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Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

One of my seminary professors and clinical supervisors once made an observation as we were discussing a mother’s frustrations with her non-compliant children: “children don’t make very good pets.” I laughed at the time and appreciated the truth of the statement but, not being a parent then, I couldn’t really grasp the full import of those words. In the past couple of weeks, as I have tried to help my 5 year old daughter make the transition from wearing “small clothes” as she calls them (a.k.a. summer clothes) to long sleeves, long pants and shoes instead of sandals or flip flops I have come to appreciate my professor’s statement on a whole different level.

As David and I were planning to have children, we, like most parents, had fantasies of the way we would parent and the way our children would be. Our children would be precocious, curious, polite, well behaved: ‘like us’ somehow. It must be said that our children are all those things (though normally not all at the same time and usually not with us). They are, like all of us, a mixture of good and bad and I was, for the most part, prepared for that. What was harder to anticipate before being a parent, however, is the surprise and mystification that comes from realizing just how unlike me my children are. They are truly their own people with their own personalities.

As a lifelong animal lover, I have had my share of experiences with the good the bad and the ugly that can come with having pets. We now have a very calm 12 year old Cocker mix (Kess) and a 17 month old Chocolate Labrador Retriever (DaVinci).  We have lost numerous shoes, toys, stuffed animals, baseboards, important papers, etc. to DaVinci’s oral fixation. While we have had to deal with various behavioral problems both our dogs are great family members. They are both good natured, DaVinci doesn’t jump on people (which is very important when you are 96lbs. of pure enthusiasm), and both are always happy to see us, and live to be with us and please us. My children, however, are not like our dogs. They are not always happy to see me (particularly disappointing when I am really looking forward to seeing them) and they certainly do not live to please their parents. They don’t fetch, sit, or stay as well as the dogs (ok…they probably stay better but you get the picture). They don’t always stroke our egos and unlike dogs, they can hold grudges, harbor hurts and say what they think will hurt you the most. If what we want from pets is enthusiasm, companionship, loyalty and unreserved, unquestioning acceptance, then children don’t make very good pets. It occurs to me as I write this that, as a parent, I might, at times, compare unfavorably to the dogs in the eyes of my children as well.

And yet, while parenting is harder, more frustrating and more emotionally draining than raising a dog, there are joys common to both experiences. There is the of joy of witnessing unrestrained enthusiasm as I watch the dogs run at full speed across a wide open space or my daughter twirl and leap as she dances with no self-consciousness to “Rhapsody in Blue.” There is the tenderness that comes as my children snuggle close to me while I read them a story or when DaVinci lays beside me and rests his head on my knee; all of them content simply to be near me. There is the pride I feel as I watch my son growing into a boy with a compassionate heart and the appreciation I feel to watch Kess extend comfort to a family member who is hurting. These joys are commonplace and yet extraordinary. They are the gifts of connection, the ties that bind; the sacred bonds that anchor us and give life shape and meaning. Without such bonds, we are lost.

It’s true that children don’t make very good pets but both pets and children, friends and family, colleagues and coworkers, enrich our lives and give us opportunities to learn about what it means to be human; to live as God created us: interconnected and interdependent. In the morning, as I work through the morning saga of “I don’t know what I want to wear” with my daughter, I’ll try to remember that we are both still growing, that she’s not like me, and that I have been given a precious gift. And maybe, just maybe, for those few moments in the morning I can, like my dogs, let go of my memories of past morning drama and practice unrestrained, joyous acceptance of who she is.

May God add a blessing to my intention.

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Before you start to think that I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating the life and work of Leonardo DaVinci I must tell you that DaVinci is our family’s 14 month old chocolate Labrador Retriever.  While he is not the first house-dog we have had, he is certainly the biggest and the first puppy we have had since our children were born.  It has occurred to me recently that I’m learning some lessons from him that apply to parenting my children as well. (more…)

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