What can prepare a couple for the wonders of parenthood? There are no “official” manuals out there. People never seem to let you borrow their kids for more than a week or two at a time. That’s WAY too short for a good trial run. When you try to keep them longer, the parents get the cops involved. You have to hire a lawyer…well, enough of that.

To prepare my wife for the possibility of boys (and girls), I think the best surrogates out there are dogs. As for me, I don’t need much preparation. That’s not a matter of arrogance. It’s more like a significant portion of my brain never stopped being a boy, and I have the garage full of tools to prove it. (The stockpiling of tools is an essay unto itself, though. We’ll save that for another day.)

When my wife and I got together, we each had our own dog. Heidi (a German Shepherd mix) was already 9 years old, and Gabe (an English Cocker mix) was just a few months old. Gabe had been living with my mother-in-law’s playful Golden Retrievers. Heidi was an only dog. It was a fur-covered Brady Bunch but with a much smaller cast. Heidi and Gabe were never best friends. Tug-o-war was the only game they played together, and Heidi never kept it up for long. However, they did not mind living in the same house, and Gabe was more than willing to pick up Heidi’s worst habit. Let’s just say that recycling is not always a good thing. Note: It’s a good idea to keep your eyes on the kids, especially when one is a trouble maker.

Heidi didn’t like to share toys. There was no way we could convince her otherwise. She would stockpile them in her kennel, and we would periodically have to retrieve them, since Gabe was wise enough not to venture into Heidi’s realm. The lesson to be learned here is to teach the kids how to share early on, otherwise they will bare their teeth at you when you try to take the toys away.

Gabe was (and still is) a momma’s boy. He is my wife’s shadow. He showed his contempt for me at the beginning by going after my shoes. Fortunately he never really went after the more expensive shoes. Lesson learned 1: Over-dependence will cause a child to act out in an anti-social manner. Lesson learned 2: Make sure you keep the good stuff out of the kids’ reach.

Well, Heidi passed away last year, and we went to the pound to find a new family member. We brought home Dee, a Belgian Malinois mix. Dee has been excellent in preparing us for the possibility of having a boy. She likes to dig in the dirt, loves to play in mud puddles, is always picking on Gabe, does not like to listen to my wife, is picky about her food, gets into everything, tears stuff apart, scatters toys all over the place, and is hyperactive. Okay, so it’s pretty much a description of me as a kid, except I did listen to my mom. If I didn’t, my dad would re-iterate in a much more *ahem* assertive manner. If having Dee isn’t preparation for male offspring, I’d like to know what is.

The dogs also have helped us appreciate the fact that they have different personalities, even if you raise them the same way. I think that it’s a grave injustice to children to treat them all alike. How many of us have heard, “Why can’t you be like your brother/sister?”

So for any parents I have in the audience, feel free to leave a comment and share what surprised you most about your kids when you became a parent.

By the way, will kids do tricks for Milkbones?