AKA: Everything I know about parenting I learned from my Peace Corps pet^
(^I know my mother is sarcastically thinking, “Oh, great! What skills you have. Maybe my grandkids will pee all over the house, too!” – Don’t worry, Mom! I promise we’ll get it together before then.)
I’ll put it out there that for better at times and worse at times, I might be a bit sensitive and a worry-wart (especially when it comes to cute fuzzy things, e.g. I distinctly remember getting a chocolate bunny for Easter when I was 4 and crying my eyes out over the idea of eating it.)
So having a pet in Guatemala has been a great training ground for me for the emotional challenges of larger life including, I would think, actual parenthood. While the stakes are a lot lower here (pet versus human child), the risks are, I'd argue, a bit higher (callous neighbors! poison! millions of ferocious street dogs! flash floods! i could go on...) So it is a legitimate "training-ground", in its own way.
So, what am I in process of learning about parenting?:
(1) If you love them, you have to give them some degree of freedom.
This is obvious, right? But not something that comes to me instinctively. I would love nothing more than to keep Oliver locked up inside my house all day, and in fact tried for quite some time. The problem is that he is clearly not meant to be an indoor cat. He gets antsy, whiny, and poops in my bed. So it doesn't work for me, and it doesn't work for him.
This clearly applies to humans, too. We've got to get out and face the real world, to some degree, at some point. A life with good health, positive relationships, and material security, but with no freedom, variety, or adventure, is probably not a truly happy one.
(2) Related to #1, You can’t protect them from everything, and maybe that's a good thing.
My heart got torn out of my chest one night when Oliver was wandering outside at my old house and got into a fight that left him shaken, with a deep wound on his arm. But he probably learned a good thing or two about street fights, I'd imagine.
(3) Enjoy them while you can!
It seems just yesterday Oliver was a tiny 3 lb. bean bag curled up under my arm, pawing my stocken feet, living contentedly enclosed in a 150 sq. ft room, and rabidly chasing anything that moved. I could cut his nails, put him in a 10" x 10" box and carry him to the moon and back, wear him as a mitten, etc. Now he's about 20 times that size, eats like a horse, and would rather see me bleed than play good-naturedly or let me pick a measly flea off his neck.
(4) You're not going to win all the battles.
OK. So Oliver wants to pee in the corner of the bathroom while I'm peeing? That's fine. At least we're restricting it a little bit. The kitchen and my bedroom are still sacred, pup.
(5) Sometimes you have to make them do things they don’t like, for their own good.
Antibiotics via that gross powder suspension. Vaccinations. Bus rides to the vet. Nail clippings. Bathing. Flea combing. Not all that controversial until you're on the sharp end of 10 claws powered by an irrational dragon-cat. Or, I imagine, an irrational screaming toddler.
(6) Let's hope my kid doesn't have discipline issues, because I am not going to be the one to solve them.
See #4. Really doesn't bother me enough to do anything about it. At all. I'm unfortunately prone to slow reaction times and forgetting to enforce the household rules. Maybe when the time comes we can work out some sort of good-cop compensates for spacey-cop routine with my boyfriend.
At the end, though, what can I say? Perhaps like real parenting, having Oliver in my life has been totally worth every stress. Thanks, my little love!
This post is particularly time-appropriate, since my own parents will be setting foot down in Guatemala for the first time this Wednesday, for 12 days of vacation (including my 25th birthday!). Having your kid in Peace Corps must feel at least a little bit - or way worse - than letting your cat roam the Guatemalan streets; so thanks, Mom and Dad, for supporting my decision to join Peace Corps! I'll look forward to posting about our trip, and perhaps we'll see a snazzy guest post from each of them about our adventures.