Growing up, I was an all-or-nothing type of thinker. Like many kids, I had a very black-or-white, in-or-out, this-or-that, put-every-item-in-a-single-category type of mentality. As an undergraduate student in psychology, I learned that this model of thinking is actually very normal for children, and cognitively very efficient – it helps us humans quickly make sense of a rapidly changing world. Without this ability to identify, segment, categorize, and immediately move on, we would be eaten by tigers (wondering if they were birds, fish, or cats; if they were benevolent or aggressive), hit by cars, electrocuted by light sockets… you get the idea.
Yet while these models are handy tools for children to use in order to process copious amounts of new information bombarding their cognitive systems, these simplistic views don’t always work so well in the more nuanced world that adults inhabit. In the land of adulthood, any single person/place/thing can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, pleasant and unpleasant, rewarding and aversive… Just think about any meaningful relationship, job, or residence you’ve ever been a part of; amazing how each of those things can shift from ‘terrific!’ to ‘oh-my-god-terrible’ in a matter of seconds [and then swing right back to ‘terrific!’ just as quickly].
So where am I going with all of this? I have a point, and I’m getting there now. 🙂 This morning as I was doing my usual routines (stretching, showering, dressing, eating, etc.), the puppies followed me from one location to the next, just like they do nearly all of the time I’m at home. If I’m stationary (i.e., sitting at the table, or standing in the laundry room, or getting ready in the bathroom) the boys will either sit or lay down a few feet from me – close enough to feel my presence, yet far enough that I’m not tripping over them. But when I make the switch from standing still to ‘on the move’ (i.e., I walk from one room to the next), they follow a few steps behind or beside me, their little stumpy tails wagging, their eyes eagerly looking at me. Their body language says, “Pet me mama! Play with me mama! Cuddle me mama!” And more often than not, I smile down at them, but keep walking. Not now kiddos; mama has some other task to do at this moment.
See, I (unconsciously) believed that if I stopped to pet, play, or cuddle with these cool little guys, that I would have to spend several minutes engaged in the activity; and while a few minutes isn’t a long time, to stop for a few minutes ten times every hour adds up quickly. I could easily spend a third of my time engaged with puppies – and I truly don’t have that kind of free time. (I doubt many people do.) But this morning, as I saw each dog sitting patiently before me with a ball in his mouth, both tails swishing the carpet beneath their butts, I couldn’t resist their cuteness. I paused folding the shirt that was in my hand, tossed each ball once for them, then resumed with the laundry. In that second, I had a realization: I don’t have to spend minutes at a time with the dogs every time they want my attention. They are genuinely pleased when I give them just two seconds of my time. While they enjoy belly rubs and ball chasing, what they really like is being acknowledged, seen, and knowing that they are loved. And ‘telling’ them that doesn’t require ten minutes of cuddling or a fifteen minute walk; all of that can be conveyed by looking into each of their eyes for one second, offering a quiet “good boy!”, and giving a gentle pat on the head.
I’m a little embarrassed that, at 37 years old, I’m just now internalizing the message that life need not be all-or-nothing; that sometimes a few seconds can as effective as a few hours.
But I’m staying open, and continuing to learn even as I continue to age, and there’s a lot to be said for that. I’m happy that on my educational (life) journey, I have some very good teachers – in all shapes, sizes, and species. 🙂