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Posts Tagged ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’

Look what we found in our yard yesterday!

Three deer

Don’t water them; they proliferate.

We have an over-abundance of suburban deer in our neighborhood. They roam the yards, eating trees and plants. Yes, they are very picturesque. And I know and understand that we humans are trespassing on THEIR land, and not the other way around. But even knowing this, and even feeling guilty/sad for the deer and their lack of forest/meadow land, I find them irritating. They eat our trees down to the bark. They eat any vegetables I dare to plant. They poop all over our yard.

My husband has taken it upon himself to chase them away whenever they take up residence in our yard. He went out to this trio last night, waving his arms, and they COMPLETELY ignored him. He must have gotten within five feet of them and they didn’t care. So he turned the hose on them. They all stood up, but that was the extent of their botherment. And rather than shooing them away, he sort of ended up watering them instead.

***

We recently spent a few days at the house of some friends. We had a wonderful time. The kids all played splendidly together, with maybe one or two small sharing issues and nothing at all beyond that. The grown ups had a delightful time, chatting and catching up and generally ignoring the kids, who were completely occupied by each other.

Our friends cooked several meals for us, which was so lovely. They are excellent cooks and they put in the kind of attention to detail that makes you (me) kind of well up with love and appreciation. For instance, they made this delicious baked brie with a completely decadent topping of honey and nuts and raisins and sultanas. And my friend made these little heart cutouts in pastry dough and put them on top of the baked brie before she baked it. It was so sweet and so lovely. I wish we lived nearer to them.

Spending time with another family in their house, you get a good sense of how differently families can run. First of all, I love that little glimpse at other people’s lives, just on a voyeuristic level. I am fascinated by how Other People Do Things. Secondly, you can get some good ideas for how you can do things better/differently. For instance, they spend almost the entire weekend outside. Instead of using that time to run errands and loaf around the house doing laundry, they go to the petting zoo and then they go hiking and then they go to the beach and then they find a parade to watch and then they go to the farmer’s market. While that is, to me, Super Expert Level Activity, I really like the idea of doing it on maybe a Beginner’s Level. I can do errands during the week and then we can all go out and have fun over the weekend. (My husband and I were better about doing that when Carla was younger, because she needed physical activity or she was bouncing off the walls. She’s more mellow these days.)

But the other thing that’s interesting is seeing what kind of household rules another family has. And, while interesting, there’s also some potential for conflict, when you are trying to reinforce family rules that might be different from your friends’.

Can we stipulate that there are all sort of things that a particular family might find important or not important? And that every family is different, and values different things? And that just because I value one thing doesn’t mean that I am secretly judging you for not prioritizing that same thing?

In general, I feel that if you are a guest at someone’s house, you follow their rules. Like… if there’s a house rule that you take your shoes off at the door, you do that, even if you think it’s ridiculous. If there’s no eating food in the living room, you don’t eat food in the living room. Right?

And that’s all well and good… but what if the other family has a VOID where your own rules are?

Here’s an example. At our house, one of the family rules is that you stay at the table until everyone is finished. But when we were at our friends’ house this weekend, they let their kids sort of wander off whenever they felt like it. So… what am I, as a parent, supposed to do? Because we’re at someone else’s house, we operate under their family rules… even if the rules go directly against what we do in our own family?

We also have a rule that you don’t start eating until the whole family is sitting at the table. So when Carla grabbed a piece of bacon off the tray and started eating it while my friends were still cooking breakfast and while my husband and I were still setting the table, I scolded her. And she was outraged, because, she pointed out, my friends’ daughter had ALSO taken a piece of bacon from the tray! She was just following her friend’s lead! And my friends (the parents) just shrugged. Oh well, they said. They’re kids. They’re hungry. We shouldn’t have put a tempting tray of bacon on the table like that. (At that point, I felt like an asshole. Like I was one-step-removed chastising their kid, and also them, for not having the same rule.)

There was a LOT of this kind of thing, over the weekend. Where Carla would do a thing that I would normally not let her get away with. Climbing on the furniture, for instance. Or eating candy at breakfast time. Or not holding a grown up’s hand in the parking lot. But when I pointed out to her that she was breaking a rule, she would get all incredulous, because she was just doing what our friends’ kids were doing!

I don’t know what to DO in that kind of situation. Part of me wants to shrug and say something like, “When in Rome.” Or, “We are on vacation, so we can relax the rules a little.” But another part of me shrieks, “Consistency!” and then I get probably a little bit self-righteous, alongside my confusion. I’m not teaching Carla anything earth-shattering.  But these are things I want Carla to learn, and want her to do even when she’s at another family’s house. Even when other kids are doing the opposite. (Right? That’s why we teach our kids things! So that when they grow up or are away from us, they still behave in the way we deem best.) And I also want her to understand that she needs to be responsible for her own behavior, even if other kids are behaving differently. At some point, it starts feeling Big and Important and Critical. Like, if I don’t crack down now on her saying “Well, I’m going to eat candy because Pearl is eating candy!” that in ten years she’ll be saying, “Well, I’m going to try cocaine because Pearl is trying cocaine!” and “Well, Isla thinks it’s okay to send nude photos to her boyfriend, so I’m doing it too!” and “You weren’t there to tell me not to rob this bank, but Emmett was robbing it, so I did it too!” and then her life is ruined.

Maybe what needs to happen is a Pre-Visit Conversation, where I anticipate this kind of thing. And I sit Carla down and remind her that families are different, and have different rules and values, and that we mustn’t forget to abide by the rules that are important to our own family.

But even that feels… sticky. Because some rules are just naturally not as important as others. For instance, if the other family DOES wear shoes in the house, I am fine with Carla wearing shoes in their house. Even though we have a “no shoes in the house” policy. In that case, I’m fine with going with the other family’s way of doing things. Same with… watching TV at meal times. Or eating in the living room. Or whatever.

Why do those feel different to me than the “sitting at the table until everyone is done” policy? Hmm. I suppose there are many categories of rules, and some are important and immoveable while others are more flexible.

Let’s see. The “holding hands in the parking lot” thing is a safety issue, so that’s easy enough to categorize: Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Well, it’s easy for me to categorize, although it may be much more confusing to a five-year-old.

The “don’t eat until everyone is at the table” thing seems to me a matter of manners. So maybe that’s another category: make sure you still maintain your manners at someone else’s house. Say please and thank you, even if the other kids don’t. Pick up after yourself, even if the other kids don’t. Stay at the table until everyone is done, even if the other kids don’t (well, unless the parent says specifically that you can be dismissed). And it goes the other way, too — if the other family has manners-specific rules that you don’t have, you should adhere to them too. I had an elementary school friend whose family rule was that you eat every thing on your plate at meal times, which seems like a manners issue to me. And so in cases where “manners” are involved, you defer to the “good manners” option. I’m describing this in such a clunky way. I think what I mean is, it would be considered impolite to the other family, if you didn’t clear your plate. So in that case, you do the polite thing and clear your plate, even though there’s no “clear your plate” rule in your own family. (Man, that was the WORST rule for me. You may recall that I am super picky eater. It made me never want to eat at my friend’s house.) This is probably an Intermediate Level type of rule following, because it requires the ability to infer the other family’s reaction to following or not following the rules. I mean, if you go to someone’s house and they all say grace before dinner, but that’s not part of your own belief system… I don’t think you should have to say grace out of fear that the other family will find you rude. (You do have to be still and quiet and respectful during grace, like, not grabbing a handful of bacon while grace is being said.) But that’s something that you might not know/think about when you’re ONLY FIVE. I know, I am getting way ahead of myself on some of these things. And also this whole paragraph is confusing me even though it came from MY brain and I’M writing it so I’m going to move on.

Can I say how HARD it is to talk about this, without sounding/feeling judgmental? I know we made all sorts of stipulations at the beginning of this post, but maybe you, like I, have forgotten that. Or maybe you are, like I am, feeling a little uncomfortable about spelling out all these things that other people may or may not do. I am feeling a little panicky that you might be thinking, “Oh no! I never make my kids wait until everyone is done eating before they leave the table!” and worrying that that disqualifies you from Friend Consideration. No! No no no! I cannot express how much I DO NOT CARE if your children are required to stay at the table until the meal is over. They are kids. Let them go play while the grown ups linger over wine and second helpings of zucchini. It’s not a big deal. You would think that, because it is a rule in my own home, I would have strong feelings about it. But I do not. I think we made it a rule to help encourage Carla to develop the skill of sitting and doing something she finds boring. It’s a skill that will help her in many situations, from the classroom to the line at the bank, and I think her pediatrician or a teacher recommended it some years ago, and so it has become part of the family custom.

Similarly, we have the “no shoes in the house” rule, but that’s almost purely because I do not like to wear shoes or socks and I hate the feeling of grit on my feet that comes from people wearing their shoes in the house. If you like wearing shoes in YOUR house, great! My parents wear shoes in their house, and it works for them, and I wear shoes when I visit them and all is well.

And I know I made a big deal, earlier, that “holding hands in the parking lot” is a rule that falls into the “Things That Are Dangerous” category. And so I must be thinking that you care nothing of your child’s safety if you don’t hold her hands. No! Of course not! Some of my friends have children who walk calmly and slowly next to them at all times. Some of my friends have children who are extremely cautious and point out a car coming several blocks away. My particular brand of child is able to spot a roly-poly on a leaf fifty yards away but will not see a car barreling toward her down an otherwise empty street. I also have the brand of child who is prone to dashing and leaping and twirling, with no consideration for her surroundings or the presence of motor vehicles. So for HER, the holding hands thing is really important.

On the other side of the fence, I do NOT have a rule that you have to try every food that the host provides. Or even that you have to try every food on your plate. But if YOU have those rules, I get it! Those are GOOD rules! I see their value! If I could persuade Carla to try a single bite of every food without a Drawn-Out Epic Battle of Wills, I totally would institute that rule at our house. Or maybe I wouldn’t, because I am super picky and I would never want to have to try something like a stewed tomato, so I wouldn’t want to have a rule that I would be in danger of breaking.

I do not think anyone is inferior OR superior for having different rules than I do, is what I’m saying. They’re just different.

Sometimes, I worry that I have too many rules. It’s possible, I acknowledge that. But I had a lot of rules, growing up. And I turned out to be very good at following rules, which doesn’t seem like a bad thing. (And I still maintain a level of independence and creativity and ability-to-question-rules, I hasten to add!)

My parents had a Good Living Room and a Good Dining Room that we weren’t allowed in, except for special occasions. And I wasn’t allowed to have my door shut if there was a boy in my room. And I couldn’t leave anything on the stairs. And I couldn’t leave the doors open (unless there was a screen door in its place). And I had to turn the lights off any and every time I left a room. And many others. It’s kind of funny to think back, to all those rules, and think about which ones stuck and which ones I threw immediately to the wind once I moved out of my parents’ house.

These days, I shut the door to my bedroom ALL the time, even though there’s almost always a boy in here! I am so getting away with things!!!

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Carla has decided that, when she grows up, she wants to be a zookeeper. A zookeeper with a cat for an assistant.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Carla. She loves animals more than anything in the universe. She chooses videos of animals whenever I give her the chance to watch something on my computer. She prefers stuffed animals over dolls, and her favorite game of late (read: past year and a half at least) is playing “Kitty,” wherein I count to ten, she hides, and then she pretends she’s a cat and I have to bring her home and teach her to do tricks. (The reward for the tricks is Goldfish crackers, obviously.) If I hand her my phone in the car or in the grocery store, she will keep herself busy googling pictures of whatever animal is most on her mind (mountain lion, giraffe, porcupine, praying mantis, armadillo). She has no innate fear of animals: she loves snakes and lizards and insects as much as she likes the fluffier, cuddlier critters.

If I had to choose her FAVORITE animal, though, I’d say dog.

She claims she likes cats best – and maybe she does; that’s certainly the animal she pretends to be. She seems to play with her stuffed cats most often. Cats star in her favorite online videos. But she hasn’t had much real-life experience with cats.

Dogs, on the other hand…

Dog

I don’t actually know this dog. But it hasn’t gotten the memo that I am firmly and forever A Cat Person. It’s very cute, though. 

Carla’s first experience with a dog was at her great grandmother’s funeral. Well, to be more accurate, the reception after the funeral; this wasn’t the type of mortuary that has dogs wandering around, although that sounds like it would be quite comforting. She was not quite a year old, and she fell in love with the dog who lived at the house where the reception took place. And she followed it around the ENTIRE TIME we were there. It was some sort of golden retriever and so it was big enough that it could knock her over with a wag of its tail. She loved it and I think it launched a passion for dogs that has so far only continued to blossom.

My parents have a dog, and Carla has been OBSESSED with him since she first met him. She will follow him around constantly. She has to be touching him at all times. Whenever she’s not with him – even if that means she’s sitting at the table eating breakfast and the dog is on the other side of the room – she has to know what he’s doing. Even though we were all in the same room together, she would insist on narrating what the dog was doing. “He’s licking his paw!” she would crow to my mother, who was sitting several feet away from the dog. “He’s sleeping!” she would announce to my father, who was literally at that moment petting the dog. When we are away from my parents and Carla mentions them – I miss them, I love them, I wonder what they’re doing – she never omits the dog. When we talk about members of her family, she lists the dog right up there with her uncle and aunt and grandparents and cousin.

We are lucky to live on a quiet cul-de-sac that has MANY dogs. One dog lives next door. Another lives across the street. Another lives across the street and three doors down. There are four others that live at the north end of the street, and three more that live at the south end. Plenty of dogs in close proximity.

Which is great!

But it’s also raised previously unknown-to-me etiquette concerns. What is an ideal Dog Neighbor Relationship supposed to look like? What are the appropriate Dog Neighbor Boundaries? How can we be good and non-irritating Neighbors to Dogs?

To make matters more complicated and uncertain, I do not like dogs.

Perhaps this changes your mind about me. I’m sorry if it does. But dogs are not my thing. I do not like how slobbery they are. I don’t like the licking. I don’t like the idea of picking up another creature’s excrement. I don’t like the hair or the scent or the forced walking.

Listen, I’m not going to be mean to a dog. I will say hello to a dog as I pass it on the street. I will happily look at your dog pictures. I will even, on occasion, pet one. I can appreciate a dog. I certainly want YOU to love dogs.

But I bring this up because I don’t really know anything about what it means to HAVE a dog. To be a Dog Owner. I mean, I grew up with dogs… but they were outdoor-only dogs and they had the run of our many-acre property so there wasn’t any pooper-scooper action or even any walking to be done. I never went to a dog park. My parents were responsible for the brushing and the feeding. They kind of existed at the periphery of my attention.

This means that I’ve had to learn, from scratch, how to interact with other people’s dogs. I’ve always sort of thought of Dog People as sociable types, who enjoy being outside with their dogs, who bask in sharing their Joy of Dogs with other dog lovers. So when Carla learned to walk, and we’d be out and about in the neighborhood, I thought nothing of allowing her to pet our neighbors’ dogs.

(Note for the concerned: I have always taken great care to teach Carla about Dog Safety: asking the dog’s owner before touching a dog; allowing the dog to sniff your hand first; preferred places to touch the dog; steering clear of dogs alone on their lawns, protecting their homes; being alert to signs that the dog is frightened or upset – ears laid back on the head, tail between the legs, growling.)

At first, it was easy enough – and, frankly, tiny Carla was adorable enough – to get away with a lot of dog attention. Our neighbors were very indulgent. But as Carla’s gotten older and more autonomous – and ever more obsessed with dogs – it’s gotten more uncomfortable. For me, I guess I should say. I have no idea how the neighbors feel. I am just assuming that their patience with Carla and our constant Dog-Related Interruptions is wearing thin.

For instance, Carla would see a dog in its yard as we walked past and would call out to the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or she would see a dog passing the house and would run to the door shrieking after the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or, worst of all, she would see a dog owner arriving home, and would call out, “Can you bring your dog outside?” Anytime we glimpsed one of the dogs on our street, Carla would make a beeline for it. And then she’d foist attention upon it – to the exclusion of all other things, like neighbors asking her kind questions about what she’d done in school that day, or like her mother noting that we’d need to leave in two minutes to go eat dinner – until the point where I would physically extract her from the situation, sometimes with accompanying tears and/or screaming.

Delightful, right?

Our kind, patient neighbors would usually acquiesce to her doggy demands with gracious kindness. But it makes ME feel like such an imposition. And an over-indulgent parent. And a person who doesn’t understand proper Dog Boundaries. AND a Bad Neighbor.

In maybe the past six months, we’ve instituted a new “rule,” which is that we only ask if we can pet someone’s dog if we encounter it on a walk. As in, if the dog is walking with its owner and we are walking. If we are on a walk and we pass by someone’s house, even if the dog and its owner are sitting outside on the lawn, we will not bother them. The rule is accompanied by a stern reminder that we need to pet the dog for short time, and when the dog owner or I say it’s time to go, we need to leave immediately and with no tears.

So I am trying to teach her about privacy and boundaries and all the things that are important to me. And we’re having success!

But it’s HARD. Because she LOVES THOSE DOGS. And sometimes, before I can remind her of the rule, she calls out – across the street, down the block, out of a car window – “CAN I PET YOUR DOG?” And then the neighbors feel obligated to comply.

In those cases, I usually explain to Carla that it’s not the right time, remind her of our rule, etc. And guide her away from the dog. But occasionally, the dog owner will say something like, “It’s okay,” and then Carla gets to pet the dog anyway. And I die quietly of humiliation.

Because I never know what’s appropriate, you know? I never know if I am being too strict with my own boundaries, or if I’m reading the situation correctly, or if I am totally overthinking things, or if I am being way TOO lax with what I allow Carla to ask and do.

The other day, we walked a few blocks to the post office. On the way, we noticed that our neighbor was walking his dog – about half a block in front of us. I reminded Carla of our rule, and told her if we crossed paths, she could ask if she could pet his dog. So Carla took off running. I had her stop and come back, but of course she wanted to catch up to the neighbor dog. At one point, the dog stopped to sniff a tree and we were within a few yards. So she yelled, “Hello, Mr. Neighbor! Can I pet your dog?” (I am also trying to teach her to acknowledge the person and not simply the dog.) But he was wearing earphones and didn’t hear.

I knew he had seen us though; we’d exchanged a wave. And I also knew that he KNOWS Carla and her dog obsession. I wondered if he was purposely staying ahead of us so he didn’t have to deal with Carla. And then I began to panic that he might think we were following him. No! We were just going in the same direction! Fortunately, he veered off one way and we went the opposite direction to the post office.

But of course, on the way home, we spotted him. I told Carla that we would probably cross paths and that she could say hello and ask to pet the dog. But he STOPPED, on the other side of the street. I don’t know why. To avoid us? Perhaps. (Panic, panic.) But we had to cross the street anyway, and then he was maybe five yards away, and she had been so patient and so rigorous in sticking to the rules, so I let her go up to him and say hello and pet the dog. Our neighbor was very pleasant about it. But sweet amaryllis did it make me anxious, intruding on his walk like that! If it had been up to me, I would have assumed that he was keeping his distance on purpose, and then I would have waved, stayed on my side of the street, and walked briskly to my house.

As an introverted person with, shall we say, Very Strong Boundaries, it is extremely uncomfortable for me to try to navigate these types of situations appropriately – and even worse when I have to teach my boundary-light daughter how to do so. What’s the right thing? What’s overstepping? What’s too much Dog Joy vs. not enough?

I think Carla is going to win lots of friends in the neighborhood when she gets old enough to be a dog walker. But until then, I guess I will just keep bumbling my way through Neighbor Dog Relationship Issues.

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