The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Flashback Friday!

Thinking about parenting styles/skills lately has me remembering a story from my adolescence. As it's Friday, I thought I'd offer up some thirty year old Flash today. No cameras, please.

Last chance to cover your eyes.

This is my dog. (Well, actually, this is a picture that looks just like the dog I had when I was twelve. Play along, okay?)

His name is Snoopy. Not terribly creative or cutesy, I know. I'm not like some huge Charles Schultz fan or something. Just that my sister and I couldn't come to any kind of agreement on a name and finally, after days of endless suggestions and useless negotiations, we just settled on Snoopy. Sometimes, even though he was a "he", when I was feeling particularly goofy, I called him...Snoopeth Ann. Yeah. I know. Be glad you don't live with me, even though my goofiness is a rarity.

Snoopy was Beagle/German Shepherd mix. Mostly, to me, he always looked like a short German Shepherd.

We adopted him from our local pound, after a great deal of begging from me and my younger sister. We'd wanted a dog sooooooo badly.

My parents don't like animals. Well, except when they're cooked, I guess. (Though, I'd like to qualify that by saying they don't like cooked dogs.) So, it was no small feat that we were able to mind-control persuade them into agreeing to let us have the dog in the first place. Of course, we had to promise to walk the dog and water the dog and feed the dog and the dog was our responsibility and they weren't to be bothered with or by the dog.

My sister and I shook our heads, crossed our hearts, and promised the moon and stars. Al the while, inside we were ecstatic at the thought of having this dog to love and take care of and play with. Giddy, that's what we were. Positively gleeful.

Our backyard was fenced and, as it so happened, the previous owners had left a little red doghouse in the corner closest to the house. It was ready-made for our canine addition to the fam.

Things with Snoopy started out well enough. My sister and I loved playing with him and walking him. All summer long we had a ball.

When fall came and we had to feed him before we left for school in the (already too early) morning, that's when the first grumbling came. Neither of us wanted to get up earlier and clean out the dog's dish and refill it and get his water. Ugh. Couldn't he wait until we got home???? Our mother was having none of that. We'd agreed to be responsible and it wasn't his fault that we had to go to school. She resorted to logic and replaying our promises. What a diabolical thing to do!

As winter came, going out into the cold to do it became even more of a bother. Often the dog's water dish was frozen over and we'd have to crack the ice on the top of it to empty it. And it was cold out!! We weren't playing with Snoopy as much. I remember asking my mom if he could stay inside with us over the winter and she adamantly opposed it. No dogs in her house. Not now. Not ever. I'll give her that. She's kept firm to those rules.

By spring we were busy riding our bikes and doing other things. Snoopy was all but forgotten in our backyard. Forgotten, that is, until...

I remember walking home from school that day. It was late in May. Nearly the end of the school year. It was sunny and so very warm outside. As I approached our house, I could see something very unusual in the backyard. It looked as if the entire backyard had been covered by a pristine snowfall. Apparently a very 'localized' snowfall, as it didn't appear to have snowed in any of the neighbors' yards. And, well, odd that it would snow when the temperature was in the 80's, too.

Peering over the fence, I could more clearly see what had actually happened. It wasn't snow at all. (I'm sure that comes as no surprise to you. You are, after all, great with wisdom. There's simply no fooling the likes of you.) It was foam rubber bits. And they were scattered over the entire (very large) backyard. Not one blade of grass was showing through anywhere.

Snoopy was back towards the back fence with something in his mouth and he was shaking it violently. I didn't recognize it at first, but the more I looked at it, I soon realized that it was one of the cushions from the chaise lounge that had been sitting on our patio. When I looked to the spot where it normally sat, I saw that the cushions from both of the chaise lounge chairs and two OTHER chairs were missing. Obviously, missing in action.

I'd like to say that some kind of bomb blew the cushions up that day. That it was not Snoopy's fault that we had to shovel our backyard that May day. But I can't. Not definitively, anyway. Without more facts, the only hypothesis that seems to make any sense is that if you take one bored dog + one sunny day + four foam rubber filled cushions, you might very well get something that looks a great deal like a snowfall in your backyard in 80 degree weather. Oh, and it doesn't melt.

I found it kinda cool. Honestly. I thought it looked amazing. And wanted to play in it.

Mom? Not so impressed. After the screaming stopped, my sister and I were handed trash bags and shovels and instructed that not so much as one piece of foam rubber should be left in the yard.

After a couple hours, we became more and more impressed (though less and less interested) with just how much foam rubber had been stuffed into each one of those cushions. If you have no experience with this, let me tell you, it's astounding. You don't ever want to have to clean it up, but it is something else.

When we started the task, Snoopy was sulking in the corner near his doghouse. Oh, he'd gotten a dose of my Mom's ire, too. We tried to tell him that we knew he didn't know any better, but he didn't seem particularly comforted by that. Like us, he knew she was pretty pissed.

Eventually, we'd met the challenge and had bags and bags and bags of foam rubber bits to put out by the curb. (We couldn't leave them in the backyard or we'd just be doing this again...and we were CERTAIN we didn't want to do that.)

The sleep of the dead overtook us that night. Exhaustion from such hard work, I'm sure. When we awoke the next morning, we naively went off to school and into our day.

Arriving home that afternoon, we found the backyard gate ajar and Snoopy was nowhere to be found. My sister and I began to panic. She began checking around the neighborhood, I called my Mom at work. Her response to my angst at the loss of my dog, "Well, one of you most have left the gate open and let him out. You've been told to be careful about that." I realize that makes my mother sound a little cold. Mostly, she's not.

I knew she was still pretty angry about the lawn furniture, and probably wasn't too sad to see him gone, but it hurt that she was displaying nearly no compassion when we were so obviously sad. She had no suggestions to help us find him, so I let her go, grabbed my bike, and headed out to see if I could find him.

My worst fear was that I would find him. Lying dead by the side of the road somewhere. That thought scared me badly. Thankfully...very thankfully...I never did find him like that. Sadly, though, I never did find him at all.

After several sleepless nights spent crying because we missed him, feeling remorse for having left the gate open, worrying about whether he was hungry, or hurt, or even dead out there somewhere...after a week's worth of afternoons spent riding our bikes out farther and farther looking everywhere for him, asking anyone and everyone we saw, hanging up Lost Dog signs all over the mother realized we were not going to give up easily.

It was then that she made a startling revelation.

We'd just come in from a couple hours of canvassing the area and she was just getting home from work. We shared with her that it had been ANOTHER fruitless expedition. She looked at us and told us not to keep looking. I'm sure we looked confused, but she elaborated.

Angry about the cushions that the dog had destroyed, she had called the pound and had him picked up. She instructed them to "leave the back gate ajar so that it will appear that the dog has run away" opposed to us assuming that our mother, who loved us, would have our dog sent away without telling us, and then lie to us and make us believe that he was gone due to our own negligence.

That deception took me a long time to get over. There are still times that the hurt comes back. Less that she did what she did to Snoopy (which I find unseemly, don't get me wrong), but more that she would play that kind of head game with us. It was the first time I ever remember thinking to myself that when I had kids of my own I would NEVER do something like that to them. NEVER.

We never saw Snoopy again. And I'm not sure about my sister, but I know I never looked at my mother the same way again. Even thirty years later, I can still vividly remember how stunned I was that she had done something like that to me. It gets better, but it never goes completely away. It's like touching a scar and having the memories of the wound come flooding painfully back. On some level, it stays with you always.

Parenting is always a difficult, and often a treacherous, journey. EVERY parent makes mistakes. The best you can hope for is that they are mistakes that don't leave permanent damage. My mother made mistakes. She, like every parent, did what she thought was right, and did what she believed was the best she could.

Experiences I had as a child made me want to strive to be a better parent. I wanted to be a mother who would be open and honest with her children, and who wouldn't engage in psychological games. I felt it was important to protect them from some of the hurts that were inflicted on me, and I felt it was entirely possible to do so.

I'm certain I've made parenting mistakes along the way, please don't think I believe otherwise. My own children will tell you that I'm tough. They will also tell you that I'm fair. They might tell you that I'm a little strange, too, but you shouldn't listen to that part. What's most important to me, though, is that I have their love, their trust, and their respect.

I hope all of you have a most excellent weekend. Highlander and I will have to find something to do alone, as my girls are headed back for a week with their dad this weekend. I'll miss them terribly. In fact, even though they're not gone, I already do. It's nice to know, though, that wherever they go, they always carry a part of me along with them.



Blogger MJ Norton said...

Clearly, he was framed by the Red Baron. It's tragically obvious.

More seriously - and not meaning to hijack the intent of the piece - I'm still blown away by the thought of having a dog and keeping him out of the house. I'm fairly sure that in anything like recent times, at least in the areas where I've lived (and part of this may be a matter of average local temps), if someone kept the dog out in the yard 24/7 (or even most of the day in the winter) the ASPCA would have been called by a concerned neighbor before long.

I don't believe I've known any dog owner in the past 25 years whose dog was outside more than he was in, with a doghouse being anything more than a fixed bit of shade or cover from a passing shower. This is coming from a lifelong suburbanite, where nearly everyone has a fair-sized yard. All memories I have of dogs who were kept outside most of the time are of dogs who were either mean, and intended primarily as someone's security system, or physical and spiritual wrecks.

As for the thrust of the piece, yeah, parenting can be a tough, tough deal. It's entirely likely that no one here would call me tough because I'm frequently far less than firm, am sometimes given to over-reactions and subsequently second-guessing my decisions.

Not lying to the kids about anything is something I have been soemthing of a stickler about, though, and I do feel very good about how I've handled things in that regard. I've already had several occasions to see that that level of confidence has worked well because the kids' guilt gets to them quickly when they try to deceive me about something, and they generally "out" themselves and come clean pretty quickly. Behold, the power of a guilty conscience! ;)

8/26/2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Heh...the Red Baron...

Your 25 year guideline doesn't apply here, Mike. As this was 30 years ago. And here in Kentucky, at least then, it wasn't as uncommon as it is today. There was no way it was up for negotiation, though. That I can tell you. You are correct, that his little wooden doghouse did little more than block the wind and the rain/snow. But, in the most severe periods of winter, no amount of begging done by my sister and I did any good.

Too many people I know have no problem lying to their kids. I suppose that comes easier to people who have no problem lying, in general. I know what your relationship with your boys means to you. I'm glad it means as much to them. (For the record, my girls have a hard time lying to me, as well. I'm sure because they realize how important honesty is to me.)

8/26/2006 10:50 PM  
Blogger Spider Girl said...

I couldn't agree more. My parents were guilty of treachery of this nature big and small throughout my childhood, everything from promises made with no intention of keeping them to 'let me see the loose tooth, I promise not to touch it...*YOINK!* to more serious offenses such as the one you described.

If there is one person a child should be able to trust in their life, its their mother. Like you, I also try to be fair, honest, and trustworthy as I can possibly be, no headgames. Perhaps this is the positive outcome to the mistakes of our parents, how else would we have learned what *not* to do? ;)

8/28/2006 11:19 AM  

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