Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When Mom is Also Dad

At our house, Father's Day is bittersweet. Since my father passed away, my son and I no longer have a beloved patriarch for whom to buy a heartfelt (or funny) card. I have been a single mom for as long as my son can remember.

When Mike was tiny, I enrolled him in Montessori. That first June, after my work day as an anchor/reporter at a Denver television station, I arrived to pick him up from school. Mike, not-quite-3, was not his usual bubbly self.

Buckling him into his car seat, I gently cupped his chin and lifted his downcast face. "Michael, honey," I asked, "what's wrong?"

Small voice quavering, Mike told me that all the other kids were making Father's Day projects. Since he didn't have a dad, he said he didn't know what to do.

The next morning, I took him to school about 10 minutes early. Once he was engrossed in the "Continents, continents, do you know your continents?" puzzle, I spoke quietly to his teacher.

"Miss Liz," I said, "Mike's never known his dad. And when the other children are doing their Father's Day present, he feels confused and sad. I was wondering if there might be some way to help him feel less left out."

Miss Liz was a very kind woman who truly adored Mike. She knew his story: His dad had relinquished all rights to Mike when Mike was a year old.

A year or so before becoming pregnant with my one and only child, at age 35 I'd had a fertility work up. The specialist told me it was not likely I would ever have children without exhaustive treatment and intervention and maybe not then. Mike's conception was a happy miracle to me.

Arriving to collect him from preschool the afternoon after I'd spoken to Miss Liz, my little boy bounced into the car beaming. "You look happy," I said. "What's going on?"

"Can't tell," he said slyly. "It's a secret."

Making his breakfast that Sunday, I looked up from scrambling an egg to find his small self standing in the doorway to the kitchen, hands hidden behind his back. Shyly, but with a radiant smile, Mike produced an object clumsily wrapped in construction paper and said, "Happy Father's Day, Mommy."

From then on, each year it was sort of our own little tradition, but when he left for college, I wasn't sure whether he'd remember. His freshman year, the Saturday before Father's Day I checked the mail. No card. "Well," I thought, trying not to be disappointed, "that's OK. He's just distracted with all the new things he has going on right now."

The next morning I was in that fuzzy state just before waking when the phone rang. "Hello?" I mumbled. Without preamble, an equally sleepy 19-year-old voice said, "Happy Father's Day."

I once read something about mothers (and it applies to fathers, too) that touched me. The author, anonymous, wrote it as a letter to mothers from God. When I clipped it, Mike was about 4. With money inherited from my parents, I had stepped away from my TV news career to be a stay-at-home mom.

"You are a mother because that is what I have called you to be. Much of what you do is hidden from the public eye. But I notice.

"Your influence upon him is greater than you think and more powerful than you will ever know. I bless him through your service and honor him through your love. Your child is even more precious to Me that he is to you. I have entrusted him to your care to raise him for Me. What you invest in him is an offering to Me.

"You may never be in the public spotlight, but your obedience shines as a bright light before Me.

"Continue on."

Happy Father's Day to all you dads and grampas – and to all you single moms.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at Contact her at

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Running With the Wind in that Pasture in the Sky

By Carol Bogart

I spent most of my life believing my 4-H horse, Ringo, ended up at a glue factory and my parents lied to me about it.

We didn't have running water in the barn and after I left for college, taking care of him was a pretty big chore.

One of dad's partners had a farm outside another rural community near ours. He said he'd pasture Ringo so he could graze. (My horse was broken winded and couldn't eat dusty hay.) The man had a 10-year-old daughter who fell in love with Ringo. One morning, a big wind storm kicked up and knocked down a fence in the pasture.

Ringo and a mare took off cantering up the middle of State Route 224 – a 4-lane, very busy truck route.

A semi came up over the hill and hit them both. The mare was killed outright. Dad went, and said Ringo's guts were hanging out and dad thought he couldn't possibly survive.

The vet came though, and patched him up, and that girl spent every night in his stall. Applying ointment. Making him get up on his feet.

In about mid-August, Dad called and said she'd asked him if she could buy Ringo. She'd saved up all her babysitting money, and instead of buying clothes for school, she wanted to buy my horse.

I told him to tell her to buy her school clothes, and that Ringo and his tack were hers.

About a year later, her dad got out of farming. My folks said that a "family with three girls" had come and gotten Ringo. But when I wanted to go see him to say goodbye, they wouldn't take me. Dad felt bad for the man's daughter, and he thought that, before he got rid of Ringo, he should have called us to see if we wanted to take him back.

I never believed it, though. I knew he was broken winded. That about all he was good for was petting. I was sure the man had sold him to the glue factory.

In 2001, when, as it happened, I was working for the paper that community, I wrote a column about it. The day it was in the paper, I heard from the vet who'd patched Ringo up. He said he still vividly remembered the scene on 224 when he first arrived, and how terrible it was.

Then, I got an email. From one of three sisters who had rescued a big bay horse from a pen full of pigs. Muddy. Covered with burrs. She wondered if I had a photo of Ringo.

I found one of me riding him when I was 16 and sent it to her. She emailed me back a photo of her kissing the soft oatsy-smelling nose I knew so well.

She said he lived for another 13 years, and even though he died in winter when the Ohio ground was frozen solid, her dad got out the backhoe and dug a grave. Now, that resting place is marked with a woodburned 'Ringo' sign – the one that always hung above his stall at the county fair. I'd kept it for more than 30 years.

Maybe the original girl who'd saved up all her babysitting money to try to buy a big bay horse read the follow up column I wrote, and knows that the horse we loved was adored 'til the day he died.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Contact her at

Monday, May 21, 2007

If Dogs Have a Heaven

Don't Believe Everything You Read About Rottweilers
By Carol Bogart

"Bo's here! Bo's here!" As the announcement came over the PA system at Fairview Health Systems in Cleveland, people in white coats swarmed the lobby, each hoping for just a minute with big Bo. Bo, a Rottweiler who made weekly rounds, was a canine success story in more ways that one.

He'd been a breeder dog for his first year and a half of life. When I got him, it was clear the puppy mill must have mistreated him terribly to try to break him of his gentle spirit (not a quality in high demand from those who wanted Rottweilers as, say, guard dogs for their drug stash). In the beginning, if I reached out to pet him, he flinched. If someone he didn't know entered the room, he cowered behind a bed.

It was so sad.

Housebreaking him went more slowly than usual because I never raised my voice to him, just hustled him outside if I caught him in time. I knew if there was any chance of re-establishing his trust in people, I had to be consistently patient and kind.

Over time, he became a dog that loved attention, and dedicated every waking moment to pleasing me. When Bo was 3, Fairview started its pet therapy program. Dogs had to be certified by the Delta Society, and of more than 200 that "auditioned" – just 20 made the cut. Dogs, they said, "with halos."

The audition was scary for Bo. He had to accept being left alone in a gymnasium full of strange people and dogs while I went out in the hall, out of his sight, for three minutes. Before I left, I turned to him and said, "Bo, sit." He sat. And, "Bo, stay." His eyes looked worried and unhappy, but he never moved an inch.

They signed him up, gave him a silly pink T-shirt to wear, and he began to make his "rounds" – laying his big block head in the laps of children who'd just had their tonsils out, bringing a measure of comfort to an elderly woman whose husband was having heart bypass surgery, and even becoming a turning point for a 19-year-old schizophrenic in the psych unit who never reacted to anything – until Bo sat on his foot and leaned against his knee week after week.

Although the youth didn't acknowledge him and, in the beginning, would turn and walk away, each time, I would say, "You can pet him. He'd like that."When we'd been dropping by weekly for about three months, there came a day that the young man briefly, without directly looking at Bo, reached out and touched him once on the top of his head. I knew it was a break through. I said, "It's nice that you're so gentle with Bo. Bo's had a very bad time of it and when he was a young dog, people hurt him very much. So it's nice of you to be so kind to him. He's easily frightened."

The following week, the young man's hand rested on Bo's head, and he stood looking at him – for just a moment. Again I told him how much it meant to Bo that he was so kind. The next time we went, he knelt down and looked Bo right in his eyes and said, "You're a good dog, Bo." Then, he immediately got up and hurried away. I was worried. I thought maybe it was too much intimacy too soon. I had never pushed when he'd failed to engage in the beginning. As I'd done with Bo, I had tried to gauge when he might be ready for more interaction by the cues he gave.

Just as I was about to ask one of the attendants to check on him, the young man came rushing back. In his hand was his drawing from that morning's art therapy session. Again, he knelt down in front of Bo … and showed it to him. I remember it was a picture of a locomotive.I said nothing else. I knew this relationship was between the young man and Bo.

When we returned the following week, we learned the young man was so much better, he'd gone home. I always took Bo a little early each week because the staff loved him so. Once, one of the other human pet partners (a little jealous of Bo's popularity, I think), said, "These dogs are here to help the patients." I said, "Don't you think it helps the patients if the staff is a little less stressed?"

Bo loved everybody. Shared his big, big heart with each and every one who needed a little lift. And enriched my life in ways impossible to measure.Big gentle Bo. A dog with a halo.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Read her columns at Contact her at

Friday, May 18, 2007

Homework Help for the ADHD Child

By Carol Bogart
Tags: disability education health parenting

Mike was excited when he started first grade, but sometimes he came home looking sad. His brain was not the same as other children's. He has ADHD -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Since his disability doesn't show and its symptoms are annoying, he got in lots of trouble. If he wasn't paying attention when the teacher gave out homework, he didn't have any to turn in. Sometimes he blurted things out in class. Fidgety, he resharpened his pencils again and again.

As his mom, I tried to be patient, but it was hard when Mike didn't listen, especially since I have ADHD, too. Science has found the genetic marker for the disorder. A PET scan can watch a brain as it "works." The ADHD brain is clearly "different."

Mike was diagnosed when he was 4. I tried to keep in mind what his doctor told me about making sure he was looking at me when I told him something, and about not telling him too many things at once. But finally, after years of disappointing parent-teacher conferences, I was frustrated -- tired of seeing my bright boy get bad grades because he didn't do his work.

In the 10th grade, he had a big math project to do. I went to Wal-Mart and bought every supply I thought he could possibly need and laid them out on the table. He stalled. Things were the wrong color or the wrong size or ... . The excuses kept on coming.

Finally, I blew up.

"Mike!" I said. "Just get started!!"

He'd never had an assignment like this one before. He was supposed to make a design -- maybe a star -- for his geometry class using string and tacks, and then write down the angles. He didn't want me (or his teacher) to be mad, but he didn't know what to do. Everybody said, "Get started," but how?

Mike hesitated, then, hoping maybe I would understand, softly asked, "What does 'get started' mean?" The anger drained out of me. Tears filled my eyes. I thought of all the times he'd had been yelled at -- at school, at home. I sat down beside him. "Cut your poster board to fit the cork board," I told him kindly. "Then glue it on. Decide where you want to put the points of your star and tap in the nails."

Pretty soon, the project was well underway. Colored string was being woven around the nails, and a star was taking shape against a black construction paper background.

With the ADHD child, or any child who struggles, what I learned was: Take the time to show them a place to "get started" that isn't brand new and scary. Start with something they've done before that guarantees success. It will give them the confidence to tackle something new. And always -- smile at them for trying.

Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Contact her at