Thursday, August 13, 2020

Puppy Training


I've said before that Tallulah hates cars and robins. And since witnessing her passionate dislike for robins, I've learned to look at them with a more jaundice eye. There's a chance she's right...they look as if they could be up to something. LOL But her hatred of cars is more problematic. She's 45 lbs now and when she pulls, especially if I'm not expecting it, it has almost toppled me. I've tried everything I could think of or read about to break her of the car phobia. And while she's better, she still sometimes lunges. So I tried a gentle lead. She was spayed a week ago and while we weren't walking, we practiced wearing the harness. She got a lot of treats and praise whenever I put it on.

When she was ready for a short walk, we used the new harness. It worked! She occasionally pawed at it, but I just said, "Uh, uh," and she stopped. Cars went by and she wanted to eat them, but didn't lunge. Success!! By the time she's ready to get back to our five miles a day, I feel confident we'll be all good.

As I reflected on gentle leaders, my thoughts turned to John Lewis. He was a man who lead through example and stood up for what he believed in. Everything I've read about him points to a gentle man who led gently and passionately. 

He said, "When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something."  I love that quote and his talk of "Good Trouble." The minions were over and we watched part of his funeral. They asked me about him and I told them how much I admired him. I told them about Lewis's march over what I hope will someday be the John Lewis Bridge. We talked about racism against black and brown people. One of the minions who has a dark summer tan asked me if people wouldn't like him because he was brown. I said, no that while he was definitely brown  when people saw him they saw him as white. He asked about an even browner cousin. And I assured him they were seen as white too. He was so confused. It broke my heart and made me proud as well. We talked about how people's actions matter more than how they look or where they come from. It's a lesson I tried to share with my kids when they were young. And I try to give my characters that kind of world view. 

I write about the Keller family in my Hometown Hearts series. The youngest Keller sister, Cessy, wrote about her family in an essay for school. I tear up every time I read that part of Crib Notes. (Yeah, I know I wrote it, but if my books don't move me, I can't expect them to move readers.) Here's the excerpt:

Mrs. Keller cleared her throat. “My family, by Cecily Keller.’

“‘When I was in fourth grade, our class made cards for our families for Thanksgiving. We traced our hands and turned them into construction paper turkeys. After school, I ran out and gave mine to my mom when Leslie, a girl in my class, came up and said, ‘You’re supposed to give it to your mom.’ I was confused and told her this was my mom, and she said it couldn’t be ’cause we didn’t match. Until that moment, I don’t think I ever thought that way about my family.’

“‘Oh, I knew my brother Zac always called me cocoa because my skin is the color of chocolate, and there was no way to miss that Mom is as pale as a white person can get. But I never saw those differences.’

“‘After that, I did. I noticed the looks my family got when we went out together. None of us are alike. We have brown hair, black, reddish-brown and blond. Some of us are very tall, a few are vertically challenged.’

“‘When I was ten, we all went to Disney World and Mom made us wear matching T-shirts that proudly proclaimed The Kellers. We got looks there, too.’

“‘The fact that we all were so very different made us stand out, and any school kid will tell you that standing out can be a problem. So I hoped no one would notice.’

“‘The Kellers took me home weeks after I was born. I have biological parents, but I never knew them. Then when I was five, my biological father took me back. I still remember that day. My whole family stood on the porch as the social worker led me away to her car. I didn’t understand what was going on. My mom had told me that I was going to live with my real dad, but I felt that my real father was the man on the porch physically holding my brother Zac, who was struggling to get to me. I was only five and I knew who my family was. The stranger the state decided should have custody was nothing to me. The six months he kept me were bad. I don’t talk about them. But they taught me something.’

“‘Before, I wanted to hide how different my family was, but then I figured out that biology might determine your skin and hair color, it might determine if you’re tall or short, but it’s your family that makes up your heart. It’s your family that makes you whole, the person you really are.’

“I took my family to school later that year for show-and-tell. Though in fourth grade we’d really outgrown the tradition, Mom stood by me and my entire family showed up and let me introduce them to my class. And I told all those kids that my family didn’t match on the outside, that we never would, but we matched on the inside and that’s all that counts.’

“‘And that’s what family means to me.’”

And that's the gift I hope I gave to my kids and now to the doesn't matter how someone looks on the outside. It doesn't matter if they 'match' us. What matters is what's in their heart. I wrote about our neighbor Tiffany in the Dear Reader letter for A Special Kind of Different. She was different but special and my kids recognized that. It's another moment that I hold dear. It's another case of seeing what's important about someone. This is at the heart of Hometown Hearts...and hopefully at the heart of my family.

I think the world could use more gentle leaders in it. I hope I'm doing my part to bring up a new generation of them.


Check out the Keller family in:

Crib Notes: Hometown Hearts #1

A Special Kind of Different: Hometown Hearts #2

Homecoming: Hometown Hearts #3

PREORDER  Suddenly a Father: Hometown Hearts #4
Available in September