Stay.

I have an adorable dog. She’s almost a year and a half old. COVID stole some of her prime puppy training time, which had to wait until summer when things reopened, and made it very difficult to practice being with people and out in the world in new places. We did some things…a friend created an online class, gave tips and pointers, but the only place I could practice was home for a long time…

We’ve started an intermediate obedience class last weekend and she’s working toward her Canine Good Citizen title. She’s so stinkin’ smart in some ways…and so utterly clueless in others. I can give a command and she’ll do it PERFECTLY and then the next time it’s like I’m speaking in tongues. I hear teachers gripe often about how they’ve taught how to get in line, how to go outside, how to leave the room, how to get a pencil, how to walk down the hall, how to ask to use the bathroom, and what six feet apart looks like eleventy billion times and it’s freakin’ MARCH and they still can’t do it.

That’s how I felt today in dog school.

The teacher asked that we put our dogs in a down and ask them to stay, then walk away. We’ve been working on this for over a year. She knows down. She knows down. She KNOWS down. She also knows stay. All that said, not so much with the stay today. So we have homework. That said, she was not the only one who has this homework, so I feel a little better. Everyone got the homework they needed today.

I reminded myself how I asked my kids to try again when they weren’t doing what I needed them to. Every time we went out this afternoon and evening, I asked her to try again in the same tone of voice I used with the kids. Calm and kind. It does come eventually…

So often I feel as though I’ve failed my dog completely. Being around humans is both exciting and frightening for her because COVID impacted our ability to go out in the world. There’s a lot of unknowns out there.

We have kids returning in a variety of ways this coming week. Some are coming four days a week, some two, and others are staying at home. Teachers are worried about how far apart the desks have to be and how to ensure only one child is moving at a time and how to get everyone the right supplies and not share anything and pool-noodle spacing when they’re going anywhere as a group and the even more constant “Pull your mask up” or “Put your mask on.” The fear of quarantine still hangs over us, though vaccines are happening and we’re trying so hard to be careful. Some days, it’s fighting a losing battle and you’re repeating yourself a hojillion times and you get so frustrated that they just won’t listen…

I want to remind all of us who are going through this to remember that this is scary for the kids, too. Many have gone a year without seeing friends without a screen between them. Some have only seen their parents and the Amazon delivery driver or Instacart deliverer. Others have only been allowed to venture as far as the backyard but only if none of the neighbors are outside in theirs. Still others have watched family members get sick and recover, or get sick and not come home at all. And some have heard at home how this is all a hoax and not true at all and we’re overreacting. Parents have tried to protect their kids, both from the virus and the news because that just makes things worse. All of them will be anxious (whether they can put words to it or not) and will show it in a hundred different ways. They want to do well, please their teachers, please their families, follow the rules, be with their friends, learn new things, see their friends and play together. Grant them grace and treat them with kindness and compassion.

We’re adults and the last year has sucked for us. We’re over the distancing, not seeing our own tribe, masks, maskne, hand washing, and cleaning protocols. Imagine what it’s like to be a kid and have your life just stop and everything change. They’ll learn…eventually. But give them the chance to try again as often as they need it… They know that this isn’t what school should look like…and they know we don’t like it either. Yet, we stay. Because while we may not get a high-value treat immediately after doing all of this, it will be worth it in the end.

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