Feb 27, 2012

The Art of Squelching Childhood Dreams or Why We're Now Members of the Royal Dutch Riding Association

So on Saturday I took Mia to her first horseback riding lesson, and I can honestly say that I never thought I would be typing those words in a non-fictional setting. But desperate times call for dressage classes, as I like to say now.

You see, there's a war being waged at our house, and this equine development is just the latest counter-defensive strategic use of special force I've employed ever since I became an enemy to my children's happiness.

It wasn't always like this. I used to be interested in making my kids happy. In fact,  I once even went so far as to read an article online about the 3 Essential Ingredients of a Happy Childhood, or something to that effect, but was interrupted by my kids who were apparently unaware that one of the essential ingredients for a happy mother is to never interrupt her when she's wasting time on the internet.

It went something like this: 

(Me: reading)

"Mom! Look at me doing this thing 50 times in a row!" 

"Oh really?"

"Mom! When can we go to Disneyland?"

"Uh huh. That's great."

"Mom! Can I get a Twitter account? Jazlyn has one!" 

"Leave me alone! Can't you see I'm reading about how to make you happy?! And seriously, Jazlyn? That is a ridiculous name."  

And that was the end of that. But in case you're interested, I do remember the author's cute summation of the three vitally important, bare minimum requirements to prevent your child from becoming an ax murderer, or a reality TV star. They are: Time (unstructured play), Mud (outdoors), and Livestock (pets).  From what little I read, you should put your children in a barn and check on them in about 18 years. They'll be just fine!

But according to my kids, the author is at least 1/3 correct, and this is the part where the happiness war comes in.

It seems my children are convinced that having a pet is essential to their happiness, well-being, and ability to play nicely and do their chores without being nagged. But I'm convinced that not having a pet is essential to my happiness, well-being, and ability to not nag kids to do things like help care for their pet. Not to mention that the 2nd essential ingredient for a happy mother is not having to clean up any more poop than is absolutely necessary.

I admit that my stance doesn't make much sense, considering that I come from a family that picked up neighborhood strays, and indulged every childhood whim for a dog, cat, hamster, rat, bird, or bearded dragon (we had all of those). For Christmas the year before last, my sister compiled a list of all our former family pets and their cause of demise (because these are the kinds of gifts one gives in my family), and there was a alarmingly high incidence of poisonings, strangulations, and deaths by rolling down the stairs in a lunchbox. So perhaps I've seen too many animals die in my lifetime, or maybe I just got that need out of my system at an early age. It could be that I'm intimidated by the process of getting a pet in another country. But I'm pretty sure it's just a poop thing.

So when I get the "can we go the pet store today?" or "when can I get a guinea-pig?" questions, and it's my happiness vs theirs, the battle is on. Insert your favorite war metaphor here, because I certainly don't know any. All I know is, crushing your child's happiness takes a remarkable amount of concentration and skill. It's kind of an art form. It's much harder than going out and just buying them a guinea-pig, let me assure you.

It's important to reply in such a way that they don't actually realize you are saying no.

When we lived in the States, I would say, "What are you talking about? We already have pets! Remember the Ferrel cats that live under the deck? Just be careful, they could give you a disease."

This one works well, "I trapped a spider under a cup yesterday. Why don't you go see if it's still alive."

Avoidance is one of the best tactics: "This is not an appropriate time to talk about this. Now can you please shut the bathroom door?" (3rd essential ingredient to a happy mother? Peeing in privacy.)

Or, taking a cue from Jack Handy, "Oh honey, guess what? I went to the pet store today, and it had burned down and all the animals were dead. Bummer. Hey, I know, let's take riding lessons instead."

Which leads me to my current tactic: stalling. I admit, I'm in dangerous, last-resort territory. When I found out that there was a stable in the middle of Amsterdam that offered riding lessons, I didn't think I would ever try to use that information as an empty peace-offering in an emotional high-stakes battle with my kids. It took a while to realize it could actually be a weapon in my arsenal for dream squelching. But when I did, Mia played right into my hands. So much so that I'm pretty sure now she  wants a pony instead.

I think my next move will be to actually put my kids in a barn for the next 18 years. I should check with the stable; maybe they offer that service.

All that to explain these pictures.

Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?

Stay tuned, soon we'll be signing Sam up for sailing lessons, and joining the Amsterdam High Society club, all to avoid getting a Wii. Anything to keep my kids happily unhappy.



This one was gold Donna. Just tonight I informed the family I would throw the Wii into the street and stomp on it if kids continued to be unable to control their anger, sadness, yelling and crying when the Wii shows them how much it hates them.

Seriously, it is just like any other thing. It can be good or it can be bad depending on how it is used.

Like you though we pretty much bank on the whole pet thing being a bust for the parents in this house.

Dakin said...

i was thinking today that a turtle might be a pet I could live with (when I break down and finally give into a family pet in 3-5 years). They are quiet. They don't smell. They eat your leftover vegetables. Sounds harmless, right?

Bardsleyland said...

John, that makes me laugh. Yes, I'm quite sure that the amount of anger, sadness, yelling, and crying that we currently have because we don't have a Wii, will only increase when we do get a Wii.

Dakin, a turtle is one of the top 3 choices for the kids, and probably my #1 choice as well. Maybe we'll get a turtle and pass it off to you guys when we get tired of it. :)

Saskia said...

I used to take riding lessons, for two or three years I think. I was too intimidated by the horses to actually get anywhere, but I was tall for my age so I got to ride an actual horse while the others in my class were stuck on ponies. That was cool.

And my sister went to sailing camps in the summer (that's a real Dutch pastime! Go make your kids do that. They'll get lots of good outdoor air (rosy cheeks!), get rained on (builds character!), and have a blast meeting kids their age and complaining about their parents). Anyway, one time, she was sailing on a lake nearby our house, and her boat capsized, and she freaked out, scrambling up on the upturned boat and yelling about sharks. I'm pretty sure we don't have sharks here in the Netherlands, in lakes no less. She's been hearing that story for years now...

Jen said...

Ha, ha! I love and relate to this post so much. And for the record, having a pet can scar a kid just as much if not more so than not having one -- in our case, it was the goldfish that kept dying then coming back to life that killed us -- but death by lunchbox sounds equally traumatic. xo