Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Puppies Are Like Two Year Olds (Aka. Life With Chester)

If there is one thing I know, and know well, it is two year olds.

It seems as though I have been around them all my life. Or pretty darn close to it. I have baby sat them, I have worked in their classes at daycare, I was their lead teacher in a private preschool, I was the nanny to one, and I have had dozens of them through the years at our church nursery - including my current class.

Oh ... and all three of my girlies were two at one point in their lives.

So, yeah ... I can honestly say that two year old behavior is no longer surprising. Mostly entertaining and exasperating, I love two year olds simply because they are on that teeter-totter cusp between wanting to still being a baby and trying so hard to be an independent preschooler. Favorite phrases are "wha' dat?" and "I do it mysef!" Parrots to whatever the adults in their lives say, the dreaded "NO!" makes you wonder exactly how often do they hear it. The common joke is that a child thinks his name is "No-no *insert name*!" during that second year of their lives. Two year olds are so precocious and intoxicating in their innocence and yet, with closer watching, you can see the little wheels actually turning in their head as they negotiate how to achieve what they want, whether that is getting the baby out of your lap so that they can get in it, removing the toy they wish to play with from the hands of another or negotiating how to keep you from seeing what they are truly doing at any given moment.

In the case of puppies, I'm not as familiar. I simply haven't been around them as often. However, I'm learning fast. Chester was 3 months old when he came home with me. He is now officially 6 months old. I know I'm not an expert. I still have to regularly call my "doggy guru", my friend who laughs at me and guides me when I'm unsure on a behavior or eating habit. I've made mistakes, I know this, but I'm trying.

No ... I'm not an expert on puppies by any means. However, if there is one lesson I HAVE learned, and learned well during these last 3 months, it is this - puppies are simply furry, four legged, two year olds. Don't believe me? Let me give you some examples:

1) You are NEVER alone, even in the bathroom. When The Twins were two, they were okay playing by themselves as long as I was visibly near by. The minute I went to the restroom, however, I suddenly had two attachments ... exploring the bathroom, standing right in front of me, demanding attention.

Now I have Chester ... exploring the bathroom, standing right in front of me, demanding attention. Closing the door doesn't work. In the case of The Twins, they would knock continuously while calling my name. One would be trying the door knob while the other would be crouched down trying to see under the door. In the case of Chester, there is the continuous scratching at the door, the barking out, the jumping to reach the door knob, and the belly wiggle trying to get his nose under the door.

If you have children and/or a dog ... you KNOW this is true.

2) You have to constantly watch because any and EVERYTHING goes into the mouth. Some days it seems as though I spend all of my time at church telling my kiddos to “take that out of your mouth!” I’m not exactly sure why, but for one little girl it seems as though the toy house works better if you put the people’s rounded head in your mouth. Play keys, balls, edges of blankets, edges of dresses and shirts, train steam stacks, blocks, shapes … you name it, it goes in the mouth. Some things are quickly discarded and others remain, sort of like a large rounded pacifier. Then, of course, there’s the fingers … thumbs, one finger, two fingers, the whole fist. For two year olds, a large reason for this oral fixation is because they are continuing to do a lot of teething.

So it is with Chester. Nothing is sacred. Toys, pillows, blankets, clothing (socks & shoes in particular) are all sampled through the little pup’s mouth. Some are discarded, most are not. The vet says this will start to go away in a couple months when he looses all of his baby teeth and has his full set of “adult” teeth. I’m gonna wait to see if that really happens. If it does, then hallelujah! I’ll simply give thanks that canine teething isn’t as long as human teething.

3) Simple toys are the best toys. When I was a nanny *mumblemumble* years ago, my young charge was blessed with parents that could afford to get her a plethora of books and learning toys, not to mention dolls, stuffed animals, etc. Don’t get me wrong, she really wasn’t a spoiled child, she just had all manner of toys. So it was always amusing to me when opening her presents on her birthday, her favorite gift was a pair of socks. She put them on her hands and worked them like puppets. She put them on her ears and pretended to be a puppy. She stuffed them full of pieces of other toys and used them as purses. She was blissfully happy with her socks and the remainder of the toys … well, they just stayed stacked on the table.

Chester’s favorite toy is a blue water bottle. He will carry it around, chase it, gnaw on it, bat it back and forth around on the ground – even better if he remembers to take it to the kitchen where it makes more noise. Every night when I pick up his toys and put them back in his toy basket, it doesn’t matter where I put it – top or bottom – his bottle is the first toy he gets out. Followed a close second by his beanie baby worm on a red ribbon. :-)

4) Listening skills need some work … a lot of work. Whether it is the stubborn streak of independence that is beginning to assert itself in the two year old mindset or whether it is because they simply get so intent in what they are playing/working on, two year olds don’t always respond immediately when called or told something. A few years back I had a little boy in my nursery I seriously began to wonder if was deaf, I had such a difficult time getting him to hear and listen to me. Then I caught him giving me a sly look under his bangs, cutting his eyes to the side as they looked up at me with a smirk. Oh. Yes. The little guy HEARD me tell him it was time to pick up the toys, but he wasn’t going to listen to me without some reinforcement. Time out is simply not fun when it is facing a wall and no where near the toys or books or other children.

Chester knows his name. He understands what it means when he hears the sound of keys and the word “bye-bye”. He knows the difference between the opening of the refrigerator door and the freezer door and will instantly make an appearance when the freezer door opens in the hopes of getting a coveted ice cube. Yep. My little ball of fluff does not have a hearing problem and he’s very intelligent. Which is why I know for certain that he is simply not listening to the words “no”, “stop”, “quit”, and “quiet” come out of my mouth when he is in the act of doing something I don’t want him to be doing, particularly when he does actually pause and/or look at me when I issue the commands. Nope. My little guy requires reinforcement at times and, hopefully, he will learn to understand I mean what I say. A short quick spurt from a water bottle has been effective. Recommended by a friend with very well trained dogs, we’ll see how this goes.

5) It may take a master engineer to put something together, but it only requires a two-year old or a puppy to take it apart. Many *mumblemumble* years ago, I had the opportunity to work for a time at a “then” state-of-the-art preschool center. It was designed for Zales Corporation in Dallas and developed to provide quality preschool on-site for Zales employee’s children, 3 months through 5 years. I was the lead teacher for their two year old class and had 18 children … 12 of whom were boys. We had a wonderful playground area right outside of our room, complete with the coolest swings/slide/climbing apparatus seen at that time. The kids loved it. It was a great area and easy to control, every area visible so that it was easy to keep an eye on all the kids. When we would go outside, I always had at least one, if not two, helpers. It didn’t matter. Invariably those tiny little two year old minds and fingers, working together were able to remove swings from chains or safety cushions from climbing areas. I would have to use a set of pliers or a Phillips head screwdriver to replace these objects, but with their nimble persevering little fingers, they would promptly take them apart again.

Chester is the master at disassembling. There is no magazine staple or glued binding able to withstand this little pup’s page removal. Rolls of toilet paper are no match for him. The perforations are quickly and easily torn and shredded. Trashcans lose their abilities to hold trash, sofas lose their stuffing. Then there are shoe laces. Bound at the ends by hard plastic and tied in double knots, these strings are nothing but momentary puzzles to be sorted by my little guy. He is the master champ at unraveling, uprooting, and undoing anything. I love his ingenuity. I sigh over the clean up that follows, not to mention the necessity in purchasing more shoelaces.

6) Remember the 1980’s Matthew Broderick movie, “WarGames” and the classic line – “Shall we play a game?”? The line is actually “spoken” by the computer that had been programmed to “play games” and win, thus “learning” strategy and providing a foundation for the computer to predict outcome. Children love to play games … they love to play and in reality, their “play” is actually work, because they are constantly learning THROUGH play. They love it even more when the grown up in their life takes the time to play with them, their little bodies seem to quiver with excitement, big eyes watching and waiting. I always loved to play with my oldest girlie when she was two. We would spend Friday nights and Saturdays, simply reading and playing and watching Disney Sing-Along videos, and yes, we DID sing along. Each and every single time to each and every single song. It might have seemed like all we were doing is singing and playing and singing WHILE we played, but I can’t help wonder at times if those times we spent playing and singing didn’t play an unknowingly strategic part in laying the foundation for that same girlie to develop such a love for music that she is now in college studying it. Something to ponder.

While Chester isn’t human, and therefore isn’t college bound, he does have a love of play and, in his playing, he is constantly learning. His total delight when I get down on the floor and play with him is evident in his body language … head down, butt in the air, tail wagging 90 miles an hour as he prepares to pounce. The most fun we have is playing fetch … he never knows which direction I am going to throw the toy or ball and his entire body quivers with the anticipation. I love to watch him fly down the hall to retrieve the toy and then his eager return to me to do it all over again. No, my ball of fluff may not go to college, but I believe he’s getting a good foundation in observing which keeps him smart … retrieving which keeps him active … and returning to me which keeps him safe in a sense of security.

7) At the end of the day, don’t we all simply want to be loved and cuddled and feel a sense of security? I realize I’m not two years old, but I know I do. This sense is even stronger for a two year old. The world is a big and scary place for grown ups. Imagine it from a perspective of two feet tall and not near as much understanding of what’s going on in the world today. Even as they strive so hard for that sense of independence, a two year old can only gain that sense in a healthy manner if it comes with a sense of security. In my nursery I have a little one whose mom has to place her in my lap before she can leave. My tiny tot has learned that her mom will return, but in the meantime, my lap is a place of security. It doesn’t take long, a few minutes usually, and then she is able to hop down and play on her own, her independence renewed. Yet, when fingers get smushed, or chairs tip over, then it is a quick return to Ms. Cindy’s lap to cuddle, to be loved, to gain back that sense of security in the world. I have to admit, I adore those moments. I miss them when the child passes two and, as independence grows, so does the need for the cuddling. I delight that their sense of security has grown stronger, but … well … I miss the loving cuddles! My memories are strong of a tiny girl who preferred to take her morning nap while nestled on my chest because she was scared of the shadows in her big new bedroom and big new bed. Saturday mornings with my oldest girlie provided a time of cuddling, love, and security as she would nestle with me on the couch and we would watch cartoons. The Twins would end our Saturdays in my Lazy Boy rocker, one on each armrest, heads nestled down on each of my shoulders as we would read the latest adventures of Dr. Seuss. Two year olds are simply built to receive and give unconditional love with those who provide a safe haven, a sense of security – whether it’s a parent, a teacher, a nanny, or simply a friend.

My little ball of white fluff is similar in so many ways … so tiny that the world becomes a strange and scary place. Even as he strives to protect me fiercely, he does so from a place of security provided underneath my legs as I stand or sit. When I arrive home from a long day at work, he does not settle until he has been picked up and cuddled for a time, nestled firmly against my chest as I scratch his chin or ear. All through our evenings or days, he is my constant companion. Independent enough to explore and play, as long as I remain where I was at the time he left, and quick to return to my side if I move to a different area. He is secure in the knowledge that I am “his human” and I will provide his needs. In return, he gives me such a fierce devotion and love in his own manner. When sadness creeps in and tears fall, he is right there … nuzzling my neck and licking my chin. It’s not exactly the same as the hug from a little one, but it’s a comfort and a warm sense of not being alone. And at the end of the day, comfort in the form of furry love and cuddles is definitely not a bad thing. :-)

I have other areas of comparison between your basic pint-sized two year olds and my ball of fluff, however I think I’ve rambled long enough (you soooo don’t want me to get into the similarities of potty training). Plus, you get the picture … puppies and two year olds … both filled with mischief, curiosity, stubbornness, and an enjoyment of all things in life.