What a Dog

I'm not saying this happened. But you can't say that it didn't. You weren't there. (I usually detest arguments of the form "How could you know unless we're the same person?" but let's make an exception for a vignette about a man and his dog.) The only backstory you need is that I have no sense of direction. None whatever. I can get lost in my own home. I frequently open a cabinet in my kitchen and mutter, "where are the plates? Why are there cups here?"
Langley* and I were on a hike. Think state park and tree canopy. After 40 minutes of following my muse rather than the marked trail, I was thoroughly turned around. Each pine-tree looked remarkably like every other pine-tree. The rocks also seemed identical. And don't get me started on the bushes. Like a horrible Sesame Street parody: "Which of these things is just like the others? Which of these things is exactly the same?" Worst case scenario, I would eventually end up at the perimeter road and make my way back to the car. But Langley, perceiving my befuddlement, did a 180 degree on the path. He trotted a few steps, looked back over his shoulder, and led me safely back a mile and a half to the parking lot. He stopped only periodically to convey, "I got this" and "I don't mean to be critical, but wouldn't you move faster if you had more legs?"


How did the dog know I was lost? How did he know the exact path to safely? Because while I was thinking about the sum of the numbers relatively prime to 10,000**, Langley was attending to different stimuli. Shrubs that held no meaning for me were repositories of a myriad of information for him. I was concerned with greatest common divisors; he was focused on not getting lost. Different strokes for different species, as they say.
"If you are having an argument with another person," the old saying goes, "walk a mile in his moccasins." Excellent advice. Because if all else fails, you will be 1609 meters away from the disagreeable fellow and you will have a nice, new pair of moccasins.
Which brings us--"finally," it could be argued--to my point this week. To be effective parents, we have to consider perspective. How does the world look to the child? When your child misbehaves, think "sad" rather than "bad." In fairness, I am just as annoyed by screaming, biting, throwing, hitting, crying, lying, splashing, tantrumming, yelling, pouting and fussing as the next man. But when children engage in being unbearable, the why is more important than the behavior. As numbingly unpleasant as that behavior might be. Yelling at a child to stop yelling seldom works long term. Helping a child to figure out why she is upset--hungry, angry, lonely, tired--frequently does.
Remember the 50s cliché about the man who comes home from work? He yells at his wife, insults his kids, kicks the dog. He has had a bad day at work. Clearly. Were he better able to to acknowledge, embrace, and articulate his feelings, he might not be so abusive to his family.
Sensible parents think about the perspective of their children. Loving parents help their kids identify their feelings. Working with your kids to allow them to understand what they are feeling may not be as easy as solving a math problem, but it's just as satisfying and has even more long-range benefit.
Because you never know when you will need an intuitive family member to lead you out of the woods.
* What kind of dog is he?


** Hint: First determine which numbers are co-prime to 10. See if there is an easy way to add up all those numbers. Then figure out which numbers are co-prime to 100 and add up those numbers. Do the same for all the numbers co-prime to 1000; add them up. The pattern is exquisite.

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