I’m dog sitting this week. Today I took the dog for a walk. He’s a sweet dog. I don’t know a whole lot about dog breeds, but I know he is black and white and still growing into his puppy legs. I don’t know when the last time you hung out with puppy was, but I’ve definitely learned some things. For example they aren’t very good at letting you know when they need to go to the bathroom. They like to chew on anything and everything. Sometimes they are a little clumsy and accidentally fall into the pool (the super shallow end don’t worry). And as I learned today, they aren’t very good at walking. I mean they are great at running. Like really great at running. They run really fast and with tons of joy and energy that is utterly contagious. But walking, on a leash, on a trail, next to a human? Not so much.
Walking, along with doing their business outside, is not their specialty. Even though the paved path of a greenway feels like an obvious path for you and I, to a puppy, a greenway is an amazing playground just begging to be explored. The asphalt path is really just a suggestion for where to walk – after all there’s grass on either side, trees all around, leaves and sticks everywhere, strange and exciting sounds from cars and fellow dogs and humans.There is way too much going on and too much to be explored to just walk straight and next to your human.
Today as I walked with my new friend Steeler it almost seemed as if he was intentionally trying to trip me. Not actually of course, he just loved walking from each side of the trail back and forth, back and forth. He looked like an Olympic slalom skier, gracefully (sometimes) jetting back and forth across the course. He could never walk for too long on one side for fear of missing all the grass and leaves and sticks and smells on the other side. It was sensory overload, and it practically had him walking in circles.
Us humans tend to like walking in straight lines. We like to go from Point A to Point B in the most direct route possible. We are creatures of efficiency, and walking with a puppy is extremely inefficient. If I’m honest, my natural reaction was to be frustrated at Steeler. Why can’t he just walk straight? Why does he constantly step right in front of me? Doesn’t he realize what he is doing? These thoughts are silly, I know. Because Steeler is just a puppy, acting like a puppy. He is being curious, adventurous, joyous, and all of these other things that are part of why everyone loves puppies! So truthfully I have no right to be frustrated at Steeler – Steeler is just doing exactly what he was made to do. With that new mindset, our slow, inefficient, jagged walk through the park becomes a beautiful thing. It causes me to see the park with a new perspective, to slow down and see what Steeler sees. I learn from him, I enjoy his company, and I even enjoy this painfully slow walk with him.
It makes me think about the middle school guys that I hang out with. They are often unruly, wild, sometimes smelly, and frequently have trouble walking in a straight line. And so often, when they do or say dumb things, when they act out to get attention, when they question authority for no good reason other than for the sake of being rebellious, I can find myself getting angry. Why can’t they just get it together? Why can’t they sit still? Why can’t they pay attention to the things I am telling them? Don’t they know that I care about them? It is frustrating, watching them grow, seeing them trip over themselves and clumsily walk through life.
It is in those moments that I so desperately need to be reminded – these are middle school boys. They are acting like middle school boys. And yet I am somehow disappointed that they don’t act more like a healthy, developed adult. That’s ludicrous. I can’t be angry at students for being students. That is the stage of life they are in, and it is the stage of life that I am fortunate enough to walk through with them. And just as every new dog owner knows that getting a puppy comes with its challenges – cleaning up accidents, chewed up shoes, etc. – I should know that walking through middle school with middle school students will present its own challenges – awkwardness, rebellion, inappropriate jokes and just flat out dumb decisions.
Now, the point is not for us to just let puppies and middle schoolers do whatever they want – we should teach them and guide them, we should and hope and expect more from them! We should not simply become content with this season of frequent accidents and an inability to walk in a straight line (for both puppies and students!). But instead, we should have grace for them when they act like the very things that they are. We should love them when they make mistakes, and we should offer them hope and guidance for a better future. When we can remind ourselves that it is only right that puppies will act like puppies and middle school boys will act like middle school boys, we just might start to enjoy the slow, inefficient, and frustrating walk with them. And besides, sometimes its fun to walk like a slalom skier.