Walking the dog is a necessary every day occurrence in our household. Walking the dog with Ellen is not.
As I may have mentioned before, Ellen is by inclination a couch potato. She does not like anything which remotely seems like exercise. She also doesn’t like to go out at all if it is ‘too rainy’ (most of the last two months) or ‘too dark’ (most of Winter).
I was full of a cold yesterday and after doing our usual job at the local village shop and getting lunch at McDonald’s, going for a dog walk was about as much of an activity as I could cope with. Not only did I feel under the weather, but the McDonald’s server managed to throw us another curved ball by responding to Ellen’s ‘a plain cheeseburger’ request with ‘do you want that as a meal?’ As I wondered how many ways are there to order a McDonalds, I had a little giggle as my question reminded me of the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem ‘How many ways do I love thee?’ http://www3.amherst.edu/~rjyanco94/literature/elizabethbarrettbrowning/poems/sonnetsfromtheportuguese/howdoilovetheeletmecounttheways.html.
However much fun I was having with my literary irony, I was also frustrated with myself because yet again, I had to intervene to ask what on earth a ‘meal’ was and so basically felt like I took over the interaction, when I’m supposed to be standing back and letting Ellen speak for herself – grrr
Determined to do better with the dog walk, I made sure I gave Ellen plenty of warning of the activity and told her about it whilst she was happily munching her McDonalds. When the time came to go out, I met a bit of resistance from Ellen who was loathe to leave her play station game, but I explained that we needed to take Phoebe for a walk and that because I was poorly (only a slight exaggeration!) she would need to hold the lead. One of the things I’ve learnt from my RDI training is that if you meet resistance you need to stand firm and wait for your child to do what you are asking. I have had moments where I have had to stand my ground for 30 minutes repeating ‘I’m just waiting’ intermittently, but luckily yesterday the technique worked pretty quickly and after less than a minute Ellen did put down her DVDs, put on her wellies and took the lead. Great!
Past attempts to get Ellen to hold the lead have not been terribly successful, she has been apt to let go as soon as Phoebe pulls at all – not ideal! However, one small bonus of all the rain we’ve been having is that our road is closed due to flooding, so I could let Ellen take the lead without fear that we would meet a car. I needn’t have worried however, despite the fact that she obviously didn’t like holding the lead when Phoebe pulled she didn’t let go until I told her it was safe to do so.
So far so good. The next thing objective was to use non-verbal communication as much as possible. I pointed at the mud and the barbed wire fence (which we went through) making ‘oooh’ and ‘aahhh’ sounds and Ellen seemed very happy to play along. We ‘squelch squelched’ through the mud and Ellen pointed the way we were to go.
Then – thank you untidy fishermen – we found a can at the side of the canal, I made a big fuss about it not being where it should be and flattened it slightly so that Phoebe could pick it up. As a Cocker Spaniel she has a natural instinct to carry things in her mouth and so we set off for home and the recycling box. Phoebe however had other ideas, and after carrying the can for a few minutes she ran off into a field to bury it. This gave me a great chance to do some comical expressions, pointing and shrugging when she came back without the can. Ellen thought it was hilarious – but as a one-time Green Party voter, my conscience may force me to go back and retrieve it later …
While things were going so well I thought it would be a good opportunity to extend Ellen’s competence even further. Usually when we get back from the walk Ellen just throws her boots off and marches in the house, but this time I carried on the story of the missing can by opening the lid of the recycling box, pointing inside it and then wagging my finger at Phoebe. Ellen was still engaged in the interaction and happily passed me the towel so I could dry Phoebe’s muddy paws. I then showed her how to feed Phoebe, including telling her to sit before you put the bowl down. Ellen did all this without any complaint at all – a major achievement!
Despite a few tricky moments, the day ended with some great positives, so perhaps in future I should use Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s wise words for more than just ironic reflection.
‘Measure not the work
Until the day’s out and the labour done,
Then bring your gauges.’ (Aurora Leigh, bk. 5)