing!

    Saturday I had a husband gash his face while repairing a mower blade, a trip to the ER, a horse that was acting "off" and thus had us all monitoring him, the wireless router died, which resulted in a close to midnight trip to Target to replace it. Then yesterday we had to go buy hay. Two of the cats were "missing" and it was raining and cool outside, so we underwent a massive search – they ended up being hidden away upstairs sleeping soundly. By yesterday afternoon, which was supposed to be my rainy day writing time, I was exhausted and took a nap instead.

    Looking at the page number I’m at with ms edits though, I managed to get more done in the past two days than I had in a week previously (which involved a major dentist visit, valium, horse dentist visits, and much riding) so I am ready for the next round of chaos. 🙂

    Those new pups are gorgeous! Chiaroscuro right there in your living room. 🙂

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Adorable dogs, Pari, both of them.

    I always feel that because I have no children I have no right to claim chaos. But life has been unusually chaotic for me this year because without warning the state started a huge construction project in my neighborhood, six days a week, 7 am to 6 pm, and I cannot write in my own house anymore. I can’t even stand to be in my own house any more. So I am constantly scrambling for some quiet place to work and it’s HARD to be out of the house that many hours a day – it’s so draining not to have my own space. I feel homeless and I’m stressed all the time – so much so that I’m actually looking forward to being on tour next month.

    And that’s kind of sick.

  5. Pari

    You aren’t ALLOWED to get a hurricane.

    Your life sounds insane.

    Again . . . how on earth do we do it?

    BTW — your daughter’s favorite phrase this time of year sounds all too familiar.

  6. Pari

    Don’t you just hate it? I try to coordinate with my husband but he’s at work most of the time right now and when he comes home, I feel like he needs at least a few minutes decompression time. And with kids, he barely gets that.

    I console myself with the fact that I’m thinking about my work, unraveling sticky knots — that kind of thing.

  7. Pari

    Oh my, Billie.

    Is your husband okay?

    I think you’re right about just living through the chaos rather than trying to fight it. I just feel so darn frustrated right now. Part of it is that I don’t want to keep Loki in his crate all the time. My husband expanded his indoor (yes, they’re both indoor dogs) area this morning which will require more attention but might get the housetraining on track.


  8. Pari

    I know how awful that can be, to feel like you can’t be in your own home. It’s a rootless feeling made worse because you *should* have roots there.

    As to looking to the tour as a respite, well, yeah that is kind of sick.

    And EVERYONE can claim chaos; we all have different levels. I’ve found that the more moving parts in my life, the larger my tolerance for chaos has grown. I could have never done this fifteen years ago.

  9. Stephen Blackmoore

    Yeah, dogs’ll do that.

    My wife and I got a yellow lab puppy, Angus, almost 5 years ago. Chewed through our kitchen. Literally. Cabinet trim, molding, anything lower than a foot from the ground. Place has seen 60 years of earthquakes, fires, riots and it takes one teething Labrador to bring it to its knees.

    So about 6 months go by and we’ve finally settled into an uneasy truce where he doesn’t eat our books and I don’t threaten to run him through a woodchipper at three in the morning for wanting to play. It helps that he’s the sweetest tempered dog I’ve ever met. No one has been happier to see me than that dog. Ever. Which, considering that I feed him really isn’t surprising.

    Everything’s settled. All cool. And then my wife, out of town for the last week, calls me from Arizona and opens with,

    "Now don’t be mad." Suddenly I’m living in an I Love Lucy episode.

    Turns out that she’s in a Pet store in Phoenix to pick up toys for the dog who she has missed terribly the last seven days and walked smack into pet adoption day.

    There’s a black lab/Irish wolfhound puppy there. Ten weeks old. Not even 10 pounds. Not only the runt of the litter but survived parvo. She looks like hell. Tiny, scrawny, has mange.

    Of course my wife falls in love with her immediately.

    The conversation came down to, "Will you regret not bringing her home?" and the obvious answer was yes. So she got her, tucked her onto her lap and drove that way the next 8 hours until she got home.

    And it’s been chaos ever since. Since that time Emma (the dog, not the wife) has managed to best Angus in all things destructive with more gusto than a fat man at a Vegas buffet. He dug some holes, she dug under the studio in the backyard. He ate the kitchen cabinets, she ate the floor. Which has not proven easy or afforable to repair. Our kitchen now looks like a patchwork quilt sewn by a schizophrenic.

    I have to say, though, that it was the right decision. She’s an amazing dog. Healthy, happy, whip smart and best of all safe. Don’t think she would have lasted much longer in the shelter.

    Things have settled down a bit on the dog front. The digging, chewing, destroying has cut down considerably.

    And it only took us four years.

  10. Chris Hamilton


    If it cames to that, I’ll tell the hurricane you said so.

    The best way to teach sex ed is to let the kids facilitate my kids’ schedule for a couple weeks. I don’t care how good it is, no fleeting sexual bliss is worth all this work.

    But, there’s also the cliche that if you want something done give it to a busy person. It’s a cliche for a reason.


  11. Pari

    FOUR YEARS???????


    Oh, Heaven help me if that’s the case.

    Right now, we’re just waiting for Loki to grow big enough that he can play with Chance without getting hurt. Once that happens, I plan to take 12-mile walks daily and then to sit in the backyard and let them run themselves ragged.

  12. Pari

    You’re right about the cliche. It really is true.

    And the best sex ed I found was hanging around kids when I was sick sick sick and pregnant. That pretty much convinced most of them to chill for awhile. Of course I completely undid all my good civic work by bringing my baby to work at the school. One look at her and all the girls got goo-goo eyed and forgot my months of nausea.

  13. Louise Ure

    Pari, I can certainly sympathize with the pet part of your chaos. Cisco is now seven weeks into his chemo treatment and this week the build up of chemo drugs must have peaked in his system. He had me up four times to take him for a walk between midnight and six a.m. Just like the night before. And the night before that.

  14. Pari

    I’m so sorry to hear about Cisco.

    And having to walk your dog so much is just like having a baby — up at all hours and feeling like you’re sleepwalking. I’ve found there are some days when I have to call my husband and tell him I just shouldn’t drive. Also, a few days ago, I decided not to cook dinner because I was concerned about handling a knife — not to harm the dog, but because I was so wooky that I worried I’d accidentally hurt myself.

  15. toni mcgee causey

    Stephen, that completely cracked me up and totally cured me of getting another puppy. Ever. My dog is 15 and went through that chewing everything below knee level stage. I don’t think I have one piece of furniture from that time that doesn’t have teeth marks in it.

    But turned out, she has been my shadow for 15 years. If I move, she goes with me. She gets very upset when I leave for trips. And it’s killing me that she’s getting old and stiff and blind. But she is still active, and I am just going to pretend she’s going to live another five years.

    Pari, kudos to you for giving two great creatures such a happy home.

    I don’t know what to say about the chaos and getting things done. After having two kids, two dogs (at one point), a construction company, going back to school and writing professionally (newspaper), I think I end up doing my best work when it’s chaos around me. Maybe that’s because I so desperately want to escape, the fictional world had better rock and keep me interested, so I focus deeper. When things are light and kinda easy-going, I tend to get easily distracted. (I know, weird.)

  16. Jake Nantz

    Both dogs are gorgeous, I can see why you had to have both of them. Are they getting along together? Dominance issues (let’s hope not)?

    As far as chaos, I kind of feel like Alex. I don’t have my own kids, and my girls (dogs) are 4 and 5, so I don’t feel I have the right. Until I get to school, and I get to raise 30 or so other peoples’ children, while teaching a total of 90. Notice I said raise, because these kids are in High School and some of them still don’t have the kind of basic life lessons I got when I was eight. So many of our parents both work, creating latchkey kids who have to discipline themselves in the afternoons because there’s no one else to do it. Guess how well that works. So I wind up with about a third of them every semester that need a lot more than just the ability to read and decipher old British Lit. So yeah, I guess sometimes it gets chaotic. God bless summer.

  17. Pari

    If I weren’t worried about the housebreaking/training, I’d use the fiction as an escape. I don’t really care about the carpets and furniture — not that much — but the stench would be overpowering and incredibly dismaying.

    Again, when the kids don’t have school I think I’ll become very efficient.

    We’ll see . . . four more days.

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Great post, and wonderful dogs. We would love to have animals, but we’re just on the road too much.

    In fact, I’ve only just got back from CrimeFest in Bristol, where I heard Caro Ramsay speak on a panel and she came out with the most wonderful James Crumley kind of throwaway line:

    "I have an ex-drug dealer’s Pit Bull called Satan, who’s now called Emily."

    For us – as with most of the responses here – chaos is a normal working day. We have a daily life with no clear structure and there can often be two 3AMs in our working day, followed by only one 9AM.

    The days when you’re still in bed at 11, of course, are always the ones where the Fedex man bangs on the front door … ;-]

  19. Pari

    We’re both looking forward to summer for different reasons. I want my kids home so that I can begin to work again. My kids are great. They’re considerate and spat infrequently. I hope they can handle the doggieboys though.

  20. Pari

    What a great line, Zoe. Loved it!

    Your life sounds so adventurous to me.

    Mine is incredibly stable — all considered — a life I never thought I’d have. But it’s a good one and I’m grateful.

    As far as animals go, we’ve got a wonderful leopard gecko that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of attention and he’s quite interesting. Even less demanding are our bull snake and tarantula.

    So . . . you can always have pets if you want.

    Hell, when my hubby live in AZ, he had pet black widows — all of them named for former girlfriends.

  21. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Your dogs look like total sweethearts.
    Absolute chaos is status quo in my household. It usually comes in the guise of a surprise bill – like today’s $800 bill to get my car towed and fixed after it simply stopped moving when I was heading out to work this morning.
    I’ll just take my lumps. It means I get to spend some time with the wife and kids today, and our adorable neurotic dog, and the rat that rarely bites.

  22. Tom

    Pari, you’re investing against chaos later in life by spending time with the pups now. It’ll pay off.

    And having the kids tend the pups will be perfect; kids and dogs are made for each other, in a self-correcting kind of way.

    Louise, good luck.

  23. Pari

    I think my chaos — with its defined end next week — is better than unexpected bills.

    A friend of mine today told me that her husband went to get milk for his coffee this morning and found melted ice cream in the fridge. The milk was warm. While I complained about wanting to throttle Loki, she and her husband were out trying to find a new appliance to the tune of $1500. Ouch.

  24. mary lynn

    Oh, Pari…I fear you have tempted the Gods. Loki was the God of Mischief and Deceit, the Trickster, if you will. (UNM saw fit that I read the Prose Edda and Loki was no hero, but did have a significant deed at Ragnarok)

    Tom has an effective and unique technique for potty training smart, sweet, stubborn dogs in New Mexico. Perhaps he will share the approach with you.

    Good luck,
    Mary Lynn
    (who has no right to comment on what other people name their critters since she has a black dog named Blue and a cat named Duck)

  25. Fran

    They’re adorable, Pari, and they’re going to enrich your life immeasurably, provided you survive the chewing/pottying stage.

    FYI, wasabi lightly spread on non-stainable stuff (like furniture) is a huge deterrent from chewing. Unless you have a strange dog — and they’re out there — that really likes it. But generally the sting keeps ’em from coming back.

    Chaos comes in cycles, and hold onto the fact that this round of chaos will be balanced by an equal time of order and calm. No promises as to when, but it’s out there!

  26. Pari

    Mary Lynn,
    Pray tell, what is the method??

    And I DO know about the meaning of "Loki"; that’s precisely why we named him thus. Of course, we happen to enjoy mischief in the tradition of Coyote. Ya know?

  27. Pari

    What a wonderful idea! I adore wasabi and have always hoped it had more uses.

    I’ll definitely get some tomorrow.

    And you’re right about chaos and cycles . . . I’m going to be so grateful once we’ve cycled out of this one.

  28. Tom

    Oh, hell. All right.

    "Pray tell, what is the method??"

    When the puppy’s about to let fly, have one of the boys pick him up, take him out, and then, ummmm, present a good example of the desired behavior in the desired place. Only a good solution if you have a high fence or no nearby neighbors.

    But it does work. We have proof.

  29. Chris Hamilton

    ‘Course, eventually you’ll have a character who just took in two dogs and the dogs will take up all their time and prevent them from doing any work. And one will just get done destroying something when the other does something.

    And your words will leap off the page because they’re so real.

    Nothing is lost for a writer.


  30. Carol Kilgore

    I can so commiserate. We have a four-year old border collie rescue dog, Wrangler. Never EVER planned to give him a sibling. Then our son gave us a Blue Heeler puppy for Christmas. His name is Shiner. Since Shiner arrived I’ve barely written a word. Add to that we moved – not just across the street, but from one city to another.

    Two weeks ago, Shiner and I started obedience school. Even after this short a time, life is already better. We’re not there, but I now have hope. Few words yet, but there’s hope. The little devil does know how to listen.

  31. Sylvia

    Oy, that’s chaos. Two new dogs, kids and what’s with that end of school year stuff? Murderous I tell you.

    I’m holding down a full-time job that has me consumed all hours… plus there is always side work to be done.

    Three kids under the age of 8, one with special needs now in the phase of asking what letter each word starts with and then going into his own Rainman phonics party. Let’s cap that with the fact I have to move my entire family out of our dream house due to said husband being unemployed for 7 months but before we can move we have to finish the house (as in I’ve become expert at sanding and painting trim while chasing 3 kids and 2 dogs)… hmmm… what else? Oh yes, the landscaper is here installing a lawn and the sub-contractor who is supposed to put in a fence for the new tenants dog hasn’t arrived. I have to figure out which last retirement account to raid to make another mortgage payment and then figure out taxes… but let’s not forget – yes, I have to pack up the entire house and don’t forget to order the uhaul and get some students to help us move on Saturday. And of course clean the house afterwards, mow the lawn, change the address and oops – driver’s license expired this week on the birthday (damn).

    And I wonder why I can’t finish a book.

    Somehow, no matter how bad it is… I know there is someone out there with it a hell of a lot worse! chaos. Yes. But whoever said we have to embrace it and change are not on my Christmas list this year. Boo on them.

  32. Pari

    Thank you for that comment; it gives me hope too. The main thing I’m learning is that I can’t keep the two dogs together and that breaks my heart because Chance deserves just as much attention.

  33. Pari

    I tell you what, I’m with you about the fool who said that.

    Your life sounds like hell on wheels right now. I hope it calms down sooner than not — if only long enough for you to breathe — before jumping in again.

    At least my children are a bit older and can actually help instead of create more work by helping.

  34. Pari

    Please send your kitty my regards. We’d have a cat for sure if one of my children wasn’t allergic.

    For now . . . it’s dogs and a reptile menagerie

  35. Mel Sherratt

    Pari, I feel your frustration, sorry, angst, sorry pleasure! We too went through the two dog stage. We had an old Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Mack, he was a rescue dog. We had him for nine years, he was getting on and had lots of ailments. Then we decided to have a puppy. Along came Flynn, a ten week old plummer terrier ( a recognised breed but mostly a mixture of a beagle and a Jack Russell, very lively!)

    Well, chaos ruled as we pretty soon realised that Flynn’s head would fit quite neatly into Mack’s mouth! It was a nightmare and I’m there with you on the ‘chaos when they are together’. When I was getting ready to go out anywhere, I had to put Flynn into his cage, Mack in his basket and shut the kitchen door. I was always shouting at them to ‘pack it in.’

    There were a few accidents where Mack had enough of little Flynn jumping up at him and it was lovely when they were both asleep in their basket together. Sadly though, we lost Mack last month. He had cancer, so we had to take him to the vets, do the best we could for him. We’d talked about getting another terrier when the time came as we knew Mack was poorly so we said we would get another dog straightaway.

    Then peace and quiet became the norm. Flynn has now become top dog and the house is quiet. It’s lovely. I’m not sure if we will ever have another one….until we go to the next terrier show!

    Good luck Pari!

  36. Carol Kilgore

    Pari, I know exactly. I can’t keep mine together either. Wrangler no longer uses a crate. The crate is a godsend for Shiner. But when he’s out, the two of them must be watched and tended to with my undivided attention. I had grand hopes for both of them to spend most of their days at my desk, as Wrangler has always done. Ain’t gonna happen without a miracle. Somehow it will work out, but we have a ways to go and I don’t yet know what the solution will be.

  37. Pari

    I’m so sorry to hear about Mack. Really. After losing Finn in January, I know all to well how dear these friends can be.

    I keep thinking about how much easier it would be with just one dog. It would. But in five months or so — maybe sooner — when Loki is a big strapping guy instead of this little pipsqueak, he’ll be able to hold his own. Then we can let them romp together. Chance will lose more weight and I won’t be afraid that Loki will get seriously injured.

  38. Pari

    The pisser is that Chance ends up getting less attention because I have to watch the puppy like a hawk. It’s just like having children.

    Like you, I know this is going to get better but I just don’t know when. Three days and counting . . .

  39. Carol Kilgore

    Yes, Wrangler and Shiner are our furry children. In our case, Wrangler loses out. He received all our attention before Shiner arrived. Now Shiner is the squeaky wheel. Sometimes I crate Shiner and take Wrangler into another room and just spend some alone time with him. Or I take two walks a day, one with each dog. But Shiner has only recently learned to behave on a leash, so this is a new thing. Of course it all takes twice the time. But maybe I’ll lose a little weight if I can keep up with two walks!

  40. Jessica Scott

    I loved the pictures. We lost our beloved yellow lab Robbie last year to murder (another story for another time) and our remaining mutt, Megan was heart broken. She made it exactly four months before she let us know in no uncertain terms that she wanted another canine friend to keep her company. Of course, my husband and I knew we would be leaving for Iraq at the end of the year and our animals were going to be part of the Family Diaspora once more.
    That whole discussion came to an end when we discovered Lily at the Salado Humane Society. She was 8 months old, yellow lab and 85 pounds. We knew within 24 hours why she’d been abandoned. Like all labs, she chews. A lot. And you know, Robbie laid the groundwork for her greatly because she loved our kids and we didn’t actually care that she chewed every hose in the backyard in a single day.
    We’re looking forward to getting home and getting all of our family back: dogs, kids, cats and now rabbits. That’s going to be a fun convoy from Texas to Maine…
    And yeah, dogs have a funny way of being your four legged kids.

  41. Pari

    Thank you for writing this. I can’t imagine losing a beloved pet to murder. How incredibly horrible and nonsensical.

    I’m glad you found Lily. She sounds like she’s pure lab through and through. And our first lab Finn did the same thing for our family — we don’t care about our furniture; we care about the uncensored love and adoration this guy brings into our lives.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *