Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Abby's New 'Do

Abby's first haircut did not occur at a salon, or a barber, or even at home under the careful eye of her mother.  No, Abby's first haircut occurred at Puppy Kindergarten this evening, a creative masterpiece of the preschool variety.

The kids had to come with me tonight because Josh was out for the evening.  The plan was for them to bring coloring supplies, and they could spend their time either creating works of art or watching the puppies from the blue benches lining the wall in class.

This was the plan.  As most parents know, however, there can be great disparity between the plan and reality.

Before we left the house, both kids took great care in selecting exactly which coloring books and materials they'd bring.  They even grabbed the place mats we use anytime we're coloring in the house to protect the table surface from errant coloring strokes.

Ben told me he had decided to bring his little safety scissors and cutting workbook so if he got bored coloring, he could do some cutting, and then if he got bored with that, he could go back to coloring.  I hesitated when he mentioned this plan, but he's always been duly responsible with his scissors, so I conceded.  He has been completely engrossed in his little workbook of increasingly difficult cutting patterns lately, and I appreciated his logic and forethought.

Then Abby mentioned she was bringing markers, and I hesitated again.  I suggested we just bring crayons, but she asked with her nicest manners in her sweetest voice if she could please bring her markers, so I conceded again, wanting to reward her polite petitioning in addition to recognizing that she far prefers her markers to her crayons.

Besides, I reasoned, the afternoon had been so delightful, I felt justified pushing my usual play-it-safe mentality aside, choosing instead to trust them.  They rounded up their materials and packed them carefully into their respective backpacks, taking their responsibility to provide their own entertainment with great seriousness and a palpable sense of duty.  Buzzing from laundry room to cupboard to kitchen with importance, they nearly glowed with pride in their independence and self-sufficiency.

And I, too, glowed--basking in their maturity and accomplishment with an almost smugness.  In my mind, I watched the three of us walk into class with Merlot in tow, the kids wearing their self-packed backpacks.  I saw Ben and Abby sitting quietly on the bench, happily whiling away the time in the usual fog of focus that comes over them when they're engrossed in a task.   I practically envisioned the other puppy owners looking on in fond respect of my well-groomed and beautifully-behaved progeny.  I was proud of my darlings.

But you know what they say about pride and where it goeth.  Before the fall--of Abby's lovely golden locks, apparently.

Far from the quiet and focused angels I had envisioned, they--with the aid of another child from class--made enough ruckus in the first ten minutes to merit three visits from me.  Each time I left the group to shush them, Merlot strained with her full weight against the instructor holding her leash in maddening attempts to follow me.  By the time I arrived at the bench the third time, Ben had marker on his forehead and mouth, Abby was coloring on the placemat while her coloring book sat undisturbed just inches away, and the contents of the art box were strewn across the floor from end to end of the bench.

Exemplary mother and puppy owner I was not.  Yet somehow, this public display of imperfection made me smile inside, almost laugh.  I was too crazy to have time for embarrassment.  Maybe I'm finally learning to accept the areas where I don't have control.

Which I now know includes puppy kindergarten.

So by the end of class, when the same instructor who wrangled Merlot's leash so I could quiet the peanut gallery stepped outside to the puppy potty place to inform me, with blond hair in hand, that Abby's tresses had met with scissors, I felt only amusement.  And wonder at how an afternoon that had started so beautifully could end so badly.

"I wanted to let you know before you went back in so you'd have a chance to collect yourself," she said kindly.  "I don't know who did it.  They were going to throw the hair away, but I thought you might want it."

"Okay," I said in a vaguely optimistic lilt and took the hair from between her fingers, trying not to think about the fact that my own fingers were greasy from the summer sausage I used to win Merlot's cooperation in class.  And so I walked inside to collect my less-than-perfect progeny and their once-thoughtfully-packed belongings--Merlot's leash in one hand, Abby's hair in the other.

As we left, the instructor was nice enough to share that when her daughter cut her own mane, it was the week before she had to be the flower girl in a wedding, and her coiffure involved chopping the hair right above her forehead down to the roots.  Then this instructor/mother smiled encouragingly before turning to the next group of puppies and students.

She's been there.  She knows.  She doesn't judge.

As we drove home, the kids and I talked calmly about what went wrong.  "Why don't you tell me all the ways you broke Mommy's trust tonight," I prompted.  And one by one, they rattled off their offenses.  Both confessed to participating in the haircut.

"What do you think Mommy expected when we went in?" I asked.

"To sit quietly and color," Ben answered.

"I'll have to think about what to do about this," I said.

Eventually, the conversation veered into other territory before circling back to the idea of building versus breaking trust in the context of Merlot.

"Why did Merlot run so fast to us when we called her?"  Ben asked as the highway began to ascend the mountain.

"Well, because we're teaching her that good things happen when she comes to us," I explained.

"Why does she need to come to us?" Ben continued.

"We need to know she'll come when we call so that we can give her more freedom.  When we trust she'll always come to us, we can let her off her leash in the yard or on hikes or when we're out playing at the park.  The more we trust her, the more freedom we can give her."  I hoped the parallel wouldn't be lost on him.  I'm beginning to realize how much of the relationship between parent and child depends on trust.  And I think Ben gets it, to an extent.  He sees that, now, he will have to begin building trust again before I risk giving him the freedom I did earlier.

It turns out the damage is not too bad.  Fortunately, they only made a couple snips to the hair nearest her face, and the shortest "layer" is still close to chin length.  I think a good stylist will be able to camouflage the amateur styling while maintaining most of her length.  And at the rate her hair grows, even the shortest layers will be grown out by the time she heads to preschool in the fall.

In the morning, I will ask the kids to gather all their markers and scissors to put in a bag that will go into timeout for a while.  At some point, I'll give them the opportunity to earn them back with chores.  We'll need to get Abby's hair cut by a professional, and I think I'll have the kids "pay" for it.  Ben can contribute some of the allowance money he's saved up, and Abby, who doesn't yet receive an allowance, can contribute some of her toys toward remedying their mistake.

A few weeks ago I was told that the key to surviving puppyhood is to remember that the good days are the glimpses of who Merlot will be when she's grown.  The good days show us who she is becoming in the midst of the days when all seems for nought.

I hope this principle is true of childhood, too.  Ben and Abby really were amazing as we got ready to leave the house.  And they really were fountains of immaturity at puppy kindergarten.  This does not make them good kids or bad but, rather, little people with their own jumble of virtue and vice still in process.  Small wonders--yes.  Small tornadoes--yes.  But it helps me to think the shining moments are the ones we'll be seeing more and more of as they grow.

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