Mom used to joke: “You’d better learn humility along the way. Because if you don’t, your kids will gladly teach it to you.”
She was, as most mothers are, exactly correct. In the course of my own journey as a parent, I have had many a red-faced moment at the hand of one of my delightful girls, such as the time I attempted to get our middle-button into the movies for a reduced-price ticket, citing her age as younger than it really was.
“Oh, No, Daddy!” She corrected at the top of her voice in the theater lobby, for all other patrons to hear. “Don’t you remember my last birthday when I turned five instead of still being four?!?!”
Burning under the gaze of the other moviegoers, I quickly ponied up the extra buck or two that I was attempting to save and scuttled her through the door.
The funny thing is, I’ve discovered that Mom’s truism applies to both my two-legged kids and my four-legged ones.
I learned this lesson early in my years of dog ownership with Wesley, our Black Labrador Retriever. Wes was a terrific dog, but he had a stubborn streak that made him fiercely independent. We enrolled him in obedience training out of sheer necessity – as a pup, he was tearing our house and was very close to the D-day of either improving his behavior wholesale or finding himself shipped to another home. Fortunately, he got the training he needed to stay with us, but shepherding him through his class work was a steady and constant challenge.
Some of our obedience exercises involved off-leash work, and just about the time Wesley lured me into a false sense of security that I could trust him untethered, he would dart off on a spree as soon as I unclipped him.
Many classes had me feeling the sting of humility, chasing him through our instructor’s neighborhood in an attempt to get him back under control.
Ah, Wes. You were a son-of-a-gun. He’s gone now; lost to a cancerous tumor at age 10, but his cantankerousness made him a true character.
And a lesson in humility.
Parker, our current Lab, isn’t nearly as headstrong. His temperament is much more easy-going than Wesley’s. Which doesn’t mean I can leave my guard down.
Our obedience classes address all kinds of goals, ranging from everyday good behavior to showing in American Kennel Club (AKC) obedience competitions. When a dog-and-handler team distinguish itself in an obedience ring by earning a title (an official recognition of achievement), we celebrate that accomplishment.
It’s called Brag Night.
You should be able to see already how such moxie can be fraught with danger.
Brag Night involves not only the announcement of the accolades for the admiration of all but also a snack provided by the beaming owner. Treats range from simple cookies to elaborate cakes and sometimes even champagne, depending on the honors being feted. Often, too, there are dog cookies (homemade, of course) distributed to canine colleagues.
Last summer, Parker and I earned a Rally Novice title. The process involved participation in three separate dog shows, earning a qualifying score on a variety of exercises, as judged by an AKC-approved authority.
I was over the moon about this accomplishment; Wesley had earned his share of AKC titles, but not at such a young age (Parker was just over a year old).
I couldn’t wait for Brag Night. Cue the ominous music here.
On the day of his big celebration, Kristin, our youngest, asked if she could dig out a recipe she’d been eager to try and whip up a batch of red velvet cupcakes for the class. I gave her the green light, and she had a blast mixing, baking and decorating.
On our big night, I tucked Parker into the back of my car and placed two trays of cupcakes — each holding a dozen — inside, one on the seat and one on the floor. Parker’s position was assured by a metal grate I installed for just that purpose. Blocked by a set of horizontal bars, he rode safely behind me, posing no risk of jumping in my lap as I drove or startling me with an unexpected on-road kiss in the ear.
The cupcakes, by virtue of being up front with me, were safe. Weren’t they?
I pulled into our instructor’s driveway and parked. Juggling the sweets required two trips. I grabbed the tray from the passenger seat and exited the car.
It could not have been more than ten seconds that the car was vacated.
And in that one-sixth of a minute, Parker, compelled, I guess, by the scent, managed to wriggle his way through the grate and vault into the front seat. Once there, he scarfed down 12 red velvet cupcakes.
In about ten seconds.
I placed my tray on a nearby table and turned back to the car to get the second tray…
And saw a happy Yellow Labrador Retriever in the passenger seat of my car, eagerly licking his chops of red crumbs.
I squinted, to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing.
“Oh no, no, no, no, no!”
I jogged to the car. Parker’s tail thumped against the windshield: “Hi Dad!” he greeted.
I looked at the floor and saw and empty tray and a sheet of waxed paper that had been casually nosed aside.
So Parker’s Big Night of Brags turned out to be less than he expected. A cell phone call to the vet confirmed what I suspected: that there was probably not enough chocolate in the recipe to cause a serious health threat (chocolate being toxic to dogs) but that it wasn’t worth the risk. So we administered a few tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide, cleared the decks, and let Parker eject his ill-gotten gains.
I took him home. He was a little unsteady on his feet — something like a fratboy who’d gotten sick at a kegger — but none worse for the wear.