This morning as I made the rounds of the house, waking children, helping them find things, tucking notes into pockets… I noticed that I had a shadow. Everywhere I went, the dog was. She wasn’t up and moving about, she would flop down with an ostentatious sigh, and lie flat until I went to another room. Then, she’d follow and repeat the process. I’m not quite sure why she was doing this – other than the sighing, which was of course to make sure I knew she was there when I needed her – as normally she curls up on a rug in our bedroom for the morning rush. But I felt like I had her on an invisible tether, and she couldn’t be more than some unspecified length from me.
The kids have been like this, recently. Most of the time they have their own ‘stuff’ they are doing. But recently it seems to involve a lot of being near me, and talking to me. Not that I mind. I just find it interesting to note how they play out the invisible tethers sparingly, wanting to stay near. As time passes and everything settles, they will more closely resemble kites, soaring far overhead, their connections tenuous, but no less real. And I don’t plan to tug on those tethers to make them fly in directions I want them to go.
I’ve seen that. The control of another through those invisible connections, until it becomes a toxic web of abuse and the child (now grown into and past adulthood toward seniority) left unable to make their own way without the constant tugging and tearing of a cruel leash. As I move from room to room with the faithful dog as my shadow, I contemplate the harm it does, to control another like that. She’s a good girl, with no voice of her own, and her care is our responsibility. But she’s not human, and to reduce a human to a shadow…
We can do it to ourselves. I know this, having done it. Through the training and misunderstanding of obligations, we reduce our own selves to the shadow of another person, to be their tool. I’ve come to understand that this is not what obedience means. Being constrained through guilt, or shame, harms the person on the other end of the tether. Both ends. Self-constraint, through love of the one on the other side of that string, that’s different. Treating a human like a dog, a willing slave, is no way to live. Enough of that and you become a power-mad dictator whose universe revolves around only one person and who makes all those tied to her miserable.
Love is a tie that binds. But the binding should lay loosely, a symbol of the tether that was willingly tied. My heart has many such strings, some more tenuous than others. I can reach out along them in my mind and know that I love, but I do not seize. All is well. I have to check that from time to time, because I have seen the aftermath of controlling and it is not pretty. I never want to cause that sort of destruction myself. And now that the children are safely off to school, the First Reader to work, I look down and see that the dog has decided her tether is long enough to allow her to be elsewhere in the house. It’s time for me to turn my mind back to school, and let my heartstrings relax while those I love are off to accomplish their days and goals.