what being the alpha dog has taught me (so far)

After four months of dog ownership, I am sure of one thing: getting a dog does not automatically make one a dog person. I give you Exhibit A: Marshmallow.

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Yeah, she’s cute, whatever. While walking her in the pre-dawn these past few months, I have heard from people far more “dog person” than I that I “must be taking tons of pictures.”  Uh, no.  The last picture I took of Marshmallow? According to iPhoto it was eleven weeks ago, and it’s really a picture of my child in which the dog happens to appear. (The above photo was taken by a friend of a friend whom I have never met but who is, apparently, a dog person, since she is taking photos of a dog not even hers.)

One dog lover actually suggested to me that I take Marshmallow’s picture in the same place every day, and then do a hallway panorama of her absolutely adorable growth. For just a moment, I felt guilty that I had been doing nothing of the kind- until I remembered that there was no such record of the growth of my children, either, and no one had called Protective Services on me yet.

This has been the one rule that has saved my sanity during the daily trials of puppy ownership: do nothing for a baby animal that I had not done for my baby humans.

When one “expert”  told me I couldn’t possibly make the puppy sleep down the hall in an confined environment, I reminded myself that all three of my babies had done no less.

When another told me to reject heartworm pills as the work of some veterinary devil, I reminded myself that I had heard these same arguments with my fully-vaccinated children.

So no, I won’t walk her twice an hour and bathe her in pressed lavender water. No, I won’t take her picture every single day.

I’m not saying that it’s not a fully valid choice to co-sleep with your baby, or to delay vaccinations. But if I have learned anything from ten years of parenting, it is that five experts will give you five opinions, and when you toss them all out the window and do what works right for you, that’s when you’ll start living. So we’ve been winging this puppy thing, and while there are a few more presents on the carpet than I’d like, she can “sit” and “stay” and I have managed to keep my “when did I get like this” moments to a handful.

But if my childrearing experience has caused me to cast a gimlet eye upon the Dog Whisperers of our world, those same canine experts have cast new light on a few ways my parenting of humans might yet be improved.  “Down,” my husband was saying to Marshmallow last night. “Down, I said. Get down.”

“You can’t do that,” I scolded, suddenly channeling Cesar Millan. “You give a dog a command just once. If you repeat it like that, you’re teaching her that THAT is the command, and then she’ll never listen.”

“Kind of like our kids?” he retorted.

Touché. It seems that my children think “Brush your teeth brush your teeth I said GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH” is the absolute minimum requiring any sort of response, and even that with a great roll of the eyes and an “I heard you the first time,” which is enough to send me around the bend.

But they better watch out, because starting tonight, I’m going to take a page from the Canine Catechism:

  • Give the command once, and only once. (Once is enough when you are the alpha dog.)
  • Don’t give the cue when disobedience is an option. When training a dog, don’t tell her  to “come” unless you can give a leash a tug to make it happen, if necessary. (If I’m yelling “brush your teeth!” at my kids- while they are wrestling in their room- disobedience is way too easy.)
  • If the command is not obeyed, gently but firmly place the dog into the correct position. (To do this, it seems I’m supposed to call my kids to the bathroom, THEN tell them to brush their teeth. This kind of sucks- I prefer to yell it from the couch where I’m figuring out what I want to watch after they go to sleep- but I have to admit that approach has a high failure rate.)
  • Give lavish praise when command is obeyed. (“What a good fourth grader! You brushed your teeth like your Mommy said!”)

I’ll let you know how it goes.

What has pet ownership taught you about parenting the human sort?

getting one’s mom-uppance

Our neighbors across the hall recently confessed to me that they had a good laugh one morning after hearing me yell my kids onto the elevator and out the door to school. I’m assuming it sounded something like this.

“Come on. COME ON. Do you seriously not have your shoes on? The elevator is COMING! Wait, is today flag football? Did you pack your water bottle? Get it! GET IT! We will MISS THE BUS and heaven help you BECAUSE I WILL NOT, SO HELP ME SWEET GOD.”

The reason this made my neighbors laugh was not because it was unusual– that’s the Apartment 12A Morning Zoo Soundtrack  most days. What made them laugh was that they had just the night before see me perform in an off-Broadway play that had received rave reviews, a real dream come true for me. “And then there you were pulling your hair out the next morning,” they said, still chuckling. “How far the mighty fall.”

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Which all just goes to show: being a mom is really great! Whenever Mom has a moment of glory, she can count on her family to bring her right back down to earth.  Like Carrie, as soon as a mom has a prom queen moment, someone will dump a bucket of pig blood on her just so she remembers who she is. Only difference: even if Mom gets the fire-eyes, she won’t burn anything down or anything, she’ll just holler a little. Or perhaps weep.

So I wasn’t surprised when several bodily fluids conspired to sully my incipient triumph at the second annual Listen to Your Mother: NYC last weekend. But I kept on smiling. Not Maggie’s stomach flu that had her vomiting the night before, on the hour, from two to seven a.m.; not the diarrhea of our puppy, Marshmallow, whose new brand of chewy bone upset her tender stomach; no, not even an entire morning of deep-Cinderella disinfecting of our kitchen and both bathrooms could stop this moment from being just the. BEST.

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This moment was pretty good too.

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And then the next morning, we were all back to yelling at our kids that they were about to miss the bus. We each suffered our own get-off-your-pedestal indignities: my fellow cast member Kim Forde’s reveries were interrupted when some cashier  asked for her Price Plus card. The nerve! Plus, Kim’s son started projectile vomiting. So I guess it’s not just me.

But I fear I might be the only one mining the horror movies of my childhood as metaphors for my recent motherhood experiences. That’s a little weird.

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Sure, you can text $10 to the Red Cross. But if you want to know your dollars will have maximum immediate impact on those devastated by Oklahoma’s tornado, here’s some smaller charities that are there on the ground:

Team Rubicon , which has deployed teams of military veterans to assist the first responders on site

Samaritan’s Purse, recommended by Oklahoma native The Pioneer Woman, has disaster relief units and volunteers on site

And Infant Crisis Services, the OKC charity supported by this year’s Listen to Your Mother: Oklahoma City, will be providing formula, diapers, and food to all the displaced infants and toddlers.

Please consider these charities as you consider how to help. And keep in mind, as FEMA director Craig Fugate just explained during the latest OKC press conference: “Stuff isn’t as good as cash when it comes to the needs of people who have lost everything.” 

Listen To Your Mother: why you should. and why you should go.

Three years ago, I went to my very first blogging conference- Blissdom. If you read the “Mommy Business Trip” story in the Wall Street Journal last week, you might think that blogging conferences are about staying in your hotel room and eating everything in the minibar, then hitting happy hour and on to oblivion.  Cause all us “mommy bloggers” are so silly, right?

Not exactly.

At my first night at that first blogging conference, I met fellow blogger Ann Imig. “I have this idea,” she said.

My first reaction: That is the best idea I have ever heard.

My second reaction: Why couldn’t I have thought of that?

My third reaction: Okay, I didn’t think of it… but come hell or high water, I *will* be part of it. 

LTYM-logo-300x262That idea was Listen to Your Mother, a reading series in celebration of Mother’s Day that Ann brought to one city (Madison,WI) in 2010, and which will play in 24 cities this year. That’s right,  twenty-four cities! Washington, DC kicked things off this past weekend. Here’s this weekend’s schedule (click for show and ticket info):

Indianapolis May 2, 2013 at Indiana Historical Society

Providence May 4, 2013 at Providence Public Library Auditorium

Chicago May 5, 2013 at Athenaeum Theatre

Milwaukee May 5, 2013, Wehr Hall at Alverno College

Oklahoma City May 5, 2013 at Will Rogers Theatre

And on Mother’s Day itself- May 12, 2013- New York will present its second annual Listen to Your Mother show, directed by? Me.

Our cast is amazing. Our cast tells stories of motherhood that are hilarious and heartbreaking and everything in between. Our cast hails from Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts (yes, we have a cast member commuting FOUR HOURS to be in this show). Our cast is mothers, daughters, grandmothers, and a son. Our cast has published authors and “you look familiar” actors and stand-up comedians, but also people who have never done anything like this before.

screenshotAnd I am privileged beyond words to be a part of it.

My fellow cast member (and blogger) Kizz took this picture of me last night at rehearsal. It’s up on her blog today, with this caption:

“It’s a rare talent to honestly enjoy watching a show you’re directing instead of listening to your mind racing around all the things you still have to do. Fortunately, Amy has that talent.”

The thing is, I DON’T. I do not have the talent of enjoying the moment. And we have tons to do before our show day. But when I sit and listen to these incredible stories, nothing else matters.

When I had two children in two years, I mourned the certain death of my professionally creative self. I had taken the exit ramp from my acting career, and I was sure I’d never get it back. 

“Your work is not over,” my husband told me then. “Your work might have to be different now. But I know that your best work is still ahead of you.”

He was right. (FOR ONCE.) He was right.

LTYM-logo-300x262LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER: NYC

Sunday, May 12th (Mother’s Day) at 5 pm

Symphony Space, 95th and Broadway

tickets $25 and available here ($30 at the door)

“It changes the way you look at people for a while. When you look at people as if everyone has a story, you will walk away forever changed.”- Ann Imig

Thank you, Ann.