I’ve been tempted in the past to say that I’ve been tricked into thinking that I’m a good parent because I have easy children. I say “tempted” because the last time I sat down to write something about that, I was in the ER that night with a kid who needed stitches in his head after an unfortunate encounter with the sideboard in our dining room. But overall, my kids are easy: they get along well with each other (!!), they love school, and they (so far) act respectfully toward other people, including their parents. They are pleasant people.
It would be tempting to take credit for their easygoing nature. After all, I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into caring for them. But I can’t point to anything specific I’ve done that has made them these incredible humans, and quite frankly, I have just enough jinx-y superstition in me that I’m afraid that as soon as I say that, they’ll burn down a building.
Unless you think all of this is going to my head, don’t worry: life has a way of humbling me. If my children ever seem too good to be true and I start to pat myself on the back, I need to look no further than the foot of my bed to bust up my ego a bit.
A little over a year ago, our beloved old dog died. She was our baby before we had babies, and her loss left a huge whole in our hearts. The whole was so big that when we went to rescue another dog, we came home with two puppies. At the time we already had a three-year-old rescue dog at home, so now we have three dogs: Ladybird (“Birdie”), Advent (“Addie”), and Epiphany (“Pippa”).
I’ve read (um, skimmed) the books on dog training, and I’ve watched the TV shows. I understand on a somewhat vague level that dogs should be made to understand that they are not in charge, and that we, the humans, should be firm in our boundaries and expectations of them.
I understand this on an intellectual level.
But they are SO CUTE.
And I am a failure at being the leader of the pack.
We took the puppies to obedience school. Because the rescue organization where we got them was slow in getting us their vaccination records, we didn’t enroll them in dog school until they were almost a year old. This might have been our first mistake.
Our second mistake was bringing them to class together. We thought it would be a fun family activity. We were wrong. While Addie and Pippa were great to bring home together because they keep each other company and wear each other out, they are not good classmates. In fact, we were asked, politely but firmly, to bring them to separate training sessions because they are “highly codependent.” I had to wonder if that term had ever been used outside of a human therapeutic context. But we complied.
Even when we bring the puppies to “school” separately, they have not sailed through their lessons. They are not particularly eager to please us. They are headstrong and somewhat (ok a lot) stupid. Unlike our human children, they are not easy.
This is nothing if not humbling. Raising obedient dogs who are secure in their place in the pecking order is not rocket science. It should feel easier than this. But we are a certifiable mess.
What has this taught me?
First of all, it’s reinforced the notion that I need help. If I have become too confident in my own parenting abilities, the dogs humble me in a way that reminds me that I’m pretty fallible.
Also, these dogs are beloved, which makes them no less needy. The kids will grow up and move out (weep!), but these dogs will be dependent on us for their whole lives, in a way that we’re dependent on God for our whole lives. There’s no spiritual maturity test that’s going to see me through “graduation” from needing God. If anything, I’m going to be stuck at Level One obedience training for my whole life, and God will love me anyway. Even though I’ve failed to teach the dogs that they’re not in charge, I am made keenly aware on a regular basis that I’m incapable of leading my own pack.
Someone told me that when my kids are teenagers, we should get a puppy, so that someone will be happy to see us at the end of the day. These dogs love us no matter what, and I think we could always use more reminders that we are loved, even if it comes in a slobbery, tail-wagging form.
I’m not counting on our haphazard collection of mixed-breed mysteries to teach Sunday School or solve the world’s biggest problems. But if they can keep me humble and love me at the same time, they’re already pulling more than their weight, and making every obedience class and vet bill worthwhile. It would be easy enough to get a savior complex for having rescued three otherwise-defenseless animals, but as the old saying goes, they rescued me, too. They’ve rescued me from being too full of myself, too high on my own ideals, and too confident in my abilities to do things on my own. I’m so grateful.