Raccoons Keep Trying to Pillage Our House

raccoon.jpgOne time, I made friends with a raccoon who hung around my old apartment.  Not sure why I thought this was a good idea, but curiosity got the better of me one evening, so I crept up sideways and scattered some walnuts in front of her.

She was pretty suspicious. Also hungry though, so she carefully approached the walnuts and tried one, not taking her eyes off me for one second. She liked the walnut.

I started calling her “Bernice” and kept scattering walnut offerings until she trusted me enough to take them straight from my hands. She eventually started grabbing my hands and flipping them over, once they were empty, to make sure no nuts were clinging to the backsides.

One night, Bernice grabbed two raccoon-handfuls of nuts before plopping down behind me, quietly eating her walnuts as we sat back-to-back.

It was so cool. I’d made a raccoon friend.

And these warm memories of Bernice are probably all that’s kept me from grabbing my BB gun and devastating the local raccoon population, because:

Raccoons started eating all our cat food

catraccoon.jpgOne of our kitties, Zoë, is a complete doll, apart from one problematic quirk: she HATES boy cats.

She has long, silky black fur and mews at you in the sweetest, purring voice. She’s fine with our other girl cat, Violet, but instantly explodes into a spitting, scratching tornado of rage upon seeing any of our boy cats. Then, she craps in inappropriate places (like Brontë’s bed) to let us know how unacceptable it was for us to allow boy cats into her territory.

After one too many times of Brontë throwing back her covers and shrieking, “POOP!”, we reluctantly had to make Zoë an outside cat. Which meant providing an outside feeder.

Well, her feeder kept emptying at breakneck speed and she’s pretty petite. We were having to replace cat food left and right. Where was it all going??

Finally, one night, I caught sight of a raccoon gobbling up her food and slopping dirty water everywhere from washing its hands in her water bowl. Dirty little thieving bastard

I mean, it’s probably just considered intelligent resource gathering in raccoon culture, but the little bandit masks they wear weren’t helping their case. So, I grabbed a flashlight and tore into the yard to scare him off.

The raccoon froze and we stared at each other. Then, three little BABY RACCOON HEADS popped over the porch.

Aww… it was a mommy raccoon just trying to feed her babies. I feed my babies. How am I supposed to handle that!?

Raccoons started hunting our chickens

gatorraccoon.jpgWe got nervous when we started noticing the chicken wire peeled back at the corners of our chicken coop. It prompted my husband to run out and buy a bunch more locks.

We’d raised our chickens, Rosie and Hester, since they were fuzzy little chicks. Our kids pet them daily and were incredibly excited when they grew up and laid their first eggs. These are tame chickens, people.

We’d gotten strangely attached, so the night I suddenly heard a bunch of squawking and ran into the yard to see scattered feathers everywhere, I was genuinely terrified.

We couldn’t find Hester anywhere. The entire yard was filled with loose black & white feathers and I had a lump in my throat. Raccoons WILL try to eat your chickens, even grabbing them through cage bars and breaking their necks against the walls.

The next morning, Hester flew down from a tree in our neighbor’s yard… whew. We don’t clip our chickens’ wings because they don’t try to escape, apart from flying into trees during storms. Now we definitely won’t be clipping them.

Still, I have a hard time blaming raccoons for trying to eat our chickens. I mean, we aren’t vegetarians either. It’s not the raccoons’ fault for not knowing these are special chickens.

Raccoons started yanking up our sod

drunkraccoon.jpgSince we’ve been trying to sell our house for the past several months, we’ve been painting over the height charts penciled out on the wall, as well as our kids’ early artistic experiments, that time my husband measured wrong when installing a bunch of shelves and the time I tripped over Legos while holding a giant cup of strong coffee…

Basically, we’ve been scrambling to make it look like super-responsible people (perhaps with a touch of OCD) were living here for the past four years instead of us, with our two insane toddlers, five cats, and pair of chickens.

And that meant overhauling our yard. We water-blasted all the chalk drawings away, repainted the deck, filled the perimeters with bark, and invested in a bunch of sod to replace the barren moonscape our chickens created.

No one could touch it until the place was sold. The sod had to “take” and nothing could get messed up.

But corners of the sod kept lifting.

We kept tamping them back down.

Finally, whole rolls of sod were getting peeled back. How was this happening?? Were our kids sneaking out to unroll our lawn? Were the cats hooking a claw in the corner, then pulling?

No.

Then one night, our cat Frodo starts jabbering on about something outside. I peeked out the sliding glass door and caught a raccoon peeling back layers of sod then maneuvering his fingers in the dirt like he was wadding up socks for his feet.

Then, he slurped a worm into his mouth like a strand of spaghetti.

Ah…

Maddening, yet fiendishly clever. Some raccoon figured out we have an easily-peelable lawn that makes worm & insect hunting easy, like kids flipping big flat rocks. It’s like they found a safe shallow pond brimming with delicious fish, except the fish are worms, and told all their friends.

You can’t help but admire that kind of industry. It’s a nuisance, but what an impressive approach. Raccoons don’t really *get” ownership, after all, and I was having trouble punishing so much cleverness.

Frodo had no such qualms. He clearly wanted them dead.

And maybe that’s what’s tough about loving different parts of the food chain. Raccoons are just hungry, albeit in a very intrusive and irritating way.

If only Bernice could just tell them to cut it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where We Struggle to Keep the House From Exploding Before We Move

boxes.jpgAfter months and months of trying, we’re finally moving! Yaaaaaaaaaaaay! Weirdly enough, just when we were getting ready to call it quits and pack everything in until Spring, we ended up selling our house and buying one on the very same day.

Almost like it was meant to be, because we love the new house so much more than the ones we almost bought before multiple deals fell through for various reasons.

I’ve been nervous about making an official announcement because that’s just begging for something to go wrong. So many things can go wrong. The sellers could drop out or your buyers could have problems selling their own house or there could be failure to negotiate repairs on either side… it’s an elaborate set of dominoes that could collapse if one tiny domino even thinks about blinking.

Something could still go wrong, but it’s only a week or two away: MOVING DAY!

Turns out we’re not moving to downtown Sacramento after all, even after all my big talk about the city vs. the suburbs. Sacramento prices have skyrocketed in the past couple of years and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to squeeze into a tiny house without a yard when, for less money, we could grab a beautiful place on a third of an acre just outside the city.

(Yes, I realize a third of an acre isn’t super impressive for most of the country, but it’s amazing to Californians.)

bearpoolWe even have a pool now… A POOL! (One we need to get gated as soon as possible because our toddlers have already tried to “accidentally” fall into it whenever we’re visiting the house.)

The kids are beyond thrilled with the place, especially the part about having a pool. Brontë likes to give tours whenever someone visits and has already demanded a purple room. She keeps demanding reassurances that we’re bringing all our stuff, since “there’s no furniture, mama. You know that, right?”

And I’m turning around on my whole anti-suburban mentality. We’re moving to an artsy enclave outside the city that has an extremely different vibe than where we’ve been living.  Much more friendly and laid-back–it’s the kind of place that has elaborate murals of alligators eating Volkswagons next to quirky coffee shops as chicken roam the patios.

catchchicken.jpgYes, chickens. Chickens have the run of this town. They wander around the parks and walk next to you along the sidewalks. Some people think they’re a nuisance but I think they’re pretty cool. So do the girls, who keep running around in circles trying to pet the chickens while the chickens say, “Whoa, whoa, WHOA… we’re evolved DINOSAURS, not one of your golden-retrieving lapdogs!” I keep picturing them in horn-rimmed spectacles.

I’m thinking it wasn’t so much the suburbs to blame as the kind of suburb we lived in. Chicken Town is much friendlier. We’ve already been invited to more events and had more positive interactions than in the past four years outside the city.

And all we’ve got to do now is cram four years of family life into a billion boxes and somehow get them to Chicken Town. Also, not let this place blow up before we jump in the car and drive away, squealing our tires and yelling “IT’S YOUR PROBLEM NOW, SUCKAS!”

Not that there’s anything wrong with our house, of course, but we’re struggling to keep it that way for another ten days. Raccoons keep pulling up the sod at night to fish for worms and we keep rolling everything back into place in the morning. We keep grabbing pens out of our kids’ hands before they decide wall murals would really spruce the place up. We keep trying to convince our crazy dog Douglas it would NOT be a brave and impressive feat to eat the porch and he should quit trying

Just ten more days…

 

 

 

8 Reasons We Need to Discipline Our Kids

I was on the phone with my cousin the other day when I nearly made her pee her pants. It went down like this:

Her: So then grandma says I have to move that old green car out of the back garage and I told her that car hadn’t been driven in while, so we needed to…

Me: THAT’S IT! WE DON’T BITE… GO TO YOUR ROOM!

Her: WHOA!!!

I explained my outburst wasn’t directed at her and she said she’d already picked up on that… she just hadn’t realized I ever yelled at my kids. She did it all the time, so she wasn’t being judgey, but she’d never even heard me raise my voice.

Like ever, for any reason.

And the truth is, I don’t like yelling at my kids. I don’t like being the bad guy. I hate having to make hard calls about what expectations are age-appropriate, or when to stop explaining rules and start handing out consequences.

I know other parents feel the same. You love your kids with every fiber of your being and want nothing more than see them smile and be truly happy.

Which is why you have to make those calls.

Because:

  • parentKids test limits

Kids are born knowing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It’s only natural for them to start trying to figure everything out.

This means everything from what does cat vomit taste like to what happens when you stick forks into the light socket. Or punch someone in the face. Or run across a busy intersection.

You can tell them with increasing conviction about why it’s not a good idea to try these things, but it’s only a matter of time before they start wondering what happens when they do the exact opposite of what you just said. And running into busy intersections is no time for theoretical object lessons.

  • It’s better for you to teach them limits than for them to run into them headfirst

When my kids would throw tantrums and clock me in the face, it hurt. Still, they’re tiny enough for me to shake it off. They don’t really know what they’re doing.

But… what happens if they think it’s absolutely fine to hit people whenever they’re frustrated? When they haul off and backhand a dangerous animal or someone truly scary?

In other words, dealing with it now means them not getting the crap beat out of them someday, when they mess with the wrong person.

  • Humans are social animals

It’s an imperfect comparison, but what happens when people never discipline their dog?

The dog barks and jumps on people, pees everywhere and maybe even bites people. And no one wants it around. The dog stops being welcome.

Not teaching your dog how to behave is a disservice to your dog, because the dog ends up rejected and lonely.

The same thing happens to us. When your kid becomes an obnoxious tyrant no one can stand, your kid will end up feeling rejected and lonely. Because no one will like them or want them around. You want your children to be welcome at social events, which means suffering though the frustrating work of reining them in.

  • You don’t want them to miss out on opportunities

Kids don’t naturally want to sit still or be quiet. They want to yell, throw things, take their shoes off just anywhere and run around screaming like maniacs. Maybe while throwing their shoes.

And when they’re babies, it’s impossible to convince them to calm down. But at some point in their development, you have to enforce the idea that sitting down and not screaming is an absolute requirement.

Otherwise, you can never take them out to restaurants or really, in public at all. That means they can’t participate in a huge number of fun activities, from going out shopping to seeing a movie to going to Disneyland. The sooner your kid learns how to conduct him or herself in public, the more fun things they’ll get to do.

  • Learning how to control yourself is critical

A huge part of our ability to cope with  life demands involves making ourselves do things we don’t want to do.

Think about it: we get up early and drive to our jobs, even though we’d rather sleep in, eat Cheetos and watch TV all day. We wait in lines, even though it’s boring. We pay our bills, even though we’d rather buy something fun. We don’t throw things at people who annoy us.

Essentially, we learn to delay instant gratification in order to reap larger rewards down the line. People actually tested this in the 60’s and 70’s… Stanford researchers gave kids marshmallows while promising them even more marshmallows if they could keep from eating them for 15 minutes.

They call it the Marshmallow Test. The kids who managed to not immediately eat their marshmallow later had higher SAT scores and ultimately were more successful.

It’s one of those academic experiments that proves what intuitively makes sense when you think about it–learning to not always act on your impulses is an enormously helpful life skill.

  • Kids gain self-esteem from feeling competent

Last week, when I told my daughter Brontë to clean up her room, she demanded that I help her.

She said, “I could clean it by myself but together, it would be FABULOUS CLEAN!”

I chuckled, but then made her do it anyway.

Many of my friends thought that was harsh. They felt she’d come up with such an entertaining response, I should’ve caved and helped her clean her room.

But here’s the thing… When she’d finished, I marveled at how awesome her room looked and gave her a strawberry cupcake scratch-n-sniff sticker for doing such a great job.

She was incredibly proud of how nice her room looked. When her grandparents stopped by later, she showed off her sticker then asked them both to come see her room, which she cleaned up ALL BY HERSELF.

It’s good to push kids to do things, to set standards. Obviously, you shouldn’t make them chase moving targets by aways finding fault with their efforts. If they can never please you, they’ll eventually decide there’s no reason to keep trying.

If I’d caved, I would’ve denied my daughter pride in her accomplishment. Set limits, but reward your kids when they follow through (that reward can be your attention and approval). This is what makes kids feel capable.

  • Kids are irrational

Even if you were committed to always making your children happy, it would be impossible.

See, somewhere around age 1 1/2 to 2 years old, they get obsessed with telling you “NO!” It’s the power of refusal, a child’s first sense of control over its environment. I’d offer my two-year old daughter Brontë a piece of cheese, for example, and she’d predictably scream “NO!”

So I’d put the cheese away, and she’d start screaming because she wanted the cheese. I’d offer it to her again and she’d refuse it. This would happen over and over again as my daughter struggled through some existential toddler crisis of needing cheese while simultaneously needing to exert her powers of refusal.

As they grow older, more sophisticated versions of the same dynamic just keep playing out. Now, it’s about being hysterically tired while refusing to take a nap and someday, it’ll be paying to go on a diet while sneaking food on the side or impulsively buying stuff then not making rent.

At some point, we all need to learn hard lessons about not always getting everything we want. Otherwise, we’ll boomerang endlessly through self-defeating contradictions.

  • And because desire is a bottomless pit

It’s counterintuitive, but having everything you want doesn’t make people happy.

Because there’s always something more. Buy your kid every toy he asks for and I guarantee that at no point will he decide “Hmm, I have a lot of toys. This is enough toys. I think I’m good now.”

Eventually, either your bank account or patience will reach its end. You’ll tell him “no” and he’ll feel that agony of refusal as sharply at the 300th toy as with the 5th.

Maybe even more so, since he’d started thinking he was a god with endless abilities to command any toys that caught his fancy, and now he’s having to come to grips with the limits of his power.

And even if he had all the toys in the universe, he’d be angry about not being able to fly. It’s the ancient tragedy of people who seem to have everything and yet still, never think it’s enough.

It’s the prison of entitlement–believing you should automatically have access to anything your whims desire. You fail to appreciate what you already have because you’ve never experienced the frustrations of not having it.

I’ve witnessed this time and time again when watching spoiled kids in Disneyland. When my cousin and I were little, by contrast, we thought Disneyland was the best thing that could ever happen to you. We were 6000 shades of ecstatic whenever we found ourselves in Disneyland and would talk about very last detail for years on end.

But by now, I’ve seen countless kids in Disneyland throwing enormous fits about stupid things. One of my husband’s coworkers recently took his kids to Disneyland and had to go to SEVEN DIFFERENT RESTAURANTS before his kids were satisfied with the menu. Then they just wanted to go back to the hotel and watch TV.

It’s easy to write them off as spoiled brats who don’t appreciate what their parents did for them. The money their parents saved up, the things they didn’t buy that they really wanted, in hopes of seeing their kids have the time of their lives. Instead, the kids complained about everything not being good enough.

Yet when you look at it another way, those kids were miserable. They must be miserable most of the time, since even Disneyland couldn’t help. You have to feel sorry for them, because their failure to appreciate their blessings probably means they’ll fail to appreciate many of the great things that will happen throughout their lives. Until it’s too late.

And this is why, my friends, we have to impose guidelines and order unto our children.

So much of the world is neither really good nor bad, but a reflection of how we choose to experience it. We make our children happy by helping them appreciate not already being entitled to the things that they get, by helping them recognize that they, while still important, are not automatically the center of everyone’s universe.

I don’t condone harsh discipline or being nastier to your kids than the situation requires. And I realize that’s a tough line to draw as we all do the best that we can.

But I hope to comfort other parents who feel bad about refusing their children, setting strict limits, or meting out consequences. There are plenty of experts who will make you feel like you’re screwing your kids up if they’re ever unhappy.

I believe you’re making an important sacrifice. You’re accepting your child being temporarily angry at you because in the long run, they’ll end up much happier.

Just try to be fair, reasonable, and consistent. Kids feel most secure when they understand the rules and live in a strong, predictable universe.

Anyone disagree?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Four-Year-Old’s Version of the Snow White Saga

I’m not sure what adulthood means to most 4-year-olds, but from what I can tell, my daughter’s version involves:

  • Dressing all by yourself
  • NOT peeing your pants
  • Making up a bunch of arbitrary rules, and
  • Telling people stories

I guess I can see her point.  Brontë is very proud to have mastered the first three items, and earlier today, she decided to take her adulthood to a whole new level.

Speaking in very best take-charge voice, she asked her father and I to stop whatever we were doing so she could begin…

Brontë: Guys, I’m gonna tell you a story. There was a princess scared in the forest and her name was Snow White and she found a house in the forest with a bunch of animals where she was safe. Then the seven whores came home…

John: “DWARVES.” That’s very important. What were their names?

Brontë: Grumpy, Dopey. Umm… Max and Bob. Maybe Kevin.

 

Me: Like your favorite Minion?

Brontë: Yes, Kevin is the best Minion. Grumpy is the mean one. Anyway, Snow White had a nice dress and sings some songs and one day a DRAGON came to the house!

Me: That’s scary.

Brontë: Yes, very scary. So the Queen Mother sends a dragon to the house and it killed Snow White. Her was dead! So a prince comes and fights a bunch of roses…

Me: Is this Sleeping Beauty?

Brontë: No, I’M TALKING ABOUT SNOW WHITE. The prince makes her wake up and the animals said “Yay!” and everyone lived Happily. Ever. After.

Me: That was exciting.

Brontë: Yes, it’s really, really good.

 

Bob, The Pyramid Construction Guy, Has It Out With His Wife

I’ve talked before about how cool it is that anyone can blog now. Maybe everything published isn’t as polished as it used to be, but at least everyone’s voice can be heard.

It’s neat that future generations will have so many records of what we everyday folks were thinking, even if those thoughts mostly consist of bitching about annoying coworkers, talking about lunch, or showing off stuff we just bought.

That’s just not the case with earlier periods of human history, considering only the writings of highly-educated, elite aristocrats survived. I’ve sometimes wondered if we picture these periods as being more formal than they usually were because their lingering voices are always issuing edicts or chanting lofty works of poetry.

egyptcats.jpgTake Ancient Egypt, for example. Most people couldn’t write and those that could were chronicling important historical events or carving painstaking hieroglyphics across sacred monuments for billionaire employers. Stuff the gods were supposed to read for all eternity.

But what about Bob, one of construction guys hammering out the pyramid bricks? He had a life too. I picture Bob getting home after a long day pushing blocks and talking to his wife Della like this:

Della: Hey Bob, how was your day? Did you remember to pick up some figs?

Bob (groaning): No, I didn’t grab any figs.

Della: Dammit, Bob. I’m meeting Lucille at temple tomorrow and now I can’t make honey fig casserole. And I can’t make any honey cakes either because some rats got into the wheat bags last night. What am I supposed to do!?

Bob: Geez, I’m sorry Della. Guess I was too busy today HAULING 80 TON BRICKS UP WOODEN RAMPS to think about your figs. And how are rats getting into the wheat bags again? What good is your stupid cat? I don’t know why we keep on feeding it.

Della: Watch your mouth, Bob. She’s not just a cat, she’s the living embodiment of the Goddess Bastet.

Bob: Well, your goddess just crapped in the living room again.

Della: Great.

Okay maybe they never had that exact conversation, but I’m guessing more people were  worried about getting to work on time and wondering what they ate that was bothering their stomachs than thinking the highbrow stuff plastered all over city monuments.

 

Stashing Stuff Under Your Butt: a Karmic Primer on the Ego-Crushing Mirrors of Parenting

Anyone who’s been in a serious relationship long enough will eventually start wondering if their partner is crazy.

I think other married people will know exactly what I mean. It’s about getting too familiar with your partner’s quirks. See, we all do weird stuff we usually repress when other people are watching, but no one has the energy to cover up their crazy all the time.

So after spending enough time with anyone else, you’ll inevitably notice odd patterns of behavior.  Like, my husband John is always convinced I’m sitting on whatever he’s looking for. A typical conversation about it sounds something like this:

John: Can you get up? I can’t find my shirt.

Me (sitting on the couch): I don’t have your shirt.

John (frustrated): Can you just get up for a second? You could be sitting on it.

Me (surveying all the clutter): Have you even checked anywhere else? I’m not hiding your shirt.

John (generously): I’m not saying you did it on purpose, but maybe you accidentally sat on my shirt. CAN YOU PLEASE JUST GET UP?

Me (annoyed but standing up): FINE.

John (baffled): Huh. I guess it’s not on the couch.

Since I can’t recall a single time he’s actually caught me sitting on anything missing, I’ve struggled to make sense of this ongoing saga.  Did some part of John’s upbringing make him unusually paranoid about people sitting on things?

img_3667
Her Minnie blanket gives her special powers

It just doesn’t make sense, but here’s the thing: one of the most surreal aspects of parenting is watching your own strange tendencies be karmically mirrored back in your face.

 

Like, it’s possible that Brontë got her habit of endlessly rambling from me and I finally get why hearing someone talk nonstop can be exhausting…

But earlier today, she also had the following exchange with her father:

Brontë (with authority): WELL, I CAN’T FIND MY MINNIE MOUSE BLANKET.

She stomps over to the couch.

Brontë: DADDY, I NEED YOU TO MOVE SO I CAN GET MY BLANKET.

John: I don’t have it. You need to go look for where you left it.

Brontë: IT’S UNDER YOUR BUTT.

John: Nope.

Frustrated, Brontë puts both arms against her dad’s side and starts shoving with all her might, saying I NEED TO FIND MY BLANKET over and over again. She’s pushing on him with the kind of desperation you’d expect if she needed to move a boulder out of the way to exit a burning building before the monsters jumped on her eyeballs.

John sighs while tilting sideways so she can check. Not seeing anything, Brontë grumbles before running to John’s opposite side and trying to push him over from the other direction.

John (standing up): I don’t have it!

Brontë (baffled by the empty couch): Hmm, it’s not here. WHERE DID YOU PUT IT?

img_2407
Exhausted after their blanket argument

If Brontë truly got this genetic tendency from her father, then the fact she eventually found her blanket in another room entirely won’t do anything to make her doubt he’s crouching over  her stuff in the future.

 

Still, you have to wonder if it even makes sense for something like this to be genetic. Was there ever a biological advantage to checking for valued resources under people’s butts? Was hiding stuff under your butt ever a viable strategy?

I wouldn’t have thought so, but Bridget did recently try to cover up the chocolate chips she’d stashed in our couch by sitting on them. We may be getting a window in to early resource competition, folks.

If only childfree people could get the embarrassing perspective of having to spend so much time with themselves…