About ten years ago I found myself between careers and at a crossroads. But there were bills to pay, and I had to do something while I got my act straight. With a college degree I was eligible to substitute teach. I thought it would be a good experience and headed right down to the district office to apply.
It wasn’t long before I was working at a local school. Five minutes from my home, and I was off before 4PM every afternoon. It was heaven. And while I was content and getting something valuable out of it, I was also happy knowing that it was all very temporary. I enjoy children. I just prefer them in small doses.
During my short tenure I met a lot of cool people, but mostly I learned a lot about children and behavior. I spent a lot of time listening to the more seasoned professionals around me and their interactions with our young charges. I heard a lot about sharing and being nice. This isn’t anything new. Just simple common sense really. I also heard discussions about “indoor” voices and “outdoor” voices. And I really heard a lot about choices, fitting in one of two categories. Good choices. Bad choices. I saw many of these youngsters getting quite a bit of decision-making power. Apparently this was the new and popular tactic to get them on the road to responsible adulthood.
I understand this. Life is a series of choices. Good choices bring reward and the bad have consequences. The learning process can be an empowering one. Consistent quality choices in childhood most likely mean this behavior will be followed into adulthood and throughout life. Now this is the part where I get on my righteous little soapbox. Here it goes: children are children. Not mini adults. And I always felt that too many choice making opportunities may be detrimental, when children should still be looking to adults for responsible guidance. I believe it has more to do with giving children fewer choices, and instead helping them be successful with the few choices they are mature enough to make.
Okay, hopping off the soapbox now.
Thanks for listening.
My teaching days are long over. But just like any lesson learned in life, I have carried that classroom experience with me. I often think about how it all fits into my own family dynamic.
Now for some full disclosure here. My kids have four legs, not two. And they’re quite furry. So I don’t have that insight that can only come from solid, hands on experience dealing with children. But that is not to say these same choice making principles can’t apply to my own family. Especially to my daughter.
Lately Gracie’s choices have left much to be desired. And there is a pattern here. When we leave her home alone with her brother, things can get nutty. And mind you, we never leave them for more than two hours. But five minutes may as well be all day. She always voices her displeasure with us. And how does she express this, you may ask? Well, naturally by being quite destructive.
I made a quick run up to the store the other day. When I returned I knew immediately something was up. Jack ran and hid under the bed. And there was Miss Pretty Pants, head lowered and ears back, slinking toward me. The now infamous Walk Of Shame. And naturally I am wondering why I’m getting it. I took two steps into the house and quickly learned why.
Her “victims” on this day? A drink coaster, two ballpoint pens, a pair of scissors, and the newspaper. Chewed up and strewn across the room. She found them on top of the coffee table, right at her eye level. Oh, but it gets better. I took a closer look at my sweet darling daughter. The fur around her mouth was bright red. I investigated further. In the front room I found a chewed up lipstick case and red streaks across the carpet. For the love of God. And it is worth mentioning this particular lipstick was one of my favorites. It also happened to set me back a cool $40.
You may be wondering how on earth a dog could get her paws on her mom’s lipstick. Well, genius here happened to clean her purse out that very morning and left that one lipstick on the kitchen table. Miss Pants had to jump up quite high to get it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Very similar to the time she managed to pull my giant stuffed penguin off the bed and chew its eye off. Another bad choice for the record books.
Given the evidence presented, I did conclude the destruction had Miss Grace’s name all over it, and only hers. Our son has a different M. O. entirely. But more on him in a minute.
So lately it seems Grace’s good choices are few and far between. And as her mom, I can’t help but feel that part of this is my fault. I struggle when it comes to discipline. My babies look at me with those soulful eyes and I fall to pieces. Husband always gets on me about this. He prides himself on being quite the hard ass, but the truth is he is a big sucker just like I am. And often he’s worse when it comes to teaching our little angels right from wrong.
I don’t have any answers. But I better figure it out soon. And she’s getting more bold. On her daddy’s birthday, she went right to the coffee table and found his birthday card, and decided to start chewing on it. And all of this happened when I was about ten feet away in the other room. What I found most interesting? Her card to him was buried under a pile of papers and other birthday cards. Yet hers was the one she chose.
Her father thought this was the cutest thing ever. I have to admit that it was. It is just impossible to get mad about it.
Our girl has been with us for almost a year, and actually it was smooth sailing until about a month ago, when the chewing and destructiveness started. And like all the long ago schoolroom talk about good choices and bad choices and what it all means, I think it has a lot to do with giving our girl just a bit too much freedom and opportunity to make the wrong ones. I don’t want to set her up for failure. As long as the not-so-good choices continue, I will be making sure nothing is within her curious reach before departing the house, and leaving her and her brother to their own devices.
As for our resident five-year-old and canine “adult”, Jack’s choices most often fall into the good category. Now, his bad ones are usually doozies. Like when he used to tear a hole in the wall if we left him alone (this happened in the days before Grace). Also, Mr. Man sometimes gets pissed at us for whatever reason and decides to poop in the house. I know, bad. But occasional bad attitude aside, he chooses well 90% of the time. And as his mom I am actually thrilled with that statistic.
My daughter is a pup, just one year old. And like her young human counterparts, she is new to this world. Learning about reward and consequence and which one of the two results, depending on what choice she makes. All of this will pass. When she blossoms into “womanhood”, bad choices will surely make way for the good. For now we will be sure to reward her when appropriate. And try our best to be consistent when a bit of discipline is in order.
And not forget to cherish this crazy and precious ride, otherwise known as puppyhood.