Monday, March 29, 2010

The Curious Blessing of Divided Attention

After a week with puppy, I'm realizing that the most surprising gift Merlot brings our family is the curious blessing of divided attention.  Because I have to watch her like a hawk to ensure she is not "eliminating" in the house or chewing on something that isn't hers or harassing the kids too enthusiastically, I no longer have time to pay attention to every little thing the kids are doing.  And strangely, this reduced attentiveness is good.

Before Merlot came home, my eagle-eye attention to detail was focused unrelentingly on Ben and Abby: their manners, their treatment of each other, their squabbles, their behavior good and bad.  This is my job as their mother, but I think my focus tended to be too critical at times, too nit-picky, too comprehensive, not selective enough.  No one needs someone paying attention to every little decision all day long.  We all do better with a little breathing room.

Merlot's presence has created a blessed distraction from my worrying and their childishness.  Now, I more prone to notice the things that truly need noticing, and I'm finding the kids work out the rest pretty proficiently on their own.  As I coach them through their interactions with Merlot, I find ample opportunity for praise and encouragement and constructive feedback.  With my hands full of treats and leashes and dog toys, I can no longer help as readily as I used to, so they are gently pushed into another level of self-reliance.

And because I'm forced into paying close attention to what Merlot is doing, I am more "present" in the moment than I have been, less prone to get lost in e-mail or household chores.  I can't leave the kids and Merlot alone together, so when they're all together in the family room, I am there, too--working on puzzles, playing games, zooming cars, helping the kids train Merlot.  Our time together has been more focused, more intentional, and more enjoyable.  We're all participating in this joint adventure of puppy love, and we all seem happier as we work together as partners in training.  Rather than squaring off in unnecessary power struggles, we work shoulder to shoulder toward a common end.  My kids respect my instruction, I value their cooperation and help, and we all see the fruits in Merlot's learning and progress.

I knew we would all love petting the puppy, admiring her giant paws, laughing at her silly antics, and receiving her sweet affections.  I did not anticipate how her presence would improve our relationships with each other.  It has been a pleasant surprise and makes the frustrating and crazy moments worthwhile.

Merlot has wagged her way into our hearts and become a favorite family room fixture.  More importantly, she has bred a kindredness among the four of us that is fresh and healthy and good, really good.  At the rehearsal dinner I attended last weekend, the groom said that when we ask God for a gift, He gives good gifts--the kind that continue to reveal their value and blessing day after day.  I prayed fervently that if we got a dog, God would bring the right dog to our family.  I believe we have her, and this gift keeps giving.


  1. Interestingly enough, our family is on a similar journey with our dark yellow Labrador puppy, who is 8 months old, but way behind on obedience training due to some severe medical problems in her early puppyhood. When we chose her from amongst her littermates it seemed we were getting a calm, gentle, beta puppy. She was mellow, sleepy, and cuddly. As it turned out, she wasn't mellow at all - she was seriously ill with a life-threatening parasite. Several thousand dollars in vet bills and several months later, we have a beautiful, healthy, FEISTY bundle of puppy energy. Our sweet rascal Aspen (Colorado was our home for many years, and we miss it desperately) wasn't allowed to attend puppy or obedience classes until she was about 5 months old, and so we are playing catch up with her. She is intelligent and sweet, but she is also a 55 pound wiggling dynamo. She absolutely overpowers our sweet old lady Lab, Casey, and plays too rough for her. She has completed puppy kindergarten, and is now in her first obedience class, and I hope to have her as perfectly trained as our older dog within a few months.

    The tricky thing is trying to find time for walking and working with her with all the goings-on and school & boy scout activities and 4 crazy monkey boys (ages 4 to 14) running around here, and my husband working too many hours so its almost like I'm a single mom at the moment. WHEW.

    Regarding the divided attention issue, I have to agree with you completely. As our family size increased, I had less time to micromanage ANYTHING. Now with 4 boys, I have learned to SERIOUSLY let the little stuff go. I have become very organic and zen with TONS of stuff that would have bothered me before. I always say "A dirty boy is a happy boy!" It is seriously a chaotic zoo around here, especially with our vigorous little lady puppy, but our house is filled with love, laughter, LIFE, and I wouldn't trade it for anything!

  2. By the way, your comment profile selections don't allow for a name/email choice, just name/URL (I don't have a website), so I thought I'd tell you I can be reached at jtblakely007 at yahoo dot com (written out so as to avoid roaming scavenger 'bots). I really enjoy your blog, your writing style, hearing about your sweet family, and also the glimpse of living in Colorado that you show in you stories. We are hoping and scheming to get back to Colorado soon. We lived in Louisville, Longmont, and Lyons (hehe the 3 Ls) when my husband worked in Boulder for 6 years. My 10 year old was born in Boulder. We had to move to San Diego, then Austin for my husband's job, but we're trying to figure a way to get back to GOD'S COUNTRY. We visit Estes Park (where we honeymooned in 1993) at least once a year and always feel like we're coming home when we get into those amazing Rocky Mountains!

  3. Wow I seem to be the annoying over-poster today, but I forgot to say that Merlot is absolutely ADORABLE! She looks soft and sweet and has beautiful big puppy-dog eyes. I hope you all have great fun getting to know one another, bonding, romping, playing, and exploring this big wide world! Congratulations on your newest family member!

  4. Hi Julie,

    I don't think there's such a thing as over-posting! I'm so glad to know you have roots here in Colorado. I hope you do make it back eventually--it really is an amazing place to live. I'm also interested to hear that growing your family to four helped you relinquish the micromanagement. I've often wondered if having more kids would help me loosen up or send me over the edge. From the experience we're having with the puppy, I think the former is more likely, but since she's doing that job for me, I don't think we'll need to expand the two-legged portion of our household!

    I'm so sorry to hear your puppy was sick! There have been moments when I've wondered if Merlot's too good (read: sick) to be true, but I hope not. We take her to the vet Wednesday for her vaccinations and exam, so we'll know for sure then. I'm glad your pup is doing better, and I wish you luck as you keep training her. I'm encouraged to hear that it will be a matter of months (not years!) before she's as trained as your older dog. Being a novice dog owner, I have no idea what to expect, though I'm pleasantly surprised by how fast Merlot picks things up and begins responding to verbal and visual cues.

    And thanks for the kind words about the blog and the pup! Both are so fun (though finding time for the former in light of the latter is proving a challenge!).

    Oh, and I'll look into my options on the "Comments" section to see if I can add an e-mail option.


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