This weekend, my daughter, who is about to turn one, said clearly her first word. It even came with a point of the finger for emphasis. “Dog.”
I wouldn’t be so bitter about it, if it wasn’t for the fact that this is the second of my children to give this honor to our dog. Bronte (Yes, I am a writer with a dog named Bronte) is a border collie mix and does not have what I would consider the Hollywood-dog relationship with my kids. She is not running alongside them as they play throughout the day, with a waiting tennis ball in the mouth.
No, she is a herder and my children are her sheep. And Bronte’s day is spent laying in some corner of the room, watching the kids play out of the corner of her eye, ready to bark at any questionable passerby outside (or as she probably sees them- wolves).
Before the “Sheep”
Before the kids, Bronte had it pretty good. Three walks a day (I used to come home at lunch from work just to walk her); dog training classes with other doggie friends; frisbee; and at one point we even lived near a hiking path so she would get long walks as I shuffled my way through my ipod.
The fact is, and I admit this freely, since my kids were born I have not been as good a dog owner as I used to be. Frankly, Bronte is not near the top of my list of priorities; in actuality, on a good day she is fourth or third in the line. And, there are always things that need to be fixed, wiped, fed, changed, dressed, washed and/or entertained before that needed walk happens.
So the trips to the dog park are now few and far between, and she is hardly as groomed or as bathed as she should be. The day of being the pampered “baby” are gone. Her life has changed just as drastically as her owners’ with the arrival of each of the little ones.
Bronte will get a short walk in the morning. These are a necessity since I can’t come home for lunch anymore, and I need to “empty” her out. Being a Michigander, usually I am wearing layers begging her to stop sniffing and just do her business. I KNOW this is not fair to her and she needs this time to sniff so she is satisfying that dog urge to explore, but every morning I am thinking of the bottles I still need to make and the kids I still need to dress for the day.
When I get home in the evening, she gets another walk. On a good day, it is a mile walk around a big block; on an okay day, it is another short walk like she had in the morning; and on a bad day, I just let her out to the front yard to do her business and I hope that is enough to satisfy her.
And that is pretty much it. The rest of the time is spent looking out the window, watching the kids, waiting to see what crumbs the kids drop at the table, and maybe occasionally getting a Kong filled with cheese when I need her distracted from something.
It is, honestly, not an exciting dog existence. At least not in my perceived vision of what a good dog life should be. But, Bronte doesn’t act like she is unhappy. She doesn’t tear things up, or bite at us, or anything. She is not acting out in frustration. The only thing I seem to get is a disapproving eye when she questions something in my parenting. And that happens more times than I care to mention.
The Struggle Over the Blessed Hour
The blessed hour, all parents know this glory. The kids are asleep, the house is settled for the evening and you and your spouse get to be more than parents, but people, again.
That could mean catching up on a TV show, writing and/or reading, playing a video game, having that much-needed drink, etc. It’s a wonderful time, to be cherished, to be looked forward to each evening. By 6:30, I am usually counting down the minutes to it! The thought of what we have planned for the evening (maybe that movie I desperately wanted to see in the theater, but couldn’t because of kids and scheduling), usually can make the time waiting for my four-year old to fall asleep almost unbearable as I control myself from mumbling outloud, “Go to sleep… just go to sleep…”
The thing is for Bronte, there is something about the Blessed Hour that really rubs her the wrong way. At first I thought it was only because she wanted attention. (“Hey, the kids are asleep; it is all about me now!” ) But lately I have developed a different theory.
Bronte doesn’t like us being downstairs while the kids are upstairs sleeping. She is questioning our parenting skills.
While I have since tried to explain baby monitors to the dog, it has not been successful. So my evenings, besides trying to relax are also spent distracting the dog; Kongs, bones, treats, whatever will work. Luckily, she is eating weight control dog food during the day, because I am not helping the situation in the evening… not in the least.
The Special Relationship
During a recent thunderstorm, Bronte jumped up on my son’s bed. She typically doesn’t do this; instead choosing to sleep in a location where she can keep an eye on all of our rooms with easy access to the stairs in case something needs barking at downstairs. So her being on my son’s bed was unheard of.
Based on the reaction from my four-year old you would think Batman just entered the room. He couldn’t have been more thrilled as he petted the dog, talking about how Bronte will sleep there the whole night (Actually, she stayed only until the storm was over; it being really more about her fears than protecting her little man).
Whatever I expected the kids’ relationships to be growing up with a dog, it is not that. The kids are something the dog wants to protect, the kids also feed her (sometimes outright handing her things, other times through dog stealth). It is rare when my son grabs a dog toy and throws it for Bronte. The funny thing is though when he does, Bronte will run back and forth maybe a half-dozen times, but she will then go upstairs with the toy, like a spoiled child running home from a friend’s house with their favorite toy clinging to their chest. I never imagined a dog would really turn down the opportunity to play, but Bronte does from time to time.
And yet there are the “wild” times. Most dog owners know what I am talking about. These are the moments when something in the dog snaps and they need to run, they need to bark, like a rush of adrenaline after too much Red Bull. Bronte has these, and usually they start with her wanting us to chase her, because she has grabbed a shoe or sock from someplace (Because with little kids in the house there always seems to be a sock someplace lying around; it’s a little rule of nature). Usually, my son will cheer this outburst of energy on, as he sits safely on a chair watching the adventure. For me, these moments are a nuisance, because they are typically when I am focused on something else that needs to done.
When something happens to Bronte in the future, and it most assuredly will (like it will for all of us), I am going to be overridden with guilt.
I know this. I can see it coming, but there is no way I can avoid it.
I will be second-guessing myself, wondering if I was a good master, if she had a good dog life, was she happy. Yes, I am making her human with questions like this, (and I know honestly, she is not complaining as she watches the kids, because she is doing what she thinks of as a job). But it will be there, it will happen.
Maybe I… maybe I should give her a treat now…
Just a minute.
Only a good master would even pay attention to such details about their dog. Don’t be so hard on yourself, it sounds to me like Bronte is well taken care of. Good post Scott! =D
What a great post! I never had the good fortune to understand the relationship a child has with their dog, until I got together with my now wife, who has a collie samoy cross called Toby. He too shepherds the children, watching from the corner of his eye protectively.
Thanks again for some great writing!
Thanks! I’m glad you liked the editorial.
Reblogged this on The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard and commented:
So last night I heard my daughter say “I love you” for the first time… It was to the dog.
So yeah, good day to repost this editorial.
Have a great weekend!
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