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Monday, September 13, 2010

Residual Effects of Having a Bottom Wiper

It has been nearly a week since we adopted the rubber lint brush as what Bow calls our "bottom wiper." You are probably dying to know how this has been working out. Well, Bow's bottom is not any cleaner, but there are other unexpected residual effects. There have been fewer serious disciplinary infractions, but a lot more lighter misdeeds involving the lint brush.

This is how it works: the lint brush is to remain next to the potty or on top of the seat at all times except when Bow is using the potty. Its one and only use is as an aid to hygiene.

So what does Bow do? He honors the rule, except when I am not looking -- the way he honors all rules. I can be right there in the pen across the glass, checking my email or just sorting through general hubtivity, and as long as I am not too engaged by what I am doing, and I cast an eye Bow's way every minute or so, the bottom wiper remains in its place. But if I should become engrossed in something -- a new hub I am writing, a poem I am translating, a heated discussion about the nature of language on Funknet -- then Bow senses it at once, and he very stealthily and quietly removes the bottom wiper from its station and starts playing with it. At first he is very gentle and very quiet, but if he sees that I still haven't noticed, he starts being rough with it, beating it against the cement, and chewing on it and grunting loudly till he gets my attention. I look over to where he is, and I am horrified that he has broken the rules. "Bow, put that back --now!" I growl at him.

Bow, like the little angel that he is, complies immediately, but takes his time about it. He suddenly begins to act as if the rubber lint brush is made of glass, and he carries it gently cupped in one hand, and deposits it very carefully on the seat of the toilet, reluctant to let go of it.

"Okay. Fine, Leave it there." He slowly backs away. I see that all is well. Bow lounges about lazily on the floor, not even looking at the coveted bottom wiper. But as soon as I go back to work on the computer and have really forgotten my surroundings, the whole thing starts all over again.  This process can keep Bow entertained for hours, and as a result, he does not break any other rules, like the ones about not peeing on the floor.

You might be thinking at this point: Aya, why be so petty? Why not let him play freely with the rubber lint brush? How much does it cost? What harm could really come of it?

Well, I'll tell you exactly what would happen if I gave Bow the lint brush as a toy for him to play with without close supervision. At first he would be gentle, then he would get rougher, and in less than a day, tops, the floor would be strewn with tiny, tiny particles of rubber, and the lint brush would be no more. It has happened with every toy that I let him have and did not quickly take away since he was old enough to bite. (A few stuffed animals survived as long as they served as people surrogates, but were destroyed as soon as his need for such comfort was outgrown.)

Every blanket he was allowed to keep with him throughout the day was torn to shreds in about a week. That's why he only gets his bedding at night.

A fellow primatologist suggested to me that I let him destroy objects to his heart's content, until he outgrows the need to do so. But she has money from the Federal government, and I have to make do with what I've got and make it last. I have to teach Bow that actions have consequences, because we are all of us dependent on using resources wisely.

So, even though I recognize that the rule about the potty brush seems rather petty, I need that rule. And besides that, Bow is behaving somewhat better thanks to this rule!

A reader of the Inverted-A Horn once wrote in that she thought society needed stupid rules (don't drive over the speed limit, don't cross the street when the sign says DON'T WALK, don't go outside without clothing) because certain people have an impulsive need to break rules, and we need to supply them with stupid rules to break, so that they won't break the really important ones like "do not steal, rape or murder". I never agreed with her, but this certainly seems to work with Bow.

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