The Home Team / Unexpected sibling rivalry
Our oldest son is about to turn 37. Our middle son is 34. Our youngest is 24. So you’d think my days of dealing with sibling rivalry were history.
Then came Kemba, my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.
And after Kemba, Ryan. My grandson.
“Technically,” they’re not siblings. (Okay, technically they’re not even the same species.) But when our son Greg and his wife Kelly moved up from NYC to Westport, Kemba and Ryan, of course, started spending lots of time on the same turf. And, for awhile, things started getting just a lit-tle bit hairy.
Ryan’s first few weeks were a piece of cake. Per conventional wisdom, we kept Kemba and Ruckus (Greg and Kelly’s dog) at arm’s length from the little prince. After that first month, we’d allow them a quick sniff and the occasional face-smooch.
Over the next couple of months, as the dogs’ access to the pipsqueak was eased, Ruckus actually started to lose interest in him ... but Kemba became “obsessed” with the newest, smallest Herman. He’d hover near him all day, lick him as much as he could get away with, and — if we were all together for a weekend — he’d sleep all night right outside Ryan’s room. I bragged about Kemba’s devotion to my grandson to whoever would listen.
All this was going on when Ryan was, for all intents and purposes, still an inanimate object. But at right around six months, once he was able to sit up, once he could reach out with his little hands and kick his little feet and motor around in his walker and smile and say, “Ahhh!” — in other words, once he began grabbing all the attention in the two households — things between Ryan and Kemba began to go south.
Oh, it was still fine if it was Kelly who was playing with Ryan. Or Greg. Or Carol. The problem was only when I fussed over Ryan. While Kemba possessed enough smarts not to show his aggression overtly, he had his ways. Instead of gently nudging the precariously balanced sitting baby, he’d just bulldoze him over.
Instead of giving him a tender, loving lick or two, he’d slurp — with vigor — all over Ryan’s big red cheeks. His message to me was loud and clear: “Hey, remember me? Your dog?”
This was clearly just a problem for Kemba, not for Ryan. As far as the little guy is concerned, a couple of dogs two to three times his size are part of his landscape, and have been since the day he opened his eyes. Early on, when one of them would knock him off his sitting position, he’d just wait patiently for someone to come and set him up again. And now that he’s able to pick himself up and walk on his own, the two dogs are even less of a problem for him. When Kemba or Ruckus gives him sloppy kisses, he just wipes his face with his pudgy little arm and goes on with his business.
Still, I wasn’t quite sure how to handle the Kemba problem until I came upon these words of wisdom on Pet Runway’s website: “Give your dog lots of attention, and divide attention as equally as you can between your dog and baby.” Duh. Seemed pretty obvious, after I’d read it. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
So now, if I play-wrestle on the floor for a few minutes with Ryan, I then do the same few minutes of tug-of-war with Kemba. If I mash my face into Ryan’s baby-soft stomach and make blowing noises on his belly button, I then have Kemba roll over and I give him a nice, thorough tummy scratch. Equal opportunity.
Things these days seems to be hunky-dory between Kemba and Ryan. And if the duck dog gets touchy again, I suppose there’s always that gentle little reminder from his PetSafe “buzz” collar to fall back on.
“The Home Team” appears the first Friday of every month. You can also keep up with Hank’s adventures on his blog, “Beagle Man,” on the Westport News website, at: http://blog.ctnews.com/beagleman/ To reach Hank, e-mail him at DoubleH50@gmail.com.