We have had our puppy, Lila, for a year and a half. We have house-trained her and crate-trained her; we've taught her to sit and to stay. We take her on regular walks on a regular route, and she regularly does her business in front of her preferred house a few blocks from our home. We've learned her quirks and behavioral issues, like her refusal to get her ball if it rolls over the heat register, and her love of chewing through any kind of fabric, including blankets and smelly dish rags, as well as crunchy plastic things, like hair clips and outlet covers.
I am frustrated that we still have to take her out on a leash even though our yard is fenced in. Because when she is unleashed, she eats things she should not eat, and immediately goes to the mud zone under the trampoline to dig. She tries to squeeze through the fence or dig a tunnel under the fence so she can once and for all run free with our neighbor's golden retriever, Ivy.
I am disappointed that we still need to put her in her crate when we leave the house, because although she is loyal, loving and very cute, she is not trustworthy. Occasionally, when Bernie and I are fed up with being doggy parents, and our kids are no longer enthusiastic about taking care of their dog, we throw out the ridiculous threat -- the one our kids know we won't follow through on, the one I know is empty and hollow -- we say it anyway. "If you guys don't want to take care of YOUR dog, if you are as tired of doing this as we are, we can take her to a shelter and let her go live with a family that really wants the responsibility of having a dog!"
We've trained Lila to jump up and ring a bell on the door when she wants to go out, which impresses our houseguests, but often times she just wants to go explore. Since we can't determine her motivation for ringing the bell, we spend a lot of time in our back yard. Sometimes when I'm outside with Lila, waiting for her to find the perfect patch of grass so she can do her thing, I can't help but wonder, "Is this normal?" I tell other dog owners my complaints, and they assure me that she is still a puppy and will most likely grow out of these behaviors.
As parents, we sometimes ask variations of the same question: Is my child normal? Am I normal? Is our family normal? We share our concerns with other parents, and then reassure each other that what we are experiencing is, in fact, normal.
"Oh, yes. I remember Billy stuttering in preschool -- he grew out of it." And, "Sarah didn't walk till 18 months. I kept thinking something was wrong, but it just took her a little longer." These comments can be encouraging. Even when an issue becomes more serious and we realize that our child may not just grow out of it, that he or she may need some tutoring, some type of therapy or medical intervention, it's still comforting to hear from people who have been there. People who are living with similar challenges and are finding their way.
Right now, I'm wondering if it's normal that the sound of my voice triggers an eye-rolling response in my teenage daughter, and that my 12-year-old walks circles around the kitchen table while pouring out her frustrations. Is it normal that my 7-year-old frequently counts the number of letters in words she hears? Is it normal that my husband, who naturally has a good sense of direction, now feels that he can't reach his destination unless Camille, our GPS lady, tells him how to get there? And is it normal that I regularly stop talking halfway through my sentences because I …
It's possible that the only thing normal about our family is that at times we drive each other crazy. I make up stories about other people all the time -- about other families being more normal than us, but deep down I know that no one is 100 percent normal. The best we can do is keep growing, keep accepting one another, and keep hoping that what people have told us is true: that our puppy will become a normal dog at some point during the next six months, before her puppyhood stage expires and these characteristics become a permanent part of her personality.
• Becky Baudouin is a freelance writer and speaker. She lives in the Northwest suburbs with her husband, Bernie, and their three daughters.