My dog and i were out for a walk the other morning on trails behind our house. To set a relevant context, I’ll tell you that dogs run free on those trails and that my dog, though poorly trained and maybe overly enthusiastic, is small, weighing in at 18 pounds.
We don’t usually meet anyone out there in the morning, much to Rosie’s dismay. She loves to jump up on people’s legs, and she loves to terrorize other dogs.
On this morning, i saw a woman, maybe 50 metres up ahead on the trail, doing something funny with her arms. We got a bit closer and saw there were kids behind her, and she was holding her arms out front towards us, and crossed, like she was fending off a vampire. She was crouching a bit, too, as though preparing for some martial art i don’t know about.
Is everything all right, i asked, as we got closer.
I’ve got little kids behind me, she said.
I see, i said.
The whole school is coming, she said. Hundreds of kids.
It took a minute to understand that she was afraid of Rosie being free around the kids. Which seemed ridiculous to me, and evidence our protect-us-from-all-harm-and-all-fun era.
I put Rose on the lead.
Here’s the bit that freaks me out.
We passed 200 kids, and perhaps 20 teachers, or teacher’s aids, or educational assistants (whatever they’re called now). Every time a group of ten or so passed us, the kids went wild, wanting to pat Rosie. Of course they wanted to. Open hearts like each other.
And the teachers, for the most part, did not want that. You could hear it in their voices. Danger!
But they didn’t say that. Instead, they said this: Leave the dog alone. The dog wants its privacy!
Another one: Don’t touch the dog! The dog is not a part of this walk!
Another one: Stay away from the dog! It doesn’t want your hands all over it!
All the while, Rosie was straining at the lead, doing her best to be touched by them, putting on her cutest face and her cutest tail wag.
One kid, held back by her teacher, shouted, I WOULD REALLY LOVE TO KISS YOUR DOG! I could have kissed her for saying what she felt.
And i thought, oh, man, there is a lot of dishonesty going on here. I get the safety thing, and the liability thing, but pay attention to what that dishonesty is doing.
Don’t tell children that the dog wants privacy! That teaches kids that their excellent instincts are false and off the mark. Surely the purpose of any education is to teach us the opposite.
This went on for roughly 199 kids.
Trailing behind the entire group were a teacher and a boy with cerebral palsy. The boy adored Rosie. He got so vocal about it that i took her over to meet him. His teacher looked on cautiously and quietly. The boy stroked Rosie, and I wish you’d seen the change that came over his entire body. Although i didn’t understand every word that came out of his mouth, it cracked my heart in half, it was so beautiful.
It’s not that i don’t feel for the teachers and their responsibility. But i feel more for those kids.
Many thanks to that one teacher who let that one kid follow his instincts. You are a gem. And many thanks to all of those kids for showing me what it looks like to shout, I WOULD REALLY LOVE TO KISS YOUR DOG!
I hope we all find our way back to our instincts, one way or another. It feels as though everything important depends on it.
Thanks for the conversation,