adventures in potty training

Having never had a child, I have never potty-trained another human being.  And having never had a puppy… until now, I have never potty-trained another LIVING being.  To quote Coldplay, “nobody said it was easy; no one ever said it would be this hard.”  Wowzers, I am being challenged in ways I never expected.  And my shame is being triggered in ways I never thought to anticipate.

Oscar is partially potty-trained – he can sleep all night with no problems, which is wonderful, and sometimes he goes to the door to let me know he has to go out, also wonderful.  But when it comes to consistently communicating his needs to relieve himself, well, let’s just say we’re working on it.  I have been on near-constant “potty watch” since we brought him home 4+ weeks ago. I am continuously observing his behavior, looking and listening for signs that he has to go so I can usher him outside and avoid accidents in the house.  And for the most part, I have been successful.  But anyone who truly knows me knows I do not focus on “for the most part.”  I focus on the other parts – the parts that have NOT been successful.  It’s just what I do.  And unfortunately, but as is the case with a puppy (so I have been told many many times), there have been mishaps.  Just when I think we are making lots of progress and Oscar is really getting this potty training thing, we take a step back, and even if several days have gone by without any accidents, I find myself becoming really discouraged when the mishaps occur and I let those bring me down.  I start to feel like a failure, and those ugly words creep into my mind… you’re never going to succeed at this.  You don’t know what you’re doing.  You’re doing it all wrong.  Who do you think you are? 

I google how to potty train your puppy, how long should it take to potty train your puppy, am I the only one failing at potty training my puppy (just kidding on the last one… for now…) in an attempt to figure out the exact magic formula for getting Oscar 100% potty trained FOREVER, just to feel like a colossal failure when ooops, he did it again.  There I am, on my knees over the puddle on the rug or hardwood floor, spraying the enzyme cleaner and scrubbing like crazy in desperate hope of ridding the area of any scent that could attract him in the future, and feeling like a colossal failure.  And then the shame gremlins attack.  You’re never going to get this.  Just give up and let him pee in the house.  You’re doing it all wrong.

Why do I fall into this shame trap?  WHY, when we have had WAY more successes than failures, do I let those failures affect me so much?  Well, I think it’s because I have come to expect the failures.  Ouch.  That hurt to write.  But gosh, it’s true.  It’s true!  Whether it’s potty training my puppy, building a successful business, making macarons like the perfect specimens I ate in Paris, writing a book, re-learning how to play the piano, mending a broken relationship, being the person I want to be… I am far less successful than I let myself hope… or maybe the truth is that I am far less successful than I think I should be… so when I stumble, it hurts.  It hurts so much that I want to quit.  I want to forget I ever had that idea to do that thing or act that way in the first place.  Just give up, I tell myself.  Of course, I can’t really do this with a new puppy in my care – nor do I truly want to – but I can and have done it with other things throughout my life.  I have let the discouragement keep me from pressing on.  I have let the self-doubt convince me that there is no point in continuing.  I’ll never succeed anyway.  

But then this morning, as I found myself kneeling on the floor scrubbing the rug and feeling completely dejected (after several days of successes, I might add!), I was reminded of some encouragement that God knew I needed in times of discouragement and self-doubt.  A couple of weeks ago I read a blog post written by Andrea Lucado.  Andrea is the daughter of Max Lucado, a noted Christian author and brilliant (in my opinion), insightful man.  Max’s works have helped me through some incredibly difficult days, and I am finding that his daughter’s words are having the same effect.  When I read her honest and vulnerable words recounting the self-doubt and fear she has surrounding the book she is writing, I felt a deep connection.  Me too, I thought.  I struggle with thisI am not alone.  And in that moment, I found the encouragement I needed to keep going.  Keep working with Oscar.  Keep writing.  Keep practicing.  Keep baking.  Keep trying to build a bridge and not a wall.  Keep. Going.

There’s no good reason for me to feel ashamed of my failures with potty training Oscar.  I know he is not pottying on the floor to prove that I am a terrible puppy mommy –  this innocent and adorable creature is just doing what he knows to do, and even though he is learning what he is supposed to do, he will make mistakes, just like I will.  Despite knowing that, though, I have felt ashamed of myself every time he has pottied in the house.  I should have been watching more closely.  I should have interpreted his whimpering as “I need to go potty, mommy” even when the same whimpering frequently means “I want to play, mommy” or “I’m hungry, mommy” or “I want to sit on the couch with you, mommy.”  Seriously, how could I NOT know that THIS time the whimpering meant potty, is what I think.  But instead of feeling shame that I failed again, maybe I should recognize this as what it is:  my own ridiculous perfectionist expectations.  And perhaps I should just kick those out the door and out of my mind.  After all, I’ve never had a puppy before!  I’m just trying to do my best every day and hope for a little bit of forward progress.  Just like in all of those other areas of my life.  Forward progress is better than no progress is better than backward progress.  And as long as I keep going, I’m making forward progress.

This puppy and a gifted writer are teaching me some valuable lessons.  I’m blessed to have both, and more determined than ever to keep going.

friday fluff

It’s back.  Finally.  Life hasn’t felt too “fluffy” lately, and I have not had the energy to put together a light-hearted post about things I am enjoying, but I feel the need to do it today, so here goes…

It’s all about Oscar at our house right now.  He has been teaching me and entertaining me, and I am thoroughly enjoying this new experience of being a puppy mommy.  I have laughed so much at his antics, and have felt so loved by him.  It has been just what I needed after losing my Bogey.  And as an added bonus, Oscar has bonded Nich and me in ways I never expected.  Oscar is our baby – our chance to “parent” together.  I have been completely impressed with my husband and the way he has stepped into this role of being Oscar’s daddy.  This time in our lives is really special and I am grateful to experience it with him.

It’s summer, so it’s supposed to be hot, but it’s been so humid and nasty that I have not wanted to be outside very much at all.  When I am, though, I am typically wearing one of these awesome tank tops from Target.  I purchased several different colors and have been living in them.  I love the loose fit and they are long enough to wear with yoga pants.

Our garden has exploded and we are drowning (in a good way) in zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, and peppers (cherry tomatoes are just now starting to turn red).  I have been baking and Nich and I have been pickling and canning (cucumbers and jalapenos, so far).  I wanted a savory zucchini bread, and tried this recipe.  I put in tons of cracked black pepper because I love it so,  used an aged white cheddar cheese because it is what I had on-hand, and because I did not have whole wheat flour, I used all white (this Italian Style Flour that we use to make pizza dough – it worked great for the Zucchini bread!).  It was delicious and I will definitely make it again.

I’m currently reading Elin Hildebrand’s new book Here’s To Us – she never disappoints.  Also recently finished Emily Giffin’s new one, First Comes Love (loved it!), and Rainbow Rowell’s Landline (cute and quirky).  If you use Goodreads, you can sign up for daily deals.  I signed up for the Barnes and Noble Nook deals, and get an email every day with that day’s deal.  So far I have purchased a couple of e-books for $2 – 3.  When you read as much as I do, the cost of buying books really adds up (yes, I know, I should go to the library!), so I love this new Goodreads feature.  I think it’s available for the Kindle, too, and potentially for bound books.  Check it out if you utilize Goodreads, and connect with me (Valerie Cowan) so we can share book recommendations!

That’s about it for today.  I’m looking forward to a slightly cooler weekend, getting some yard work done, and family time.  Have a great one!

opening my heart again

We adopted a puppy.  Just over two weeks ago we brought Oscar home.  He’s adorable and little and so incredibly loving, and I still cannot believe I am a puppy mommy.  I cannot believe it because it has not been very long since I lost my precious Bogey.  The pain is still present and, at times, still very raw.  I miss him terribly and marvel at how easy he was – especially compared to a rambunctious and unpredictable puppy.  And then there’s the fact that this is the first time I have owned a dog.  I grew up in a home where dogs and cats were not allowed, and save for some regular dog-sitting for two families I did in my 20s, and being around the dogs of relatives, I have very little hands-on experience with the canine four-legged friends.  Getting a dog was something my husband and I talked about before we were married.  We even went so far as to visit the Humane Society and zero in on one dog who seemed pretty perfect for us.  Unfortunately, at that time she had some health issues and was not yet available for adoption, and that waiting period was enough time for me to talk us out of it and safely remain in my comfort zone.

But here we are now – four years later – with a new addition to our family.  It has been fun, scary, challenging, exhausting, eye-opening, nerve-wracking, and exhausting.  Did I mention I am exhausted???  I am getting a glimpse into what it is like to have a baby… a puppy IS a baby, after all.  Oscar needs lots of attention and lots of supervision.  It is so incredibly time-consuming!  So much so, that I realized just the other day how little I had thought of Bogey since we brought Oscar home.  I immediately felt sad and yes, ashamed.  Ashamed because in a weak, exhaustion-fueled moment, I feared I had simply replaced Bogey with Oscar, and I felt rotten.   In that moment I opened up my phone and started looking at a few of the 1,000+ pictures I have of Bogey, and I shed some tears for the friend I loved (and still love) so much.  And then I reached out to a friend who I knew could relate to what I was going through.  I needed to know that what I was feeling was normal, and she assured me that it was.  She had been through a very similar situation, and she felt much the same as I did.  She also helped me realize that just because I brought Oscar into my home and heart did not mean I was forgetting about Bogey or taking anything away from his place in my heart.  If anything, Oscar is helping me heal, and you know what?  There are already several aspects of Oscar’s personality that are quite reminiscent of Bogey, and that brings me a great deal of comfort.

Nich told me that Bogey is probably up in heaven laughing at me because Bogey was so incredibly easy and Oscar is definitely NOT!  And I think Nich is right.  I also think Bogey is pleased that his mommy has a new companion and he knows I will pour my love into Oscar just like I did with him.  It took a lot for me to open my heart again.  It’s always a huge risk, whether it is with a pet or a person.  We risk being hurt or rejected.  We risk losing again and feeling intense pain – pain we never want to feel again!  The risk was almost enough to make me say “no.  Never again,” but as I glance at the puppy sleeping peacefully (thank you, Lord!) against me as I sit here and type, I am so grateful for the opportunity to love and be loved by this little creature God knew I needed, and placed in my care.


feeling it all

I’m trying to say goodbye to a fixture in my life for the past 13 years.  My beloved kitty, my constant companion and most loyal friend, Bogey, has end-stage renal failure along with severe anemia.  It is only a matter of time before he is gone.  There are no viable treatment options.  It’s a bitter pill I have been trying to swallow for nearly a week now, as I spend as much time with him as possible, knowing there will be a day very soon that he will no longer fill our home with his unconditional love and huge personality.

This is a first for me.  As an adult, I have had other pets, but not for the duration that I have had Bogey, and no other pet has taken up residence in my heart like Bogey.  We had a couple of parakeets when I was growing up, and I vaguely recall a fish or two in the house, but my dad claimed to be allergic to dogs and cats, so I had no experience with any furry friends until my late-20s.

Bogey has been mine since 2003 when he was rescued by my former brother-in-law who decided I needed to provide the forever home.  My initial resistance evaporated when I saw my soon-to-be pal in Craig’s arms, happily eating a hot dog (the only somewhat-suitable-for-a-kitten food in a house filled with 20-something bachelors).  That moment sealed the deal.  The kitten came home with me, he was named Bogey, and he never left my side.  He followed me everywhere and curled up on my lap every time he had the opportunity.  I had no idea he would change my life, but he did.  Oh, how he did.

Nearly three years after Bogey came into my life, our lives changed.  I went through a divorce, moved from our home to a lovely rental, then shortly thereafter, to OUR home – three homes in six months, but he was not shaken, and adapted like a champ, every time.  For the next six years Bogey and I lived in our little bungalow – just the two of us.  And for the past almost-four years, we have lived with our new family – my husband and his two children.

Bogey changed me.  Bogey helped me heal.  He helped me grieve.  He comforted me and prevented loneliness from swallowing me whole.  He made me laugh and sometimes he frustrated me.  He showed me my capacity for love when I swore I would never let myself feel love again.

And now that I know our time together is limited, I am relishing all of the moments with him that I am given.  And he’s still helping me – even while his little body is failing him.  My emotions have been running high, to say the least, and I have had what are probably irrational feelings, but this time I have spent with him since receiving the bleak news from our veterinarian has allowed me to really feel my feelings.  I have been angry.  I have been inconsolable.  I have felt profound loss.  I have felt fear of not having him to comfort me when I am sad.  I have lamented the unfairness that I will no longer have him, the “package” that I brought to the marriage.  I have grieved and mourned more than I can ever recall – even when I experienced loss ten years ago.

And as I recall that grief from what is now so long ago, I know I am experiencing this grief in a vastly different way.  I have written before that I didn’t know I had feelings until I met the man who is now my husband.  I KNOW there were so many thoughts and feelings that I did not share or express ten years ago because I did not know how.  I know I kept so much inside even when I was so sure I was letting it all out.  And because of that, I know it took me so much longer to move forward out of my grief and pain.  I held onto it, so it held onto me, for far too long.

But this time it is different.  I have let it out.  I have spoken the words that I felt afraid to express.  I have held nothing back, and it has freed me.  I will miss Bogey terribly.  He will never be replaced in my heart, and I will hold onto the gratitude of having him in my life through some of the most difficult and painful moments.  But I know I will have grieved completely because of this time we have had together.  This time that has gifted me with the opportunity to express everything inside.

Sobbing in the vet’s office.  Breaking down whilst telling a friend about the prognosis.  Feeling the loss more than I have from losing some humans in my life.  Crying at some point every day for the last week.  I am not ashamed of these feelings!  I embrace them and know that they are a testament to how much I have loved another living being.  There is no shame in our feelings.  There is no shame in grief.

Thank you, Bogey, for helping me feel it all.  Your mommy loves you and always will.

My Bogey

when you’re falsely accused

Have you ever been falsely accused of something?  Maybe it’s an attack against your character or someone believes you did something you didn’t do.  How did you feel?  Angry?  Hurt?  Sad?  What did you do?  Did you defend yourself?  Attack back?  Hide in a corner and cry?

If you have never been falsely accused, I can tell you about it because it has happened to me.  In fact, it just did.  And the worst part was that it was via letter.  No chance to answer, defend myself, fight back, or let the attacker know how her words affected me.  You see, this letter contains lots of assumptions about who I am (and who my husband is – he was included in the accusations), what I have done, and what I believe.  An attack against my character.  Ugly stuff.

When I first read the letter, my immediate inclination was to go to the person who wrote it and confront her.  I was shocked – downright flabbergasted.  I wanted to ask her why she would say the things she said and CONVINCE her that she was wrong – what she wrote about me is not true!  But I knew that would not be wise.  In my highly emotional state, I would probably (most definitely) make things worse.  And I would probably cry.  So I prayed instead, and texted my husband to let him know what had happened.

Then I reached a point where I wanted to fight back.  I wanted to accuse her of being the exact thing she accused me and my husband of being.  And as I thought about what I would say to her, I recalled a story in Brené Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection”.  In this book she recounts receiving a critical email from a “fan.”  Brené’s immediate reaction was that of anger, confusion, and shock, and her immediate impulse was to lash back at the sender in an equally critical manner. She wrote several draft responses, but ultimately did not send a single one.  Instead, she called a dear friend and worked through what was happening internally, emotionally.  She came to realize that the email had triggered her shame, and while her first response to being shamed was to shame back, she practiced shame resilience instead, and through the process of recognizing what was happening and talking about it, she was able to get through it without shaming back or sinking into the shame pit.

While I was processing what the heck had just happened, I was trying to identify everything I was feeling.  I consciously asked myself if shame was part of it, and when I remembered the story Brené told, I realized that yes, I had been feeling some shame (mixed with hurt, anger, shock, disbelief, sorrow).  But then I thought DUH, of COURSE I felt shame – I care what people think about me, right?  I wrote an entire post about this!  It’s no wonder the words I read hit me so hard.  Realizing that my reaction was totally in line with who I have discovered myself to be actually helped me to start thinking clearly about what had happened and what to do about it.  I was able to practice that shame resilience that I have learned through reading Brené’s books.

And as I thought more about what prompted the author to pen her words and actually send them to us, I started to feel for HER.  Obviously something has happened to her in the past that influenced this behavior.  If I confronted her about her letter or responded in kind, would she even have ears to hear my words?  Probably not.

My Christian faith tells me that I can expect persecution and suffering in this life, but that Jesus knows how I feel because He experienced persecution and suffering, too.  In fact, it was this exact thing – being falsely accused – that led to His crucifixion on the cross.  When I thought about this, I realized that Jesus didn’t fight back.  He didn’t fight against His accusers and try to defend himself against their unfounded accusations.  He didn’t have to because He knew who He was – God’s child.  I don’t have to fight back, either, because I, too, know who I am – WHOSE I am.  Do I want my accuser to know who I am and to know that the conclusions she has drawn about me are false?  Yes, I do – my earthly desire to defend myself hasn’t magically disappeared.  But I only want that if she is willing to listen to me.  If she has already made up her mind about me, I stand no chance of changing it. This wasn’t the first time I had been attacked and falsely accused, and I am sure it will not be the last.  But I know who I am and who I am working to become, and I have the tools now to get out of the shame pit that accompanies being wronged in this way.  It does not take away the pain, but it sure speeds up the recovery.

So what am I going to do about this?  I’m not sure yet.  Quite possibly, nothing.  But I can tell you what I’m NOT going to do:  I’m not going to attack back, I’m not going to defend myself and plead my case for why she should like me, and I’m not going to fall into the shame pit and believe the lies that were written about me.  Knowing what I’m NOT going to do is even more important than what I am going to do.  And knowing what I am NOT going to do is the true reflection of who I am.