“Let’s go for a jog,” I suggest. Huck hops up eagerly and waits by the front door while I find my shoes.
I leave his leash on the hook in the hallway. We’ll be sticking to the trail that runs through our homestead this morning; he’s free to run as far and as fast as he wants. Instead, however, he sticks by my side. The pace is agonizing for him; I’m not a natural runner, nor do I have the energy of a 7-month-old puppy. He’d rather be playing rough and tumble with the kids or chasing chickens in the pasture, but right now, everyone else is indisposed. (Plus, he was banished from the pasture to minimize chicken trauma. It negatively affects egg production; who knew?) Anyway, right now, I’m all he’s got. I know he wants to sprint forward, but he matches my stride nonetheless.
Eventually, he starts to dart ahead, only to turn abruptly and come darting back. He looks at me expectantly as I sidestep a fallen branch. “Go on,” I coax him. He knows this path – into the woods off the back of the driveway, across Tadpole Creek, along the bottom of the pasture by the barn, out to the clearing around the pond, repeat. This route is familiar to him. He should feel safe here. But this dog? He was created for companionship. He refuses to leave my side. He doesn’t want to run alone. He doesn’t even seem to mind that I stumble over him whenever my footing changes slightly on the trail.
“It’s only 9 a.m.?” I ask incredulously as my eye catches the clock on the microwave. We’re sitting at the breakfast table for the second time today, even though it’s technically too early for a morning snack. We’ve been at it for three hours already—board games and bike rides, dance parties and dishes, laundry (and more laundry). Drake eyes me expectantly as I wipe coffee stains off the kitchen counter. I sigh. Almost six hours to go before the bus brings his big brother home. It’s going to be a long day.
I tell myself this is just a stage, and I should enjoy this one-on-one time with my youngest son, but truthfully, I’ve been struggling in this season since Hayes started first grade. This summer, my boys were inseparable, like Garfield and Odie, always side-by-side (even if one was somewhat domineering in most of their adventures). Sure, there was fighting and wrestling and all the general mayhem of budding masculinity. But mostly, they were the best of friends – finally, the hard work of raising them 23 months apart was paying off. At the very least, they entertained each other, leaving me free to go about my business.
Then school started, and Hayes up and left for eight hours of each day (the audacity!), leaving Drake a little lost. A true extrovert (who knew those really existed?), my littlest guy craves companionship every second of every hour, all the livelong day, and with big bro away at school, I’m all he’s got. To the credit of his sweet, mama-loving heart, he seems perfectly fine with this. I, however, consider myself a poor playmate—I’m not a natural at imaginative games, nor do I have the energy of a five-year-old boy. He has nine fenced-in acres to explore, plus a whole playroom full of fun. This place is familiar to him. He should feel safe here. But he refuses to leave my side. He doesn’t want to play alone. He doesn’t even seem to mind that I stumble over him whenever I take half a step backward.
“Let’s go for a jog,” I suggest. He hops up eagerly but waits outside my bedroom door while I find my shoes.
I can feel Huck’s impatience growing with each lap, and frankly, so is mine. He’s disappointed by the pace I’m setting. I’m exasperated with him for staying underfoot. He ventures increasingly farther away before turning back to me, quivering with palpable anticipation of the path ahead.
“Go on,” I coax him again, my breath coming heavier with the exertion of exercise. I’m wearing out quickly – from the jog itself or from his expectations? Maybe both. I can’t sprint with him. I have to reserve my energy. I have my own goals and plans for this time. I just wanted to go for a jog, for crying out loud, and somehow I’ve found myself in the middle of a metaphor for my fears of failing as a mom.
Finally, Huck’s eye catches movement ahead on the trail—a squirrel perhaps, or possibly a bird—and he’s gone, spurred on by something more fun, something more his speed. It seems the pull of a new playmate is greater than his loyal instinct to stay by my side. At the next clearing, I get a glimpse of him far ahead, running with all his heart, tongue lolling to one side. He is in his element now. Do dogs smile? He looks like he’s smiling.
Soon, he catches back up from behind, and once again falls into step with me. I’m on my last lap, the cooldown lap (my favorite), and have slowed to a brisk walk. This time, however, he doesn’t seem to mind. We can enjoy each other’s company now that he’s done what he needs to do. He’s struck out on his own and come back to trot happily by my side.
“Mommy, can you drop me off here?” Drake asks on the first day of preschool. We are standing in the middle of the foyer, the other kids streaming past us hand-in-hand with their mothers, and I am slightly taken aback. It’s not so much that I’m sad he doesn’t want me to walk him to class (though I would arguably be heartless without the little twinge that grips me at this moment); it’s more that I’m surprised. My constant companion hasn’t willingly walked across the room from me in the past month, and now he wants to leave me here to make the long trek down this hall on his own.
“I think your teacher wants me to walk you in today,” I tell him. “You can go by yourself tomorrow.” He shrugs indifferently and turns to lead the way. The cacophony of little voices up and down the hall makes my head spin a bit, but my little social butterfly is in his element now. He greets his teacher and a few familiar friends while I linger in the door to his classroom. “Bye bud,” I finally call when it’s clear he’s settled in. He turns to wave at me. He’s definitely smiling.
As I walk to my car alone, I see a little glimpse of his future. This child of mine? He was made for companionship, and I won’t always be the one to provide it. His brother will continue to fill the role, of course, but there will be others, too. As he grows, he’ll catch sight of someone more fun, someone more his speed—a group of friends, and one day, even a girl—and he’ll take off with them, leaving me behind. I pray for these future companions right then and there. I pray for friends who will help him stay on the right path when he strikes out on his own. And I pray that he will know he can always catch back up. No matter what stage of life he’s in, he can always fall back into step with me. I will never be too far away on his trail.
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Bre Humphries lives on a little hobby homestead in North Georgia with her two sons, a hunter of a husband (it’s his name as well as his favorite pastime), eight chickens, two goats, two pigs, and a dog. Quality time is her love language, she’s passionate about whole foods and healthy living, and she’s happiest when she’s outside, especially in the fall. In whatever quiet time she can carve out, she documents adventures across her community as Contributing Editor for North Georgia Living magazine and writes about motherhood and faith for sites like Kindred Mom and, occasionally, a personal blog.