We went for a walk yesterday. Across the street to the bike path, through the Indian reservation, across the St. Charles River on the old-railroad-trestle-converted-to-foot/bike-traffic-bridge where we stopped for a few minutes to watch the rapidly flowing water. Then, we turned off the bike path to follow a different path that runs parallel to the river, and heads toward a park and playground where our kids always enjoy a few minutes to romp. Greening grass, sun peaking through the clouds, and gently blowing breeze - it really was a beautiful day for a walk.
Not too many meters in front of us was an elderly gentleman walking his dog. Although it was nothing more than a small "lap" dog, I noticed the man tensing, appearing hyper aware of my little girls rapidly skipping his way; he moved to make sure that he blocked the dog's direct path towards my girls. I motioned to them to move off the path, giving the man and his dog a wide berth and also giving them the subtle message that this wasn't an occasion to see if they could stop and pet the animal. Animal-fanatics that they are, they were too intent on reaching the playground to consider a protest.
We hung around at the playground for 20 minutes... maybe a half hour. There was only one other family hanging out - two women with three young girls dressed in matching school uniform jumpers and leggings. After several minutes, the older man and his dog reappeared. They had almost completed a circuit following the perimeter of the playground - but instead of continuing along that path, he decided to cut through the playground before heading back the direction from which he'd originally come. He'd just about rounded the corner when one of those little uniformed girls noticed his little dog. She respectfully ran up to him and started to speak to him. I wasn't close enough to hear the conversation, but the man knelt down and securely held his dog, close to his body with its head directed away from the girl while leaving his back exposed so that she could gently scratch its back. At that moment, the two other little girls came running up - also wanting their chance to pet the dog - but one of them approached from the side where the dog's head was. She reached out to pet it. It promptly snapped at her, catching her with its teeth... or perhaps even biting her. She immediately started to scream and cry - at which point the mother, who'd been sitting on a swing next to her friend and busy on her cell phone - looked up. The little girl when running towards her mother. The two other little girls jumped back from the dog with terrified expressions on their faces. The horrified and worried man immediately ran to the mother to let her know what happened and they spoke for a few minutes. He left the park and the little girl continued to sob. Eventually, her mother took her up to their car, where they pulled out a first aid kit while the other woman put down her cell phone to watch the other two girls.
I was immediately plagued by two very judgmental questions...
- Why in the world walk a dog - with the potential of aggressive behavior around kids - through a playground?
- Why take your kids to the playground if you aren't going to enjoy watching them play and aren't going to keep an eye on them regarding potential dangers?
- while I love dogs, I also tend to be quite vigilant when it comes to potentially aggressive dogs after having owned a little one that became less and less tolerant of unknown children as she aged (and resulting in me being on the receiving end of a few bites when I ran interference) and after a few scary incidents between my oldest and unknown dogs - many years ago now.
- after all of the vitriol via social media and ensuring the safety of children (i.e. public bathrooms), it seems obvious that when you take your children to a location where an increased potential for danger exists, you must be watching and at the ready to protect them should the situation so warrant.
My judgmental attitude resulted because I held others to the same expectations of behavior that I hold for myself... with nothing more than a cursory surface knowledge of their reality.
As I've thought about what I observed and my reaction, I've realized that the elderly gentleman probably expected to be able to control his dog so that he wouldn't have to disappoint a really cute little schoolgirl sweetly asking to love on his pet. He didn't expect another child from the same family to run up from his blind side and assume she could touch his dog without permission... I've also considered that the mother, like myself, didn't expect someone with a more aggressive animal to take that animal for a walk through a place typically set aside for children and that perhaps her involvement with her phone included making plans to best care for her children.
Obviously, our expectations will greatly influence choices - right and wrong, selfish and sacrificing, knowledgeable and ignorant - that we make, potentially leading to positive and/or negative results and outcomes.
It isn't wrong to expect...
Sometimes what we do with those expectations is, however.
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