GUEST BLOG POST: The Year of the Dog by Deb Amlen
Intellectually, at least, I understand the importance of fitting into a society that values conformity. A round peg fits nicely into a round hole and makes life a lot easier for school administrators. But what if you give birth to a hexagon and the local nursery school says, “I’m sorry, but the only nap mats we have are round. You’ll have to take your little hexagon somewhere else”? Sometimes you have to just look at the whole hexagon and say, those points may be a bit rough now, but I can help smooth them just enough for my kid to fit in. And eventually, what’s left will be seen as a positive character trait. What’s left will be her strength and will get her through the rough spots in life.
If I’d had my kids earlier, it might not have worked out that way. It takes a certain amount of confidence to face off against people who tell you they have a lot more experience with children than you, but you know what those people ultimately taught me? No one knows my kids better than I do.
If anyone had told me that my daughter, who has grown into one of the loveliest, most well-adjusted young women I know, would spend the entire third year of her life walking on all fours and barking like a dog, I would have suggested that they up their doses of medication. But that’s exactly what she did. This included wanting to drink from a bowl on the floor (occasionally indulged) and pooping outside with our real dogs (not so much tolerated.) I knew why she was doing it; she was raised around dogs and was developing a compassion for animals that would eventually lead her to become a vegetarian.
It wasn’t always apparent to those who crossed her path that she knew she wasn’t really a dog. I had signed her up for a tots’ acting class, seeing as how she loved indulging her creative side. The teacher pulled me aside one day and suggested that perhaps my daughter would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation. My first reaction was to try to suppress the urge to vomit, because nothing makes you feel more insecure as a parent than to think that an objective adult with a graduate degree thinks there is something seriously wrong with your child.
“She thinks she’s a dog,” the teacher said. “I tried to tell her that she’s not a dog, but all she did was lift her leg on me. That’s bad.”
“Well, she shouldn’t try to mark you,” I agreed, the queasiness starting to subside. “But she knows she’s not a dog. C, are you really a dog?”
“Woof,” my little hexagon replied, wistfully shaking her head. If only, she was probably thinking.
“You see? She doesn’t think she’s a dog. She’s pretending that she’s a dog.” I added a genial smile and laugh to show her that C and I were not, in fact, clinically insane. I took my child and left without pointing out the irony that pretending was exactly what she and her graduate degree had been charged with teaching a group of kids to do.
Occasionally, we lucked out. This was around the same time that C. started pre-school, and that year she had a teacher armed with a graduate degree and a developed sense of humor. At the end of the year, this wonderful woman took me aside and congratulated me. C had spent her year in pre-school slowly convincing the unconverted that being a dog was much more fun than being human. Once the teacher was able to convince the litter that speaking was more acceptable than barking, they became quite the obedient class. Oh, and when they covered color identification, C. had gone around stumping for her personal favorite until the entire class believed that their favorite color was purple, too. She has a brilliant future ahead of her, the teacher said. Yes, I agreed, apparently as a politician. Or a cult leader.
It’s a good thing she dropped the drinking-from-a-bowl-on-the-floor thing. That would not go over well on the campaign trail.
Deb Amlen is the author of “It’s Not PMS, It’s You” (Sterling, 2010). Visit her home on the web at http://www.debamlen.com/.