Monday, September 9, 2013

You is Smart...You is Nice...You is Important

The movie "The Help" came out in 2011, based on a book by the same name by Kathryn Stockett. I enjoyed both the movie and the book immensely. It takes place in the Jim Crow South of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960's, and is one of those stories that has many strong, wonderful characters in it - most virtuous and a few wicked. The main character is a black maid, Aibileen, who works for a family struggling to keep up with the Southern aristocratic "Joneses".

To me one of the marks of a good story are lines said worth remembering, adopting and repeating. Although it has nothing to do with dogs, there is one line in the movie I have held on to as a puppy raiser. It is actually spoken in three scenes in the movie, between Aibileen and her little charge, a chubby, sweet 3-year old white girl named Mae Mobley. Mae Mobley does not have it easy. Having had the little girl while still practically a girl herself, her mother is unhappy, preoccupied and icy towards her daughter. So Mae Mobley turns to the maid Aibileen, who not only takes care of her physical needs, but loves her and gently guides her thru the early stages of life, including fundamentals like potty training and sore throats.

The line is first spoken during a very touching part of the movie, when the maid Aibileen tells Mae Mobley in a very soft, intimate, singsong voice, "You is smart....You is nice....You is important." The little girl solemnly listens and repeats after Aibileen as best she can, " important." Given her young age, you wonder how much of those concepts little Mae can really understand, yet somehow Mae Mobley recognizes the gravity of the words and tries hard to grasp and commit them to memory.

When Piper was a younger puppy he was a double handful of curiosity mixed with a strong helping of independence, and a dash of wildness. To top it off, he was not a napper! There were days when I yearned for a timeout from him, but since my husband was gone on a job and the nearest sitter was miles away, it wasn't going to happen. Sometimes it helped to sit him down in front of me, look into his puppy eyes and recite meaningfully the lines from The Help:  "You is smart...You is nice...You is important." Oddly enough, Piper would listen with great seriousness to the tone of my voice, as if trying to grasp the meaning of my words. Dogs may not know what you say, but they can certainly hear how you say it, thereby getting a handle on your feelings.

Saying those lines was a reminder to me of the importance of what I was doing. By reciting those words and believing in them, I was showing Piper my trust in his ability to fulfill those words. As puppy raisers, I think we all fiercely believe in our puppies and strive with all that we have to see that their smartness, niceness and future importance as service dogs will someday come to pass. We are our puppy's strongest advocates and supporters. Even if our puppies are throwing up or chewing something irreplaceable or embarrassing us in public, we puppy raisers fix or clean it up best we can, forgive, and with unquenchable optimism move on.

These days Piper is a much more well-behaved pup and I am happy with his steady progress. Although I don't need to say the lines out of sheer desperation anymore, I love to recite them to master Piper anyway and it strikes me that they ring with greater clarity as the days go by: "You is smart....You is nice....You is important."

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