I definitely have a problem. It's been mentioned to me before, in shocked looks and over reactive arguments, so I never really gave it too much thought, assuming it was merely the vicious contrivance of an enemy mind set to undermine my sanity. But then it hit me square in the face. This morning. When I dropped Dagny off at the vet for her spay appointment and had to fight a mild panic attack, right before I left Aspen standing on a street corner in front of her school and several quasi-questionable vehicles parked in the shadows.
I worry more about my dogs than I do my kids.
Before you slam your computer in disgust and disappointment, or send me a congratulatory note for finally coming to my senses, let me clarify:
As human beings, it is built in to us to control our environments. We change positions or temperatures or colors or smells or really anything that we don't like to live with. We cultivate careers and hobbies and pastimes and families and communities around things that make us happy and captivate us. It's instinctive to draw little compartments around our lifestyle choices and create the most realistic sense of security and control that we can. It's what we do. In 2009, I remember lying awake in a humid bedroom in Uganda, staring at silver-dollar sized holes in the mosquito net above my bed, when the reality that I had four human lives for which I was solely responsible, innocently depending on me, thousands and thousands of miles away, across oceans and continents and hours and days. They were there, I was here, surrounded by other children and people and families. And I realized, in that moment, if anything happened - whether an earthquake shook a roof in on top of my sleeping babies, or a horse trampled one of them, or some driver texting his mom swerved in the wrong second, anything could happen, and I would not be there to control, fix or prevent it. I had a few moments of absolute terror. Anxiety like I have never experienced. The sense of not-being-in-control was something I had never really thought about. Life is just something you coast through and everybody is ok, until they aren't. But there is this thing in the back of our minds, as human beings, that everybody is ok, and things are just fine, because we make it that way. Because we are doing it right. Because we've got it handled. And then one day, somehow, we realize that we don't. Some of us take longer to learn that than others. Some people never figure it out. For some of us, it takes the Most Terrible Thing We Can Imagine to happen to us before we understand that we never "had it handled" in the first place.
This is where we begin to wax all philosophical and talk about the Goodness of God, which I will not contend, or that Everything Happens For A Reason, which I truly believe, and sometimes we even indulge the Sowing and Reaping conversation in an attempt to place blame and reclaim our own control. This argument usually doesn't end well for anyone, unless a life of guilt and bitterness and shame appeal to you... But the reality is that at some point, as human beings, we have to come to terms with the fact that we Do Not Control Things. Some things, maybe. Small things. Things that Have Little Consequence. And this brings me back to my original point: I worry more about my dogs because the world of my dogs is small. It's petty, it's dependent entirely upon me, and it's something, that more or less, I can control. More so than the elementary school where I dropped Aspen off. Who's to say that Ensworth Elementary could never be a Sandy Hook? More so than the swirling emotions of a teenage girl that can't be grounded away. More so than the outcome of the potentially terrible and yet somehow necessary thought of handing over the care and upbringing of one of my children for several months to a family I barely know. More so than a walk down the street with any number of potentially lethal accidents, criminals and catastrophes hanging in the balance overhead.
I realized several years ago that I have little to no control over the lives of other human beings. Including my own children. Whether I am in Uganda or the next bedroom doesn't change whether MacKenzie's heart or Natalee's cello playing fingers will get broken. But my dogs. I tell them where to go. When to sit. When to eat. I subjected Dagny to the pain and suffering and confusing loneliness of a surgery this morning. I can't tell her, like I could tell Halle, Don't worry, this will be worth it, you'll get a prize at the end... Dogs depend on me to control their world. They trust me. My kids already understand the folly of looking to me for a reliable and well-scripted destiny. They have already undertaken the human operation of controlling their own worlds and environments, even the ones I have tried to craft safely for them, they have changed. They have plastered Harry Potter posters over the soft alfalfa-hay green walls that I provided them. They have added chocolate to the perfect cup of coffee that I built. Dagny knows nothing better than the piece of dry dog food from my hand. Simply because it's from my hand. It's easier. Worrying about dogs. It's friendlier to a power-hungry human.
My kids probably feel like they play second (or fifth?) fiddle to a herd of dogs, not knowing that I have channelled my urge to control the outcome of their choices and life events into their canine counterparts. Emmy, with all of her anxiety issues and strange behaviors, is someone that I can effectively mold and shape, whereas the more pressure I put on MacKenzie to conform, or relax into a mold, the more she struggles and fights and makes her own shape. I guess I am just lazy. Or scared to take responsibility for the outcome of my kids. Not that I can avoid it. Whether I shape them passively or aggressively, I get to take some of the credit for how they turn out. But what life delivers to them - I can't control that. I can't put them on leashes and build a fence and tell the doctors exactly what to do them. Remove their ability to reproduce (although this isn't a terrible idea), microchip them so they can never wander without being brought back, trim their toenails so they can't dig in and defend themselves... In some ways the energy seems much more well spent on a pack of dogs. I guess that is what separates people from animals. That sense that we each have our own path and at some point, we have to wander it ourselves. If I let Emmy wander her own path she'd be right back out in the middle of the midnight street, narrowly missingthe bumper of every passing car. I don't have to test her to find out. But Halle - where will she go? If her last adventure didn't work out so well, she'll re adapt, look for a new way. I can be here to offer suggestions and reminders and ideas, and she can take them. Or not. Either way she will learn and grow and experience, for better or worse, all of the things that she needs to. To be her. Which is not me.
So my task is to practice investing my care into my kids, even while knowing I can't predict the outcome, at least as much as I do into my dogs, where I can determine what happens. Human life, relationships, they're all about control. Relinquishing it, maintaining it - this has been my way of clinging to control. I need to learn how to stay involved even when I can't have the last word. This is probably the hardest and most worst thing for any parent. I'd rather wash my hands and walk away then share the burden of one of my kids Big Mistakes. But that's not why we're here. If my parents walked away from all of my Big Mistakes I would be hopelessly adrift. I was for awhile. It sucked. It's a terribly hard transition. To stay invested but not in charge. I don't like hard. I like easy. I like dogs on leashes in sunshine better than kids and tough decisions and letting go. But I've got both. And I need to own both, and love both, and be both. Rarr.