On the Need for Emergency Backup Children

Joey at Hammonasset Beach

Alex M. is our emergency backup son. Let me clarify. He is actually our son’s best friend from childhood. He has always worn the moniker of EBS proudly. When called upon, he would serve, he said. Good to know.

He and Kevin, my firstborn, have been best buddies since middle school. They survived Children’s Island Camp, attended the local charter school, and commuted to Catholic high school together. They dated girls who were friends, and they spent a great deal of their time in Alex’s basement. You see, Alex’s parents are wise, and they knew if they had a cool basement hideaway, their teenagers and their friends would hang downstairs. What better way to know what is going on than to lure the juveniles to gather right beneath your feet?

Our house is not cool. It is small and has no basement. With its unimpressive TV, lack of a decent backyard, and little rooms, our home offered no place for the teenagers to retreat to. Hence, they did not hang here. As a result, I had to rely on spies to find out what was going on with my son. Unlike my daughter, who divulged her social and academic particulars more willingly during our mother-daughter tête-à-têtes, my son kept his own counsel during his adolescent years.

Both Kevin and Alex are home from college working for the summer. The other day Alex came over to meet Ginger. Noting that Kevin and Ginger have the same hair color, Alex informed Ginger that he was the well-established emergency backup child and she had better not move in on his territory no matter how cute she is.

Are my intentions really that transparent? Four years ago, my sister-in-law adopted a black lab when her last child, a daughter, went off to college. Joey is Ginger’s cousin, and he is a big, drooling, loving, and wonderful dog of inelegance. What lab is anything but? In most respects, he is nothing like my niece, who is blonde, slender, beautiful, intelligent, and graceful. Regardless, he is a substitute child, who gives and receives love in spades. That has been clear since the day my sister-in-law started talking about him.

And, yes, I must be upfront with myself, so is Ginger. There, I said it.

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On How Food Bowls Can be Evil

The Bowl of MalevolenceYesterday we brought home our new dog, Ginger. She is a red (obviously) cockapoo, whose parents have enormously complicated AKC registration names that read like song lyrics. Her hair is the same color as my eldest child’s. I’d like to claim this color coincidence serendipitous, but I cannot. In fact, on Facebook, a friend insinuated that she is my third child. To which I had to admit guilt, although begrudgingly. The redheads in the household now outnumber the brunettes. (Very cool.) And everyone is home.

You see, my second child left for college last September. And the house was very empty. No matter how much I read about being an empty-nester and all the recommended coping mechanisms, nothing quite prepared me for their absence. The beds stayed perpetually made, and there were no more empty boxes of Cheez-Its discarded carelessly under them. Retail therapy at local consignment shops helped for a couple of months as did my new-found addiction to spinning, but it was a hard semester.

But I digress a bit from the point of this post, which is, of course, about Ginger. At only eight weeks, she has shown herself to be already house-trained and crate-trained. By the grace of God, she even slept through on her first night—eight straight hours. No secret puddles of pee have appeared in the corner of the room. And no nose-wriggling, foul presents have been deposited under the table. Just so you don’t think that I think I have somehow happened upon the best, most well-adjusted, and easy-to-train puppy ever, I will disabuse you of that notion now. She has a couple of quirks. First, she wants to be next to one of us ALL the time. A part of her body must be touching a part of my or another family member’s body whenever she isn’t running around outside. (Not so bad. A quirk she will most likely outgrow once she become more emotionally mature.) Second, she is AFRAID of her food bowl. She will not eat from it. In fact, she will not go near it. She will go out of her way to avoid walking by it. Interestingly, she is not afraid of her water bowl. They are exactly the same. I bought them both at the local mega-pet store for a couple of dollars each. Made of ceramic and weighted well with a cute doggy-themed logo on the side, they seemed like the perfect choice.

I thought I had considered nearly every contingency. I bought the dog food, the brushes, the dental chews, the enzyme cleaner, the bitter spray (to deter chewing), the toys, the treats, the kennel, the doggy bed, the leash, the dog collar, and the customized doggy tag with her name and our address. She has her first appointment for the vet booked, and I even purchased and read several books on dog training. I have planned several visits from friends to help socialize her, and am educating myself on how to keep her healthy.

So, how could I have anticipated this? Each of her meals (a few bits of kibble) has been eaten directly from my hand. “How hard can it be to convince her to eat from her bowl,” I thought. A la Hansel and Gretel, I tried a trail of kibble leading to the bowl to no avail. I tried balancing kibble on the edge of the bowl. I tried putting my hand full of kibble directly in the bowl. She took one bite from my hand when it was in the bowl until she detected my ruse, and then quickly withdrew. Super premium (at least according to the package) training treats placed in the bowl have not induced her to eat from it. The bowl is something to be avoided at all costs. Evil emanates from the bowl in her eyes; consequently, she looks at me suspiciously every time I encourage her to overcome her fear.

We are only on day 2 of her being part of our family. I have confidence that she will learn to love mealtimes. In the meantime, I plan to shop for a new bowl.