It’s every parent’s nightmare.
Your child pulls away from you darting into danger. You run as fast as you can trying to catch her fighting images of accidents and injury. Time stops.
The situation above was what I experienced last night. It’s exactly what another frightened mother experienced. We both were emotionally and physically invested in protecting our loved ones.
This is a blog post not to celebrate how I handled a potentially violent situation, or to criticize an angry mother. This is a post about calm abiding, compassion and empathy. It’s about community and support.
When we arrived at Moores Park Wednesday night for the Concert in the Park we realized it might be an overwhelming scenario. Hundreds of people sitting on the hillside, children running, loud live music from the stage. My girlfriend and I rode our bikes with a picnic and both our dogs, Karma and Vira. We had been looking forward to this community event in our backyard, meeting with neighbors and making new friends.
Karma is a 9-month-old hound puppy. Vira is a 2-year-old Cattledog mix. Both can get very excited in some situations. We’ve been working on their reactivity. When we arrived we realized this might be a bit over the top.
We saw some friends in the crowd. Some came over to say hello. The dogs were very barky. We worked all of our training tricks to try to get them to stop reacting. Ulyana dropped by. Corrine and Elle. We waved to Ruth and her husband.
As we put the blanket Emily said she might want to walk home with the dogs. I said I didn’t think we needed to. I was unpacking food, I was hungry and just focused on getting one bite in my mouth. (Note to self, listen to your girlfriend.)
Boom. A little girl in pink dashes full speed past our blanket. The hold I thought I had on Karma’s leash was imaginary. Suddenly the 30-lb puppy was running dead on the child’s heels down the hill, the girl shrieking the whole way. The crowd seeming to all shriek and run at the same time.
I’m in a full sprint running to catch the dog. She eventually stopped following the girl and turned around but was not coming to me. I think the crowd confused her. She eventually darted back toward our blanket and Emily caught a hold of the leash which was dragging.
My heart calms at seeing Karma under control as I walk back to the blanket. I’m aware children are still shrieking. All eyes are seemingly on us. I start to collect our things to put them away so we can leave when I hear a woman belting out in anger, “Is that the dog? Where’s that dog? I swear I’ll bash that dog!”
I look up and a woman is marching swiftly up the hill toward me wielding a tree branch, swinging it and smacking it on the ground.
This was going terribly bad quickly.
Tai Chi saying: Four ounces defeats 1,000 pounds.
Karma is on her leash in my right hand as I stand to address the furious woman.
Yes, it’s my dog. I’m terribly sorry.
She charges toward me. Karma goes nuts barking and lurching.
Emily takes the dog.
I will bash that dog. That’s my child.
From there on, I don’t know how long we were engaged. She shouts and yells getting closer to my face, never letting go of the stick. It’s about 5 inches around and 3 feet long. It’s clenched in her right hand like a club. At one point she got chest-to-chest with me. I intentionally focused on slow deep breaths, holding my hands together in prayer in front of me, repeating, “I’m sorry.” I could feel her breath on my face, her heart pounding, her spittle spraying. I could see her pulse pounding against the skin of her neck.
All I hear is my child screaming “Mommy! Mommy!” How would you feel? This is my parental instinct.
I’m sorry. Is she OK?
She’s seven years old. Her name is Mattie.
Mattie, are you OK? I’m so sorry that she ran after you. She’s a puppy and got really excited. I’m sorry if you got scared. Are you OK?
She nods and says yes.
The mother is still holding the stick but is starting to breathe with a little more calm. I’m aware of friends of mine rallying around. I remember feeling I my friend Chela beside my right shoulder. The mother is still shouting about hearing her child scream. Chela acknowledges as a mother that that is scary. (Thank you Chela. Your energy was perfect.)
She’s my only child. She’s my heart. She’s my life. I’m a mother. I’m going on instinct.
You’re right. I’m terribly. Sorry. What else can I offer you? I don’t have my business cards on me but I can give you my name. It’s Belinda. I could give you my email. I own Just B Yoga, the yoga studio off Washington.
I know about it.
I can offer you a kids day camp. I can offer you anything. If you need to contact me later if you find out she did get hurt.
No. I don’t want anything. You just need to understand.
I’m so sorry. I’m glad she didn’t get hurt.
I’m a social worker. She could be hurt mentally. Being hurt isn’t just physical. She’s going to remember this for the rest of her life.
Would you like to have her pet the dog. She’s actually very sweet. She could see that the dog isn’t mean.
OK. I’m just offering.
My friend Matthew comes up on my left addressing the woman, “You’re not making this better …”
I turn and ask him to leave. I eventually put my hands on his shoulders and turned him away. (I’m sorry Matthew, and thank you for coming over to help)
I didn’t feel telling the mother anything wrong about her behavior would help. The mother was right. She was reacting out of a base, instinctual space, not a cerebral space. She needed her rage and fear to subside on its own, of her own choosing. She needed it acknowledged, not minimized or denied.
Time feels like it stood still. There was nothing more I could say other than continue to apologize. But she continued to clench the stick. All the while children are dashing by shrieking in front of the dogs, antagonizing them intentionally.
The mother is calmer. A woman from the city of Lansing, which hosted the concert in the park, came over and asked if everything was OK. I think she said her name was Stephanie. The mother said yes. Stephanie asks, “Well, can I have the stick then?”
Slowly she lets Stephanie take it. She goes to her daughter and asks her if she forgives me and if she’s OK one more time.
She and her daughter slowly walk away.
My focus had been so intent on the mother that as she walked away my field of vision expanded to see the field around me. Children playing basketball. There’s music from the stage. The sun is setting over the river and the BWL Eckert plant. My girlfriend is on the grass to the left with the dogs and our friend Roxanne there with her (Thank you Roxie for being a great support system). I start putting the blanket away and packing.
Connie Bonnie and her daughter Tove come over. Tove feeds the dogs. Connie shares a funny story. It’s great to break up the tension.
Children are still taunting the dogs though. They are daring the dogs and Emily and I to react. But it didn’t feel appropriate for us to reprimand them. No one would have accepted that from us, I didn’t feel. Leaving was the only solution. Calmly leaving.
We walk the dogs toward the trail. I hear footsteps running up behind me. It’s Bodhi, our friend’s son. I think he’s in the fourth grade. The dogs didn’t react. I told him he shouldn’t run up behind dogs. He just kept talking and walking with us, then ran back up the hill to his mother.
We took a long walk/ride home with the dogs. It was good to clear the energetic charge with movement and the summer air and the sunset.
We ate our picnic in Emily’s backyard with a fire. I feel bad that our presence at the concert and Karma getting away caused so much disruption, fear and pain in an event I had been so looking forward to. I feel like I created an embarrassing scene for my friends and supporters.
I’ve gone through the questions in my head. Should we have taken the dogs? How did I lose hold of the leash? Would Karma have actually hurt anyone? What would I have done? Could someone have hurt the dog or me or Emily?
I can’t know. I can only learn from what did occur. We can only go forward.
We will work doubly hard on recall training. We’ll work with much smaller gatherings and controlled spaces. We’ll settle to leave them home for big events no matter how much we want them with us.
I also feel blessed to have so many good friends who came to be at our side, not responding to fire with fire, but with loving kindness. That’s what I took away from last night – loving kindness for everyone involved.
My tai chi and yoga practices were called upon last night, testing the being I’ve been cultivating. I stayed true to those practices and my being.
That being asks the city of Lansing, the Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle, our neighbors and everyone who attended the concert to forgive me the interruption of an otherwise beautiful evening.