Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It's Not Me: It's You

My twelve-year-old and fourteen-year-old are no longer on speaking terms with each other. That is, my son and my dog.

Within the last few weeks, it seems something has shifted in our dog's brain; he now views Ben as a threat. It started when I came home with both boys from camp one afternoon. Bailey was in the den downstairs, and I unlocked the door and held it open for the boys to enter. Ben went first, said hello to Bailey, and reached out his hand to pet him. Bailey growled, then snapped, missed and snapped again, catching Ben's finger and drawing blood. I hustled the boys outside and around to the back door and left Bailey downstairs.

Maybe we startled him? Maybe we woke him up? Maybe it was too dark and he didn't actually hear us come in (his hearing is failing), saw a hand in his face and reacted? We tried to apply human logic to a dog--a dog we've owned for over seven years--to grasp what had changed. How else to calm our son who feels that suddenly, inexplicably, our dog no longer loves him?

For the next couple of weeks, the two tenuously circled each other like barely tolerant roommates. Bailey seemed fine when Alpha Dog Dad was around, and that put the rest of us at ease. Over the weekend, with his older brother away at camp, Ben gently fed snacks to Bailey from his hand with no ill effects or ill will on either side. Things seemed to have returned to normal.

But today, Ben and I went out for a little over an hour. When we returned, I opened the door into the den and entered first, holding the door open for Ben, who hung back. Bailey was there, lying on the rug with his eyes open. I said hello to him and stood waiting for him to stand up. He didn't react right away, so I addressed him again. That's when he popped his head up and began to growl, then bark, at Ben.

Ben was still standing outside the screen door, so I shut it. Bailey approached the screen and was barking and growling fiercely now, so I told Ben to take off his sweatshirt hood. He did, but it didn't help. To Bailey, he was a giant, thug-like being wielding a bat.

I sent Ben to the back door and left Bailey downstairs.

Alpha Dog Dad and I have been discussing this a lot recently. We've done research, spoken with the vet at Bailey's thorough wellness check up last week, and tried to calm both Ben and Bailey. But now we're unsure. We've read about canine cognitive dysfunction, the signs and symptoms and why they occur. But what the experts don't tell us is how to coexist with a family member who now makes another family member feel threatened. I can only imagine what it must be like for people whose loved ones are suffering from Alzheimer's. Cognitive dysfunction unties the things that fasten us to each other. It steals not just memory, but relationships, history, leaving everyone involved unmoored.

For now, we'll keep the two separated. As much as it saddens me, I don't want to force a closeness that would make either (or both) of them uneasy. Until we know more, all we can do is try to prevent any additional painful episodes.

Monday, June 8, 2015

A Teenager, A Sex Tape, A Conversation

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Last week, my fifteen-year-old son was invited to make a sex tape. He was really excited about it, so I signed the release form. But before you get CPS on the phone, let me explain.

In May, Jacob won an essay contest for the Best Teen Date in our county for 2015. The contest was sponsored by a teen outreach program aimed at enriching the lives of teenagers, educating them and helping them to make healthy choices. As a result of the contest, Jacob met the heads of the program to receive the award.

May was also Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. The organization that had sponsored the contest was making a short film talking with teens about their views on teen pregnancy. Since we live near the filming location, they contacted Jacob and asked if he'd be interested in being in the film. I figured he'd won Best Date contest, so surely he must have thoughts about this topic, right?

After I gave him the OK to make the tape (the head of the program's last name is Coppola--what could possibly go wrong?), it occurred to me that my son and I had never actually discussed his views about teen pregnancy. Oh sure, we'd had talks about relationships, respect, protection, maturity, communication and all the other important aspects of teen dating. Maybe I thought that, because of those conversations, teen pregnancy wouldn't become an issue. Or maybe I just didn't want to go there.

It was way too much to discuss via text, so I waited until he got home and brought it up in the car on the way to the movie shoot, doing my best to be casual about it.

Me: "So, for this movie, it sounds like they're going to ask you about your thoughts on teen pregnancy. What exactly are your thoughts on the topic?"

Jacob: "Well, I think if the couple has done their research and discussed all the aspects of what's involved and want to do it, I support it."


I don't know if my tongue actually bled while I bit down on it, but I wouldn't have been surprised because it took all my strength not to scream out, "ARE YOU INSANE?!"

Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate the fact that he understands the importance of research, communication and weighing all the risks before making any big decision. And I told him that. But this is not about picking a college or buying a car. It was clear to me that he was neglecting to consider a few majorly important factors in this situation, such as the fact that a baby, unlike a car or a college, is a lifelong commitment. And teens are minors. And still in school. And unemployable. And... well, you get my point.

Before I opened my mouth, I took a deep breath, because I also understood what a big deal it was that he was even willing to have this conversation with me. I knew I had to think fast about how to get my points/fears across without lecturing like a health teacher. I decided the best way was to ask questions. What other options would you have? What if the girl was afraid to tell her parents? Who else could you talk to? How would you support the baby? How would you stay in school? What about college? If you didn't stay in school, what kind of jobs could you expect to get? What about health insurance? And on and on.

We got to the filming location before long and there were two lovely teenage girls there. Once we were introduced and Dr. Coppola arrived, I got the signal from Jacob that I was dismissed. I was disappointed that I didn't get to watch the filming and hear the discussion (admittedly, I'm probably the only mother on earth who wants to see the sex tape her son made). But at least I knew I'd given Jacob a lot to think about.

He did say that if he ever found himself in a such a situation, he knew he could come talk to me. I just hope, now that we've had this little chat, he'll never need to.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Raising Humans

Before I had kids, I never thought much about being a mother. Sure, I presumed I'd have a family one day, but that vague notion was as detailed as it got. Until I became pregnant. Then the tomboy in me kicked in.

I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly boys. I had one brother, and our three male cousins lived next door. When I was young, I saw us all as equals--kids who liked bikes, bugs, fishing and baseball. And at that age, I was right.

But when I became a teenager, everything changed. I was nothing like other girls. They wore makeup and flirted with boys and smoked and drank and knew things. I didn't know anything, especially about boys. Sure, I could put a worm on a hook for a boy or throw a football around with them, but that other stuff? Pfft. Clueless. Whoever passed out the "How To Be A Girl" manual definitely missed my mailbox.

So when I became pregnant, I realized that I desperately wanted to mother boys. Only boys. In fact, the idea of raising a girl was so foreign to me that I was in a bit of a panic. I'm the type of person who learns from experience. I didn't even know how to be a girl. How could I be successful in raising one? Even in my twenties, all my best friends were male. When I sat down to consider what skills I had to raise a girl, I came up with bupkis. I was completely ill-prepared for the task.

I got lucky and had sons. But I have friends who have both daughters and sons, and they tell me they are the opposite of me: completely comfortable raising their daughters and in foreign territory with their sons. Of course I can understand exactly what they mean. But I started thinking about what kind of mother I am that makes me more suited to raising boys over girls, and the only thing I felt strongly about was that I'm comfortable with who I am and confident in my convictions as an adult.

So? you might say. That doesn't sound gender-specific at all. And you'd be right. In fact, if anything I'm more girly now than I was when I was younger. I hate bugs and video games and sports (well, OK, not hockey). I love flowers and pretty shoes and sappy, romantic movies that make me cry and dressing up. These are not exactly traits I share with my boys. And when they want to go camping, I tell them to go talk to their father.

But here's what I figured out: I'm not my sons' friend, so it's OK if I don't share certain interests with them. I love them with all my heart and I'm here to teach them how to be confident, capable, respectable and self-sufficient. But I also want them to be compassionate, fair, tender and thoughtful. And the best way to do that is to teach by example. I set standards for their behavior and I live by those standards myself. I'm not hypocritical and I'm always willing to listen to their side of the argument. Don't those parenting skills cover both genders? I think so.

All this tells me is that I would probably have done alright raising a girl. Sure, I might have had to call in the experts for some things. But the stuff that matters? I've got that down. The rest, they'll figure out on their own just like I did. I'm not teaching them how to be men and I wouldn't have to teach a girl how to be a woman. That's biology and it will happen regardless of what type of parent I am. I'm raising humans. Sure, it would be nice to have someone to help me do my hair and nails and watch weepy movies with once in a while. But as long as my kids grow up to be respectful of others and their world, and they build lives that they're proud of, I'm OK watching chick flicks alone.