Straight out of college, I landed a job working as an animal control officer with the local police department. I must have impressed them with my whisper-soft voice and mild mannerisms. At any rate, the gig was mine and, after a solid two weeks of intense training (during which I accidentally pepper-sprayed myself in the face and learned to catch bats using a tennis racket and a pillowcase), the powers that be declared that I was ready to ride solo.
Off I went that first day, confident in my abilities as an animal-controlling prodigy. My first assignment? A pit bull had a mail carrier cornered on someone’s porch. I drove promptly yet law-abidingly to the rescue.
As I stepped from my vehicle, the dog, a good seventy pounds of growling, snarling muscle and fur, advanced slowly and panic-inducingly in my general direction. One look at those slobbery jaws of death and everything I’d learned flew out my dog-catching skull and into the ether.
Lesson #1: Preparation only goes so far
Despite all the training I received, it was ultimately instinct that carried the day. I pepper sprayed the pooch into submission, slipped the catchpole around his neck, and wrestled him into the back of the van before my brain really caught up with what was happening.
Parenting is similar — you can read all the parenting books in the world, attend the best classes, and even babysit for other people’s kids for long stretches of time, but you can’t really know how you’ll react and adjust until you’re in the thick of it. Even then, it’s often instinct that kicks in and saves the day.
The bottom line: Whether your kid has a mail carrier trapped on someone’s porch or you can’t figure out why he keeps throwing tantrums when the cat sneezes, trust your instincts. And when in doubt, always have headquarters (or a wise elder or two) on speed dial.
Lesson #2: Accidents happen
A few months into the job, I was feeling pretty good about my new role. I drove down the main drag in town, sunglasses on, police radio tuned, scanning all the while for any animals needing my assistance. Eventually, I noticed that more vehicles than usual were pulling over and slowing to a snail’s pace.
I shrugged. By then I was used to the more law-abiding citizens giving me a wide berth in deference to the police vehicle I drove around in.
I stopped at a red light and a firetruck pulled up next to me. The driver motioned for me to roll down the window.
“Hey!” he yelled, “Did you know your lights are on?”
I wilted like a lettuce leaf in the hot sun as I noticed that the police radio had slipped from its holder and bumped the emergency light switch to the on position. I’d been flashing red and blue lights for half a mile without even realizing it. Waving sheepishly, I switched them firmly to off and drove away, tail between my legs.
The bottom line: Accidents happen. Whether it’s leaving the emergency lights on in your animal control van or your kid spilling her sippy cup all over the freshly scrubbed floor, a little humility (and a lot of laughter) go a long way.
Lesson #3: It’s tough to sneak up on a mother duck
One of the best assignments I ever got was rescuing a mother duck and her ducklings who were stranded on a median near a busy intersection. This time, I called for backup. Once my coworker arrived, he and I closed down a lane of traffic and quickly scooped the ducklings into a box.
Phase two of Operation Duck Rescue was trickier. We had to catch the mother. I snuck up from the rear while my coworker distracted her from the front. Every time I lunged for her, though, she flew away, circled a few times, then returned, searching for her babies. I must have grabbed for that mommy duck three dozen times before I finally snagged her. (My partner and I then drove to a local pond and released the mother and her ducklings back into the wild.)
The bottom line: Sometimes our kids strand themselves on a dangerous median in heavy traffic (either literally or metaphorically speaking). When this or a similarly overwhelming thing happens, it’s a good idea to call for backup. As with many things in life, asking for and accepting help is often a sign of strength and wisdom.
Also, remember to buckle up your ducklings. It’s a crazy world out there.
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