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All I need to know about raising kids I learned from my golden retriever

January 12, 2011
While bathing Harry, a dandie dinmont terrier, the other day, I noticed some dingleberries caught in the hair under his tail. Dingleberries aren’t uncommon among dogs, particularly elderly ones. While carefully removing the feces with my fingers, I marveled at how nonchalantly I can perform this task. My indifference to picking poop off a dog’s butt stands in stark contrast with wiping poop from a six-year-old child’s rear end, which incidentally, I do most Monday afternoons–quite unsuccessfully, I might add. 

I suppose if I, like Harry, was old and oblongly-shaped, I might have dingleberries, too.

I’m an only child. Instead of younger siblings, I grew up around dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, and (briefly) a python named Irma from Burma. I totally thought the Baby-sitter’s Club books were the shizzle when I was eight, but by the time I was actually old enough to be left alone with them, I’d decided that kids weren’t really my thing. As the years progressed, so did my aversion. It wasn’t that I disliked children, exactly–it was that I had absolutely no idea what to do with them, and no real desire to learn.

Yet through some strange twist of fate, I landed a weekly babysitting gig back in August when my friends needed someone to watch their son (who, for purposes of privacy, I shall call Samuel) for a few hours after school on Mondays. Knowing that I was out of work, they asked if I’d be interested. Samuel is six, has severe autism, expressive aphasia, and some serious sensory integration issues. Of course, I said yes–never mind that, to this day, I’ve never changed a diaper, tended to a scraped knee, or even opened a juice box for a child. Hey, you have to start somewhere, right?

In the five months since we started hanging out, I’ve come to realize that babysitting Samuel isn’t that different from watching my own dogs. Case in point: Connor and Bailey spend hours playing fetch, while Samuel spends hours sending his stuffed elephant, Nellie, down the sliding board. All three love to swim, sit on my lap, and ride in the car. Also? They are all mildly obsessed with balls.

One day when Jenn was home, I brought Samuel over for a visit. Putting a bowl of blueberries and a glass of juice on the table, I called him in from the living room. “Samuel, come here, buddy,” I said, clicking my tongue. “Are you hungry?”

Jenn popped her head around the corner as Samuel–and both dogs–came trotting over. “Oh, my God!” she exclaimed. “Did you just click your tongue at him?” “Um,” I stammered. “Maybe?” “I don’t believe you!” she said. “HE ISN’T A HORSE, VICKY.” “Well, obviously,” I huffed. “But it works. See, all three of them came.” Jenn threw up her hands in exasperation. “You are seriously a menace,” she said.

Perhaps, but thus far, my treat-the-kid-like-I-do-the-dogs strategy is working for me in every circumstance except potty breaks. For whatever reason, I can pull tapeworms out of a dog’s anus without batting an eye, but ask me to clean up after Samuel’s bowel movements and I’m rendered helpless. Apparently, human poop is my kryptonite. The first time Samuel went for me, I puked into the sink. The second time it happened, I managed to get him cleaned up before dashing out the back door and vomiting into the flower bed. It doesn’t help that he insists on closing the door every time he goes. Or that the sound of the exhaust fan freaks him out. At one point, he suffered from some pretty severe constipation, and I was temporarily off the hook until I discovered a cure to his blockage: my bathroom. For reasons I cannot explain, the kid loves nothing more than to poop in my toilet. Most recently, he locked himself in my bathroom for 40 minutes while I washed dishes, watered the plants, made the bed, folded laundry, and dusted the living room. Every so often, I’d ask him if everything was okay, to which he’d reply with a cheerful, “Yeh!” When he finally finished, it smelled so bad that I couldn’t even stand in the hallway without gagging. To make matters worse, I couldn’t find our baby wipes. After several failed attempts that only resulted in my retching into the sink, Samuel got fed up and ran into the living room, his bare bottom making a beeline for the leather sofa. “Gah!” I cried, stumbling after him. “Wait!” After spraying enough lavender to choke an aroma therapist, I managed to get him cleaned up, at which point he looked up at me with his beautiful brown eyes and asked for a cookie.

I thought about Samuel yesterday as I scrubbed Harry’s crusty butt. Henceforth, I told myself, I shall think only of doggy dingleberries while tending to Samuel post-poop. I shall think of tapeworms and anal glands and dirty litter boxes and hair balls. And in case that doesn’t work, I’ll start carrying alcohol swabs in my pocket. You know, to help with the gagging.

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