backyard june 3 2015

First, we have a backyard. Let me start by making it clear that this is an incredible privilege. Now, read to the end and tell me if I’m whining about First World Problems.

The backyard has been an incredible palliative when it comes to dealing with the widly fluctuating moods of Dar. It helps that he likes it, and that Bay Area weather is almost always temperate. The light that dapples through the trees as they gently wave with the breeze tends to calm him right down. Or not, but then, at least, his screams aren’t right up in our faces.

Many times, I’ve asked the only nearby neighbors about the noise, and they’ve assured me that it doesn’t bother them. (They have three kids, ranging in age from 12 to 8. Little did I know that when I faintly heard their many screams years ago, I was putting karma money in the bank. Or are they still screaming and I can’t hear them over Dar and R?)

It would be nice to just leave Dar out in the backyard for hours and get my professorial work (e.g. grading papers, responding to emails, doing field research) done in the house. I mean, isn’t that how I was raised? Go outside, be home for dinner! However, we’ve found that doesn’t quite work. Skip the next two paragraphs if you don’t like discussion of scatology.

For one thing, within an hour, Dar’s diaper and pants wind up around his ankles. For him, it’s frustrating that he can’t get them all the way off. For me, I’m not loving having no idea when his next accident is coming – he’s not yet toilet-trained (DON’T ask). So I’ve been known to leave him there for a few minutes only to come out and see naked nether-regions full of number-two-ness. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Well all right, I have time, I just don’t like it.

For a second thing, in the old days, we’d find Dar in the yard with – what’s the best word guys? excrement? well, if you insist – excrement all over his hands. Now, his mother and I put up with a lot. Feces on fingers is up with which we will not put. We don’t know that he’s ever actually eaten it, but kids put their fingers in their mouth…you know. This turned out to be a two-pronged problem. One was him reaching for his own poopy butt. Another was me not always racing to clean the dog’s poop in the back.

One prong was easy to fix: our dog Mosley’s bathroom was moved to the front yard. We had to build a fence and cordon off our house’s very modest front area, and now it smells like an outhouse every time we leave or arrive at the house, but hey, it’s progress! The first prong was…ugh. We just freaked out every time we saw his hand go to his tushie (by the way, this occurred WAY, WAY, more often than just when he’d done his business). I think maybe possibly perhaps he now understands not to put his hand back there – I haven’t seen him do it in months.

There was a third thing: the backyard was uneven and was full of far too many sharp shrubs and brick outcroppings. After much discussion and research, we paid a professional gardener to install grass and sprinklers, which cost a hefty four figures. For the first few months or so, the yard looked great, but then, about a year ago, the rain stopped, and it’s barely rained since. Have I used the sprinklers? Uh, yes, yes I have. But barely, because I’m trying to be a good Californian. Brown is the new green, right? Riiiiiiight. Now, as pictured, the yard has turned mostly yellow, and a lot of dirt has become exposed. Now, we find Dar out there eating a lot of dirt.

Now, I’m ready for someone to say that dirt is healthy for kids. I get that, but there’s a limit, especially when they’re shoveling it into their mouth like it’s cotton candy. Also: consider those two paragraphs I said you could skip. I mean, what Dar’s eating may not exactly be, uh, virgin dirt, whatever that is. It’s hard to want to take him away from it, though, because he seems to love running it through his fingers and spreading it all over himself and his toys. Luckily, one of Dar’s therapists saw his behavior and suggested an elegant solution: try giving him a sandbox. He seemed to treat dirt the way a lot of kids his age treat sand, and the thought was that he might be easily redirected to more age-appropriate behavior. The idea of coaching Dar to remain in one part of the backyard reminded me of dog training, but I didn’t tell anyone about that analogy.

Instead, I cleaned the old kiddie-pool, drove down to the parking lot of Golden Gate Fields where it borders the San Francisco Bay, piled some lovely, bottlecap/cigarette-free sand into our plastic kitchen trash receptacle, came home and lugged that (now) TV-weighing thing into the backyard, poured the sand into the kiddie-pool, and voila: sandbox. The good news: Dar loves it, and seems to ignore the rest of the dirt yard. The bad news: Dar eats the sand, which, despite its lack of beach detritus, seems to me less healthy than dirt. The other bad news: sand is everywhere. I mean, all over our house, in the sheets of every bed and covers of every couch (Dar does a lot of bouncing on these), all over Dar’s clothes and hair…it’s like living in the Hamptons, but without the glamour.

So now we’re surveying our options. We may replace the sand in the sandbox with dirt. We may replace all the yard’s grass with artificial turf, although this is a major four-figure commitment that would make obsolete our previous major four-figure commitment. And in that scenario, Dar may burrow his way to dirt anyway. We may cover the sandbox more often. I didn’t think I was asking for advice, but now I realize I am. Pretend just for a minute that Dar can’t be trained to behave one way consistently. What would you do?