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Your Dog is Not a Child: An Apology on Differences in Nature

I realize, from your perspective, the two might seem particularly similar. Your dog eats toilet paper. So does my daughter. You have to walk your dog daily or else he doesn’t sleep well at night. I must go on daily outings to tire out my children as well. You can’t simply leave for vacation without getting a dog-sitter. Ditto. You’ve disciplined your dog not to bark in the house. I have to discipline my children to behave as well. You have to take your dogs to the vets to get flea shots. I take my children to get Tdap shots. Your dog costs you quite a bit of money and so do my children. 

You explain this to me like these responsibilities are a medal or a certificate or a battle scar. “See,” you say. “I know what it’s like to have children. I have a high maintenance dog.”

And I am angry. Not because you are ignorant, though you are, but because everything makes me angry these days: all inaccurate speech, all loud noises, all missing shoes, all grease stains on my shirts, and elbows bumped on doorjambs, and things accidentally dropped.

Let me tell you what you are missing. You are saying that little humans are like dogs. I don’t know if I should be offended that you bring my child down to an animal’s level or that you bring your animal up to the level of a child. Or perhaps it’s the other way around completely. After all, your dog doesn’t need to be spoon fed or wiped. Perhaps then my children are the lowly creatures and yours is the exalted one because yours is so much more self sufficient.

I suppose we could list all the tasks children require and then we could list all the tasks that dogs requires, and we’d quickly see that children require more work. But what would we have accomplished through this? That dogs are easier to care for? No, it is more than a difference of degrees. It is a difference in . . . well . . . in morality, I suppose. It is the difference between being given a hundred dollars to invest and being told to become a kind person.

A dog at his very best will be obedient, a good companion, guardian, and playmate. At his very worst he will be wild, pee on the furniture, bite someone, eat all the chocolate cake, or run away. He will never jump the fence, find a gun, go into Pet-smart, and kill all the kittens and rats and pond fish. He will never shut himself in his study for hours and then discover a cure for cancer. If he ends up being particularly helpful, say cheering people up in a children’s hospital, we will marvel at his training and his trainer. We won’t believe him to be a saint for, after all, he didn’t choose that occupation. If he does jump the fence and kill the neighbor’s Chihuahuas, we won’t blame him for it or require him to go to jail though we might put him down for being wild. 

In nature when we see animals adopting other’s young or helping one another with parasites, we marvel at the preciousness or practicality of it. We don’t say, “Well, of course! That’s what animals should do.” But when a man rescues a child from a burning building or a lady collects trash on her walks, we say, “That was the right thing to do. We need more people like that.”

In nature, if a pack of lions starts to consume a baby elephant while it’s still alive, we squirm and shut our eyes, but we don’t hold those lions responsible. We say, “That’s nature.” 

We surely don’t do the same of humans. We want justice. We want accountability. And if people can’t behave properly. We lock them up or kill them.

It is the potential for great goodness and the potential for terrible wickedness that makes my children different than your dog. A good dog is one that does what you wish him to do. A good child is righteous in the sight of God.

Now place the great responsibility of raising either a saint or a criminal into the lap of a mother and you will find the weight is great indeed. It is nothing like the job of caring for a dog.

What dog can say as my son did upon seeing my hair in ponytails for the first time, “You fancy, Mama?” And then a few minutes later, shoots me with his play Tinkertoy gun. 

One day I hope to sit with my children as equals and discuss sainthood. Until then, we'll go to the zoo and look at the monkeys. 



MommaMina said…
It is a worthy and eternal work that you do Abigail. With ramifications beyond this world. Dad and I are behind you. You go fancy MOM!

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