dog school failure

In news of the completely unsurprising, I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever and all of those other horrible things that make oldest children trend both toward the successful and the annoying. And I have this dog. And if you’ve been following along at home, you might have noticed my belief that my dog was born with above-average intelligence, just like his mama. Kindly disregard with me the following points:

  1. I am not the dog’s actual mother.
  2. The dog, in fact, shares none of my genetic makeup.
  3. In fact, the dog is not even of the same species as I am.
  4. If nurture beat nature, then no smart, involved parents would ever have dumb kids. But it happens.
  5. And really, science should tell us that there’s no reason whatsoever that my dog should be smart just because I wish it were so.

So yes, these shall be the points we have agreed to ignore. I, for my part, was staunchly ignoring these points in early October, when I waltzed into Petsmart’s Beginner Dog Training with my blindingly intelligent brown dog, the perfect outer reflection of my perfect inner self, the one who would ace the shit out of that obedience class simply because I wanted it more than any of the other eight dog parents in the ring.

About ten minutes into the class, I had dropped my inner confidence that Bean was the most likely to succeed in favor of a desperate wish for Bean to at least not be the worst dog in class. Please, don’t let Bean be the worst dog in class.

And thank the sweet Jehovah above, Bean was not the worst dog in class that night.

He was the second-worst.

The honor of worst dog went to Chopper, a little rat terrier or something with an extremely laid-back, friendly dad who had no damn clue what to do with his incessantly barking, aggressive maniac of a dog. As Bean stole other dogs’ toys and drank other dogs’ water, I didn’t even care because at least he wasn’t as bad as Chopper.

So imagine my deep dismay when Chopper dropped out of dog school a few weeks later, leaving my sweet idiot Bean to claim the worst dog honor all by himself.

I knew loose leash walking would be a challenge for Bean. I knew that if I stopped every time he pulled the leash, we would probably finish our three laps behind the other dogs. What I did not know was that we would only make it through 1.5 laps of Bean dragging me sweaty and teary-eyed and exhausted, stopping only to hike his leg on a stack of cat litter and then to eat something random off the floor. We got back to the ring, where all the smart, obedient dogs and their owners were waiting, and Bean pranced in looking like an Olympic gold medalist. I, dragging behind him, looked like a Cathy cartoon.

I freaking hate Cathy cartoons.

So let’s call the next few weeks a trying time, to say the least, in my relationship with Bean. The next week, we walked into Petsmart for training and he promptly hiked his leg and peed all over a display of Beggin’ Treats. Somewhere in that time frame, I took him to the dog park alone. He obsessively chased and humped a little dog named Claire, whom I swear to God was asking for it, while I tried in vain to keep up with him so I could correct him every time he clumsily mounted her shoulder or the side of a picnic bench. Finally, Claire’s owner said something snippy to me and I dragged my idiot dog out of the park in tears, him whining all the while because if I could just give him one more chance he was SURE Claire would like him back this time. As he dragged me around the sidewalks of an outdoor shopping center one afternoon, some little kids claimed in giggles that he was “just like Marley” and I fought the urge to punch them right in their adorable little mouths.

And not a single Tuesday went by where I didn’t consider skipping dog school.

Bean loved every minute of dog school. He loved dragging me around the store and he loved when he and current dog crush Jack would whine adoringly at each other from across the training ring and he loved stealing toys off the shelves and rolling on his back right in the doorway of the store while I meekly asked the cashier if her scanner would stretch far enough to scan the stolen toy in his mouth. As person after person stopped to compliment his shiny coat and his sunny personality, I began to evaluate their clothes and what they were buying to see if I could send him home with them. I wouldn’t be the first person to abandon my dog in Petsmart, right? It’s full of dog lovers. Surely someone would take his dumb ass home.

The other dogs learned “leave it” and Bean barked at ceiling tiles. The other dogs trotted obediently beside their owners while Bean dragged me around and tormented the aquarium fish and small pets. The other dogs came running when called, while Bean stopped off to raid a display of stuffed reindeer. The other dogs “stayed” for minutes at a time, where Bean had no use for anything that required his attention for more than three seconds. In fact, when he realized that sitting to stay meant no treats for a while, he also decided that “sit” was an obsolete command. I dressed for embarrassment and failure, and counted the weeks until I would never have to set foot in that store again.

And then, on week 7 of 8, we had a new teacher – our third, at that point. We filled her in on what the second trainer had been teaching us and she asked us to go out into the store and practice having our dogs sit for greetings. About five minutes later, she realized Bean had no intention of sitting ever again and the poor patient shopper-volunteer was probably wondering if he’d ever get to go home that evening. Trainer #3 took me and my failure of a dog aside and worked with us for twenty solid minutes, made suggestions about a better training harness, and stayed with us after class to fit him for the new harness and walk around the store in it.

It was the first time in seven weeks that I really felt like we were being assisted and not just left alone to suffer. So I screwed up my courage and asked her what to do about my dog.

She talked about how smart and willing to learn he was, and said that she could let us graduate from the class next week, but felt it would do a disservice to both of us if she did. She said we could take the class again for free, that she would be our trainer, and that she would work with us consistently until he had the skills he needed. She might have been telling me Bean was smart just to make me feel better, but it worked, and I went home feeling more hopeful than I had in weeks.

I had decided to let my dog fail obedience school and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

Of course, I still had to come in for the graduation test in the eighth week. As we sat there reviewing concepts and preparing for the test, I looked up for maybe the first time in weeks and realized that of the nine dogs who began the class, only four of us remained. The other five had dropped out week by week while I was busy keeping my head down and plotting my dog’s demise. And of those four, only two passed the test.

Stop right there. This isn’t a movie. Bean failed the shit out of that test.

But it’s okay. We’re going to go back and try again in January, and Trainer #3 gave me some stuff to work on in the meantime, and I think maybe this time we’ll do a little better.

6 Comments December 13, 2010

excuses, ennui, or extreme overscheduling

Moving has been the start of an absolute whirlwind of activity – work activity, social activity, nesting activity, etc etc. It’s to the point where I frequently say I don’t have time for something and I mean it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it takes some getting used to for sure. There is work stuff and work stuff and work stuff, poker and pool and volleyball and karaoke and picnics and dinners out and kids’ birthday parties and the dog park and seriously, I have had barely any idle time since we came crashing into this pretty new town on which I currently have a dreamy and desperate crush. That was kind of the whole point of moving, to have Stuff to Do, but holy crap, I really had no idea we’d have this much Stuff to Do. It’s pretty great.

So last Tuesday I found myself with a rare couple of hours to myself with absolutely! nothing! planned! and somehow I spent a great deal of that time making a fatter version of myself for Rock Band. We’re really into Rock Band, see, and lately it had been bugging me that my little rocker girl was just way too skinny. Sure, I’d like to be skinnier but the fact is that I’m not, and plus my little rocker girl had no boobs. So I made a new one, and I made her fatter, big and curvy and luscious. And then I had to make some money to buy some better rock clothes, so I queued up a song list of full chick rock because Seth wasn’t home to make me do boy songs, woo! and we were off to the races.

How come I’m always doing something really loud when bad news comes in on the phone? Seriously.

So my cell phone rang, and I ignored it, because I was way too busy wailing on “Spiderwebs.” Seriously! That’s ironic, right? So then our newly-installed, can’t-quite-remember-how-to-use-it landline rang, and it was such a foreign concept to have a landline ringing that I ignored it for a second, and then I was all like, “A LIKELY STOOOOOOOOOOORY BUT LEAVE A MESSAGE AND I’LL CALL YOU BACK,” and then it kept ringing and I thought, hmm, I’d better get that. So I paused the game and dove across the couch to snag the non-caller-ID-enabled corded $5 cheapie phone and one of my sisters was on the line, breathless, scared and sad.

“Ginny called and Dad’s in the hospital and Mom’s in Richmond and it’s something with his heart and I don’t know what to do I’m supposed to teach a class in fifteen minutes and what’s going on? Do you know what’s going on?”

I was too far away. I was useless, utterly useless and helpless and impotent. All I could do is work the phones, so that’s what I did. I called Mom in Richmond, I called Ginny at the hospital, I called Sammi in class, I called Jamie in Westover. I got all the data I could and tried to calmly relay it and help everyone feel calm and empowered and then I made the rounds again, sitting hours away on my new kitchen counter with that crappy phone in my hand.

And as my mother blamed her business travel and Ginny paced the hospital halls and Sammi and Jamie worried separately then together, I sat on that counter and blamed myself. I have placed so much of my confidence in my ability to know what to do, to help my family when they need it, to help with planning and staying calm and details and logic and order, and due to what seemed like a completely selfish decision, I was sitting on a kitchen counter three hours away and there was, quite literally, nothing else I could do. I felt awful. I felt like I had abandoned my family.

Dad definitely had a heart attack. His main coronary artery had a 90% blockage, and two other arteries are also blocked. Ginny and the hospital staff saved his life. I sat on the kitchen counter and made useless phone calls, probably more for my own peace of mind than for anyone else’s. He had an angioplasty, they used a stent to open the blockage, he spent a couple of days in the hospital, and now he’s at home. I’ve talked to him a few times and he sounds great, says he feels twenty years younger. They will be scheduling a double bypass surgery for the other blockages in a few weeks.

Everyone else went home, but I haven’t yet. I’m so torn because I love them and want to be with them, but I have no time off from my job yet, I’m scheduled up to my eyeballs for the next few weeks (mostly work, but other things too), and it feels like there’s nothing for me to do. I’m getting conflicting messages about whether I should be there and it’s hard, because I’m far enough away that the trip is kind of a big deal, but not so far that it’s unreasonable. And yet, though I’m calling a lot and checking in and thinking about them constantly, I haven’t gone. Instead I sit here feeling useless and making excuses.

2 Comments September 27, 2010

not drowning, but waving

Hello to you, my dear friends and family, stalkers and creepers, exes and lost loves and regular readers and random passersby. A lot has happened since we last spoke, so much in fact that I hardly know where to begin. But I’ve been feeling that itchy urge to write here again, and here I sit in the fading light of day, with my love and my practice daughters downstairs building Lego cities, my dog and my cats snoozing on the furniture, music in the background, a keyboard and a white page in front of me. And it’s so different from the last time I wrote.

Spring was lousy. It was miserable and awful and I don’t even really want to talk about it, but I’ll need to talk about it a little bit so you know how it laid the foundation for what was to come. I used to be really into establishing superlatives – my worst birthday, my best year, my worst season, my best month, and so on. I can’t do it anymore. Spring sucked, but I don’t really know if it sucked more or less than the previous spring. Nobody died this spring, so in that sense it was better. But on the other hand, this was the spring when I realized I was drowning. It was not a sudden realization; in fact, it came up so gradually that by the time I could give it a name, it was nearly too late. I was out so far that no one could see me. My feet couldn’t find the ground, my legs were too tired to keep kicking, my arms were leaden weights, my lungs and ears and eyes were filling with water and it was rapidly closing over my head. Maybe no one knew. Maybe everyone knew. It doesn’t really matter now.

So among a million other sucky things, I came down with mono, which is stupid in the one sense because hello, I’m thirty years old and that ought to be too damn old for mono. But it isn’t. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was absolutely debilitating for me. I spent nearly a month at home, isolated and lonely and miserable and more exhausted and sick than I’ve ever been in my life. I had a lot of time to think. And as I came around the corner and began to recover, I slowly realized that I was drowning. Mono wasn’t the cause – it was a symptom.

And once I finally got it together enough to realize I was drowning, the answer was simple. Find solid ground.

So I did.

It would make a far more dramatic, better story if I told you how hard it was to find solid ground, but seriously, it wasn’t that hard. The answers were right in front of me the entire time, and once I could see them, it was fairly easy to choose them. And though those choices happened to also be beneficial for others, it’s important to know that I made them for myself.

I talked to the people who matter and support me. I quietly stepped out of the way of the people who didn’t. I found a new job and a new house in a new city, and all the other pieces began to fall into place.

I am calm and centered these days. I am effective and productive at work. I am happier than I’ve been in a long time. And I can’t wait to tell you the rest of the story.

I’m still writing it, and I hope you’ll be here to read it with me.

This is me, waving.

1 Comment September 18, 2010

the truth about cats and dogs

Once upon a time, I read an article about why cats and dogs don’t get along that completely fascinated me and has stuck with me ever since. What it basically boiled down to was a fundamental mutual misunderstanding. Cats and dogs, it seems, communicate using body language that in many cases has opposite meanings, and so they’re always misunderstanding one another and can never seem to get it straight.

Before I had a multi-species household, it was simply an interesting article. But now that I’m a mama to a dog and two cats, it’s a struggle I see playing out on a daily basis. We’ll have to eliminate Marco from this observation, as he is somewhat atypical. He might be a cat on the outside, but on the inside he’s one part snugglebug, one part lap dog, and one part wusspuss. So we’ll just talk about Abby and Bean.

I am pretty sure Abby and Bean would like to be friends. Ever since we brought Bean home, Abby has made a point of putting herself in his general vicinity, which in Abby’s world means she’s probably interested in a friendship. Bean, of course, would like to be friends with every single living creature in the entire universe, and so OF COURSE he wants to be friends with Abby. He wants to be BEST BEST BESTEST FRIENDS FOREVA OMG.

But they just can’t seem to get on the same page about things, no matter how hard they try. And of course, in addition to the dog-cat misunderstanding, Bean is still just a puppy and is kind of still learning how his legs work and why it’s not good to walk across people’s faces and stuff. So when they’re trying to hang out and make friends, Bean’s laid-back ears mean he’s feeling submissive and gentle. Abby’s mean YOU BETTER NOT FUCK WITH ME, MISTER. Bean’s waggly tail means he’s alert and interested and friendly. Abby’s twitching tail means she’s wary and feeling a little dangerous. Bean shows his belly to indicate submission. Abby shows hers to indicate she’s ready to fuck you up. And so on.

Poor Bean either gains points for tenacity or loses them for stupidity, because Abby has actually clawed his face on more than one occasion, and he still approaches her every single day as though maybe today she’ll want to play with him and hang out and be pals. And every day, she mistakes his friendly overtures as threatening acts, and reacts accordingly. And then Abby does what Abby does when she doesn’t like or understand a situation, and she peaces out. And of course while she’s running off to show she’s had enough, Bean thinks that means it’s time to play chase and he’s finally won himself a friend. And so on.

I tend to let them try to work it out themselves because seriously, it’s not like I can fix it. But it’s been something I’ve been paying attention to and kind of thinking about a lot lately. In life I sometimes find myself in a situation with other people where one of us is a dog and one’s a cat and we’re trying to form a friendship but we keep misunderstanding each other. And it’s rare, but when it happens, I really struggle to figure it out. Is it possible that, like Bean, I just don’t have the right communication tools to make myself understood?

4 Comments June 11, 2010

Dear Seth,

I’ve decided I shouldn’t wait until my loved ones die to write them love letters. It’s your turn.

This year was supposed to be so much better, right? I remember the end of last year, swaying with the crowd, singing “Start Wearing Purple” like it would become the anthem of 2010, the very essence of our hopes and dreams. You were across the room from me but I didn’t feel lonely or left behind. You were checking in, we made eye contact, and I thought of how much I loved you, how lucky I was to have you, and how much ass we were going to kick this year. You’d fought your way to the front of the stage and the Gogol girls were pouring champagne into your mouth and I stood back, to the side, and I was happy there. It was fine. It was as it should be.

So this year, it’s not better so far. I am not sure if it’s worse. It has certainly been a test, or perhaps a series of tests – a gauntlet, I think sometimes, that I must run at full speed if I am to survive. The problem is that I’ve never been a very good runner, and though I try my very best, I am so slow, and so weak, and so scared, and so unsure of my ability to make it through to the end. Sometimes I think I will never catch up to you, much less keep up with you. Sometimes it is very hard to see to the end.

I am not easy to love on the best days, and these have certainly not been my best days. I know what it costs you sometimes to stick around, and you know I fear that I can never repay that debt. I worry that by the time I am better, by the time I am able to be the partner you need, that it will be too late. But through all of that, through the nights when I keep you up coughing and feverish, the days when I drag you down with my worries, there is this:

I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you in a way you have never been loved. It is a love that carries no conditions, that does not judge, that does not depend on good behavior or a positive attitude. It is a love that persists through the worst weather and the most infuriating challenges. It is a love that is patient and pure enough to watch from the back of the room while those Gogol girls feed you champagne. It can embrace that effervescence, can give you the time and space you need to enjoy it, can even share it at parties sometimes. Those girls won’t build a home with you. Those girls won’t take care of you when you’re feeling bad. Those girls won’t fold your underwear, won’t carry your babies to bed. Those girls won’t be around when money is tight, when you hate yourself and the world a little, when you’re angry with them, when you feel frustrated and powerless, when nothing seems to be going right.

This one will. This girl always, always will.

1 Comment May 11, 2010

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