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Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Video Call With Grandma

Bow is nine and a half years old, and as the year progresses and he comes ever closer to his tenth birthday, his dominance displays are becoming more frequent. Are they a voluntary behavior or a reflex over which he has no control? The answer seems to be something in between. Sometimes he starts down the familiar path, gets rocking back and forth with bristling hairs all standing on end, swaggers around a little, and we wait for the entire thing to go all the way to its climax, but it doesn't. He stops short of hurling himself against the glass or making the characteristic cry that ends the whole thing. We have gotten so used to this pattern repeating itself over and over again, that when it doesn't finish the usual way, we wonder why. Sometimes, we can divert him with a question, a suggestion or an invitation. At other times, the impulse seems to be implacable, and we have to wait until it reaches the natural conclusion.

One time last week, right during dinner, between courses, Bow started to make a few overtures, a little menacing swagger, the hair on end, the back and forth motion, a few initial cries, and then nothing much. "What's taking him so long?" Sword asked. "I wish he would just go ahead and get it over with."

"I think it just petered out," I answered, as even Bow looked confused. "You know how sometimes you think you have to sneeze, and you get all ready to sneeze, and then nothing happens?"

"Oh, yeah."

There are things that trigger it, and other things that can divert him from a full blown dominance display. Strangers in the house, or even just on Skype, bring it on almost invariably. Having a familiar companion who is paying all her attention to him tends to dissipate it.

Today, Bow had a video call with my mother. To him, she is Grandma or סבתא. He has known her all his life. We have never lived in the same house, but she did occasionally change his diaper or bottle feed him in early babyhood, and he hears all our conversations on the phone. She comes to visit every year. She is no stranger. And Bow responds to her differently from the way he would to someone he does not know.

This is not to say that during the call he did not drift into a few dominance display overtures. But it was easy to steer him right back to social, communicative behavior. How did we manage that? "Bow do you want me to turn it off?" Threatened with a lost chance to see Grandma, Bow immediately settled down. A second time: "Bow, do you want Grandma not to come for Thanksgiving?" He calms down at once. And, of course, the third time was when I announced it was time to say goodbye.

Are there triggers in the conversation for the unwanted displays? I think that there are, but it's too small a sampling to be sure. Bow kept pointing at the letters "gimmel" and "c" every so often during the conversation. It's hard to say what he was getting at, but when I saw that he pointed to the "c" and failed to see that he also pointed at the "gimmel", that's when Bow began his first display. He might have been angry about the oversight. Another display followed immediately upon my mother's request that Bow point at the letter "aleph". Bow hates being told what to do.

This is not to suggest that the displays can be avoided altogether. They can be put off, but they will surface no matter what eventually. So it's not anyone's fault.

Watch the video embedded below. See what cooperative and friendly exchanges between Bow and my mother you can identify. See how the displays surface and subside. If you speak Hebrew, you can follow the conversation, but if you don't there's still plenty to notice.


  1. Maybe the c meant "see", and I don't know what the Hebrew word for grandma is, but the letter you said he points to has a g sound so he may have meant English. So, see Grandma?

  2. Veeru1, thanks for your comment. It could be! I don't really know, and Bow did not comment to make his meaning clear, even though he watched the video several times afterwards.

    What strikes me is that he was pretty upset at the time, when I didn't see everything he said.