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Miles of Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is my family’s favorite holiday. As harried as it is, my mother-in-law and father-in-law manage to make everyone feel truly welcomed. The 28-year-old ritual of driving the 430 miles roundtrip to Long Island, New York, is comfortably familiar. Even the specter of anticipated traffic holding us up is an embraced challenge. We arrive on Thursday morning and brunch is always ready—so that we can eat before the Thanksgiving meal. I like to joke that we actually don’t eat THAT much. We have only one meal on Thanksgiving—it just begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.

We stay for the weekend to spend extended time with extended family. We all hang out until Sunday morning in one house, a house that was not at all built to accommodate the now thirteen of us. Meals linger, stories are shared, problems discussed (both worldly and personal) in a place where the only expectation is for you to be present for as long as you can.

Over 28 years, the trip itself embodies important passages of time. There are adult children in the car now, when at the beginning it was just two young adults beginning an intertwined life. Later, it was four of us with the added two in car seats. For the past six years, it has just been three of us, because my wife, Wendy, passed away on November 29, 2010. That was the only year we missed traveling to New York. Thanksgiving, and the people we celebrate it with, came to Boston, to the hospital. I took half of November off from work, and all of December and most of January. My first foray back into our community was at ClickerExpo. I couldn’t bring myself to give a eulogy at Wendy’s funeral, but at ClickerExpo in January of 2011 in Long Beach, California, I wanted to talk to the ClickerExpo community about the qualities that made Wendy the most extraordinary clicker trainer.

Wendy was in no way an animal trainer or behaviorist. But she was an all-star clicker trainer. Kathy Sdao, among others, has observed that you can be using a clicker, and not be practicing clicker training. At one level, you could be using the tool poorly. At the next level, your technical proficiency could be great, but you never internalize the principles into your daily life.

Wendy was living proof of something else: that you can be a complete clicker trainer and yet never teach animals or hold a clicker.

I am thankful for, among many things, the wonderful community that gathers and grows at ClickerExpo ever year.
Last month at ClickerExpo in Billund, Denmark, an attendee approached me. We had just finished watching the same Session. She said, “I was at ClickerExpo the year that you talked about your wife. I still remember it.” I was struck immediately, almost at a loss for words. How extraordinary. This lovely person had reached across six years of time and 5,516 miles to connect us and to tell me that what had been so important to me also resonated deeply with her. It was honest and brave, and a reminder of what extraordinary people we have in this community of ours.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for, among many things, the wonderful community that gathers and grows at ClickerExpo ever year. I hope this year I will see you there, too.

Come to ClickerExpo Portland (January 27-29, 2017) or ClickerExpo Stamford (March 31-April 2, 2017).


Aaron Clayton’s speech about Wendy at ClickerExpo 2011 is available by request by e-mailing events@clickertraining.com.

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Aaron Clayton is President of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and TAGteach International, and a member of the ClickerExpo Faculty.