We have two dogs. One is a nice, elderly, civilized old lab named Sadie. She is calm, mostly obedient, and generally quite sedate.
We also have a younger dog, named Tucker.They are super bestie friends, even though sometimes he jumps on her and bites her neck. Sometimes she growls and chases him away from his food dish. He is younger and more energetic. She is older and more assertive. It’s a relationship that works, even if those of us on the outside don’t always see that.
The one really glaring difference between our two dogs is that Sadie can go outside and run around for hours, but will come right back inside when we call her. She is loyal and obedient.
Tucker, on the other hand, will get loose and stay outside until he is exhausted, hungry, filthy and freezing cold. He will resist all efforts to entice him back into the house. He will dance around and bark and jump, always within two feet of grabbing human hands. He will growl and run and howl at the moon, but he absolutely will NOT come back inside.
He has gotten loose by pushing out the door, by squeezing under the fence, and by sneaking out the garage door when no one was watching. And once he has gotten out and achieved his freedom, Tucker will thoroughly enjoy himself by running into the woods behind the house, by digging in the yard, by racing freely up and down the driveway. When it happens (once or twice a year), he sometimes stays out for days. It absolutely sucks for us when he is out there.
When Tucker is out, Paul and I spend difficult nights, listening to his barks and howls, wondering where he is, obsessing about the possibility of a bear or a coyote coming into our yard and hurting him. We toss, we turn, we listen desperately for the jangle of his collar and tags. We track the sound of his hound dog holler, ringing through the neighborhood and down into the woods. For better or worse is our baby; we can’t sleep thinking that he is out there in the big scary world without us.
When Tuck was a pup, we made the mistake of tricking him back into the house if he managed to escape. We tried to fool him , to entice him, to use any trick that we could find to coax him back in to safety. We always managed to get him in the end, but the moral of the stories, for him, was “Run away until you have no choice!”
Those early escapes were terrifying for us. We were his Mommy and Daddy, we wanted to protect our baby boy.
Fast forward, if you will, to this year. Tucker is now six year old, and the “running way” trick is far less adorable than it was when he was a baby. We are older, and more tired, and we worry less about how much sleep each “child ” is getting.
Life is short, from the vantage point of 55 years old and ready to embrace the empty nest. We simply don’t have the time or the emotional energy to pour into a renegade hound dog.
The metaphor is pretty obvious. We are here in our house, just the two of us, with no more children to guard and protect. Like Tucker, our kids have busted out the doors and are running free in the big scary world without us. Like him, they are intoxicated by their freedom, embracing the sharp cold wind of excitement, and hoping to stay out there for as long as possible. Just like our big dog, our children are dancing with joy just outside the reach of our arms, just beyond the grasp of our embrace.
And just as we listen for the howling voice of our vagabond hound, we are listening all the time for the call of our children, marking the margins of their world, sounding the call of their liberation from our scrutiny.
Last week, through a hole in the backyard fence, Tucker and Sadie escaped three times in eight days. The last time out, the big dope stayed out for a day and half. When he finally came back in, at about 5 AM, I found myself kissing his soft, warm head, and telling him how much I’d like to strangle him for worrying me like that. I breathed in his healthy doggie smell, rested my cheek on his bony head, and gave him a slap on the butt. I love him, I worry about his every move, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I feel exactly the same way about my kids.