My dog, Lambeau, is thrilled each time I take the leash out of the closet. He jumps up and down, leaping with the joyous anticipation of fresh air, new scents, puddles, grass and the mystery of the unknown.
My babies would greet me each morning, standing in their cribs, their happy, toothless grins welcoming me, their tiny hands reaching for me—open, close, open, close—waiting to be lifted and hugged and cleaned and loved. Each day there were new experiences, from things to taste to skills to try—sitting, crawling, walking, holding a bottle, eating solid food. Each task mastered was a step away from me.
Lambeau and I head off on our walk, everything in the neighborhood as familiar to me as the back of my hand, but to him it’s brand new each day. He sniffs the trees, searching for friends. He pees, leaving a greeting for the dogs that will find his scent. He roams back and forth on the sidewalk, covering his ground. He stops and investigates; he poops and I clean it up. He is filled with anticipation: Which way now? Where are you taking me?
My toddlers were always curious and moving—seeking out others like them, playing side-by-side at first and then, together, as they grew older. In the park or at preschool, they would look at other children with a mix of fascination and skepticism: Who is this little person who is my size? I would chase them everywhere—down hallways, on playgrounds, in the grocery store or the mall. Oh, how they ran. One day, they were potty trained, and I stopped changing their diapers. A welcome step away from me.
Lambeau eyes other dogs as we walk, instinctively knowing when to stay away from them or when to circle in greeting. I nod at the other dog walkers, impressed at how well-trained some of their animals are—stopping on command, sitting at attention at the curb. Not Lambeau. He’s ready to go in any direction I allow, and often I have to pull him back from the street, so eager is he to be on to the next magical thing that will catch his attention—a cat, a patch of grass, the remnants of someone else’s dog left behind on the ground. He could walk forever, it seems.
My elementary school-aged children set out each day without me for hours at a time. I trusted their teachers to care for them, watch over them, but still, once in a while, I would drive by the school during lunch, just to see if they were playing with friends, to see if they looked happy. They never saw me. The inevitable bad days, the days when a test was hard or other children were mean, enraged me. Every child has bad days, of course…but not mine! Mine should never feel pain, or sadness, or loneliness. I had to learn to let them feel whatever they were feeling without trying to fix everything. I let them find me first when they needed my help—at least I usually did. They took another step away as they learned the small and big pains of the world, the sweetness of a friendship, success, independence.
Sometimes when we are walking, Lambeau will yank at his leash or stop, unmoving, even as I urge him to keep going. He will go that way when I want to go this way. He steps in puddles and gets his white fur dirty; he eats grass that will make him sick later on. He gets skittish when other dogs bark at him from behind a gate or window; when he can’t see where the barking is coming from it seems to unnerve him. He moves closer to me when that happens, though I can tell he is still curious about where the noise is coming from. A step forward, a step back.
My middle school children were a stew of elation and deep sadness, sometimes both in the same minute. They were changing, growing, maturing, even as they remained children in so many ways. Their childish cuteness gave way to the undefined awkwardness of adolescence. Their attachment to me became a burden to them even as they clung to it like a lifeboat as they navigated the treacherous waters of “on the verge of….” I longed for my babies but was tremendously curious about the adults they would become. A giant step away from me, though they held on tight.
As we approach home, Lambeau knows the way, no matter which direction we come from. He guides me as we near our house, trotting happily, if a little weary, after our walk. About a half a block from home I let him off the leash, confident that he’ll head for our front door, which he always does. He’s not a young dog, around 10 years old we think—he was a rescue pup—and running away wouldn’t make any sense anymore. He knows he has a good thing where he is.
My high school kids were a whirlwind, bringing people, food, noise, sports equipment, cars, clothes and so much more into my life. It seemed as if they were always on their way out, and when they came home, they were here briefly before they headed out again. They were getting ready for, well, the rest of their lives—leaving me behind, but coming back when they needed me, whether to wash their clothes or dry their heartbroken tears.
Day by day, further and further they went, until they left for good, but now they come back to visit. They know where the front door is and that I’m always here. I’m just steps away.
And Lambeau will be here to greet them, too.
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