Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Dog Is Not the Same as a Child

I love animals. Really, I do. I was the proud owner of a series of cats from the age of six until the year I turned 24, when my last cat passed away at the cat-elderly age of 13, and I decided to give my poor cat-allergic husband a break and not adopt another one. I had a pet dog once, too— a rescue Cairn terrier who was so fiercely attached to and protective of me that he'd bark loudly at any unknown man who got within three feet of my personal space. In my lifetime I've had the pleasure of caring for pet mice, a pet lizard, a pet turtle, a pet rabbit, and tanks full of freshwater tropical fish in assorted shapes and sizes. Despite my current pet-less state, I am a card-carrying animal lover. For heaven's sake— I'm a vegetarian.

So I don't really mind that much when people call themselves "pet parents" instead of "pet owners." I get it, I really do. You love your animals so much that you'd much rather refer to them as members of your family than property. It's a nice sentiment, and I'm sure that on some level your animals appreciate your acknowledgment of them as feeling beings, capable of emotions and thought.

But when pet-lovers who do not have human children go beyond the label of "pet parent," and actually start comparing the experience of caring for a pet to the experience of parenting a child, as though the two were even marginally equivalent, I start to get peeved. It's not remotely the same. It's not. It's not at all. Trust me, I know. I've done both. And while I may feel real empathy for you when you describe that time you freaked out while your dog was having surgery, it does not compare at all to the time I had to wave and smile as surgeons wheeled my infant son off to anesthesia in a steel crib-cage.

So I hereby present, for the general edification of pet parents who have not yet acquired children of the human variety:

Key Differences Between a Child and a Dog

(Substitute "cat" or "potbellied pig" for "dog" as you please.)

If you're a dog owner, and you're out of milk and you need it for the recipe you're making for dinner, you can run to the grocery store down the street without your dog.

If you are a parent of a small child and you find yourself faced with a grocery emergency, you either must find a babysitter immediately, or dress your child appropriately for the weather, take your child to out the car whether or not your child wants to go, strap your child into an appropriate restraining device, listen to your child complain about your selections on the car radio all the way to the store, take your child out of the car seat, locate a cart that actually has a working seatbelt, listen to your child whine about your not finding a kiddie car cart, listen to your child whine about having to ride in a cart, listen to your child ask whether you can buy every tenth thing you pass, load your groceries into your car and return your cart to the corral while also wrangling your child, strap your child back into the car seat, drive home, and then figure out how to get your child and the groceries out of the car at the same time.

A new puppy may wake its owners up several times a night to take it outside and use the bathroom.

A new baby may wake its mother up several times a night to CHEW ON HER BOOBS.

A new puppy may sometimes pee or vomit on the floor.

A new baby may sometimes pee or vomit IN YOUR FACE.

It can take a few months to housetrain a dog.

It can take YEARS to housetrain a child.

If you leave your dog alone in a fenced yard with a bowl of food, a bowl of water and some toys for eight hours a day while you work, you might feel a little bit guilty and worry that your pet is not getting enough stimulation.

If you leave your child alone in a fenced yard with a bowl of food, a bowl of water and some toys for eight hours a day while you work, you will be arrested.

You must take care to teach a dog that seeking out your shoes and chewing them to pieces is not an appropriate way to play.

You must take care to teach a child that playing with matches could set your entire house on fire.

If you are trying to write a blog post, and your dog won't shut up, you can put your dog out in the yard, or at least in the next room, for an hour.

If you are trying to write a blog post, and your kid won't shut up, you will feel morally obligated to figure out a way to entertain your child. You can set your kid down in front of the TV, but then you'll feel guilty, because all of the childcare experts say TV IS BAD, and besides, it might not work for long. You can tell your child to go play in his or her room, but he or she might start bouncing balls off the walls or playing a trumpet. If your child is old enough, you can tell your child to play outside, but then you will feel compelled to repeatedly check on your child to ensure that he or she has not scraped a knee, broken a limb or been kidnapped.

If your dog needed dialysis, you might consider taking out a second mortgage to pay for the procedure.

If your child needed dialysis, you would ask a surgeon whether it would be feasible to cut out one of your own kidneys and give it to the child instead.

A dog will never ask you where puppies come from.

A child will ask you where babies come from, where ice cream came from, where toilets came from, where the sky came from, where trees came from, how cars work, how light switches work, how a heart works, why the stars glow, where he or she was before birth, where people go when they die, and whether there is a God.

Owning a dog is a serious commitment. Raising a puppy to be a good dog citizen can be difficult. It can take a year or two of careful training to teach a dog to behave properly both in your own home and in the outside world, around other dogs and people. But if you do the job right, your reward will be constant companionship for years to come. And every other dog owner who sees you out with your dog will remark on what an excellent job you've done as a trainer.

Parenting a child is a serious commitment. Raising a person to be a good citizen is incredibly difficult. It can take 18-25 years of careful training to teach a human to behave properly both in your own home and in the outside world, around other people. But if you do the job right, your child will move out of your house, possibly to a different city or even a different country, and if you're lucky, he or she will call occasionally and come back to visit you on holidays. People will praise your grown child for being a good person, but few will remember to even consider, let alone mention, what an excellent job you must have done as a parent.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Who Should Make Dinner?

Today, while in my seventh day of illness with a stuffy nose, body aches, and a hacking cough, I:

-Went to bed at 12:30 a.m. after being up with sick, coughing child
-Was awakened at 4 a.m., 4:30 a.m., 5 a.m., 6 and 8 a.m. by sick, coughing child, who was sleeping in the bed with me, while my husband slept in another room
-Made my son breakfast
-Convinced my son to eat breakfast*
-Brushed my son's hair*
-Got my son dressed for the day*
-Picked up all the toys my son scattered around the house over the past week while I was sick
-Vacuumed the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the office, my son's room, and the hallway
-Mopped the kitchen floor
-Cleaned the coffee table, the sofa, and two living room chairs thoroughly with a lint roller
-Washed two loads of laundry
-Scrubbed the stove and the kitchen counter
-Wiped down the dining room table and chairs
-Scrubbed a toilet and a bathroom sink, cleaned two bathroom mirrors, and washed and dried a bathroom rug
-Sorted and organized all of the mail, coupons and circulars in the house; filed bank statements, etc.; tossed out expired and outdated things
-Explained key parts of the economic stimulus package to my Republican father-in-law over the phone
-Consoled via email not one but two friends having emergencies
-Called my son's future kindergarten to register him for orientation
-Cooked my son's lunch
-Convinced my son to eat his lunch*
-Put away a load of dishes from the dishwasher
-Loaded and washed a new load of dishes in the dishwasher
-Wrote two work emails
-Downloaded and installed new music software for my son
-Wrote an entire blog post (that I am bumping until tomorrow because I'm writing this one)
-Emptied and washed the vacuum cleaner filter

All while caring for a sick preschooler who was annoyed at being kept home from school.*

*These things are not as easy as they sound when the child involved has a sensory disorder.

Today my husband:

-Handed me the phone to talk to his Dad since he was on his way to work
-Drove five minutes in no traffic to the office
-Sat down in a chair
-Listened to political podcasts
-Programmed some stuff
-Listened to science podcasts
-Programmed some stuff
-Maybe went to a meeting
-Came home slightly early
-Did one load of laundry and folded another.
-Helped my son install some more music software
-Played on the Nintendo DS
-Watched TV
-Started to feel a little sniffly and tired, like he might maybe be coming down with the virus the kid and I have had for an entire week
-Gave me puppy eyes about being sick and tired

I've suggested he make a tofu stir fry.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Handmade Valentine's Day

I am constantly annoyed by how difficult it is these days to find reasonably priced stuff for kids that doesn't have licensed characters or corporate logos stamped all over it.

If my son specifically wants something with a character on it from a movie or show he's particularly fond of, I don't mind letting him have it. For instance, he loves this Wall-E movie poster he got from our local library, and considering that Wall-E was the first film that actually entranced my child with a sensory disorder enough that he was able to sit through the entire movie in a crowded theater with a thundering sound system and an enormous flickering screen without experiencing a Total Sensory Overload Meltdown of Epic Proportions, I was all too happy to frame that scrappy Pixar trash-collector robot and hang him right over my son's bed, Disney logo and all.*

But I really resent the fact that when I'm trying to buy my child, let's say, a pair of shoes, half of the pairs in the boys' section at the shoe store are essentially plastered with ads. I'm happy to let my child enjoy pop culture in moderation, but I don't want my kid to be a walking billboard for mass-produced schlock.

So I am not particularly fond of the chintzy licensed character valentines most kids pass out at school. Yes, I know that a lot of people think Valentine's Day as we know it was essentially invented by Hallmark for the express purpose of selling chintzy cards, but celebrating love on February 14th actually has a storied history dating back to pre-Christian Roman times, when boys used to spend the day going around slapping girls and women they liked with strips of goat hide. (I'm not joking. Read the link.) In medieval times, after the holiday had been named for St. Valentine, lovers used to send one another intricately decorated letters that were sometimes written in code.

People have been celebrating their love for one another, as February's warmer winds thaw the frozen ground, by exchanging handmade notes and gifts for a very long time. And I think the tradition of a handmade Valentine's Day is a much nicer to honor than the more recent tradition of rushing to the 24-hour drugstore the day before the 14th to grab a box of chocolates for the sigOth and a box of printed cartoon ads for the kid to hand out in school.

That's why I had my son handmake the Valentine's Day cards for his preschool class this year. I bought blank cards, a few heart-shaped stamps, and some glittery stickers— all things he could handle easily on his own without much help from me— and let him go wild. They may not be as slick as those mass-produced valentines, but I think they turned out pretty well.

It did take a few hours longer than buying a box of Wall-E valentine cards would have, but he'll remember the fun he had making these, and the pride he took in finishing them, a lot longer than he would have remembered a trip to the store.

*Does anyone besides me find it incredibly ironic, by the way, that in a cross-promotion gambit for a film that is essentially a warning to all humans not to continue destroying the earth with too much cheap mass-produced crap, Disney has produced tons of cheap mass-produced crap? I mean, they passed out plastic digital watches at the premier, for heaven's sake.