Friday, May 30, 2014

Freedom to run

 Sam bolted.

That brief entry in Sam’s notebook by his behaviorist threw me into complete distress. Funny how certain words can trigger such intense reactions. Sam’s history of bolting is long and intense. Though Sam hasn’t bolted in nearly two years, those two words threw me into a panic as if he had never stopped.

Every worst-case scenario flashed quickly before me. I transported back to frantic chases in the dark. The terror of not knowing where to look; the fear Sam would put himself in harm’s way. Those were dark days.

I shot off a couple off hurried emails expressing my concern. 

The situation was benign and my concerns unfounded. Mr. Dog was the instigator. Sam was doing his best to hold onto him while Mr. Dog was busy being, well, Mr. Dog. Finally, Sam gave in to Mr. Dog’s impulse and ran as Mr. Dog pulled him down the driveway.  

There was a bigger story here that was not reflected in the notebook: Sam stopped when he was called to stop. He stopped dead in his tracks.  More surprisingly, Mr. Dog to stopped, too. What I thought was an alarming event turned out to be okay. Even worthy of celebration. Two years ago, the words “Sam bolted” would have ended in a very different way.

Still, by the behaviorists’ definition, it was a bolt because Sam had unexpectedly run more than five feet. "Sam should never run?" I asked. "We aren't saying that – we just note it as a bolt because it was unexpected." But who stops to announce "I'm going to run now?" Running is often a very spontaneous event. 

It felt as though we were still saying Sam could never spontaneously run. Never is a firm word. No
wiggle room there. After spending the better part of ten years teaching Sam not to run I was struck by what felt like a loss of freedom for Sam. I didn’t like it.

The fact is, Sam is in a good place now. I think his days of bolting are behind him. When Sam runs I don’t see the anguish, I see joy.  Yes, the mom who insisted Sam stop running for so many years wants him to run.

It’s about freedom; providing Sam as much freedom as possible. It's about trust. It's about believing more is possible.

I want Sam to know the exhilaration of running freely. He is young. He has strong legs built for running. And for the first time, he is running with an eye toward safety. He stops when we call. I want to encourage that. Who knows, maybe this skill will transfer over should he encounter a moment of danger one day. This is unchartered territory: this notion to allow Sam to run freely and trust he will listen, stay safe and always return.

Still, I think it is time to try.

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