Technically, he is my parents’ dog. I do have a dog, but she’s fairly useless and has taught me nothing. Love her! But she’s no rocket scientist.
Back to the smart one.
Frankie came to be owned by my parents after he was found trying to board a commuter bus. He was picked up by a rescue organization, and ended up being adopted by my parents. He is named after Frank Sinatra because of his one blue eye, and general cool dude persona.
Frankie is the the Danny Zuko of the animal kingdom – a tough exterior with a heart of gold. He does not seek (or appear to enjoy) human affection, yet he is always within spitting distance, constantly underfoot.
In a crowded room, he settles next to the weakest link. He prefers to park himself at the feet of grandparents, great-grandparents, huge pregnant ladies (hollerrrrrrr), or babies.
My parents travel for long periods of time during the winter, and Frankie stays with us. It’s a shared custody arrangement, because when my parents are back from global gallivanting, they take both dogs. But please excuse me while I sharpen the short end of this stick because winter where I live is f*cking brutal, and these dogs need a lot of exercise, so our outdoor time triples while we are operating the K9 hotel.
All of this is to say: we have the dogs right now, as we have every winter for the past 4 years, and I am learning a lot. After a week of ice pellets falling from the sky on my head at 6am, I am learning how to pull my wet, icy hair into an Elsa-style side braid [is what I tell myself] and be ready to leave for work at 8am.
I am also learning about parenting. From a dog. Because, as you may have gathered, I’ll take whatever help I can get. Here is what I’ve learned.
1) Assess Threats as They Emerge, and Calm the F*ck Down
Parenting a toddler is like being assigned to handle a Tasmanian Devil while it trips on bath salts.
Toddlers are magnetically drawn to do things that can maim or kill them. As their
handler parent, you have to out-move and out-think these critters as they scurry from one potential disaster to another. And while not all of the stops on their treasure hunt of doom are life-threatening, all are inconvenient and messy at best.
Here is a window into their madness:
Rational human being: Oh look, a bin of blocks.
Toddler Tasmanian Devil: MUST DUMP ON HEAD.
Rational human being: I would like to read this book.
Toddler Tasmanian Devil: MUST PULL ALL BOOKS OFF SHELF AND SCREAM “BOOK! BOOK! BOOK!”
Rational human being: It would be nice to look out that window.
Toddler Tasmanian Devil: MUST STACK STEPPING STOOL ON ROCKING CHAIR TO OBTAIN MAXIMUM VIEW AT MAXIMUM DANGER LEVEL.
These are all things my toddler did. Today. Within the span of 10 minutes. Before 7:45am. At the time, I felt annoyed, and thought, “Why can’t you just be cool and let me drink my coffee?”
Then I looked at Frankie.
He was unfazed. He was watching, but was 0% perturbed by the pile of books that had been placed where he was sleeping. And he didn’t flinch when 100 wooden blocks rained down next to him, or when his rest was again interrupted by having sticky hands thrust a necklace over his head.
He conserves his energy like one of those fancy washing machines I can’t afford. A few loud noises and some extra clutter in the living room weren’t worth the energy expenditure of getting annoyed. I believe that this dog had the wisdom to know that it was in his own self-interest to stay calm and save his energy until/unless an actual threat emerged. Which in his mind probably involves a stray racoon wandering into the house. I don’t know, I’m not Dr. Dolittle.
From Frankie’s lack of reaction, I am learning to let the blocks rain down and let the books be strewn about, because now is the time for play and later we can sing the “tidy up time” song and get the shit sorted back where it belongs. In gauging threats, I’ll try to wait until there is 30 pounds of toddler in actual physical danger before I put my coffee down or let my blood pressure raise a single millimeter of mercury.
2) There is no Bad Weather
Before you punch me in the face, hear me out. It is late January and the view from my window right now shows a frozen hellscape. There are 4-foot high snow banks bordering my street, the street itself is sheer ice, and ice pellets continue their relentless descent from the grey sky. But we can’t stay indoors.
We used to! Before the little guy arrived, we would hunker down for winter weekends and hibernate for hours, then pop out for groceries and resume our cozy postures in front of the fireplace.
We do not do this anymore. You will recall that a Tasmanian Devil now lives in our home. In a fun joke that God plays on us, the little guy gets extra squirrely without frequent doses of fresh air. And so, out we go.
And it’s cold. And it’s windy. But you know who doesn’t care? Frankie. He maintains an armour-like shield that prevents bad weather from permeating his skin and bothering him on an emotional or spiritual level. In fact, he seems to lack that doggie instinct to shake off snow. It just piles up on him and we have to wipe it off with our arms like he is a car windshield.
In learning from Frankie, I have decided that if we do not embrace winter, it will destroy us. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, we sing the “socks and shoes” song I made up (hoping for a Grammy nod this year) that sends the little guy racing to the door to be suited up in his socks, snow pants, coat, boots, scarf, hat, and gloves. We put on the same gear, schlep to an off-leash dog park and roam the wilderness while trying to trick our minds into liking winter.
Are we cold? Yes! But usually only at first. With our warm clothes and following in Frankie’s footsteps (often literally), I’m becoming one of those annoyingly chipper people who says, “There is no bad weather, just bad winter clothing choices!”
FML. Is it spring yet?
3) Eating is a Social Activity
If you have never fed a toddler, then your face is probably missing a few wrinkles that have recently appeared on mine. You can’t make a tiny terrorist eat, and they know that. So, they often like to use meal times to exert their newfound free will.
Also, timing can be a b*tch. From the time we get home from work and daycare pick-up, we have 15 minutes to get our coats off, put food on the table, get the toddler to the table, and get food moving in the general direction of his mouth before he starts to get sleepy. It is a feat worthy of reality tv competition: Top Toddler Chef. Except no one would watch because it would be incredibly tedious.
My husband and I aren’t always in the mood to eat the early bird special, so often times we sit with the little goober while he eats and we make conversation with him and with one another. This is fine, unless it isn’t. Sometimes, toddlers are a**holes. They just don’t want to eat.
Medically, this is fine. No toddler has ever chosen to starve itself. But, unfortunately for me, I am not a rational being and instead my mental health is directly correlated to the quantity of healthy food that my toddler eats. It ebbs and flows like the tides. When he is fussy or doesn’t eat much, it drains me. When he eats well, my spirits soar.
However, I do know, and Frankie reminds me, that eating is a social activity and we all eat best when we eat with others. Frankie eats only while lying down. And only while someone is sitting next to him.
Having to lower myself onto the kitchen floor early in the morning and late at night to promote the consumption of food by a large dog who isn’t mine is a solid reminder that eating should not be rushed, and instead should be treated as sacred family time.
So now we eat a little snack while our toddler has his supper. And he eats better and I’m less of a hangry monster come normal adult supper time.
My toddler can’t pronounce Frankie’s name, and it comes out souding like “Pretty.” It is not inaccurate. Frankie is a very pretty dog. It’s also pretty neat having him around to teach us how to take a chill pill, how to not let winter crush our souls, and how to take the time to eat peacefully together. Everyone wins. Except me sitting on the floor twice a day.
I guess it’s the least I can do to repay my latest parenting role model – a stray dog who appears to care about nothing, and yet has taught me so much about caring for my young.