DSC0440216 years ago we adopted a kitten from the SPCA in North Hollywood. She was old for a rescue kitten, having lived in the wild for several weeks before being found and taken in. Because of this, she was ‘semi-feral’ when we brought her home.

We decided to call her Mab, after the queen of the fairies talked about by Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet. Throughout her life  we’d call her Mab, Mabby, Queen Mab, Mabita, Mabikins, Scaredy Cat, and the Princess with the Peach Toe.

As soon as we opened her carrier at our house, she ran under the bed. We thought she had had a rough few days, and figured we’d let her come out and introduce herself to us when she realized we weren’t going to eat her.

12 years later, she still thought we were going to eat her. She spent most of her time under the couch or under the bed (at least when we were home), and would scramble away when we got too close.  She loved to snuggle with our big dumb tabby, Mojo, but thought we were ogres.

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(Sometime in that first 12 years we had a shaman for a neighbor. He thought she had lost some part of her soul when she was feral, and that’s why she was scared all the time.)

Four years ago we moved to New Zealand. Cece was part of a 6-month competitive class at vet school, so we didn’t want to bring the cats over if we didn’t make it through. So Mab, Mojo, and Gordito went to live with Cece’s sister and bro-in-law Dana & Steve for that six months.

Once Cece was accepted into the full vet school, it took us three months to arrange to fly them over and put them through quarantine.

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I’m not sure what happened throughout that time, but after a few weeks of normal under-bed behavior, Mab seemed to find her courage in New Zealand. At first she’d only come snuggle with us when we were flat on our backs in bed, and would scramble away as soon as we sat up.  But soon she’d hop up on the couch with us, and would allow us to pet her when she was in her cat tree by the window.

Maybe the shaman was right. Maybe she had lost part of her soul, and it somehow returned to her in New Zealand.

In any case, if Mab has a soul — broken or otherwise — it has now left her body.  Three months ago we learned that she was in renal failure. We put her on special food to slow her decline, but we knew the end was near.  Over the last few weeks she has been quickly losing weight and getting painful urinary tract infections because her kidneys weren’t concentrating her urine enough to kill any germs in her plumbing. In the last few days she had started staggering and yowling. Cece got a dose of painkillers, hoping it was a temporary pain, but she kept getting worse. When she was doped up she’d sit on our laps and purr, but we couldn’t keep her stoned forever.

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Yesterday was a public holiday, and the vet clinics were all closed. So we made an appointment for 8:30 this morning to let her go. None of us got much sleep last night.

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This morning we gave her the last dose of painkillers and sat with her for an hour, waiting for the appointment time to come. She sat quietly, breathing slowly and occasionally purring. She didn’t know why we were crying.

When we got to the clinic, they quickly put us in a private room so we could have a few minutes with her.  The vet (another graduate of Massey, where Cece is going) was kind and gentle with us. She put a catheter into Mab’s vein, asked if we wanted to continue, and slowly injected her with a cocktail that would gently make her unconscious and then stop her heart.

It only took a few seconds. She didn’t try to fight it. And now she’s gone.

I was sick all yesterday and have a hell of a lot of work to do today, but I’m having trouble concentrating. My thoughts keep turning to our scaredy cat, our princess with the peach toe. Our Mab.

She wouldn’t have the kind of existential questions that plague humans at times like these. In that I kind of envy her.

I don’t know if there’s a Heaven for cats. I kind of doubt it.  But I do know that I miss her and some part of me hopes that some part of her continues to exist.

Goodbye Mab. My lap will be colder without you.

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I didn’t meet Mama Dog (indoor version).  It was more of a realization that the rumpled fur rug under the dining table was indeed a dog.

You don't tell her where she may or may not sleep, she tell you

You don’t tell her where she may or may not sleep, she tells you

The story behind Mama Dog is still a mystery to me.  All I know is that she’s an old lady with achey joints and zero tolerance for nonsense (with her idea of nonsense being my mere existence).  She lived in the house with us but you’d be hard pressed to find her any place else except sound asleep under the dining room table.  And she’s no tiny dog so her mass really spread out, blocking all of us from comfortably setting our feet down on the floor.  Mama Dog don’t care.  You want to put your feet down?  Too bad for you.  Go sit somewhere else.

Like I said, all you have to do is look under the dining table.

Like I said, all you have to do is look under the dining table for a massive inert pile of black fur.

And the gas!  Sweet Jesus in a manger did she ever have fits of gas.  And was so very evil and deliberate in the way she’d handle it.  We’d all be sitting around the table; each person individually immersed in their iPhones, iPod and whatnot.  But slowly a malevolent odor would begin to seep through the dining room.  It was so insidious, one by one, we’d each notice the scent and try to be nonchalant about seeking the source of the stench.  Ever so quietly everyone checked their feet and scrubs to make sure it wasn’t them emitting the noxious cloud.  Yet careful to not let anyone know you were aware of the scent.  Because no matter how old you are or what part of the world you’re in, he who hath smelt it, be thine own who dealt it.  And so it is written.

While her joints and polite social graces may be failing her, her ears are still crystal clear.  Without saying a word or making any noise at all, you could start walking towards the beach and she would come running.  No matter how much she didn’t care for you, she’d put that all aside for a little beach time.

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On my last day working at the clinic, I walked across the street to have one last lagoon decompress.  To my delight, Mama Dog came sauntering up, sat down and leaned on me.  We sat there in the sand for a bit just soaking in the sun and watching the waves.  Here was this tough old lady that doesn’t share affection willingly and she sought me out for a bit of a cuddle.  Of course I had forgotten my camera.

Without so much as a “later, gator”, Mama abruptly got up and headed home.  Back at the house she returned to her usual way of ignoring me.  Still, deep down inside, I think she may have, sorta kinda liked me just the tiniest bit.

By textbook definition, they were the perfect litter of pups – plump, shiny, and when not looking for a feed or actually feeding, they were milk drunk; dead to the world.

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These little guys were already at the clinic by the time I got there.  When I met them, they were a fairly easy bunch to wrangle.  They were still in the larval stage of being a pup so they couldn’t get into too much trouble.  There was the occasional incident of a pup getting tangled in the bedding and somehow getting stuck upside-down.  He would let out  a scream that would send the entire clinic running to find the source of the emergency.  We’d find him, put him upright – emergency over.

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I discovered the pups on my first day there but in a roundabout sort of way.  I opened the door to my room just in time to see a grown dog crawling through my bedroom window.  We both startled each other.  I came out to the living room asking what the story was with the dog in my room.  Turns out, her name was Mama Dog (the outside version, we have two).  When you have eight pups demanding your attention, you do what you can to have some alone time.  Her crawling though my window was just that.  And I ruined it.

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Now you see what she was fleeing from

Mama Dog 2.0 is gorgeous.  She has the coloring of a Rotweiller but the body of a dauchound.  A really, really tall dachound.  She’s a weinie dog on stilts.  And her crowning glory is her absurdly long tail that is constantly standing at attention, waving in the breeze.

She had become an expert at being near her puppies at all times, but remaining just far enough away from them to keep from going crazy.  The pups stayed in their open-air shelter, cuddled up in a fluffy blanket lying together in a giant puppy puddle.  We’d tend to the pups to make sure they were clean and doing well while she watched on with eagle-eyes, ready to step in should she sense the pups needed her.  Her most ingenious way of remaining near her pups while getting some sleep was to dig a hole underneath the pup shelter.  Seeing her paws barely visible underneath the shelter was her “Do Not Disturb” sign.

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Secret hidey hole

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I'm no sure what exactly is going on in this photo but I think she conned the chicken into babysitting.

I’m no sure what exactly is going on in this photo but I think she conned the chicken into babysitting.

Around my second week at the clinic, the pups developed their motor skills quite literally overnight.

They went from this…

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To this…

This puppy will get a running start on his kiss

And from that day on, they were on the move non-stop.

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Amanda was quick on her feet and discovered a make-shift playpen to place the pups in during the day.  It gave them enough space to romp and explore in the grass but within the safe confines of where we could keep an eye on them.

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Not one minute of the day went by where they were not doted on. They were irresistible – plump, curious, and with the softest velvety ears.  Word spread quickly though the island and we had a steady stream of people making a visit to the clinic just to have a few minutes of puppy time.  Even though they were weeks away from being ready for adoption, the public was chomping at the bit to adopt them.

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Sure the puppies were adorable and silly and as soft as ducklings, but Mama Dog was, in my opinion, the bees knees.  You can keep your pure breeds and floofy pugadoodles.   I like my dogs distinctive, comically odd and just the right amount of weird.

So if you happen to stop by the clinic and find yourself staring at a dog wondering what is that?  Just know, that’s Mama Dog 2.0.

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I have a foul mouth and a penchant for typos.  One post can singlehandedly have my mom praying to the Guadalupe, make my dad’s eyes bleed and suck all the life from my writer hubby.  It’s a gift.  But I still can’t get over my reaction to the proper reference to a female dog.

Now into my 4th year of vet school, the term bitch being casually tossed around in lectures, on powerpoint slides and textbooks still jars me.  It’s not a word I’m accustomed to venerable professionals using.  Which is why my head about damn near exploded while at EHF.

Sitting at the table eating breakfast and someone yells across the room, “Hey guys, stop scheduling bitch spays for Wednesday.”  It throws you, ya know?  Get three veterinarians in one spot and they will have you reaching for your nerve pills.  “Bitch spays are the scariest surgeries you’ll ever do”.  “Oh, I know.  Bitch spays take so much more time”.  And the ever so unexpected, “These big bitch vessels are so tricky.”  All said over morning cereal.

But perhaps the most wonderful one, “Is she a big bitch?”  Because if any woman happened to accidentally walk by our open windows when that innocent question was asked, I’m sure she must have wondered what she did to make that kind of an impression.

We’ve got a situation down at EHF.  Their two washing machines have died and that spells T R O U B L E.  It’s the kind of emergency right up there with all your toilets backing up when you have family staying with you.  Or when the car dies in the middle of the freeway right after you’ve emptied your bank account to pay your credit card that you maxed out to pay for that after-hours plumbing emergency.

“Oh boo hoo, a couple of washing machines broke down”, you say.  I say, “oh guuuuurl, let me tell you how big a deal these two machines are.”

This clinic does not squander donations.  Everything that comes in goes towards the basics needed to keep the hospital running such as medications, surgical supplies, and oxygen.  OXYGEN.  You can’t anesthetize animals that need lifesaving operations without oxygen.  And bottled oxygen does not come cheap.

This is the best example of how frugal the clinic is.

Infinite supply of cat litter!

Cat litter for everyone!

That repurposed bucket that used to be filled with laundry detergent is now filled with all the sand we need for the hospital litterboxes.  Free, biodegradable and works like a charm.

While I was there, both washing machines ran from sun-up to sun-down.  The first and most basic rule of making sick animals healthy is to not let them lie in their own filth.  When the hospital is hopping, you are constantly changing bedding.  If you’re the one tackling  the hospital laundry for the day, your name might as well be Sysiphus.  I don’t know how, but 2 towels go in the hamper, 14 come out.  It’s useless to try and figure out how this happens, it just does.

Another cost saving method utilized by the hospital is reusing surgical drapes.  You know those blue paper drapes the doctor covers you in when you get poked and prodded?  Yeah, no.  The clinic can’t afford to use disposable drapes so cloth ones are washed, sterilized and reused.  So no washing machine, no surgical drapes.  And if they did pay for disposable surgical drapes, then there goes the money for oxygen.  Do you see the conundrum here?

But wait, there’s more.  Not only can the hospital not clean their limited supply of bedding and surgical drapes, volunteers can’t wash their own clothes.  When the poop isn’t on the bedding, its on your clothes.  And if you don’t wash your clothes, that’s just nine kinds of nasty.

If you can, please take a minute to donate $5 to the Esther Honey Foundation at:

http://www.estherhoney.org/donate.html

If you do, the clinic critters may do the following as a token of appreciation:

Ali will share his bananas with you.  Maybe.

Ali will share his bananas with you. Maybe.

Orlando will show smile for you

Orlando will smile for you

Add another $5 and he'll smile for you again

Add another $5 and he’ll smile for you again

ace

Ace will sneak under your bed at midnight and shit in your suitcase leaving you to discover it a day later.

Google will get extra googly for you

Google will get extra googly for you

Hey may let you use his butt as a pillow

She may let you use her butt as a pillow

This beach dog will share your expensive novelty coconut smoothie with you when you're back is turned

This beach dog will share your expensive novelty coconut smoothie with you when your back is turned

This puppy will get a running start on his kiss

This puppy will get a running start for his kiss

Shredder will show you his freaky stare

Shredder will show you his freaky stare

This quintessential Rarotonga dog will continue looking like a genetic hot mess

This quintessential Rarotonga dog will continue looking like a genetic hot mess

And best of all:

This pup will tell his buddy how cool you are

This pup will tell his buddy how cool you are

And oh boy, did we have something good.  Let me explain.

There are clinics that have fancy-pants underwater treadmills allowing hydrotherapy.  That’s expensive talk for your pet being put in a harness that supports them while they’re immersed chest deep in a stainless steel tub that contains a treadmill at the bottom.  This therapy is beneficial to animals needing low-impact exercise to build strength and aid in the recuperative process.

Needless to say, EHF does not have this.  HOWEVER, I do believe the volunteers devised a system that is quite possibly even better.  We had many dogs that suffered from ailments leaving them unable to walk unassisted.  Everyday at 5pm when we’d close for the day, the volunteers would dash through the house, toss on their bikinis and take these dogs across the street to the lagoon.  The water is warm like bathwater and the waves are gentle enough to be soothing.  The volunteers took turns supporting the dog while he got to enjoy impact-free exercise; lightly swimming and being the center of attention.  This therapy provided much needed playtime, exercise and attention for these dogs.  And it was equally beneficial to the volunteers.  After a full day on your feet being bitten by mosquitos, a dip in the lagoon does wonders to make it all better.  Add a dog that is thoroughly enjoying his swim time, and that just can’t be beat.

Be honest, if you could opt to have your ailing pet do hydrotherapy, which would you prefer?  Being strapped to a stainless steel tub on a treadmill or dog paddling in a lagoon while being lavished with undivided attention?  I’m amazed clinics in LA haven’t already thought of this and charge out the nose for it.  They’d make a killing.

Tipsy's brain is fine, her motor skills are not.  Sacha supports her while she gets a bit of playtime.

Tipsy’s brain is fine, her motor skills are not. Sacha supports her while she gets a bit of playtime.

Tipsy's boyfriend, Shredder, gets some much needed float time with Christina

Tipsy’s boyfriend, Shredder, gets some much needed float time with Christina

 

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Mama and Macy never pass up a chance to join in

Everybody in the water!

When one dog goes swimming, they all go swimming

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By now you all have a sense of the chicken problem we were having.  It wasn’t clinic specific; all of Rarotonga is swarming with these these free-roaming hobos.  For us, the roosters were keeping us up with their crowing, their sheer numbers were adding to the amount of cleaning we had to do during the day and we had seen just about all the chicken sex we could handle.

Oh yeah, I said it.

Chickens were getting down and dirty right there for all the patients to see.  Now, I’m a smart girl and I know that chickens need to mate in order to make cute little baby chickens, but I never really envisioned how they go about procreating.  It’s something you know, but don’t really want to know, you know?  So when I was standing there in the kitchen washing dishes and looking out towards the backyard, the sight of a rooster mounting a chicken had me clutching my pearls.  Scandalous.  Since there were chickens everywhere, there was also chicken sex.  Everywhere.  Out in the backyard giving a dog his meds?  Chickens having sex 10 feet away.  Scooping up dog poop?  Chicken sex.  Assisting the vet during an amputation?  Chicken sex (you couldn’t see it but you could hear it through the window).

Most of us just talked a big game about how we’d fix this problem but one of the volunteers, Sacha, went that extra step further and actually got the ball rolling.  I didn’t witness it personally, but I like to think she performed a secret, ancient blood curse against the roosters and emerged transformed, ready to exact some justice.

One day the clinic car pulled up in the front yard and Sacha emerged with an honest-to-god chicken net.  Shit was on.  A plan was devised – we’d aim for the roosters and relocate them to an abandoned, unpopulated area on the other side of the island.

Sacha on the hunt

Sacha on the hunt

The backyard became a reenactment of  the War of Northern Aggression minus all the Jesus.  I know this because I’m a product of the unfailing American education system, more specifically that of Collierville, Tennessee, smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt.  And being American I know that 2+3 = 7, Spain is located in South America and the colors of red, white and blue don’t run but if they do, they make a fabulous shade of lavender.  Damn that liberal media and their subversive gay agenda!  (Right now my parents must be so happy they spent all that money to send me to Catholic school.  They’re also rethinking their decision not to sell me to the circus like they threatened).

The element of surprise was our greatest asset.  The chickens had never before been introduced to a chicken net so Sach was able to snag a few on the first day.  Drunk with victory, we all had a go with the net and there was rarely a moment where you did not see a volunteer running through the yard waving that giant net and laughing maniacally.  It was also a sight so ridiculous the rest of us were paralyzed with laughter to the point of almost wetting ourselves.

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Christina and Candice on a stakeout

But the chickens soon wised up.  Two days later, we were still running around with the net, only the chickens knew to scamper into the safety of the bushes.  The battle had shifted and we were now on the losing side.

Another volunteer, Ashley, decided to give the cat traps a go.  We all stood around telling her how that was never going to work.  She caught two within 5 minutes.  And so we enjoyed another few days of gaining ground against the enemy.

We had finally caught enough to reduce the chicken numbers to a manageable level.  If we had caught them all, it would have created a vacuum which would have quickly been replaced by a neighboring chicken colony.  With the numbers reduced, we slept in uninterrupted silence for the first time in a week.

But chickens being chickens means they quickly regrouped.  Whether the relocated roosters hitchhiked their way back to the clinic or they sent out a memo to gather the troops, we will never know.  Soon we were right back where we started, only these chickens were smarter.  They were trap savvy and knew exactly what that net meant.  We had lost control of them.  Their numbers grew.  The battle was lost.  The chickens were having sex in the backyard again.

And so we were a troop of volunteers, bonded by what we’ve experienced.  By all that we’ve seen.  Two weeks later, when a new volunteer entered the house, she commented about the number of chickens and how easy it would be for us to catch them.  Like war weary veterans, we could only look at her with dead eyes.  We’ve been there, man.  The chickens, they just can’t be defeated.

Even though you’re out there on an island in the South Pacific, you’re not on vacation.  We’ve been given free access to a house and everything we need to make ourselves at home.  If you want a spotless house, pick up a sponge and start cleaning.  If you want to spruce up the consult room, have right at it.  That goes for every aspect of your stay there.  However, having said that, some things are so much easier said than done.

When I first walked in the door, my first thought was “I’m picking up a broom and I’m gonna make this place sparkle!”  I may or may not have even said that using jazz hands, I’m not sure (I get so excited about a cleaning project, just ask the hubby).  I even woke up one morning and announced it to Christina, our veteran volunteer who was entering her 6th month in the house.  She wished me well in my endeavor but her eyes said something else.  They were bemused.  I couldn’t quite figure out what that meant.  Oh, but I was about to.

I began the morning with the usual feed and clean dance.  I was not assigned to surgery or community outreach that day which means I was a floater.  Floaters are  in charge of managing client consultations and making sure the patients have everything they need.  That leaves you with pockets of free time where you can tackle a project you have a special interest in. And on that day, my project was the kitchen.

I picked up a sponge and washed the dishes.  Easy peasy.  Then I whipped out the broom.  But wait, a car just pulled up.  I put the broom away and tended to the client.  I come back to the sight of a new dishes in the sink- a few of the volunteers in surgery had 5 minutes to catch a quick snack before they had to run back out and straight into a new surgery.  No biggie, I’ve had to leave dishes in the sink before and someone washed them for me.  Time to pay the favor back.  Again, I tried sweeping and this time I got a bit further, but now another car pulls up and they’ve got an emergency.  I go out to help.  The vet sends me for supplies and I traipse back and forth from the supply closet to surgery (which takes you through the kitchen).  Others run out to lend a hand (through the kitchen).  The emergency keeps us occupied for quite a bit and now it’s time for afternoon feed and clean.  The broom is long forgotten and I’m neck deep in the late afternoon rush.  More people come through the kitchen for a quick snack or glass of water and dash back out to help with the patients.  Now it’s dinnertime and all 9 of us are exhausted and hungry.  Nine people make dinner.  Nine people wash their dishes. It’s now the end of a long day and my body desperately wants lay face down on the bed and not move for three or four days.

Operation Kitchen Sparkle was a bust.  And the bemused look in Christine’s eye suddenly made sense.  She had launched her own cleaning projects in the past.  Sometimes they get accomplished, sometimes they don’t.  And even if they did, the house is a constant hive of activity where the patients are the priority, not the dishes.

About one week later a new volunteer walked into the dining room and declared “Why haven’t we done anything about those chickens?  We’re smart girls, they can’t be that hard to catch.”  She got that same bemused look, only this time from me.

Next week – Operation GET BACK HERE YOU GODDAMN CHICKEN!!

Google has been adopted.

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This is very good news but my heart is bruised.  That’s one of the major occupational hazards for me.  You meet a patient, take care of them until you become hopelessly attached, and send them home.

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Yam started out as a controversial presence in the clinic/house.  We responded to a house call of a very young kitten that needed care until it could be rehomed.  When we showed up, the homewoners presented us with this tiny, screaming ball of orange fluff.  It was immediately evident that the kitten’s eyes had just opened and this little thing was hongray.

This doesn't look loud but trust me, he was loud

This doesn’t look loud but trust me, he was loud

The controversy surrounding the acceptance of this kitten was that the chances of survival for a kitten this young away from its mother were abysmal, no matter how skilled the supportive care.  But as the mother could not be found, we accepted the kitten and the inevitable fate that it would probably die in 2 or 3 days.

So we fed him.

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And fed him

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and fed him

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and fed him some more.

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We had to come up with a rotation schedule for feedings at midnight, 3am and 6am.  If the dogs barking and chickens screaming weren’t already enough, now we had alarm clocks going off, people fumbling around in the dark, and a kitten crying.  Boy did that kitten cry.  He cried because you woke him up.  He cried because you were trying to feed him.  He cried because you stopped feeding him.  He cried, he cried, he cried.

But soon his eyes went from open and unseeing

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To looking directly into yours

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And he went from commando crawling

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To toddling about

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He went from not pooping

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To non-stop pooping

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He went from only child

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To annoying younger sibling

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He went from this helpless, hopeless thing

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To our beautiful little sweet potato, Yam

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