Saturday, March 14, 2009

Don't Shoot The Dog (Third Grade Math, Part Two)

Just in case I came across as too grounded at the end of my last essay on third grade math. You know, a couple of bad months of homework stress, a life lesson learned, personal growth achieved, end of story type stuff. Like you need to read that self-congratulatory sugary nonsense.

I'm here to assure you that I really DO finally understand the metric system.

But also that 3 times 6 does NOT equal 19, nor does it equal 21, nor will it EVER equal 19 or 21 no matter how much you don't feel like doing the homework and no matter how much you are going to punish your mother for making you do it. Sigh.

I pulled out the wooden blocks to explain what TIMES actually means. Went through it from 3 times 1 to 3 times 2 all the way up to 3 times 6. I was really really really patient. Which just pissed Ryan off more because the whole point was that she knew darn well what 3 times 6 was, she was just going to make my life hell.

She ended up in her room and I ended up in on the phone with a friend, in tears.

And then I remembered what we used to tell owners when they brought their dogs to the behavioral clinic at vet school. I mean, these dogs were nuts. And the owners were desperate, desperate enough to spend hundreds of dollars and 6 to 8 hours of their time at the clinic asking for our advice. Why couldn't they get this dog to behave? What could they do better? Why could other people get their dogs to behave? What had they done wrong?

Sure - we had a couple of cases where we DID help the owners learn how to better work with their dogs. (Just like Ryan's teacher has taught me how to teach her math.) But for the most part, these dogs were nuts, and many were dangerous. And we repeatedly told the owners that this was NOT THEIR FAULT. Training, discipline - you know, nurture - works with 99 percent of dogs. They are pack animals; they WANT to follow you. Look at the idiots out there who don't know what the heck they are doing. And the kids - I mean the dogs - turn out fine.

For the most part, it is really hard to mess up. A little food. A lot of love. And the rest really takes care of itself. Good God, if it took a perfect parent to raise a child, we would be in serious trouble.

And so the vast majority of us muddle on with our imperfections - the family pets do fine. They DO learn to multiply eventually, and to read, and to behave.
But there are no easy answers for the ones that refuse to fit the mold. And it is really hard as the parent of a child who is NOT doing well, to watch the idiots around you doing just fine with theirs.

Karen Pryor is the author of a book on behavior, animal and human, called Don't Shoot The Dog. The basic premise as I recall from over fifteen years ago is that there are a number of solutions to dealing with behavioral problems, in this case a barking dog. Shooting the dog is one solution. But don't worry, there are others.

I don't know that there is a cut and dried answer to Ryan's schoolwork issues. The books all state the obvious - the stuff that would work in 90 percent of the cases. (I had a similar problem when Andrew wouldn't sleep through the night for two years. Since the stuff that worked in the overwhelming majority of the cases wasn't working, it was obviously my fault; I was doing something wrong.) The only simple answers come from mothers whose kids obviously don't have this problem; otherwise the answers wouldn't be so simple.

And so it does come down to how you deal with it from here on in after all.

The best answer came from my friend. Breathe deep. Really. Breathe deep. I know you want to kill her, she said, but just take it easy and take care of yourself. THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. This dog was just not meant to run with the pack.

And so my responsibility shifts - from taking the blame for my daughter's problems with her homework - to taking credit for dealing with it in a calm and loving manner. Forgiving her and moving on.

THIS IS NOT MY FAULT. But I really do wish she would sit and stay.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Christine,
    I LOVE your blog!!
    Sometimes I imagine our mothers sitting in their peaceful empty nests, sipping herbal tea while reading our blogs. They smile at our witty talented writing, and I wonder if it is not a smile, but a smirk. Suddenly they jump up and start to do a little happy dance. The mixing bowl happy dance. The one where you rotate your hands shoulders and sing a little ditty. "Your Daughter is just like you-whoo, Your daughter is just like you-whoo. And you have a dog too, and you have a dog too.”
    I KNOW my mother put the curse on me when I was about nine. The one where they scrunch up their
    right eye until it twitches and then tell you through clenched teeth, ”Someday you’ll have a daughter.”
    Call your Mama, tell her your're real sorry, and ask he to kindly REMOVE THE CURSE!
    This does not mean we can't pass it on to our daughters. I already have.