One night last week at around 4:00 in the morning Evelyn’s service dog Kianna started licking my face, standing on my chest, and trying every way she could think of to get my attention. This had happened once before. At that time I decided she had to go outside, so I took her. But when she did it again, I decided not to give in to her, mostly because I didn’t want her to get into a routine/habit of getting me to take her out at whatever ungodly hour she chose. So I pulled the blanket over me, told her to lie down, and went back to sleep.
When I got up the next morning, what did I find but a wet spot on the carpet where Kianna had relieved herself next to the sliding door. So I had to use about a dozen paper towels to soak it up. I topped it off with Resolve carpet cleaner, mostly in an attempt to hide the odor so she wouldn’t be triggered to try it again.
The episode describes pretty well the kind of situations I find myself in almost all the time. I think of those people who talk about us having choices in life. I hear it a lot when I start complaining about having to do things for daughter #2, Karlyn. And, yes, I know I have choices. There’s no argument there. But, as in the case with Kianna, sometimes neither choice is desirable. The two choices I had that night were 1) the one I decided to go with (ignore the pooch and go back to sleep) or 2) get up out of my nice warm bed to go traipsing about in the back yard in my robe and slippers, risking setting myself up for regular wee-hours walks. The first choice sounded good until I had to pay the price later than morning, so was there any real benefit to exerting my mastery (read: authority) in the long run? I think not. As you can see, I was trapped between two bad choices.
Sometimes none of the choices we’re given are to our advantage. In essence, we’re trapped by our choices.
This happens a lot with Karlyn. Last night (Sat., Dec. 18) she came into our bedroom after Evelyn and I had gone to bed to ask if we had any plans for after church this morning. She had to go to work sometime after 9:00, but she could choose when to go in (a nice kind of flexibility). If we were coming right back after church (which would land us home around 10:30), she wanted to know if I could take her to work. This struck me as unreasonable primarily because she has her own car, and I knew that she had just put gas in it not that long ago. “Why do you want me to take you to work?” I asked.
“Because my friend is going to come by after work, and we’re going to a movie together in her car.”
“Where’s the movie?” I asked, knowing that the mall where Karlyn works has a theater.
“Milford,” she said. This is a town about a half-hour south of Dover (she works in the Dover Mall).
“So, why don’t you just leave your car in the parking lot and pick it up when you come back from the movie?”
“Dad, that’s dangerous! Nobody leaves their car that long in the parking lot.”
I knew that that was a ridiculous argument, but I didn’t pursue it because I was pretty sure that the real reason she was afraid to leave her car there for very long was because of a young man she knows who hangs around the mall, knows her car, and has been trying to do her hurt. She’s afraid that this person will eventually be at the mall when her car is parked there and damage it somehow.
“Well, I honestly don’t know what our plans are,” I said, being quite up-front with her. For about the past three or four weeks a couple about our age have invited us to join them for after-church lunch, and they could want us to join them this time, for all I knew. It’s always a spur-of-the-moment thing. So, I told her that I couldn’t make any guarantees; that I’d have to see what was happening and let her know.
She didn’t like leaving things unresolved, so the next thing I knew, she was calling to me from the kitchen: “It’s OK. I got Jason [a coworker] to take me. Thanks a lot [sarcastically, as though to say, ‘thanks for nothing’]. I’m going to have to get up butt-early to remind him to come get me.” And she headed to bed. And for the next hour, I tossed and turned before I could settle down enough to go to sleep.
So, once again, any choice I would have made would have had unsettling consequences to pay. By being honest with her I suffered the “slings and arrows” of her sarcasm and guilt-tripping. Had I decided to come home after church and sacrifice going out with our friends (which, it turned out, they did want to do), I would have suffered the anger of The Missus. Either way, I’m trapped by not having a good choice to make.
What bothers me is that I come away feeling like a wimp. Even though Evelyn “congratulated” me for telling Karlyn that I didn’t know what our after-church plans were, but if we were asked to go to lunch, that would be my decision, I still was made to feel like I was letting somebody down.
The thing is, I need to have a talk with Karlyn about the difference between responsibility and kindness. She needs to know that, technically speaking, I’m no longer responsible for her. Getting to work, making sure she has gas in her car, getting food on the way to or from work, etc., are all her responsibility. If I agree to provide transportation, it’s because I’ve decided in that moment to be nice, not because I am in any way obligated to help her meet her commitments. Just as she realized that the best way to make sure she made it to work this morning under her conditions (i.e., without taking her car) finally turned out to be up to her, so she needs to realize that all such arranging must be left to her, and it doesn’t automatically include me. I’ll be happy to help when I can, but not because I have a responsibility to do so – it’ll just be me being nice.
Evelyn and I recently had a talk with Karlyn’s longtime counselor, Sheila, who reminded us that when we give in to Karlyn, we’re just enabling her bad behavior. The frustrating thing for me is that I know that. Had the situation been reversed, and Sheila was coming to me with the same issue, I would have told her exactly the same thing. But for some reason, I find it hard to practice what I would have preached, and that’s where the wimp accusation comes in. In an effort to avoid (key word) tension in the family I’d rather give in and keep things calm. Fascinating how, once again, no option is desirable. I may gain temporary peace, but in the long run, the problems only grow larger. Or I can meet the issues head-on, which will only stir up more family angst, and who wants that?
I guess for the foreseeable future I’ll have to accept the fact that I’ll be dealing with being trapped regardless of how I decide. Not a fun prospect.