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"Nana"

by Roger Powell

1Q97


"Of course, they had a nurse. As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time peeping into perambulators, and were much hated by careless nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to their mistresses."

How often do you let your Newf be a nanny? Newfs will be nannies. All you have to do is let them. They need no training. 

When Virginia, our daughter, was six, we entered Kati in a draft test sponsored by the Bear Mountain Newf Club. Consie handled Kati in the test and, during the out-of-sight down; I hid so as not to distract Kati but watched her unbeknownst. Virginia played loudly with other kids in a wooded area behind the ring used for basic control. Clearly, Kati could hear Virginia and she was concerned. I watched Kati turn her head this way and that, looking for Consie or me. Finally, when she concluded that neither Consie nor I were paying proper attention to Virginia, she sat up, turned around, and watched Virginia until Consie returned. There was nanny work to be done and she did it. 

"She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse ... and up at any moment of the night if one of her charges made the slightest cry." 

My cousin Micki never worried about the kids down at the beach as long as one of the Newfs was with them. Micki had seen Kaloosit, then Kwasind, and then Kati watch kids as they played and swam at the beach. She had seen Newfs swim out to water skiers who dropped into the water and pull them back to shore. She had seen Newfs swim the half-mile across the lake and back with groups of adults and kids, the dog swimming as strongly as the best of the human swimmers. Micki trusted the Newfs to take care of the kids at the water. 

Micki had also seen kids lie on the floor in the living room with heads propped against one of the big dogs, reading or listening to the conversation or dozing. More than once, a child had been lifted from the floor and from its black, furry pillow to be put to bed without awakening. Then the dog would rise, shake, stretch its legs, get a drink and ask to do a few 'dog things': off duty, at last. 

"It was a lesson in propriety to see her escorting the children to school, walking sedately by their side when they were well behaved, and butting them back into line if they strayed." 

Kati joined Consie, Virginia and me on Virginia's first canoe trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness when Virginia was two. At camp on our second afternoon, Virginia sat in a shallow pool of warm water where an indentation in the bedrock near Gull Lake had been filled by waves. Kati lay on the shore behind her, watching as Virginia washed her clothes and herself. During the last evening, Kati and Virginia walked along the rocky shore of Horse Lake together, Kati always between Virginia and the water. 

In July 1996, Nokomis was four months old and my grandniece, Jayne, was six years old. The dog youngster and the person youngster had similar ideas on how to spend the day. Jayne would come to Consie or me and ask "Can Nokomis play?" And then they would romp for hours outside our cabin in the woods of northern Wisconsin. Adult people would occasionally cast an eye towards the kids playing, but Milakokia and Ishkoodah kept watch continuously. The two adult dogs simply lay near the cabin and watched the kids play. They never had to keep the kids from mischief or danger, but I have no doubt that they would have if need be. 

"She had a genius for knowing when a cough is a thing to have no patience with and when it needs a stocking around your throat." 

When Matthew Novak was toddling but not talking, he picked up Zack's dog food bowl and marched out of the kitchen. Matthew was Zack's special charge, but that bowl was Zack's special bowl, and not Matthew's bowl. Zack followed Matthew as he walked through the living room and dining room and around the house, Matthew firmly clutching the bowl. Finally, Matthew walked back into the kitchen and into a corner. Zack firmly took hold of his bowl and gently pulled it from Matthew. Then, without putting down the bowl, he lowered his head and ever so gently nudged Matthew so that he plopped onto his seat. Zack put his bowl back where it belonged and lay down to watch Matthew. Job done. 

"On John's soccer days, she never once forgot his sweater, and she usually carried an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain."

I sometimes think that Barrie made Nana, in Peter Pan, a bit too serious. Nana never seems to have played with her charges, but I suppose that would have been improper for a 19th century nursemaid. Our nannies, however, have been pleased to play at times. 

One Christmas, Consie and Virginia buried me in snow leaving only my head exposed. Then Virginia and I buried Consie in snow. Then Consie and I buried Virginia. Then Virginia, Consie and I buried Kati. Kati was uncertain about the game at first, but soon started frustrating us with little shakes of her skin that sent our snow spraying. Then we had to begin our burying again. Don't tell me Kati did not know exactly what she was doing. She did not get up, just foiled us. 

Then Kati joined me on the toboggan and we zoomed down the short, nearby hill. 

Trust your Newf. Let her do her nanny jobs. Let him be with the kids, play with them and keep his watchful eyes on them. And when she is done, when the kids have stopped playing and gone to bed, when her charges are having lunch and no longer sledding, give her a hug from me. 

Quotes in italics are from Peter and Wendy, by J. M. Barrie, first published in 1911, later published as Peter Pan. 

reprinted from NewfTide 1999

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