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Mom Explained Pets—And Everything Else

Partly through animals, Mom taught me about how to better live my life.

I was only 9.

I was a boy—a "hyper-active" boy. My tricycle was chosen because it had a handle that attached to its trunk, which my parents could grab to redirect me from driving off curbs or into other people.

Earlier, at age 4, I wore lederhosen that had a built-in leash, so my parents could prevent my urges to run away or jump or attack something.

Polite people observed sweetly, "He's a handfull."

These days I would have had a label like A.D.H.D., too, considering I couldn't focus on other people very long. I was extremely inner-directed, what might be more appropriately termed self-centered.

Our neighbors, watching me fry ants with a magnifying glass, hearing me endlessly popping gunpowder caps with a brick, or shooting my air rifle with tireless tenacity, would have probably called me evil.

One term neighbors used was "Little Donnie Do-Nothing." While most of the kids on our street were already in clubs and hobby groups, I was more frequently experimenting with matches and a can of Raid. (It shoots flames like a flame-thrower.)

I was an evil boy at 9.

I was one of those boys ignited with nuclear power, shooting from bed, like a kid hopping off the end of a slide. I was fully awake by 5 or 6 each morning, much to the agony of my sleepy brother.

I was one of those children who was so packed with adrenalin and lightning that I never wanted to go to bed at night, unless I had chores or homework to complete, which always made me sleepy.

I was the type of boy who had to be reminded that other people were real and had feelings, and I couldn’t push them, hit them, grab them, or order them around. I wasn’t inherently sensitive. In fact, I was kind of an idiot (without any savant). I was simply unaware of the needs or feelings of others.

I had no magical grasp of numbers, if I dropped a box of toothpicks or playing cards. There was no inherent intuition about the feelings of others. I needed to be told, carefully instructed by my loving mother to be conscious of the world around me.

Because I was not.

1.)  When I hooked my pug dog up to a wagon, so I could ride a wagon down the street like my neighborhood friends with their dogs pulling their wagons: “Don, you can’t hook your pug to a wagon. She’s not a big dog. Her little pug heart won’t take it. Please think things through!”

  • I unhooked my dog, Chica, and kissed her.
  • Chica kissed me back and sat down and watched me.

2.)  When I found frogs in a pond in Maine, and I began tossing them through the air. Mom grabbed me by the hair and pulled hard.

“Does that hurt? Does it? That’s because you are a living thing. Mistreatment hurts. That frog is a living thing, too. And your mistreatment hurts him!”

  • I apologized to the frog and set it down, where it leaped back to the water.
  • I said a prayer for all the frogs in Maine. “I will never cause you pain again.”
  • When my school biology class offered the “Weak of heart” to leave before the dissection of frogs, I stood up and told the professor: “My mother once told me frogs are living things. Do you believe a frog is a living thing, sir?”
  • I was tossed from class. Of course frogs were living things. We were going to kill them, right? We had to repeat the dissection to learn. It's the scientific method to duplicate procedures and find the same results. But I had arisen from the realm of unconscious and mean, thanks to Mom, and I'm dissecting that for you now. Frogs, given my change in perspective, were for saving.

3.)  At night, I wanted my dog to go to bed with me.

  • I kept pulling her off her bed and holding her tightly next to me, so she wouldn’t run away. But I always lost control of her, as I’d start to doze off.
  • Mom wisely suggested, “If you want to be cuddled and loved, use treats and affection. But don’t put your dog in jail!”
  • Each night I gave Chica some treats after she came up to my bed. Then I’d pet her and scratch behind her ears and under her collar. She’d relax and snuggle. Then she’d hop down and go back to her own bed.
  • One morning, I woke up to her snubbed snout, with its sniffles and snorts,  snuggled into my pillow. I remember the rush of delight at her asthmatic huffs and puffs so close to me.
  • I remember my initial fear and subsequent delight as she had a doggy dream, shivering and shaking in short fits with a soundtrack of slight cries and stifled “Woof! Woof!” thrown in.
  • There was the sweet rush of love for my little dog, relaxed and surrendered to the deepest sleep, harbored against my side, anchored by a paw touching this 9-year-old boy.
  • And that’s how it went until Chica died. 

Thanks, Mom.

Cathy Flynn May 10, 2011 at 05:19 PM
What a sweet story, Don. You're an inspiration to all mothers of hyper 9-year old boys.
Don Helverson May 11, 2011 at 04:11 AM
Keep the faith! And when the 9-year-old turns ... 29 or so ... love and great things will come from that nurturing.
AnnMarie Baranik May 11, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I have that little boy! I always feel sorry for the pets!!!

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