Irreverent Mama

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Family myths. We all have them. You know, "Oh, sis is so [insert trait here]", "Brother is the [trait] one." For years my mother -- my entire family -- always passed the gravy boat by me, based on my preschool loathing of the stuff, despite the fact that at every holiday gathering in my adult life I'd been grabbing the damned thing back and liberally dousing my mashed potatoes with its delectability.

We have myths in our family. I'm sure there are some I buy into without even realizing it's a myth, but there are others I watch with some bemusement. I don't necessarily say anything; many myths serve a useful and empowering purpose... but myths they remain.

I've even used myths. Shortly after she'd learned to read, my middle step-daughter was finding this whole 'literacy' schtick hard-going. Reading was difficult for her, and, being the contrary little cuss she was at that age, she was resisting mightily. Add to that a mother who sees time spent 'with your nose in a book' as time wasted, and the girl was well on her way to being functionally illiterate.

Enter devious me, weilding the parental tool of the Family Myth. Every time we saw her even glance at a book, Matthew and I would start perpetrating the myth: "There she is, reading again! That girl always has her nose in a book!" (Only in our family, that was a good thing.) "Lizzie's such a reader, just like her dad!" "It sure is nice to have such a book-loving family!"

And it worked. In very short order (two months?), Lizzie (and all of her siblings) bought into the myth. Lizzie was A Reader. And, perceiving herself to be a reader, so she became one, and the myth became a reality. She is still the child most likely to have a book on the go, the one most likely to bring a book in her backpack against those empty moments.

(Aren't I brilliant?)

So. Let this stand as proof that I have nothing against the family myth, providing it's a positive thing. What bemuses me is how people buy into things that are patently false. It's very weird.

We have a bunch right now, surrounding the dog.

-She likes men better than women. (She does? Who believes this? Everyone in the family but me and the dog, evidently...)
- She has a particular fondness for the youngest step-son. (She likes him, sure. Just like she likes everyone. Male and female. She's a friendly little critter.)
- She has a most particular fondness, a tremendous bond of adoration, for Matthew.

It's odd, this family tendency to slice up and allocate the dog's affections. While the first one totally confounds me -- I have no idea where it came from, or on what it could possibly be based -- the other two have some basis in reality. She pays more attention to my youngest step-son because he pays more attention to her. However, she pays him no more unsolicited attention than she does anyone else.

And that last one?

Well, she greets Matthew like a crazy thing when he walks through the door: leaping up, licking his face, yodelling. She does not do that to me. She does not do that to the children. This much is true. She does not do that to the rest of us because we don't let her. I trained her within the first month that she was not to jump up on me, and so, when I come through the door, she does not jump up on me. The children did the same. Matthew, however, loves the jumping, and so permits (even encourages) it. And now the fact that she goes banzai when he walks through the door (and a more muted form of banzai when the rest of us do) is read as the dog loving him more intensely.

Am I annoyed by this? No. Nor will I ever, ever do anything to dispell the myth. Indeed, I encourage it.

He often travels for work. When he is gone, she'll walk up to his side of the bed, put her chin on it and sigh. She takes his slipper into her crate, and sleep with her nose in it. I make sure to tell him these things. I do not tell him what I know from the children: She does these things for me, too, on the far rarer occasions when I am away for a day or two.

Some months ago, you see, Matthew was mulling over his current condition, and concluding that Something was missing. He wanted more social contact, he knew he needed to get more exercise, to get out of the house more. He's a depressive sort, and he felt the need for a source of pleasure in his life. (I know. Living with me was not enough to put him in a state of perpetual bliss. It's an astonishment to me, too.)

He considered a few options -- join a book club, take a course, volunteer -- but what he decided in the end was to get a dog. A dog would get him out of the house, would give him casual social interactions with other dog-owners at the park, and would give him a source of affection and pleasure.

The dog has done all that. Daily walks, chat with other dog-owners, and a living, loving creature to take pleasure in, something to bring a measure of joy to his (mildly) depressive soul. It brings me great satisfaction to see his genuine need met in such a simple, wholesome, loving way. If part of his joy is predicated on the myth that she loves him above all others?

He can have that.



Post a Comment

<< Home