Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Responsibility Of Owning A Puppy Can Leave You Dog-Tired!

Dear Tazi-Kat,

I am 7 years old, and I want a puppy. All of my friends have dogs, and I like playing with them. My Mom says that puppies are a lot of work, and that she doesn't have the time or energy to take care of both me and a puppy. I told her that I would take care of the puppy, but she still said no. We are learning how to write letters in school right now and for homework we have to write a letter to someone. I am writing to you to ask how I can get my Mom to let me have a puppy.


Dear Michael:

Thank you so much for choosing to write to me as your homework assignment! I love opening my mailbox and see letters from people instead of the latest bill from the pet store for my food, toys, cat litter, and other stuff kitty-cats need. Did your Mom also tell you that pets are expensive? That's a really big word that means "costs a lot of money". Puppies are a lot of work, like your Mom said, and they are also very expensive.

Puppies are like little baby dogs. Like babies, they are fun to play with and soft to cuddle, but they don't know how to behave unless you tell them how to behave. As the puppy's owner, you would have to train it - teach it right from wrong, how to go to the bathroom outside, and clean up after it when it goes to the bathroom on the floor by accident. You would also have to take the puppy for walks at least two times a day every single day - even when it raining or snowing! And, you would have to remember to feed it, brush it, and take it to a special pet doctor called a veterinarian to get its shots! Special doctors are also very expensive!

I think that your Mommy is afraid that all this work might be too much for a 7 year old boy, and that she would end up taking your puppy for walks, cleaning up after it, feeding it, and taking care of it while all you do is cuddle it and play with it. That would be lots of fun for you, but no fun at all for your Mom.

Right now, I am going to have to side with your Mom; but for now, you can see what it is like to own a puppy by helping your friends take care of their dogs by taking them for walks, cleaning up their poop, and brushing them. If you show your Mom that you know what it takes to take good care of a puppy, maybe she will let you get one when you are a little older. Don't give up hope!


P.S. Are you sure you wouldn't you prefer a kitty-cat? We don't shed (much), don't have to be walked, don't jump on people, and go to the bathroom in an easy-to-clean sand-filled box! You still want a puppy, huh? I thought so, but I had to try to sell you on Team Kitty Cat.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gay Teenager Fears Her Sexuality Not Compatible With Her Popularity

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I am 15 years old, and I think I might be a lesbian.  Okay, I will say it: I know that I am a lesbian.  Ever since I was a little girl, I have been attracted to other girls.  When I started middle school, I knew I had no interest in boys like all of my friends, but pretended to just to fit in and it worked.  I am now one of the most popular girls in school.  I am on the cheerleading squad, and was Homecoming Queen this year, my freshman year of high school.  I lead what looks like the perfect life, but I feel like I am slowly dying inside.  I want to be true to who I am, but I am so afraid!  

My school has a “Rainbow Alliance” support group, but the members tend to get picked on by bullies.  A part of me wants to believe that if I came out and joined them their social status will improve, but I think the reality might be that my social status would plummet.  I don’t think I could handle that, especially since I know I would not have the support of my family.  They are militantly against gay rights, and would probably kick me out of the house if they knew I was gay.  I see the “It Gets Better” ads online, and I would like to believe it does – but when?

Gay, But Not Happy

Dear GBNH:

Your letter tore my heart to pieces, and I want you to know that there are many people out there, gay and straight, who support you in your struggle for acceptance.  The It Gets Better organization is not just a bunch of actors offering up public service announcements, but real people who have been where you are and have not only made it through the bad times, but succeeded in life and found happiness.  It really does get better; unfortunately for right now, high school is generally not when it happens.

You say that you “pretended” to like boys to fit in with the crowd.  Exactly how far did this charade go?  Did you pretend to have giggly schoolgirl crushes?  Sleep with every guy on the school football team?  Something in between the two extremes?  Whatever it is you did or are doing, it needs to stop now because it is obviously not what you want.  You do not need to come out in order to do so.  If anyone asks, just say you need to start concentrating more on your schoolwork.  Ridding your life of unhealthy and unwanted romantic entanglements is the first step towards developing a healthier sense of self.  

In time, you may find that the support of your school’s Rainbow Alliance can help you to find your way.  You will discover that this group – like all groups in high schools everywhere – has its own social ranking code, and you will find that those who bully them rank very, very low.  You may also discover that your own popularity is not what you think it is.  I hate to break this to you on top of everything else you are going through, but not everyone finds cheerleaders to be fascinating.

As for your family’s views, people have a way of making exceptions to their “militantly” held ideals for family members and loved ones.  Will your family be disappointed when they find out you are gay?  Yes, but that will have to be their problem, not yours.  Will they be angry?  Again, that will have to be their problem to work through.  For them, organizations like PFLAG (Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays) can be a huge source of support. 

In the meantime, try to picture yourself on the important days and occasions you have to look forward to in life: Your college graduation, your wedding day, the birth of your first child.  Is your family there by your side?  Or are they hearing the news secondhand, from a friend who was there to celebrate with you?  As painful as their absence would be for you, it would be just as painful for them.  Use the thought of that pain as a motivator to help both of you work through the harsh words and feelings.  Just because your family may not like who you are does not mean they do not love you, regardless of who you are.  When the time comes and you are ready to come out to them, remind them of all this; it may help them to see with clearer eyes.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Handling Household Finances Is A Real Balancing Act

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I recently moved out of my parents’ house and in with my boyfriend of four years. We are both in our early twenties, and sincerely want to build a life together. My boyfriend is terrible with money, but thankfully he is aware of his problem. He will spend wastefully, and use his debit card for small purchases and forget to keep the receipts. This makes it difficult for him to balance his checking account and often results in pricey overdrafts that we really cannot afford to pay. He has offered to let me "take over" the finances by suggesting that we get a joint checking account which would be my responsibility to manage. On the one hand, I like the idea of being able to see where our money is going, discussing our purchases together, and seeing where we can cut expenses and save money for our future together; but on the other hand, I am afraid that he will start using my money as a cushion to prevent his frequent overdrafts, and that any attempts to get him to budget will fall upon deaf ears. I need some guidance - quick!


Dear Penny-Pincher:
In reading (and re-reading) your letter, I notice three things. The first is your use of the word "his" when referring to the problem behavior - his problem with money; the second is your use of the personal possessive "my" when referring to the other side of the coin - "my money as a cushion…” The third is your use of the words "we" and "our" when referring to future events. This tells me that even though you are looking towards building a life together, you are still not completely out of the "yours and mine" mindset as opposed to thinking in terms of "ours" - as in "our money" - at all times.

Since you are living together, I would strongly recommend having a joint checking account, into which you each deposit an equal percentage of your paychecks. Keep this account for bill paying only. You could also open a joint passbook savings account (with no debit-card attached to it) into which you each deposit an equal amount of money each paycheck. This way, your joint finances will go towards building the future you seek by creating a sense of equal financial responsibility towards each other without destroying your credit in the process (some banks report repeated overdrafts to the credit bureaus).

When it comes to personal expenses, each of you should have separate spending accounts - and I would recommend pre-paid debit cards, to prevent overdrafts - that allow you the flexibility you need without cheating your household budget. I realize this sounds rather complicated, but the merging of finances generally is, especially when one partner is frugal and the other a spendthrift.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Loss Of A Pet Leaves A Hole In His Owner's Heart

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I am heartbroken. Today I had to put my 12-year-old German Sheppard, Rufus, "to sleep" due to incurable, debilitating health problems. I know that I did the right thing, and I feel no guilt; just unwavering sorrow. I never had a pet as a child, so Rufus was my first experience with pet ownership. I like to think I did a good job with him, and Rufus made the experience pet guardianship such a pleasant one that I would love to get another dog someday, but at the same time I cannot imagine ever having the connection with another dog like the one I had with Rufus. I know that sounds crazy, but it's true. Rufus was one special dog. Will it always be this way, Tazi? Or do you think it's possible that another Rufus is out there for me?

Rufus' Dad

Dear Rufus' Dad:

Please accept my deepest sympathies on the loss of your canine companion. A loss such as your can feel insurmountable, especially when it is so fresh. A wonderful little book, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, perfectly describes what happens when animal and human transform into pet and owner. When title character meets a fox he would like to befriend, the fox explains this transformation: "To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world."

Your Rufus was unique in all the world to you, just as you were unique to him. So to answer your question, no, there will never be another Rufus; but that does not mean that you will never find another canine companion that is as special as Rufus in his or her own ways.

I suggest that you give yourself time to mourn the loss of your dear pet and when the time feels right, try to interact with dogs that belong to friends and family members. If you find that you feel comfortable doing so, take it a step further by playing with these dogs, or by volunteering an hour or two a week at the local animal shelter. Shelters are always in need of volunteers to assist with the walking of the dogs in their care. In time, you just might find a dog - or a puppy - that needs you as much as you need him...and to you, he will be unique in all the world; and to him, you will be unique in all the world – just like your Rufus.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Would Be Teacher Discovers She Has A Lot To Learn

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I am a sophomore in college, and am studying education. My whole life, I have wanted to be a teacher. I like the idea of helping children learn, as well as being a positive influence in their lives; plus the stability of municipal employment. However, my plans seem to be hitting a snag.

Obviously, the economy is bad right now, and even though there are signs of improvement, many communities are giving lay-off notices to teachers or outright firing them for poor student performance! So much for the job stability I was expecting upon graduation. Now, I am uncertain if there will even be a job waiting for me when I graduate. This brings me to the second part of my problem.

I recently started my practicum sessions, and have discovered that I really don't like working with a classroom full of children. There are some kids I like and really enjoy teaching, but then there are the troublemakers who don't seem to want to learn. I realize that with some children there are extenuating circumstances, like health issues or problems at home, but many students just don't seem to like school. Teaching them makes for a miserable experience, and has left me questioning if teaching is the right career for me. If I am going to change my major, I will need to do so FAST or else I will end up not graduating on time, in addition to having wasted two years of my life learning stuff that I will never have to use. Do you have any advice for me?

Burnt Out Before Her Time

Dear Burnt Out:
It appears to me that you chose a career path with great wisdom. You wanted a field that would afford you financial stability as well as personal fulfillment. Sadly, you are realizing a hard truth in life: That nothing is guaranteed.

The good thing is that you have discovered what you do not like about teaching, but I have news for you: No matter how much you like a particular job or career field, there are going to be aspects of it that will cause you stress. Perhaps you romanticized the idea of teaching and are disappointed to find that the reality of it is that it is not all about molding young and willing minds; but about sparking the interest of those who refuse to be taught, as well? Take the time to list the pros and cons of a career as a teacher, and follow your heart where it leads you.

If you decide that teaching is just not for you after all, explore other careers in the field of education before scrapping the work you have done towards your degree in Education. There are many job opportunities for people with such a degree, including professional Tutors; School Administrators; and Researchers. You could also work on attaining a Masters Degree in a myriad of fields that require an Education background. Furthermore, you could switch gears towards Adult Education. Older students are generally much more open to learning than children, because they understand the value of an education. Whatever you decide, remember that the time spent getting an education is never time wasted. You never know when something you thought you would never need to know will propel you towards success.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Girl's Puppy Love Rubs Her Friends The Wrong Way

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I am 11 years old, and started middle school this year. I have made lots of new friends and really like the way we move between classrooms during the day, especially since I get to see this cute 8th grade boy during passing periods. He is always nice to me, and I really like him a lot! There is a Halloween dance coming up and I want to ask him to go with me, but all of my friends tell me to stay away from him. They tell me he is too old for me and that he has a bad reputation; that he likes to smoke and drink and party, but that is what makes him so fascinating to me! I get very good grades and am very mature for my age, and I know I could change this bad boy's ways just enough so that my parents will approve of him; but not so much that he is boring, like so many of the other boys at school. What can I do to get my friends to lay off and see that I know what I am doing?


Dear Lovestruck:

The first thought that comes to my mind is some advice given to my Mommie back when she was single: When the two combine, the mud does not get "glovey"; the glove gets muddy. No matter how mature you think you are, the fact of the matter is that this boy's immature ways are what attract you to him. How mature is that? You may think that you can change him, but are you certain that he will not change you?

Drinking and partying during the school year (and at such a young age) are behaviors that lead to bad grades and serious health problems in the long-term, and loss of privileges in the short-term. How boring would that be, stuck at home on a Friday night because your parents grounded you for failing a math test?

I am not going to tell you not to ask this boy to the Halloween dance because this is an opportunity for you to get him out of your system. Most likely, an 8th grade boy is not going to accept a date with a 6th grade girl, no matter how pretty or "mature" she is. However, should you decide to ask him to go with you, be prepared for him to tell you no and to move on to greener pastures. If he does say yes, there is the matter of transportation to and from the dance. Since neither of you are of legal age to drive it is safe to assume that your parents will be chauffeuring you, and meeting this young man in the process. If this is the case, telling your friends to lay off of the criticism will be the least of your concerns as you attempt to win your parents' approval of this boy.

Middle school is a time of your life when boys and boyfriends will come and go; but where they take you in life can have more permanency; and you should choose wisely. Accept only a date that would make a good mate! In a few years, this boy may have straightened out a bit all on his own or he may end up receiving a bit of unsolicited help from time spent in a juvenile detention center. Either way, those boys you find "boring" right now should look a whole lot more interesting by then, so don't write them off just yet!


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gambler Goes for Broke - and Breaks His Marriage in the Process

Dear Tazi-Kat:

I have a problem, and I do not know where else to turn.  I like to gamble on sports - a lot.  Unfortunately, I have not been very good at picking the winning teams as of late and have gotten myself into some deep financial trouble with my bookie and my wife, who did not know I was drawing from our savings to cover my losses. 

Last week I was certain that the Miami Dolphins would beat the New England Patriots, since the game was played in Miami and New England almost always loses in Miami, no matter how good a team they field.  I put the mortgage payment on the game, figuring my winnings would cover my recent losses.  Well, New England won by a large margin and my losses are more than I can cover.  My wife is horrified over what I have done, and has told me she "needs some space" while we figure out how to solve our problems - the immediate one of the mortgage payment coming due, and the larger issue of my gambling losses.  She has been staying with her mother this week, and I am now devastated emotionally as well as financially.

My mother-in-law is quite wealthy, and could easily loan or even gift us the money to cover our losses, but I am afraid to ask because there might be some very tight strings attached.  Any advice on what I should do to get my life back on track?  I love my wife very much, and will do whatever is necessary to save my marriage.


Sports Fan in New England

Dear SFNE:

As stated in the well-known 12 Steps to Recovery, the first step is admitting that you have a problem that has become unmanageable.  It appears that you are not quite there yet,  but are on the path that will lead you to that realization.  I strongly suggest that you check out your local Gamblers' Anonymous meeting A.S.A.P., even if it is only to sit and listen to the stories of others who have "been there, done that".  A little dose of "scared straight", if you will.

Your more immediate issues, if not necessarily more pressing, are the state of your finances and of your marriage.  On your wedding day, you and your wife took vows to stay together "for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health...", which is palatable when you are financially stable and healthy, but harder to honor when you are poor and ill; and make no mistake about it, addiction is an illness. 

I suggest that you first list your options on how to handle the consolidation and payment of your gambling debts and that you seek help for your troublesome behavior.  Whether you take out a bank loan, sell your valuables to the local pawn-broker, or break down and ask your mother-in-law for a loan is a decision you and your wife need to make together, which brings me to the next part of my answer:

Whether she likes it or not - and  my guess is not - your wife is being affected by your decisions and she deserves to have a voice in any solutions to the problems that have been created.  Find some neutral ground to meet and discuss the issues surrounding her departure from the marital home.  Bring with you a list of realistic ideas on how to solve the problem of your gambling debts, and be prepared to discuss them rationally.  Tell your wife you are sorry for betraying her trust and for damaging the financial stability of your marriage, and that you will be seeking professional help for your gambling problem and sincerely mean it.  You say you are willing to do "whatever is necessary" to save your marriage; now is the (one last) time to put your money where your mouth is.