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Dogs are sometimes Bombaloo, too

Illustration by Yumi Heo. Click through to find the book.My sister, Megan, is a wise and talented teacher of small children. She takes her inspiration from myriad sources, including her favorite picture books. Some years ago, she was describing to me a third-grade student she loved who had good intentions but less than perfect self-control. (I know, pretty shocking in an eight-year-old, right?) I was following Megan's story just fine until she made offhand reference to "the Bombaloo Bunker."

As reluctant as I was to expose my ignorance, I had to ask. "What's a Bombaloo and where does it bunk?"

"Oh, sorry!" Megan said. "There's a great book I read with the kids back at the beginning of the year..."

Sometimes I'm Bombaloo by Rachel Vail is a great book. It's a silly and serious book about tantrums and flying underwear, told from the perspective of a little girl, Katie, who's usually quite sweet and a pleasure to be around. But once in a while, when things don't go her way, she goes totally Bombaloo. She kicks and screams and makes horrible faces. She won't listen to anyone, not even herself. She can't. Only a spell of quiet can break the spell of her anger. Afterward, she says, "I'm sorry and a little frightened. It's scary, being Bombaloo. My mother knows that. She hugs me and helps me clean up."

Megan had taken a cue from Katie and set up a Bombaloo Bunker for her students, a sheltered spot in one corner of the classroom. If someone was acting out and seemed to be having a hard time "coming back" to herself or himself, Megan would ask, "Are you Bombaloo? I think it might be good for you to take some quiet time to think." Before long, kids would often remove themselves to the Bunker without being asked. When they felt overwhelmed, they had a refuge.

The practice of "time-outs" is well-established with kids and dogs, but it's usually framed as a punishment. I've framed it that way myself in the past. Time-outs have been an indispensable tool for living more or less harmoniously with Pazzo, our highly excitable and easily overwhelmed kelpie mix. He spends them in our bathroom. I used to wonder whether it was a problem that when I say "Time out!" Pazzo usually responds enthusiastically, happily high-tailing it to his quiet place. It couldn't be much of a punishment, I thought. And it isn't. The Bombaloo Bathroom hasn't extinguished Pazzo's capacity for nutty and sometimes punky behavior, but it has made it much more manageable and less likely to escalate. He's almost always calmer when he comes out (I'll ask him for a sit and wait first); he's a little better able to handle himself and all the challenges life throws his way.

There have even been a couple of occasions when I've gone in there instead of Pazzo. It's cool and quiet, and a dim light filters in through the leaves of the camelia tree outside the window. I take a deep breath and then exhale my own inner Bombaloo.


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