Archive for November, 2018

Well friends, I did it. A blog post a day for 30 days, more or less in a row. On the way, I figured out a few things:

  1. Mornings rule when it comes to writing.
  2. Feedback from readers is nice, but it’s easy to like it too much.
  3. I have more spare time than I thought I did.
  4. There is no end to ideas.
  5. Writing a book is a marathon made up of sprints, and I just sprinted 30 times.
  6. Technology is my writing BFF.
  7. Writing is a rabbit hole that’s good for me to go down.

From here, I’m going to do a minimum of one post a week, probably late in the week.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. Ta-ta for now.

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So. Many. Words.

The other day, my husband was telling The Boo to do something, and he was repeating himself, because The Boo is six, and was distracted like Doug in Up when he sees a squirrel. I get the impulse, and I do the same thing sometimes. I walked up to him (my husband) and quietly said, “Do you remember that thing about how when you say something to a dog over and over, they stop hearing it? Works the same way with kids.”

Sure, it was slightly obnoxious, but it was also true: many behavior modification techniques that work with animals also work with kids. Here are a few I use on a regular basis:

  1. Ignore the behavior you don’t want. Saying,”Oh my God WHY are you singing that song for the 80th time?” achieves exactly nothing. Except that maybe it amuses your kid and makes them sing that song for the 81st time. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked away from a tantrum. Lovingly, of course. “Come find me when you’re calm and ready to talk.”
  2. Praise the behavior you do want. “I love how you were so kind to that boy who was hurt!” “You have gotten so good at sharing!”
  3. Short, clear commands work; yammering away about what you want the kid to do doesn’t. “Socks. Shoes. Now, please.” Sounds mean, gets the job done. I use this technique when I’ve asked nicely once or twice; sometimes I just remind myself that “It’s time for socks and shoes” is better than “I’ve asked you over and over and you STILL haven’t…”
  4. Treats and rewards work. Find out what makes your kid tick and use that to pick a motivator. Stickers, screen time, whatever. We recently started a morning routine system where The Boo gets points for doing a series of tasks with minimal or no prompting. The points equal minutes of video game time after school. His idea, but I was on the verge of suggesting something similar. Every time I use this technique, The Boo forgets about the reward, but the new behavior sticks.
  5. Hand signals, body language, touch feedback, and eye contact. A huge percentage of communication is nonverbal. Use all of that to “read” your kid and to convey happy feedback as well as unhappiness with behavior. Ain’t nothing better than a warm hug from mom or dad, right?

Obviously, there are huge differences between kids and dogs, and different kids respond to the different techniques. These are just a few that have worked well for us.

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iPhone 3GS 010

Jim (L) and Georgie (R).

Fact: Once upon a time, a dog ate my kitchen.

Well, the wood parts of it, anyway.

Her name was Georgie. She was half rottweiler, half sneaky neighbor dog, and she was big, sweet and apparently anxious. I had gotten her as a puppy, on New Year’s Day. I was living with a guy at the time, and he went with me on the hourlong drive to get her. He had a dog, an enormous Irish Wolfhound mix named Gracie that I had trained because he never bothered and she liked to jump on people. So I was confident that I could handle a puppy.

A friend of a friend had a dog who’d had an unplanned litter, and the pups were gorgeous and sweet. There was one left, the runt, 10 weeks old, with a nick in her lower eyelid thanks to her mom. (Her brother Walker has lost an eye the same way.) She was great in the car and she puked in the back seat right as we pulled up to PetSmart for supplies. Because she had been living in the country, there was cow manure in the puke.

I began training her immediately; she was smart and eager to please. She liked to play a game where I hid something and had her sit and stay until I said “okay” to release her to find it. She loved tennis balls so much I could use throwing one as a training reward. She could balance a treat on her nose until I released her to flip it up and eat it. She was awesome.

Then she started eating my kitchen. I think it may have been around the time the other dog moved out with her loser of an owner. (Maybe he’s no longer a loser, but he fit the definition back then.) I found out later that her mother (the rottweiler) used to chew on rocks, which didn’t surprise me.

I talked to people with dogs and did some reading and learned that spraying Bitter Apple on things will prevent chewing. I went and got it, sprayed it everywhere, and she went on chewing. In desperation, I mixed dish soap with cayenne and painted it on all the areas she’d been gnawing. That worked. I also stuffed Kongs with wet kibble and peanut butter and froze them, then gave her one as I left for the day. She liked those so much I had to get her the black indestructible ones.

In the end, I got her a friend — Jim — and that was what really ended her lonely chewing festival. Together, they helped define an era of my life before marriage and kids. I took them on road trips, came home to them, bathed them in the tub (So. Much. Hair.) and used their names for my first email address. Georgie ended up having two knee surgeries; the man I married built her a ramp to help her get around and a friend told me, “he’s a keeper.” She died at a kennel, of shock brought on by gastric torsion, as I was coming back from an overseas trip. Jim had to be euthanized when my son was six months old and ready to crawl, and as an overwhelmed new mother I appreciated the timing. I didn’t always enjoy taking care of them, but I took my stewardship seriously.

Looking back, I think I never gave up on Georgie to make up for Cody.

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Day 27: A Dog Ate My Couch

For Cody.

Fact: Once upon a time, a dog ate my couch.

I was in my late 20s, sharing an apartment with a very sweet and funny bulimic friend and working full-time at a nonprofit for a part-time salary. The apartment was the bottom half of a beautiful old house. The landlord lived upstairs; she was nice, but understandably businesslike. I’m pretty sure the lease had a “no pets” clause. I don’t recall how we got around that.

Here are the other things I recall about that dog:

  1. He was a gorgeous German Shepherd.
  2. His name was Cody.
  3. He had been tormented by his previous owner’s white German Shepherd.
  4. He was very sweet.
  5. The couch destruction happened over the course of a couple of days, but the destruction was total.

I had never cared much for the couch — it was covered in awful floral fabric. It had come from either my roommate’s parents’ house or Goodwill. The couch wasn’t the issue. The issue was clearly the dog.

I would like to say we worked really hard to figure out why he was chewing. I would love to say we figured it out and addressed the underlying issues. Instead, I’m going to tell the truth: I drove him to a shelter and surrendered him. I didn’t mention the chewing on the paperwork because I wanted to give him a fighting chance of being adopted. I have no idea what happened to him.

I have never, ever, cried so hard as when I got back in my car.

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Day 26: It’s Silly

Well, here we are at the end of our Thanksgiving break, ready to wrap up five days of delightfully unstructured family time with a rousing round of Let’s Build a Native American Dwelling.

To be clear: I am thrilled that the school is including First Nations cultures in their curriculum, but I have some questions:

  1. What are the kids supposed to learn by making a model of a dwelling outside of school hours?
  2. Why not take them to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site? It’s half an hour away, it’s the site of the most sophisticated prehistoric culture north of Mexico, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  3. Is Cahokia too far? How about the museum on the grounds of the Gateway Arch?
  4. No time or money for a field trip? I get it, times are tough. How about having an actual Native American person come speak to the kids?
  5. Why is our family time, which is already scarce, being infringed upon by this task?
  6. Why doesn’t my kid understand why he’s being asked to do this project? (He doesn’t; I asked him and he said, “No.”)
  7. Why not have the kids work together as a group to build a life-size dwelling? And then eat lunch inside it? And talk about what it would be like to live in it, break it down, and put it up over and over?

Initially, The Boo had selected an Iroqouis Long House from the options on the assignment sheet. But when he realized that he’d have to give up some of his free time to do the project, he switched to the one he thought would be the easiest.

And that, friends, is why I’m spending a chunk of today helping my kid make a model of a tipi.

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Day 25: It’s Crazy

Someone else’s photo with my word. Credit where it’s due y’all!

A while back, A friend and I had a conversation about our husbands. There was a lot of laughter involved, and no we did not discuss anything dirty. I don’t remember what she told me about her husband, but I do remember the gist of one thing she said: People need to talk about their marriages more, so they realize that everyone’s marriage is crazy.

I like that philosophy. I like it a lot. And I think it applies to a lot more than marriages.

For example: I cyber-stalk stray dogs because I can’t have one right now. I go on PetFinder, I set my parameters, I scroll past all the ones that seem too high-maintenance, and then I find one that seems perfect. Good with kids, good with other dogs, not from a puppy mill, neither a puppy nor a senior dog because I don’t want another baby and I don’t want to lose a dog a year after I adopt it.

When I find a dog I like, I bookmark it. I don’t always tell anyone about it, because this is my private little crazyfest. Then I check on it every so often. Or talk myself out of checking on it. And then, one day, it’s gone. Adopted. Home.

This exercise in craziness has taught me a few things:

  1. There are stacks and stacks of people who want to adopt dogs, and therefore I don’t need to save every dog I fall in love with.
  2. There are stacks and stacks of great dogs, and therefore there is no rush.
  3. There is a shelter 10 minutes from my house that will happily talk to me about their dogs, all of which they know really well.

So maybe I’m not so crazy after all.

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Day 24: It’s Simple

So fascinating, right?

Years ago I read the excellently entertaining memoir Julie and Julia, wherein the author makes every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of the earliest chapters is all that’s really stuck with me. I believe it’s the one where she makes a simple potato-leek soup.

Actually, I lied. It’s not the chapter that’s stuck with me. It’s one thought within it: simple is not the same thing as easy. I can’t recall whether the soup turned out well (part of the fun of the book is that some of her efforts are not successful, so we readers get the thrill of struggle and failure without the effort). I suspect it didn’t, because of the nugget I remember.

Simple is not the same thing as easy.

I think of this sometimes when I’m in a parenting struggle — like getting my son to brush his teeth before bed. It’s simple, right? Brush your teeth, I’ll come floss and check a couple of spots, and then we can read. No. Simple, but not easy.

Why, you ask? Clearly, you are either not a parent, or have robots for children. Bedtime is bedlam, friends. Everyone is tired and just wants to go lay down or go get a glass of wine. And there are so many fascinating things between the bedroom and the bathroom. Heck, there are so many fascinating things IN the bathroom. Last night it was the washcloth I’d hung up to dry.

After the third or fourth time I’d asked The Boo to get started on brushing, he picked up the damn washcloth and just… looked at it. And I thought about what to do. Getting angry doesn’t help, even though anger is often what I feel at times like this. So I took a deep breath (oxygen DOES help) and went with logic: “Honey, more time brushing means less time reading.”

I’d like to say he responded to that immediately, but he didn’t. It still took a while before he decided to start brushing his teeth, so we spent less time reading, and he was not happy about that. Simple.

But not easy.

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How do you write about Thanksgiving without rehashing all the clichés that have come before? I’m not sure it’s possible. You’d have to avoid family recipes, family feuds, turkey disasters AND turkey triumphs. Thankfulness is out too of course, whether it’s an overabundance or lack thereof. And please please not another “what I’m thankful for” list.

But what about crowded grocery stores? Aha! There we go.

I do my best to avoid the Wednesday crush, but some of my nicest holiday moments have involved Thanksgiving Day supermarket dashes with my brother for forgotten butter or cinnamon or slivered almonds (he’s a fancy cook). I don’t recall the specific conversations we had in the car, or while waiting in line, just the feeling of spending time with him away from the rest of the family. I love them all dearly, but one-on-one time with a family member during a long weekend of group togetherness feels like a gift.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to Google “bacon maple brussels sprouts.”

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Day 22: It’s Lucky

Years and years ago, I planned a spelunking (cave exploration) trip with a group of girlfriends. We figured out what clothing and gear we would need, and I recall sleeping bags, so I think camping was on the agenda.

We set off in someone’s car, probably stuffing our faces with questionable snacks, and then we hit traffic. Crazy traffic, a standstill. We ended up turning around because we had lost the light (I think it was fall) and in addition to being bummed out about not having time to go spelunking, nobody wanted to pitch a tent in the dark. I think we may have gone to a bar instead.

Later (this was in the dark ages before smartphones) we found out that the traffic had been caused by a horrific accident. And that it had happened shortly before we would have been traveling that stretch of highway. We talked about how lucky we were, how easily it could have been different.

A similar scenario played out again a few days ago, with a much narrower time margin and much more dire consequences had I been in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, a traffic delay could have gotten me killed. And it’s made me think: if the difference between being fine and being in danger is just traffic and timing, is it possible to keep yourself safe? Or is safety just an illusion?

I do my best to be aware of my surroundings, take note of anything or anyone that seems weird, make sure I know where the nearest exit is if I’m in a large building. But that level of vigilance wears me out, frankly, and now I’m questioning how much my efforts matter. Also, I’m not interested in living in fear — my energy and time are limited, and I don’t want to waste either of those precious resources.

So I’ll just be over here, sharing a piece of cake with my kid, feeling lucky.

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“Yes, ba?”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, ba.”

This exchange happened about six times yesterday, and every time it was sincere and sweet. But after the sixth time, I decided to investigate.

“I noticed you’ve been telling me you love me a lot today. I love it, but I’m also wondering why.”

“Because I’m thankful for your love.”

They must be talking about thankfulness at school. Actually, I know they are because there was a worksheet on it in the weekly stack-o-paper that arrives on Fridays. And that’s one worksheet I may actually keep.

Yeah, shocker, I don’t keep every scrap of paper my kid brings through the door. I can’t. I’d have to rent a storage space by the time he hits second grade.

I go through The Stack with The Boo on Saturday mornings and talk to him about each sheet of paper, or try to. Sometimes he says, “You don’t need to worry about that,” in a dismissive tone I know he picked up from me. Sometimes he uses the phrase “dumb stupid” to describe a task, and I can’t say I blame him.

But sometimes, he tells me things about his work that shine a light on his experience at school. I learn what he likes doing (math) and what he doesn’t (most writing tasks). I find out what makes him proud (coming up with ideas on his own) and what gets him excited (finishing a math color-by-numbers page). It’s honestly nice to have a window into what he does for seven hours a day, because if I ask him point-blank about his day, I get a minimal reply.

So maybe, this Thursday, I should say I’m thankful for worksheets.

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