Horse Sense

I admit it: I do not know one end of a horse from another. I am a city boy. Maybe that's why I like camping so much. Horseless camping, mind you.
Recently, I got up on a horse for the first time. Here are my observations: 1) While I suppose being on top of a horse is in many ways preferable to being underneath one, it was still a long way from the ground. Horses look smaller on television. 2) I would be willing to get up on a horse again in, say, another 60 years. You don't want to rush into these things. Oh, and did I mention that the horse started to move? While I was up on top of it? There I was, minding my own business, on top of a horse and the animal started moving. Woo.
But my musing this Tuesday is not about feeling the need to send an email to my toes down there on either side of the aforementioned horse. Nor am I writing about my deeply ingrained, pathological fear of heights. (Tiptoes. Nausea. Don't ask.) I want to stay focused on horses in general and horse digestion in particular. I'm not exactly sure what goes into the front end of a horse. Oats? Hay? Inattentive educational consultants? But I now have a passing familiarity with what comes out the other. Having somehow gotten down off the horse, I noticed an adjacent national forest. Along the trail as I hiked next to the river, was evidence that I was not the only animal thereabouts.
It would've been facile - - in both the sense of "easy" and "silly" - - to focus on the ubiquitous horse poop along the way. I would have been less attuned to sunlight filtering through the aspens; the wildflowers in abundance; the stream slathering over the stones; the pine trees caressing the mountain. Ignoring the horse poop on the trail, I thought back to another day outdoors.
A scant two and a half decades ago, my now grown and gone, fully-launched daughter had just learned to walk. I sat on home plate in a local park as Jolie waddled out to the pitcher's mound. Having recently completed a graduate degree in developmental psychology, I knew all about "libidinal replacement." Toddlers, the textbooks agreed, explore. They walk a little ways, then return to parents for reassurance, an emotional "fill up", if you will, of sense of self. Then they venture off again, a little farther this time, testing new limits, determining how far they can go without returning for a reassuring cuddle. Little ones come back to their parents frequently to be reminded of who they are, to know they are safe. As Jolie, without a backward glance, crossed the infield and headed out to center, it occurred to me that she may not have read the same text books.
What does my fiercely independent toddler have to do with horse poop? Only this: my first impulse was to chase and chastise her, to instruct her that the world is a dangerous place, to remind her that at 18 months her ability to make a living and live independently was modest. I overcame my impulse to tackle her shrieking, sharing my fears about safety.  Instead, we celebrated her independence. After sprinting a hundred yards, I took her hand and we continued exploring for dandelions.
Fast forward. Sixteen years later, I am dropping her off at a university conveniently located eleventy bazillion miles from home in an enormous and doubtlessly dangerous city. I am having a little come apart as I am overwhelmed with a sense of loss: my window has closed. No more carpool, no more late night dog walks talking about nothing, no more giggling, no more games of multiple solitaire, no more arguing about how to put up the tent. I have carried a microwave up 14 flights of stairs and helped unpack endless boxes of new winter clothes. I feel I am done being a dad. I did my job right, but I got fired anyway. I desperately want to communicate everything I know from "look both ways" to "don't talk to strangers." But it is clearly past time for parents to leave.
My daughter, also perceiving that all the other parents had gone, said, "Okay, Dad. Thanks. Bye."
And she is off, having somehow connected with a gaggle of bubbly new friends. If I am to have a moment remembering the two of us getting lost on a hike in the rain picking raspberries, I will have to do it on my own time. And by myself. There are no celebrations of childhood for this child. There are only acknowledgments of independence.
It is too easy to find the horse poop in your child's every action. Inquisitiveness can be mistaken for recklessness. Enthusiasm can be mistaken for badgering. Contemplation can be mistaken for inattention.
Your children belong to you for the briefest of shimmering instances before they wander off way past centerfield to start lives of their own in a city fair away. Doesn't it make sense to focus on the wind caressing the trees rather than the horse poop on the trail? Isn't it glorious to allow them to be who they are?

9 thoughts on “Horse Sense

  1. Anita M

    My daughter will turn 40 next week. I still look for the horse poop in her life. But she is now looking for the horse poop in her daughter’s life. My how time is fleeting. I still ride by the entrance to the Elementary School where I used to drop her off and long for those days back. Oh if for one more time! But the footprints of the sands of time leaves us longing for more.

  2. Eduardo

    Hi Daivd, Thank you for what you do. I am usually in tears after reading your words. It’s because you describe the beauty and difficulty of having children so well. And I get to understand what I missed by separation and a wife who thought it better to raise our daughter with me as the enemy instead of a peaceful coexistence. (I wrote you a couple of years back and you were kind enough to respond) With this installment, I again felt the beauty and sense of loss in ….”I am having a little come apart as I am overwhelmed with a sense of loss: my window has closed. No more carpool, no more late night dog walks talking about nothing, no more giggling, no more raucous games of multiple solitaire, no more arguing about how to put up the tent.”
    I didn’t get to have those free “about nothing” moments with my daughter. Of course…they are the most important as that’s where the bond comes from. Anyway…I just want to thank you for your words of how it would be best to raise our children so they go forth as…Independently Loving, Productive and Humble Humans.

  3. Gustavo Menendez Bernales

    Outstanding, marvelous… another lesson for parents. Your texts illuminate our path as parents. We learn so much reading your articles. Thanks David!!!

  4. Anne B. Ruben, LMFT

    This is beautifully put. Our children are only on loan to us and we have to let them freely go out the door so that, at a future date, they freely return through that same door.

  5. S Admire

    Love your article Horse Sense. Beautifully articulated the way I feel and have acted as my children grew up. I didn’t have the knowledge to hold my tongue. Where you did hold your tongue and let her grow up I learned and worried. In spite of all my mistakes, they grew up. I did so much wrong with great intentions of being a great parent. I did succeed, all three know they have a mom who loves them for who they are. And will be there for them, listen to them, enjoy them and hug them.

  6. Jorge Wood

    The email was great and I laughed at the beginning. It is true what you say about parents letting go and how hard it is. It seems easy for our children to go off and start a new life, even though I think/hope that they are also saddened to leave in a way.
    I am presently going to be going through this because my son graduated from University and is moving to Seattle. I know he is nervous and I am extremely nervous, even though I know he will be ok.
    Thank you for writing this article.

  7. Sandra

    Thank you, David. I always enjoy your pieces, since they describe life’s milestones in such a poignant manner. You are appreciated.


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