When life hands you a rusty-spoon day, call for help!

Simpler times - ah life!

Simpler times - ah life!

I have from time to time, rated particularly challenging days with my all-boy progeny as “rusty spoon” days.
These are the days when I report to my husband that if time travel were possible I would head back to the early 90s and tear out my ovaries with a rusty spoon.  I tend to dabble in metaphorical sadism when I am at my worst. And obviously, with time travel an impossibility, there is no need to worry that I will be castrating myself with rundown flatware any time soon. Also, this kind of hyperbole has great shock value – it gets my feelings across in a graphic, attention-grabbing way, that my husband can read as clearly as a red-flag at the beach when the currents are too high for one’s personal safety.
Obviously, it’s a cry for help.  I realize this kind of black humor is frowned upon by decent mothers and would-be mothers everywhere, but then they are not in my boat, nor am I in theirs so, I will leave them to come up with their own metaphors for crying “Uncle”.
These women would also find no solace or humor in the saying “mothers of teenagers know why animals eat their young.” But, yesterday, I considered this as a possible tattoo with only slightly less seriousness than my H.G. Wells-inspired spoon surgery.
It started when I went off my nut about the condition of the family room and began threatening removal of any and all fun possibilities in technicolor language until said mess was cleaned up.  It finished with my dear teen digging in his belligerent heels to the injustice of it all and flipping me a certain gesture that I can say with all honesty I never imagined in my wildest dreams would be intended for me. I’m not naive, I expected the gesture would be exercised at some point in his adolescence, like when the first mad driver cut him off in traffic. But, not when the first mad mother asks him to pick up a few dishes and socks. I was so shocked I actually called my husband at work – which is the equivalent of “Now you’ve done it” around here. He‘s like my fire extinguisher – “break glass only in an emergency“.  My husband is a passionate *cough* if not volatile devotee of RESPECT. Perhaps it’s the Navy man in him, but calling Dad, is not done lightly. I am a very independent person. I pride myself on managing home, hearth and unruly boy brood with a minimum of whining. Mostly because reaching the Navigator on an aircraft carrier is a lot like trying to order pizza online – it’s such a huge hassle you can’t even remember why you wanted to do it in the first place. Sometimes this is a good thing, I hang up out of frustration with something new to be pissed about.
Another first of my rusty spoon day- my dear teen got to hear me get in touch with a phrase I vowed never to say to my own kids, “Just wait ‘til your father gets home.” 
I guess it was a day of firsts for us. And, like all adventures in parenting, we both learned something.  I hope that my son learned there are some lines you shouldn’t cross, (that is a direct quote from his Dad) and that paying the piper is more expensive than listening to her pipe, and lastly, waiting until your father comes home is a long and uneasy wait.
I learned that my little boy is not such a little boy anymore, and that tirades aside, respect will have to be a two-way street if I want to get through these coming years.  I will have to take a page from my husband’s book as well – talk less and act more.
Also, I am going to try giving more responsibility to the irresponsible  and see how that goes.  My eldest has the “Tom Sawyer trick” to doing chores – if done badly enough perhaps someone else will step in and do them. And, I hate to say it, it has worked in the past.  I am also going to stick to my guns when it comes to the consequences. I have trouble staying the course when my children are unhappy, and unfortunately they know this. As my husband says, they play me.
 I have to remind myself that while I can’t always give them everything they want, I do give them everything they need. I have to remind myself that while my teen may hate me from time to time I can love him enough to make up the difference. And loving him doesn’t mean loving his behavior.  In a past argument he accused me of only caring about his future, and I am guilty as charged. I need to stay focused on what he can do today.  I’m sure I can step back a bit, but I will not step away.
While having two D’s on his report card “is still passing” and that’s hunky dory with him, the consequences that loom are summer school and 3 months of restriction. While he believes homework is just busy work and “beneath him” so too will be my extraneous housework, chores and chauffeur duties. While I may have to watch him flush away some opportunities and close some doors that could have been open to him, I will love him enough to let him make his own mistakes and be a soft place to land when he falls.
And should adolescence rear it’s ugly head again as it most likely will in the near future (my middle son turns 13 in two weeks!), I will try to remember that while standing knee-deep in the flow of life, sometimes all you can do is roll up your pants and call a plumber.

For the Love of Olive, Zach’s “Best Friend”

Olive Puppypants

Olive Puppypants

I had this idea months ago after reading a book about dogs and autism that what my kid really needed was pet therapy. The book had an adorable picture of an autistic kid clumsily hugging a dog. I wanted Zach to be that kid. I wanted him to have a big sloppy pooch to hug. I wanted a dog that would follow him around like Nana in Peter Pan. Or wait patiently by the front door when Zach came home on the short bus. A dog that would comfort him after a long day of being such a strange duck in such a typical world.

The benefits for him were endless- more empathy, a connection to something outside himself, a sense of responsibility, the joy of a non-judgemental companion, a friend!  The “friend” thing was what got me. It was the one thing Zach didn’t have.  Although he counts just about everyone as his “best friend”, from his teacher, Ms. Caitlin, to his brothers’ playmates, to his parents. We are all his “best friends.”  But a boy with a dog, oh, that sounded so good for him!

My search started with the internet, what were the best breeds for kids? What was better for a child with behavior issues, a grown dog or a puppy? I had it all planned out and decided to hit the local shelters. I found a lab mix that had been given up due to “financial hardship.” The dog’s backstory was heartbreaking. The family had a disabled daughter who was confined to a wheelchair, the father had lost his job, they had to move, their new place didn’t allow pets. It sounded great, at least for us. We brought the dog home on a Sunday afternoon. Zach was giggly and excited and in love with this dog. His love was unrequited though. This dog was skittish, hated to be hugged and more importantly, hated Zach. It didn’t wait by the door, it didn’t romp around the yard with him, it didn’t lick his face in greeting, or any of the other warm-and-fuzzy things I had imagined.

Instead, it growled when Zach tried to pet him, or hid whenever he approached. He didn’t react well to a child who was a vigorous petter, an enthusiastic hugger who had daily temper tantrums, unpredictable impulses and wielded a plastic light saber half the day. 

Our trial ended when the dog nipped at Zach’s cheek just a few days after we brought the dog home. So much for a best friend.  We returned the pooch to the shelter ( a no-kill shelter) and vowed to try again. I felt such a sense of failure – another avenue ventured for Zach and another dead-end. I would have given up on the whole idea, but Zach’s brothers wouldn’t. So we decided to give the idea a second chance.

A few months later we brought home a 10-week old puppy. Her mama was a bloodhound and her daddy was a lab. It sounded like a Johnny Cash song, which felt like good karma. She was jet black and had a strange baggy little face and a pointy knot on the top of her head.  Her coat shined like a race horse and her eyelids had the beginnings of a hound droop. The boys adored her at first sight.  They named her Olive.

Olive is 7-months old now. She weighs 60 plus and is still growing. She is not the dog I dreamt of for my son. But like most everything in life, I am learning to take the bitter with the sweet. Olive slobbers viscous amounts of stringy saliva whenever she is excited. (Zachy says “that’s disgusting.”) She slobbers bucketfulls whenever we take her in the car and vomits once we’re in motion. She is a loud barker and likes to howl. She is a messy eater and chews up things like a goat on crack. She hides treats in the sofa cushions. And housebreaking is an ongoing battle. She also has hideous gas –  it is musky, skunky and deadly. And it seems to happen most frequently on family movie night.

But then there is the sweet side. Her ears are long and droopy and feel like velvet in your hand. She gives clumsy kisses and loves clumsy hugs. She tolerates plastic light sabers and doesn’t bat at eye at daily temper tantrums, even mine. And, she even waits by the door for the short bus. 

She leans against my legs when I do the dishes, curls up next to me when I knit and lets me put my cold feet underneath her warm body when I am typing on this computer. She likes to look out the windows on her hind legs and has learned to sing for treats, especially hot dogs. She can jump through a hula hoop and she likes our cats. She is gentle with the baby and will retrieve anything the older boys throw for her, including empty milk jugs.

This furry wild child has given me just what I wanted for Zach and what I didn’t know I needed for me. She’s my best friend too.