An Old Dog, Uncle Jesse’s Papouli, and Cremation: Ruining a Child’s Life In One Brief Conversation

tear, crying
photo credit: Emily’s mind via photopin cc

Have I ever told you that I cried when I first watched the graduation episode of Saved By the Bell? I think I may have. But did you know I also cried when Uncle Jesse’s Papouli died on Full House? And when Atticus Finch is leaving the courthouse after losing Tom Robinson’s case, and Reverend Sykes says to Scout, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” And anytime anyone gets a standing ovation at a live performance, even “Seussical.” And when kids sing. Or if I just think about kids singing. Oh, great. I just thought about it. Excuse me for a second…

I am sensitive. Always have been. I don’t particularly like it all that much. I mean, it is kind of embarrassing when you want to appear as if you can handle things, yet you have this glaringly obvious wetness seeping from your eyes. Let’s just say I had no delusions that the coach who cut me from the high school basketball team didn’t totally know that the reason my face looked like a turtle was because I was going to weep as soon as I left his office…or before I left his office. Probably before.

Which is why I should have been so much more intuitive about a situation that happened recently with my daughter. Surprise! She is also sensitive. When my husband blames her emotional behavior on emerging hormones, I usually commiserate and am all like, “Holy crap, here come the teenage years!” and “Hormones hate us!” and “At least we have one girl and will only to go through this once, amiright?” and “Did someone forget to tell us about P²MS (PRE-premenstrual syndrome)?” But really I am just trying to deflect from the real cause: me. Me and my crybaby DNA.

It is sometimes easy to forget how closely our children are cut from our own cloth. Or perhaps we want to desperately deny those unsavory traits when we see them in our offspring. But in doing either, we set a trap for ourselves. I will go on record as saying I AM COMPLETELY RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FOLLOWING SITUATION AND DESERVED EVERY EXASPERATING MOMENT IT CREATED.

Set the scene: Grace was trying to coax our dog, Scout, from under her bed. Scout, who is getting up there in doggy years and has less enthusiasm for the badgering from my children, was perfectly content where she was. Grace kept at her, and must have poked her. Scout made her continued refusal known by gently nipping at Grace’s hand. Grace interpreted that as the equivalent of an alligator swallowing her hand whole.

Grace: Mom! Scout bit me!

Me: She didn’t bite you. There is barely even a scratch there.

Grace: But she never does that. She actually bit me!

Me: Well, honey, in her defense, you were bugging the crap out of her. She wants to rest under your bed right now. She doesn’t want to play. You can’t make her do something she doesn’t want to. I have told you and Michael over and over that you need to respect her space a little more now that she is getting older.

Grace: But I want her to come out.

Me: Grace, leave her alone. I’m serious. One of these days you guys are going to make her mad and she is REALLY going to bite you and…

(Defcon 1! Defcon 1! General Right Hemisphere, immediately deploy soldiers to annihilate those combative words marching out of my lips! General Right Hemisphere? Do you copy? Crap. Apparently General Right Hemisphere is Canadian, and not super interested in getting involved in a tussle.)

Me: …then we will have no choice but to put Scout to sleep.

(Oh sh*t.)

Grace: What do you mean…put her her to sleep? KILL HER?

(Oh sh*t Oh sh*t Oh sh*t Oh sh*t Oh sh*t Oh sh*t Oh sh*t. Thanks a lot, Canada.)

Me: Um. Er. No. I mean, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Of course we won’t put her to sleep. Can you just stop messing with her? Please don’t cry. I said we won’t put her to sleep.

Grace: But now I am just thinking about the fact that she IS going to die one day. I don’t want her to die!

(Great. I have a bad feeling this conversation is going to go as well as the one where I tried to calm her fears about getting a shark bite, because despite living in the middle of the country, she might one day decide to move to Hawaii.)

Me: I know. But everyone dies sometime. And it just means she gets to go to Heaven and you can see her when you get there.

(Oh sh*t.)

Me: When you are VERY, VERY, INCREDIBLY OLD. Like the oldest person to have ever lived.

Grace: Well, can we bury her in our backyard?

(Just say yes, Momma. It’s easier that way. But…if you say yes, she’s going to remember. And when Scout dies she is going to be heartbroken that you lied to her. Think this through. Whatever you do, don’t answer right n…NO, wait, wait, wait!! What are you doi…)

Me: People don’t really bury dogs in the yard. But we can keep her ashes here.


Grace: ASHES????? What do you mean ASHES????? How does she turn to ASHES??????

Me: ….

(Oh, sure. NOW you keep your mouth shut.)

Grace: (sobbing) They BURN HER???????? THEY PUT HER IN A FIRE??????

(You suck. You are the worst parent in the world. Someone should revoke your privilege to use your mouth. Run. Just run away. Maybe she won’t notice through her torrential tears.)

Me: Uh. Gduh. Umf. Er. I mean…she won’t feel it when she’s…uh…I mean, I don’t really know. I’m not a vet. I don’t know what I’m talking about. Scout’s fine. She’ll probably be the first dog to live forever. If not, we’ll get another fish. STOP BEING SO SENSITIVE!

Oh, man. I am a cold, heartless bitch.

And the worst part is, my daughter didn’t react any differently than I have countless times before. I understand this kind of fear and heartbreak. I understand worrying too much about what might happen instead of what the reality is of the moment. I understand being sensitive. But instead of acknowledging that and trying to help her through it (a situation I created no less), I put the blame on her. Because I wished she hadn’t reacted the way I would have. Because I wanted her to be better than me. Because I was annoyed at myself for opening my big mouth, and not knowing how to rectify the consequences of it.

I have often said Grace is basically me trapped in my husband’s body. I don’t even have to see her face to know she is tearing up at the end of Despicable Me when Gru reads “One Big Unicorn,” because I am misty as well. And that predictably cued sentimental music has definitely pulled at her heartstrings during my children’s current obsession with binge-watching Full House. Even when the torments of puberty and adolescence are over, I have a feeling her sensitivity will remain.

Just pray that I don’t accidentally bring up genocide the next time she forgets to water the flowers.


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32 thoughts on “An Old Dog, Uncle Jesse’s Papouli, and Cremation: Ruining a Child’s Life In One Brief Conversation

  1. You just kept digging the hole a little deeper, didn’t you? Once the right hemi and Canada joined the party, it was all over, LOL! I have some surefire triggers on the wet eyes myself, but I’m pretty sure I need to save them for a post! Good stuff m’lady!


  2. Oh, I am just like you in the sensitive department. And worry department. And I’ve lived long enough to know that very bad, very unfair things happen too often, which makes not worrying about them all the harder. Striving to live in the moment and not worry so much is an awesome goal to work toward but like you say in the end, there’s a place for us sensitive types! Grace will be okay.

    I once cried at work in front of my supervisor and another colleague. It is a long story, but I felt I had been made by others to look bad to save face and was frustrated “my team” wouldn’t go to bat for me. For some, frustration leads to anger–for me it leads to tears. I later shared with that supervisor that I was considering moving on to a different position at another organization and she carefully and seemingly sensitively told me she didn’t think I “had what it took” for that job, citing the tears incident. Well, that settled it. I took that other job and proved her wrong. And later heard from some former colleagues about how she had later cried in front of them on several occasions. We have to stop beating ourselves up over who we are!

    It’s funny you mention Atticus Finch. I just re-watched To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time since junior high. I was feeling down about the burden of community involvement and that book and movie so beautifully illustrate why we should care. Then I felt convicted.


    1. You are so right…we have to stop beating ourselves up over who we are. Well said. And good for you taking that job!!! I remember crying my first year of teaching after my first angry parent phone call. I felt like such a ninny.

      And TKAMB is really the end all be all for every important lesson in life. It is perfection.


  3. Loved this. I don’t have kids, but can so relate to your and Grace’s sensitive nature and your (no offense) “big mouth” (just like MY momma!). 🙂


  4. Your daughter is precious! My 5 year old son is sensitive. He bonded with a friend’s dog and cried all the way home because he missed her (the dog, not the friend). He made me text the mother so that she could send me a picture of the dog. Then he made me print it out. Then he made me promise we could have a play date with the dog (not the friend). Resistance is futile but we do it anyway. 🙂


  5. I think it’s a far far better thing you do, talking it out, even with accidental detours into the swamp, than leaving it in that scary box in the closet that’s supposed to be invisible to kids but isn’t, and gives them nightmares at night and stress in the day. I love your posts, they’re so human and real, and your kids are so wonderful!


    1. Oh my gosh. Thank you for such a kind comment. It made my night. And you are right: talking about things does seem to take power away from them in a sense…although sometimes I fear I talk too much. Like in this incident here. There was no reason for me to bring up our dog dying. She may be getting old, but she is healthy. And my daughter wasn’t worrying about it until I open my yapper 🙂 However, when their great-grandmother was dying, we talked a lot about the process, especially thanks to my husband’s uncle who is a doctor. I do think it made the whole thing less scary for them…it seemed more real and natural. So yes, I will continue to talk to my kids. I will just work on my timing 😉


      1. Thank you for your refreshing reply! I’ve been guilty of explaining too much and bringing up side issues that caused confusion and some totally unexpected tears and even anger in my many years as a junior high teacher. Such an emotional age, and over the years I saw a sense of humor take a back seat or depart from kids’ lives altogether–oftentimes to be replaced by manipulation of the various adults in the vicinity. Your blog is a real treat for me!


    1. Getting cut from the team will do it every time. And on the preteen front, I’m kind of hoping my daughter is getting all this out early, and maybe the teenage years will be smoother sailing. I know everyone who is reading this is laughing at that hope, but I’m clinging to it anyway.


  6. I don’t want to offend your sensibilities, but I have laughed and laughed over this post. All through it. The turtle face. The tears. The friendly warning about putting the dog to sleep. And the cremation after. Along with how quickly your husband could have made the same thing happen the way my husband would have, saying,”Don’t make me have to put that dog to sleep!” And finally, on the sensitive plant video when your daughter gently reminded you,”Uh, we’re doing this on camera, Mom.” Get with it MOM! Priceless!


  7. I was laughing out loud AND crying while reading this. Laughing because the voices in your head are so funny and crying because I was laughing so hard and because I’m super sensitive too and so is my son. I have had conversations like this so many times, about other subjects, but digging my hole nonetheless.


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