Friday, January 18, 2008

My Father's Knees

My Father’s Knees

I was always the shy kid. At age four, I could be found lurking behind my father’s knees when strangers were about. By the time I was eight, I preferred the company of my own self-created world of fictional characters and far-away places to the company of other kids.

Part of the reason may have been the remote rural location where I grew up. We had a lovely farm, plenty of fun, healthy, “kid” things to do, but not a lot of close neighbors or social opportunities.

At age ten, an oral book report in front of my fifth grade class could bring on a full-fledged panic attack. All through high-school and college, I was plagued by teachers and professors grading for “classroom participation”. Algebra and trigonometry story problems were less intimidating.

As an adult, the problem did not improve. My wedding, ridiculously large and formal, was intended to impress everyone except my husband and me, and presented no less of a challenge. I walked down the aisle to the strains of “Trumpet Voluntary” clinging to my father’s elbow. As an adult, elbows are a credible substitute for knees. I am convinced that I did not pass out from sheer terror only because an actress friend recommended a stage trick to me.

“Don’t wear your glasses or contacts”. “You won’t be afraid of people you can’t see”.

For some reason this worked pretty well, although it’s entirely possible that I was actually married to the Best Man and not the groom.. You couldn’t prove it by me.

In spite of the marital identity crisis, stage-fright wasn’t something I laid awake worrying about.

And then we got a whippet.

You might imagine that the whippet served as some sort of therapy, miraculously allowing me to emerge from my silly shell, like a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of the wonderful Therapy Dogs that support and assist people with truly critical issues.

You’d be so wrong.

Carson and I went to training classes for agility and obedience. We were fairly good. Never having been good at anything competitive in my life (see “Shy Kid Tries to Play Basketball”) I was absolutely delighted. Carson and I entered a competition.

You can imagine what’s coming next. Dog shows are the ultimate in limelight, a soloist on a concert stage with an unpredictable accompanist. The soloist is the dog. The unpredictable accompanist, in my case, was me. I stood awaiting my turn, unable to catch my breath, a feeling of panic constricting my chest as if I was suddenly being strangled by my bra.

Our foray into the show-ring probably would have been more successful if I had actually been able to speak, move, or better yet, breathe.

And my Dad’s knees were nowhere in sight.

I tried reading sports psychology studies. I tried breathing techniques. Inevitably, every show left me paralyzed. Dog trainers will tell you that your emotions travel down the leash to the dog – if that were the case, Carson should have been a canine mummy, so utterly bound in fear and anxiety he would be unable to move. Carson moved! In fact, he zoomed everywhere EXCEPT where he was supposed to, adding to my helpless lack of control and consummating my worst fears. At least he was having a good time.

I do not habitually read my horoscope, but I know that I am a Leo. If you believe in such things, somewhere deep inside I must share character traits with the pop star, Madonna, who is also a Leo. While I’ve never been tempted to write a coffee-table book about sex, or dance around on a stage in a cone-shaped pasty, as Madonna has, there is almost certainly a part of me that craves to be the center of attention, that refuses to give up, that insists on being the best I can be.

There is no pivotal moment or epiphany to my story of stage-fright and shyness. For the last ten years I have persevered. I do not give up, even on the days when I enter the show-ring unable to catch my breath, struggling to convince my own knees to work. We don’t do so well those days. We have moved on from obedience and agility to coursing, racing, and conformation. I don’t have to be in the spotlight at running events, but early on I lost a beloved whippet after a spinal chord injury during a running practice. Wobbly show ring knees are nothing next to the absolute terror I experience every time one of my dogs is boxed at a race event.

But the truth is that I show because I love my whippets and I enjoy the bonding time with them. I let them run because they love the lure and it is what they were bred to do. And I like to compete, and I like to win. My confidence is building. I no longer always need my father’s knees to hide behind. That’s probably a good thing, since he has a Brittany, and prefers pheasant hunting.

Come see me at a dog show sometime. I’ll be the one dancing around the ring, being strangled by the cone-shaped pasty.

*New Slideshow added 1/20/08 - scroll to the bottom of the page*


Vanessa said...

That is a great story. Very far from the Jenn I know and you have absolutely persevered. Just don't tell me you are going to become the couch dog with Nike.

Patience-please said...

Bravo! You are finding your voice and it sings.

all the best-

Ron Southern said...

I got in here (Rat), but I'd still look to see if the template is intact, that it ends with an end tag for /html, not with some interrupted code.

Jenn and the City

An Award

An Award
Thanks Patience!

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