Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Dog's Anxiety is a Reflection of My Own

You may remember that I have two dogs: Sammy Sue and Saint. I wrote a blog post about Sammy Sue for my very first Slice of Life. Now, months later, I captured a little piece of a truth that I had been living with for years, but never saw. My male dog, Saint, is the focus of today's slice:

Saint has always been a little higher maintenance than his big sister. As the baby, my ex-husband and I didn't want him to get steamrolled by Sammy Sue, so we were a little bit hard on her to make sure she was gentle. That was probably our first mistake! In hind sight, I realize dogs have a way of working things out among themselves and we should have left them to it!

Even though he is high maintenance, and a little high strung, Saint has always been the glue that bound our odd little pack together. He was never comfortable unless we were all together: me, my ex-husband, Sammy Sue, and Saint. He has always suffered from separation anxiety, as do many pets!

Admittedly, he and Sammy Sue had always lived a life of luxury...until my divorce. When my ex-husband moved out of our house, Saint took it the hardest. Yes, I was devastated, but more over the fact that I had to start over. I knew things would get better with time, but my poor little Saint, he was inconsolable.

Now that "the man of the house" was gone, he took on that role. I know it may sound silly to some people, but those of you whose dogs are your children will understand! Saint became overly protective of me, growling, snorting, and charging other people and dogs. I remember getting pulled over one time for speeding. As the police officer approached my car, I told him he might want me to step out of the car because my male dog was a little protective. He grumpily demanded that I remain in the car. When he reached my driver's side window, Saint scrambled over my head rest, growling and foaming at the mouth. The police officer quickly jumped back and said, "Ma'am, can you please step out of the vehicle?"

So wrapped up in my own pity party, though, because not only had I lost my husband but any chance of having a child along with him, I neglected to see how our separation was affecting my dogs! Sammy Sue is a tough little cookie; she could survive just about anything. But, my little Saint, he was coming apart at the seams, and I didn't even see it!

To make matters worse, we had to move in with family once my son was born. As a single mom, with no help from my son's father, I simply couldn't do it on my own. So, we packed up our lives and moved 2 1/2 hours away. We went from an entire house to one room. Even worse, my dogs could no longer be inside dogs. They were either in the backyard or in my car during the day. Fortunately, they were allowed to come inside at night and sleep in our room. But, the stress of having to be separated from me for long hours at a time, while banished to an unfamiliar backyard, was too much for Saint. He developed an auto-immune skin disease.

This went on for over two years, until I was finally in a position to move my little family into our own house. I can't tell you how glorious it was to have my dogs back inside with me! They had the freedom to come and go as they pleased. Saint no longer trembled when I left him alone (because he could always sneak up on to Mommy's bed and feel close to me :-).

All this to set the stage for my slice of life epiphany from this morning: dogs really do characterize their owners, at least in Saint's case! I realized that after my divorce I suffered from terrible anxiety, as did Saint; I fell into bouts of depression, as did Saint; and I have fought feelings of inadequacy, fear of not being able to provide for my family, and, as a single mom, doubt over my ability to protect us; all of which I believe Saint has tried to make up for by being the protector of our family!

All this came to me this morning while I tended to his auto-immune skin disease, which still flares up from time-to-time, usually when high winds approach, a nagging reminder that he is suffering from an irrational fear of something he can't see...just like me!

It's strange how you can live with a truth for so many years, and not see it! But, I do now! And, hopefully, Saint and I can both put our fears behind us. I know I'm going to do my best to help him; and, in helping him, I might just be able to help myself :-)

Here's my sweet little Saint, who many people that don't know him might argue otherwise...

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn-themed Wall Dot-to-Dot

Autumn is my favorite season of the year!

So, to marry my love of Autumn and my passion for supporting my son's learning, I created an Autumn Wall Dot-to-Dot. This idea came from Play Learn Love's "Giant Holiday Dot-to-Dot" post, but I altered it slightly to fit my favorite holiday.

I started by sticking thumb tacks in a pattern on the hallway wall, placing numbered sticky notes next to each tack:

Then, I brought my son in to show him what I had made. Before having him "connect the dots", I had him count the numbers to make sure he knew which direction he would be going:

After he counted all the numbers, I had him practice connecting the "dots" by wrapping yarn around each thumb tack. This proved to be a trial-and-error process because if he didn't keep the yarn pulled tightly, but not too tightly, the whole thing collapsed:

He eventually got the hang of it and managed to wrap the yarn all the way around our shape. What followed was a privileged look into his problem-solving process:

This activity provided my son the opportunity to practice his counting skills, hand-eye coordination, and pattern recognition, in a fun and engaging way, resulting in a deep sense of satisfaction and accomplishment!

This was my first attempt, so the pattern was rather simple. I look forward to doing this with him again, with a more complex dot-to-dot. If you have any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments :-)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

At 43, I Flunked PreSchool

It's been one long month since I wrote a blog post. I didn't even realize it had been that long until yesterday. Then, I also realized where my month had gone: it had gotten sucked right up into my son's first month of preschool.

A year ago, I researched cooperative preschools and came across a gem! It has been in operation for over thirty years, in a small town where former students now bring their children. After visiting a few times, both on my own and with my son, I was excited! The teacher was kind, knowledgeable, and experienced. My son and I eagerly awaited his first day, and when that day arrived, he dressed for the part:

Officially, I am supposed to sign up for three volunteer days each month. However, this being my son's first experience away from the family, I opted to be there everyday, for as long as he wanted. This lasted all of three days! On the fourth day, my son very gently, but matter-of-factly, said, "Mom, you can go now. And don't come back until the other parents do."

What!?! I was being dismissed?!? What would I do? Where would I go?

I happened to have our dogs that day, so, being close enough to the beach that we could smell the crisp, salty air, I decided to take them for a walk. It was absolutely glorious! I actually got to walk my dogs through the dunes, without having to stop every thirty seconds to tell my son 'hurry up'; all the while they frolicked freely in the water:

On this walk, I devised my plan. After dropping my son off at school, I would indulge in activities that have escaped me since becoming a single mom: reading at the beach, going to a matinee (to watch something I want to watch for a change), sitting at a coffee shop and simply do nothing but sip on my drink. I would have to fit some work time on my computer, but oh, the possibilities :-)

Fast forward to day seven of preschool: I park on the drop-off side where the curb is painted with "20 Minute Parking". From his car seat, my son frantically says, "Mom, you can't park here!"


"Because you have to park on the staying side of the street!"

This was news to me! I pulled forward a bit so I wouldn't be too close to the school's entrance and asked my son why he didn't want me to leave. Turns out, he was unaccustomed to the aggressive play many of the boys in his class displayed, not to mention the screaming tantrums one child was prone to, and he was terrified for me to leave him there alone. Mind you, these are all very nice kids, and I certainly do not mean for this post to be a complaint of other people's children, so I will try to focus on my son.

He is a very mellow, easy-going boy. Our little family consists of me, him, our two dogs, and two fish. While he enjoys wrestling and play-fighting, our versions of these activities are a little more mellow than most. So, the arguments and power-struggles, that I can only assume are a natural part of a preschool class, left him feeling quite anxious.

Three weeks later and I had stayed with my son at his school every single day. I was exhausted! A couple of those days, I managed to wriggle my way out for an hour, tops. Other than that, I was consumed with four year olds!

As our first month of preschool drew near, my son and I made the very difficult decision to not sign up for the month of October. I was heart broken, because I really do love the program and the teacher; but I couldn't continue going to school with him every single day (I'm a working, single mom, and this was taking its toll).

And, I certainly was not going to peel him off of me and let him "get used to it". I know this works for many parents, but I'm just not one of them. I don't know if I made the right decision or not, but I had to make the one that provided the least friction in our lives.

We both cried on his last day of school, as we said goodbye to his classmates and teacher; him because it was his first real experience with loss, and me because, at the age of 43, I had just flunked preschool. What to do now?

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