Almost from the beginning, I carried Cricket like a baby, she grabbed around my neck with her front paws and wrapped her back paws around my waist, or whatever was closest. She’s kind of a cross between a dog and a monkey the way she can use her limbs like arms and legs. I wanted to make the most of the hugs and baby-like things about her in case I never got to have a human baby. Maybe I was being too fatalistic.
I used to think I was in therapy almost entirely to prepare for motherhood, to make sure that I would be functional and kind and smart in raising my children and not take out any of my weirdness and depression on them.
Throughout my twenties, I had a dog with serious neuroses – separation anxiety, fear of strangers, fear of bridges, panting out half her body weight and releasing hair in piles every time I left the house. I practiced on her, learning how to be a mom to her, how to set limits and offer comfort and accept her as she was and teach her what she could learn.
My prospects for becoming healthy in time to be a mom before my eggs wither and splat are not good. I’m not quite at the point of no return yet, and with reproductive technology, that point has been pushed off even further. But I already feel the loss. I thought my number one goal in life was to be a writer, and it was, and is, but it turns out that being a mom was second, not fourth or fifth like I would have thought.
Theoretically, I could go to a sperm bank, or foster a child, or adopt. Mom would help. But I don’t feel like I’m up to the challenge. And I’m not sure if I would like children as much as I like dogs.
There are a lot of things that just aren’t the same about parenting a child and a dog. Children grow up and go through many different stages of development and need to learn how to be responsible for themselves and think independently. You can’t clicker train a child if you want them to make their own decisions about right and wrong some day. A dog remains on a leash or in an enclosure and never learns to drive or gets a credit card or finds a job or robs a bank.
Cricket is a lot of hard work. If she were a human child I would say that she has ADHD and maybe a conduct disorder. And I would say that, as a parent, I struggle with disciplining her and setting clear rules and keeping her busy in productive ways. I feel like instead of building better parenting skills from raising Cricket, I’ve become resigned to the way Cricket is.
I accept that I will have a shorter amount of time with Butterfly. She only came to me at eight years old, after a hard life, and her breed’s life expectancy is twelve to fourteen years. But what I’ve learned from Butterfly is that I could adapt to raising a child who is not a baby when they come to me, and is already formed by difficult circumstances. So, again, the dogs are my practice for little humans.
But they may also be all there is. I may never give birth or adopt or even foster a child. I may never be financially, emotionally, or physically ready to be a mom. And if that’s the case, then the dogs ARE my kids. And I need to take as much joy and education from their presence as I can.