My Sister Has A Tail
While Elly is well aware that Betty is a dog, at some level she still thinks of her as a human. This is a change from when Elly was a baby and first became aware of Betty. Then to Elly, Betty was this Muppet-like character who would swoon on by and give the wide-eyed baby a sniff or a kiss. This would make Elly giggle, coo and bounce with delight. Her first word was actually "Betty." While some dads would feel slighted by playing second fiddle to the dog, it made me happy and proud that she loved Betty as much as Greg and I do.
At nearly three, she now understands that Betty is a dog, in a fundamental way, but deep down inside, Betty seems human to her. And again, I don’t blame her because in some ways, she seems that way to Greg and me, too. And if it wouldn’t confuse the child, I would explain to her that Betty is in ways more human than some people or that she behaves like a better person than some people. But instead, I try to highlight the key biological differences and will leave the nuances for when she is older. This has made for some pretty funny moments along the way.
Take for instance, when we were potty training Elly. One of the most effective rewards was applause. Hmmm, do you think we may have a budding diva on our hands? We were happy that candy and chocolate rewards took a back seat to simple clapping and cheering, making us even more generous with our lauds. There we would be, waiting in the wings, when Elly would shout out "Me peeeeeed! Now CLAP!" And applaud we would.
One day, Betty was nearby during one of Elly’s proclamations and our little diva was not satisfied with my applause alone, so she demanded that "Betty clap, too!" And she was both disappointed and puzzled when I explained that she couldn’t. I explained that Betty has paws and not hands but Elly was still not impressed. "Me waaaant her to clap for me." This reminded me of the day she asked when Betty was going to learn to walk instead of crawling on all four legs. Oh, how I had to bite my tongue from saying "Betty will walk on two legs when Mitt Romney pays his fair share of taxes." Instead I opted to teach her about the difference between bipeds and quadrupeds.
And then there was the day that Elly was putting on one of her many fashion-forward ensembles. Picture this - cotton candy pink velour sweat pants with butterflies on them (already not my favorite - unless we’re in Boca Raton with a bunch of 80 year-old bubbies), a waffle-weave leopard shirt and a fuchsia knit cardigan. If this combination was not already discordant enough, she managed to find these hideous socks with a ginormous Diego from Dora the Explorer emblazoned on the tops of them. I have on numerous occasions tried to put them in a bag to donate them to the Sisters of The Holy Mysteries of the Sixth Wound and each time, Elly somehow manages to find them exclaiming "My socks!" This makes me feel badly for a moment, until I come back to the realization that they are heinous and I am doing what’s in her best interest. The "blessing" this particular day was that she decided to finish up her ensemble by wearing black patent leather boots, which at least hid the socks’ shame better than the shoes she normally favors with them which display Diego’s head through the tops, making me cringe everywhere we go. Since I have generally tried to let her be her own woman when it comes to getting dressed, I let it go. So I left her bedroom to take some cleansing breaths, and took time to write my very own version of the Serenity Prayer.
"Lord, grant me the serenity that a two year old does not always share my fashion sense; the courage to be seen (and judged) in public with her;
And the wisdom to know that it’s not worth the battle that will ensue if I do not let her wear what she wants."
Coming from Elly’s bedroom, I hear her asking, "Betty, you help me with the buttons?" I smile to myself, thinking how cute is that?! Then moments later I hear, "Daddy, Betty won’t help me with my buttons." Deciding against telling her that it was probably because Betty did not want to be an accomplice to this crime of fashion that was taking place, I explained that Betty doesn’t have opposable thumbs. "But if she did," I told her, "I’m sure she would help you."
And when little Miss Independence is not dressing herself, she’s modeling other behaviors that she sees, like taking pictures. Periodically, I let her use my iPhone and I’m always surprised by how decent a job she does with it. But since my preference is not for her to take over my electronics, I bought her a small digital camera that I came across in a store for $10. She absolutely loves it! Off she goes around the house taking pictures of this and that. The only rule we needed to draft was "we don’t take pictures in the bathroom." Particularly because this winter Daddy has eaten more than Gwyneth Paltrow has in her lifetime and I’m approaching the size of a small fishing village. The last thing I need are photos of me coming out of the shower looking like something that escaped from Sea World. And I have to say, she’s done well with respecting it. She takes pictures of her dolls, the rug, houseplants, the fish, the dog and me cooking. Betty, is happy to be a subject, especially since she expects that it will result in a treat or two. One day, as I was preparing dinner, I hear Elly say "Betty, say cheese !" followed by "Daddy, Betty won’t say ’cheese.’" I smiled at her. It’s times like these that I hate to shatter the illusion. It’s almost like telling a child that there is no Santa Claus. "Oh, Elly. Betty can’t say cheese, sweetie. But look, she is smiling at you." And she was.