I thought the days of being judged on my mothering ability were over for me. I mean let’s face it my kids are cooked. They are done. They are who they are now. They have to take responsibility for themselves— no longer will the finger be pointed at me. I’m free and clear now right?
I earned this! I mean I took my share of blame believe me. I got the call from preschool, “Mrs. Koko it’s picture day and R will not take off his baseball cap. Why in the world would you send him to school in a ball cap on picture day?” The shame of it.
Or one afternoon I noticed a swollen lymph node in my two-year-old son’s neck. I literally threw him in the car and raced over to the pediatrician’s office, expecting a diagnosis of leukemia. Instead, the doctor looked at him and then looked up at me, “It’s impetigo. A rash from being dirty. J is filthy Mrs. Koko.” Okay, embarrassing, but, you know…Phew!
Or, when I got a note from my daughter’s teacher, “Mrs. Koko would you please have M stop calling me at home? It is VERY inappropriate.” Is it my fault my daughter wanted to see why they had to have a substitute two days in a row? That she’s concerned about her teacher? Of course. Blame the mother!
Or when Sheriff DeAngelo called and…well never mind. You get what I’m saying. I’m off duty now. Now I just get to enjoy the good times right? And they will take care of me in my old age, not put me in assisted living right?
Not so fast.
My judgment day is far from over as I learned the other night in dog obedience school. That’s right, Reuben and I are in obedience school and there have been noticeable changes: 1. I have had to refill my old Xanax prescription and 2. Reuben has gained five pounds from me having to treat him each time he takes a single step otherwise he sits down and barks at me. In front of everyone. Or he will pull the leash from my hands into his mouth and start trotting towards the door as if to say, “Goodbye all. I believe my work here is done.” In front of everyone. Or, as all the dogs are in perfect heel position, walking around the ring next to their owners matching them step for step, Reuben is on his belly licking the floor where there is a tiny, dusty remnant of a treat probably from like 1982. In front of everyone.
And the entire class looks at me as if I’m the one sprawled out on the floor, as if I’m the one they all have to step over as they prance along with their perfect dogs. And I thought “Enough!” I am taking charge of this animal before things get too out of hand.
So last week we came prepared. Reuben and I practiced all week. We heeled, we downed, we sat, we stood. We stayed, we came. We were totally prepared. We walked in and I was ready to be the Alpha.
However, I instantly knew there was going to be trouble because when we got to the class and did our mandatory pre-class potty outside in the little yard with all the other kids, Reuben did a few little drops and then sat down in front of me. “I’m not going anywhere until you give me a treat,” he said.
“Please, OMG please. We have practiced all week. You were so good! You know this stuff!”
“Of course I know this stuff. Do I look like an idiot? Look I love you I really do. But I love treats too. So you treat me I treat you, we both go home happy.”
And so that is how it went until the unthinkable happened— I ran out of treats. He had literally gone through the whole bag! So I thought, “Okay now is the time to use my alpha voice. No treats. He will know I’m serious.”
The instructor said, “Have your dogs sit.”
All the dogs sit. “Reuben SIT,” I demand in a cool, alpha voice.
“Nope,” he says.
“Reuben SIT!” I say again this time a little louder but still totally controlled alpha.
“Nah ah,” he says.
“REUBEN SIT! SIT! REUBEN! SIT!”
The instructor tells everyone, “Tell your dog to sit and stay,” and then comes over to me.
“Are you having fun? Because you don’t sound like you’re having fun. This is supposed to be fun for you and your dog. He’s definitely not having fun. You sound like a drill sergeant. With a voice like that you should be training a Doberman. Please, put some love into your voice. He just wants to please you.”
I definitely did not appreciate her telling me I sound like a drill sergeant as I am very aware that with my hair this short from the back I might look like a man. Even though my hair stylist says it really brings out my cheekbones. In fact the other night I was walking Reuben along his favorite street and someone passing said, “Well look at that handsome steed,” and I mean I’m assuming they meant Reuben but…I was wearing my ex’s old Army hoodie, so…
Now, the whole class was looking at me with a “If this was a child we would be calling protective services,” look. I am sweating. My hair is sticking to my head. “I’m out of treats,” I say nearly in tears.
The instructor takes a few out of her pocket and hands me some. “Thanks,” I say now totally un-alpha. “Now let’s try again,” she says to me. “Mom needs to relax right boy?” she says as she pats the top of Reuben’s head.
“Wow, these are delicious,” Reuben says as we walk side by side around the ring.
“Yeah, variety is the spice of life,” I say as the instructor yells out, “Circle right!” and Reuben makes a perfect turn.
“See what a little love can do?” the instructor asks me.
Reuben has a life expectancy of 13 years. In the next 12 years, Roob and I will grow older together. Driving home with Rueben asleep in the backseat, exhausted not from activity but from being overly full, I began to think, So what if he doesn’t sit on command or know to stay to my left when I change direction. So what if he doesn’t match his stride perfectly with mine? He always looks to me when we walk with those big brown eyes just making sure I’m still there I guess. At night he throws himself right down next to me with his head on my pillow as if he just can’t get close enough and it’s the best feeling in the world.
And you know what? That preschool photograph of J in his little yellow ball cap is my very favorite of him, capturing that sweet innocent grin, before he knew that baseball is a competitive sport and not everyone makes the team. That there will be pain and tears and hurt and disappointments. That there will be times his mother will be the only one in his corner.
So yes, I do see what a little love can do.