Children

I recently had an experience that reminded me how important it is to be a parent.  I am not a parent, just to be clear.  I just spend a lot of time in parks, and in the neighbourhood so I have plenty of opportunity to judge them.

You (in general), as a parent, are responsible for teaching a brand new person the ins and outs of life, and interacting with the world.  That’s a big thing!

Scene 1:

I was walking Gwynn through High Park after he’d gotten his spring hair cut this year.  Right out of his haircut, he looks like the most delightful teddy bear on earth to cuddle and squeeze and pet.  Beautiful day, tons of people around, and I was on my way to the dog off-leash area to let him run around a bit (and, as is inevitable, get some mud on the wheels, as it were.).

With that many people around I pay a lot of attention – make sure to keep Gwynn close when walking past that person who is looking nervous of him, or that kid holding an ice cream cone at dog-level, etc.

So I noticed when a girl – probably about 10 – locked on to Gwynn and began speed-walking away from her mother and directly towards Gwynn (from behind him), hands already outstretched.

Gwynn is friendly.  But He. Is. A. Dog.  And coming up behind a strange animal and surprising him with a random pet from a stranger?  Nuh uh.  And this is where I judge the kid’s mom, and intercede in the teaching of life-interactions.

Placing myself between Gwynn and the little girl, I told/asked her, “You know you always need to ask permission before going near a strange dog?  Right?*

I got a blank look in response to this, but at least she’d stopped moving forward.

“You have to ask, because the dog might be scared of people, or mean, or sick, or not like kids or surprises, but if you ask, I might say yes,” I add, when it becomes clear that Mom isn’t taking advantage of this teachable moment.

I get through to her.  “Can I pet your dog?” she asks.

“Absolutely!  He’s very friendly.”

End scene.  I really hope I got through to her, but frankly, I. Am. Not. Her. Parent.  or friend, or relative, or teacher/person of authority in her life.  There is just as much chance that she will go off and complain with her mom about that weird rude (possibly even that B word) who tried to lecture her about dogs, when her dog isn’t even not-friendly, so why? why?  And if her parents aren’t bothering with agreeing with me on this, then why would she?

20140524_123948
Why yes, he is friendly… but I’m friendly too until a stranger surprise-touches my butt

Scene 2:

Gwynn and I are walking through the park near me last weekend, on a pretty high traffic multi-use trail.  Enter a little boy on a bicycle going the opposite direction to us.  I moved off to the side, but that wasn’t necessary, because he came to a stop, dropped his bike and says, “Hi,  my name is (Let’s call him Timmy), can I pet your dog?”

Delighted, I said, “Yes!  And thank you for asking!  His name is Gwynn.”  And we spent the next few minutes talking about Gwynn, and bicycles.

Younger brother caught up, asked the same question, and, getting another enthusiastic YES-and-thank-you, started walking with his bike towards Gwynn.  Mom shows up on her bike at this point, and immediately says, “Stop and put your bike down, you’ll make the dog nervous.”

Brilliant.  As I walked away, I overheard the older kid telling his mom about how “That lady with the dog thanked me for asking if I could pet him!”

It warms the cockles of my heart, it does indeed.

directly after grooming
directly after grooming… everyone wants to touch him

In conclusion:

Parents: teach your kids proper animal etiquette.  Always ask, and always be gentle with animals are the rules they need the most.  And try not to pass your own fears of animals on to them.  Also, you are doing a fantastic job, in general (not that my opinion matters, here, but still.), at raising children and handling the screaming and the constant energy and the many MANY ‘Why?’ questions, and oh god, it just seems exhausting.

People with dogs: also educate kids if they don’t seem to know about the ask rule… and if they do know – make sure to let them know that them doing the right thing is AWESOME.  Because sometimes hearing something from a stranger can reinforce good behaviours that parents are teaching.

*Blog readers – you know this, yes?  If you didn’t before, you know now.  “Is your dog friendly?”, “Can/May I pet your dog?”… “Is it ok for my (child too young to speak coherently especially to strangers) to say hello to your dog?” And, regardless of what size a dog is, how happy he seems to be to see you, and how experienced you are with dogs, if the owner says ‘no’, then give them space!

A Family History of Pets

 I don't think I've said it before - but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they're still around - you'll regret it later if you don't.  labeled 'may, winter, 19', I have so many questions.  dogsled?  frankly, it looks like they're off to Narnia.
I don’t think I’ve said it before – but seriously, get these details from your grandparents while they’re still around – you’ll regret it later if you don’t. labeled ‘may, winter, 19’, I have so many questions. dogsled? frankly, it looks like they’re off to Narnia.

When my aunt was born, my dad’s parents had to get rid of their dog, Spot.  In my dad’s own words, the dog’s name was Spot, because… well… he had spots.  I suspect my grandfather was involved in the naming.  He was original like that.  My dad grew up in a small town that is nearly as small now as it was back then, and the dentist has a farm just on the outskirts, and lots of horses.  My aunt is so allergic to animals that, when visiting her parents’ home as an adult, if the wind blew in from that direction, she would have to stay inside with the windows shut, or risk her throat closing up.  One time, a plane was emergency landed for her, because the company ignored her when she said that there could absolutely be no animals in the cabin, and allowed someone to bring on their tiny dog in a carry on.

My dad was three the last time he’d had a pet.  He didn’t have another pet until he and my mum married.

Tomcat... before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears.  First rule of cat fightclub... you run to grandpa when you get hurt... but you also don't talk about cat fightclub
Tomcat… before he got really into cat-fighting and shredded his ears. First rule of cat fightclub… you run to grandpa when you get hurt… but you also don’t talk about cat fightclub

My grandfather kept cats – stray farm cats who found their way to him, and who were willing to continue living their lives outdoors, visiting with my grandpa on the porch.  He couldn’t invite them in because my aunt would then no longer be able to visit.  Frankly, I’m not sure if most of them got more of a name than ‘cat’, or possibly ‘gray tabby’, ‘calico’, and ‘black cat’.  The one I remember best was, in yet another highly original choice by my grandfather, named Tom.  Short for Tomcat.  Another original.  I’m sure my uncle Tom appreciated the sharing of names.

The Clydesdales - or some of them anyways
The Clydesdales – or some of them anyways

My grandmother grew up on a farm, and was terrified of the Clydesdales her father used for farmwork, and equally terrified of the cows and their horns.    Those work horses are one of my dad’s few memories of his grandfather, and he agrees – to a small child, they were immense and immensely terrifying.  My grandmother grew up with chickens as well.  She doesn’t eat eggs, though she will use them in baking.  She grew up poor, and always said, “You don’t eat the chicken if it’s still laying eggs.  You eat a lot of eggs that way.”  When we took riding lessons near her house, she would stay as far from the horses as possible, despite their considerably more petite size.

One of the strangest old family headstones at the cemetery near where my dad grew up has a small photograph in it.  I wish I had a picture to share with you, but I’m only ever there for funerals, and frankly, that is not the time for photography.  The main thing you need to know is that everyone on that side of my family has a very distinctive look.  When in a room full of us, it’s very clear who is ‘us’ and who married into the family.  Pictures of my grandmother at 17 look like pictures of my aunts at 17, and probably would remind you a great deal of her mother, and grandmother at that age.  The men in the family are even more obviously the same.  So this photograph is of a man who looks like my dad.  Dead on, in fact.  It looks like my dad… if he were to grow out a full and magnificent handlebar mustache.  And, while I have never met this dearly departed distant relation, I think we’d understand each other just a little bit.  Set into his gravestone is a picture of him and his cockatoo.

a relative I suspect is on my grandmother's side of things... based on the basket of eggs. People don't dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs...how times have changed!
a relative I suspect is on my grandmother’s side of things… based on the basket of eggs. People don’t dress nearly as dapper anymore while collecting eggs…how times have changed!
my grandfather and the creatively named Spot
my grandfather and Bunkie
cat pictures - common even in 1945
cat pictures – common even in 1945

Stay tuned – next we look at my mom’s childhood!

Boundaries

Mama’s Losin’ It

Mama Kat has a writer’s workshop, and one of the questions from this week was just begging to be answered. “Tell us about something you punched”, she said, and that is definitely something I can do.

This isn’t my memory; it’s more my mom’s. But I’m sure you all have memories of things that your parents told you so often that you might as well have been there, it’s so ingrained into your psyche.

I was there, as a matter of fact, I was just young enough that the memory isn’t. So, just assume that anything I write here is half assumption, half recollection of ‘the story’, and a dash of timey wimey wibbly wobbly creative allowance.

When I was growing up, my mother was friends with a woman who had a son the same age as me. We spent a lot of time over at their house, or with them over at our house. It sounds ideal, doesn’t it?

I hated him. HATED. He was mean – he followed me around for hours, poking me in the back. That’s what he did every time we were together at that stage of our relationship. My mom and his just shrugged it off as ‘things kids do to each other’… possibly as a life-lesson to me, possibly because they really just wanted five minutes in which to have an adult conversation that doesn’t revolve around poop, sleep deprivation or children in general, so please just handle this yourself and stop tattling!

So I handled it. One day, as he was following me around, poke, poke, poke-ing, I had enough. I had reached my limit. Enough was enough.

I punched him in the face. Hard. My mom says he landed on his ass, big blue eyes wide with shock (oh yes, I did this in front of our parents) and then burst into tears. He ran, sobbing, to his mom, demanding that I get punished. She suggested that he think of this moment next time he was considering harassing me. Talk about life lessons!

I spent a good half of my childhood playing with Evan. We had sleepovers, adventures in the backyard, and epic lego-filled rainy days. He and I played with Barbies together, and with J.I.Joe, Batman and all the rest of the action figures.  I’m pretty sure he’s the one who tried to teach me to pee standing up (another ‘from parents’ story).  Our parents were worried that they’d have to explain to us why we had to stop sharing a bed at sleepovers, though at about that time cooties and school friends and growing up all came into play and we drifted apart, and went our separate ways in life.

I think we got along so well because we knew each others’ boundaries.