Monday, February 27, 2012

The Other Tiger Mother

My kid got into trouble today, before school had even started. We were in the chaos of the assembly hall, and another girl from her grade asked her to "come see something". My internal red flag went up (the girl is a bit of a trouble maker), but my daughter was gone before I could distract her. A few minutes later the other girl returned, solo. I asked her where my daughter was, and she pointed and said "back there".

"Where", I thought, "hanging from a hook in boy's bathroom? Standing with her pants down in the broom closet?Covered in pig's blood in the gym? Sold into white slavery?WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY KID?".

I waited a beat, and there she came. She was clearly upset and buried her head into my fattened weekend gut. I asked her what happened. She shook me off, tears in her eyes. I asked what she had "seen". She shook me off again, avoiding eye contact. I knelt down, face to face, and demanded to know what had happened. She told me that they went to the classroom to see the coral.
Oh, okay, and that was upsetting because....? 
The teacher got mad because they weren't supposed to be in the classroom yet..and the other kid "made her go in".
Ahhh, here we go. The good old Twinkie defense. First, it's breaking the rules of classroom etiquette, next it's Lois Duncan's "Killing Mr. Griffin". Fucking peer pressure.
While punishments for bad behavior occur regularly at home, my child never gets into trouble at school, so this was new territory. I explained, briefly, that no one "makes" us do anything, and that we have to be clear about who we are and what we stand for with regard to "the rules". I explained about personal responsibility and how we don't blame others when we break said rules. I briefly touched on the importance of not feeling pressured to follow other people if we don't  agree with what they are doing. I know, most adults can't grasp any of it, but it was worth a shot. She sort of got it and went to get in line. I mentioned our chat to the teacher, who took a moment to explain to my kid that she was not mad, but that she has to uphold the rules. She stood, patted my kid's head, smiled at me and said "You are a good mom". I smiled back and thought, "isn't this what everyone does?"

See, I come from the "get involved" school of parenting, meaning that if I see my kid behaving badly, I address it. I don't think that qualifies as good or bad, it is just part of the job description. If I see other kids spitting off the play structure or punching each other in the face, I tell them to stop. Perhaps this makes me overbearing, but I don't much feel like stepping in their spit, or blood, any more than my kid does. Not everyone does this. I have had many play dates where the other kid is, for example, hitting my kid with a wooden block, repeatedly. I will always step in, remove the offending block, and explain to the other child that hitting with a wooden block isn't nice and is actually kind of dangerous. The other parent would often say "we usually just let the kids work it out". "Really", I want to say, "no wonder your kid has dead eyes and zero charm, manners or social graces". 

You have to teach them how to behave.

Letting them "work it out"  sounds like a terrific modern parenting idea, but have you read "Lord of the Flies" lately? I have no intention of letting my child end up with her figurative head on a figurative stick because she needs to learn how to "work it out". She is only six and half, still believes in Santa and, despite my best efforts, thinks that heck is a bad word. How on earth is she supposed to "work it out" with a kid who has malice in his/her dark little heart and actively wants to do her emotional and/or physical harm? She wouldn't really understand what was going on until something bad happened( sort of like today) because she has no frame of reference for it. We don't tolerate that shit in my house. Cruelty is never acceptable. Meanness for its own sake is not allowed.

My kids are far from perfect, but, to the best of my knowledge, they are not Mean Little Fuckers.  I like to think that I would know if they were, and then I'd hover like a cheap Motel 6 blanket to nip that nonsense in the bud.  I did get a little paranoid recently talking to the parent of a notorious Mean Little Fucker, who was lamenting that her daughter's feelings get hurt at their school because the "other kids are so mean". I was astonished at the complete lack of awareness of her own child's Leona Helmsley-esque qualities, traits which have been apparent to everyone else since birth. Luckily, we have never had issues with her kid, but how can she be so blind? How does that behavior not make its way home? Has no one mentioned her child's penchant for making other kids miserable?

Perhaps that is the root of the problem: no one wants to point the finger, to say anything, to sit in judgment of other people's kids, to deal with it head on. They are all "just kids,after all, and kids can be mean". Well, yeah, but maybe kids wouldn't be so fucking mean if someone pointed out how shitty it is to be mean. Pretty easy concept, right? If your kid has a birthday party and you decide not to invite everyone in the class, do you want to know if he/she is teasing the uninvited kids about it? I DO! If your kid is actively planning to kill the Tooth Fairy, do you want to know that he/she is telling all the kids about his/her Spring Break trip to the Tooth Fairy's hideout, and that all the kids who still haven't lost their teeth  are in a panic? I DO!  If your kid is being possessive and aggressive on the playground and scaring the other kids, don't you want to know about it? I DO. I want to know so I can tell them to cut that shit out, NOW.

I vote for full disclosure and calling it what it is: MEAN. Not so much the Tooth Fairy stuff, which is kind of hilarious, but the "you're not invited to my party" stuff is just awful. Kids this age don't need to contemplate the complexities so humorously detailed in Mindy Kaling's book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) just yet. Most of them are still thrilled by the sight of a rainbow and about the prospect of getting dessert if they eat all of their dinner. Do we need to introduce them to the world of cattiness, exclusion and cruelty just yet? I have come to terms with the fact that other people I like are hanging out without me, and I am generally okay with it, but those people aren't circling me on the playground the next day and telling me about the amazing Indian food they had without me, either.

I think I am poised to become a playground vigilante, taking after a close female relative who often took things into her own hands. She once pulled aside someone else's mean five year old and hissed some vaguely threatening and deeply truthful things in her ear:
"Listen, you little bitch, you leave my daughter alone.You are just jealous because my daughter is prettier than you are and better at everything than you are". 
Now that's what I call a Tiger Mother.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sudden Dog Syndrome:Part 3

The saga of dog continues....
He had a pretty good week.When Friday came, the trainer gave him the thumbs up.We all breathed a sigh of relief. Frankie was a keeper. It had all been worth it. In a few short weeks, with the help of a lovely patient trainer, he would be sitting, lying down, rolling over. He would not be straining at the leash when we took walks or lunging at diminutive Asian men who looked curiously at his barking rage as they passed, smiling that such a small, fat, dog could exhibit so much bravado.
He lay in his bed, post training session fatigue mixed with what looked like euphoria-finally, acceptance. He was official.
I went upstairs to run the bath, leaving Big downstairs while Little raced up in front of me. As the faucets turned on, I called for Big to come up for bath time. She let out a yelp and came up to the landing,crying.

"HE BIT ME!!".

Exasperated and assuming it was another warning nip like the many that had come before it, I went down and said casually "Did he make contact?". She nodded. I looked at her extended forearm. I saw the bite marks, then saw red. I stomped down stairs and pulled Frankie into his crate, shutting the door, hissing "baaaadddd ddoooooggggg...." about a million times. He looked guilty and kind of contrite, but he was probably thinking about hot dogs. I took Big upstairs and put hydrogen peroxide on the  puncture wound, hearing my sister's words in my head "nearly 85% of dog bites get infected and require emergency room treatment". Frankie better pray that it didn't come to that because the idea of going to Cedars on a Friday night with two kids was as close to Hell as I never hope to come.
I let him out of the crate after a few minutes, primarily because his whining was really irritating, but mostly because it was serving no purpose to confine him- he'd forgotten all about it. How nice to be a dog-consequences are practically nonexistent since they have to occur in the nanosecond after the wrong to affect any change.
I sent a message to my husband,who was in Florida, and he called right away. I explained what happened and told him that Frankie probably had to go. This was technically strike two, though he had supposedly bitten several folks during the party we'd had the previous weekend. He asked me to wait to decide until he got back, but surprise, surprise, I had already decided. From the few Internet articles I had read, biting is a deal breaker when there are little kids involved. I also ran it by every single person I encountered for the next forty eight hours and not one person said " he sounds like a keeper". Strangely, Big was his greatest defender, insisting it was her fault that Frankie bit her. I guess we have a lot of codependent biting boyfriends to look forward to down the road?

Now, if you are on the side of keeping him, before you sit in judgement and think how lazy, thoughtless or casual we must seem with this whole rescue dog thing, let me remind you that we are not strangers to vicious beasts in our fold. We had a cat named Milo that wandered up one day a few years back, and he was quite possibly the meanest, most cunningly aggressive cat I have ever encountered. I found out recently that his attitude might have stemmed from run-ins with  a teen serial killer a few doors down who was supposedly dispatching the local strays in hideous sadistic killings that went largely unreported. Maybe he'd escaped Lil' Dahmer a couple of times and had become accustomed  to fending off human predators? All scratches, bites, attacks on in-laws aside,  we did not give up on him. He did remain an outdoor cat for fear of the inevitable Inspector Clouseau/Cato relationship that would develop with all of the hiding places in our house- and those claws were razor sharp since I couldn't get near him to pet him, let alone to trim his claws.
He died almost a year ago- a car hit him on a dark night right in front of our house. We miss him dearly, but more in theory than in practice- he was a pain in ass to have around.
The same will not be said of Frankie. He was not such a pain in the ass after all. He had become a joy to have around, his clackety clacking endearing, his barking appreciated (well, a little), but his hostility was too unpredictable. At least Milo was consistent, like a Great White. Frankie was more like a ,well, like a dog I guess....

Any unresolved or residual feelings about sticking it out were eradicated this afternoon when Big came crying up the stairs in an oddly deja vu like moment.


Exasperated and assuming it was another warning nip like the many that had come before it, I went down and said casually "Did he make contact?". She nodded, and I looked at her extended forearm. I saw the bite marks,then laughed. Not at her, but at the absurdity of the moment.

Oops, he did it again... (not to mention that he is chubby and blond like Britney, too......)

I reminded her that we should be glad that the rescue lady was coming to pick him up in a few minutes.
Big laughed with me, through her tears, and then went a wrote a note that said:
"Dear Mom, I am not going, Love Frankie". What the fuck is wrong with her?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Sudden Dog Syndrome: Part 2

Well,it has been an eventful few weeks since Frankie the dog infiltrated our lives. Since my last self pitying post, things have slightly improved, but only after it got a whole lot worse. Hang on, the dog is barking......FRANKIE! NO BARKING!

Okay, so first, I realized that my "me" time was much much more important to me than I realized: I really like-no, NEED my alone time, A LOT, and this dog is having none of it. He follows me around the house all day long, clackety clackety clacking behind me, sniffing or begging for food, barking at passing school children, squirrels and pretty much any noise of any kind. And he will never grow up and go to school or even just away like the other people who live here, ever......Hang on, the dog is barking......Frankie! No!

He FINALLY stopped sleeping on the couch in the living room and mostly sleeps in his bed on the floor unless my husband has him across his lap on the playroom couch, where he usually spends the rest of the night snoring,farting and caking the faux fur pillows that live there with his very real and very sticky tape resistant blond fur. This same hair ends up on the black clad asses of every family member who happens to perch there, which is everyone, so we all leave for school/work/gym every morning looking like we slept in a barn. I already feel schlubby and disgusting most mornings from lack of sleep,too much wine and not enough exercise so being coated with dog hair certainly does ice the ugly cake. He usually tries to force his way into the car,which, if I give in, means I can't do anything after I drop off the kids except walk him, which I sometimes don't want to do. He panics if left alone in the car, despite having the radio playing soft rock and two of his favorite toys. I also can't figure out how to disarm the alarm, which means leaving it unlocked, which means he might escape if someone tries to open the door and take my car or anything in it.
 If I leave him home, he will stay in his bed quietly,which is vast improvement over the continuous howling and barking jag from week Two. He rushes me when I return home, leaping and yipping. He grabs a toy and runs after me, desperate for a playmate, attention, my soul. This adorableness is supposed to fill my clearly shriveled heart with joy-but it doesn't. It only reminds me of how I used to come home to a scentless, hairless house and get to be alone with my OWN thoughts and do my OWN thing for a few blissful hours, uninterrupted by my loving slightly demanding family....SIGH.....

Second, he peed in my fucking eye. It was morning number five, I think, and he had taken a shit on the dining room rug, while we were all home standing in the next room. After I discovered it, I yelled for him. He came, dribbling pee as he skulked in. I scared him, I know that, but when I went to pick him up to take him outside where he is supposed to use the bathroom, it squirted up in my eye. Now, this would have been hilariously funny if not for the small fact that it just wasn't right then. My husband had a guffaw on hold-his lips were pursed, trying not to let it out in the face of my abject rage. I glared at him, rapidly coming undone. He did not laugh, more sort of coughed and cleared his throat a few times. I herded the kids into his car and off to school, then went inside and sobbed hysterically for fifteen solid minutes. Frankie sat in his bed and stared at me.  I am not the weepie type, but the frustration with all of it had peaked with the pee in my eye and the distinct feeling that this experience of having a dog would be much harder on me than I thought. I recovered and got on with my day. I left him home and spent a few hours doing errands and looking up information about dog training, reprimanding dogs, why dogs poop inside,why are dogs so annoying, why do people even have dogs etc. Sorry the dog is barking, hang on a sec....NO BARKING!!!!..Frankie!

That afternoon, when I returned home, there was a lovely bouquet of flowers on the front step. I went inside and, as Frankie jumped,clawed, yipped and went to get his toy, I read the card.

It said "sorry I pooped on the rug-Frankie".

For the first time since he arrived, I felt understood. It actually made me like Frankie a little bit more and feel a little less morose about the whole thing. I ran around the house with him, throwing the stuffed squeaky duck and letting him chase me to get it back. He wasn't so bad for a fat, stinky, barky little guy, and my husband scored major points for sending flowers on his behalf.

However, and this is the third dog related item wedged nicely in my craw: we had a party, and he BIT a whole lotta people. Most of the people(a lot of them CHILDREN) were "nipped" because they mistook his chubbiness for friendliness and pet him in the "wrong spot".
What? Seriously? Well, excuuuuuuseee me you ungrateful little turd, but maybe the house where they fed you to the point of immobility is where you'd prefer to be?  
A friend of mine had seen him eating a chicken wing that he had nabbed off some one's plate. She thought it might be better for me if she just let him choke on it- terrible tragedy, mourn for awhile and go back to my life as it was? Sounded good to me and, if not for the broken hearted children, I might have agreed to look the other way. The second chicken wing he got hold of was confiscated by a brave soul who he sank his teeth into, leaving puncture marks on the fleshy part of her hand, just under  the thumb. She was incredibly cool about it but Jesus Christ, I used to watch Animal Rescue, and dogs that bite when their food is threatened are not considered adoptable, at least not in New York City.Oh, wait- is that what the adoption place meant by "he can get a little snappy"?.......SHUT UP FRANKIE!!!

Every time we have a set back such as the biting, the indoor shitting, or the excessive barking/hair/ass wiping on rug, I tend to return to my original mantra of "why on earth would we get a dog?", but, alas, it is simply too late. I have had a great time shocking and horrifying my friends, who all fall in love with Frankie on sight. I shrug and say"Frankly, I can't stand him....". It is kind of an homage to Louis CK and how he calls his kids assholes. Initially shocking, and probably true some of time, but deep down he loves them, so what is the big deal? Frankie does't speak English, and I am speaking the truth, sort of, though I can't really comment on the deep down I love him part just yet....NO BARKING FRANKIE!!!!

Anyway, so now, naturally,  the onus is on ME to fix this dog problem via expensive trainers and precious time spent focusing on his needs, wants and behaviors. Training this dog is now my pet project, primarily so we don't get sued by someone or incur massive plastic surgery bills because one of our kids wants her stuffed animal back.  And I resent the hell out of it. There. To be continued.....