In the kitchen

Search This Blog

Monday, May 21, 2018

the porcupine mafia

I can appreciate that for some the question of what to do with a bear cub-sized porcupine trolling around your property might have a simple answer.

Take, for instance, the gentleman in the vet's waiting room who imparted this advice: "Shoot, shoot, then shoot some more."

For others of us, it isn't so easy.

We are the people, after all, who spent an afternoon trying to reunite a liter of baby mice with its mother after we spooked her from her nest in our tomato planter one spring. She fled, abandoning her pinkies who were closed-eyed, hairless and not even half the size of my thumb. I placed the defenseless babies at the edge of the garage where the mother had darted and went inside to Google how to care for infant mice with a dropper.

Thankfully, the mother rescued her babies one by one during Ella's afternoon nap. Thankfully, because my research indicated they were only 1-2 days old. A mother of only a handful of years at the time, I was overcome with relief for the mother mouse.

There's a chance I have a tendency to anthropomorphise animals.

A few years later our house became home to mice that looked an awful lot like rats. We tried the have-a-heart traps and caught nothing.  We progressed to the 'ol bait and slap mouse/rat trap. Again, nada. We could hear them scurrying in the walls. Then one morning, I came downstairs and heard a largish critter jump noisily from the recliner and disappear, only to find it hiding under a throw pillow on the couch an hour later.

It was an effortless switch to Decon. The wall scampering and furniture surfing ceased.

But I didn't get any better at killing animals. It just isn't my thing. I don't want to kill them or eat them.

Fast forward to the end of our house build last spring. The painter, there at all hours, mentioned a very large porcupine hanging around the area near twilight and told us to watch out for our dog. We saw it only once after we move in and never again.

Until a couple weeks ago.

Piper and I were returning from an early morning run and there he was, caramel colored and massive, hunched and sloth-like not far from our mailbox, his quills bountiful and menacing.

Over the next few days, we discussed the porcupine as a family. The conversations would have been good fodder for a hunter's stand-up act.

"It doesn't seem fair to the porcupine. He was here first. We moved into his home."

"Who do we know with a gun?"

"Could we trap him an relocate him?"

"Think any of our neighbors have a gun?"

"I've been wanting to go to ladies night at the shooting range. Maybe this is my chance."

"I called so and so from work. He suggested a rifle and night vision goggles."

Maya was adamant that she didn't want the porcupine shot. We showed her pictures of dogs, anesthetized, with facefulls of quills. "Do you want that to happen to Piper?" We asked.

"Shoot the thing," was her instant reply.

After all, it all came down to Piper, our well-loved, well-behaved lab who wouldn't be able to leave a porcupine alone if her life depended on it.

I had a very enlightening conversation with a local animal trapper, an aged Mainer who told me he'd been trapping for 50 years. He told me porcupines are hard to trap, that they aren't motivated by food (he baits with salt) and because they're nomadic, he might not even come back to our property for months.

"What do you do with them when you catch them?" I asked, my heart sinking into my stomach.

"I can do whatever you want me to do with 'em," the man said, his voice as calloused as I guessed his hands to be. "Usually I pop 'em with a 22."*

First the guy at the vet, now this guy. My mind filled with images of a porcupine mafia. "Umm...can you relocate him instead?"

"Fuggedaboutit," the don said. "My associate and I will ice him as soon as we catch him and you cough up the dough."

No he didn't really say that. It was more like:  "Sure...sure. But I'm only s'posed to take him so many miles away from his habitat. As I said, porcupines are nomadic so he might come back. Then you'd never catch him again."

Ironically, two other gun-related things happened in this same week.

First, Sandi and I were watching one of the girl's events, sitting next to a lovely and very chatty grandmother who proceeded to tell us about her five year battle with menopause (she's on the other side now, you'll be glad to know) before a seamless transition to a slide show of dead deer, all shot by her,  and culminating with the whispered revelation that she was "packing a 33" while she padded her diminutive handbag for emphasis.

Maybe she would like to have a go at the porcupine?

Second, I heard a gun shot at 5:45 one morning far too close to our house for my comfort. Shortly after, a neighbor called to say he'd seen a hunter walking on the paved road in our wooded neighborhood carrying a rifle on his shoulder.  Though I didn't want a hunter near our house, was it too much to ask that maybe the hunter, frustrated by the lack of turkeys he was surely hunting, had seen a sloth of a porcupine and figured he'd be a fair replacement?

The neighborhood rallied to put up no hunting signs.  Totally on board, of course, I did wonder if we could wait until after our porcupine problem was solved.

People in the neighborhood started to referring to the porcupine as our porcupine. Things were going from bad to worse.

We decided to proceed with the trap. Two weeks went by with no activity except a neighbor spying our porcupine and commenting that there was no way that giant, spiked rodent was going to go into that too-small trap. We called the don and he put an infinitesimally larger trap (his biggest) out for us.

Good news! The next morning there was a porcupine in the trap! Bad news: it was the wrong porcupine.

What do you imagine, knowing what I've already told you about our history with pest animals, had happened?

Yup. We had trapped a baby porcupine. Shoot me now.

You won't be surprised that we couldn't give the don the green light to shoot the porcupine. We all voted for relocation. The trap has been reset in hopes to catch the big kahuna- not a "him" after all, but, the don assumes, the momma porcupine who will likely come around sniffing for her baby. He has promised he will take the momma to the same place he took the baby. It's also possible he thinks we're insane and no relocation has occurred. I try not to think about it but I do worry that, despite having paid the don to relocate the animal, a more sinister fate may have befallen it.

A hit. A whack. A knock off. A burn. A rub out. All euphemisms for murder. You never know with the porcupine Mafia. You never know.

*Disclaimer: all references to firearms in this post are likely incorrect. I take full credit and blame.

Friday, April 13, 2018

confessions of a gen Z parent

Most parenting articles are a vehicle for dispensing advice, disseminating information or providing encouragement and support.

This post is none of those. It's more along the vein of weary surrender.

Anyone with a set of ears or eyes knows the legends, notorious and frightening, of raising teenagers. I can't count the number of times someone said to us, while embroiled in a medal-worthy tantrum with our preschooler, "You just wait until the teen years."

It's kind of like when a woman, her belly curved with baby, an announcement of her imminent initiation to the ranks of parenthood, has to endure well-intentioned yet careless parents warn of the treacherous journey ahead, stealing joy and expectancy with one swift cut: "You just wait. Your life will never be yours again."

I can say many things about being the mother of a teenager. The tales are true, the struggle is real and daily, the job itself often unfair and cruel. It's brutal to watch your child's adoration of you turn to rejection, embarrassment, scorn, and fury. It's painful to live with someone dislikes you roughly 50% of the time.

Confession #1: I tend to be a micromanager, a Type A person with significant  marginal control issues. I don't love this about myself. I've worked to channel these liabilities into strengths (I know how to get shit done) and, even more beneficially, have learned the delicate and rewarding art of letting go.

Letting go means keeping my mouth shut when my teenager waits for the bus in a t-shirt on a 28 degree morning. It means not pushing when she won't share her speech with us, the one that was selected to advance to the next round in a school competition, depriving us of celebrating her accomplishment. Letting go means allowing my 10-year-old buy whatever she wants with her money even if it's crappy plastic junk that will end up in the trash when I find it in a dusty corner two months from now. It means standing by, baffled but silent, as she shaves an eraser into tiny bits and collect them in a Ziploc bag because its a quirky project she's doing with a friend and it makes her happy.

These are the easy ones.

Then there are the other ones. The situations that lurk in dark corners, striking at will and ruining otherwise good moments, the ones that bait a momma bear's instinct to protect! to set a limit! to intervene! while every step you make in that direction breeds argument, discontent and defiance between you and your child.

These are the tightropes of parenting a teen, where choosing left or right - intervene or let go- might be the wrong answer.  Either way you still plummet to the ground.

Big ticket items: poor diet choices that have significant ramifications on health and mood; teeth brushing, the absence of which means large dental bills;  a disrespectful attitude, including eye rolling, sighing, back-talk and excessive grumpiness; money- how much do I give you and how much do you earn? And this list can be added to infinitely- grades, jobs, dating, friends, lying, drinking, sex, etc.

Then, the granddaddy of them all: the phone.

Confession #2: I hate the phone. I hate being the phone police, managing screen time, data consumption, app usage, safety, potential bullying, privacy, text messages and Internet searches.

It's really messing with my attempts to let go.

I hold the burden of regulating phone usage heavy in my heart every day, knowing too much isn't good for a child, especially one with a mood disorder. I'm terrified that the phone is often more captivating than real life, devastated that screen time is more appealing than climbing a tree or a mountain and panicked that my teen's developing brain is being wired to need steady, rapid-fire digital input. I anguish over what social media is teaching her about her body, her life, herself.

I want to cry every time I say, "Hey look!" and point to something we're passing in the car-  a tawny doe in a frost-covered field, someone in a Statue of Liberty costume on the corner near the mall, a flock of geese flying in a perfect V against a tangerine sky - only to have my daughter barely glance up and offer me a feeble "ugh huh" before her head is pointed down once again, magnetically pulled to the force field of Instagram and Snap Chat.

And don't even get me started on the postural ramifications "text neck" has on the growing musculoskeletal system.

I remember, two years ago, saying to my daughter, "I know you're growing up and technology is part of our world, but I refuse to lose you to a phone."

This was before I understood the tsunami of social influence the phone, and the world that exists on it, would present to us.  Technology- the acquisition and consumption of it- is a social animal, heavily driven by peer groups and corporate influence.  It's a story as old as time, a quintessential hallmark of adolescence - "But all my friends are doing it!" -  accompanied by the upstream swim parents must navigate in the murky waters of limit setting and balancing kids budding independence with the need to keep them safe.

I've considered that perhaps the phone is just the vehicle of independence of this generation and that the more I focus on it, the more strife, rebellion and distance I'm creating.

But what if the opposite is true? What if, in letting go, I'm inadvertently making choices for my child and her brain that are irreversible, irrevocable and detrimental. Perhaps this is no time to let my guard down, to surrender. Especially now when the stakes seem to be at an all time high and getting higher with each passing year.

It's the tightrope, a fall on either side. The mental gymnastics themselves are enough to make you give up.

Confession #3: It is a crushing responsibility to choose for another human being when each move, to act or to not act, will impact her future.

I hear the recycled parenting advice on a loop: you're meant to be a parent, not a friend. You're the boss and you make the rules. I hear the incessant feedback of the generation above mine, well-meaning folks keen on pointing out what parents of today already know, already fear. That phones are ruining society and crippling kids socially, how screen time diminishes the development of emotional intelligence and creativity, how it's linked to depression and obesity and the how the instant gratification and intense neural stimulation impacts brain development and learning performance.

None of this provides comfort day to day. None of this helps the battle or the war. Because, for most parents, every step you take between your teen and her phone makes you the instant enemy. Because we live in a time when there is an actual term for people who have fear and anxiety about being separated from their phone. It's nomophobia, or "NO MObile PHOne phoBIA".  Because we live in a time when another word, far more alarming, circles like a vulture: addiction.

(Maybe you're the parent of a teen and not having this experience. If so, can I come hang out at your house for a while? I promise to leave my phone at home.)

Can you see the conundrum? I'm working to allow my daughter to be who she is, express herself, make her own choices and find her own way, understanding her life is her own and not mine.  So I let go of my end of the rope (yes, with hands bloodied and bruised from rope burn), give up the fight, stop micromanaging, surrender the power struggle. I slip my finger out of my end of the Chinese finger trap, hoping ease on my end will discharge the battle.

But if I do too much of that, she will never get off the flipping phone.

How do you give up micromanaging when micromanagement is required?  Do I let her swipe her finger endlessly down her phone during breakfast or do I put my foot down? Do I mandate a break from screens when it makes her even less willing to participate in family life? Do I intervene when she sits with friends, side by side, not speaking, their heads in each of their phones?

The old adage "pick your battles" comes to mind often. It's great advice, though this parent could use some guidance in battle selection.

A couple of years ago when my girls were much younger I was hanging out with a friend who had  children the same age as mine as well as a teenage daughter. In a passing exchange between the mother and daughter, I watched the daughter speak to her mother in a tone so full of disdain and rudeness, I hurt for her and the betrayal she must have felt to have the child she had sacrificed everything for treat her that way. Even more confusing was the mother's reaction to it, something between defeat and acceptance.

I vowed to myself that I would never let my children speak to me that way.

Fast forward and here I am, standing on the slippery slope, picking my battles.  Which do I let slide and which require consequences and withholding of privileges? Does the annoyed response when I ask an interested question about her sport get ignored? What about the sharp temper, lite like a fuse, when I say it's time to put the devices up? How about the exasperated, borderline contemptuous, response to a mistake I've made or a wish I cannot or will not fulfill.

Let it go, I tell myself. Don't focus on it. And my personal favorite: it's not worth it. But then, in one blinding instant, when too many days have stacked into weeks and then months, I realized my child was talking to me in the way I vowed I would never allow.

I'm not just on a slippery slope. I'm on a landslide.

I told someone I respect, "I'm done with the struggle, tired of being the scapegoat. I'm letting go. She has to figure this out for herself." To which my kind, knowledgeable friend (the parent of adult children) said, "You can't. You're her mom."

And so we have standing limits in place: the phone is surrendered nightly at 8pm (and every minute past is docked from morning usage), she pays for the phone and the monthly service fee, chores are required and when a device break is mandated (especially during the less structured weekend time) all items are relinquished to the parents to prevent the inevitable sneaking that occurs. I try, as much as humanly possible, to execute these with as little emotion and apology as possible. 

I didn't fully understand that at some point my responsibilities as a parent would make me the target of  my child's anger, confusion, insecurity, stubbornness and wrath. I didn't know that, no matter which way I went, I would feel like I was losing. I didn't realize how abruptly the tide would change from loving child to surly teen (practically overnight) and how much I would miss my daughter. I didn't ever mean to be, don't want to be, the roadblock, the obstacle, the enemy.

I take great comfort in the big picture and, as much as possible, use my gut and my heart to guide my decisions. And I try to remember that part of why I miss my daughter is because it's her job to pull away from me; it was long ago written in the stars.

Confession #4: Natural though it is, the messy separation of parent and child will break your heart a thousand times.

There's a place I find every now and then, a soft place I can land where I trust that everything will be okay and we will all survive with our love and our bonds intact. When I'm there, I have regard and compassion for the turbulence inside my child, the enormity of the job of growing up, the need for separation and the conflicting need for connection. I don't take things personally and can approach even the heated moments with a deep breath and a sense of humor. I can remember that we are on the same team even if one of the team members despises the captain.

I can remember that I'm doing the job I came here to do. And so is she.

If only I had directions, a map and the GPS coordinates to this place. I suppose I could ask my daughter. She could probably locate it online for me inside 60 seconds.

"For I see now that what I have done, and not done, with regard to you, bears all the hallmarks of the failings of age. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young."
                                                              - Dumbledore, Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix

Site Meter