Battle Hymn of a (Dog) Parent

I was sitting around the other day discussing goals for the future with my youngest son and my daughter. We excluded my oldest offspring deliberately from the discussion because at nineteen, he has it all figured out.
“Okay,” I say to my daughter, the resident slob, “a good short term goal for you would be to clean your room. And a good long term goal would be to keep it clean.”
My husband and neat freak extraordinaire, laughs humorlessly. His guffaw seems to say, that’s about as realistic as expecting a live broadcast of a man voluntarily allowing himself to be eaten alive by an anaconda.
In short, like the Discovery special Eaten Alive that didn’t deliver on its promise to show naturalist Paul Rosolie being devoured whole by a green anaconda, keeping her room tidy just isn’t going to happen. Like the anaconda which showed considerable revulsion at the prospect of ingesting Rosolie, my daughter displays similar disdain at the very idea of putting away folded laundry.
A slob with a purpose!
She is a slob on purpose.
This vaguely validates a theory I have that if there is a neat-freak gene, courtesy of my husband, only my boys have inherited it. But like a lot of slobs, my daughter looks beyond theories and sees issues like tidiness on a continuum. On the broad spectrum of all things neat, she does alright.
“The idea is being able to find what you want when you need it,” she says, “and I do.”
Fair point, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve failed as a parent.
“We have guests arriving this weekend, so tidy up your room and while you’re at it, fix the mess on your desk!” I say. My friend Tracy whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years had called to say she was coming to visit with a friend and I wanted the ENTIRE house looking tidy.
But she scoffs. The way she sees it, I have bigger problems.
She’s right.
Zephyr our 12 lb slip of a dog is going to embarrass me way more than a sloppy desk or an untidy room ever can.
Within minutes of my guests walking into my home, Zephyr gives them a sampling of his vast repertoire of bad manners. He humps one guest while she tries to take off her boots and barks incessantly at the other.
I cringe. But he looks so damned cute in his little striped sweater. Maybe they’ll overlook his rudeness and instead marvel at his audacious, if unearned, self-esteem.
I want to say, “He must have a Napoleon complex,” to explain his self-indulgence. Instead I say, “He always took top prize in Agility at 4-H, but failed at Obedience.”
But as the evening progresses, his behavior escalates.
He decides to join us at the table for dinner, eyes the wine optimistically, attacks the cupboard to get at the garbage can and humps any passing limb with robotic determination.
At this point I know that explaining his wantonness with, “he has Celiac disease,”
will be a huge disservice to all the other Celiac sufferers who (thankfully) don’t subscribe to such behaviors.
I begin to feel like that parent who has been indulging her child’s ego to protect his psyche. If Amy Chua ever decides to write a book on tough dog parenting, Zephyr will surely have the introductory chapter.
It’s widely rumored that my humanoid children received the full length and breadth of the Asian-parent treatment. Why did I give this kid a pass?
It must have to do with the fact that he has four legs and a tail. Plus, he came to us missing a couple of crucial parts which elicited instant sympathy from the entire family, especially the boys who felt his pain immediately. So we called him unique and self-motivated, concocted cute words to describe his body functions. No, no, our little doggie does not poop like other ordinary canines. Zephyr makes Tootsie Rolls. Peeing is for ordinary dogs. The Z-man makes “slushies.” We extol his many talents, including his finesse with zippers. We gush to visitors about his epic photo shoot with a professional photographer. The photographer said Zephyr posed better than any human subject he’s worked with. Have you ever seen a male Maltese-poodle in drag?
Few canines embrace cross-dressing with as much beatitude as Zephyr. He has five photo albums to his name, our kids have just two. There are photos of a languid Zephyr in quiet repose, taking in some rays in an orange two-piece halter bikini. There are more featuring Zephyr in costumes that run the gamut from a pink ballerina’s tutu to a blue velvet evening gown with inner lace petticoats and tights.
In every one of them, he’s looking the camera straight in the lens—focused and professional. Zephyr’s a natural; a sort of Naomi Campbell, without the attitude.
I try to take solace in a study by Christy Hoffman of Canisius College in Buffalo, NY who figures that dogs that parade attention seeking behaviors have a better bond with owners than perfectly mannered pooches, but it offers little comfort. No matter how I try to rationalize it, Zephyr is a product of my making. I figure it’s time to take the Amy Chua approach and Tiger-Mom him.
This morning, Zephyr and I discussed goals and expectations for his future behavior. I wax Chua and say, “Do you know how many years you’ve taken off my life?”
There’s no guilt tripping this dog.
So I heed Tracy’s advice and decide to invest in a dog horn.
Short term goal: I guess I’ll just have to plug my ears and have my dog hate me.
Long term goal: A better behaved dog.IMG_5190


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