Maybe it isn’t a surprise

People are usually surprised, if for some reason it comes up in conversation, to learn that I was a timid child, afraid to be away from my home until I was an older teenager. They’re surprised because for the past 25 years I have organized and led travel adventures for women and students. Prior to earning a living this way, I traveled by myself to places that required hours or days cooped up in planes. I wasn’t afraid anymore, but I used to be.

I have read that children who grow up with furry pets are less likely to develop allergies, however I was not one of them. The accumulated damp and mold of a newly opened summer cottage, pollen, cats, feather pillows, wool blankets, the family guinea pig, caused my eyes to itch, water and swell. I sneezed, wheezed and rubbed. People often ask me if I have a cold because I sound congested.

When weekend sleepovers with schoolmates were planned I could not bring myself to attend, what if there were feather pillows? wool blankets? I was embarrassed to bring my own, and truthfully, it wasn’t only the threat of an allergic reaction that kept me away. I was scared to be away from what was familiar to me. The odor of cooking cabbage seeping into the hallways and mixing with the smell of old carpeting in apartment buildings scared me. Chicken sandwiches with mayonnaise and glasses of milk, a combination I’d never had before, served at strange kitchen tables, made me anxious. Eat, be polite, keeping focused on the time I could leave.

As a young teenager, the summer between seventh grade and eighth, I was invited to spend a week with my aunt and uncle at their cottage on a lake near Plymouth MA. My aunt had three sons and always wanted a daughter so tried to bring her nieces into her life. When I was invited I accepted, I was old enough I thought, to spend a few nights away from home. I was wrong.

Almost as soon as I arrived I wanted to leave. I tried not to get caught crying in the bathroom, my stomach in a knot, disgusted with myself that all I wanted was to go home. Too ashamed to say it, I found another way. My aunt and uncle had a German Shepherd named Prince. This was back in the days when German Shepherds were still confident, friendly dogs without the anxious vigilance of so many of the lines today. Prince did make me a bit stuffy and I saw my exit and I ran for it. If I was sick I could go home, but I wasn’t sick, but I could pretend to be, so I began sneezing and rubbing my eyes, making myself wheeze when I breathed. My mother was called and I was taken to the emergency room where I was diagnosed with asthma and given pills and had the bottle for years and never needed them again.

I did finally learn to be able to sleep away from home. At age 15 I had a beautiful, blond boyfriend and if this was a different kind of blog I’d tell you more about that, but for now let’s just say that I had found a reward that was motivating enough to make me want to sleep away from home. And then during my first year in college in Ohio I hitchhiked with a friend to his home in upper state NY. I was given his sister’s room, and I had an epiphany. Her bed was a double, larger than the twins, or bunks I had at home or in college. And the bed, along with a thick quilt, had a top sheet.

I’d slept in hotels with top sheets when traveling with my parents but at home we had comforters that served the dual purpose of blanket and top sheet. Beds were easier to make that way and I never felt deprived. But in this bed in an unfamiliar, new house, I felt warm, safe and comfortable. I loved top sheets, the smooth cotton coolness that warmed to body temperature. I could have stayed in that bed forever. I began to look forward to staying at other people’s homes because I discovered that there are beds which are more comfortable than my own. Nowadays other beds have more room because there are fewer dogs sleeping in them, and I enjoy the opportunity to stretch out, and, I reluctantly admit all are infinitely cleaner due to the absence of those dogs.

What I believe made me as anxious and scared as I was, more than worrying about sneezing, was the sense I had that like someone arriving onto a sports field, I had shown up after the rules were explained and everyone, except for me, understood them. Maybe lots of people feel this way, unsure of what to say or how to behave as they navigate through childhood and adolescence. I still feel this way on occasion when I’m faced with a situation I’ve never experienced before, which could be the definition of life. Perhaps this is why my heart goes out to the dogs who are afraid, who don’t know the rules, are affronted by the scents and sounds of shelters, new homes, cars, playgrounds, city streets. The dogs who just want to be home and know nothing of the subterfuge of pretending to be something other than what they are. The very least it seems we can do is provide a place which is safe and comfortable, offer them a top sheet and maybe one day have to make room for them on the bed.

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11 comments so far

  1. Amy@GoPetFriendly on

    I love this post. Haven’t we all felt insecure, unsure, a little scared? If we remember that feeling we can be more compassionate for others – be they dogs or people – who are feeling afraid. Thanks for the reminder.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Amy. I hope your travels around the country are going well and you’re finding places to cool off.

  2. Lizzie on

    Brilliant post!

    Debbie I think we could have been sisters in another life. As soon as I started reading this I knew where you were going with it. Very emotional.

    As a shy, under confident child my self I can relate 100% to all that you say. It becomes more and more evident to me that this is why I can have so much empathy with Gracie, and why I prefer to spend my time with her, as she appreciates me and the relationship that we have.

    It’s always humbling to read about other people’s feelings, thank you.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hey there’s a thought. Karmic connections on the internet. It would make a good story. 😉

  3. melfr99 on

    Great post Deb. Honest and so achingly familiar.

    Maybe there is a theme here? I, too, can relate to now wanting to leave home. I always hated committing to staying at school for after school activities because I didn’t want to be away from home. I rarely did overnights and preferred the familiar. (I also have allergies to cats and dogs, which of course, meant I would one day want to work with them!).

    Your comment about “I still feel this way on occasion when I’m faced with a situation I’ve never experienced before” made me wonder if this is why I always tend to get stuck when faced with a new situation – like I’m in that sports field and everyone else knows the rules but me.

    I never connected it to my attraction to fearful dogs before, but reading your post did make me wonder if that is why I am drawn to them. Thanks for sharing this side of yourself. It provided great insight for me as well.

  4. Jim Stay on

    True confessions of a not-so-innocent young woman. I was wondering how this was going to relate to fearful dogs.

    It’s a good reminder. I have always been shy, but for years I worked in a business that required me to speak to groups and lead group work session. I think that insecurity is what I relate to in the dogs. I spent an hour today getting to know a rat terrier who was fear reactive, but is really trying to be friendly. My next rescue, I think.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Not so young either!

      Good luck with the little terrier. Hope it works out for both of you.

  5. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    My 9yo niece stayed in a hotel with her parents for the first time this summer, and she flipped out. It felt really creepy and dirty and unsafe to her. My sis and I had a good laugh about it, but then I remembered checking into a hotel late one night on a biz trip, and the place was a DUMP. I called my hubby bawling because it was so awful. So, you know, sometimes it just isn’t home.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      It’s good to know I’m not alone in my response to novelty and new environments!

  6. rangerskat on

    “I had shown up after the rules were explained and everyone, except for me, understood them.”

    This is being printed out and posted on my refrigerator. It completely captures what I feel is going on with Finna, in her case not just feeling like that but in actual fact that’s what has happened to her.

    I can totally relate to the shy childhood. I never slept away from my family until I went to college. I still think of myself as being very shy but people who know me are surprised to learn this. Over the years I’ve developed a lot of coping strategies and “learned the rules” so that today I can cope with most any situation in a calm confident manner (even if I’m shaking inside).

    Thank you for making me think about things in such helpful ways.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I also didn’t sleep away from home comfortably when I was a kid. I actually worked myself into an asthma attack to go home once.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Dogs are generally so good at adapting that it’s easy to overlook that some are struggling.


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