Monday, August 10, 2009

Dude, Where's My Dominion?


"There's a bovinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will." -sort of from Hamlet

Things got a little out of control. Give a shy but willing milk cow to me, and I'll turn her into a huffing bull in about two weeks. This is how you do it: reward all questionable behavior with running out of her way, or simply stop doing anything that might bother her the minute she stamps her foot. This turns slightly annoying behavior into nasty aggression.

These are mind games I don't like and am not well suited to. This is why I've never gotten a dog. With a cat, it's clear and comfy, and they don't bite, much. Dominance is not my forte. I'm open-mouthed, opinionated, and I'll fight back when cornered. But the practice of continually asserting my authority is VERY unnatural to me. "Never argue with a true believer" is my motto. You want to go there? You want to stand by that? Fine. I'm not stepping into your steaming pile of misguided opinions. I'll just tip toe past it and change the subject. This doesn't work with a cow, apparently.

Discouraged I'd become. Hendrika was getting ornerier. And that was patently my fault. But I really AM scared of her. She is big. And she's opinionated. And I'm just made of bones and small muscles. I remember something about how we're supposed to have dominion over all the animals, according to Genesis, which just PROVES the Bible's woeful inaccuracy. And I don't even know how to get to the genesis of dominion!

Lo and behold, snatched up at the bookstore: "Humanely Handling Livestock," by Temple Grandin. Hallelujah! It's more about massive movement and slaughter of beef herds, but it's got basics. So... I've gathered my courage and am starting anew.

In the evenings, instead of milking, I'm just going out and practicing dominance. I stare her down, dominion-style. I groom her until she does something annoying, then I stop. I scratch her chin, which apparently displays my dominance, versus what I was doing before, scratching her forehead, which signals my submissity (which is MORE honest, don't you think?). I don't let her leave a gate without passing by me. And this morning, I milked her and milked her until she STOPPED kicking, versus, until when she STARTS.

Why did I want a cow? I don't know, actually. I remembered liking them when I was a kid. They do seem sacred to me, somehow. They have an inner peace, or so I presume, that calls to me. I can't explain wanting a cow. I strive to explain lots and lots of things, with varying shades of accuracy. But this cow business is buried too deep for me to understand. It's almost an instinct.

My search for dominion goes back 5 years. Before that, I'd read books and books about Anarchist parenting: no gods, no masters, guiding without punishment, the punishment of rewards, etc. And then Blue turned 3 1/2, the AGE all parents FEAR and DREAD. And we needed something other than long, exhausting, punishment-by-way-of-lectures. Thus the "time-outs" (horror of horrors! Child Abuse!) began. Her first time-out, she (all of 42 months old) THREW her dollhouse at her bedroom door, making a very large gash in it. This is the essence of the 3.5 year old. I worked hard to belatedly develop dominion over my kids. It is still my least favorite part of parenting, but it is very necessary. Someone is inevitably going to be in charge; better me than them. Mother Trapped in Lord of the Flies, First Responders Unable to Extricate her from Literary Hell.

That's the beauty of plants, they don't balk when you stake them, they don't kick when you snatch their fruit, and you don't have to brush their teeth or make them change their underwear. They are generous and docile and easy to dominate. Animals (and children), however, require so much psychological effort that I think my brain is using more calories than they'll ever produce. Perhaps THAT is the Siren that sang me here. Perhaps that is why I invited Hendrika into my life, to learn how to practice dominion, to find my inner dominance.

That sounds messed up.

I gave up the idea of sin, of being a sinner, long long ago. It was terrible! Constant guilt about sins of omission and sins of commission and sins of thought and sins of this and that and the other thing. Just waking up seemed like a sin. But NOT waking up was a sin too! And then there was this idea that my sin caused GOD to commit suicide! Once I had a baby, I saw how off the mark this idea of innate sin was. People: it's a baby! It's not full of sin! It didn't caused GOD to die on the cross. It's an effing baby! And that was the very last, long-lingering straw.

But a conversation with a UU man, rehearsing his sermon with me (I volunteered!), recently set me thinking about it again. He said that sin was originally an archer's term for missing the mark. And we've ALL missed the mark. This is more in line with my experience: trying, trying hard but missing the mark. Not that idea that I was full of hostile, vile, evil intentions not even AIMED at the bulls-eye, but the understanding that I'm shooting for the bulls-eye, but I miss it sometimes (have I ever hit it?).

Summer camp. Archery. I took it every year. I loved the theory of being Diana of the Hunt. The theory of Indian-ness. The theory of strings and arrows, death, drama, and the zing in the air. But I sucked. Apparently, they always said, being a lefty made me suck. I always hit my wrist... somehow. But now that I think about it, maybe the problem was that my archery masters were college kids with minimum wage summer jobs. That was summer camp: failed archery, successful canoeing, crying in my bunk all night of loneliness and being saved by Jesus approximately 12 times a day.

Anyway, the UU guy hoped that we could all forgive ourselves of missing the mark. And when he said that, I felt suddenly like there was this whole world out there that didn't want to condemn me or make me feel eternally bad for missing the mark, but a world that WANTS me to forgive myself. Certainly, that's how I feel about others, too! And can I forgive myself? I miss the mark ALL day long. I miss the mark on my parenting aims, consumption ideals, even time management, zing zing zing. Very little plunking going on here. Easily, now, I forgive myself this missing of the bulls-eye, when I view myself as an inexperienced archer doing her best.

This idea buoyed me through my week with Hendrika. I have totally missed the cows-eye in bovine management/domination skills. I'm NOT using the term "sin", because that would be absurd. I am merely an archer-ess, out here without much guidance, aiming, missing. Instead of feeling discouraged and innately full or original missing of marks, it's obvious that I can get better with practice.

I haven't been doing everything wrong. According to Temple, I'm right about always appearing calm (though my heart pounds with fear!), moving slow, and being patient. I've never yelled or surprised her. Cows, and other grazers, NEVER forget. So if you're violent or shocking with them, they'll always remember. This seems harsh! Both for their handlers and them! They NEVER even get the chance to forgive or forget. What you did, you did for ALL eternity, in their minds. No pressure, but you can't fuck up, even ONCE with a cow. Suddenly, my forgetful mind seems like a grand and glorious mercy.

By NO means am I a Christian today. This ain't summer camp and I've already been saved enough for the next 144 lifetimes. And I'm not full of sin, merely mark-missing. But "The cross is in the ballpark," as Paul Simon noted. It may not hit the bulls-eye, but it might be tinging off the edge of the target a little, just a little. But it could probably get better with practice.

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