Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I’m usually pretty careful to guard against using dog-analogies when talking about parenting or child development.  But once in awhile, I just have to.

K.J. and I were talking about our dogs the other day.  She was talking about  her aging dog Fabby’s puppyhood, and how difficult it had been at times.  I sympathized, having just recently survived Gretchen’s youth.  I hate to say it, but I’d be hard pressed to say which is harder:  raising a human baby or a training a puppy.

Anyway…… K.J. said that at one point during the first six months, she was extremely sleep-deprived due to her efforts to crate-train the puppy. I could relate to this.  I remember well those exhausting nights a couple of years ago, hoping to help Gretchen feel secure enough eventually to sleep on her own, by sleeping with my hand in her puppy-crate next to the bed all night. Gretchen was able to settle down finally, because she could cuddle against my warm hand. But it’s a little hard to get a good night’s sleep with your hand hanging out of bed and into the dog crate.  Every time I moved an inch, she would wake up and howl, and we’d have to start all over again.  I was determined to stick to the plan, but it was an incredibly tiring and difficult process.  K.J. also talked about how hard it was when puppy-Fabby was still chewing on everything, as well as peeing and pooping  in all the wrong places about every ten minutes.  I remember all this with Gretchen, also, and have no idealism about ever again having a “cute little puppy” to raise, although there’s truly nothing to compare with the joy of puppy-kisses.  Their adorable-ness and devotion is how they suck you in!

K.J. told me how one morning she took Fabby for a walk after another nearly-sleepless night.  She sat down on a park bench, exhausted and dispirited.  She was ready to give up.  Why was she doing this to herself? This was not a human baby, it was a dog.  It was OPTIONAL.  She was ready to admit defeat, and was realizing that she was on the verge of taking the puppy back to the breeder.  Her exhaustion, frustration, and sadness showed on her face as she sat there. Even the puppy looked discouraged, I imagine. After awhile, an older gentleman sat down on the bench next to her and starting petting the dog.  He looked at her and said, “You’re ready to give up, aren’t you?”  She said that she was indeed, just about to her breaking point with this whole puppy-thing. He made sympathetic noises, and said he understood very well.

Then the man said, “But listen:  just hang in there three more days.”   He promised K.J. that she was currently, at this very moment, experiencing the worst of it.  Within three days, things would begin to turn around.  She would see the light at the end of the tunnel very soon.  If she gave up now, she would have gone through a lot of frustration for nothing, and that both she and the puppy would grieve for each other.  “Please try to hold on for three more days, and then you’ll see,” he implored.

K.J. thought about this, and about the fact that she had wanted a dog for years and years.  Finally getting a dog had been the long-deferred fulfillment of a life-long dream.  She is a tenacious person, not easily discouraged, so she resolved to stick with it for three more days, but NO MORE. Fabby looked up at her with big “I’ll be good” eyes, but K.J. wasn’t optimistic. She was too tired to be hopeful.

Lo and behold, the next day, things started to get better.  Fabby only had a couple of potty-accidents, and showed great joy several times in pleasing mom by pottying in the right place at the right time. At bedtime, instead of crying for hours, Fabby howled in her crate for  only 10 minutes and then settled down and went to sleep. 

Woo-hoo! Three magical ingredients (puppy brain-development, appropriate training methods, and patience) were all beginning to come together at last! 

 The second day, things improved still further.  By the third and fourth days, even though life with a puppy was still not a piece of cake, K.J. was convinced that she had the world’s best dog.

Boy, does all this sound familiar!  I remember when my girls were little, we went through one “crisis” after another:  excessive crying, not sleeping, whining, fighting with sister, ongoing separation anxiety, etc.  And every time, just when I got to the point where I thought I couldn’t stand the frustration for another minute, things began to slowly improve.  Sometimes, I was fortunate enough to bump into my own version of K.J.’s dog-man, someone who encouraged me to hang in there.  Eternal thanks go to those blessed preschool teachers Konne and Diane, and to my mom, and to friends like Denise. 

In spite of my exhaustion, I did gradually learn the priceless lesson that things are often at their worst right before they get better. 

That’s what human development is all about:  experiencing a developmental crisis, and then allowing the frustration of this crisis to propel you into the next new level of growth. 

Think about how frustrated your baby must feel right before she takes those first steps.  It must seem to her that she will NEVER learn to walk.  But then…. energized by the frustration and the anguish of limited mobility, she keeps pushing herself, and all of a sudden, her feet seem to have a mind of their own!

I’ve seen this principle at work dozens and dozens of times over the years with families in my programs:  parents who are at their wits’ end find that the day AFTER the worst-day-of-their-parenting-career-so-far, things get better. We just have to hang in there, keep on doing the best we can, and have faith that eventually our efforts will show results. 

Thank goodness K.J. didn’t give up on Fabby that day:  the two of them have been inseparable for all these years, and now that Fabby is entering Old Doghood, K.J. can’t imagine how life would have been without her.

Thank goodness, K.J. stumbled, bleary-eyed out of the house and made her way to the park bench that day, and that the dog-guy saw that she was on the verge of giving up. Most importantly, thank goodness she was willing to trust that what he said might be true. 

Maybe someone reading this today will hang on to their sanity and their faith in their child for a couple more days. I hope I can be someone’s “dog-guy,” and give them the little bit of strength and hope they need. If you’re that person, write me a "comment"  and tell me about it! 

Besides, with kids, what choice do we have but to hang on?  It’s frowned upon when people take their kids back to the hospital for a refund. 


  1. Dear Annie, it's so inspiring to read your blogs. Thanks to your "child development can save the world", I got a bilingual preschool teacher position at a daycare center. I'm a kind of nervous but I do hope I can be a great teacher:)

  2. YOU are my dog-guy, Annie! When I felt like a loser for killing silkworms, you encouraged me and I tried again and they all lived! (Well, most). I'm not subtle enough to see God, so he has to come to me with skin on! And when I'm ready to listen, boy does he show up!

  3. Annie,

    Not only are you my "dog-guy", you are the reason I just finished my master's degree program. I would never have gotten here without you. I would never have begun working with children at all in not for your gentle guidance. Also, if it weren't for you Cammie might have been taken back to the hospital for a refund during those trying times.

    Thanks for being you and inspiring the world of ECE.



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