Over the last few weeks, I've been working on a new "puppy prep" powerpoint for one of our seminars. We find that the majority of owners have no clue what puppies involve, so we thought this would be a good educational tool. Our seminars are only 90 min. sessions, and there is a lot of information in each one. It's difficult to cram everything into that time frame, but I do my best to hit the high points and not go into multitudes of detail.
The biggest thing we stress as dog trainers is socializing your puppy. This is essentially getting your puppy used to "first exposures" in everything--humans of all sizes, shapes, and ages, other dogs, other animals, a variety of objects, etc. Because puppies go through several "fear" periods during their life, we want them to have positive associations to these exposures. We find that puppies who have this early socialization grow up to have better manners, have more confidence, and are less likely to be relinquished by their owners (we won't get into the stupid reasons why people decided to surrender their pet. I've heard everything from "the puppy got bigger" to "I had no more room" to "I'm having a baby" to "the dog doesn't match our furniture.")
Okay, that's the prelude to this post which is obviously about first exposures. Recently, on facebook I've added some more old high school acquaintances. I have not kept in touch with these people since then, so naturally (or maybe it's just the curiosity in me), I wonder what has gone on with their lives. Don't we all wonder that to some degree?
Anyway, what surprised me was how many of them either married different races or fell in love with a certain culture. I think I've mentioned it before, but I grew up in a small, fairly conservative, white town in Virginia. At the time, besides black, you really hardly ever saw other races or ethnicities at all. I truly was one of the only other Asian people there with the exception of the family who ran the Chinese restaurant, another student in my school who had some learning development problems, and a little girl a number of years younger than me who was also adopted. Oh yes, and there were some Japanese students at the small, liberal arts, female-only college and a few Asian students at a private school in town. But those were all the Asian people there. I heard that town has developed quite a bit and it's more diverse.
One of my best friend's in high school I learned married a Hispanic man and is now living in Arizona. This was a person whom I never would have imagined dating or marrying out of her race. Not that she wasn't open to it per se, but just that she didn't have much exposure to that particular subgroup of people prior to college (she went to UVA) and moving to the west coast. I'm thankful her family accepted him and she is happy with a young son.
Another person I found out joined the army, went to Iraq, and somewhere in between there visited Thailand and fell in love with that culture. Prior to that, I doubt he had exposure to anything different than the town we grew up in.
Another boy who was a year older than me who had some trouble with drugs and alcohol in school eventually straightened himself out and wound up marrying a Filipino woman. Again, this surprised me, because his family was conservative, highly privileged, etc.
Then, this other boy I knew who was a year younger than me married a Korean woman and recently had his first child. His mother was our high school guidance counselor and was one of the only adminstrators I liked and talk with. In fact, she was one of the first people to recognize how depressed I was, telling me how my personality had changed so significantly. She also was the person who nominated me to go to Girls State too.
What I realized with this is that it is likely these people's first exposure to an Asian person was me. Now, I know this is speculative, but it makes sense too. It sort of makes me smile actually.
The other thing with this is that I'm sure these people did not say "Oh, Tiptoe was my first exposure to Asian people, and she was really nice, and that's why I fell in love with this Asian person," but it was rather a subconscious thing. If you think about it, we have subconscious first exposures all the time.
Like I try to remember my first exposure to eating disorders, and I really can't for the life of me remember. The only thing that sticks out in my head was reading the book Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, (still one of my favorites) and realizing how it was so sad how much pressure adolescent girls had. It was the first book that I truly identified with. I also remember distinctly saying I could never have an ED, because I loved food too much. Well, a year later, there was the ED smack dab in my face. I know I never had any moment of seeing someone else who had an ED (I did in high school not long after me but she was not the catalyst to my ED), seeing an after school special about EDs, seeing a tv movie, reading some magazine article about a diet turned awry, etc. It just kind of happened with a full array of internal and external events pertaining to both me and my family that certainly would be considered catalysts.
So then, this makes me think about what my first exposure to "recovery" was. Again, I'm not so sure, but I do remember a brief period in college where the ED thoughts didn't consume me so much, but then again, maybe I was just too tired to think with being on heavy duty drugs for my liver at the time.
In any case, I think this is an interesting thing to think about. First exposures and first impressions have a great meaning in life, and they can be positive and negative. Sometimes, they are conscious when you directly remember an event, person, or thing, but other times, they are subconscious. I think even with those subconscious ones, you can eventually become aware of them. I think this is one reason why I'm hoping I can somehow take Tovah into the school system one day. She loves children, and children love her. And it makes a vital impression on them, especially at young ages. Plus, it's incredibly rewarding and educational too.
Note: A fun kid's story--Last weekend, all three of my dogs got a chance to meet the neighbor's children. They have seen them outside quite a bit and get excited when they are out. Hank has a tendency to bark due to a fence being there, but it is only because of the fence and not the kids. Anyway, I asked the kids if they wanted to meet the dogs. All their faces lit up, giddy with excitement. I brought each dog out one by one and let the kids give them treats and pet them. Meanwhile, yes, I was also telling them the correct way to pet a dog and what not to do (one tried to hug Daphne which could have been disaster!). Tovah also got a chance to meet her first baby too which she did well with. It was just a great experience for all of them, well, except for one. One of the little boys has severe allergies to dogs. I felt horribly bad for him to have to watch as his siblings and friends got a chance to pet the dogs, but he couldn't.