I am a sheepdog in a family of cats.
I find myself gathering extended family together, not just for special occasions but each weekend. For a server, the weekend is actually your work week so you think I would try not to cram more into an already busy schedule. Then again, when our Australian Sheppard cross gets himself into trouble, experts say it’s because working dogs need a job to keep them busy.
I stay busy gathering people together. There’s meal preparation, house cleaning, excursion planning (which is difficult because my target audience includes everything from a moody teenager to a grumpy senior citizen) Cue stress and extra work, but whatever it takes to get a bunch of cats in the same room. And cats can be jerks. https://youtu.be/HfGMkhsueOc
The worse part is that the sheepdog doesn’t know why they are overcome with the compulsion to herd or what to do once everyone is together. I don’t know if its genetics, hormones or nature or nurture but there’s a constant refrain in my head. Stay close. Stay close. Stay close.
They say personality is the totality of qualities and traits that are peculiar to a specific person, but where are these behaviours born? What should be embraced and what should we look to change.
As far as personality goes, I’m fairly sociable and I hate to be alone. I’m practical in the fact that I’ve never been a big dreamer. It’s not that I settle; my goals are just all very achievable. I look around at the ingredients of my life before I start cooking. I’ve never yearned for the big promotion, or incredible wealth, being more of the philosophy that if you “count your pennies, your dollars will take care of themselves”. I know it all sounds incredibly boring but slow and steady can win the race, even if it does cause anxiety watching everyone fly by you on the way to the finish line.
It’s a struggled finding and maintaining your own tempo in the chorus of the world. In utero, female brains are flushed with estrogen and for the first three months of their life, the skill of making eye contact (or facial gazing) increases 400 percent. In the first year, girls tend to look to their mothers 10 to 20 more times than boys do for approval. So on a very fundamental level, women are people pleasers. How does a people pleaser stay true to her ‘tortoise’ self in a world of hares? Should she? Should a sheepdog still herd when surrounded by cats?
My daughter is struggling with course selection this year because she’s at that horrible stage where they drag you into the guidance office telling you, you need to decide what you want to be when you grow up. I cuddle my baby girl who is already afraid of running out of time and tell her that she’s still so young. Heck, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
Except maybe I do. I remember sitting in my guidance office and confessing that I just wanted to be a Mum. I think that was probably the first time I got the ‘look’. That there was some sort of potential that I wasn’t reaching. That I wasn’t working hard enough. I decided the answer they were looking for, was more along the lines of Psychologist (coincidentally one of the many components of parenting) and so being a people pleaser that was the path I started down. Fortunately, life intervened and I got my ideal job after all. Unfortunately, my guidance counsellor proved very unhelpful in preparing me for my chosen profession.
There is no university or college course to help you become a parent. There are courses and degrees to become a librarian, sports store manager and hotel management, and yet there are no lessons when it comes to caring for and creating well- adjusted people. I imagine it’s because getting an education require a financial investment you hope one day will be returned and while parenting can be fulfilling in a myriad of ways, the pay stinks and vacation benefits are nonexistent. So how does Mother Nature ensure employment security?
She drugs us.
She fills us with bonding, feel good hormones like estrogen and oxytocin to ensure that we stick around and feel lucky to do so. The more we reach for them, the more they cuddle us, that skin to skin contact releases more oxytocin and we get more tightly wound up and fall more completely in love. What a brilliant way to secure the continuation of our species. Management drools on you, deprives you of sleep, demands all of your time and energy and can’t put their socks in the laundry hamper to save their lives, yet you still find yourself recruiting others to join this fabulous company called parenting. Standing there in your yoga pants, with food stuck in your hair and bags under your eyes large enough to store the entire designer wardrobe of the rich, double income earning power couple before you, you look them in the eye and tell them it’s the best damn job in the world.
Luckily my immediate family is still content to all cuddle up like kittens together on the same sofa. The constant need to stay close has yet to become stifling. We’re all contented and doped up on hormones. Extended family however proves more problematic but the oxytocin is non-discriminating. There is this constant craving to have everyone close; to keep everyone together. Herding cats is not an easy under taking, and the cats don’t usually appreciate the effort. Even though I’m just following instinct, is it any wonder that I end up getting my nose scratched?
Still, I worry that when I have my surgery next month that puts me into menopause, that I will change. I will no longer be the girl who sat in the guidance office and just wanted to parent. The survival of the species calls for a time where we keep our young close, and then brings us to a time where we set them free. How much of my personality is based on my hormones and how much is ingrained. Will I still run around like a sheepdog keeping everyone close? Or will I be more like a cat, “the only animal which accepts the comforts but rejects the bondage of domesticity.”*
For all the people not flooded with estrogen; for the men and the children and for women in menopause, what is life like without the continuous need to gather the troops? Which is better?
Right now I am a sheepdog in a family of cats.
Who knows what tomorrow brings.
The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too-Samuel Butler
*Quote by Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon