Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Nuts to You" At the Dog Park

I like to think that I am pretty good at seeing other people's perspectives in most situations.  Even when I react with initial incredulity at how a person has behaved, I try to put myself in their position and imagine what would motivate them to act the way they did.  Even though this may not bring me around to their way of thinking, I can at least extend a little understanding their way.  Ever so often, though, I run across some behavior that I just do not get.  Occasionally, someone will do or say something that I cannot possibly imagine being rational from any point of view.  This story illustrates just such a instance:
One afternoon last week, Jack and I took Zoe, our 3-year-old lab/pit mix to an off leash dog park here in Austin.  While Austin has a true abundance of parks and greenbelt, there are only a few that are officially off-leash.  The Redbud Isle dog park is one of them.  It's like a long, treed peninsula extending out into the lake.  We spend our time there wandering down the wide path that is this park, stopping occasionally to let Zoe get in the water.  There are dogs everywhere, happily frolicking in the water and playing chase with each other around the trees.  Then, just as we are wandering off from some stone steps that go down to the water, a lady comes up with her two children (both around six or eight years old.)  She does not have a dog with her.  Zoe stops to sniff her, prompting the following conversation:

Lady: You need to come get your dog!
Me (confused): Oh, what did she do?
Lady:  She's just being a little too familiar.
Me (thinking to reassure her): Oh, don't worry.  She wouldn't hurt a fly.
(This is a dog that's afraid of empty grocery bags and cardboard boxes.)
Lady:  Well, I've heard that before.
Me (after a pause):  It is a dog park, you know.

After the exchange, Jack, Zoe and I walk off to seek our entertainment elsewhere.  I don't really want to hang around this chick if she's as unreasonable as she has thus far appeared.  We wander down the park, Zoe swims some more, and we finally decide to head home.  On the way out, we pass the same lady with her kids.  Zoe (I swear she did this on purpose) veers off and does a drive by, stopping oh-so-briefly to sniff the one woman in the park who doesn't like dogs.  THAT conversation went like this:

Lady:  Come get your dog!  I know it's a dog park, but people pay the taxes.
Me:  She didn't do anything!  You know, there are plenty of other parks for you to enjoy if dogs make you nervous.
Lady:  Well, it's just common courtesy!
Me:  You need to relax!

Then, we walk off, yet again.  I didn't point out to her that many of those same tax payers she referenced own dogs that use the dog parks.  I didn't ask her what in the world she was doing at an off-leash park with a dog phobia.  I did notice that neither of her kids seemed bothered by the dogs.
If Zoe had jumped on her or growled at her, it would have been a whole different story - one involving a profuse apology on my part and Zoe's being leashed for the rest of the trip.  I would not, however, let Zoe off leash if I thought she posed any threat whatsoever to other people or dogs.  I do think, when visiting that particular park, you have to concede it is for the dogs and their owners primarily.  This is why I keep a close eye on Jack and pick him up if the big dogs get too rowdy and why I don't complain if one of them accidentally knocks him over or gets mud on my pants.  It's a dog park; that's par for the course, as is dogs coming by and pausing briefly to sniff you.
Maybe this lady didn't realize it was an off-leash park.  That's hard to imagine given the signs at the entrance, but I suppose it's possible.  Maybe she was looking for a fight and thought complaining about dogs at a dog park was a good way to find one.  Or, and this is the theory I favor, maybe she recognized the pit bull in Zoe, and that made her nervous.  Whatever her motive, I think I can safely say that her behavior was irrational.  It's like complaining that children on a playground are walking too close to you or laughing too loud.
After this altercation, as I do with all things, I considered the example I was setting for Jack.  And, I considered the kind of person I am and strive to be and whether or not I handled it well.  While I am by nature non-confrontational and don't think it serves anyone to start fights with strangers, I do believe in standing up for myself and for my loved ones, including Zoe.  I do believe in saying what I think, without name-calling or accusations, and I think I did a fair job of that in this instance.  While I do want to pass onto Jack a sense that all people's points of views deserve consideration, maybe knowing that, occasionally, people are just plain nuts isn't a bad lesson either.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Adventures in Napping

Nap time has not been going well lately.  Sometimes Jack sleeps for 30 minutes to an hour, and sometimes there is no nap.  The problem is, I don't know ahead of time which kind of nap day it is.  There is a lot of lying in bed with him for a long time, waiting to see if he'll go to sleep.  During this time, he talks to himself, rolls around and sometimes kicks or swats me in the face on (sort of) accident.  This is NOT restful for me.  On the days he doesn't sleep, I end nap time feeling the very opposite of what I'd like - tired and irritated, instead of rested and refreshed.  I've been thinking that we need to do something different.  I don't want to spend no-nap days feeling grouchy for the second half of the day, because I spent my down time being poked in the face with Jack's feet.  And, honestly, I don't think it's something I should have to put up with.  I am not big on formalities like calling parents "ma'am" and "sir," but I do feel severely disrespected being repeatedly kicked in the face by the little person I spend most of my time taking care of every day.
So, I've started giving Jack a warning, like "Don't kick me.  That hurts.  Be gentle to Momma's face."  If he doesn't heed the warning, I leave the room.  This worked a couple of times.  He would then come out of his room, appropriately meek and say, "Sorry, Momma.  Come back."  I'd say, "Will you be gentle to Momma?"  He'd answer yes, I'd go lie back down with him and he'd go to sleep or at least refrain from whacking me for the rest of the time.
Last Thursday, though, we did this routine, and Jack was right back at it the moment I laid back down with him.  He actually pulled my hair (very much on purpose), and when I told him to stop, he pulled harder.  I got up and said, "You can do the rest of nap time on your own.  You can come out of your room when the turtle light comes on."  The turtle light was set to come on in fifteen minutes.  He tried to come out of his room immediately after I left, but I... and I really hate to admit this... I held the door shut.  Jack began crying hard.  When I heard him flop back onto his bed, I went and sat in our guest room next to his.  I stared at the carpet and listened to him bawl and felt like shit.  He cried on and off for the next ten or so minutes and fell asleep three minutes before the turtle light came on.
He slept for about thirty minutes and woke up crying hard, just like he went to sleep.  He was hard to comfort and acted very sullen and subdued for the next half-hour.  He just sat on my lap, being quiet and not really wanting to snuggle - unusual for Jack.  He did come out of it, though, and there don't seem to be any lasting effects or trauma.  Jack has neither learned to fall asleep by himself, nor has he developed a complex about being left alone.  I haven't left the room before he falls asleep since then, and Jack has ceased in doing me bodily damage as well.  So, maybe to some degree, it worked.  I think the take-home lesson here is a reminder to myself not to worry so much that every little thing I do will dramatically impact my child's development and determine whether he wins the Nobel Peace Prize or leads a life of petty crime living in a cardboard box under I35.  Jason told me that, if the worst thing Jack has to deal with growing up is crying himself to sleep for nap one time, he's got it pretty good.  Jason has a very good point.  I don't know if we'll ever repeat this particular scenario, but we might.  At the very least, I think I'll let myself off the hook this time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Judge Not...

Yesterday evening, Jason came home while I was giving Jack a bath.  I was just letting the water out of the tub, when Jack took a handful of bath paints and smeared red all over his ear.  As I tried to rinse the soapy paint off before all the water drained out, Jack darted gleefully around the tub, shouting "game, game!"  He is ecstatic about anything you can call a "game."  We were having fun.  I was laughing and telling him, "be still!"  Then, Jason walks into the bathroom as I'm saying, "If you don't be still, I'm gonna dunk your head under water!"  He gave me an odd look and said, "Um, did you just threaten to drown our child?"
What I meant of course was that I would dunk his ear in the water to get the paint off.  Jason was not really alarmed and was more teasing me than anything, but I realized it sounded pretty bad out of context. I fumbled, saying, "No, I meant to get the paint out of his ear.  We were playing..."
It's a silly example, but it'll make you think twice about judging other parents in public.  When you hear a mom snap at her 2-year-old in the grocery store and observe the little one bursting into tears, it's easy to make that mom into a short-fused tyrant... unless you know that the little angel tossed a glass jar of pickles out of the cart on aisle 4, whined for sugar cereal all the way down aisles 5 and 6 and decided to shriek at the top of her lungs for the entirety of aisles 7-9 for no apparent reason.  I'm not saying it is or isn't okay to snap at a child, but if you know the history, you can at least understand where the parent is coming from.  Bottom line:  short of actual abuse, you can't judge what another parent does in public, especially without knowing their children, their family dynamics and what their day, thus far, has been like.  Maybe that kid you see eating a giant chocolate bar for lunch at the park gets them all the time and has no idea what a vegetable is, but maybe it's a big big treat he gets a couple times a year as a break from his otherwise stellar nutrition.  As someone (possibly someone in my family) once said, "You just cain't never tell."
It swings the other way, too, though.  Maybe you hear about another parent taking her children on a nature walk every Saturday, where they discuss the local flora and fauna along the way and end in a lovely picnic of whole wheat sprout-and-avocado pita sandwiches.  You think about your own children, glued to Dora the Explorer most Saturdays and feel a pang of guilt.  But don't forget how you haul them around all week long, to the pool, to the children's museum, on walks, play dates, whatever and realize you all deserve a little at-home down time.  Besides, the nature walk pita parent probably feeds her kids chicken nuggets for dinner Saturday night and then doesn't see them most of the week, 'cause she's at work.  I'm not saying you're better than her, it's just that we all have our admirable points in different places.  And it's unnecessarily distressing if you leap to the conclusion that another parent is doing a better job than you are, that you somehow fall short, just because of one event.
I guess I'm finally taking to heart the thing you hear all your life, from your parents, teachers, and motivational speakers:  Don't worry about what everyone else is doing.  Find your own path.  Because that's what parenting, and life in fact, is about:  finding your own unique path that won't look exactly like anyone else's and may in places look radically different than anyone else you know.  Life is a lot easier when we learn to let go of judging other people, judging ourselves and worrying that we somehow don't measure up to some imaginary universal standard.  We make mistakes, we fall down, we get up, but only in relevance to ourselves.  The measuring stick isn't everyone else or society; it's our own happiness and state of bliss (or un-bliss at times.)  So I guess the answer to the time-honored question - one I have heard and even spoken many times throughout life - "If so-and-so jumped off a cliff, would you too?"  is, "No, I wouldn't; I intend to jump off another cliff entirely."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Food Fight

Monday, at 5:00, I realized I had neglected to defrost anything for dinner.  I do this every Monday.  Apparently, two days is long enough for me to forget I have to cook, since Jason makes most of the meals over the weekend.  I've never been particularly into cooking.  I do like to eat and set a good example for Jack, though, so I cook dinner Monday through Thursday, since Jason doesn't get home until seven.  So there I am, standing with the fridge door open on Monday evening, "shopping" as my dad would say, trying to put together something tasty and reasonably nutritious on the fly.  Throw into the mix the fact that the list of things Jack won't eat is... well, it's easier to list the things he does eat.
I know, I know, I should just make what I make and he can eat it or not.  I do that to some extent, but I feel like I ought to include at least one thing I know he likes.  I did all the right things when we started solid foods.  I started him on vegetables first, and all that.  He's always seemed to have a texture aversion to some foods, though.  He never liked rice cereal, and to this day, won't eat things that are basically smooth but have lumps in them (think yogurt with fruit or marinara with chunks in it.)  He will not eat pasta or rice, not even in the form of macaroni and cheese - basically unheard of in the kid community.  I can count the number of times on one hand he has eaten meat.  I've tried everything from hot dogs to salmon - all offensive to the little general's taste buds.  When we first started solids, he ate a decent array of vegetables, but he's slowly whittled them down to only V8 and dried green beans.  No corn, beans or potatoes either.  I used to bend over backward to try to sneak vegetables or meat into other, non-offensive foods, but he usually saw through my ruse, and all my work would be in vain.  Eventually, I gave up trying to be clever.  Now, I just serve him the steamed or grilled veggies we're eating and figure maybe one day he'll try them.  On the bright side, he's also not a huge fan of sweets. 
So... back to Monday night.  I ended up popping a frozen thin-crust barbecue chicken pizza in the oven.  Jack has never even deigned to try pizza, but he got strangely excited when I got out the box.  Then, when we sat down to eat, he actually picked up his piece of pizza and ATE THE WHOLE THING!  I was even able to pick up a piece of chicken that fell off and pop it into his mouth without protest!  I was flabbergasted, but from prior mistakes I knew better than to make a big deal out of it.  A surefire way to make sure Jack never does something again is to get really excited about it.  So I said, mildly with a smile, "Oh, good.  I'm glad you like the pizza."  I know pizza isn't the healthiest thing, but it was thin-crust and had some goat cheese on it and chicken instead of pepperoni.  Mostly, I was glad he tried something new, because, aside from texture aversion, he is innately suspicious of new foods.
Jason told me later, he had been telling Jack about pizza over the weekend and how good it was, which may account for his excitement and willingness to try it.  Hmmm, would this work with broccoli?  I wouldn't hold my breath.  Maybe we've stumbled on a new way to get Jack to try things, maybe not.  He's a strong-willed, often unpredictable little boy, so there's no telling.  We can only hope that our efforts result in Jack knowing what good nutrition looks like, even if he doesn't always eat everything we'd like.  And though he may return to what we've taught him as he moves into adulthood, I'm pretty sure there's no way to avoid the classic teenage diet of pizza pockets and Dr. Pepper - one I favored at sixteen, whilst at school and away from my parents' house and immediate control.  Somehow, I turned out okay, though - another broccoli cookin' mom, whose kids won't eat it.  Ah, the circle of life.