Mom Inc.

Rescuing Bailey, Part II

Nothing that a lifestyle coach can’t fix

By Renee Whitmore

Jan. 1, 2017. 4 a.m. My alarm buzzed. My eyes shot open. I stumbled to the kitchen and hit the “brew” button on the Keurig. Dark roast steaming in my cup, I turned on the light in my son Kevin’s room. He was 8 and excited about our adventure.

Fifteen minutes later, we were on the road, southbound. Our purpose? Meet my Aunt Nancy halfway, in north Florida, to pick up the newest addition to our family.

Bailey-girl. A 2-year-old full-bred Rottie. She had heartworms, and Nancy swooped in to rescue her and nurse her back to health. Now, she would be mine. I had Facetimed Bailey already, and today was the day we would bring her home.

We met at a gas station. Bailey bounded out of Nancy’s vehicle, straight to me, and as I leaned down to welcome her, she knocked me backward on the grass. I sat down cross-legged, and this 70-pound dog climbed on my lap, claiming me forever.

I have written about Bailey-girl before. I wrote about the time she fell into a depression after we adopted a cat and, passive-aggressively, sneaked into the bathroom to steal the cat food. Then she’d put herself in timeout because she knew what she’d done was wrong. She’d walk into her dog crate and lay down, licking the flavor of cat food from her lips. I know I’m in trouble, but it’s worth it.

I wrote about the time she ran outside the front door, down the driveway, and attacked one of our neighbor’s free-range chickens. She pranced back to the door, feathers flying everywhere. Humiliated, I marched her over to the neighbors to confess and offered to replace the chicken. Unamused, they declined. Instead, they bought a pen for their chickens. It was the death of the free-range era, too.

I wrote about the times she acts as if something randomly takes over her body, and she starts racing around the living room, full speed, jumping on the couch, jumping down, racing through the kitchen, back into the living room, back on the couch. Then she curls up and takes a nap. All it takes is the UPS woman delivering a package, and she’s in hysteria mode again.

This past summer Bailey-girl started acting weird. She no longer barked at the UPS woman; she no longer cared about the cat food; she no longer ran around the living room hysterically. She no longer cared about, well, anything. She drank enormous amounts of water, waking us up through the night for more.

In July, I took her to the vet. Bailey-girl weighed in at 100 pounds. Yikes. She’d gained 30 pounds in three years. Not good. The vet tech took some blood, put it in a blood sugar checker, and her expression fell.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s, um, a little high. The vet will talk to you about it.”

“You can’t tell me?”

“The vet will talk to you,” she said as she slipped out of the room.

Longest 10 minutes ever.

“Her blood sugar and the constant thirst indicate signs of diabetes,” the vet said, “but we will send off the blood sample for more testing.”

Tears started rolling down my face.

“It’s not a death sentence, but it takes work to maintain,” she said. The vet told me to change her diet to “high fiber, low fat.” Bailey-girl needed to eat twice a day, and she needed insulin shots after meals. She could stand to lose some weight, too. And if I think her sugar is low? Smear Karo syrup on her mouth.

We went straight to the pharmacy to pick up her insulin and then bought her new food for a complete diet makeover. I Googled everything about canine diabetes. I took notes, screenshots, and joined online canine diabetes support groups.

I had never given a shot in my life. I practiced on a banana. Then an orange. Then, I gave her the first shot. A success! She didn’t even seem to notice. I was scared to leave her side. It was a good thing we were already quarantined and working from home.

Gradually, she felt better. I learned not only to give her shots but to check her sugar levels. She adjusted to her new food and is on an exercise regimen. She joins me during my Zoom workouts, and we go for walks. She’s already lost 15 pounds.

Today, the UPS woman came to the door, and Bailey showcased her barking hysteria. She’s in serious trouble if she sneaks the cat food these days because the cat food is “off plan.” But she still tries, so at least she cares.

Six months after her diagnosis, she’s herself again. And she still thinks she’s a lap dog. Lucky for me, a few pounds lighter. PS

When Renee Whitmore isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she’s working on her first book.

Mom Inc.

You Gotta Move

Working out in the Age of Corona

By Renee Whitmore

I had to do something. Working from home meant a lot of sitting. The heat outside made jogging miserable. The endless recipes of chocolate chip cookies and banana nut muffins — perfected during QT (quarantine time) from an old cookbook — were turning me into a sloth diva.

YouTube to the rescue. I combed through home workouts, pulled on my too-tight leggings and classic running shoes and, armed to my triceps with 5-pound dumbbells, I planted myself in front of a laptop in the middle of the living room. Let’s do this.

As soon as her disturbingly enthusiastic voice — so high-pitched only Bailey, my 100-pound Rottweiler, could understand the vowels — blared through my speakers, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I started the squats, the lunges, the running in place, the jumping this way and that, all in an effort to keep up with the 20-something brunette who just walked out of an Olympic fitness competition and into my house.

Gasping for air, I took a water break and told my YouTube mistress to go on without me — I would catch up in a minute. Bailey, excited from all the jumping, looked at me as if I had personally let him down in the most profound way. That’s when I saw my teenager, David, sticking his head out of his room. If he was trying not to laugh, he wasn’t trying very hard.

“Seriously? You think this is funny?”

“No, not at all,” his voice said, but his eyes were howling.

Sweat dripping down my forehead, I checked the AC to make sure it was still working, gulped some more water, and rejoined my YouTube fitness führer, who was now trying to make me do a minute-long plank that lasted a month and a half.

I took a few more “breaks,” popped some ibuprofen, slathered Icy Hot all over my shoulders, and didn’t move for the rest of the day.

The next morning, I reached out on Facebook. “Does anyone know of any workouts from home that won’t embarrass me in front of my kids and my dog?” I posted.

People mean well, they really do — I suppose. Some suggested fitness apps. That was a maybe. A few more mentioned YouTube videos. No thank you. Then I got a private message from one of my colleagues who teaches fitness classes. She was offering daily Zoom workouts — cardio mix, Pilates, yoga, and so on. Fitness in real-time with someone I knew. Yes, please.

I joined the workout at 4:30 p.m., but this time I set up in my bedroom and put a note on the door that said:

Workout in Session

Do Not Enter

(Dogs only)

Eight of us lined the screen in our little Zoom boxes. Bailey and I began the squats, the lunges, and all that other stuff. It wasn’t so bad because my colleague told us what we were doing and what was coming next, so there weren’t any surprise three-day planks. Our little Zoom squares all moved in unison.

As the weeks went by, I looked forward to my workouts and even moved myself back out to the living room. I’ve completed three months worth now, 4-5 days a week, balancing out my newest baking recipe: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, chocolate chip brownies. The exercise sessions have been largely uninterrupted — except for that one day. It went like this:

Two minutes till Zoom.

Me: “I’m gonna do my Zoom workout. All of y’all leave me alone for 45 minutes. That’s all I ask.”

Five minutes in.

Kevin, the 11-year-old: “Mom, I have a question.”

Me (doing jumping jacks, breathing hard): “It can wait.”

Five minutes later.

Kevin: “So, am I or am I not starting back to school in the fall? And, I need a phone. All my friends have phones.”

Me (doing squats): “I’ll talk in 34 minutes.”

Less than four minutes pass.

Kevin: “There’s someone at the door. I think they may have the coronavirus.”

It was our beloved UPS delivery woman. Amazon trumps Zoom. And so does an open gym. PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she’s working on her first book.

Mom Inc.

Parenting Points

The situation is fluid

By Renee Whitmore

I used to give out parenting advice. It was very popular, and free.

No video games.

No fast food.

No sugar.

Early to bed, early to rise.

Of course, this was before I had children.

Our family of six — my husband, my 16- and 11-year-old boys, my two fur-bearing children and me — have been inside since March. MARCH. Confined by COVID. School is starting back this month. Hopefully. But before that reprieve, let me give you a peak into what our life was like.

To put it nicely, it was a transition.

At 3:17 a.m. on Wednesday morning, I hear yelling coming from the living room. “Duuuuuuddde NO!” This is the universal call of the video game addict. Then I hear the buzzer in the kitchen. The oven door opens. The oven door slams.

It’s David, the 16-year-old. He’s playing Fortnite online with his friends. At 3 o’clock in the morning. He’s cooking frozen french fries, destined to be smothered with ranch dressing. At 3 o’clock in the morning. It’s OK. He’s going to sleep until noon. When he finally gets up he’ll start his online schoolwork, finish around 4 p.m., and pop more frozen french fries in the oven. I don’t even care. At least he’s safe. And he still likes me, most days.

I pull a pillow over my head and go back to sleep.

At 7 a.m. I sit in the kitchen drinking my coffee with my Rottweiler, Baily, sprawled out by my feet. If I wanted to go anywhere my first move would have to be a standing broad jump. My cat, Libby, is sitting on the table watching me sip my dark roast with that judgmental feline stare. You know the one. Kevin, the 11-year-old, shuffles in, still drowsy.

He walks to the cabinet, grabs two packages of Jolly Rancher Green Apple Pop Tarts and asks me if I can make him hot chocolate with marshmallows. I break the news. We’re out of marshmallows. So, he doesn’t want hot chocolate anymore. According to him, hot chocolate is undrinkable without marshmallows. Might as well be a cup of hemlock. Instead he grabs a Sunkist from the fridge and consumes each Pop Tart in two bites. Chomp. Chomp. Sip. Gone.

When Kevin was 3, I got a call from his preschool teacher. He’d repurposed Jasmine’s and Miguel’s cupcakes from the snack table, sneaking off to the bathroom and stuffing them in his mouth. The teacher’s report went something like this: “I was banging on the bathroom door and when he answered his cheeks were full of cupcake and I could smell frosting on his breath.” Perry Mason couldn’t get him off.

“I don’t think I’m going to do any schoolwork today,” Kevin informs me, Baily and Libby as he goes to the back-up package of Pop Tarts. “I’m just not feeling it.”

Huh. Me neither.

“Can I take a break?”

“You’ve had a break. You’ve been home for two months,” I say. “What will you do on your break?”

“I don’t know. Will you make me a grilled cheese?”

“I’ll make grilled cheese for lunch.”

He looks at me as though lunch is in December. I don’t even care. At least he’s safe. And he still likes me, most days.

Since the real kids — not the virtual ones — came along, I don’t give advice much. If anyone asks I say, “Whatever works.” And welcome back to school. I hope.  PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she’s working on her first book.

Mom Inc.

No Sweat

But lots and lots of perspiration

By Renee Whitmore

It’s winter break. Most 16-year-olds are Netflix binging, texting back and forth with the friend sitting right next to them, eating too much McDonalds, and overall doing whatever it is 16-year-olds do.

I’m waiting in my car, listening to my latest audiobook, in the parking lot outside the school. He said he would be done at 11 a.m., but I’ve done this enough to know that time is relative when it comes to wrestling practice. It’s already 11:12.

I text him, “I’m here. Groceries in the trunk. Hurry up.”

Time ticks by. I listen to my book and check Facebook for holiday updates. Nothing exciting. I can pretty much hear the ice cream melting in the trunk. Wait, no, it’s 37 degrees outside. It should be fine.

Then I see him, walking with a limp, surrounded by his teammates. He has no shirt on. (Did I mention it’s 37 degrees?) Sweat glistens over his skin. He’s carrying his gym bag with one hand and his wrestling shoes with another. He sees me, continues to limp to the car.

How was it?” I ask after he slides into the passenger seat. “Why are you limping?”

“I had to train with the 152. It was rough.” (Wrestlers refer to each other not by name, but by weight.)

“Are you over?”

“Eight pounds.”

“You have two days.”

“Yeah. I can do it. I’m burning up. Can I turn on the AC?” he says, as he switches the knob from heat to cold and blasts the air. I shiver. (Did I mention it’s 37 degrees outside?)

His next tournament is in two days. Losing 8 pounds in two days sounds like a feat. Heck, I have been struggling with losing the same 5 pounds for a year-and-a-half. But I have learned, for wrestlers, it’s no biggie. They know all the tricks.

I used to hold my breath every time he stepped on the scale at home, wondering how a 5-foot, 6-inch manboy could wrestle in the 120-pound weight class. He’s naturally around 135-140, but this season, as a sophomore wrestling varsity, he decided he was going to wrestle 120 because his height would give him an advantage.

“I have practice again at 3,” he says, as he bites into a protein bar and takes a tiny swallow of water.


We pull into our driveway, he helps me unload the groceries, and before I can even get them all put way, he is running on the treadmill. I know the next two days will be rough. He will limit his food and water intake drastically.

He will take hot baths to “sweat.” I’ll hear him in there, letting lukewarm water out and filling it with steaming hot water over and over. Our water bill . . . well, you’d think we pressure-washed Mount Rushmore.

And he will run. He will run outside and on the treadmill several times a day. I will be trying to drift off to sleep around 11 p.m., and I will hear the hum and rhythm start up and the thump, thump, thump of his feet on the treadmill.

He tries other techniques to lose weight, too. For example, the other day while he was at school, I got a photo text of a half-filled water bottle.

I answered with a question mark.

“It’s spit. I think it’s at least a pound.”

“Gross,” I reply.

The days leading up to a tournament can be grueling, not just for him, but for all of us. No one wants to eat around him. The other day my husband, Jesse, was eating macaroni and cheese in our bedroom. “I don’t want him to see me eat,” Jesse said as he scooped a forkful into his mouth.

And then there’s the irritability that can’t really be avoided. He’s irritable because he’s hungry. I’m irritable because he’s hungry. My husband and other son are irritable because he’s hungry. I pray for patience.

On the day of the tournament, I wait for the text after weigh-ins. It’s just a number.





And I will breathe a sigh of relief. He made it. I will send him back the emoticon with the flexing biceps. “Now, eat something. Please.”

He will down a sandwich, a few protein bars, Gatorade, and water to get his strength back. In an hour or so, he will wrestle.

And the fun will begin.  PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

Mom Inc.

That Old Feeling

Maybe there’ll be something today

By Renee Whitmore

It’s a cold afternoon in January in North Carolina. The wind whips against my face and turns my nose pink as I walk a quarter-mile down the gravel driveway to the mailbox.

For a moment an old anticipation fills me, then goes away just as fast. There won’t be anything fun waiting for me. There never is.

I peer into the black metal box lined with rust and am greeted by a Piggly Wiggly advertisement cradling my water bill. I grab them, firmly shut the mailbox lid, and walk back up the gravel drive, careful not to step in puddles that may or may not turn to ice after the sun goes down.

I chuckle. I still feel excited every single time I check the mail even though for the past 20 years, I have received no letters. Maybe a card or short note here or there, but none of those handwritten letters that stretch out for page after page after page.

I started getting them when I was around 8 years old. I religiously read a magazine named Clubhouse filled with stories, games, even artwork. I read it cover to cover, and then cover to cover again. Even so, I almost missed it. On the very last page of the magazine, there was an ad for “free pen pals.” All you did was send your name and address to Clubhouse, and they would send you a pen pal in return! Giddy with a joy I could hardly contain, I cut out the ad, filled in my name and address, and stuck it in a stamped and carefully addressed envelope. Into the mailbox it went, red flag waving brightly to alert the postal worker there would be important outgoing mail that day.

I waited. I checked the mailbox multiple times a day. Maybe my reply would come special delivery. A week stretched into two and then inched into three, and then . . .

There it was. Clubhouse responded after three weeks and two days. Just for me. The name and address of my new pen pal.

Mary from Washington State. She was 8, too.

She had dark brown hair, five brothers, and liked to play soccer.

We wrote letters back and forth for several years. We wrote about all the things that 8-year-olds used to talk about: playing outside, riding bikes, annoying brothers, pizza, that kind of stuff.

Pretty soon I had another pen pal. Carrie from Canada.

Carrie liked cats, parties, and she always wrote about her boyfriend, Derek, which at that point, I thought was just yuck.

Pretty soon I gained more pen pals. One from Florida. One from California. One from Indiana. A few from Texas. One from Austria.

All through my childhood and well into my teenage years, I spent my afternoons and evenings writing letters to people all over the world. On an average day, I might get five or 10 letters in the mail. I would read and reread my letters, spread them out across my bed, and start writing back to whoever was on top. It was the most exciting part of my day. Nothing made me happier than pouring my heart into writing to someone I had never even met. At least not in person. 

My family and friends bought me stationery, envelopes and stamps for Christmas. The rest of the year I used my own money for the essentials. At 14 I started working for a catering company just to support my pen-paling habit.

Eventually, my pen pals started to dwindle, and I started letting too much time pass before I wrote back to them. After a while, the letters built up into a pile waiting for a response. Life evolved into other interests, and my pen pals just kind of . . . faded into the background.

Now, at 36, I have no pen pals. In fact, I wonder if anyone writes and receives letters in the mail anymore. I Googled pen pals, and the first hit is a “social networking app that allows you to send messages and easily make friends all over the world.” Cool, I guess, but it doesn’t seem quite the same. Not page after page after page. Not piles of paper spread out on your bed.

Still, Monday through Saturday — except holidays, of course — around 3 p.m., my heart beats a little faster when I see the mail truck rattling down my road. A familiar hope returns.

I reach into my mailbox and pull out a Pinehurst Toyota advertisement. Oh, and there’s another bill in there. Looks like Spectrum.

The most pen pals I had at one given time was 80. Not even I get that many bills.   PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

Mom Inc

Magnificent Seven

Their precious moments together

By Renee Whitmore

It’s December, cloudy with a chance of snow. Seven students sit in chairs along two tables. The timer is set for 12 minutes. We write.

Grace is to my left. Curly brownish-blonde hair and stylish glasses frame her face. Her purple pen fills her lined pages with pretty cursive. She stops for a moment, rubs her left ring finger, and continues. She tells her tale through the eyes of a character named Mercy, who graduates from high school and moves to New York City to become an actor. She meets a guy, of course, and we wonder where he fits in . . .

Lauren sits directly in front of me, second row. She prefers to type on her laptop, and I watch her as she squints, backspaces, reworks a phrase, smiles, types on. Lauren pulls us in with descriptive scenes and intense characters and endings that surprise us and make her grin in delight . . .

Abby’s in the second row, to my left. Her brown hair is pulled up in a ponytail. Slightly slouched over her notebook, she writes quickly, turns a page, and a minute later, turns another. She asks, “Is this believable?” or, “Should I add more dialogue?” and treats everyone’s story as if it’s the only one she cares about. And, at that very moment, it is . . .

Makenzie sits in between Abby and Lauren in the second row. She writes meticulously — with a pencil. She erases. Her eyes squint as she ponders the sentence she just wrote. She erases some more. Thinks. Writes. Makenzie is working on a thriller. A man wakes up in a hospital bed with no recollection of how he arrived. A girl he has never met sneaks into the room, yanks out his IVs, and says, “We’re getting out of here . . .”

Brittany sits on the far right side of the room, also in the second row, armed with her Starbucks latte with extra espresso. Her long dark hair drapes over her gray hoodie as she writes. She examines every sentence before she moves to the next, and she thinks every scene, every character, every plot twist through before she commits it to paper. She pulls us into her real-life stories . . .

There are two Sams. Sam R. sits right in front of me, a left-hander who writes in harsh, black ink, his eyebrows furrowing. He thinks and continues writing. Sam R. is in the Air Force and will travel to Germany this month. He plans to Skype us. His characters linger in our minds . . .

Sam S. has long, wavy hair spilling over his shoulders and an entire gallon of Deer Park water. He bites a nail, lays his head on his left hand, and writes. He pre-writes in his mind, and when he’s got it just about right, it comes spilling out on paper. His stories are intense — there’s always some sort of dark psychopath involved . . .

I look at my class, quietly writing. Someone coughs. Someone sighs. Someone erases. There’s a steady click of the keys on Lauren’s laptop, a sound that’s more comforting than distracting. Our time together is far from ordinary.

My iPhone’s alarm sounds. Our 12 minutes is up. I take a sip of my hot tea and smile.

I glance out the window. The snow begins to fall.  PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

Mom Inc.

Lunchbox Wars

Win some, lose some, some go into extra innings

By Renee Whitmore

“Where is it, Kevin?”

“Where is what?”

“My lunchbox — I know you took it and hid it somewhere. It’s not funny.”

“No, I did not.”

“Where is it?”

“I don’t know, David!”

“You hid it — I know you did!”

“I did not take your stupid lunchbox!” he yelled as he stomped off to his room.

I sat on the couch, grading papers on my computer, trying to ignore it all.

“Mom, I know he took it. He thinks he’s funny, and he’s not. Who else would take it?”

“Did you leave it in the car?” I asked, without looking up from my computer.

He headed out the front door to check the backseat of the car, opening the door and slamming it shut at ludicrous speed. “It’s not in the car,” he said.

“Did you leave it at school?”

“No,” he frowned, considering. “I don’t think so. I guess it could be in the wrestling room.”

“Well, look tomorrow. You can put your lunch in a Walmart bag.”

“OK,” he murmured.

That night we looked around for the missing lunchbox, but it was nowhere to be found. The next morning, I put his ham, cheese and ranch dressing sandwich, peanuts, Pringles and an apple — that I knew he wouldn’t eat — in a plastic Walmart bag and handed it to him.

When I picked him up from wrestling practice, the first thing I asked was if he found his lunchbox. Nope. Still missing in action.

That evening I packed the boys’ lunches for the next day (I really feel like I have my life together when I do that), and looked around some more, but no lunchbox. Another Walmart bag it was.

The next day after school it was time to do a grid search of all known or suspected lunchbox locations. Everywhere we could think of — under the car seats, in his room, in the living room, in the bathroom, under the bed — it could be anywhere.

Finally, I decided I was tired of looking for it. I said a small prayer over its memory, praised it for its long and devoted service, and told him I’d pick him up another lunch box at Walmart for five bucks.

“I’ll get another one at the store,” I told him.

“I liked that one,” he said, and then he mumbled something about Kevin hiding it and how ridiculous it was that Kevin still plays these types of games.

Whatever. I scratched “lunchbox” on my Walmart list. Before I left, I asked David to unload the dishwasher.

“When will you be home?” he asked. He wanted to wait until the last second, of course, hoping to coincide placing the last dish in the cupboard with the sound of me turning the doorknob.

“I don’t know. It could be 20 minutes — it could be an hour,” I said as I grabbed my keys.

I barely made the Walmart parking lot when I got a text message from David:

“Kevin hid my lunchbox he lied”

I sighed. “How do you know?” I texted.

“Bc I was unloading the dishes and put the strainer thing up and”

His message, cut short for dramatic effect. It was followed by a picture.

The picture showed the pots and pans piled on top of each other in the cupboard — a strainer tossed on top — and near the back, between the lids, there was a splash of blue. The missing lunchbox.

Had I put his lunchbox in the cupboard without thinking? Hell, I found cereal in the refrigerator the other day that I put away with the milk.

“Don’t blame Kevin. I might have put it in there,” I texted.

“He did it hes laughing about it,” David replied.

I took my pen and scratched lunchbox off my grocery list. At least I hadn’t lost my mind. Yet.

The next day David sent a text from school: “there was a wasp in my lunchbox kevin put it in there”

And away we go.  PS

When Renee isn’t teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

Mom Inc.

Running Buddies

No telling what evil lurks

By Renee Whitmore

A few days ago, I galloped back into the house after a run — well, it was more like a trot. I am calling it a trot because after a year’s hiatus from running, I downloaded the “Couch-to-5K” app on my phone, and have come to the realization that what I do is not really running, but can best be described as an uneven trot.

If you are unfamiliar with the Couch-to-5K app, it’s a virtual running partner. The voice tells you through your earbuds, “Start running now,” and “Start walking now,” and my personal favorite, “One minute left.”

On Day One, you start with small bursts of 60-second runs between several minute-long walks. Each week, the running time increases and the walking time decreases. Ideally, you run at least three days a week, and according to my software tyrant, in nine weeks, you’re ready to run a 5K (3.1 miles). Sounds great, right? Not so fast, as they say.

I am currently on Week Three, but I have to be honest: Week Three has been on repeat for four weeks because I wasn’t ready to move onto Week Four because, well, that’s a lot of running, er, trotting, and Week Three (otherwise known as September) was still too hot to trot.

Anyway, I want to tell you about that day’s run/walk. Let me preface this by saying that I live in the country, so I have a great running road with lots of room and rarely do I encounter anything out of the ordinary. By ordinary, I mean the usual roadkill, a snake or two, empty beer bottles and crumpled McDonalds cheeseburger wrappers pitched out on the side of the road. Maybe, if I’m lucky, some dog who either thinks I’m in his territory or just wants to meet me feels like a romp and tags along for a bit.

On that particular day, I was running back to my house, about three-fourths of the way through my trot. Sweat was dripping off my forehead, stinging my eyes, and my chest felt like it was on fire. (I mentioned the heat, didn’t I?) Suddenly, I started to feel like I was being watched.

I rarely see other humans on my runs, unless someone stops to ask me for directions (which is a bad idea, by the way, because half the time, runners don’t really know where they are and couldn’t find their way home without using the GPS on their phone). Anyway, something was off. Someone or something was watching me.

I frantically glanced around, into the fields on both sides of me, up at the sky, behind me, in front of me. Just the usual. The puffy white clouds. The pine trees. The growing corn stalks. A dead squirrel.

The feeling lingered, though. A car lazily passed me. I waved. They waved back. I kept trucking. But, still. What was watching me? It’s probably just in my head.

Then, there it was. On my left. Fenced in a neighbor’s yard. Its black, beady eyes glared right through me. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. As I ran by, its head moved, keeping its eyes on me. A chill ran through me, even though I was sweating, and I thought of the last Stephen King novel I read, which I’m pretty sure involved an animal very much like this one.

It was a goat. But not like any goat I had ever seen. A big, jet-black goat with huge pointy horns. He was sitting in his yard, behind the wire fence, staring at me.

So, I ran. I ignored the high-pitched voice in my earbuds that commanded, “Start walking now.” I just ran. All the way home and into my front door with Mr. Stephen King Black Goat still burned in my mind.

I tried to tell my husband and sons about the big black goat, but they just laughed it off like I was being melodramatic. No one seemed to take the goat seriously, and for the next several days, when we passed the house with the fence, I said, “Look for the goat!” Except he was gone.

Did I imagine him? No. No way. He was there. He was big. He had pointy horns. He was jet-black. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of a goat gone bad?

Well, I just got in from another trot/run this evening (I graduated to Week Four). When I passed the house with the fence, there he was! Sitting in the same spot, those eyes boring into me just like before. We exchanged stares. He stood up and charged at the fence near me. I stopped running and just stood there, contemplating whether I should snap a picture. Goat proof.

In the distance, behind the fierce, almost-certainly-possessed goat, the front door of the house opened, and an elderly lady with a cane peeked out. When she saw the goat and me standing practically eye-to-eye, she yelled, in the strongest voice the poor old woman could muster, “Fluffy! Leave that lady alone and get back in here! It’s time for dinner!”

And, wouldn’t you know, Fluffy turned right around and galloped right through the front door. Virtual goat no more.

I trotted on down the road.  PS

When Renee is not teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

Mom Inc.

A Pinch of Gratitude

Goes a long way on a hot summer day

By Renee Whitmore

I am naturally a see-the-glass-empty type of person. Not half-empty. Death Valley dry. Especially in the summer, when it’s scorching hot and I walk outside for just a minute and by the time I dive back into the AC, I’m stewing in my own juices. Sweaty summers are not on my list of favorite things.

One of my dear friends once told me to make a list of all the things I was grateful for. Think of it as an intervention. I looked at her and thought, “What a silly-Thanksgiving-lunch-elementary-school-pop-psychology-Dr.Phil thing to say.”

“No, really,” she said. “Try it.”

So, I did. I thought I might be able to come up with five things. Max. The usual. Family. Friends. Blah. Blah. But by item 86 (popcorn) and 87 (raspberry white chocolate mochas), I had it going on. That list — it’s 117 things and counting — helped me stay more positive. So, now I practice gratitude. And by practice, I mean, it really takes practice.

It’s not just the good things that are easy to be grateful for. The magical mind shift (now there’s a left-brain term for you) happens when you can take the bad stuff, drop it in the mental lettuce spinner and pump the handle until you see something good inside.

Gratitude works. I’ve seen it in action.

It works when I am overwhelmed with grading papers and final exams and students in sheer panic. Gratitude: I have a job. And I like it.

It works when I forget to make dinner and Chinese food appears on the table. Gratitude: We have food. And a table. And a Chinese take-out place five minutes from the house.

It works when I have gained three pounds this week. Gratitude: Those doughnuts were delicious.

It works when my 15-year-old son, David, needs to be at five different places in the time span of three hours. Gratitude: At least I can still drive him. Next year he will be driving himself. OMG.

It works when my dog wakes me up at 5 a.m. every morning. Every morning. Gratitude: I have a dog that never barks at me in a disrespectful tone of voice; never says things like, “What’s for dinner? Ugh! I hate Chinese food.”

It works when my kids are semi-sick and beg to stay home from school. Gratitude: I give them a dose of Tylenol and a list of chores to complete by the time I get home. Usually that makes them feel much better the next day.

It works in Wal-Mart when that person with 27 items (three of which need price checks) cuts in front of me and my five-item cart in the checkout line. Gratitude: I have more time to catch up on how Oprah Winfrey lost weight — this time — from the magazines in the magic aisle. I call it that because stuff magically appears in my cart: gum, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, nose hair trimmers. The essentials.

It works when the heat index is 101. Gratitude: At least my AC works, even if it wheezes like it’s having an asthma attack. I do need to change the air filter soon.

It works when my credit card bill arrives and I not so subtly notice the interest payment for the month. Gratitude: Um. I’ll get back to you on this one. Still working on it.

I’m sure there’s some Freudian explanation behind all this, or some neuroscientist somewhere who can explain what happens when your dopamine throws a headlock on your endorphins, but all I know is that being grateful works.

If a natural pessimist like me can do it, anyone can.  PS

When Renee is not teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.

Mom, Inc.

To Thine Own Self

A day, and a dance, to remember

By Renee Whitmore

I got married this past March. It was an outdoor wedding and a gorgeous day, truly.

But this isn’t going to be about the weather (it rained the day before and the day after). It isn’t going to be about the cake (salted caramel flavor with buttercream frosting). It isn’t going to be about the wedding party (we danced in couples down the aisle to Whitney Houston’s “How Do I Know?”) or about the fact that my oldest son played our favorite songs on the guitar during the ceremony and the reception. It isn’t going to be about the barbecue and mac ‘n’ cheese afterward (absolutely delicious) or the colors (plum and navy) or the fact that we totally forgot the best man and maid of honor toasts.

Nope. This isn’t going to be about any of that. This is about the father-daughter dance.

A few weeks before our wedding, Jesse, my fiancé at the time, and I met with our DJ at a coffee shop to talk over the song list.

“What about the father-daughter dance?” she asked as she sipped her latte. My eyes widened. I hadn’t even thought of that. Let me explain. Dad and I have a great relationship. He might be the coolest guy I know, other than the one I married that day. But we aren’t, well, the father-daughter dance type. In fact, the thought of a father-daughter dance made me want to laugh.

“Well, I . . . uh . . . don’t know about that,” I said to our DJ. “I guess I can think about it.”

Days went by. Finally, I texted my mom.

Me: Do you think I should ask Dad to have a father-daughter dance at the wedding?

Mom: (within 30 seconds) Yes.

Me: Do you think he will say yes?

Mom: (within 22 seconds) Yes.

Still, I was unsure. I decided to ask him — via text, of course.

Me: Hey Dad, this may sound weird, and you can say no if you want, but how do you feel about a dance? Like father-daughter?

(He replied, five hours later.)

Dad: Yes, we can do that. Let’s stay true to our characters though.

That’s all I needed to hear. I knew exactly what that meant.

We decided what we wanted to do. We didn’t practice, not once.

The wedding day came, and it was beautiful. The weather. The people. The ceremony. But this isn’t about that.

It was time.

“The father-daughter dance!” the DJ proclaimed over her mic, and everyone in the reception tent clapped. As I stumbled over my dress, Dad and I made our way to the dance floor.

He put his hands on my waist. I put my hands on his shoulders. “Butterfly Kisses” filled the air. “Awwww,” I heard.

We shuffled around, attempting a box step and it was . . . awkward. We hadn’t practiced.

Twenty seconds passed, and he whispered, “This is long enough, isn’t it?” I nodded.

Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, “Billie Jean is not my lover . . . ”

The DJ flashed the strobe lights. Michael Jackson to the rescue.

Dad and I pulled apart and started to moonwalk. My oldest son ran out there with us and started juggling three colorful balls. My five bridesmaids jumped up from their seats and joined in.

“She told me her name was Billie Jean, as she caused a scene.” We made quite the scene as we moonwalked in unison.

The music shifted again.

“I wear my sunglasses at night,” filled the tent. We grabbed sunglasses from the tables and slid them on. The dance continued.

Our guests laughed. Our DJ laughed. Our photographer laughed. We all laughed. And laughed. And laughed.

It was a memorable day. The vows. The cake. The food. We even remember the things we forgot. But this isn’t about that.

It will forever be the day my dad and I stayed true to our characters. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m still trying to perfect this moonwalk. PS

When Renee Whitmore is not teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book.