[This post submitted for Montessori Monday 9/17/12 on Living Montessori Now.]
I have written occasionally about our magnificent dog in the past. My family of origin was a cat family. I think there were some other pets that were a part of the family that existed before I was born (Mom Dad sister brother . . . that was for eight years before I came along!), but in the family I was a part of (Mom stepdad sister and brother for awhile until they went to college), it was cats all the way. Their low maintenance attitudes and aloofness seemed to suit the general demeanor of our family members.
But then, three (astonishly) long years ago, we got a puppy. Let me tell you about her background a little. Puppy (formally named Pepper) is a mutt. We know both of her parents, but aren't sure about their breeds, and it's certainly nothing pure! Pepper's mom is a fighter of a dog named Topper. Topper appeared one sweltering summer afternoon at the camp where I spent a huge and important part of my young adulthood. The camp has a strict no-animals policy (health code violations etc), but this particular dog stole the heart of my co-worker Julie. Topper was an excessively energetic jumper, and she looked like some kind of a hound - tight ears pulled back, sleek brown/black coat. Julie took her into her home. Topper became pregnant by the neighbor dog (a huge fluffy blonde lab-looking hunk . . . I might have fallen prey to him too, were I an unsuspecting young gal-dog) within six months, and had an unusually large litter of seven pups. Pepper was the only girl. Jeff prefers to have female pets, so when the offer was made for us to take one of these puppies, we went for that one. Here she is on the ride home:
This camp is in an area of the country that is extremely rural and poor, and lacks animal control services. We knew that not all of those puppies would have a fighting chance, and indeed, all of them but two perished within the first year. Topper nearly lost her life as well, as the seven puppies taxed her beyond her ability to nurse them. They were weaned early so that she wouldn't die.
Pepper was not an easy pup to raise. She refused to become housebroken and peed and pooped inside for nearly a year. Jeff and I hosed off the plastic liner of her crate on a twice-daily basis for months. You know the popular wisdom that proclaims that dogs won't play in their own feces? Somehow Pepper missed that message. She delighted in pooping, then stepping and rolling in it.
Magically, when we moved from Nashville to Topeka, she stopped. I guess she grew up or something. But she was still our baby. She slept tucked into bed right between us and needed our constant attention and presence to feel secure.
And then we had the baby.
Pepper was fairly well traumatized by the arrival of Vicki Jo. She has never, ever been aggressive or angry toward her. But she was clearly hurt and confused when we came home from the hospital. There was a huge thunderstorm the night we arrived home, and she defecated in her crate for the first time in a year. She could tell from the very beginning that she was being displaced.
She was kicked out of the bed when we decided that we would sleep together as a family. She started chewing napkins and paper towels that we left out. She became antsy and nervous, pacing often and skipping meals for days at a time.
She has slowly warmed toward Vicki Jo. She likes to get as close as possible to the two of us, inserting herself between us if she can:
The baby loves the dog. She loves touching and grabbing her silky ears. She loves feeling her paw pads and claws. She loves when the dog licks her face and mouth, giggling with delight.
And I love knowing that Vicki Jo will grow up with a loyal companion who cares about her happiness and security. I love that she has a real dog.
See, Maria Montessori thought that children needed reality as opposed to fantasy. They need real, tactile work to make them feel valued and necessary. Therefore, representations are to be as lifelike as possible. For instance, you would want this picture of a dog:
as opposed to this one:
The first one is real, while the second one is a kind of stylized interpretation of a dog.
But even better than a realistic picture is . . . a real dog! Vicki Jo will have a flesh-and-blood understanding of what a dog is. She will be able to help participate in the care and grooming of the dog, as she is ready. This is an invaluable chance to learn skills, as well as developing a close relationship with an animal.
So, I hope Pup is in it for the long haul. She has been warming up, although she still seems confused about the whole baby business. I'm confident that she will love the endless energy and playfulness that the years to come hold for her and Vicki Jo.