The Cleverness of Puppies and Toddlers Should Never Be Underestimated

Kevin and GlennaGinger has recently become more adventurous. I used to be able to open the door to let her out and be assured that she would not wander more than 20 feet away from me. As September waned, she grew bolder and even started to leave the confines of our small property. Lately, she has become so brave as to worry me that she might run out into the street after a dog or cat. Her sneakiness in trying to outwit me so that she can escape is both entertaining and exasperating. Although we occasionally venture out without a leash, I usually keep her close now.

This transformation into a daring pup reminds me of my daughter’s audacious behavior as a tot. Glenna was sassy, physically able, and mischievous in her determination to best me at every opportunity. She would wait until I was distracted for a few seconds and then race for the nearest door; street; or dangerous, large, and moving object. And she was fast too. When we were home, I had to keep an eye on her almost every second unless she was parked in front of a video. Even then, I had to check on her frequently to make sure she wasn’t getting into trouble, but, at least, I could accomplish a few chores. Or so I foolishly believed.

On one weekday afternoon, she and her brother were relaxing while watching a favorite film. Taking advantage of the opportunity, I took the garbage out to the garage and grabbed something else I needed in there. When I reentered the room, I noticed her shirt on the floor in front of the couch. The conversation that ensued evolved something like this:

“Why is your new shirt on the floor?” I asked.

“I threw it there,” my three-year-old replied.

“Why did you throw it there?”

“Because I took it off.”

“Why did you take it off?”

“I don’t like it anymore.”

“Why don’t you like it anymore?”

“Because it isn’t pretty now.”

“Why do you think that it’s not pretty now?”

“Because it has a hole in it.”

“How did a hole get in your new shirt?”

“I cut it.”

“Why would you cut a hole in your shirt?”

“I had scissors.”

“So you cut a hole in your shirt, took it off, and then, threw it on the ground.”

With irritation, she said, “I don’t like it anymore. I want to watch the video.”

Serves me right for leaving the room for 120 seconds and paying full price for a fancy Gymboree® shirt for a three-year-old.

Rending her shirt was a relatively mild offense compared to her attempts to publically demonstrate my maternal incompetence. On one particularly eventful afternoon, I decided to take my then three-year-old son, Kevin, and 18-month-old Glenna shopping with me. That decision wasn’t too unusual except that on this occasion, I wanted to journey to the local department store and battle with the other women over clearance racks.

A few days earlier, I had purchased a wrist lead for my daughter. (Okay, I’ll admit it; I bought a leash for my kid.) She was so impish that I finally faced my vexing predicament head on, and procured a tool that I had previously scorned all others for owning. For the first 10 minutes or so in the store, it worked great. While she indignantly tried to remove the offending constraint (this alone kept her busy), I held it and her brother’s hand as we walked toward the much-anticipated sale.

The area was a beehive of activity. The racks were extremely tightly packed together, one virtually on top of the other. All were crammed with hundreds of articles of marked-down apparel. About thirty women swarmed the environs; each with her arms loaded down with goods. A few eyed my tethered child and threw disdainful looks my way. Excited by the prospect of finally purchasing myself some clothing after a virtual three-year hiatus, I didn’t care what they thought.

All was going swimmingly as I approached the third round garment rack of my search. My son timidly commented on my choices, and my daughter was marvelously cooperative and quiet. For a few brief moments, I was in paradise.

My heavenly sojourn was not to be long-lasting, however. Without warning, wailing emerged from around my feet. With great stealth and amazing agility for one so young, my toddler had managed to tangle herself around the base of the rack. To my surprise, she was so intertwined in the framework that she could barely move. Kevin proffered advice while I searched for a way to disentangle her. The only solution was to unstrap her wrist. In a nanosecond, the frustration and fear evaporated from Glenna’s face, she laughed (“sucker”), and took off, weaving her way through the maze of clothing, racks, and legs.

Trapped and unable to pursue her, I knelt down next to my son and said, “I give you permission to find your sister, knock her down, and sit on her.”

“Really?” he asked, disbelief screwing up his perfect, little boy features.

“Really,” I said.

He vanished as I struggled to my feet. For about a minute, I hunted for my wayward child from my vantage point; I then heard her angry cry coming from the other side of room, just outside the sale area. Dropping my would-be purchases, I ran over to find a triumphant Kevin sitting on top of a flattened and very irked Glenna. “I did it!” he exclaimed.

My child was found, and my mortification was complete. Imagining the clucking all around me and barely looking up, I bid a hasty retreat.

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A Brutal Wind

As usual, Ginger is not sure what all the fuss is about and proclaims her innocence with her puppy eyes.

As usual, Ginger is not sure what all the fuss is about and proclaims her innocence with her puppy eyes.

There is no way to put this delicately, so I’ll just come right out and post it. My puppy is farting. A lot. She has in the past passed gas occasionally (usually when we are trying to watch TV, and she is sleeping at our feet), but recently the frequency of her eruptions of flatus has grown exponentially.

As I sat in a cloud of puppy-produced methane, skatole, dimethyl sulfide, and other malodorous and noxious chemicals, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Does every puppy owner suffer as I do?” I googled the following:

“puppy farts”

There were 1,120,000 hits in .29 seconds. So, I am not alone. Then I googled this:

“dog farts”

There were 2,660,000 hits in .19 seconds. Does the former number imply mature dogs are more flatulent than puppies are? To answer this question, I googled:

“Do adult dogs fart more than puppies do?”

There were 19,700,000 hits in .71 seconds. Okay, I realize that with more words in my search string, I am going to get more hits. But wow, are there really that many people posting about this issue? I was hesitant to even type my initial string in the search bar for fear that some obnoxious virus would invade my computer as soon as I clicked on a result. After all, one can’t assume that a website devoted to canine wind is trustworthy. I could only imagine the humiliation in trying to explain my frozen computer to the Geeks rolling their eyes at Best Buy™. “Yes, I swear that I don’t usually frequent such iniquitous sites.”

Nonetheless, I began surfing. I reasoned the first two pages of SEO frontrunners would be well-intended, reputable sites designed and written by professionals. Mostly what I found were discussion boards filled with piteous pleas from fellow sufferers. A plethora of well-meaning good Samaritans answered these calls for help with suggestions on changing dog food brands. Of course, each responder endorsed a different alimentary solution.

My dog’s excessive flatulence began with my changing her food to one suggested by the vet, who assured me it would cure another minor ill. I have been adding it gradually, and now that I think about it, that’s when the frequency of odiferous events accelerated. Fortunately, I only purchased a small bag of the offending chow.

To restore my home’s atmospheric harmony, I have resorted to running around the house while spraying Glade® Clean Linen® scent and leaving windows ajar. Now that it grows cold with autumn, the windows will have to stay closed. I can only hope the solution to this dilemma presents itself soon.

Puppy Fears

Last week, my daughter and I decided to conduct an experiment involving Ginger. We put her dog tag with her name and address back on her collar. Earlier in her stay with us, it became clear that the clinking of the tag against the ceramic bowl was scaring her (see “On How Food Bowls Can Be Evil”). We thought that perhaps five weeks later, she might have overcome her dread of jangling noises, but no such luck. Fortunately, as soon as we removed the tag, she resumed eating from the bowl. I was relieved that I didn’t have to spend another five days convincing her that bowl was not the font of all evil.

The things/situations that frighten our puppy are both varied and bizarre. They include:

1. The food bowl when it is at my parents’ house. For some unknowable reason, she would only eat off the floor in their sunroom.

2. Rain. She would rather hold it, than relieve herself in the rain.

3. Cars. Cars are leviathans that drive by our house and might just swallow her if she gets too close. She’s kind of right about that, actually.

4. The front yard. The back yard is a place to romp and be joyful. The front yard is where dangers both apparent and hidden exist. I can’t really put a finger on why the east side of our house has become so foreboding, but I think it has something to do with the contractors who were working across the street and their tools.

5. Any dog that barks within a block of our house.

6. The air conditioning unit. The only time the air conditioning unit is scary for we humans is when it is not working!

7. Our neighbors. Any sudden or unfamiliar noise from their yard is a reason to run for the door to go inside.

8. Weed whackers, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers. I agree; these can be terrifying.

9. The vacuum when it is not running, not when it is on. She will sit quietly and wait just a few feet away when I am using the vacuum, but will avoid walking near it at all costs when it sits idle.

10. Jets that have just taken off from Logan airport and are flying over our house. I think these are frightening because she cannot locate the source of the roar. Her head begins snapping around as she checks in all directions (except up) to locate the source of the sound. She invariably gives up and runs for the door.

11. Wind. I simply have no explanation for this.

Interestingly enough, there are things I would think that she’d be wary of, but isn’t. These include:

1. Bees. She will put her little nose right up to sniff them and even tried to eat one.

2. Raspberry canes in our backyard. I am loath to reach into these to pick raspberries to eat because my arms come back all scratched. She charges through them at full speed and even chews on them. So far she has yet to suffer from thorns in her tongue.

3. The vacuum. See above.

4. Me, even when I am angry with her. I weigh 15 times as much as she does, and she doesn’t seem to be the least bit trepidatious about disobeying me. In fact, if I scold her, she simply barks at me, as if to say, “In your face, lady . . .” Kind of like my daughter did when she was two all of those years ago . . .

The Lost Art of Finding the Lost

The lost is found.

The lost is found.

I can find things. No, I mean I am really good at finding things. At least I used to be.

Everyone in my household depends on me to locate their personal effects. I could be away running some errands and pick up a call from my husband who wants to know if I’ve seen his (fill in whatever here). The weird thing about it is that I usually do know where it is. My children will claim not to know where some article of clothing or a book is, and I can march down to their rooms and find it sometimes within seconds.

When queried about lost items, my responses are usually something like these:

“Your thumb drive is on the floor next to the nightstand’s foot closest to the bed.”

“I saw your book under your laptop on the side table next to the striped chair in the living room.”

“Your sun glasses are on the bookshelf, second shelf down.” And/or: “If you mean the other pair, it is on your dresser next to your wallet.”

When my family members express amazement that once again I have located something they swear they couldn’t find if their lives depended on it, I shrug and say something like, “You know I’m good at finding things.”  I’d rather retort, “How could you NOT know where it is, YOU left it there. In fact, it’s been there for 5 DAYS. I’ve walked past it at LEAST 100 times and so have YOU.” Of course, in the interest of family harmony, I do not express these thoughts. Usually.

They think my talent is freakish. To me it’s normal and to be expected given that our house is pretty small, and I spend an inordinate amount of time here. My husband claims that he is not the only male who demonstrates this lack of ability, and besides that, I must have magical powers. My gift works like this: someone asks about an object and a mental image pops into my brain of the item and its setting. No magic involved, just a bit of undiagnosed OCD.

I have thought seriously about putting this skill on my LinkedIn account and on my resume. Where would I list such expertise? Under “Weird Stuff That I’m Good at, But No One Will Ever Pay Me for”? Perhaps in my cover letter I should compose a short appeal like, “I look forward to hearing from you soon about this position, and if you grant me an interview, I’ll find that favorite pen you misplaced in your office.” The job market being what it is, maybe my resume will then rise to the top of the pile. Why is it that employers value SEO capabilities so much more than my special competency? After all, they’re kind of the same thing, aren’t they?

The entropy in the household has increased significantly since Ginger became part of the family. Disorder rules, and I can’t seem to remember where everything is. It took several minutes for me to locate her favorite ball. In fact, no image flashed in my brain when I went to look for the toy. I found this occurrence quite disconcerting, and was so relieved when I found the ball under the striped chair.

I have developed the following hypotheses to explain my declining skill level:

1. I am so sleep-deprived after over two weeks of insufficient slumber each night that I spend most of the day in a haze of subpar cognition.

2. My finding skill has been replaced in my neuroanatomy by an obsession with puppy elimination and a nascent mental map of every spot that she has employed for such purposes.

3. When I walk through the house, I am looking down to avoid stepping on her (see “Canine Foot Fetish and Other Topics I thought I’d Never Write About”), and my brain is no longer registering the surrounding items and their whereabouts.

4. Puppies are like toddlers in their ability to generate chaos.

5. It is really hard to find stuff while holding a puppy, who is trying to bite my head, when I crouch down to look under the couch.

6. I am getting old.

After considerable thought, I reject all of the above (especially the last one) and will practice a little role reversal with my family members instead.

“Hey kids, have either of you seen my . . . ?

On Ants and Other Pets

Kevin and Ginger
I have always loved animals. All kinds of animals. At one point when I was a kid, I wanted an ant farm. Yes, you read that right. An ant farm. I envisioned myself spending hours watching them as they scurried to and fro carrying food, pupae, and eggs. The farm would be large and have glass walls. There would be hundreds of productive workers, and I would be in control.

When I broached the subject with my mother, she looked at me as though I were clearly insane and no doubt was wondering how I could have possibly emerged from her womb. You see, she was pretty, stylish, and talented. She made my wedding dress from scratch with no pattern and sang soprano in the church choir. She was feminine and knew what shoes to wear. She belly danced and made crafts as hobbies, and her house was always clean despite housing our numerous pets, five children, my father, and my grandfather within its walls.

I figured, why not an ant farm? I reasoned she would surely appreciate the value of studying a genuine ant society right in my own room. I would be able to see all of the activities of the colony’s industrious inhabitants. I would observe these Formicidae, take copious notes, and discover something really important. My mother, (voted most attractive and most versatile in her high school class) was no fool, and informed me, in no uncertain terms and without further elaboration, that she was not going to buy me an ant farm to decorate my room with. And she went back to cooking dinner.

Frustrated, but still determined, I returned to my book on ants (obviously, what else should I be reading?) Not too many days after that conversation, I stood in the driveway watching the insect wildlife when I saw a huge, very obviously gravid, black ant lumbering across my path. The solution to my dilemma had presented itself.  Assuredly, the source of my mother’s objection was the expense of purchasing the farm. If I provided my own queen laden with eggs and made my own enclosure, she would not only capitulate, but be thrilled with my ingenuity. I captured it in my cupped hands and ran inside. Frantically, searching for the perfect container in the kitchen cupboards and finding none, I ran upstairs to search for something suitable. First, however, I stored my ant in the kitchen sink, by removing the dishes and then plugging the drain. The heavy queen was unable to scale the slippery walls.

Desperately, I rummaged through my and then my brothers’ rooms looking for something that would properly accommodate the most awesome ant farm science had ever known. Nothing seemed like it would work. I peeked downstairs and saw that my ant had not escaped, and continued to search. Just a few minutes later, I heard a loud exclamation and the swooshing noise of the sink spray hose. Panicked, I ran to the kitchen; my mother looked at me and said, “You will never believe what I found in the sink. The biggest ant I have ever seen. That creature must have been almost an inch long.”  Crestfallen, I explained that the queen had been the proposed progenitor of my ant project. She was to have been the Eve that would have informed my intellect with knowledge on ant-kind.

“You brought a queen carpenter ant into my house?” was her simple response. Seeing the look of disbelief on my mother’s face, I slowly began to realize that she did not share my excitement about the ant farm. I think that I must have looked quite pathetic then because she suddenly began apologizing while explaining that carpenter ants are generally not welcome guests in houses made of wood. (Who knew?) Feeling a tad guilty, she distracted me with a chore or a story. I don’t remember which.

I look back on this and other instances now, and I realize how truly indulgent my parents were when it came to their children and pets. At various times my parents’ house and yard sheltered three dogs, seven cats, seventeen rabbits (not all at once), many tens of fish, and a gerbil. Not to mention the hundreds of birds my many bird feeders attracted or the frogs my brothers brought home in buckets after their adventures in the woods.

So did we deprive our children by only having one cockatiel, three parakeets, one hamster, and a 16-gallon tank of fish? Or perhaps my parents truly overindulged my siblings and me. Either way, this spring finally seemed the right time to welcome a dog into our midst.

My son lobbied for a dog for about three months when he was young. I seriously researched dog ownership and decided instead on a cockatiel, who turned out to be a wonderful, smart, and loving addition to our family. Fast forward 10 years later, and I had to break the news to my son that my husband and I had decided to become dog owners, and that we had already chosen the puppy and a name. Preparing for an explosion of pent-up emotion regarding his childhood’s being deprived of a dog, I broke the news to him while sitting in the RER in Paris as we rode to Versailles. He was surprisingly calm and accepting. So at long last, he has a dog. We all do; and everyone is thrilled, and she is settling in quite nicely. Somewhat like the carpenter ants that the exterminator discovered in my house siding a few weeks back. I finally have my ant farm after all.

Twenty Reasons Ginger Is Good for Us or the Zen of Owning a Puppy

Zen GingerRecently, someone found my blog by searching for “why is ginger good for you.” No kidding. This search string made my day for two reasons. First, someone actually Googled a topic that resulted in my blog showing up. Yay! (I Googled this phrase myself, and my blog’s post was at the top of the fourth page.) Second, Ginger IS good for you or us, I should say. Below is a list of reasons why Ginger has been good for our family (nutritional benefits of ginger root aside, of course.)

1. Ginger makes us smile and laugh every day. Laughter has proven health benefits.

2. In bending down to scoop her up, pet her, or put her leash on, I do at least 50 leg squats per day. My quads and hamstrings thank her.

3. Add five more legs squats to the above for poop patrol.

4. It’s hard to take myself too seriously when I have a bag of poop swinging from my hand.

5. We are increasing our pulmonary capacities when we run around the yard with her.

6. More of our friends want to come over to visit so that they can see her, I mean us.

7. She might help my son get a job. My son has hypothesized that he will be offered the super competitive internship he applied for if he brings Ginger along to the interview. Her charm will so distract the interviewers that they will offer him the internship on the spot. That strategy could work . . .

8. We hope to make new friends because all kinds of people come up to us to comment on how cute she is.

9. There are few more soothing activities after a stressful day than cuddling a sleeping puppy.

10. The other day, my niece unexpectedly wanted to participate in FaceTime when I was on the phone with my sister, so she could see the puppy, I mean me.

11. I have more to talk about with other dog owners. Trading tips on house training is a great conversation starter. (Suddenly, I am transported back in time to my children’s toddler years and talk of Pull-Ups®.)

12. My children are offering to help with the chores more, if the chores involve Ginger, that is.

13. I need to sweep the kitchen floor less frequently since Ginger is so good at helping me keep it clean.

14. Ginger is helping us to bond as a family. Because Ginger is at a stage where she always needs to be watched, we are forced to spend more time together at home.

15. We love Ginger, and she loves us.

16. Ginger is thrilled to see me, no matter how I look, feel, or am behaving. She wants to be with me that much. Amazing.

17. She helps me find time to write, something I’ve wanted to do for years.

18. She contributes ideas for my writing just by being herself.

19. We take pride in our puppy’s progress. For instance, she is no longer harbors any suspicions about her food bowl (see “On How Food Bowls Can Be Evil”) and knows three commands.

20. Our new dog has helped us live in the present more. How perfectly Zen of her.