Westminster Here We Come, Woof Woof: Today our daughter and I head to Madison Square Garden in New York City to see the 136th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, a long awaited second visit to this country’s pre-eminent canine competition. And we are psyched. Our daughter has already previewed the Monday night line up and shared with me that among several new breeds introduced this year at the show is the American English Coonhound, descendant of English Foxhounds bred in Virginia, and the Cesky Terrier, from the Czech Republic with the personality of a “shy terrier” and a resemblance to a Miniature Schnauzer. As always our daughter’s swift access to Internet information awes me. No sooner had she popped up the screen on our home laptop computer than she had the breeds and their origins at the tip of her tongue.
Making Life Richer: Our daughter has enriched our lives greatly as a result of her omnivorous curiosity. After exposure to horses at age three while watching her six-year-old brother ride, she fell in love with the giant creatures and through the years poured over books filled with photos of horse breeds. I recall the moment that I recognized the developmental leap in her spatial awareness when she first noticed just how big these animals are, refusing to get on one for the first time ever. Despite this she never lost interest in watching them and continued to visit the local riding school with me several times a week. Eventually she overcame that initial shock and fear, and asked to ride again (which, thanks to the Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Program, she does to this day). She was a middle-schooler. I remember the poster we tacked to her bedroom wall filled with illustrations of the most common horse breeds, Appaloosa, Andalusian, Quarter Horse, Morgan, Paint and so on. Dogs were another four-legged passion which brought her to libraries covering five nearby towns where she would settle herself between the stacks and flip page after page of dog photos closely studying the characteristics of individual breeds (this was prior to easy access to sites on the computer), learning the class designations: working dogs, sporting, hounds, the terrier group.
Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing: As she acquired greater reading skill, and computer skill, thanks to the services provided by her school district, her knowledge base expanded exponentially. Yet not satisfied with the paper or online version of animal types, she sought out the real thing, in parks and at stables where she interacted with both dog owners and members of the equestrian world, chatting them up with questions and impressing them with her knowledge. Therefore her curious mind facilitated her social development mightily. And of course, as her companion, chauffeur and escort, I learned a ton too. Having a keen visual acuity and memory for physical characteristics, a talent she shares both with her father and her brother, our daughter has the ability to distinguish members within a particular grouping or breed based on shape, coloration and more subtle factors such as ear shape, markings, snout, that I find illusive. Her attention to detail when stimulated is awesome. I do not share this talent for visual awareness and so am in constant awe and grateful enrichment for being able to view these worlds through my daughter’s far keener eye.
Far-Reaching Appetite: Our daughter’s hunger for knowledge reaches beyond canines and equines to rodents, amphibians, snakes and celebrities, impressionist artists, cooking shows and comedy series, Seinfeld, Big Bang, Family Guy, CSI, World War movies, romantic drama and medical and nutritional videos, musical theater and film. Wherever we are, if there is a flyer or pamphlet available, she picks it up and peruses it. In fact, there is very little that doesn’t hold some interest for our daughter, few areas of life in which she has no knowledge. Ah yes, team sports might qualify as one area of little appeal. But that could have changed if she were raised in a different family, or if she begins to hang out with some Giants fans now.
To facilitate these cravings for knowledge we owned many of the objects of her interest: at ten she got a dog; for almost seven years we housed a rat named Doris, and later one named Jenny who lived in the dashboard of the car for two weeks until she escaped on the pier of the Port Jefferson ferry; a white mouse; a hamster; guinea pigs who birthed more guinea pigs; fish and frogs and turtles in our own self-sustaining tiny ecosystem of a pond. We visited, and still do, museums, the theater, nature centers, horse shows and stables. She had an able body of people, a team, also known as a family, to make for a hands on learning experience, as much as possible.
A Fine Mind: What kind of mind is this that craves learning and stimulation and utilizes that learning socially, appropriately and impressively? A very fine mind and one that reminds us all that “special needs” or disabled, as a designation or description of a human being reveals nothing about the assets or abilities of that individual. Society needs such designations and they serve a useful purpose for allocations of services, support, patience and funding for research. But one must not use them to dumb us down to thinking, “This person has little to offer me or the world.” Quite the contrary. This petite person has enriched their worlds for many, especially those closest to her, and continues daily to do so.
A Multi-Dimensional Gift: I view children as a gift. They make us so much more than we would be otherwise. That loop of love at its deepest level enriches the human experience unlike any other. And this daughter is the gift that keeps on giving. It is doubtful that I would have attended a dog show or a horse show in my life were it not for this “gift.” Nor would I have appreciated the humor of endless slapstick moments, or men dressed as women, or dogs dressed as men and so much more. And now we are off to the dog show, six years since we last attended as guests of my sister. Six big years during which time our daughter moved mountains, leaped tall buildings, lived at a boarding school, graduated, aged out and returned to her home state to set up adult life one town west of her childhood home. We are back to Westminster, accompanied by friends, and so much has changed, so many fears for the future have waned. This will be a great show indeed to share with our daughter and to celebrate the outstanding young woman she has become.
Follow-Up: At my request, our daughter’s team sent me the medical documentation from her ophthalmologist visit last week. I have yet to see the glasses. When I picked our daughter up at her apartment Friday to bring her home for a birthday dinner with her brother, she did not bring her glasses. Today she stopped by to drop off her overnight bag on the way to DSO (Day Services Option.) We saw no glasses. Perhaps she has them in her purse. If so, I am interested to learn if she notices a difference and eager to see how they look on her face. Maybe they will enhance her viewing tonight. Her double vision is related to muscle fatigue so if her eyes get worn out by ogling the pooches at the show, she can pop them on for better “viewing.”
I will keep you posted.
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012