If you’ve read my introduction post, you might remember the Support Buns. If you haven’t, well, I have three rabbits whose calling in life is to jump onto my keyboard and type sage advice to all users, given even a quarter of a chance. Let me introduce you to them briefly. Their names are Hulk, Biscuit, and Eclair:
(Folks with good memories will know we had a brave fourth in the band originally; he’s no longer with us, but Detective-Inspector Breakfast is always in our hearts.)
This blog post isn’t just an excuse to share adorable pictures, though, even if I do take any opportunity to do so!
This blog post was sparked by me thanking Beeminder for my latest achievement: Hulk, our eldest, has reached new heights of affectionate behaviour, and will groom me while I’m holding her. Previously, she might groom me if I was lucky and she had all four feet on the ground, while the other two have always been very affectionate in that line.
So what the heck does Beeminder have to do with that?! How can you beemind affection?
Well, you can’t directly beemind affection, but this goal was actually prompted by other folks’ goals reminding them to make the time to connect with people, hug their kids, and compliment their spouses. Relationships thrive on attention, so that gives you something to beemind!
It sounds a bit mechanistic to set up a goal to spend time with someone, but I beemind everything else and my wife quite fairly referred to Beeminder as my “operating system”… so I thought it was worth a try.
Initially, I made a goal for each bunny to spend a certain amount of time with each one every single day. However, bunnies have moods like any other creature, and some days they just had their own inscrutable reasons to ignore me. I didn’t feel right pushing that — it only leads to stressed animals, and it’d be weird to force a person to spend time with you — and it was hard to judge when I’d had enough interaction with them to “count”. I ended up changing it to a simple 1 or 0. It doesn’t matter whether the bun wants to hang out with me or not; as long as I make the attempt to check in with them and give them a chance to cuddle, be pet or use me like a climbing frame, it counts!
Did it change anything? Well, in our old flat it might not have done; the bunnies ran free through the whole living space all the time, and could come and gnaw on my shoelaces any time they wanted my attention. But now I have an office of my own, so I have to go and see them properly (at least since Biscuit moved out of my office — it’s a wonder I got anything done when she lived in my office as a baby). It’s surprising how easily spending time with them can slip if I get busy. The goals are a reminder to put things down and go and check in with them, and to make opportunities for them to hang out with me on their terms.
For a while, I wouldn’t say anything changed. But relationships with animals are like relationships with people, and change takes time. Over time I found them being more affectionate with me, more trusting overall, and happier to jump up in my lap — culminating in the surprise grooming from Hulk in the last couple of weeks. She’s around 7 years old, so it’s a surprise to see her learning a new trick, but since she started, she hasn’t stopped! She still expects her due in pettings, but she’s happy to make some return as well.
How about Eclair and Biscuit? Well, Eclair still prefers my wife’s company by quite a long way, and Biscuit and I were already close from her days directly supervising my work from a cage by my desk… but Biscuit has learned a trick! If I say “you know what to do”, she’ll lick my cheek. I can’t say I really meant to teach her to lick my cheek on command, but there you go… (The full command is actually “you know what to do, do it with style!” — which was me trying to mimic David Tennant’s delivery for Crowley’s answerphone message in Good Omens.)
I hadn’t expected the goals to change my behaviour much, but it really does help. It makes me take time out of even the busiest day to spend time with the buns, which is good for all of us. And clearly something changed with Hulk as well, and I can only think it’s this dedicated time with her. Even though it seemed mechanical and odd to me at first, I’m a believer now… and I ended up making a goal for touching base with my friends and family as well:
You can’t beemind affection, but you can beemind making the time, and for those of us with busy schedules, sometimes that reminder is important! Having worked this into my routine so much that I’m not sure how I ever went without, I’ve archived these goals for now, but I’m open to the idea of reviving them if that turns out to be a bad idea!
In case you were wondering, I also beemind the less awesome parts when necessary: cleaning up after them, vet care, nail clipping, etc. ‘scuse me, it’s time to take out the littertrays…