Coyote smorgasbord

Have you ever done something so completely idiotic that you even surprise yourself by your total lack of judgement? Well, welcome to yesterday morning.

As is often the case, I walked my 8 year old son, Eli, to the bus stop about two blocks from our house. I also chose to take our two dogs, Maggie and S’more along with us. Not surprisingly, I’ve never managed to leash train the two canines, so a “walk” with them is more like an amateur wake boarding competition.

We were the first to arrive at the bus stop. But we were quickly joined by several of the usual grade school suspects. I was the only parent. Suddenly, I looked up and spotted a vicious predatory mountain lion aggressively racing towards us. Well OK, it wasn’t exactly vicious, and it wasn’t actually a mountain lion. It was a…coyote, a mean looking, mangy coyote. But mangy means hungry, doesn’t it? And on second glance, it wasn’t really racing towards us, it might have been minding its own business. But it was like 20 feet away from us and didn’t seem at all put off by me, my dogs or the little folk beside me.

I grabbed both leashes tightly as my dogs yelped and pulled towards the wild beast. Clearly they weren’t afraid. But I was. It felt like a situation on the verge of going horribly wrong. I struggled to hold the dogs back and avoid a wildlife confrontation. The coyote passed us without incident and turned the corner a few houses down. “Eli,” I said, my voice still shaking, “I have to get the dogs home so they’ll be safe. I can hardly hold them back.”

Then I corralled my two pups and headed off in the opposite direction. As I approached our house, I breathed a sigh of relief realizing we were out of harms way. But then it hit me. I had just left a cadre of elementary school children unarmed and unprotected with a rabid coyote on the prowl. What the heck is wrong with me? Sure the dogs were safe. But Eli might have been served up as Wile E’s second breakfast.
I dropped the dogs at home and turned tail to head back to the bus stop. But a few yards down the block I caught sight of the yellow school bus leaving the neighborhood.
“Phew,” I relaxed knowing that the children were safe and on route to school. Unless of course one had been eaten prior to the bus’s arrival. I heard my therapist’s voice in my head insisting I employ logic when “worry brain” starts to take over. “Nonsense,” I reasoned, “I’ve never heard of a single case where a lone coyote chowed down on a school child.”

Just in case, I drove by the bus stop on my way to work. There weren’t any entrails or blood stained concrete. I was relatively certain that no child had met with an untimely fate. But I will confess that I felt a whole lot better at 3:30 when Eli bounded off the bus surrounded by his entire posse of bus stop buddies.

Well, you know what they say, parenting is one third knowledge, one third judgement and one third luck. So in those instances when you come up a little short in the judgement arena, just pray that you’ve got a surplus of luck to fall back on.
p.s. To those of you feeling the urge to report me to child protective services and write chastising letters to the magazine: no children were actually endangered in the writing of this article. Our local coyotes are as timid as mice and as vicious as common house plants.

Establishing boundaries!

It’s high time I started establishing healthy boundaries.

I have boundary issues. I never really knew this until recently when we invited our dog trainer to come to the house and assist us in curtailing some of our dog’s negative behaviors. I thought it was silly when she asked me go toe to toe with the sleeping pup at my feet. “But I’ll wake her,” I insisted.

“But she’s lying on your feet.” The trainer countered. “Just come around to the front of her and tell her to move.”

I reluctantly did as instructed and my adoring fur ball barely looked up at me. “Come on,” I said, “Move.” Nothing. Then the trainer walked up to her and sternly commanded her to move and she was up and out of there like a shot. “She doesn’t respect you,” the trainer determined. “You need to set boundaries. What do you do if she’s lying right in front of you usually?”

I gazed at the floor for a moment, like a child whose hand had just been discovered wrist deep in a decorative jar of Oreos. “Well…I…walk around her,” I confessed. “Especially if she’s sleeping. I never want to wake her up.”

“OK, here is the problem,” the trainer offered in a voice teetering on the edge of judgmental. “You are the leader here. She thinks she’s in charge. She is running the house right now. Frankly, she’s trained you.”

I felt embarrassed. I mustered all of my internal leadership qualities and strode up to S’more. “Move!” I announced in my best leadership tone. “Move!” She once again looked at me askance. “I am serious. Move.” I gently pushed her paws back with my feet. Still she lounged restfully. Finally, I clapped my hands, wedged my toes under her paws firmly and insisted, “MOVE.” She reluctantly arose and sauntered a few feet away to seemingly appease my unusual behavior.

“I did it,” I said gleefully. And that’s when it hit me. This isn’t a new problem. If you think of this microcosmically, this represents a much bigger issue affecting parents today. You see, this is the same problem I, and so many of us, have with our offspring. We’ve put their needs so high above our own that we’ve lost all sense of leadership and control in the relationships.

I never want to wake my sleeping dog. Even when she’s lying in the spot on my bed where I want to lie. That’s ridiculous. I see that. But it’s true. Likewise with my children. They want to go to the park when I need to work. What happens? We go to the park. They want to play games when I need to grocery shop. What do we do? We bargain. “OK,” I say. “Let’s play a game and then we can go to the grocery store.” In essence, I am living in a world of constant negotiation and cow-towing to other creature’s needs and wants. And I’m tired of it.

It is time to do what I want to do. Being a parent or an owner should not mean that you always have to do what everyone else wants. Sometimes I want to decide whether we go to CPK or SouperSalad for lunch. I want the choice of what we listen to on the radio. I want to be the monarch and all other creatures can be my loyal subjects.

So I’m turning over a new leaf. From this point forward I am in charge. I get to say what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, and how it’s going to be done. I’m serious. As long as nobody minds me taking charge. K?

The maternal myth

My mother wasn’t into mothering. It’s not that she didn’t love me and my sister. I truly believe that she did…er…does. It’s just that care-taking wasn’t her bag. She’s not a nurturing, selfless kind of person. I’ve accepted that. I’ve moved on to bigger and better psychological traumas. I’m not bitter, really. I understand my mother’s limitations.

My mom did the best she could with what she had. (My husband says that too often I forgive major personality flaws using this line of reasoning.) But it’s really true. We’re all out there trying to do the right thing, trying to love our kids, manage our families, support our spouses, earn a living. It’s not easy. And we all excel at different tasks. My mother’s talent wasn’t mothering. In fact, she never kept a common house plant alive for more than ten days. But she’s great fun at a party. She’s charming and bright, and although she claims not to clamor for the limelight, she’s a source of unending drama and Lucy-like antics for all of her friends and family.

I realized something today though that I think can change me forever. You see, I walk around in the story that I’m her. I live in the myth that I’m not a good mother, just like my mom. I tell myself I don’t give enough, love enough, sacrifice enough. Ironically I only figured this out because of our new puppy. I mean I always feel loads of self-disappointment when it comes to parenting. I’m like a petri dish full of rapidly reproducing guilt particles. But I saw something today that was rather stunning.

I’ve never had a pet. (Big surprise, mom never wanted the mess or hassle). So in my never ending quest not to be her, we adopted this 3 month old pup who I feel more responsible for than both my 6 and 9 year old sons put together. I can’t seem to leave her alone for more than an hour during the day. This makes living my life more than difficult. So some days, like today, I take her with me all day. We go to the doctor, the therapist, the theatre. She sits through rehearsals, meetings, karate classes. And by the end of the day we’re both exhausted.

Tonight I went to take a bath and unwind and I felt this horrible guilt. I wasn’t spending the evening totally with her. Maybe she was let down. Maybe she was disappointed. Maybe she needed me and I was selfishly soaking in a tub of hot lavender water. Suddenly it hit me. This message of “you’re not giving enough” is the loudest, most consistent loop that plays on incessantly in my head. I hear it with regards to my kids, my husband, my work, and now my dog.

Maybe that idea of always falling short comes from the reality I experience in relationship to my mother. She has truly never been enough for me. My model of maternity is one that is always lacking, always just a few cards short of a full deck, a few fries short of a happy meal, a can short of a six-pack…well, you get the idea. But just because that’s what I know doesn’t mean that’s what I have to live.

I do a lot for my kids. I love them immensely. I play with them. I laugh with them. I spend time with them. But there’s always more time, more energy, more effort. If I keep focused on the time I’m not with them, I’m doing myself a disservice. It’s the same with Maggie, (the puppy.) She knows she’s loved. And my job isn’t to be everything to her at every moment of every day.

Maybe my mom wasn’t enough for me. Maybe her limitations taught me more about how to disappoint than how to meet expectations. But I’m a grown up now. And it’s up to me to decide where I choose to focus my energy and efforts. I can look at the kids and think, “I wasn’t with them from 8 to 4 today.” Or I can sweep them into my arms when I pick them up at school and love them more than I’ve ever loved them. What’s disappointing about that?