I had a kid on my mind. She’s 17 and she’s been a client for a while now, on and off for a couple of years. She smart and sassy and I love her vibe. Sometimes her sassy morphs into a violent-hussy-mode and the local constabulary know her a little too well for ‘anti-social altercations’. But other than that, butter wouldn’t melt and she is a ton of fun to be around.
I had received a call the previous afternoon that had set me to worrying. It seems that my gorgeous young client, who hadn’t been allowed to attend school since getting half way through Year 8, had contacted a colleague for help in getting a job. She “wants to be a veterinarian and is willing to work her way up from vet nurse”. My colleague had rung me, knowing of my relationship with the client, to see if I had any ideas in how to go about making that possible. I suspect she also wanted to suss out whether I was willing to be the one to tell her one didn’t “work their way up” to being a vet. Oh dear…
As usually happens, the pack unknowingly delivers a lesson for me.
A little while ago I purpose bred a litter of dogs to use in the program. I retained 4 of the pups as being suitable. The others were sold. It was my choice to retain 3 of those 4, and because my daughter fell in love, my duty to retain the fourth. Now I will never, I really believe ever, understand what made my daughter fall in love with this particular pup. She is the antithesis of everything I look for in a dog. But my daughter is besotted and thankfully the pup was similarly so.
The pup is now 12 months old. She is a loner, not particularly smart, waaay down the pecking order, resistant to any form of training and could care less if you pull every last strand of hair out over her lack of desire to do anything to try to get along with you. She is very much her own dog-self.
A lot of that description of her is due to her handling as a young dog. You see my daughter took on her training. And because I am mother-of-the-year, I pretty much let her go and didn’t offer anywhere near enough supervision. I failed to ensure that the dog got what she needed in order to learn the obedience I wanted. Being young, my daughter’s efforts lacked consistency, lacked good timing and lacked focus. If only love could conquer all but alas a dog needs something it can interpret as structure.
So now, that “lovely” young dog is a part of the therapy team. And almost every night that I bring her home after delivering a session, my daughter enquires hopefully “How did Scarlett go? Was she good?” She so wants to be able to be proud of her little project dog.
So this morning, as I am thinking about my on-again off-again client, young Scarlett wanders over to say good morning. I reflect on the fact that she really does have a lovely soft nature (when you aren’t asking her to do anything) and shows a great desire to be with people who don’t want to confine her. Then of course I decide that today is the day I tackle Scarlett’s ability to “hop on” a pedestal on command.
Gathering all my best positive training thoughts first, Scarlett and I approach the task with a sky full of possibilities above us. In my heart I can feel my inability to believe that this is going to end well. I decide that all I want to achieve today is for Scarlett to get up on the pedestal and sit there. Even if I have to bribe her all the way there.
It’s a struggle. By now the other dogs are all at a stage way ahead of what I am trying to get Scarlett to achieve this morning. It’s hard not to compare. It’s a fact that Scarlett and I have already had an argument about the pedestal and I had reacted badly and scared her in that past session. So here I am now trying to repair her feelings about the task that had caused such drama last time, as well as achieve something new that we can both be proud of.
But to my delight and surprise, the session goes really well! We didn’t achieve much by the standards of the other dogs, but we achieved a lot for us and we are both really pleased.
It occurs to me that in failing to adequately prepare this dog for her life’s work when she was younger, I have no right to expect an easy path now. I can expect that she will try and I can expect to have to “make up” for all that was not done or done badly when she was young. But I can’t expect the same level of obedience from her as I can from her litter mates. Not because she is a crappy dog, but because she didn’t get the preparation they did. She is starting from a different place. It’s like she is starting in the grandstand and the others began at the starting gate.
And of course, on this crisp autumn morning, this led me back to my young fire-cracker client who wants to be a vet.
In a society that believes in a “fair go for all” and achievement based on merit, it can be bloody hard for some people to ‘get a go’ at getting a go. Without the preparation for life that only a stable home life can provide, kids miss out on all sorts of “educational opportunities”.
Kids don’t create havoc in their classrooms because they are well-adjusted emotionally. Kids don’t become combative with authority because they have excellent self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Kids don’t sacrifice every opportunity to ‘resolve their anti-social behaviours’ because they have a clear understanding of their value within their family and within their community. These are the kids who are starting in the grandstand.
We need to be really mindful that we are supporting a society where not only is selection for jobs based on objective qualifications, but also that all citizens have had an opportunity early in life to become qualified for these jobs.
Sure, my vivacious and sassy client can have a crack at being a vet nurse. But that can be quite a difficult career to get started. And she probably needs to be able to read and write fluently. Which she can’t. Because we (the collective or royal ‘we') failed to prepare her for this moment. We didn’t engage her parents in early childhood support, we didn’t address her trauma, we didn’t prevent her homelessness issues early enough to stop them effecting her education. And when we did start to notice there was a problem, when she came to the notice of Police and youth services, we didn’t see how we could turn the show around in enough of a hurry.
I don’t know what the future holds for this client. I know that I will wrap every available support around her for as long as she will let me. And I will be there to champion her every success and bewail her every challenge. I know that I will maintain a relationship with her long into the future. I know that she will never bitch to me about it not being fair, because she never does. To her, this is just the way it is and if anything, it’s all her fault. I’ll never stop telling her she is wrong about that.
I’ll also never stop trying to explain to people why you can’t expect that all kids (or dogs) will respond to a kick up the arse. An opportunity is only an opportunity if you are able to take advantage of it. Otherwise it’s just a dream at best. Some kids in our community have never had the preparation they need to take advantage of the “opportunities” we insist they have access to.