The Day My Son Petted A Dog
Like most monumental events, the day my son petted a dog started out like any other. It was 90 degrees outside and we were sitting on the front porch reading a book when a man walked past us. He was walking a medium sized black dog with a rather sweet face, albeit large teeth.
My son called out, “Look it’s a dog,” and the man stopped in front of my porch steps and asked my son if he would like to pet it. My son looked at me and I nodded encouragingly.
We started making our way down the steps and my son stopped, scared. The man started walking away and my son called out, “No, no, I do want to pet it.”
The man came back and again my son had a false start. The man started walking away again and my son said, “Wait, I’m really going to do it!” Holding my hand, he walked up to the dog and gave the shiny black fur a nice long pat. The man smiled and walked away and in that seemingly innocuous moment I experienced a sense of great personal liberation.
Kids petting dogs happens all the time, everywhere, but it never happened in my home. I have a huge, long-standing fear of dogs that was lovingly passed on to me by my older sister who, according to the legends, was chased by a dog when she was younger. This fear has been reinforced by lack of exposure to animals over the years as well as a fair amount of avoidance. Since most people I know don’t have dogs, this fear has not impacted me enough to do anything about it. But I don’t want to pass my fears to my kids. I want them to have the joy of petting a dog and not being afraid.
So my son petting a dog is a big deal. It didn’t liberate me from my own fear of dogs but it did liberate me from a greater fear, the fear that I need to pass my flaws and imperfections on to my children. That moment was a clear demonstration that I don’t have to limit my children through my own limitations.
Like most people, I have many imperfections and flaws. I’m scared of dogs. I can get impatient. I sweat the small stuff. I don’t always prioritize the way I should. The list goes on. And I don’t want to pass my struggles on to my kids. They will have plenty of their own challenges and I don’t want them to be limited by mine.
I have been fortunate to learn from many people I’ve encountered that children do not to be constrained by their parents’ struggles. Like the girl who grew up watching her parents fight for years and is constantly going to classes and working with her husband to have good communication in her marriage. Like the woman whose mother was always too busy to talk and makes an effort to spend quality time with each of her children. Like the young mother who grew up without any toys or games or fun and makes sure she sits on the floor and plays a silly game with her kids each day.
And like me, in a small way, on the day my son petted a dog. And, who knows, maybe next time, I’ll even pet the dog along with him.