Thursday, July 31, 2008

Competitive Notions

Bug recently celebrated her third birthday. She was fortunate to get many wonderful gifts, including Hi-Ho Cherry Oh and Go Fish. Bug loves playing these games - probably because she gets the adult's undivided attention while we play.

I am not a fan of a society who protects our children from competition. I feel that propping kids up by not keeping score at their sporting events, eliminating grades from grade school, or telling them they're doing a great job when they're not is just setting them up for frustration, confusion, and failure when they get older. Because believe it or not, life is competitive. Harvard isn't going to let Junior in just because Mommy said Cs were ok even though the kid was slacking. The boss isn't going to hire all 12 applicants for one job simply to make sure no one's feelings are hurt. A store owner or manager who can't run the store in the black isn't going to be allowed to keep "playing" because she wants to. I'm not saying we should turn play groups into mini Olympic-style competitions or that children should have to interview to get into preschool, but I do believe that competition should be introduced at developmentally appropriate levels so children learn how to deal with success and failures in a safe, protected environment before they are adults and on their own.

But, back to HiHo Cherry Oh and Go Fish. My husband and I have decided to play these games according to the traditional rules, which means that there is one winner at the end. I may make some choices to let my daughter have a bit of an advantage, but I refuse to throw the game just so she could win. I did consider it at one time and then she beat the pants off me three times in a row and I decided it was insulting to her to underestimate what she could do.

However, what I do find myself doing is to make light of the times when one of us has a run of bad luck or looses the game. In Hi Ho Cherry Oh if the spinner lands on the over turned basket you have to put all of the cherries back on the tree. When this happens to me I respond with a "Oh boy, look at that! I have to start over" and start over in a matter of fact way. Or I make a very dramatic "Urgggggghhhh!" and goofy face which is guaranteed to make Bug laugh. When Bug has to start over I try to be just as fun. We count the cherries going back (counting is tons of fun for this kid) or I point out that we'll be able to play longer now. Basically we look for the positive. And sometimes we keep playing even after one of us has won. I will point out that one of us has won, but we can keep going if she'd like to, or we can start a new game.

I realized as Bug cheerfully continued on from a set back in her game that I really should practice what I preach. Oh sure, when I'm with Bug I take my set backs in good humor, but when I compete with my dogs, particularly Cousteau, I let the inevitable set backs take the fun out of working with my friend.

Cousteau loves agility, but I'm terrified to compete with him because I can't handle the thought of not qualifying (aka NQ). Everyone I know who competes has NQs - it goes with the territory. The last agility trial I watched I paid close attention to the NQs. Most people came off the course with good grace even after knowing they or their dog made a mistake. I often heard people say "Well, the teeter went really well" or "He knocked the bar, but at least he took the jump. That's progress!" I admire that so greatly and it's something I can do when watching other people, I just can't do it for myself. But, I never realized that until playing a child's game.

So what can I do? The issue isn't with my child or with my dogs, but with myself. I guess I can look at it as I do any training problem, only the trainee is myself. I need to set myself up for success by doing more run thrus where the final score doesn't matter, but running a new course well does. I need to click and treat myself for the good things I do on the course and point out 3 things that went well at the end of a run, even if it was pretty ugly overall. I need to take the pressure off my dog, who honestly just does what I tell him to do, even if I don't realize it, and look to myself for changes. Basically, I CAN'T BLAME THE DOG. Boy, does that stink! Something will actually be MY fault and I'll have to do something to change it. That will take some getting used to.

Let's see if this dog trainer can let her dogs and child teach her something instead of the other way around...

They are what they are...

It's been quite a while since my last post - roughly 3.5 months. I've had the will, but not the energy to post since I found out I was pregnant a few days after the last time I was here. This is wonderful news - we're very excited, but I've also been pretty sick and miserable for 3.5 months. :P But this brings me to the point of this post - kids and dogs are what they are.

I distinctly remember when I was pregnant with Bug clutching the toilet on my birthday. I didn't vomit often with her, but my birthday was an exception. As I'm retching and wishing it was July already and my baby was in my arms, Cousteau came into the bathroom and pushed himself against me. I thought to myself "Oh, how sweet. He wants to comfort me!" Then I retched again and he stuck his head through my legs to try to drink out of the toilet. It wasn't the chance to offer comfort but the chance to score birthday cake, one way or another, that led him to the bathroom.

Fast forward to this week. I'm driving along the highway hoping against all hope that the Chinese food which sounded so good 10 minutes before would finally settle my queasy stomach. It didn't. Instead I started vomiting at 60 mph. I won't go into details, but it was nasty. Thankfully Bug was with my Mom so she didn't have to witness my distress, but I did call my mom to get some sympathy once I was home and all cleaned up. Bug wanted to talk and she very sweetly said "How are you feeling, Mama?" I went on to tell her that I wasn't feeling well, that I got sick in the car and my tummy hurt. Her response? "Oh, well we're going to have a picnic on the beach. Bye Ma..." and she tossed the phone back to my mom. Mama being sick really didn't have any impact on her at the moment since she had Nana to play with.

The point - while some times there are stories of amazing empathy from children or dogs, ultimately they are selfish creatures. This doesn't make them bad or amoral, it simply makes them kids and dogs. Being self-centered is what has gotten them through the ages. With children we do what we can to teach them to think of others which in turn may just help the human race survive a little longer or at least better. Dogs aren't humans. They are dogs and what serves them best is to think "What's in it for me?" Don't get me wrong, there are some dogs who do seem to have an amazing empathetic link to people, like Greyfriar's Bobby who visited his master's grave every day for years until he himself died. But those dogs are the exception to the rule. The rest of us have wonderful companions that are bonded to us, but ultimately are concerned about themselves. Actually, they're not so different from people after all...