First, to conclude the last post, here are the falsities, in reverse order:
- I wish number 5 was true. My kids are impossible to feed, and I could use an entire crew of culinary experts devoted to fixing the problem.
- My idea of “working out” is writing my blog from a cafe instead of at home.
- Anyone who has seen me in person knows # 2 is a lie. In our youth-obsessed culture, no one dyes her hair white, unless the performing arts are involved.
- The first claim was a trick question. I did take arts in university, but it was no dramatic reversal. I failed third-term math in grade 12, and flunked out of physics completely in grade 11. I got 90s in biology though– would have been an excellent biologist, but a lousy scientist. So I got a double honours B.A. in English and Creative Writing, a Master’s in English Lit, and then went back for a Master’s in educational psychology. In spite of all this, I am still unemployed, probably because I never took a degree in job-finding. So, to preserve my sanity, I take the dog to the park and write a blog about it.
Yes, Number 4 was the correct answer. Some of you may now pat yourselves on the back. The rest of you go sulk somewhere and mumble, “No fair!”
Now on to other things….
Thanks to the ed. psych. degree, I actually know a thing or two about how people learn. Often, small children learn from the examples set for them by friends and family members; when mommy is terrified of the dog, it’s not surprising that little Sophie is terrified too. Yet I have friends who absolutely love Our Best Friend, but their children recoil in horror. I would love to know, where does this fear come from?
Part of the fear, of course, comes from the lack of dogs in our community, but that’s not the whole story. Last week, coming home from the park with Our Best Friend, I walked past Ben’s house. His six-year-old was out front playing with the upstairs neighbour. Now, the boy from upstairs barely knows me, though I know his mother quite well, while Ben’s little Howie has known me all his life. Ben and his wife love animals, including OBF, and the kids know it; little Johnny-from-upstairs’s mother… not so much. She’s not scared; she’s just not a dog lover. So which of the two boys would you guess showed more interest in OBF?
The conversation went like this:
LITTLE JOHNNY FROM UPSTAIRS: Can I pat your dog?
ME: Of course you can! (To dog): OBF, sit.
Dog sits. Little boy comes down the hill and cautiously pats the dog.
ME: Take off your mitten and feel how soft his ears are! (Little boy removes mitten and REALLY pats the dog.)
JFU (to Howie): Come pat the dog!
HOWIE: No! I’m scared! He’s going to bite me!
JFU (puzzled): No he’s not! Come pat him!
HOWIE: No!! He’s going to bite me!
JFU: But he’s a nice dog! He doesn’t bite! (Puts his mitten back on and moves back.)
ME (to JFU): Did the dog bite you?
ME: Are you sure? Maybe you should count your fingers!
JFU (counting his fingers): One, two, three, four, five!
ME: Got them all?
ME: Then I guess he didn’t bite you!
JFU and I laughed, but Howie is not convinced. I tell young Johnny to visit us any time he likes.
I promise you Howie’s parents love animals. Howie’s older brothers have played with OBF in our back yard a number of times. Where does Howie’s fear come from? And why is Johnny, who has had almost zero positive exposure to animals, so fascinated and fearless?
Two weeks ago, we had lunch guests who came with four girls, ages one, three, five, and eight. The baby was indifferent to the dog; ages three and eight were initially nervous, but the eight-year-old was all over Our Best Friend by the end of the afternoon. The five-year-old screamed in terror every time she heard the tags on his collar rattle. Like little Howie, she was thoroughly convinced OBF would bite her. It was a very trying afternoon for her. Nothing her parents said, nothing she saw, could convince her that the dog wouldn’t bite her. By the end of the day, the mother wondered if she should consult a psychologist.
I wouldn’t bother. My Middle Child’s best friend, Yvonne, was equally terrified of dogs at that age. She and her family came to visit us up north one summer, where we were babysitting a friend’s cottage, along with the cats and her dog Blackie. Now, Blackie is the gentlest, sweetest dog in creation. She doesn’t even bark. If you step on her, she licks your hand. (Honest.) And Yvonne spent the entire day screaming in terror at the sight of her, which confused Blackie and made her very sad.
It took Yvonne a few years. By the time she was seven or eight, she could push past the dog and pretend she wasn’t there. Now, at age 12, she is a raging dog lover. I take her home from school every day, and if I don’t have the dog in the car, she lets me know how unhappy she is. Her mother got so sick of the nagging refrain, “Can we get our own dog? Please, please please?” she fined her five cents every time the word “dog” came past her lips. (I almost got fined for encouraging her.)
So I have reason to hope that, with enough positive exposure, Howie, my friend’s five-year-old, and other assorted frightened children will come around in time. (Not so sure about the frightened parents, though.) We just have to bring more doggie ambassadors– ones a little less intimidating than Our Best Friend– into the neighbourhood.
(This post was part of the Saturday Blog Hop– click here to join in!)