The large pile of dried dog poo was my first hint something was amiss.
I’ve discovered, despite having a Great Dane and the ensuing excrement caused by said giant canine, a pile of poo has always signaled impending disaster in our household. I knew immediately which child to confront.
“Who put the pile of poop outside the gate to the dog yard?” I asked my second born child.
“Tres!” Dos answered promptly. I gave her a hard look. Tres is a determined little sucker but at her non-daunting height of 32 inches she’s an unlikely suspect for manuevering a 1 ft. x 2 ft. pile of turds past a 3.5 foot fence.
Dos saw my look and ducked her head. “I did it, Mommy.”
“Why?!” I asked. “Why are you so fascinated with the poop?!”
“I just really, really want to scoop poop!” Dos said.
These aren’t the words you expect to come out of a five-year-old’s mouth. I could totally understand a deep, driving desire to snatch a piece of gum or break into a sister’s piggy bank – I myself was a hoarding thief of fingernail polish as a young tyke and was known to hide under the dining room table with a tub of butter, a 1/4 teaspoon, and an agenda to coat my innards with canola byproduct.
But scooping poop has never been an attractive pastime for me, nor have I heard of other people admitting to a lifelong yen for excrement extraction.
Yet Dos has been begging to get into the dog yard all week to scoop poop. I have repeatedly told her no because a preschooler and an excited Great Dane two times her size and four times her body weight make me nervous. Add in two hyper-active, horribly groomed miniature poodles and a shovel the size of a backhoe bucket and my nervousness moves straight to panic.
No. No. No. No. No. Permission to enter the dog yard: Denied.
And yet, I found a pile of dried poop outside the gate of the dog yard. Dos had gone about her pooper scooping activity in active disobedience.
The bells of doom toll in the distance. Mama frustration… extensive.
Dos spent some time on the naughty bench and we worked through our discipline process. Afterward I talked with her and asked, again, “Why are you so fascinated with poop? It’s gross! What is motivating you so much that you’re willing to disobey in order to get in the dog yard?!”
Dos started crying again. I hate it when she cries. She’s such a happy-go-lucky kid, batty as all get-out with a smile that makes you want to gobble her up or put her in your pocket. To see her cry, really cry, is heartbreaking.
Her explanation came out. The direct quote:
“I just want to scoop poop! I want a chore!” Voice breaking, lip quivering, snot dripping out of her nose.
“Uno has a chore and I want a chore! Right now my only chore is to play with Tres! I don’t want to share Uno’s chore and feed the dogs, I want my own!”
“I want to do the poop one!”
Sometimes in parenting, there is an audible click of understanding. I have noticed how well Dos has been playing with Tres. I’ve complimented her on it – she’s pushed Tres on the swing practically nonstop, performing underdogs and screaming in laughter.
I had no idea she thought playing with her sister was her “chore.” I had no idea she was jealous that Uno has the added responsibility of feeding the dogs every day.
She analyzed the situation, thought about her capabilities, and decided she could poop scoop to be a helper.
Dos reminded me of a valuable lesson today: Sometimes the most bizarre requests can’t be understood until we take the time to ask the heart questions.
In journalism school I learned the real answers, the ones that flesh out your story, that reveal motivations, intrigue, and fulfillment… those answers are to questions at least three-to-four levels deep.
Most of us give up on the communication effort after a simple greeting and follow up question or comment. That’s why I didn’t have a clue of why Dos was begging to collect dog logs day after day. I saw the request through my own eyes, was disgusted, and said, “No.” I never asked the deeper questions three-to-four levels down, pursuing her motivation.
Once I took the time to really listen, to really hear her, my perspective changed. I still think she’s insane for wanting to play with poop, but my understanding has broadened to know she has a need for greater significance within our family.
So my, “No,” turns quickly to a, “Yes.” I learn, I respond.
Tonight, clutching my real-life illustration, I wonder if you’ve been taking the time to ask the deeper level questions about the insane things in your life? I know I’m rethinking my response to situations, reframing my confusion to seek the foundational motivations.
Do you have anyone in your life who just wants to scoop poop? Go talk to them – make it a deeper conversation. See what you find out!
This post was originally published September 14, 2012 and is being recycled as part of the “I’ve Been Around” summer! Hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!