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Guest Blogger: Jack Iken (My Mom is Going to South Africa)

That’s me, Jack Iken. I like sticks. A lot.

My mom is packing her suitcase. The big one this time, not the small weekend bag. I don’t like it when my mom leaves. But she needs to take a break from her long days at the computer. She works too much (and doesn’t throw the stick for me enough.) I think she’s been kind of lonely too, since H left. (I miss H too. He was a good stick thrower.) She is going to Cape Town, South Africa to visit her good friend, my Aunt Alayne. I’ve known Aunt Alayne since I was a baby.

My mom is stopping over in Germany, which is where I was born, and it’s where my dad is buried in the ground. But my mom told me she’s not going to visit his grave because, she says, “He’s not really there.” Sometimes I think my dad is here in Iowa because my mom talks to him as if he is in the room. But I don’t see him. I wish I could see him. I wish he would throw the stick for me and let me pull off his socks and chase me around the living room like he used to. I miss my dad. So does my mom. I know this because sometimes she holds me really tight and whispers in my ear, “I miss your dad so much.”

Daisy and I are going to miss our mom when she’s gone. “Two and a half weeks isn’t that long,” she tells us. But in dog years two and a half weeks is more like three and a half months.

I know some things about my mom. I’ve known her seven years, which is like 49 years in dog time, so you could say I’ve known her for her whole life. I know she is afraid of leaving because she equates vacation with someone dying. Her dog before me, Gidget, died when my mom was on vacation. And my dad died when he was on vacation. She hasn’t left Daisy and me for more than four days in the past two and a half years. She hasn’t traveled overseas since she went to Germany for my dad’s funeral.

I always hear her telling people, “It’s a big world out there.” She tells them that when they get stuck in a rut or get too caught up in trying to hang onto something that isn’t working. She likes to give people encouragement and says other stuff like, “Think outside of the box” and “Get out of your comfort zone” and “Expand your thinking” and “Try something different.” Sometimes, when she’s trying to convince someone to really shake things up and go somewhere and be open to something new, she says, “You never know who you’re going to sit next to on the plane.”

I think she is trying to use her own advice on herself. But I know she’s scared about leaving us. And I think she’s even more worried after tonight because when she took us for a walk we heard like five hundred coyotes out in the cornfield. It sounded like they were having a big party and I kind of wanted to check it out. My mom said, “Get back here, young man. Right now. You don’t want to be at that kind of a party. That’s the sound coyotes make when they’re killing something. Now let’s get back inside. NOW. I mean it.”

Daisy and I will be fine. My mom just needs to go to Africa. Even though we are going to miss her, she needs to get out there and flap her wings like a big bird, like the big bald eagles that fly around our neighborhood. Birds always look like they are having so much fun. But, I wonder, do birds like to chase sticks? My mom needs to remember that even though she misses my dad and his death has made her more scared about life, scared about losing more people she loves – or dogs – she’s doing really well. She used to love traveling all over the world – I know this because she used to take me with her in the airplane everywhere she went. My mom always said I should have gotten my own frequent flyer miles, I went back and forth to Germany so many times.

I hope my mom brings me back some cool stuff. Maybe she’ll bring me a big zebra bone. Or a stick from a baobab tree would be really awesome. I promise to be good while she’s gone. Daisy too. And we promise not to die, not while she’s away. Not anytime soon. Promise.

I just want my mom to be happy. I want her to come home with a big smile on her face and some good stories to tell us, maybe even something nice about who she sat next to on the plane. And then I want her to not sit at her computer again all the time. I want her to remember it’s a big (stick-throwing) world out there.