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The Struggle is Real

“I went to the wrong place,” I say, somewhat dejected. I’m sitting in the parking lot of Orchards Feed Mill, but where I’d intended was Wilco (another feed store). I will never know the difference between these two stores and up until 4 years ago had no idea they even existed. But I do know that the sign in front of me was different from my mental line item.

I’m talking on the phone with Kaitlyn, who’s in North Carolina attending a work training for the week. And I’m obviously out of my element being the sole caretaker of the animals.

“That’s fine! They have it there,” she reassures me, referring to the rat food I need to pick up.

In case I haven’t explicitly stated in the past, Kaitlyn manages 99% of the animal care at our house. The 1% consists of me letting the dogs out during the work day, feeding them on nights when Kaitlyn stays at the barn late, and the two times I had to touch a tortoise because Olive got out of the enclosure. I very vaguely know what Kaitlyn does for each animal, and I try to know even less about what it costs. Even still, despite walking past the animal room multiple times every single day, it’s amazingly easy for me to forget they’re there. The people we have watch the animals when we go out of town easily know more about their care than I do.

“Just stay on the phone with me and I’ll walk you through it,” she says, as if I’m doing a task much more complicated than walking through a store. But I readily accepted the help. And the PRECISION with which she gave directions cannot be overstated. From the aisle number to the shelf placement to the surrounding items. She knew it all and I went straight to it.

“You want the young rat food?” I ask.

“Yeah. And actually, get one of the adult food, too.”

I double-check that I’m getting bags for the right species before asking, “Anything else?”

“Maybe get some more patties for the dogs while you’re there.”

My immediate response is, of course, “where’s that?” And she guides me back to the raw dog food section, pointing out landmarks along the way, as if she’s watching me on security footage in an unmarked white van in the parking lot.

The Stella & Chewy dinner patties are what I’m looking for and I give the update when I get there. “Okay, I’m looking at the frozen patties.”

“No, turn around,” she corrects. “The freeze-dried, not frozen.”

“Oh!” I turn to see a row of clearly marked red bags. I realize she said that the first time and somehow it didn’t register. “That was a close one. I almost bought a giant bag of the frozen ones. Okay, which flavor should I get?”

“What are the options?”

I list them off, making sure to only look for the ones that say Dinner Patties on them.

"Get the salmon and chicken ones. They’ll like that.”

Officially carrying my limit in one hand and ready to check out, I thank Kaitlyn for all her help before hanging up and walking to the register.

As the cashier rings me up, she looks at the rat food and asks, “Is this part of the program?”

I pause for a second (for some reason the word “program” has triggered the idea of a 12 step recovery support group for rats) before stumbling through, “I…don’t know what that means. So…no.”

“It’s like a punch card where if you buy a certain number, you get one free. But, never mind…” she trails off. We both know I’m a lost cause.

I pay for the stuff and walk out, feeling victorious that the task is done and still relieved I didn’t have to make another stop.

The rest of the week goes relatively smoothly, though more than once Kaitlyn texts me around 9:00 or 10:00 to make sure I’m awake since I haven’t responded yet. The reality is I’m not a morning person and feeding the tortoises and the dogs immediately drains my limited mental capacity, leaving me in a stupor for the first hour or so of the day.

I’m naturally a perfectionist but for this week, I’ve set the rock bottom expectation to just not kill anybody. And every time I get up to feed myself or go to the bathroom, I cycle through the list of animals and check to see if there are any chores I’ve missed. Really, Kaitlyn kept the list as simple as possible but I’m still paranoid about something bad happening on my watch.

I manage to make it through without any major mishaps and it’s Friday afternoon when I go to pick up Kaitlyn from the airport.

“I’ll be back with your favorite person,” I say as I walk out the door and I swear they understand.

She’s waiting at pick-up spot 5. I pull in, she loads her suitcase in the trunk, and slides into the front seat. “We all missed you!” I say as I lean over to give her a hug and a kiss. I ask about her flight and how she’s feeling, getting a quick update of her morning. But we don’t even make it to the freeway before she starts quizzing me.

“Is everybody still alive?”

“Yes,” I respond confidently.

“Did you collect the chicken eggs?”

My heart sinks. “I forgot about the chickens,” I say in disbelief. “I mean, I didn’t forget about them. They were always on my mental list as I cycled through but I automatically checked them off because you filled their food before you left. I forgot about the eggs.”

“Did you give Emmy her medicine this morning?”

“Damn it!” How has she immediately picked out the things I overlooked? Emmy’s medicine came the day before. I dutifully brought the box in…and promptly forgot about it. “Sorry…” I say, sheepishly.

We get home, I go back to work in my office, and Kaitlyn putters around the house checking on everyone. And then I hear, “You got the puppy patties!” from the kitchen.

“What?” I exclaim, unwilling to accept strike three. But as I walk into the kitchen, there’s no mistaking that “puppy” is quite literally the largest word on the package.

Kaitlyn laughs. “It’s amazing to me that you can be so detail-oriented, except when it comes to anything animal related.”

It’s true. I can tell Kaitlyn exactly where her second pair of glasses is, where she left her wallet, and where to find the tiny screwdriver set (top drawer of the garage tool bench in the top right corner in a case with a red bottom and a clear plastic top). I can describe where to find the chia seeds, say how much milk is left in the fridge, and immediately produce a new book of checks. I know how to tell when she’s driven my car last, notice things even slightly askew, and pick out spots where the paint is off on the ceiling.

I excel with the human details. But put me in charge of an animal and I have the skillset of a five-year-old with their first goldfish. I generously give myself a grade of C- for the week, bolstered only by the fact that I managed to maintain life. So….I passed! But we don’t need to talk about which grade level.


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