Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing Up With Dogs

I had a dog growing up. My husband did, too. So when our children started begging for a dog two years ago, we knew that eventually we would cave and get them one. After all, we’d had the chance to have a dog when we were little, why shouldn’t they?

In an effort to put off the inevitable, we told the kids that they would have to prove that they could be responsible dog owners before they could get one. They did that and more. Natalie started reading every puppy training book she could get her hands on. They started walking, feeding and bathing a neighbor’s dog on occasion, even picking up the large dog’s poop without complaining. They researched the cost of dogs online and started holding lemonade stands for their dog fund. They declared that if we wouldn’t get them a dog, they’d buy it themselves.

When I was young, we did not do any of those things. We got our dog Benny from a breeder. No one even thought about training him. He was a wild, crazy lab who bolted when the door was open, jumped up on visitors, sometimes peeing on them if he was too excited. My mom fed Benny, my brother and I walked him from time to time, but mostly we just opened the back door and let the dog out. We didn’t boter to pick up the poop for a long time because the lot was so large we could go for weeks without visiting the waste minefield in the backyard before finally having to grab a shovel and clean it up. When we did walk Benny, he would drag us down the street. He never heeled or sat on command. He would beg at the table and get anything he wanted. He was so pampered (mostly by my mother) and so convinced he was a human that he would protest if we went to McDonald’s and he didn’t get a burger and fries. That was my experience growing up with a dog. It was hardly a learning experience for either the kids or the dog.

I realize now that my children’s experience is already much different. My brother and I have fond memories of our dog, but we didn’t really learn or grow with him. As a family, we never did anything to raise Benny – training him, correcting bad behavior, incorporating him into the family – we changed our family completely to fit him.

With my kids and their dog – a loveable rescue puppy named Frannie – the learning started even before we found her. Initially, because I have so many, many allergies, we had to find a dog that I could live with without going into anaphylactic shock every time I petted it. That sent my children directly onto the internet, researching breeds that were hypoallergenic. I received many emails from them of pictures of cute dogs that wouldn’t make me sick. The girls, like hover parents, are overly prepared and responsible for their pet (although I am waiting to see how long this lasts). I see them being responsible and thoughtful in ways that I had not seen before, engaged and playful as they train and learn about their dog. They worry about the ground being too hot for the dog to walk on (we have had 100 plus days on several occasions this summer). They even wipe her face after she eats and her bottom after she does her business (I know that is silly and won’t last either but it is a hilarious sight and I will let it continue as long as it can. I need to get my laughs where I can). They fix Frannie’s food, bathe her and brush her with great care after her grooming. Natalie turned to me the other day and said, “Mom, I love having someone to care for.” I looked at her and thought, “So do I.”

Frannie has brought a new joy to our house, in some ways familiar to the happiness, newness and apprehension we felt bringing home a new baby for the first time. And as my dear friend Carol said to me when I told her about our new puppy, “It might be a little more work, but it’s cheaper than therapy.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

Orange Tang

For those of us old enough to remember drinking orange Tang as a kid, the words bring up memories of playing with friends outside for hours on end on hot summer days and then rushing inside to quench our thirst on an ice cold, (slightly grainy tasting) beverage that we’d been convinced through clever advertising, was not only good for us, but tasted good, too. As I was driving over Beverly Glen the other day, I was reminded of that orange drink, a taste I hadn’t thought of in years. The words “Orange Tang” were on a window decal of the car in front of me. I chuckled when I saw it, couldn’t imagine why anyone would have that on their car – maybe it’s the name of a band I’m not hip enough to know about. I looked more carefully at the driver of the BMW. He was 16, if a day, with blond highlights that might have been natural, but probably weren’t…only his stylist would know. But this Justin Bieber wannabieb was weaving in his lane, the car swerving slightly back and forth as he chatted on the phone pressed up to his ear.

I assumed he was driving mom’s or dad’s beemer, on the phone bragging to his friends about the cool ride. Then I remembered, this is L.A. - It was probably his own car to drive over the edge, which he almost did on several occasions. His driving behavior triggered my fears about Nicole starting to drive. She has reminded me several times that she’ll be behind the wheel in five years. I pictured her driving the orange Tang beemer and worried that she might drive as irresponsibly as the kid in front of me.

Some friends of ours with a teenage son who just started driving described with glee how they were eager to buy him a car for his 16th birthday. As first, I couldn’t imagine why they were so excited to plunk down 20k to give their kid yet another tool for self destruction…until they explained their plan. Our friends were going to buy him a car with a standard transmission. He would have to learn to drive by shifting gears so both hands would be too busy doing that to hold a phone, text or check email. As someone who knows, when first starting to drive, having to learn to coordinate your feet and changing gears and steering all at the same time, it’s not easy. Their plan was brilliant and sneaky – they were heroes in their son’s eyes for giving him a car. Little did he know the motive behind it.

I screeched to an abrupt halt to avoid hitting orange Tang, who had stopped short in front of me because he didn’t see that the traffic in front of him had slowed. Nearly avoiding a multi-car pile up caused by this kid in the beemer, the idea of a stick shift became much more attractive. Yes, Nicole would learn to drive stick. There would be plenty of opportunities for her to drive an automatic in her lifetime. Hopefully, by then, she can make better decisions behind the wheel than orange Tang boy. In some ways she already does. And as our friends pointed out – there are several benefits to teaching your kid to drive a stick. Yes, their hands will be too occupied to text, and they’ll be able to drive any car they jump into…just in case they need to make a quick getaway.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Ten (or More) Reasons Why My Mother-In-Law Rocks

After my well thought out summer childcare plans blew up in my face in early June and a trusted and much beloved caregiver suddenly wasn’t available, I did what any reasonable working parent would do – I buried my head in the sand, lived in denial for weeks and kept telling myself that everything would work out. Three weeks before camp was over and the kiddies would be home unattended unless I got my act together, I started to email around to all my regular, fabulous teenage sitters hoping that some of them would be available for the rest of the summer - two weeks...two long weeks.

The plan was to create a patchwork of childcare options between teen sitters and playdates. Unfortunately, everyone else was much better organized – their kids were in camp, their nannies or sitters were hired, multiple playdates weren’t an option. Most of the teen sitters had family vacations planned so they were only able to help a day here and a day there, not for the two weeks...two long weeks...that I needed.

I checked with the camp director to see if they had space in their August program and if I could extend the 4 weeks we'd originally signed up for (at the cost of just about what it costs to send a space shuttle to the International Space Station.) The director laughed, saying they booked up months ago and weren't even taking names on the waitlist. I continued going through my rolodex of sitters. I found several adult sitters who were available to watch my girls, but at $15 -18 an hour, it was going to cost me around $1,200 to $1,500 to have them watch the girls for two weeks...did I mention it was a long two weeks?

After a few sleepless nights picturing my children in a John Hughes' Home Alone movie, it occurred to me to call my mother-in-law on the off chance that she might agree, at the last minute...and I mean LAST come out to Los Angeles from New York to keep my kids, her grandchildren, from living a summertime childcare nightmare. She had just come out to visit at the end of June for Nicole's graduation. She's not a fan of airports or air travel, and she'd been having health issues lately. I asked my husband if he thought it was a good idea to ask her, and all he could say was, "You can try." I asked her and the first thing she said was, "When do you need me?" Less than two weeks later my mother-in-law arrived at our house after a flight on an overcrowded red eye financed entirely by frequent flier miles. That's reason one that my mother-in-law rocks - in a time of need, she doesn't ask why, she asks when and how she can help. Always has.

I have to try not to gush about her when other women complain about their mother-in-laws. I have it lucky, I know. And I try to take note of what she's doing because she's a great role model for how I'd like to be when I hit the mother-in-law/grandma phase. Now don't get me wrong, everything isn't always perfect and we do sometimes have our disagreements. She thinks I undercook meat, whereas I think she overcooks it. She'd rather see the girls in dresses more often and I let them dress themselves - most of the time resulting in less than coordinated looks. I know she thinks I can do better with their hair and she's probably right on that one! Sometimes she speaks to me the same way she does to her own daughter, my sister-in-law. For a second I bristle, but then I realize that in a way, it's a compliment. She's treating me like she treats her own daughter, even if it makes me crazy in the same way my own mother would.

Other reasons I love my mother-in-law:

She's always game for something new – last week she ran through sprinklers in her swimsuit because it was just too darn hot! (I think that’s really cool!)

She will eat experimental food and not hold it against me if it's bad.

Rum and coke is to her as Merlot is to me.

She is always respectful of space, time and relationships.

I've been told that in her day she could drive from New York to Florida by herself and make Speed Racer look like an amateur.

We both worship coffee.

She will bite her tongue when she doesn't like something I do and yet she will also speak up when she feels it's important enough.

She is thoughtful not only to her son and grandkids, but to me as well - sending us cards, notes of encouragement, even tucking a few dollars of mad money into the girls' pockets. The last time we went to visit her, she left a hand written coupon for an ice cream cone and a manicure on my pillow :)

She can be assertive without being aggressive.

She will pick up a load of clean laundry and fold it without asking. Ditto for washing dishes. Yes, now I'm gushing...

She never complains, although I know that she is often in pain, putting others concerns ahead of her own.

She'll tell me funny stories about my husband when he was a kid even if it pisses him off.

And most importantly, I know that she would throw herself in front of a train if she had to in order to protect my children.

I'm lucky, I know. I try to remember that when my mother-in-law cuts out self-help articles from newspapers or magazines and leaves them on the table for us to read...It makes my husband crazy. Me, I’m used to it. My mother used to do the same thing.