… on watching television


Every morning in Maine, I come downstairs and my very first chore is to move around the house, opening up the windows and let the super clear, salty air inside. If I’m up early enough, I get to watch the lobster boats putt-putt into our little cove and drop their pots for the day.

The first summer we were up here, which was back in 2005 when the nearly 200 year-old house was still in need of so many things (like, you know, plumbing), I would get up before the sun rose, put my sweats on, grab a blanket, and head to the screen porch. Sure, it was in disrepair and sinking into the ground (literally). But I would sit on the wicker sofa and let the breeze wash over me, watch the sun rise over the pine trees on the mainland and think, my god are we lucky. I did that maybe twice, when John and I were up here setting up beds, bringing in a few pieces of furniture, and making sure we had a functional cork screw in the kitchen.

Add dogs (and kids).

New scene, Day One.

I wake up quietly, pre-dawn. I can’t really get out of the bedroom without bringing three of the dogs or they will wake my nearly perfect husband (who has indulged me in my sunrise watching exactly twice since we were married – hence the nearly perfect part). So I bring them downstairs and we take the necessary detour to the back yard where they do their business, and then we are back inside and opening windows and I’m trying to breathe in the salt air, but I have a young Fred tippy tapping (as he is wont to do (love the word, ‘wont’)). Anyway, he is about one and a half years old and is tippy tapping around my feet and in front of me no matter which way I turn (I am probably thinking, “okay I have six more months of this because Labs calm down at two (and now you are laughing at me if you have already read about Fred. Or have a Lab)).  My wonderful German Shepherd, Ripley, who was still with us (nearly nine years ago now) is rolling her eyes at me because she just has no idea what to do with Fred either. Smudge, a 50/50 mix of black Lab and Golden Retriever, is old. He most likely isn’t sure we are even at a different house. He is just wandering around the kitchen waiting for instructions. And Monty (2 year old Bernese Mountain Dog) is still up with John. He doesn’t get up early either).

We open the windows and head out onto the porch.  And they check out all the screens and angles and settle down. The sun comes up and it’s awesome. And then the first person walks by with his dog, just enjoying the morning and taking in the scenery… and my dogs ERUPT.

I’m off the couch so fast and so startled – and frantic not to wake up the neighborhood – that I’m sure the person who walked by is probably writing a funny story about a wacko woman in Maine way back in 2005 on his own blog right now.

I’m scrambling to grab collars, and trying to keep my voice down. Ripley is using her very low, scary ‘I’m a German Shepherd’ bark, but stops immediately when I ask her to. Because she is perfect. Fred has his snout in the air and – I remember this very clearly – is spinning around in circles and baying like a beagle. Smudge is hoarsely barking and walking into one screen, bumping off it, heading toward another one, only to bump into that one and head in a different direction. He looks like a confused, black, furry, very slow motion version of Pong.

And it’s 6:00 in the morning!

Welcome to the neighborhood, Dingles.

And this is when it occurs to me that these dogs have never lived in a neighborhood. I mean, we do live in a loosely defined version of a neighborhood in chic and trendy Dunstable, but I assure you that I have spent an awful lot of time trying to figure out – in the case of a serial killer entering my home in the middle of the night – whether any of my neighbors would hear a scream, and/or which neighbor I could reach first if I had to run to their house to alert them of our circumstances. Considering Halloween trick-or-treating happens in cars in Dunstable, my plan is to invest in a bullhorn. And I’ve toyed with the notion that I should create a Bat Cave. With a very fast Bat Mobile and an exit and entrance in Farmer Kennedy’s front field.

It’s the only way to save my family.

So, yes, these dogs had no experience with other people and other dogs just moseying by, not 30 feet from the inside of their house. Ripley, the boss, was certain folks were just hanging out in her front yard, plotting something bad. And she was going to have none of that. Fred just hopped on the jet stream of Ripley’s tension and rode it wherever it took him. Usually his destination was a place called Frenzy. Monty, when he joined in after a satisfying wake up time of about 9:00, became a sort of passive aggressive version of himself (he’s still this way today). If someone walked by, Ripley would erupt in a warning, Fred would go berserk, and Monty would start to woof (Berners have a very low woof). Ripley would quiet when I asked and look to me for further instruction (like an order to go grab the hand-held surface-to-air missile from the closet), and Monty (who is sensitive) would sort of lower his head and avert his eyes. Fred would still be going nuts and I would finally get him calmed down. And then Monty, still with his head turned and eyes averted, would bark – just once – and Fred would start all over again!

Monty did that all the time. That dog totally knew what he was doing and he still does it. He practically buries his face in his hip when he lets out that instigating bark. I swear if he could hold his paw over his mouth, he would. And Fred still falls for it, every dang time, nine years later.

So I had to do something and I had to do it fast. I was not going to get booted out of this neighborhood with its sunrises and my new-very-old-house that would someday be surrounded by beautiful gardens (and have a functional electrical system). So I came up with a solution.


Oh, I am not above lying to – er – redirecting children if it gives me a moment’s peace. Oh stop feeling so superior to me. You’ve totally done it. “Oh my gosh! Tiddlywinks is the best game on the planet. Your aunt and I used to play it for hours and hours! Here, let me get you a dozen or so ice cream sandwiches each, and you guys can sit here and play for as long as you want. I’ll just close this door and give you some privacy.” Click.

Fine. Maybe you didn’t lock them in.

I had to distract these dogs and I chose television as my weapon of choice. And here’s how it went:


Me: “Ripley, no” (Ripley sits). “Monty!” (Monty averts eyes and turns head). “Smudge!”…”Smudge!”….sigh. (I go over and gently take his collar so he isn’t bumping into screens any more and I pat him and he stops his hoarse barking). Which leaves…Fred.

But finally I get them all quiet (threatening Monty with a withering stare, lest he let out one of his instigating barks, starting the entire thing all over again) and we walk toward the front screens. Yep, I said toward.  And we all sit down, me cross-legged on the floor in the midst of all of them. And I pat them (okay, I’m holding on to Fred with all my might and he is vibrating) and calmly tell them that we are going to watch TV.

This is confusing to them because “TV” is not something they know. But it is a command and they are used to learning commands, and learning commands often comes with treats. Even Fred stops vibrating when the idea of food occurs to him.

So we sit and watch TV. And over the days and weeks and months, TV includes the Chipmunk Channel, the Fly on the Screen Channel, the Low Flying Seagull Channel, the Boat Channel, the Thunderstorm Rolling In Channel, the One Person Walking by Channel, the Many Persons Walking by Channel, and the Person Walking a Dog Channel.

TV is awesome, they found out. And is often accompanied by cheese.

The only channel that they never could sit still for was the Dog Alone in My Yard channel.

We consider it porn.

They can’t watch that channel.

So this summer is Marshal Dillon Dingle’s first summer in Maine. And, hence, his first summer of being in a dreaded neighborhood. Teaching Marshal to watch TV has been more challenging than teaching Fred to watch TV. And that portends so many frightening potential scenarios as he grows up (Marshal is only 11 months old), that we have pre-booked therapy.

Let’s put it this way. Marshal is capable of watching TV. He can even sit still for it most of the time. But Marshal watches television the way my perfect husband and the self-dubbed perfect child, Gabe watch football – with lots of commentary on the performances and the occasional, ferocious outburst. The only difference is that my husband and son jump out of their chairs, wave their hands and scream at the TV.

Marshal just screams at the TV.

At this very moment, he is screaming at one of three chipmunks. The other two are chasing each other around the yard and up and down trees. The chipmunk Marshal is screaming at is just looking at him in stunned silence. Must be the line judge.

Clearly Marshal didn’t agree with the call.

Thanks for readin’.