On Thursday, when I picked him up at Thurgood Marshall High School, Zane’s teacher, Ms. Simmons, mentioned, “He was supposed to hand in an assignment on what his family values are, and where he got those values, but he told me he forgot it on your porch.”
Next stop was St. John’s School, in Glen Park, and as I unloaded the cleats and cones to get ready for soccer practice, Ms. Munoz, Aidan’s sixth-grade teacher, waved me down. “Aidan still owes me the math assignment, social studies, vocabulary chapters and religion.”
Now, whereas Zane at least had the sense to look shamefaced, Aidan actually smirked as he said, “Dad, it’s on the same porch.”
Our housekeeping standards are lousy, and the porch is the greatest of all possible disasters, and so when we drove back to the outer, outer, outer Excelsior, I gave them a chance to find their respective homework assignments underneath the soccer cleats, Legos, snorkels and Simpsons comic books. No such luck. The only actual credit that Aidan got for any homework this week was bringing in Krypto for the annual Blessing of the Animals.
“You have three dogs. Can’t you ever just say they ate your homework?” Sigh. “Bring your backpacks into the kitchen. Time to do homework.”
Zane played the I’m-special-ed-I-shouldn’t-have-to-do-homework gambit, but he knew the jig was up. He grabbed a pencil and some paper and sat. Aidan, however, howled. He slammed his backpack down and screamed out the window, “Call the police! I know for certain that no other boy in my class EVER has to redo homework.”
But as the boys gathered in the kitchen, so did the dogs. Buddyboy and Krypto wagging their tails furiously. I’ve mentioned before that Bandit’s front paws don’t work so well, but one of the side effects of that is that he never did learn how to wag his tail. When he gets excited, he stands on his back two feet, his tongue flapping, batting his front paws and flicking his tail once or twice as if he can’t really get the rhythm of it.
Bandit settled down, as he usually does, on Zane’s feet. Aidan was not about to be abated in his tantrum, “Why do they look so happy?”
“Because they’re dogs. It’s their job.”
As I handed each of the hounds a bit of bacon, Aidan, still not computing the least common denominator, said, “I think you like those dogs better than me.”
“No, Aidan, I just love them differently.” Seven dogs have lived in the blue bungalow (and if you count all of the puppies, 21). Five foster children. And, yes, Papa and I have loved every one of them, fiercely, but all things considered the human children have given us a lot more heartbreak than the canines.
So here are just a few reasons from the Fisher-Paulson perspective why dogs are better than children:
1. Buddyboy never tells me what the families of other dogs do.
2. Bandit has never barked, “You’re not my real father. My real father is black.”
3. Even if I don’t give the dogs ice cream for dinner, they still love me.
4. None of the dogs tell me that they have to have a Nike or an Adidas collar, that they can’t possible be seen in McLaren Park with an old leash.
5. I don’t have to save up money for Krypto to go to college.
6. Bandit doesn’t set off the fire alarm in church.
7. Buddyboy doesn’t demand to stay up until “The Voice” is over.
8. All three of the dogs finish their homework on time, and they never claim that a human ate it.
Zane shrugged, drawing cartoons on the edges of his filler paper. But Aidan countered, “Well, here’s the thing. Zane and I don’t bark at 3 in the morning. AND we don’t pee on the floor.”
It’s not always a teachable moment. Aidan still refused to write down 10 facts about St. Francis of Assisi, but Zane by then had finished his essay. Here’s the last line: “Yes, yes, values: hard work, commitment trust, loving the dogs, all good things but the most important my Daddy ever taught me was humor. And sarcasm. I remember when Grandpa Harold died, the funeral director said that our family had the loudest wake he had ever heard.”
We might never know the antonym of mimic, or the difference between a Mercator and a conic projection. But we do have our values: We don’t clean the porch. We get the animals blessed. We feed the dogs bacon. And we laugh. LOUD.
Kevin Fisher-Paulson’s column appears Wednesdays in Datebook. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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