Julie Lyles Carr: Monday Musings...Canine Commitment

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Musings...Canine Commitment

Passion is the quickest to develop, and the quickest to fade. Intimacy develops more slowly, and commitment more gradually still.
Robert Sternberg

My children developed a passion a couple of years ago. It was deep. It was pervasive.

It was puppy love.


They desperately, desperately, desperately wanted a puppy. They begged, pleaded and promised. They wept, researched and bargained.

And finally, after months and months of such persuasive behavior, their father relented and allowed them to adopt two litter mates.

We call them poma-weenies, a nod to their mixed parentage of a Pomeranian father and a dachshund mother.

We brought home a boy and a girl and named them George and Katie.

They were adorable.

They also came with a heavy set of conditions. They were to be fed by the kids. They were to be taken outside by the kids. They were to be brushed by the kids. They were to be bathed by the kids. They were to be maintained, monitored and mothered by, you guessed it, the kids.

Are you detecting a theme here?

It was a provisional adoption for sure. I had declared that I would not become the keeper of the dogs. M had declared that he would not be the keeper of the dogs.

And the kids vigilantly assured us that they would be the canine caretakers.

It was a short honeymoon.

Puppies pee. Puppies yap. Puppies won't wait until you complete your next level on Nintendo in order to be taken out. Puppies chew. Puppies don't pick up their own mess.

Puppies are work.

And puppies become dogs.

One provisional item that M and I overlooked in all of our pre-puppy bargaining was the need for a No Whining Clause, as in "You are not allowed to whine when the puppies need to go out," "You are not allowed to whine when you have to clean up a puppy mess," and on and on. It was a critical thing to overlook in our negotiations.

And so as kids grew into disenfranchised owners and as the puppies lost their novelty, so began the litany of complaints, frustration and blame shifting as the dog ownership continued.

And M and I became quite disenfranchised ourselves with the way it was all working out. We began to threaten that if attitudes did not improve, we would find another family for the dogs to live with, that we would rather give Katie and George the opportunity to live with an appreciative set of owners over whiny ones. The threats would work for a bit; tears would commence, more promises would be made, new attention would be paid to the poma-weenies. But then, the attitude would creep back in.

To our shock one day, the kids made the decision that they would agree to the dogs finding a new home.

We began the process.

But something began to gnaw at me, something that simply wouldn't let me go. While I believed whole-heartedly in making sure the pups found a loving family, I felt that at some level, I was going to be teaching my kids that it was okay to bail on a commitment when the going got tough. It seemed the lesson would not be really about finding Katie and George the 'right' family, but rather that we could somehow excuse ourselves from becoming the right family for them.

And it just kept chewing on me.

Ultimately, we called another family-puppy quorum. This time, M and I began with an apology. We told the kids that we needed their forgiveness, that we had opened up an inappropriate option in threatening to put the dogs up for adoption. We told them that we had erred in allowing them to think that tossing away promises and duties and vows was acceptable. And we told them that we all had a responsibility to become the family Katie and George needed, M and I by leadership, the kids in keeping their pledge.

Because today, this is about puppies. But tomorrow it's about business agreements, interpersonal commitments, personal integrity, character and growth. It's about being willing to be inconvenienced to keep a word. It's about being the kind of people who make good.

And we're learning that lesson, together, in the classroom of canine commitment.

You've got your stories too, I know. Those times you did the right thing even when it was tough. The instances when you stayed late, worked harder, ran one more mile, went back to make it right. Write a post on your commitment and put the url of that post and your name in the Mister Linky's box below or tell us in the comment box. Let's all encourage each other with those times that keeping a commitment has meant more that convenience!

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