Maxi Minx developed a sense of humour today and caused me to blow my stack at a complete stranger.
This morning Maxi came into our bedroom at silly o’clock, wittering on about a castle she’d built. As it was still before 6am, I muttered something like, yes of course I will, darling, in a minute. Even if it just sounded like ‘Ug’. Anyway, when I did eventually go in and see it at a more civilised hour, I was quite impressed: she’d used Mini Minx’s wooden bricks to lay out a kind of a terrace with walls, and a layered building with semi-circle roofs on one floor layer, triangle roofs on another and square-tops on the third. I think my approval just wound up Midi Minx, who promptly trashed it. Maxi stormed back to me, wailing about how much she hated her sister.
“Well, build another one”, I suggested.
“No, that’s sooooo boring! I’ve already done that once!” she moaned.
“Well, you could always make a model of this house?” I tried.
“Huh! One square for the walls, one triangle for the roof – that’s going to be reeeeeeally exciting for me!” she sniffed, with her first successful attempt at withering sarcasm. Aged 5. She even had the tone and timing spot-on. Oh boy, that girl has obviously watched and learned from me a few times too many.
I hesitate to write about today’s run-in with a dog owner, because it shows me and my prejudices in a very bad light, but what the hell. Here’s what happened.
We’d gone for a walk in the woods this morning to just get out in the lovely sunshine. Mini had gotten tired of falling over tree roots (and gotten her first skinned knee – awwwww), so she was on my back in the sling. Midi was in her usual place, whingeing on The Boss’s shoulders about being hungry and ‘wobb-il-laaaaay!’, and Maxi Minx was dilly-dallying up the hill, lagging far behind. She’s going through a phase of shrieking at things that have never bothered her before, like spiders, bracken, bees, etc. so when she yelped I didn’t really register. Then I heard an adult woman start to shout from down the hill:
“Stand still! Stop moving! That’s the very worst thing you can do!”
I spun round in alarm, my heart going like the clappers, to see Maxi squealing at a dog who was sniffing at her. Now, I’m not a dog-lover, to be honest, so I’m not automatically going to take the dog’s side. However, Maxi’s squeals are the stuff of ridiculous melodrama. But in the end I think my reaction was just instinctive – my baby was terrified of that dog, and that dog’s owner was *shouting* at her, instead of helping or reassuring. So I got very cross. I didn’t swear, but I stormed down the hill and started to yell at the woman to get her dog away from my child. Now. Right now. Get it under control.
The dog took one look at me as I took Maxi’s hand and sensibly legged it. The woman jogged past, remonstrating with me all the while. She used helpful phrases like “She should know better!”, “I am a dog expert, you know”, “You’re being very silly” and “You’re very irresponsible, you’re teaching her to be afraid”. So first I took umbrage, then I combusted. I don’t find that the feeling of being patronised combines well with anger and having had a fright.
The shouting match boiled down to her feeling that it was shocking that my child did not know that when a strange dog leaps at you, you should let it. I felt she should keep her dog on a lead if she could not control it enough to call it away when it went bounding towards a frightened 5 year old. She felt I should keep my child on a lead. I thanked her for her most instructive lesson. She tried to jog away gracefully with her head held high, but I guess the effort of running uphill with all that flabby indignance was too much: she stalked up the hill a few feet ahead of where I stormed and fumed in her footsteps. The dog sped away.
I don’t often lose the ability to reason fairly calmly, and the whole 3 minutes that I was too angry to muster politeness with the woman upset me deeply, even now. Afterwards I felt guilty for shouting at her, but on the bright side, at least I was too angry to deploy my occasionally devastatingly painful repartee. I do recognise that what she was trying to say was absolutely correct: Maxi needs to stop flapping and squealing at strange dogs and learn to calmly and confidently keep walking, or at least stand still. But by crikey, dog expert or not, she sure knows diddly-squat about children or their parents!
I’m neither a child nor a dog expert. In fact, I’m not an expert at anything (though I’m pretty good at Shetland lace knitting). But here are my non-expert top tips for handling the situation when strange dogs and strange kids mix:
Shouting at a strange child pisses their parent off far more than shouting at a strange dog does to its owner (and yes, that’s a lot). If the dog frightens the child enough to make them cry, then said parent is *really* going to be angry. And upset. And perhaps a bit frightened. It really doesn’t matter whether you think the child has a right to be frightened or not: scared-child tears top trumps that, really. One way to deal with a parent on the warpath might be to apologise for your dog (even if you don’t mean it), then perhaps ask if you can offer some tips on how the child could handle a strange dog if it ever happens again. Choosing instead to disparagingly telling the child and their parent that they’re being silly is probably a bad choice: you’re likely going to make an angry parent even angrier, especially if you haven’t given them cause to calm down a bit, first. Informing them that you are a dog expert won’t give you magical credibility; indeed, not being able to call your dog to heel demonstrates that you are yet a mere red belt in the art and skills of dog training. It also makes any parent of a small child instantly think of Ann Teak (Gigglebiz). This gives you even less natural authority, particularly if you are unfortunate enough to have a similar voice. And most of all, don’t try to imply that whilst it is perfectly ok for your dog to run at a child and jump at them, it is not ok for that child to show their fear/startlement. In an ideal world, neither would happen; in our imperfect world, both occur.
The problem lies, you see, in that however much you might see your darling doggie as being any child’s equal, the screaming kid’s parent won’t. Ever. Especially if they’re suddenly reminded of how nice Rover would taste flash-fried with a chili and pineapple sauce, as experienced in Kuala Lumpur’s chinatown…