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What Our Pets and Little Ones Can Teach Us

Personal Perspective: Animals and children naturally live in joy and gratitude.

Key points

  • We can learn so much from interacting with children and animals.
  • Common activities seen through the eyes of little ones and furry ones can give us great joy.
  • Watching a baby sleep might provide great peace.
  • Our gratitude can grow through seeing mundane objects with a new pair of eyes.

Animals and children naturally live in joyfulness and gratitude. I see this in my dog, Molly, and my four grandchildren: Ezra, Rose, Cole, and Dylan. Certainly, I am grateful every day that I awaken (and awaken in good health), yet if I am honest, I can easily give in to frustrations, and my grateful lists slowly fade into the background of my daily life.

When, as adults, do we learn to wake up with discomfort, anticipating the day ahead? Why can’t we just wag our proverbial tails and enjoy what is to come without dreading what might come? (Oh, I have that meeting today; I don’t want to have lunch with my boss; so many phone calls to return!). Why can’t we just jump out of bed, roll on the floor (like Molly) and hug our teddy bears (like Cole) with the unbridled thrill of just being?

At times of darkness, I embarrassingly remind myself to recalibrate and return to gratitude. My little ones and my furry one wake up intuitively expecting a marvelous day, and they help guide me back to appreciating simple pleasures.

Cole's first dandelion
Source: bjaffe/blogger

Molly’s soul-searching black, almond-shaped eyes communicate her pleasure in sharing her days with us, her humans. Molly only needs to see us every morning and her day is complete. She appears to be sleeping, yet I ask the unnecessary question, “Do you want to go for a walk?”

Immediately, her long brush-like white, black and brown tail wags with utter joy. She doesn’t complain about being jostled awake by my loud voice. She lives in a constant state of natural gratitude for rescuing her and taking her home on that one amazing day in September 2019.

On one of our walks, Molly found a child’s pink Native shoe on the ledge of a brick wall. Its owner was probably just learning to walk. I have always wondered what happens when the baby’s bare foot is realized, and the adult knows there must be a new shoe purchase in his/her future. But Molly knew none of this potential back story, only that this object was so interesting, sniffing to define for herself the explanation of the lone rubber shoe.

I saw the little pink shoe for the first time through Molly’s eyes. She had no worries like the parents of the baby who must purchase another pair. Molly just found that the mini pink shoe smelled delicious, and she was grateful to have this excitement on her daily walk.

The exciting pink shoe
Source: bjaffe/blogger

And then, there was a Halloween dog skeleton stuck deep into our neighbor’s grass. Every day, Molly excitedly visited it to check on the new and exciting smells. Perhaps other eager dogs had frequented it as well.

As an adult and a non-dog, I was enthralled by the entire skeleton display of so many figures, but after the first couple of viewings, the Halloween scene became mundane. Yet the skeleton village was never commonplace for dear Molly. She was equally as enthusiastic and appreciative to see the skeleton dog on every walk, reminding me, once again, to stop and really look around.

Molly with her favorite skeleton dog
Source: bjaffe/blogger

Ezzie, Rose, and I often walk down our street when they come to visit. I am careful not to trip over the huge sidewalk cracks from the old trees whose roots have raised the cement several inches. Yet, they see the raised concrete as their mountains to climb.

“Can we run over them again, Nana?” Rose asked. As we walked further down our tree-lined street, they ran with glee to see "their rock," which is near the bushes of a neighbor’s front lawn. It’s a giant gray boulder, but to them, it’s always "their rock." It’s so simple, something I might glance at as I walk by but never choose to sit on.

Ezzie on his "boulder throne"
Source: bjaffe/blogger

Our neighbors love the children’s excitement and welcome our invasion into their front yard. It is now a tradition for me to take pictures every time Ezzie and Rose encounter their favorite "gemstone." How grateful they are for cracks that become mountains and boulders that become thrones, all of which I can easily overlook without their gentle guidance.

And, then, there is the bath. I took baths as a little girl, but it has been decades since I luxuriated in a bathtub and even longer since I played in one with bubbles. I get into the shower and out quickly, concerned about conserving water with a longer shower, so I get in and get out.

Bath time for Cole
Source: bjaffe/blogger

Three-year-old Cole is gently corralled into his bathroom with the promise of a bubble bath. Such glee he feels as his toy cars, rubber ducks, and all sorts of plastic wildlife submerge and disappear into fluffy whiteness. Life doesn’t get much better than this–watching him play with the soap foam until it begins to melt and the heat of the water disappears as Cole feels his first little shiver.

“Time to get out,” I say. The fun of the bath is over, but his night has so much more excitement: pajama time, books, and cuddles with Mama Bear. I sing “Skidamarink” to him and rub his back as I did to his father over 35 years ago. Cole is joyful in his nightly routine, and I reflect on my good fortune to sing this song to another generation.

Dylan in dreamland
Source: BJaffe/blogger

Cole’s brother Dylan sleeps peacefully in his crib. At four months old, I can only assume he is dreaming while he is growing by the second. He might not know what he is grateful for, yet watching him sleep, I have a lump in my throat knowing that life is complete as I watch this pure, loving, sleeping soul.

“I love pink.” “I love dolls.” These are sentences that I never heard when raising my three sons, yet, here is almost six-year-old Rose verbalizing these six incredibly beautiful words.

I bought a doll that looked like Rose, and I was grateful to have given it to her. This week, she Facetimed me so I could watch her brush her doll’s hair. How much better can life get? Such an inconsequential act, yet it is everything.

Rose and her baby doll--pink!!
Source: bjaffe/blogger

When I am with those filled with wonder, I am reminded to really look at what's in front of me–at the rocks and decorations, I pass along my walk, at the cracks that become mountains. I try to remember to take time to enjoy my shower (or even a potential bath, one day); to wake up feeling wonderful for absolutely no reason. I hug Molly and my four grandchildren with such gratitude, as they have become my ultimate teachers about what really matters in life.

More from Barbara A Jaffe Ed.D.
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