True to form, her affable intro is followed by, "What's his name? Can I pet him?" -- or perhaps, "Can I pet him? What's his name?" That is, if her sister hasn't beaten her to the punch.
Meanwhile, yards away, weaving his way into the cluster of dog owners standing about in the evening heat, my son is making his own friends. Between the three kids, they have a growing mental Rolodex of all the dog park "regulars."
"Is that your son?" A woman puffs up to me with a grin. When I nod and smile, she bursts into giggles."When I told him my dog's name, he said, 'Oh, Duke! That's a CLASSIC dog name.' What a friendly kid. So socially adept!" I consider telling her he's homeschooled. I bite my tongue.
As usual, mine are the only children at the park, mingling with new and familiar dogs and owners. We stand about, making small talk, watching Pongo and his playmates race up and down the hill, ignoring their owners' pleas not to jump into the drainage ditch for a swim, and blowing off the steam they've built up all day between air-conditioned walls.
I consider how many times I've driven or jogged past the park entrance unawares ... until we became dog owners. Now, that entrance means freedom for our pup and a minor sense of community for us -- especially for the kids.
Do you ever find yourself building a habit -- consciously or otherwise -- with your family, and then wonder: Does this mark the beginning of a tradition that will last for years? Or is it just a blip in our family tapestry, until circumstances and routines shift and suddenly it's been days, weeks, months since our last visit? Will this become part of my kids' childhoods, or simply a mile marker for Summer 2011?
And now for an even more weighty question. If you had to put up with a blonde pixie dressing you up like this, wouldn't you need to blow off a little steam in the drainage ditch at the end of the day?