We were having one of those rare unusually mild winter days in coastal Delaware so I took a walk on the beach with our dog, Howie.
He’s a mixed terrier with spindly legs, a shaggy white coat and coal-black eyes. When we adopted him seven years ago, the humane society shelter guessed he was part Poodle (smart) and part Jack Russell terrier (feisty).
And, as we have come to know, 100% anxious.
No wonder I have felt a kinship with him from the first day we met. Except that Howie’s hair is much curlier than mine. And I don’t growl at strange dogs.
As we were walking up the narrow sandy path leaving the beach, Howie The Anxious barked loudly, veering towards an elderly golden retriever walking sedately by her owner’s side. The owner tugged her well-behaved golden away from us with a slight “harrumph”.
I could have told her that Howie has always been wired to be wary. And yes, we have taken him to trainers. One told us that Howie would never be the kind of dog you can let romp at the dog park.
And I am not comparing dogs to kids here, truly I’m not, but that day at the beach got me to thinking about how people make judgments about us based on the company we keep.
Canine company for me now as an empty nester, but not so long ago some people, let’s call them Moms, judged me by the human company I kept – my two very-different-from-each-other kids.
Child #1 was what the books called a “good baby.” She slept through the night at three months, took regular naps and played nicely with other toddlers. Taking her out in public was a pleasure. People praised her social skills from a young age. She was (still is) adaptable and affable.
Just when child #1 was old enough to amuse herself by playing creatively with her little-people-with-no-feet (thank you Fisher-Price), child #2 came along.
Child #2 was more difficult from the start. As a newborn, he had a mild case of jaundice and spent time getting a light treatment in the hospital nursery. At four days old, he kept pushing up against the side of the bassinet to pry off his eye mask. The nurse told me she had never seen a newborn wriggle as much as he did.
Silly me, I thought that was a compliment.
Unlike his sister, he wasn’t interested in a regular sleep schedule. His idea of a good time was to wake me up every two hours to be fed. I consulted my stack of baby books, tried the same training methods we had used with his sister. They didn’t work. I bought new books and tried new training methods. No luck. And when child #2 got to the terrible two’s he seemed to like it there. He was (still is) strong-willed – and also a voracious eater.
I was (still am) the same Mom with both kids but other parents didn’t see me that way.
With child #1, the Moms who knew me only as that child’s Mom, treated me as one of them. The other Moms of easy kids, the ones who got along with others, the ones who were invited to all of the birthday parties. One of the Moms who did not think of parent-teacher conferences as occasions to be dreaded.
When child #2 went off to a different school, the Moms there knew me only as the Mom of child #2, a kid who most certainly had not been an easy baby. Some of the Moms at child #2’s school were nice enough to me, some less so, some simply ignored me. I became an Out-of-the-Loop Mom because child #2 was not a regular on the play-date circuit. Not exactly shunned but not Popular Mom material either.
More than a few times I fantasized about getting up in front of the classroom at child #2’s back-to-school night and telling all of the other parents about child #1, the one they had never met but who was well-liked by her teachers and peers, who was sought after on the play-date-circuit. I would explain to the parents in child #2’s class that yes, I was a good Mom, just as good as they were, had tried all of the same training methods they had probably used but what worked with child #1 just didn’t do the trick with child #2.
You will be glad to know that I never got up in front of the room at back-to-school night.
My kids are now grown so my iPhone calendar longer fills up with school events to attend.
(note: I still keep my well-loved, paper-only Filofax planner in a bureau drawer just in case any historians writing my future biography want to look through it, fyi.)
So theoretically I could spend some of my free time taking Howie to the dog park near my house – which my friend Liz tells me is the new “hot spot” for empty nesters like us to meet and greet with our canine companions.
But of course, I can’t take Howie to frolic at the dog park anymore than I could be a Popular Mom with child #2. My dog and my son are just not wired that way.
Hoping though, that newer Moms – and Dads too – will make more room for parents who keep company with kids (and dogs) who don’t play well with others.