Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Through the Dog Pen

Sometimes when I'm hovering over my children, bent on protecting them from the obvious dangers that might befall them, I recall the dirt pile I used to play in for hours as a five year old, the long sojourns through our woods around the same age with nary a companion or caregiver, and most of all I remember the gauntlet of dogs through which I was forced to leave my crazy next door neighbor's house.

The Rikers lived next door to us until I was about seven. Their Mom was certifiably crazy. I can remember her inviting my mom and me in for a cup of tea and at some point the adult conversation which I was ignoring must have wended down some errant path that led her to stand in the middle of a summer afternoon and sing an a capella rendition of Silent Night. She had a lovely voice. Really.

The Rikers also had the filthiest house I have ever seen, and their three girls whose ages were surrounding mine shared a bedroom in the basement which had two beds and some number of cats roaming around which I could never get an accurate count on. They also had two completely untrained dogs that used to take Mrs. Riker for walks down the street on the rare occasions that she freed them from their little pen in the back yard. They were wild and threatening.

The dog pen was fenced in and comprised about a third of their back yard. Inside it the grass was completely gone and there were numerous holes dug in the earth. The dogs were the only thing in the pen apart from their perpetually empty food and water dishes. A set of stairs constructed of 2 x 4"s and stained red led up from the dog pen to a tiny landing outside the sliding glass door in the kitchen. They had a front door, mind you, but after I came over to play with the girls (where they would often be given snacks or pieces of gum by their mother, who would make a show of not offering me any), I was forced to exit through the back door, where I would have to walk 15 feet through the snarling dogs to exit their pen.

For some reason, my instinct in these situations was to make my face a stone wall, march slowly down the stairs with utter confidence, not look at the dogs, and simply walk. I did it a number of times before those nutters moved, and I never thought too much of it. But I can't tell you how many times in subsequent years those moments have fluttered back to my mind as I realize I formed an important skill for bravely facing what seem at first to be terrifying circumstances. I've walked through many proverbial dog pens.

I hope I don't deprive my children of the ability to develop bravery, toughness, and real problem solving skills by keeping them out of harm's way.

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