Rainy days didn’t come often, but when they did, I reached for my guitar. Entertaining young children with music never failed to keep them happy, as long as my newly-callused fingertips didn’t give out.
I had three foster daughters--twenty-four/seven—but Monday through Friday daytimers and drop-ins increased their number. The ranks occasionally swelled to a whopping fourteen, the eldest being my four-year-old red-headed cutie, Deni*. Two-year-old Jamie*, my beautiful petite African-American princess sometimes had an age-mate, as did the infant Susie*. Otherwise, my living room bulged with three-year-olds.
Oh, I forgot to mention Nahum. Now, there never lived a dog who sulked as seriously as Nahum on a rainy day. My Griffon-Husky mix loved frolicking with a small herd of preschoolers every morning of the week—the more, the merrier.
As I struggled to satisfy the seating requests of the miserable-to-be-inside little clan on this particular Tuesday, Nahum took his place on his rug. “Well, Boy, I’m glad that you have a spot that’s just right for you,” I said, glancing over just as the slender, long legs dropped the white-haired beast to his rug.
“Kids?,” I spoke softly, and as hoped, their shouts seemed suspended in air. Blessed quiet for just two seconds. “No. Hey, listen,” I whispered in the middle of the overwhelmingly occupied sofa. I ducked in time to miss the clenched tiny fist aiming for Danny*. The blow hit the side of my neck; the deflected punch returned to sender.
“Yeow! Danny hit me!” I grabbed up the screaming youngster and planted a kiss right on the top of his head. “Oh, yuck! Why’d ya go ‘n’ do that?” Jeffy* spat out little wet beads, trying to remove my kiss. Those gathered on the sofa laughed and pointed at him, of course.
“Because Danny didn’t touch you. YOU hit yourself. Now, stop it you two, so I can play my guitar for you, or would you rather go stand in a corner? I think this big house has enough corners if you kids would prefer to just spend this rainy day in a corner.”
I found it amazing—and rewarding— when the chaos suddenly shifted to silence; each child finding a seat—on the floor, in a chair, or on the sofa. Before the last little tush had squirmed into place, I began strumming. How delightful to see the smiles and hear the young voices join in.
The happy atmosphere drew Nahum in—too far in, as a matter of fact. As I sang, I caught sight of the sleek dog, stretched out on his stomach, legs fully extended in both directions. I took notice of his position because I’d never seen Nahum do that.
While Nahum’s eyes continued looking down, his hind legs raised his lower half to his knees. I focused my attention towards the kids as I sang and strummed, but I watched my dog out of the corner of my eye.
Moments later, two long white legs began to move. Nahum’s head rested on his upper legs, unmoving save for the slight bounce resulting from the motion of his front legs. His left leg retracted, then pushed the dog forward; the right leg retracted and repeated the movement. The head never left its spot on the legs.
I barely noticed the minimally-elevated posture of the dog’s rear. Nahum’s otherwise fully-prone body slithered forward--millimeters at a time. Once the lovable mutt reached the middle of the room, he stopped.
Ever-so slowly, Nahum raised his head. I cleared my throat. Silence fell from every singer. Without turning to look at me or the children around the room, Nahum dropped his head back to his legs and retreated to his rug exactly as he’d come—in reverse.
Not a sound escaped until the enormous sigh released from the kitchen-living room doorway where a resigned pet curled on his rug. The humans of all ages exploded in laughter. Can a dog demonstrate confusion with facial expressions? Seemed to me that Nahum did.
“Your dog wants to be with us but he can’t, can he?” said the first preschooler.
Before I could answer, Deni responded. “Him a dog. Dogs stay on his rug. It’s the rule.”
Jamie bobbed her head vigorously, adding, “Num know he ‘pose ta stay dare.”
“Why don’t you punish him, then. He broke the rule. I get a spanking if I break the rules in my house,” Said Jeffy.
“Can anyone think of why I don’t punish Nahum for breaking this rule?”
“’Cuz we’re here. Grownups don’t spank kids when they have company.” Sherry spoke with such authority, I had to assume she reflected her own experience.
“I think it’s ‘cuz he’s a dog. If you spanked him, he’d bite you,” said Danny, who had been afraid of Nahum on his first encounter.
“Those are good answers, kids, but that’s not the reason. Anyone else want to try?” I swept my gaze over each child, amazed to see their facial expressions drawn as in serious thought.
“Well, do you remember a time when you should have been spanked, but your parents didn’t do it? Why didn’t you get a spanking?” More shrugging shoulders and furrowed eyebrows.
Jamie twisted out of her tummy-down position near me and stood. Once she’d reached Nahum, I watched her kneel down and wrap her thin arms around his neck. Jamie gave the dog a kiss on the top of his head and said, “’cause Num wea-ea-eally, whee-ee-ealy sawwy him boke da wules; wight, Boy?” A hug punctuated her last phrase.
“Yes, that’s right, Jamie! We know he’s sorry because he went back to his rug without making a fuss. I’m sorry Nahum can’t come into this room with us, too. Sometimes we have more than one baby on the blanket here on the floor. It’s just safer for the babies if Nahum stays on his rug. He can see everything from there, but he always wants to be closer.” Relief rushed through me as the youngsters agreed with me.
Gathered around the now-upright dog, the children gleefully chattered about the mercy their canine friend had just received. Many little hands stroked his head and back while admonishing him to not feel too badly that he needed to stay on the rug, and reassuring Nahum they loved him.
I felt good that the children understood, though I did wonder how the tale might be recounted to their parents. A question from Nahum’s comforters interrupted my pondering.
“When we gonna eat? Questions make me hungry!”
Danny’s inquiry received unanimous backing from the tiny tribe. The sound of chairs being pulled out from the dining table filled the room. “Never be without a jar full of cookies on a rainy day,” that’s my motto.