5 Things I Have Learned Since Bringing Home a Puppy

14525210_1162982767102167_2129286753256304352_oLast Monday, the 3rd of October, we brought home what might be the world’s tiniest puppy, who was born on the 8th of August and who we have named Ludo. A Jack Russell and Chihuahua cross, he’s a bundle of joy, laughter, terror and destruction, and we already love him as a part of our family. We chose him for his sweet temperament and gentle affectionate nature, and we have not been disappointed with our choice. He is simply beautiful, inside and out. I did a huge amount of research and reading before we brought him into our family – however, there are still a few things I didn’t quite realise, so here is a list of five things I’ve learned about puppies within the first week of owning being owned by one.

1. Puppies spend a lot of time sleeping.

I should have realised this, as I have an eleven-year-old human son who was, naturally, a baby at one point, and baby humans sleep an awful lot, too. Trying to keep Ludo awake before bedtime so that he is actually tired when the time comes is very, very difficult. He is currently on the carpet nuzzled against my slipper (in which resides my foot!) snoozing away because I wouldn’t let him up on my lap (because I knew he would just fall asleep). This, of course, means that at about 1-2am he wakes up raring to go, which isn’t ideal for the human grown-ups who sleep in the same room as he does! Like with a human baby, I should have realised not to expect unbroken sleep for some time.

2. Housetraining a puppy is a long and tedious process.

Yes, the books I read should have prepared me for this, but I just pooh-poohed (hah!) the idea that it would take a long time. My puppy wasn’t stupid, and would catch on faster than usual. My puppy would learn almost immediately not to go on the carpets. My puppy… you get the idea. Alas, my puppy is, indeed, much like pretty much every puppy ever born. He has no idea that he’s meant to go outside. The ‘training pads’ you put on the floor for the puppy to toilet on were about as much use as a chocolate teapot – he thought of them as chew toys – so we’ve resorted to the age-old “grab the puppy when he starts to toilet and run with him at arm’s length until you get outside” school of housetraining, and taking him out every hour just in case. It isn’t going well for us, but we’ll get there. But if you’re sitting there still thinking, “But my puppy won’t be like that” then I’m afraid you’re an idiot!

3. Puppies don’t instinctively know what a lead is for.

Don’t worry, we’re not taking Ludo for walks just yet! He hasn’t had his second lot of initial vaccinations yet, so it’ll be a while until he can scamper around beside me as we go about our day. But when I take him out hourly for a hopeful toilet visit (see above) I’ve been putting the lead on him to stop him scarpering. The first time, I thought he would just follow me out to the garden if I gave the lead a gentle tug. I was wrong. He sat steadfastly still, looking at me like I’d gone even madder than he already believed me to be. When I tugged, he tugged back. Eventually I carried him, lead trailing behind us, and then when I put him down outside I just held the lead to stop him running off, before carrying him inside again. I know, he is spoiled. He also gets carried around outdoors in a bag, so I can’t deny that. Eventually I’ll train him to use it, but I think it’s going to take a while, (see: housetraining).

4. Puppies will want to play with the household cats. The household cats will not have any of it.

Ludo believes Eevee, our eighteen-month-old ‘kittencat’ to be his friend. He shows her his best “Wanna play?” stance, and pounces at her, only to be swatted about the head with her paw. He chases her, and she leaps over the puppy gate to get away from him, at which point he stands growling and barking (or rather, attempting, but not achieving, rather pathetic growls and barks) at the gate. Whenever he approaches Steve, our skinny nine-year-old, he simply gets hissed and spat at, and occasionally batted away, before Steve stalks off in a huff. Sheridan, our fat five-year-old, is terrified of him and just won’t go near him. Ludo managed to get to about a metre away from Sheridan, took one more tiny step and Sheridan ran away like I’ve never seen him run before. He’s spent the whole week sleeping on the stairs out of Ludo’s reach. Ludo seems to genuinely want to make friends with the three of them, but I suspect it’s going to take a lot longer than seven days for them to warm up to him.

5. In the beginning at least, puppies will consume your every waking minute.

From the moment they wake you at six in the morning whining, piddle on your bedsheets while you hurriedly dress, and watch you take your morning piss, to the time at which you take them outside for yet another failed toilet visit and then try to sing them to sleep while they cry at you because you won’t let them sleep in your bed with you, puppies are bloody hard work, and not for the faint of heart. They require constant supervision and attention, whether that is to stop them getting into trouble, prevent the chewing of things they shouldn’t be gnawing on (I had to remove my Lightning cable from Ludo’s mouth today, and got sulked at for quite some time), watch out for sudden elimination which will trigger the mad dash for the back door, or simply because they are doing something super adorable and you just can’t help but stare at them for half-an-hour like they are some kind of deity – this puppy is a helpless infant creature who requires your attention and care at all times.

So there you have it – the five most important lessons I have learned during my first week of puppy ownership. None of these things makes me love Ludo any less – in fact, learning them has taught me a lot of things, not least the virtue of patience and positive reinforcement with regards to behavioural training – I suppose both of these things were values I had to learn when my son was born, and now I’m just brushing up on my skills, but I feel like this is different. Perhaps because, unlike my son, Ludo is never going to fully understand what it is I am trying to communicate with him, at least not the nuance which other humans understand, and he will never be able to fully communicate with me what it is he needs. So I am learning as much as I can, how to read his behaviour to find out what he wants, and to keep mine consistent so he knows what it is I want. It’s a steep learning curve, but I’m loving every minute of it – even the ones that involve piddle on my bedsheets!

PS. If you’re eager for more photographs and/or updates on Ludo, he has a Facebook page, Ludo the Wonder Dog, and an Instagram account at @ludothewonderdog!

Hemiplegia Awareness Week 12-16 October 2015

12042687_178723065796086_4912301099044043762_nHemiplegia is a form of cerebral palsy caused by damage to the brain usually before or around the time of birth, but sometimes as the result of brain trauma later in childhood or even adulthood. The effects are like a stroke, with a lack of control and weakness down one side of the body – the opposite half to the injured side of the brain. One to two babies are born with hemiplegia every day in the UK and many more acquire the condition later in childhood following a stroke, head trauma, or a viral infection such as meningitis.

But it is not just physical development that may be affected. In fact, most children have additional diagnoses such as epilepsy, visual impairment, speech difficulties, perceptual problems, learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural issues. While these effects may be harder to see, they are often more significant to people with hemiplegia and can impact on confidence, education, employment, friendships and relationships.

Some of you know that my ten-year-old son, Wee Chum, experiences hemiplegia as the result of a near-fatal accident when he was ten weeks old. I won’t go into the details of the accident, as it is distressing for all involved, but what cannot be denied is the effect it has had, and will continue to have, upon his life.

Wee Chum likes video games and playing football, drawing and colouring, and running around the park with other children. He is interesting, insightful, thoughtful and kind, hilarious, feisty and argumentative. He is generally a well-behaved lad, but of course he has his moments where he is a complete pain in the neck. In short, he is just like any other ten-year-old. The only difference between Wee Chum and any other child his age, is the fact that he has hemiplegia.

There are things he finds difficult, of course there are. He faces challenges in his life that non-disabled people wouldn’t even consider when going about their days. He needs help with things that the average ten-year-old would find second nature – tying shoelaces, buttoning jeans and shirts, zipping up coats, for example – and many other things, too many to list here. But he is persistent and innovative, and constantly amazes me with new ways he’s come up with of doing things that just the previous day he had declared ‘impossible’.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that disabled children are so much more than their disability. Wee Chum doesn’t go about the world as a disabled child, he operates within the world as a child, and most of the time he doesn’t even think about his ‘issues’. He just gets on with it. We had a conversation a few months ago in which he said something so poignant it made me want to cry; “I’m not really different, am I? I’m just like everyone else. I just do lots of things differently to other people – but I still do them, and that’s what’s important.”

I’m also telling you this because there are so many children in the UK and worldwide who experience hemiplegia, for some of whom the effect is far more profound. So I wanted to tell you about HemiHelp. HemiHelp is the UK’s national charity for hemiplegia. The charity’s aim is to support children and young adults with hemiplegia and their families, ensure they are afforded the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers and help them to live life to the full. HemiHelp provides information, supports and runs events for children with hemiplegia and their families, as well as for professionals (medical and educational) involved in their care.

For more information about HemiHelp or to find out more about hemiplegia please visit the charity’s website. If you know me personally, I will have awareness wristbands available for sale in order to raise much-needed funds for them, to support the amazing work they do with children with hemiplegia. If you aren’t local to me, here are some other ways in which you can support this valuable organisation.

If you take nothing else away from this post, even if you forget all about me, and Wee Chum, and what hemiplegia is, please remember my son’s words. He is not his disability. He is not a ‘poor, disabled kid’. He’s a human being in his own right, with the same social rights and duties, with just as much to offer this world as any other human being. Disabled children will grow up to be tomorrow’s disabled adults – adults who contribute to society in their own unique ways, just like the rest of us.

The Jenga approach to life

2015-10-11 09.46.11The working title for this post was ‘An important life lesson, as taught to me by my ten-year-old son, through the medium of Jenga.

This morning I walked past Wee Chum’s open bedroom door, and he called out to me: “Hey, Mum! Come and look at what I’m building!” Taking that as an invitation to enter his room (we have an always-knock-and-wait policy for both bedrooms, ours and his), I ventured in to find him painstakingly stacking Jenga blocks high, in a pattern which he had obviously carefully thought through.

“Wow,” I said, as he picked up another little wooden block and carefully – oh, so carefully – placed it vertically on top of the already-wobbling tower. “You’re very good at this,” I observed, “if I was doing that they’d all have fallen down by now.” “Yeah, I know!” replied Chum, ever humble, “I’m really, really good at building Jenga towers.”

I thought about what he was doing for a minute; all the effort he was putting in to something so transient and ephemeral as a tower of blocks that would, eventually, be knocked down by a wandering cat or a wayward dressing-gown hem. If I had put so much time, consideration and concentration into something like that, I would want to know that it was permanent. I don’t believe for one second that I’m alone in this; most of us, I think, strive for permanence when it comes to things we have worked hard upon. The sheer pointlessness of the exercise dawned upon me, and I cringed inwardly at the thought of the tears that would fall down his cheeks when the inevitable happened and his labour of love came toppling down with a crash.

“So, um…” I began, “What happens if it falls down?”

“Oh, they always fall down, Mum.” Wee Chum spoke with the easy air of a demolition expert who’d seen a thousand buildings obliterated. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll just build it again. I’ll build it better.”

I said, “Oh.” It was all I could think of to say. In that moment I suddenly realised that I’ve always considered my primary role as a parent, other than loving (which goes without saying), is teaching – and yet here I was, the one being taught. I was being shown the importance of accepting impermanence by my ten-year-old son. Sometimes, even something you wish could be perpetual can only ever be fleeting – and if we can accept that, then we can truly enjoy the act of building with the determination to know that, if it all collapses around our ears, we will simply build it again. We’ll build it better.

Fifteen minutes later, I heard a crash and a little voice say, with satisfaction, “There it goes!” And then, there was the unmistakeable sound of someone scooping up armfuls of Jenga blocks, ready to build once again.