Thursday, July 30, 2009

Confessions of a beta mom

I’m just going to flat-out admit it. On Monday I was secretly plotting about whether we might somehow give our newly adopted puppy Harvey away. It was one of the darkest thoughts I've ever had, but there it was.

Harvey had suddenly started some relentless biting (mouthing is probably the more accurate term, but it felt like biting to me, especially as I imagined the crazed pup baring his teeth into my 2-year-old). On the second day of this behavior, I was getting frantic wondering what this suddenly "aggressive" puppy who had already doubled in size in two weeks would do to Will and Owen as he and his teeth continued their exponential growth. I was trying to follow the advice of books and vets, and assert myself as alpha dog when Harvey tried to bite me. I’d hold his muzzle and shake him, shake his scruff, even fold his lip under his tooth so he was biting himself – and I’d bark “No bite” in my lowest, toughest voice. But I’m no alpha dog, and Harvey knew it, and he’d come right back at me. After a dozen or so rounds of bites that made me wince and harsh reprimands that sometimes left him yowling (but still had him coming back for more), finally I’d leave the scene and go collapse on the living room couch in tears.

I found myself teary-eyed throughout the day, regretting our decision to get him, wondering if possibly Rob’s dad might want to raise him if we waved our hands in surrender (knowing full well that Rob never would consent to give our new puppy away). But I was feeling suddenly defeated, in a way that I’m not sure I’ve ever felt. Mostly I was worried that our birthday present to Owen was going to turn against him sometime before I could intervene. It was my mother hen instincts tearing me up.

Then Monday night I had a heart-to-heart with my cousin, who’s recently survived his first year of new puppy ownership with a toddler in the house. We commiserated a lot on our respective possibly foolhardy decisions, and then he helped me find my way back to a strategy Daniel Pinkwater had advocated in his book “Super Puppy: " Rather than trying to fight bites with aggression I could yelp “Yipes” like an injured dog when Harvey bit (I’d tried this before with relatively little success) and then follow up by turning away from Harvey, folding my arms and ignoring him. On Tuesday this combined yipes-ignore strategy worked magic, and I suddenly realized that Harvey was a sweet misunderstood pup who’d of course only been trying to play with me. So now I’m back to loving him deeply (although still occasionally wondering what the heck we were thinking getting him before Owen was out of diapers).

Whether it’s with dogs or kids, I can’t pull off punishment well. It just doesn’t feel authentic to me. I’m a love-and-logic person. When I thought I had to punish Harvey for biting by getting into physical contests with him, I started to fall apart emotionally. And then I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to hold together my parental patience for the boys either. The moment I figured out that I could let Harvey know in dog language that he’d hurt me and ignore him long enough that he’d understand I was in no mood to play rough, I was fine being a puppy parent again. I'm even kind of enjoying my new ability to yelp "YIPES!" like a dog.

I’m also learning how to talk comfortingly with Will and Owen about Harvey’s mouthing. They are learning to keep their distance when he’s in a playful mood, but they know he’s just a baby learning not to chew on everything he encounters. Will, who has generally been terrified of dogs, is quite comfortable petting Harvey or holding his leash when he's in a mellow mood -- and he seems to already be learning how to read his puppy. And even if Owen asks to be put up high in a chair when he enters the kitchen with Harvey, he still loves to be around him.

“Harvey likes me,” Owen says with confidence. And he does.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Snapshots in the sand

I'm beginning to wonder if our beach trip (which included six hours in the car) somehow scarred poor Harvey, who put up with it all quite nicely during the journey but has since become quite the feisty nipper and snarler. (I'm still madly consulting dog training books and dog owners who I trust and I'm trying -- futilely -- to figure out how to turn my meek self into a dog dominator.)
So rather than dwell on that, I think I'll share some photos from the beach. Rob tends to start taking pictures in sepia when we do a beach trip. Maybe the sand inspires him. In any case, it always makes for a serene looking scene, and right now I need some serenity.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tails from the bark side

Today's Ledger-Enquirer includes a column about how we impulse-adopted our now 9-week-old puppy, Harvey.

I’m the kind of person whose instincts don’t always cut it when it comes to parenting kids and dogs. I look to books for guidance in the mysterious ways of young beings and then I proceed with caution.

So for months before Will was born, I was reading parenting books and considering the kind of parent I wanted to be. Sometimes it drove Rob crazy, but I learned a lot from the stories of other parents and doctors and experts, and it gave me a foundation for launching into motherhood.

But I didn’t anticipate our new dog Harvey’s arrival in our lives until about five hours before Rob brought him home. I did manage to jaunt out to the library in that short interval and grab a few books on puppies but they were all in the children’s nonfiction section, and I was thinking of the boys as they got them. There did happen to be one title “Super Puppy” that I picked up that was a sort of parent-child guide to raising puppies, which happened to be authored by Daniel Pinkwater, whose zany stories we learned to love on our road trip. We relied on the Pinkwater book quite a bit for our first couple days of ownership – and in fact Pinkwater became Harvey’s middle name. (His full name, Fireboat Harvey Pinkwater Addington, was Will’s way of paying homage to a fireboat named the John J. Harvey, that stars in a story we somehow acquired about a decades-old fireboat that came out of retirement to fight the ground zero fires after 9-11.)

We like to think that Harvey is destined for heroic greatness, but right now he’s mostly a chewing, peeing and poopin’ pup whose many problems we have not yet solved, because he is of course a young puppy. We are trying, though, and looking to models like Cesar Millan (of “Dog Whisperer” fame) and the Monks of New Skete (with their book “The Art of Raising a Puppy”) as we try to figure out how to “be the pack leader.” Right now Harvey’s still trying to lead our pack.

If you've ever trained periodically hyper-active, chewing puppies, I'd love advice from you -- or book suggestions.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beach photo album

We've been enjoying our time at the beach so much -- with twice-a-day beach and pool sessions -- that no-nap Will has been needing a nap on occasion. He's still in denial though so yesterday afternoon he insisted on dozing on top of the couch like Aunt Alicia's poodles like to do. He slept soundly in this position for over an hour.

The beach house (as we happen to know because we're nosy like that) formerly belonged to Tom Petty. And Tom happened to show up on the back deck, looking eerily like Papa in stature. Will got his autograph.
The boys flying kites with Papa before bedtime:

And Will petting Freda, after he chose her to be our horse guide for a tour of beautiful, storied downtown St. Augustine:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

To the beach

The boys and I our enjoying our first day at the beach after Papa agreed to bring us down here ahead of Rob. I’m not sure he quite realized he was signing up for six hours of nonstop road trip action – as the boys showed him their loudest, messiest and sometimes whiniest selves while never bothering to nap for a minute.

Today while Rob’s dad and sister slept in, I was filled with that perfect joy that comes from watching your kids romp on the beach, run from the waves, dig in the sand and look out on the vast ocean for the first time in almost a year. Every time I saw a dog pass, I got excited about bringing Harvey down to run on the sand. He’ll come down with Rob later in the week. After a hectic week of sorting out how to juggle two young kids and an untrained puppy who needs to relieve himself about once an hour, I was too tired to realize just how much I’d miss him when I wasn’t able to pet him once an hour.

Now my beach reading is “The Art of Raising a Puppy” by the Monks of New Skete – and the book begins by diving into the life of a new mother, a German shepherd, and following her closely as she brings five healthy pups (and one stillborn pup) into the world, and then cares for them in her first stages of life. I feel reconnected to my own first moments as a mother, and I think about just how tiny and helpless Harvey was just two months ago and how much he has grown already. With space to take a deep breath, I am so glad to be inviting a dog into our family. He is even forcing me to give more love to our sometimes neglected cat Frances , since every time I take Harvey out I also make a point of petting her in the hopes of easing some of her jealousy and anxiety.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Puppy parenting

Nearly one week into puppy parenthood, and I’m pooped.

Last night, I got up with Harvey at about 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. in the morning so that he could get out of his crate in our bedroom and have an outdoor pee. 6 a.m. was also the final wakeup call, for both Harvey and Owen. And this after I’d been out at Wal-mart until 11 at night, desperately picking up pet products that we hadn’t thought to acquire in our first round at Petsmart. These sleep-deprived nights feel eerily similar to have an infant in the house once again.

And my sanity is suffering. For each of the past three days, I’ve lost one of Harvey’s leashes for a significant lapse of time because I was so busy trying to figure out how to get reluctant pups and young boys inside or into cars while avoiding our potentially explosively jealous cat Frances that I abandoned the leash somewhere in the yard and forgot to return for it. And for each of the past three days, the boys and I have crossed the street for short walks and made it about a block and a half before Harvey decided to poop. I always realize at this moment that I’ve forgotten my poop scooping bag. So I keep having to trot across the street and return to the scene of the crime when I get a spare moment (often a few hours later) so I can hunt for the abandoned poop, pack it away, and ease my guilty conscience.

But I have hope that I will arrive at a more Zen-like state of puppy parenthood. Rob and I have been consulting books like Cesar Millan’s “Be the Pack Leader” and “The Art of Raising a Puppy” by the Monks of New Skete, that are giving us wonderful insight about how we could manage our pup if only we could carry it out as gracefully as it’s described. We are looking forward to delving into dog psychology, discovering our own inner dogs, and bonding more with Harvey – helping him join our pack.

I’ll share the full story of how we got Harvey and what it was like to bring him into our home in a Ledger-Enquirer column next Sunday. For now I’m packing for a trip to St. Augustine beach, where the boys and I are going with Rob’s dad and sister. I’m already dreading the idea of parting with Harvey, who will be staying home with Rob for a good chunk of the time.
Who knows, maybe I’ll even miss his 3 a.m. whimpers.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Two, going on six

First thing Saturday morning, Owen and I had a conversation about his birthday. It went like this:

“Happy Birthday Owen.”

“No, it not my birthday.”

“Yes it is. Guess how old you are, Owen? Two.”

“No, I not two. I five.”

“Did you know that Will’s going to be five years old on his birthday? Is that why you said that?”

“No I goin’ be five.”

Owen enjoyed a small but lively birthday party, and at cake time he sang happy birthday to himself right along with the crowd. Instead of blowing on his candles he showed off the work we’ve been doing on learning to spit toothpaste out in the sink – and he spit all over the cake.
Occasionally he admitted to being two over the course of the day, but mostly he stuck with five.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Another unpotty-trained male for the house

Meet Harvey Pinkwater Addington.
The story of how this 7-week-old lab-spaniel mix suddenly found his way into our home and hearts is coming soon.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Walk to the beat

Today Will and Owen and I were all seat-belted in the car, ready to go to a performance by percussion band Ritmo Blu – part of the Wonderful Wednesdays program at the Columbus Museum. But then the car wouldn’t start and Will and I were feeling simultaneously bummed. I looked back at Will and said, “Well if you want to go in the stroller, we can probably make the 10:30 show.”

He was excited and Owen was ready to see some drums too. So we launched off on our cross-town adventure with the jogging stroller, and some snacks and water. Will and Owen stayed reasonably cool under the shade of the stroller awnings and I didn’t start sweating like a pig until the midday return trip in the humid 85-degree heat. All in all, though, we loved our adventure. We got to hear percussion instruments from around the world -- and Ritmo Blu, with headman Dave Holland, are great at making music accessible to kids. I don’t remember ever going to a show where performers were so effective at getting the audience to dance in our seats.

And I liked the excuse to go on a long hike with the double stroller, especially since Will was happy to climb out and hike behind me on the steep hill leading to Wynnton road. I have half a mind to petition the city to create a semi-pedestrian friendly crossing at that crazy triangular intersection where Buena Vista and Wynnton roads meet. But since I may never again motivate to walk to the museum once my car’s working, I probably won’t bother. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to make a great midtown kid’s spot like The Columbus Museum easily accessible by stroller?

Back at home, Will made some percussion instruments for Owen’s birthday while Owen napped. So far Will's painted an oatmeal container drum and a begun work on a rain stick. Here are some ideas for music instrument crafts: “A to Z Kids Stuff” and “Preschool Percussion” (I'd like to try to bottle cap xylophone here, but we need to collect some bottle caps first.)

Monday, July 6, 2009

My quest for purposelessness

Today I cleaned the kitchen and made a lasagna while listening to this “Play, Spirit & Character” podcast of an interview with Stuart Brown, physician and director of the National Institute for Play. I’d been lured in after hearing a snippet of the interview last night on the radio program “Speaking of Faith.” Brown was discussing the importance of play – and even violent play in teaching children empathy. (He notes that all the murderers he has studied were deprived of rough-and-tumble play experience as children, and he describes how children learn that they shouldn't hit too hard after experiencing what it feels like to be hit hard themselves.) This sort of information always reassures me since I’m often pretending not to hear as Will and his playmates pretend to fight and kill each other in what seems to be very mutually enjoyable play.

So I went in listening as a mother and preschool teacher who is already sold on the importance of fostering lots of free play experience for my children. But soon I was thinking about adult play – and how sometimes as a mother I forget to play enough. (Brown's short definition of play is "pleasurable, apparently purposeless activity.") I’d been in my usual day-after-vacation funk, fighting a faint altitude headache and only beginning to conquer all of the piles of laundry and unmade dinners and dirty dishes that await me every day here. In Colorado (where my mother does almost all of the cooking and cleaning) I’d been enjoying hiking, swimming, nightly games of scrabble, backyard badminton, extra time for reading and, well, a lot more extra playtime than I’m used to. And here was Dr. Brown pointing out to me that play is a necessary ingredient for our spiritual/physical/intellectual well being as adults -- regardless of whether we’re on vacation or not. He counts reading and hiking as play too --- anything we can get lost in and enjoy. It's all obvious enough, of course, but sometimes I need to hear an intelligent person talk for 45 minutes on a topic before I remember to apply a basic principle to myself.

So I’m taking a post-vacation vow to make more time for play, even if it means just carving out more space for nighttime reading and taking more time to enjoy free time with Will and Owen -- even at the expense of neglecting some already neglected household chores.

If you’ve got time, listen to the interview. And if you don’t, still take two minutes to view this video (also on the Speaking of Faith web site) of a polar bear playing with huskies. It’s beautiful -- and a good reminder of just how primal our need for play is.