I read something on Facebook today that triggered a memory that I just knew I would have to write about. One of my friends was telling that she was frustrated with the behavior of her stepdaughter following the girl's visit of several days with her mother. Unfortunately, it seems that visits to what I refer to as non-custodial parents can often result in bad behavior. It can be for any number of reasons. Perhaps the child is spoiled by the other parent. Or all too frequently, their heads are filled with hateful talk designed to sabotage the relationship with the people who live with the child every day. I don't know what was the case in this instance, so I will not speculate. All I know is that my friend was moved to share a comment about the only time she ever spanked this girl. It was several years ago, and the girl was repeatedly kicking the family dog which was leashed in the back yard. The dog never tried to retaliate, seeming to know that the child didn't know any better.
Suddenly I remembered back to my high school years when I babysat Debbie and Mark, who lived a few houses down the street, five days a week. I loved these kids, and I think they also loved me. There were a few times when they were talking to me and accidentally called me Mom, as well as sometimes calling their Mom Katrina. We both took it as a compliment, which was good all around. Ann trusted me completely with her children, and instructed me about time-outs in their rooms and such. She also told me that if necessary, I was permitted to administer a smack if necessary. She was not an abusive parent. And I never smacked the kids. Remember, I had been on the receiving end of genuinely abusive hitting, so it was just not going to happen.
Many afternoons, Debbie, Mark, and I would go into the cozy basement and pile onto the big sofa to watch Sesame Street. Prince, their dog, was allowed to get on the sofa, too, and both kids liked to have him next to them during tv watching time. It was a very normal thing to have the kids calling his name or coaxing him to sit by them on the sofa. Debbie surprised me one day by simply reaching across me on the sofa and pulling Prince over to her by his ears. "Debbie! why did you do that?" I asked. "I wanted him to come over here," she answered calmly. I firmly told her not to do it again because it would hurt Prince's ears.
I'm not sure that Debbie realized that she was doing something that could hurt her dog. He was a very sweet and forgiving dog, and never cried out or snapped at her when she pulled his ears, so she wasn't understanding that it was uncomfortable for him. Surprisingly, Mark, at four years younger than her, was as upset at the ear-pulling as I was. A few days passed without incident, and suddenly Debbie was pulling Prince by his ears again. Both Mark and I told her loudly not to do that to the dog. It seemed I just couldn't get the message across to her that she was being mean, whether she meant to be or not.
Well, I must confess that one day I snapped. As usual, we were piled on the sofa when Debbie reached out and pulled the dog over to her by his ears. Without a word, I reached out and grabbed her ear, pulling her over to me. She burst into shocked tears. "Katrina! why did you do that to me? It hurt!" I quietly asked her if she liked being treated that way, and she said no. I told her that her sweet dog, Prince, felt the same way when she pulled on his ears, and asked her if she understood. She said she did, and when I asked if she was going to pull the dog's ears anymore she said she definitely would not. She was true to her word, and never did it again. She treated her dog with love and kindness. When Ann came home from work that night, I told her what had happened, and did so in front of the kids. I was afraid she'd be angry at me for yanking Debbie's ear, but Ann chuckled and said that it sounded like Prince's ears were not getting pulled ever again. I was relieved that she didn't think I was wrong, and that I didn't lose my friendship or my job. But mostly, I was glad that I rescued Prince's ears!