Praying for perspective: Learn one for the Gipper

Whether doggie day school or kids in college, teaching done right is a blessing to behold

By George Valadie

Have you ever sworn that you would never do something? I don’t mean the bad stuff or the real important—like breaking vows or committing sins. I mean the everyday stuff.

Have you ever pledged to yourself to avoid that thing — whatever it is — that others have readily embraced as a part of their 21st century lives?

For instance, I knew someone years ago who swore he would never get a smartphone. Just wasn’t going to do it. He couldn’t see what the hoopla was all about nor could he envision that he or his family would ever have that sort of need.

Actually, that was me before we bought the first of our family’s five smartphones that have since become 25 phones as we each have continued to buy the latest and greatest.

There have been other such futile declarations.

I also swore that none of my daughters would ever stay out past midnight on a date. Nothing good happens out there then. Didn’t matter what the other girls were getting to do or what their parents thought or how responsible their young man was.

It sounded good when I said it.

Turns out, I can recall all sorts of other words I’ve uttered that have tasted similarly bitter while going down.

“I’ll never pay someone to fertilize our yard.”

“What’s wrong with my white tennis shoes? I’m not ever buying a pair with all those colors all over them!”

“No way! Dog insurance? You’re not serious, are you?”

You get the idea. Not the important stuff, just the everyday stuff.

Well, now I’m here again — recanting yet one more oath I had made to myself.

Just recently, I wrote about our dogs. Maggie, moving ever more slowly, is the elder of our canine clan and was a doll from the first moment, one of the best-behaved puppies I’ve ever seen.

House-trained in less than a week, crate trained in a single attempt, she slept all night, never chewed on the first shoe, never let out the first angry bark.

After Charlie recently passed away, we acquired Gipper, who has become the perfect pesky little brother in every sense of the word.

So far, he is taking up right where Charlie left off: not mastering much of anything as yet. He chews and he bites; he prefers to potty inside rather than out; and he’s just a few more inches — and one inattentive parent away — from leaping into the middle of the kitchen table.

Which brings us back to where we began.

As much as I swore I’d never do this (again), I enrolled him in puppy obedience school — emphasis on the obedience part.

It comes with a good amount of guilt though as I’ve always said I just couldn’t bring myself to spend our hard-earned money to get one of our animals to behave — since I didn’t do the same for our kids. But here I am. And here we are.

As I said, it’s not my first try at this. I had taken Charlie when he was a puppy. I’m better prepared this time, but I had no idea what to expect back then. Turns out, our first day of doggie school proved to be much like the first day of any other school.

As we all arrived, I recall being flooded with memories of our youngest daughter, Sarah, and her first days of kindergarten. Just as she had been, Charlie was similarly anxious about what awaited inside, so much so, that I had to carry him in, too.

He met the girls in the class — Abby and Margaret and Pattycake. There were a couple of guys, too: Rocky and Georgie; and the ones with the class-clown names, Smokey and Tuna.

There was a little crying by some. Bold strutting by others. And yes, there were some bathroom mistakes as well.

Like any good teacher on the first day, our instructor was great at cooing and coddling and bragging on each of her new little students — none taller than the top of your socks.

As she moved from new skill to new skill, she took turns calling on different pups to come to the center and help her demonstrate.

Until it was Charlie’s turn. “Do you think he’ll come with me?” she asked. “Sure,” I replied, “if you think you can wake him up.” And there he was — just like Sarah so many years ago — sound asleep at school while everyone else was an explosion of curiosity.

As she had with all the others, Miss Donna tugged on his leash to urge him forward to center stage. But unlike all the others, he just rolled over on his back, feet up in the air, and I swear he rolled his eyes, confirming my belief that the class valedictorian most likely belonged to some other owner in the room.

Though on a much different scale, the early days of a “people” school year tend to be very similar — no matter their age.

There are new faces in new classes. Some boldly waltz right into the middle of the group while some hang out on the fringe, not sure about the peers they don’t know — mostly not sure about themselves.

There will be boys and girls and class clowns. Some will vie for valedictorian, some will roll their eyes, and I’m 100 percent certain there will be a nap or two at the most inopportune of times.

But I’m equally certain that these students — the human ones — will leave far, far different than when they arrived. The little ones will learn how letters make words while the big kids learn how matter makes molecules. Phonics to physics and everything in between.

It’s easy to criticize teachers and schools and what doesn’t happen there. But it’s much easier to forget how much actually does. And how far our kids will come — in body, mind, and soul — from those first few days when a really good day was just watching them walk in to school all on their own.

I just hope it works for Gipper. That boy can jump!

Dear God, no one needs our prayers — and your help — more than the people who work with our children. Help them do the best they can — with those we send them. Amen.


George Valadie is the president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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