bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: animals

putting our animals to sleep: is it really an act of compassion?

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This is Rufus “talking” to me at the hospital. Maybe you can hear him, too. He’s beautiful, isn’t he?

Rufus has been moody lately.  I attributed his swings to the new gal in the house – a rescue pup from Tennessee.  Her name is Lolly but we affectionately call her “the rat.”  She’s a dump puppy – predominantly rat terrier, we believe, with a sprinkle of spaniel that makes her ears flop down and her hair stick up.  She’s sassy and playful.  Her favorite activity is growling viciously while hanging off Rufus’ beard by her clenched teeth.  If a thought bubble could magically appear above his head it would say something like, Girl, I’m too old for this.  Go play in traffic.  

But Rufus is too sweet.  When he’s napping in his bed, he simply looks the other way when Lolly wedges her tiny body next to his.  When she scarfs his food, he shuffles back quietly and seeks me out for a snuggle.  When she howls at the squirrels on the fence, he lets her bark be the one that scares them away.  He’s just a great animal.

A wheaten terrier, Rufus is predisposed kidney problems.  At age 8 this predisposition became his reality.  He hasn’t been moody because of his new little sister.  He’s become moody because he’s in kidney failure – and apparently has been for some time.

I discovered the severity of his illness at the vet last month (on my birthday no less).  I climbed into bed that night feeling distraught about what I’d learned that day.  I meditated for a little while, creating a tiny angel version of myself that hovered above my head.  Then I created a tiny angel version of Rufus that hovered above his head.  And we talked for a little while.  What do you want me to do, buddy?  my angel asked.  Let me go, his angel replied.  I tried to make his angel say something different, something like, Fight for me!  I can survive this!  I want to live!  But that’s not what happened.  Let me go, was his reply.  Let me go.  That was it.  There was no denying.

Being the creative child of the Universe I am, I wondered if I could help him through meditation.  Could I do enough Reiki on him to repair his kidney damage and save his life?  Could I channel my inner Christ light and heal him with my mental fortitude?  What if I tried and failed?  Would I lose confidence in the strength of my spirit?  What if I tried and succeeded?  What difference would it make?  And then I remembered what Roof’s little angel guy told me.  Let me go.

The next day was grey in every sense of the word.  My schedule was as messy as the weather.  My emotions were even messier.  I made some calendar adjustments, hired a babysitter, and trucked my boy through sideways rain to the animal hospital where we spent the entire day.  It went sort of like this:  ultrasound, consultation, tears, prognosis, tears, privacy, tears, $530 bill, tears.

The full story?  The radiologist advised me to keep Roof in the hospital for the weekend.  He was incredibly dehydrated and she wanted to flush his kidneys with fluid.  The idea made me uncomfortable, but as the doctor told me emphatically what was best for Rufus, that intimate angel-to-angel conversation from the night before seemed a little woo woo and ungrounded.  I agreed to admit him.

She left the room to start paperwork.  Roof jumped off my lap, where he’d been curled up for the past hour, and put his chin on my thigh, looking for eye contact.  He’s always searching for my eyes these days.  It’s amazing how much a person can learn just by looking into an animal’s eyes.  We stared at each other for a long while and once he felt like he’d been heard, he squeezed under my chair, flopping down with a humph, his legs sticking out from under the chair like a frog’s.

He was hiding, nervous.  He didn’t want to be there.  Instead of helping Rufus by admitting him, I felt like I was making frantic, harried, desperate repairs on a sinking ship.  I called my husband who was indecisive but leaned toward admission.  I called my sister-in-law.  She was supportive of my intuitive urge to take him home.  Clearly this was my decision and mine only.

When the radiologist returned I apologized up and down for spending hours sniveling and waffling then told her I would not admit my dog.  I loaded up on IV bags and Priolosec, paid the extraordinary hospital bill, and carried my furry boy back into the rain.

Rufus doesn’t understand time.  He lives only in the NOW.  And his NOWS have been so happy.  He’s had a great life.  If this is his time, it’s okay.  I started thinking about the lessons we’re both here to learn and what brought us together.  Why me?  Why him?

People who practice Buddhism do not take life.  Not even to end the struggle.  Those who practice understand the karmic purpose of the struggle.  We struggle through the lesson and find the wisdom in it, when we accept the wisdom, we no longer need the pain.  We completely align.  The pain ceases to exist.  It is a delusion, just like life.  I keep wondering if Rufus has chosen me because I will allow him a *full* life, with all its joy and all its pain.  If I end his life early, even by a few hours or days, will he have to return to physical form again in order to learn that painful lesson?  One I could allow him to learn now and possibly evolve his spirit?  I don’t know.  I don’t know what to do.  I mean, I think I know, but the norm is to provide compassion to animals in a way that relieves them of their pain.  I’m just not sure if physical compassion is aligned with spiritual compassion.

Spirit is our most natural state.  Our physical bodies are just the vehicles through which spirit functions in this world.  We settle into the physical with discomfort and we’ll transition out of it with discomfort – if the lesson of discomfort needs to be learned.  I think of childbirth, of how incredibly painful that experience was for me.  When I had my first baby I thought I was going to die.  My intention was to give birth naturally – no drugs, no epidural – but 3/4 of the way through I was searching for my doula’s eyes, sort of like Rufus searches for mine.  Help me.  Please help me.  I don’t want to do this.  I’m terrified.  I’m not strong enough.  But she looked at me and stroked my hair and said, “It’s just the baby coming.  It’s just the baby coming.”  I trusted her.  I trusted my body.  I trusted my baby’s transition into physical life.  Within minutes I was fully dilated and ready to push.  I had my baby naturally.  It hurt like hell but I understood the purpose.  I learned the lesson.  I had to trust the process and let go of the fear.  Paradigm shift.  When I had my subsequent babies, the labors were much more manageable and free from fear.  And I never once considered calling the anesthesiologist.  Never once.

Can I be that person for Rufus?  Can I help him through the transition naturally?  I think I can.  The vet has clearly told me that when the time comes, the only humane thing to do is put him to sleep.  But I keep going back to these questions – What’s so wrong with death?  Death is a release, a return, a reunion.  Death is natural.  And why are we all so afraid of pain?  Through my own fear of pain am I stifling my animal’s spiritual development by disallowing him the full experience of life?  Am I really helping him?  

Compassion to me looks different now.  Can I find the spiritual compassion to let go of my own fears of physical death in order to transition this animal to his natural state of spirit?

So we’re home, Rufus and me, riding out the storm.  My vet and I are on the same page with his treatment.  No extraordinary efforts.  I give Roof a bag of subcutaneous fluids combined with a little Reiki three times a week plus a few inexpensive meds twice a day.  This will keep him as comfortable as possible over the next few weeks or months.  I will not interfere with the course of Roof’s life but I will pray for mercy.  That is the plan.  And just as I knew that epidural was nearby when I gave birth to my first child, I’ll have the number of my vet nearby if it all gets to be too much.

This whole experience has caused me to think more deeply about my own life.  I made a birth plan for myself, I can make a death plan for myself, too.  I’ve now dedicated years of my life to spiritual evolution, and every day I feel more trust in the Universe.  I trust that the Universe can provide peace for me better than any clever manmade invention.  I’ve begun to think of my own physical departure as just another experience in life, and I’m not sure dulling it in any way will benefit my spirit.  If part of my divine plan is to suffer, I hope I can accept it and learn from it.  And if I can do that, I know I will be released from the suffering with mercy.

Kind of a lot to think about.  You are so welcome to join me in this conversation in the comments below.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

wait. where DO babies come from, mommy?

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I had the talk with my little ones today. The conversation caught me off guard as we sat together on the couch playing Spoons, sharing a bowl of Pirate’s Booty. The yellow puffs started running low, and my youngest daughter, glancing sideways at my son, said, “Mommy, we should get more Pirate’s Booty than him because we’re girls. And girls need to eat more than boys so our bellies can grow big and turn into babies.”

I was momentarily stunned. Realizing this theory was something she had spent time hypothesizing, I stifled a giggle, “Oh, honey, women don’t have babies from eating too much food.”

My oldest girl piped in quickly and confidently, “No, we get babies by taking pills from the doctor.”

“Who told you that?” I spun around to look at her.

“Well, no one. When you were pregnant you had a big bottle of orange pills in your bathroom and you took one every day.”

“No, those were prenatal vitamins. I took them when I was pregnant to give my body extra energy while I was growing the baby.”

“Oh,” she said, looking perplexed. ”Wait. Where DO babies come from, Mommy?”

“Yah,” echoed my youngest. “Where?”

It took me a minute to gather my thoughts (and my courage). My children are 5, 7, and 9. I’m a true believer in answering their questions honestly. Life is wrought with unknowns — there’s no need to be evasive when they ask me what a tampon is or wonder when they’ll grow pubic hair. They’re asking about their own bodies after all, so I always tell them the truth. They have every right to be absolutely comfortable in their skin suits. Plus, dispelling mystery is part of my job as a parent.

That said, I briefly considered shooing away my 5 year old boy. But if I excluded him, I’d be implying that conception is secretive. And he might think that this type of questioning is dangerous. 

I want my kids to be comfortable coming to me FIRST. With ANYTHING. If they are not comfortable coming to me, they will inevitably turn to the internet or to friends. And I know for sure that I can parent my children better than Bing! or some tween on the playground. So I stepped up and addressed all three of them together with honesty and *restraint* — because telling the truth doesn’t mean telling ALL.

We started by talking about Nat Geo and Animal Planet, two of our favorite family channels. The kids adore animal shows and are relatively familiar with mating rituals. I explained that the animals mate to create offspring. I told them that all mammals conceive the same way, and humans are also mammals. All of our body parts have a certain function. And ultimately, our primary human function, like all mammals, is to reproduce. In order to make a baby, a man and a woman need to work together.

The girls followed attentively, locking on my eyes and nodding their heads. The little guy began spinning the spoons lying on the game table, distracted. 

I quizzed, “When you think of body parts on a man and a woman, which ones are different?”

“Boys have penises. Girls have van-ginas,” said my oldest proudly. The others agreed.

“Right. And inside the bodies, men have sperm and women have eggs. Once a month, about a week after a woman has her period, an egg drops down and the man’s sperm has a chance to fertilize it.”

“But how does the sperm get to the egg?”

“It swims. It has a tiny tail and races with a million other sperm to see who can reach the egg first. The one who gets there first gets to become the baby.” Admittedly, I hoped that the kids would be satisfied with this and we could return to playing Spoons.

“Yah, but how does the sperm GET to the egg?” No such luck.

“Well, you said yourself that men have penises and girls have vaginas, right?”

Silence. Introspection. Reaction:

“WHAT?! Daddy put his penis inside your vagina?????”

I tried but failed to contain my giggles. We three girls started laughing. The little guy really had no idea why we were snickering. He probably wasn’t ready to hear it anyway, so it was all for the best. But he could still benefit from the openness of our dialogue even though he didn’t understand the content of the message. He took what he wanted and focused the rest of his attention on twirling spoons.

The girls pummeled me with questions — Did it hurt? Did hair get up there? Do I have to do that? Because I am NOT doing that. What about twins? Does that take two penises? 

I explained to them that the woman has to have her period before her body is ready to make babies, and it’s best that she’s married and settled first. Because every baby needs two loving parents and a stable, happy home.

My second daughter stated emphatically, “I’m only doing that twice. And I’ll have two babies. And THAT’S IT!”

“You can do whatever works best for you, babe,” I reassured.

“Does it hurt to get your period?”

“No, sometimes you’ll get crampy in your belly, but if you eat right and take care of your body you should feel just fine.”

“How about when the baby comes out? Does that hurt?”

“Yep,” I confirmed. ”It really hurts.”

“What does it feel like?” she probed.

“Stretching. And fire. Kind of like you’re pooping a hot cannonball.”

“I’ve had big poops like that before.”

“Well, maybe not this big. Do you want to hear the stories about when you were born?”

“YES!!!!!!!” all three shouted.

As the subject graduated from conception to birth, all three kids sat up and leaned forward, giggling and scrunching up their little faces as I colorfully wove the stories of their beginnings. It was a really lovely experience and I’m so glad it unfolded in just this way, with all of us together.

A minute later my husband strolled into the room and I said, “We just learned about the birds and the bees!” Without a word he spun on his heel and strolled back out. I guess he wasn’t ready to learn yet.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.

Please share this if you like it!

great programming for young boys courtesy of PBS

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Every Sunday night, all summer long, my 4 year old has been asking me this question:  “Mama, Mama, Mama, does Supewhewo Camp stawt tomowwow?”

Finally, two days ago I was able to give him the answer he so desperately wanted to hear, “Yes, buddy!  Yes!  Tomorrow is the first day of Superhero Camp!”

“Woohoooo!” he yelped while punching at the air with his tiny, happy fists.  “Mama, Mama, Mama, can I weaw my Supewman T-shiwt?”

“Sure, bud!”

“Is it clean?”  (Sadly my response is too often what he so desperately doesn’t want to hear but that day he was in luck.)

“Uh-huh.”

“YESSSSSSS!!!!!”

He took off for his room to pack a bag and lay out his clothes for the following day.  Then he came back down, “But Mama.  Mama.  Mama,” he said patting my rear end, “I need anothew Supewhewo shiwt for the next day.”

“You can wear your Wild Kratts T-shirt, dude!  Chris Kratt is the best superhero ever!”

“The Kwatt bwothews awen’t supewhewos.”

“Whhaaaattt???  Of course they are!  They rescue animals don’t they?”

“But, Mama, they don’t F-LLLYYYYYY.”

“When they have on their falcon creature power suits they can.”

“OH YAH!!!!!  I’m going to be Chwis Kwatts.  WOOHOOOO!  Can I weaw a cape wiff my T-shiwt?”

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If you have a little one at home, you are probably familiar with the Kratt brothers on PBS.  They are animal experts who are known for getting down and dirty with creatures of all kinds, first with their show Zoboomafoo and later with their hit show Wild Kratts.  They don’t hesitate to roll in the mud or tromp though a swamp…  and they’re fun to watch.  My kids love these guys.  Especially my nature-loving boy.  Honestly, “nature-loving” might be an understatement.  Nature-ADORING, Nature-OBSESSING, Nature-WORSHIPPING boy is more on the mark.  My oldest daughter regularly entertains us by singing the Wild Kratts theme song to the rhythm of her own clapping hands while Nature Boy spins wildly in circles and hurls his body onto the floor.  (This primitive behavior is considered dancing in my household.)

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What I love about Chris and Martin Kratt, and why I’m writing about them today on BUBs, is that they’ve created a wholesome program that is centered on compassion, education, nature AND adventure.  This is especially important for our young boys who are almost always attracted to shows, events and toys that involve destruction and fighting.  Caring for and rescuing animals is a beautiful lesson in compassion and I’m standing up applauding these guys and the work they do.

Animals are a wonderful way to teach our little boys about reflexive compassion.  When we witness an animal in trouble, compassion is automatic.  And once that feeling of compassion becomes part of a child’s emotional foundation, they can have a better understanding of how to apply it when dealing with people.  Let’s face it, it can be hard to have compassion for humans sometimes.  As a mindful adult I find that I consistently have to remind myself to be compassionate when people around me are acting like jerks.  Imagine how challenging that is for a kid!

So there was a study that came out a few years ago.  I can’t remember who conducted it, but it was a happiness study based on words posted by children on social media sites (happy, love, peace, etc.).  Guess which state was voted to have the happiest kids in America?  (Go ahead and play some thought-stimulating Jeopardy music in your head while you ponder…  Doo!  Do-do-do-do-do-do.  Bom, bum!)

New Hampshire!

Yah baby.  Go New England!  I’ve gotta say, I’m not surprised.  Have you ever been to a New Hampshire State Fair?   One conversation with a young person about how they feel when caring for their animals is all you need to be convinced of the cornerstone of their happiness and kindness.  Farmer kids and 4-H kids are so damn nice.  The way these kids love and care for animals is inspiring.  So in a state like NH where nature prevails and farms are everywhere, I’m venturing a guess that the reason for being the happiest state in the nation has something to do with animals.  At least that’s my unscientific, un-researched theory.  But pretty a good one, right?

Kindness and compassion, though two different qualities, support each other in every way.  It’s impossible to have one without the other.

So in this spaghetti test called life, I suggest to toss the Kratt brothers against the wall and see if they stick.  My son is still only in-the-making of a man but from what I see so far, I have little doubt that his deep and passionate love for animals and nature are helping him to build a strong foundation of compassion and kindness.   Big props to my favorite superheroes for their contribution in supporting his development.  PBS made a great investment when they plunked their taxpayer dollars down on Wild Kratts.  Check your local guide for listings.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

p.s.

Please share if you enjoy this.  😀 ❤

5 Mindful Mommy Tricks to Surviving Summer with Kooky Kids

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My 7 year old getting her purple kitty on with our new puppy.

There’s a picture of my sister in our family album that has inspired a family idiom: the purple kitty face.  In the photo, my sis is standing in our driveway on a summer day wearing light blue undies and holding a tiny black kitten, scooped from a litter of mates produced by our ginger cat Selena.  In her sweet and quirky four-year-old way, she had convinced herself (and probably me) that the kitty was not black, but purple.

If you look closely at my sister’s expression, you’ll notice that her lips are pursed tightly in a sort of painfully loving grimace.  Her teeth are clenched, as are her two little hands that are quickly crushing purple kitty’s spindly rib cage.

If a thought bubble could appear magically above my sister’s head it would say, “You’re so cuuuuuuttteee!  I love you to deeeeeaaaaath!”  Fortunately, no animals were injured in the filming of that scene.  At least not that we knew of anyway.  I imagine that Mom swooped toward her daughter after snapping the pic, rescued the kitten from imminent death and returned her to the cardboard box from whence she came.

There’s a psycho-medical term for this exact situation I’m sure, but nothing quite pins the tail on the donkey like purple kitty.  (Though that Looney Tunes scene with Daffy Duck and the abominable snow man comes close, “I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George.”)

Th purple kitty is sort of like that feeling of being insanely cold.  When you’re so cold that shaking is involuntary.  Only when you notice that your teeth are chattering so much your jaw hurts and your thighs are sore from tightening them against the weather do you become aware of the tension and mindfully release it…  only to squeeze up again with the next frigid gust.  (I’m a lifelong New Englander, I know about these things.)

My children make the purple kitty face all the time.  We just got a puppy and she is often the recipient of squeezey loving.  But I know it’s not just a behavior reserved for my family.  All kids do this.  I remember one day my old boss came into work and told us that her beloved family pet, a hamster, was laid to rest in a shoe box that morning – a victim of her daughter’s loving embrace.  It happens.  And not just with animals.

I remember doing this with my neighbor as a kid.  He was such an adorable baby.  I remember hugging him a little too tight, sucking my breath in through clenched teeth, body shaking from the effort of physical love, releasing only when the little toe headed cutiepie squeaked rather than exhaled.   Honestly, sometimes I notice myself doing it still.  What can I say?  Babies are cute.

As a parent of small children, I’ve noticed that my purple kitty face, once associated with over-loving, has become one of Holy-Shit-I-Can’t-Take-It-Anymore-You-Are-Driving-Me-Crazy-And-I-Need-You-To-Stop-Screaming-At-Each-Other-Before-My-Eyeballs-Eject-From-My-Skull.  I think the more common term for this is frustration, but frustration is not a rich enough word for the exasperation, disheartened-ness, desperateness and anger that I can feel when my kids are totally obnoxious.

So I admit it.  I’ve been known to occasionally squeeze my kids.  And not because they’re cute.  Thanks to a committed mindfulness practice, I can typically defend them from my clenching grip, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never sent my kids off to school praying that their teachers wouldn’t roll up their sleeves and find red stripes around their biceps from where I grabbed and squeezed, imagining that my vice grip would somehow convince them to stop screaming, listen to my words or clean up their blasted Pokemon cards.

It’s summer vacation now, and all this quality time with our unscheduled babies, as delightful as it is, provides us with endless opportunities to feel emotionally overwhelmed by their antics.  So there are a couple of things I’ve done that have helped me to stop the squeezing and relax my purple kitty face, and I wanted to share them with my sea of online readers, well, let’s face it, it’s more like a small pond of readers but I love you and appreciate you as if you were the vast Atlantic Ocean.

I have three small children ages 4 through 8 and I mother each of them differently, but these five things work consistently for me with all three.

  1. Meditate.  Your reaction to your babies is not about them, it’s about you.  When you’re composed, no amount of nagging, screeching or spoiled-rotten-American-kid complaining will offend you.  A meditation practice takes time to develop, so in the meantime try this: The second you reach for that little arm, breathe into your squeezey hand and let the irritation melt like butter on plain pasta with no red sauce.  Think these words:  “This will be over soon, and we will be happy again.”  Another great mindfulness trick is the 10-10-10 rule.  Ask yourself, “How will I feel about this in 10 minutes?  In 10 days?  In 10 years?”  Probably not so great.  So loosen up the tourniquet and know that this too shall pass.
  2. Make sure they’ve eaten.  Hungry kids are CRAZY.  We all know this, but somehow we all forget.  Feed them.  I always have a bag of apples and a slicer wheel nearby.  It’s the perfect emergency food.  But even with that, I still forget, too.
  3. Whisper or speak very softly when you’re explaining or disciplining.  They’ll be like, “What?  What, Mommy?  What?”  and they’ll stop screaming long enough to listen.  Most of the time, they start modeling my volume and instantly the stress level dissipates – mine and theirs.
  4. If whispering doesn’t work, try crying.  Channel your inner soap opera diva.  Most likely, fake tears will not be hard to conjure, but feel free to give yourself over to real ones.  There’s nothing wrong with letting your kids see you cry.  They should know the effect their behavior has on others.  And when you’re teetering on the edge of an emotional volcano, a sobbing mommy meltdown can be a great side effect – they stop flipping out and turn their compassionate focus on you.  “I’m so sorry, Mommy.  I’m so sorry,” complete with hugs and kisses and sympathy.  Then they can stop being lunatics long enough for you to regain composure and control.
  5. When all else fails, put them in water.  My neighbor, an experience mother of several, taught me this and I am ever-grateful.  Draw a bath, toss in a few face cloths and buckets, turn on some Mozart and leave the room – bathroom door open, of course, we wouldn’t want the little brats to drown.  Joke!  That’s a joke!

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

Originally published by Vanessa Gobes for Intentblog.com.