You learn early on as a parent that sometimes children learn best by the example set for them. The things you say are quickly repeated and the way you treat others comes out in the way your kids make friends. So if that is true, and we all know it is, I hope more and more that my kids learn from our dogs too.
When my kids were four they lost the first puppy they ever really loved.
Initially they had no idea what that meant, but now as six-year-olds, they still talk about him so much. When we went to see Mary Poppins Returns this December, I was trying to secretly wipe away my tears during the song, “Where the lost things go.” The notion that “memories you’ve shed, gone for good you fear” are not in fact gone but rather just in the place where the lost things go, really stole my heart. My sweet daughter looked up at me during that part and said, “That’s where Peter is.” Cue all the sobbing! We’ve listened to every song from this movie about a thousand times since then, and every single time she says that! Loving a puppy moved her little heart so much that I think she’ll always take with her the phrase “Gone but not forgotten.”
When we got our new puppy Clara, my kids would often say that they wished she could talk — learning about a new puppy can be difficult, especially in her case as a rescue dog with an unclear history. We figured out quickly though that she could communicate! I love that dogs teach us that we don’t have to talk to communicate because that’s true with people too. When we went to Costa Rica last April to be a part of my brother-in-law’s wedding, my favorite moment was watching the kids play with a couple of girls on the beach. They laughed and jumped over waves in the ocean. When they finally came back I asked my kids what the other girls’ names were, and whether they lived in Costa Rica or were visiting. My kids told me they didn’t speak the same language and that they had no idea whether they were tourists or natives. They played together for over an hour without needing a single word. I’d like to believe that our love for our puppy taught them that fun and laughter are a universal language.
Sometimes I wonder why I love dogs so much, especially when they are nothing like me! After all, I don’t love chasing after frisbees, I don’t try to eat my own vomit and I don’t think squirrels are the bane of my existence. But dogs truly have an unwavering love for us as the people who care for them. My Clara no doubt agrees with Lin-Manuel Miranda in that “Love is love is love is love is love.” She doesn’t ask me where I’ve been or where I’m going. She doesn’t judge me or my family for any decisions we’ve made. She has no idea where we stand politically and she doesn’t care about my age, race, weight, or any other biases or boxes people tend to immediately check.
She just knows the feeling of love and how to love. What better lesson to teach the little people we are raising?
For Christmas my in-laws gave me a day-by-day calendar about the lessons dogs teach us. One of the days quoted the Dalai Lama saying “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Through taking care of Clara, my daughter is absolutely the most compassionate person I know. She lives to fill up Clara’s water bowl. If we are playing in her room, she will spread blankets out and make a comfy spot for Clara. And when Clara lies there Olivia is the happiest clam in the room. My son thinks that when Clara catches the frisbee he threw for her, it’s the best thing in the world too. He loves to walk her up the “monster” hill in our neighborhood. They’re six, so it’s not always easy (heck, it’s not even easy for my 37-year-old self), but on our better days we learn that it can’t always be all about us when we have a four legged, needy creature in our house to take care of too.
Over the years, our dogs have taught us that there is always forgiveness.
That sometimes less is more. Life can be all about the snuggles. The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time (that’s a really hard one for me). That sometimes all you have to do is sit with someone. That sometimes we just want to be needed. That playing and being silly or crazy is essential to every day. That it is ok to not want to do what everyone else is doing. And at the end of the day, you just have to be you.