I have never had children until now.
Even as I write this, I can see the understandable sneer on the face of any parent. Oh please, they seem to be saying. I’m comparing having dogs to having children? I have no idea. There is nothing that comes anywhere near raising a child.
And believe me, I know that. Having worked with children and young adults for more than a quarter century, I so often think of all the work and care that a good parent must devote to raising a good child. As I have said to many parents, I can think of nothing more difficult and demanding than raising a child.
With that said, though, I ask that I may offer the following, with, once again, the provision that nothing comes remotely close to raising children:
Raising puppies comes closest.
Time and again, as I’ve been navigating this world, I’ll notice something about looking after these two creatures (that would be Opus on the left, and Trixie on the right) and then share this observation with a person who’s raised children (that would be a parent). And so often, when I discuss it, the person will relate some story about their son and/or daughter that not only makes me think I’m learning some empathy, but reminds me that whatever it is that I’m complaining about, the stakes, for a parent of genuine human children, are exponentially higher.
Take, for instance, the first time that I learned one of the first rules of puppies: never, ever, leave them alone.
I learned this when I let Opus and Trixie loose in the living room after taking them for a post meal walk (and by the way, this will be part of another blog entry, but for, just this: it’s unimaginable many times it is necessary to take a puppy for a walk each day). Because the dogs were safely in the living room (we’d installed one of those gate things that fits into a doorway and prevents a small creature, human or otherwise, from leaving the room). I sat down in the dining room (where I write), and checked a few things on my laptop.
It was at this point that I came to know a feeling that every parent knows, at least the ones with whom I’ve spoken. It is that dreamy feeling that comes after having fulfilled a particular responsibility with a young creature, for at this point, it is easy to enter a realm of magical thinking. In this realm, fulfilling that responsibility--walking them, in this case--meant that they were now all taken care of, and that I could leave them as if they were a washer/dryer.
This lasted a warm, fuzzy four minutes or so, at which point I heard the two of them running around, and suddenly remembered that the puppies, though walked, had four legs, and sets of jaws.
I caught them making confetti out of a roll of paper towels. The paper towels, by the way, are there to clean up whatever messes they make as we housetrain them. Unlike cats, dogs cannot take themselves to the bathroom.
This will happen again (and again), I’m sure. And each time, it does, I will think, as I always do: how much higher the stakes are when this happens between a parent and their children.
Again, I can hear the exhausted exclamations from (understandably) exasperated parents: please. Is it only now that it has occurred to me that every moment of a good parent’s existence involves always thinking about their child, putting thoughts and concerns about themselves last?
To which I’m afraid I answer: yeah. I’m so sorry that I didn’t see this before, but yeah.
One time when I was outside with them off the leash,I turned my head for a moment, and lost sight of Opus. For the thirty seconds it took me to find him (he was in our front yard, as he often is), I could not help but think: he may be lost, and this is all my fault.
For the most part though, my thoughts are more of this vein: really, what is the worst that can happen if I leave a dog unattended in my house? There are a limited number of places that I’m leaving them, and the amount of trouble that they can get into is mild at best. I mean, okay, they can chew on wires, but even there, I’ve sprayed some bitter tasting stuff that the pet store sells on the wires, and this pretty much takes care of it. And the rest of the time, particularly when they’re in the outside world, they’re on a leash.
Children are not on a leash. Though there are gates to confine them to a certain part of the house, they are, on the whole, far more free range. Furthermore, having a bigger brain and opposable thumbs, they are capable of getting into far more trouble.
One of my friends told me about a time he was in the kitchen with his son. He was cooking. He was watching his son.
He turned his head for a moment. His son stuck his hand on top of a lit oven burner. For a little while, his hand had the imprint of the cover to the burner (there was no scar, fortunately).
I can’t imagine how I would have felt had such a thing happened to me. It wouldn’t have mattered that I made a mistake any human could make, that of turning my back on a small child for even an instant. No, for me, at that point, my conclusion would have been that as a parent, I was a total failure, and that it was only a matter of time before Child Protective Services looked into this matter.
Parents tell me they pretty much felt this way every day during the first several years of their child’s life.
There is much more that I can talk about, but for now: I really do think that for someone who’s never had children, experiences with a puppy, when a person relates them, can cause a parent to nod, smile, and say “okay, let me tell you a story…”
More to come. And many more pictures, because I want to show you many more pictures. That’s another thing that parents of babies do that I now get.
I want to show everybody pictures of these two. Be kind.