A Guest Blog By Allie VanNest
Before having a child, Charlie the cat was the love of my life. Charlie slept on my pillow, drank water from the tap, and had full run of the house. Often, this meant he spent a lot of time in places he was not supposed to be.
More than once, Charlie escaped our home and spent a few hours at a time adventuring in the big, non-housecat-friendly world. On one of these misadventures, Charlie disappeared for three straight days while my husband and I were renovating our kitchen.
During that time, I spent every evening after work roaming the neighborhood, shaking his favorite brand of cat treats and softly calling his name. I looked for him under cars, in bushes, and even in garbage cans. Too many garbage cans. Finally, on the third day, I caught sight of him on a neighbor’s porch a few streets away.
Thrilled, I scooped him up, cradled him in my arms, and walked him slowly back home. On the way, I scratched his dirty black coat (it felt a bit coarse, but that was probably to be expected) and cooed into his ragged ears (were those scars there before?). He purred in my arms and used his front paws to knead my shoulder with his claws.
When I finally arrived back at my front door, I placed Charlie inside the house and got to work collecting some of his favorite things — a clean pillow and fresh running water. He didn’t show much interest, but it didn’t phase me. He was home. It was only later, as I was dabbing ointment on my scratched shoulders, that it occurred to me that my Charlie was actually declawed.
I had just stolen my neighbor’s cat from her own front porch. Despite the myriad hints that this cat was not my beloved Charlie, I brought it home and worked diligently to overlook any inconsistencies. That is how badly I wanted Charlie back.
My unfortunate tendency to ignore the reality of a situation has extended into life with my toddler. When she first entered their care, my daughter’s daycare provider reported on several occasions that she was bitten by another child.
The first time I was annoyed and asked a lot of questions: Why did this happen to my daughter in particular? Is this normal? Should I take her to the doctor? Will the other child be punished? Why isn’t the other child being punished?
The second time I got angry. Was no one watching these kids?
The third time my daughter came home with a bite, it occurred to me that I had been asking the wrong questions. Perhaps a better question for our daycare provider would be: What role did my daughter have in this incident, and what can I do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again?
Denial is a Powerful Defense Mechanism
As parents, we are conditioned to give our children the benefit of the doubt — and we should always strive to do this. But, from time to time, it is equally important to take a step back and look at the whole picture.
It turns out that my daughter is a bit of an instigator. Her favorite toys to play with at daycare are those which other kids are currently using. When she makes a grab for a certain child’s toy, that child gets frustrated and bites. Our daycare provider has tried to stop the other child from biting, but can’t always manage the situation in time.
After learning this, my husband and I spent more time at home teaching our daughter to respect other children’s boundaries — and to ask nicely before taking someone else’s toys. She hasn’t been bitten since.
Denial is a powerful, powerful defense mechanism. It tells us what we want to hear and helps us to justify our reactions to situations that we think are beyond our control. In denial, I stole my neighbor’s cat. And in a state of denial (and later, righteous anger), I blamed our daycare provider for my daughter’s inability to share.
When I finally saw the truth in these situations, I was able to move forward in a way that was both positive and productive. I found Charlie under a car on the fourth night of his outdoor adventure because I kept looking — after returning the neighbor’s cat, of course. After quite a bit of practice, my daughter learned to share without further injury.
I gained something I did not expect: I learned to be more present. I learned to listen to the subtle clues all around me that indicate that things might not be precisely what they seem… and to — every once in a while — ignore the little voice inside of me that insists “there’s no way you’re wrong about this.”
Because I just might be wrong.