Sunday, August 16, 2009

And I'm Someone Who Likes Dogs ....

Teddy, our dog

Last night, my neighbours had some company over. These neighbours are a young married couple, who actually are our tenants as we own the house next door which has three flats. A very nice young couple, she is the working one, he is working on an accounting degree and looking for work, and they have a dog. No problem with any of that.

But last night, and this is the second time this has happened, they invited friends over for dinner and they were having a BBQ on the back porch. There must have been four couples in all, and they all brought dogs, small dogs, the kind that you pamper and sit on your lap, the kind that don't require much in the way of exercise, and the kind that yap.

My level of irritation kept rising, as the conversation that drifted over the side of the deck was "oh isn't Jack cute", "here Maggie, have you pooped again?", "fetch it Maggie", and tales of what Jack and Maggie and others had done, that was "so cute". I had to retreat indoors, even though yesterday was the hottest night we have had this summer and sitting out on the deck where it was still warm and bug-free was the place to be. I simply couldn't take the inane chatter any longer. They talked of nothing but their dogs.

Then, at around ten, I was upstairs and heard a lot of barking. I mean there must have been five or six dogs barking. And laughter, coming from the owners who thought this was so amusing as all the dogs barked at someone walking past the fence. No effort to restrain them, just amusement at their dogs' behaviour. I had had it, out I went (after all, I am the landlord), popped my head around the deck lattice and asked "could you please keep your dogs quiet?"

Well, I guess they got scared because it became immediately very quiet. I went inside and calmed my thoughts. My mind was ranting, which I am learning is not productive. But this morning, in retrospect, I will rant without anger.

I see them everywhere, young couples, married or not, with their dogs. No children, just dogs. And no sign of children. If you asked them, I am sure that more than half would say "oh no, we are not going to have children". I am not being skeptical here or judgmental; this is simply the way it is. Some will, with the passing of years, decide that they should have one child and then try to get pregnant in their late 30's, and then have to resort to medical intervention at a terrific cost to their fellow tax-payers if you live where state medical care is the norm. For a scathing article on the cost of IVF to society, read Why Should IVF Be Available on the NHS? by Ed West

When we first moved to this neighbourhood, twenty two years ago, there were 40 children on the long block. The other day, I counted and there are twenty. Demographics plays a part, I realise, as the neighbourhood is not in the price range of young families and they are buying homes in the suburbs of the city, rather than close to the downtown core. But there are several young couples moving in and buying homes as older folks move to condos or die, and they are not having babies either. Behind me lives a single woman of 40, who has had a series of monogamous relationships, none of whom lives with her. Across from her is another woman who chased her husband from the home and now lives alone with her Labradoodle. Next to her is a lesbian whose partner sometimes stays, sometimes just visits, but she might actually be in the process of obtaining a new partner as there is a new mannish woman at the house. Next house is a couple married for 25 years, no children, but a series of Nova Scotia duck-tollers (that's a breed of dog raised here in Nova Scotia). The only normal family is the one right beside us, they have two children, and they have just sold the house in order to obtain a larger one where they will have room for her mother to live with them. We are sorry to lose them and hope that the new owners will be a family. Next house, a couple, he is divorced with two boys in England; the new wife (perhaps just girlfriend) is a young woman at least 15 years his junior and they will have no more children. I feel very sorry for her, as she is such a lovely young woman and would be a wonderful mom. But I guess the divorce has jaded him and there will be no more children to tear at the heart strings.

It seems that the present generation is completely pre-occupied with their own careers, happiness, material gains. After all, you can't have children unless you have bought a house and can afford that mortgage. And I know that financial concerns are a worry. But we do live in one of the wealthiest nations in the world and for us to think that we can't afford children is a joke. Look at the poor of the world and then say you can't afford a family.

So how has this happened? while walking my dog this morning, I was reflecting on this as I have so many other times. When a generation is navel-gazing, such as this one is, it must be because their parents did not show them how to be unselfish. I remember reading years ago that Rose Kennedy, the matriarch of the Kennedy clan, stated that if you don't teach your children how to be unselfish by the age of five, forget it. They will never learn after that. Not so sure that she was successful with all her children, but I do think that is a pearl of wisdom. Parents are so concerned with providing everything for their children, in order to ensure that their lives will be easier, that they are depriving those kids of what they need most: the strength of character required to become the next generation of parents. Strength of character is not built by providing the best of education, or by providing kids with the best learning tools, or participation in all the sports activities that abound. It is built by teaching children how to think about others, how to live their lives realising that "the other" has as much going on in their hearts and minds as they do. And learning to live so that "the other" can be happy too. In other words, thinking of "the other" is the way to raise kids.

If we don't do that, we end up (as we have) with a generation that prefers to have dogs than children (because really they don't answer back, they don't break curfews, they don't keep bad company - they can be controlled without any worry of their individual personality coming into conflict with ours - in other words, they aren't persons), a generation that is thinking of the house they will buy rather than the people who will live in it, a generation that is thinking of career satisfaction because otherwise "I will be frustrated and unfulfilled".

Of all the things that we try to teach our children and try to give our children, surely the first one should be how to grow into the people who will be able to parent the next generation. No, I don't mean that we look at ourselves as baby-makers, but there is a continuum in life that needs to be respected. And foremost in that continuum is the passing on of life to children. Once we lose that, we have lost everything.

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