Straining at Love

Skye just HAD to take Xavior and Katie, our 3-year-old and 9-month-old dogs, to her horseback riding lesson today. She wanted Katie to see the big animals. At first, I said “no,” but she assured me the dogs could be tied up outside or stay in the van during her lesson, so I agreed.

I was once again the fool. Skye did not bring a lead for the dogs and the van was way too hot to sit in. I spent the next hour walking the dogs around the property. Well, not really “walking.” I was pulled and jerked around the property. Skye did bring the splitter, so at least I was able to put both dogs on one leash. The job was not made any easier by the number of squirrels and rabbits that inhabit the farm. At points, the dogs leaped over fences, leaving me stranded, clutching at the leash, on the other side.

As Xavior, Katie, and I circled the fields, it occurred to me that this predicament I was in had a lot of similarities to my relationship with Skye. The dogs pulled and strained in the direction of their impulses and desires – just like Skye. I, on the other hand, pulled and strained to hold back, knowing that if I let go, the dogs might startle a horse and injure a rider. At the very least, I would be chided for not respecting the rules of the stable. I pull and strain against Skye’s grander schemes as well. On the other hand, I was the one who allowed this tug-of-war to occur. I allowed the dogs to roam just as I allowed Skye to roam, trusting in some mysterious way that nothing bad could really happen.

John and Sherry would never have brought the dogs. They would have seen clearly the potential for things to go wrong. They are that way with Skye too. “No” is easier for them – or so it seems to me. I do some kind of crazy dance, back and forth, between John and Sherry on the one side and Skye on the other. I’ve always been a sucker for Skye’s passion (and manipulation). No matter how big, impossible, potentially dangerous, or expensive her dreams, I “humor” them. I don’t want to say no – not yet. Tell me more, I think. “And if you had this horse, this farm, this house, this exotic bird, this job, etc., what would that be like for you, Skye?” John and Sherry know better. They are practical and realistic. They do more of the cleaning up her messes. The messes don’t bother me as much.

Is my dance into Skye’s world worth it? All I seem to do is create pain for Skye and me when the answer of “no” finally comes. She hates me for the “no.” She hates that I’ve let her go on believing, planning, creating, and scheming when the reward does not come that day, according to her timetable.

I was a planner and schemer. But I was not as daring; and I never believed there was an endless supply of money or other resources somewhere to make my dreams come true. For me, there was always the realization that the dreams required my hard work, my sacrifice, to become real. Do I see myself in her? Is that why I carry on this way?

I was a late bloomer in the dating arena. While I was in high school, I was an observer rather than a participant. Through my friends, I learned about “first times” and pregnancy scares, about broken hearts and pressured intimacy. In college, my friends taught me about STDs and abortions. When it was finally my time to have a serious, grown-up relationship with a man, I was ready. I really was. I had learned so much about what I wanted and what I wanted to avoid through my friends.

What does this story have to do with my relationship with Skye? Is it possible that exploring, researching and planning for a dream – no matter how unrealistic at a particular point in time – can be a learning experience that aids in the fulfillment of a later dream at the right time? Can a premature “no” cut short the learning process? For example, is it possible that when Skye wanted a horse – an expensive horse – and learned all about the desired horse and its needs, she was preparing for a time when she might be ready for the responsibility and privilege of owning such a horse? Is it possible that I enabled that dream to last long enough for something good to happen? Or am I just kidding myself?

We, parents, all know that kids need boundaries. And we all know parents that do not provide sufficient ones. We also know parents whose boundaries damage kids. But is there a “one size fits all” set of boundaries? I don’t think so. I know I don’t have it all figured out. But I do believe that you can provide more slack in the leash with some kids than with others. And for some kids, the slack is necessary or else they strangle. (I just wish kids came with a label indicating how much slack you could afford to give them…)

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