The kids are gone for the morning. The house is quiet. The air outside isn't stifling just yet. It's just the dog and me puttering around. Mostly, she ignores me when the kids have left the building.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” I ask in her direction.
She sits down and drops one ear slightly. She seems perplexed by the word. Walk.
I feel a stab of guilt followed by relief. Ours is not an easy relationship.
I try not to use words in her presence that might trigger excitement.
I don't want to get her hopes up only to disappoint. It's hard to look at a hang-dog face.
That's not to say I don't take her places. I do. We go to the post office, and the bank, and for brief walks in the neighborhood. She's mostly respectable in public. Aside from a random squirrel that might trigger an exodus, she barely pulls against the leash.
That's not to say she's always easy ...
She looks at me with watery eyes, her nose wrinkles off to one side. A low growl escapes from her mouth though it's not really menacing.
“She's talking to me,” I think to myself with the conviction only a human possesses. “I suppose that's a yes for a walk.”
She lays down with a harumph, refusing to move until I say “Come on, Let's go” with a leash in my hand.
I don't think she trusts me. Or maybe trust is just another projection. I don't fully trust her.
Truth is, we haven't exactly figured each other out.
The kids and she, however, have reached an understanding.
As soon as the half-sized humans break through the silence of our misinterpretations, her face will lift and she will bound off in their direction. In fact, she will pain cry if they leave the house again without her. She needs to keep tabs on them while they're in her territory. She needs to chase their scooters and steal their tennis balls … at least until a varmint comes along that she has to vamoose.
She is the moon and they are the sun. She is relaxed around them in ways she is not around me.
In their absence, I feel as if we inhabit a black hole.
She wants to go to the office with me … but then she just barks when I talk to any one there.
I don't really know what it's about. She never barks at strangers. She only barks at me. And only when I talk to other people … or pet another dog.
I call her the “bad boyfriend” when she acts this way.
She doesn't take offense.
Coworkers laugh, because they know what I meant.
She only acts like this around me.
The insecure, commanding bark of a dog that doesn't let their human finish sentences in the presence of familiar people seems to draw a compelling parallel.
Of course it's not funny, though. The bad boyfriend isn't all that humorous in reality.
He isn't easily confined at home. You don't just give him a bone and lock him in a crate while you go out and live your life. He has thumbs, and, likely, a driver's license. And almost certainly a smart phone that, with the magic of modern technology, could be tracking some unsuspecting girlfriend's every move.
I'd be lying if I said having children – be they male or female -- didn't scare the bejeezus out of me, especially as they begin to orbit around puberty. I'd be kidding myself if I said every moment until they are happily ensconced in healthy relationships of their own, even in some distant future, didn't unnecessarily press upon my nerves.
I was a girl once. I know the ratio of bad boyfriends to good ones. I know the feeling of making the wrong choice … more than once.
Reading the news these days, makes me think the disparity has only risen.
No matter how irrational it seems, it's hard for me NOT to compare our beloved family dog with a potentially harmful suitor. … And the nagging fear that if harm does come it might very well be invited if not harbored.
But a part of me knows I can keep the dog on a short leash. I can't do that with the kids.
Not forever, anyway.