In the fall I did a lot of research targeted toward “moms of tweens” or “moms of grade schoolers.” The thought of inheriting this label as an assumed identity is one of the dozens of reasons I fear ever having kids. I have the utmost respect for women who are committed to nurturing children and raising them to be respectable adults, but the idea of my identity fitting into a category based on my child’s stage of life threatens the young, adventurous, ambitious labels I’m so attached to, much less my skinny, single and independent ones. I wouldn’t be so adamantly opposed to the notion of distant, future, far off, eventual motherhood if I didn’t have Nugget, who doubles as a child and boyfriend figure, and today I realized my official “small dog owner” status puts me dangerously close to the “moms of preschoolers” circle.
The mom audience isn’t as offensive as I’ve implied; it makes sense to say the least. Although this group has changed drastically over the years in terms of responsibilities, expectations, daily routines, and the like, moms of similarly-aged children will always have similar tendencies. For example, today’s mom of school-aged children has to be in-the-know about online games and websites. They have to protect their children while teaching them working computer and Internet skills, while my mom had only Tamagotchi’s and AOL instant messenger to worry about.
At the very least dog mommy’s can relate to potty training, whispering or spelling keywords (treat, park, walk), being abruptly woken up early on weekends, and finding a babysitter. In addition, I have to assume that when moms drop their youngin’s off at preschool they create the same scenarios I’m exposed to at the dog park. Although I’ve never witnessed it firsthand, I can guarantee they get their points across through baby talk. Just like moms in my restaurant say, “Are you going to tell the nice lady thank you,” to their toddler who has no intention of doing so, or passive aggressively asking, “Did you want to ask the pretty waitress for some ketchup for your nuggets,” instead of flat out admitting they need ketchup for their own fries, small dog owners speak to strangers through conversations with their dogs initially, and I’m the only person who seems uncomfortable enough to express my concern.
When our dogs’ standard fanny-sniffing encounter on the sidewalk lasts more than ten seconds, we whatever-size dog owners initiate the inevitable Q&A: breed, age, name and compliment. If the sniffing rolls over into friendly play we dive into more technical conversation about how and where we acquired our little best friends. Rarely, if ever, does the dog owner convo work its way into any exchange of human info. We jump from conversation about our pups to conversation with our pups to avoid officially meeting. It’s the most unnatural yet completely familiar routine. Even when we re-meet the same dogs that clearly live on our street, we owners avoid developing even an acquaintance.
The mere fact that I venture to the small dog park in spite of my discomfort with this recurrence demonstrates my love for Nugget, and my need for him to love his new home. I fight the daily guilt of leaving him in my bomb-shelter-sized studio while I work and attempt to make up for it with sufficient active time outdoors, wondering all the while if he’s even capable of resentment. I dread the human interaction, though. If we go during normal working adults’ career time (especially if it’s just snowed) we get the spot to ourselves, and Nug has just as much fun running after a ball with just me. He’s rather anti-social so he probably prefers these days as much as I do. But when mommy doesn’t get moving on her days off ‘til 5-ish (see the passive puppy talk maneuver?), we have to share our fun with the other tikes.
Today proved the ultimate preschool-dog park parallel. First, Nugget is just like a shy child on their first few weeks at a new school. He can’t foresee that he’ll eventually have fun so he runs back to my lap or repeatedly jumps at my side every 15 seconds, but he can tell this place was intended for him so he digs deep for the courage to give other dogs a chance every few minutes. Once he’s realized I’m not abandoning him he prances around like he owns the place. I find he judges dogs right away too. He remembers who’s mean and who humps and who’s a pushover with their toys. He’ll target the same innocent dog that’ll give their ball up without a fight and he leaps and runs from the hump-ers when they so much as look at him. Predictably, he much prefers meeting the other owners than fraternizing with their pets, because he genuinely needs humans to know he loves them. Nugget is partial to boys and loves meeting new ones who are open to face-licking and beard-nibbling. He has no loyalty.
Then the owner cliches began far too soon. Every dog park goer knows who they are. There’s always the owner who conducts business on their phone the whole time, the owners who are completely immersed in playing and running with the dogs as if they are one of them, the old lady who is responsible for up to four of the dogs, and the talker: the owner who legitimately came to be heard. They’ll make comments like “Look how Upper East Side this is?” just because we all have small dogs. She made herself known immediately. This person is probably the talker in any life scenario, or the know-it-all, and the other characters probably resemble the categories parents of preschoolers fall into, but this girl was a prime example. She inadvertently spoke to all of us through a conversation with her dog the whole time. It began with simple, typical comments like, “That other puppy is cute isn’t he? He has a lot of energy!” then progressed to more awkward remarks swaying on the offensive border like, “He looks like a rescue dog, doesn’t he?” or “They don’t wear cute booties like you, do they?”
Why does the puppy talk intended for human ears always end in a question? Just like you can’t answer that blog question, the dog cannot understand or respond, nor is there any way he cares. This chick eventually had the audacity to venture into political and/or moral views through the never-ending conversation with Snickers, or whatever his name was. I can tolerate the initial puppy talk, like when people say, “You love your mommy, don’t you?” to Nugget when he won’t let them hold him. That’s a way around admitting they feel rejected, and rightly so. But we didn’t come to the dog park to have your views put on the table, ma’am. Here’s what ensued between her and the guy who was playing with all the dogs, and desperately trying to end her puppy conversation.
The player: “Oh no, don’t hump my dog! He’s a boy too, silly!” (Subtle and polite)
The talker: “We don’t discriminate! We can love boys or girls. It’s a new day and age.”
The player: (Awkward pause) “Oh okay, times have changed I guess, huh Rigsby?”
The talker: “Rigsby, huh? Well I think we like you even if you are a boy. We are open to anything.”
[The player gives up, because what do you know? Wrong time. Wrong place for this debate.]
The talker: “We’re progressive aren’t we little guy? You’re a progressive puppy!”
Me: (Awkward shock and disbelief. The talker went too far, and now her dog thinks it’s okay to hump mine.) “Okay, Nugget. That was fun, say bye now.”
Moments later Nugget sat in my lap while I read on a bench outside the laundromat. A girl walked by and pet him in a fit of laughter. “I thought he was a stuffed animal!” she admitted. “I was thinking, ‘Now, I’ve seen it all.” I thought, she’s obviously not a small dog owner, because she spoke to me instead of Nugget, and you haven’t seen it all if you haven’t witnessed a dog park as a platform for gay rights advocation. And like a mother of a human tike I’d say let’s let the kids be kids and talk about that elsewhere…to each other’s faces. But I’d be willing to bet she was proud to stand up for her beliefs through baby talk to her dog. “To each his own, right Nugget? Tell the nice lady you’re fixed and not interested, ok?”