“There’s no impulse more reasonable than love.”
from the movie, The Wall
Imagine a 13 year old boy with the chewing habits of an eighteen-month old toddler. That’s where we are at with Finn. It is a wonder that I am getting anything at all done, and blogging may suffer a bit longer. But the rewards are manifold! Too numerous to name, really, but teaching me a boatload about myself is high on the list. Here are a few notes from this morning’s walk (LOTS more exercise? also high on the list!):Pouring on affection is a lot easier than teaching obedience. Finn is a cuddle monster. It is so, so easy to love him (and please don’t lecture me about how teaching obedience IS loving him — I know! I know!) He has leash aggression as well as other puppy behaviors that need training. And so we train. This really challenges a Mercurial, self-doubting person like me.
Teaching obedience came up a lot when the boys were little. One well-meaning teacher after another intoned the very same chorus: “Be consistent. It’s so important to be consistent. They need structure and consistency.” I would recoil, knowing full well these weren’t my strong suits and worse, wondering just what visible evidence of inconsistent parenting they were busy collecting. What harm was I imposing? How could I do better?!
A heartbeat later, I would silently defend my parenting: “What about CREATIVITY, the fostering of it, isn’t THAT important?” (nothing to do with consistency) or “FLEXIBILITY, how ‘bout that? Do you know how many maladjusted rigid adults I know who would rather be consistent and die than loosen their reins on control and FLEX?!!” (I’m so GOOD at turning on a dime!) “And what about mirroring?! Isn’t the business of letting your children feel seen and heard, no matter how annoying or inconvenient, important – even if it means struggling to employ the ‘one-two-three’ method of time outs with any real efficacy?”
And then, many more heart beats later, in an attempt to feel a little better about what was happening within my episodically chaotic household, I compiled an inventory of consistency: I was a Helmet Nazi, dinner came at the same hour every night, bedtime routines were sweet, solid, and CONSISTENT, doctor’s appointments were not missed, there was never any name calling (lots of swearing, but not name-calling – a distinction I hope mattered), no hitting, ever (except once when C lunged in toward me intending, it seemed, to bite my ear. I batted him away). We treated animals and waitresses with kindness and crashing sounds were always met with the query: “Are you okay?!” If this roster sounds basic, maybe even somewhat pathetic, it shows how deeply that advice cut me.
And now the idea comes back with our puppy. I am the alpha female by default, but still, I must exert authority. This week I came to the very basic conclusion that to have authority one must trust one’s instincts. Obvious, I’m sure, to those of you who easily wield authority or have a lifelong habit of trusting your instincts, but since I fall into neither of those categories, these ideas come as revelation and challenge.
There’s a muzzle story here, which I will tell in its briefest version. The muzzle that was recommended by an expert (to whom we paid a substantial sum) arrived in its box last week, and sits in its box, still. Neither K nor I can bring ourselves to open it. I actually feel sick at the thought of putting it on Finn’s face. Yesterday, the adoption liaison called to check in. “A muzzle can really make a problem worse,” she cautioned. “Finn was beautifully socialized with dogs as a younger puppy.” And that was that. I’ll ship it back, unopened. Did I really need permission to trust my instincts? Apparently.
Next. This is true – care of a dependent will look different depending on one’s charge – their ages, abilities, and personalities. I’ll never forget sitting in a circle at a gym class for toddlers and watching D at about age three run full tilt through the group — almost like it was an obstacle course created for his pleasure. There were lots of cups of hot coffee on the floor. D wove in and out deftly and I watched as one hand after another flashed out to protect or move the mugs. A chorus of gasps rose up. But because what you live with has a way of becoming invisible, I was surprised. I thought: “Oh, yeah, their kids aren’t like this.” Their reactions reminded me that D had off-the-charts physical dexterity, so much so that it hadn’t occurred to me to worry about those cups of coffee. And trust me when I tell you, I worried plenty about other things!
Even recognizing this truth about different beings requiring different kinds of care, this morning I found myself judging a car-seated, pot-smoking dog owner whose huge white husky snuffled the edge of the Upper Field, probably just on the edge of voice range.
Because of Finn’s leash aggression, for now I will only approach the Upper Field if I see that no other dogs are present. Today, I saw no dogs, so Finn and I traipsed down the short road leading to the field. As we neared, I caught a strong whiff of the distinctive odor of vaped pot. (Let’s not ask WHY I’m familiar with this signature smell, let’s just say, I am). Being Sunday it was a little surprising to see someone parked there for a break, even though it’s common during the week. When I turned to scan the field one more time, I understood. Snow-covered grass. Pure white dog. No wonder I hadn’t seen him.
Fortunately, Finn didn’t notice him. The bacon-infused treats remained cupped in my left palm.
So, I trotted with Finn toward a sloping path that dropped us to the dumpsters behind the school, and continued home without incident.
But the sight of that dog prompted more than mild judgment. That dog had been so white and so large, that I’d had this flash — what if it was a wolf?! Not a coyote, mind – who roam these parts — and not even ordinary wolf – but a rare (need I add ‘magical’) albino wolf? For some reason, I recalled the wonderful fairy tale illustration of a young kerchiefed girl astride a giant polar bear.*
And that made me wonder: what would it be like if, at that very moment, my life was about to unfold into some strange and wonderfully weird story? Like one of those tales of power and contest that C used to devour with such hunger? My son wanted, I’m sure, to be that protagonist with the ability to see the future or taste others’ fears or twist into invisibility and communicate with dragons, all in the service, of course, of conquering a rising tide of evil, and, did I mention — before turning the ripe age of fifteen?! Who WOULDN’T want that to be that?
Actually, D didn’t. He preferred dystopian landscapes where a sad and fearful young boy overcame the unfair rules of the regime through some agonizing feat of bravery.
Let me wrap this ramble up by noting that before leaving the schoolyard, I had time to wonder if it wasn’t perhaps MORE weird to believe the impossibility of strange and marvelous events unfolding in my life than to deem such events utterly beyond the pale of possibility. My rational mind could be the deficient one.
I didn’t inhale THAT much passing the car of the pot-vaping dog-owner, by the way, but I did watch some Deepak Chopra on TV yesterday.
* In a rush now, will come back and properly attribute this illustration to artist. I believe it came from an illustration in “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”. I believe it is copyright-free. More later. Also, that’s a screen shot from the Game of Thrones above — a show that C watches but D doesn’t.