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How to love a child

Sally - Hands

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

I wrote the first draft of this article in 1999 as a way to deal with the overwhelming grief I felt as I watched the current news unfold. At the time I had four children six and under and was watching parents all around me…emulating the successes and seeking to learn from the mistakes. I have always had what my husband calls a morbid fascination with crime stories; while I have learned that it is better to avoid immersing myself in studying every aspect of tragedies, I willingly admit that I am still drawn to these accounts. I am drawn to them because I have a desire to understand human beings and the choices they make. I am drawn to them because I love to look for the beauty in the midst of tragedy: the stories of sacrifice, survival and hope. Most of all, I am drawn to them because I believe that somewhere, somehow, someway we can learn valuable lessons. I know that the hearts of men are easily corrupted, but I also believe in the goodness of humanity. I will never stop believing that we can make a difference one soul at a time. We can see the beauty of God’s handiwork as souls turn toward Him and choose good over evil. It is with these thoughts in mind that I ponder the lost souls that fail to value human life, that do not remember their creator, that take the lives of others and die in infamy and shame.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

After the tragedy at Columbine (April 20, 1999), the parents of one of the accused made the poignant statement, ‘We loved him as much as we knew how to love a child.’ Something about those words, out of the mouths of the grieving parents of a mass murderer, tore at my heart strings. I’ve never forgotten them and I’ve pondered them over the years. I even looked at the pictures they released to the press of a happy child in his mother’s arms. An innocent baby turned mass murderer. Senseless tragedy. Unimaginable grief.

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The dogs and their boy: the adventures of Josh and John Robin

Sally - John Robin


The other day, our fearless five year old, Joshua, was peacefully swinging outside after his near-daily torture (a wagon ride and alternating running while we walk and jog at the park). After just a few minutes outside, he appeared at the back door and Julia ran to get me. There he was with a baby robin snuggled in his little hands. He looked up at me with a sweet contented face and calmly explained that he found the dogs terrorizing it (his words). I was speechless. He had the look of a protector and façade of one who has done something utterly satisfying. When I asked him HOW in the world (internally panicking at his bravado) he got four large dogs (weighing approximately 50 lbs, 60 lbs, 63 lbs and 95 lbs) off of the baby bird, he matter-of-factly explained that he saw the bird hopping around, pushed the dogs back, and lifted the baby bird while cradling it in his hands and proceeding to climb up into his tree house. (I was silently in terror of what could have happened and simultaneously in awe of his fearlessness which is likely what kept him safe from the predators, AKA our dogs). I was less than put together, having just returned from our 3.6 mile jog/walk and preparing to go on a rare outing with Jonathan…so I was absolutely flustered and slightly in shock. After my shock had settled, he explained that only three of the dogs had been terrorizing the bird…the fourth (Thor, the most small animal aggressive, likely because he may have been a hunter before we rescued he and Freya when they were just a few months old) was elsewhere in the yard. My guess is that Thor's preoccupation elsewhere was an amazing blessing in this little story!

Because Josh is such a clever boy, he quickly realized that he should come get me, so he climbed down the ladder and brought the bird up on the deck. Please understand that I am never a fan of small children playing by themselves outside, but if you have read or seen Peter Pan you will realize that our dogs were playing Nana in the backyard. Furthermore, if you know our dogs you will understand that Josh was perfectly safe (from humans at least). Aragorn, a nine year old male boxer with aggression issues, is a totally competent bodyguard. Add Thor, a mixed breed just over five, into the mix and you have quite the team. Freya, Thor’s sister and Arwen, an almost eight year old boxer, might be sweet fur-girls, but they aren’t pushovers.

It is rather wondrous to me that in nine years of large dogs (albeit very domesticated dogs who only appear outside a few times a day) we have only had one small animal fatality (a cat who could not read the Beware of Dogs sign and whose demise was a rather traumatic event indeed). And, I was really totally unprepared to care for a small wounded animal. Somehow growing up with outside dogs (German Shepherds), I was never the one to tend to any of the many animals they found in our home in rural Lutz, Florida. While I totally understand the cycle of life, I am not a fan of watching it occur in my tidy suburban backyard.

So, Joshua fearlessly saved a baby robin from three of our four large dogs, happily named it John (his own middle name), and excitedly insisted on making every attempt to save it (even explaining that I should splint the leg and wing with popsicle sticks—the one thing that I told him would not be a good plan). We offered John some of Brisbane's super worms (not a hit) and seed (not a hit). Finally, we carefully nestled him in a box with a towel and left it on the deck, only letting the dogs out supervised for the rest of the evening.


Sally - Josh with John Robin

In the wee hours of the night, we found that little John had hopped from his box on the table to the deck floor and I feared that he would hop off the edge. I explained to a very concerned Josh that we needed to put him down on the ground if he had any hopes of surviving. We took him down into the back yard and he immediately hopped under a ground covering cypress bush. I knew he would be somewhat safe there and hoped that we would not wake up to feathers by the tree. I honestly didn’t expect him to survive long, and I promised Josh that we’d bury him in the front flower bed with Isabella and Knightley (two parakeets) if he did not survive the night.

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