Last week, while out jogging with the dog, I passed a group of parents, kids, and a couple of other dogs waiting at a school bus stop. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my mutt isn’t the world’s mellowest critter. Sometimes when he sees other animals, he’ll pull on the leash and try to greet them; other times, he’ll growl or bark. This time, though, he ran along calmly beside me, and didn’t even glance at the crowd gathered at the bus stop, despite the fact that a little white dog was barking at him.
“Mom,” said one of the kids. “Look at that doggie. He’s so cute.”
I smiled to myself and whispered, “Good boy.”
So it was a little surprising to hear the mother’s reply to her child. “No he’s not! That dog’s not cute at all.”
What? I kept on running—starting an argument at a bus stop about a dog’s attractiveness isn’t my style—but I was a little hurt. Then we turned a corner and all was temporarily forgotten.
Later on, though, the incident crossed my mind again. And this time, it bothered me for a different reason. I mean, why would a parent say that to a child in such a definitive way? Perhaps, if she really found my dog so aesthetically unpleasing, she could have said, “I don’t think he’s cute, but maybe some people do.” That way, the child could form his or her own opinion.
I was feeling very self-righteous until I remembered visiting the local pet store with my own kids when they were very young. The store sold all kinds of creatures—fish, lizards, small rodents, birds—and we’d browse in there from time to time. But the one thing I avoided in that place was the ferret area. The ferrets were kept in a large glass case with a vent on the top, and the stench from the case was overwhelming. I don’t think the smell came from the ferrets themselves, but from their waste, which mustn’t have been cleaned frequently enough. In any event, the smell made me want to vomit, and I recall telling my kids—on more than one occasion—that “ferrets are disgusting.”
But that wasn’t cool! I mean, I may not be a huge ferret fan (sorry ferret fans) but I was doing the exact same thing as the woman who declared my dog un-cute. And you know what? Despite the fact that my kids love animals and have asked for pretty much every type of pet imaginable—we currently have a dog, a cat, and some fish—they’ve never asked for a ferret. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s because I instilled in them, at very young ages, that ferrets are repulsive.
Thinking more on the topic, I realize I’ve been sharing other opinions with my kids as well, and stating them as absolute facts. For example, there are a couple of musicians and bands (I won’t name them, OK?) that I’ve forbidden on my car radio. Is it because these musicians offend me with obscene or racist lyrics? No. As far as I know, they don’t write offensive material. They’ve simply been banned because, as my kids will tell you, “Mom says they suck.” Hmm. Not very objective, huh? Perhaps I could’ve told my children, “I don’t care for XY’s music, but lots of people love it, so you should decide for yourself what you think.” Of course, it’s common knowledge that kids will often choose to listen to the exact music their parents despise just to piss them off, so maybe I’ll get my comeuppance some day. Maybe one of them will run off and elope with someone on my “banned list”—and go live on a ferret farm—or maybe they’ll blast bad music at my funeral. If so, I guess I’ll deserve it.
Anyway, I’m now making it a goal to be more careful about voicing opinions to my children. They’re teenagers now, after all, and will soon be adults, making adult decisions and possibly passing their views on to their own offspring. So will I continue to tell them that Donald Trump’s a buffoon? No! Instead, I’ll say I don’t think he’d make a great president, but every American has a right to vote for his or her favorite candidate. Is liver the most repulsive excuse for food ever put on a plate? No, it’s simply not something I enjoy, but it’s packed with nutrients.