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The Baby Substitutes

Me and baby Cricket

Me and baby Cricket

 

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.

Dina in her mild old age

Dina in her mild old age

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.

Cricket, biting the hand that feeds her

Cricket, biting the hand that feeds her

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.

My adopted Butterfly

My adopted Butterfly

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.

My girls

My girls

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

77 responses »

  1. Lovely writing. Thought provoking with a beautifully subtle undertone x

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  2. Hi Rachel. Very thoughtful and honest post.

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  3. I agree with you, I’m also not sure, if I would like children as much as I like dogs – thanks for your fair and square words. Your girls are just wonderful…

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  4. Very poignant post, Rachel. You seem like a great mom to me.

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  5. Very nice … as one dog lover to another …

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  6. An awesome post Rachel and a woman just like me I can not have children ether hence I have all my garden birds and my 3 rescued dogs and chickens and you are a super mum to your lovely girls

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    • Oooh Chickens! I am in danger of adding to my brood. I knitted myself a couple of birds, but I don’t think Cricket would tolerate real ones. Butterfly would just walk right up to them and make friends, though.

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  7. What a wonderful post and good for you to be such a good mother to your babies, regardless of their leg count! Many, many years ago I wanted to have a child but it didn’t work out and now I have an opportunity to “grandmother” my little neighbor children on Worsham Street and I think that I’m much better with my dogs than I ever would’ve been with children of my own!! Life has a way of working out. Enjoy each day as it is. They pass too quickly. Celebrate yourself..

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    • Thank you! Cricket thinks I am a mean Mommy for taking her to the terrible horrible no good groomer, but she looks much more comfortable. And now she’s lighter and free to run around and steak sticks from under my feet. The girls do try to make every day exciting for all of us.

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  8. What a great, honest post. Having worked with kids in a daycare setting, and as a caregiver for challenged children, when it’s all said and done I don’t regret not having any human kids. I loved them all, but the responsibility of taking care of them 24/7 would have made me batcrap crazy.

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  9. Can I go to your place? I want to be a kid again.

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    • Absolutely. Kyla and Kaci are invited anytime! Just ignore the barking, growling and muttering from Cricket’s side of the room, and play with Butterfly, until Cricket gets over herself.

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  10. I am over the point of no return. It’s not as if I don’t like children. There just never was the right time. Lots of things changed when I reached that point of no return. My life changed much more than I would have thought it would. It’s suddenly as if I was no woman anymore. Trust me, you would be able to have kids and you would love them just as much as you love your dogs, maybe even more. With children there is no guarantee, that they love you as well. But mostly they do and I’m sure they would love you. It’s your choice, I don’t want to convince you of something you don’t want. Just telling you this because I sometimes think that if I would have known how much it changes my life not to ever be able to have children, I’d have tried to get one, no matter what my partners thought or wanted. In the end I’m alone anyways. If I’ll die one day my dogs will be home- and helpless no matter how old they will be. Children would already be grown up and could get on without me.

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    • I know someone who put her dogs in her will, to make sure they would go to a good home, the same way you plan for your children’s welfare, just in case. I think I would feel that way about my kids until they were old and grey, I’d never feel good about leaving them to get on without me. Clearly, self centered, I know.

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  11. What a lovely post. So glad you and your dogs found each other. I believe we do find our pets and they find us and together we get what we both need. Your love for Butterfly and Cricket is palpable as I am sure their love for you is. Enjoy your time with them and that you have come to accept and appreciate what they represent in your life.

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    • Thank you! I do believe I have the dogs I was meant to have, and all the dogs who have been in my life were there to teach me something and share something that made my life bigger and richer.

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  12. Run A Muck Ranch

    I knew I was a nurturer – but I never got the Mommy Gene that is supposed to be attatched to that second X Chromosome. I am near a human child – and I freeze. Put a mean looking, ready to attack dog in front ot me, I do the Happy Hello Dance and make a friend for life.

    When people ask if I have children, I say “No, and You’re Welcome!” The result of combining the DNA of me and Crabby would have not come out well. But I also say “I do have kids – they are dogs.”

    Years ago, people may have looked at me funny. Nowadays, many consider their dogs, cats, or insert species here to be their kids, so no one even blinks.

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    • I tend to do well with little kids and dogs, it’s adult humans that freak me out. But I love that it’s become more normal to have dogs as kids, and that a lot of other things people have always had to suffer through alone have become more accepted and supported. I feel so lucky to have found this whole community of dog people who embrace imperfection as a part of real life.

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  13. The relationship between a dog and their owner is like no other….
    My 3 girls are my shadows all so very different in personality and needs
    my children are now teens and need very little from me so the ‘girls’ are my substitute 🙂

    Just out of interest how did you get the ADHD diagnosed ?? one i’ve my girls is very emotional and vocal and she transmittes this to the other 2 which often makes walking them not as enjoyable as it could be.

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    • Cricket hasn’t been officially diagnosed, but I’ve been taking an abnormal psych class, so I feel like an expert. We should be working on a pet specific diagnostic manual, so we can catalog the crazy things these dogs are doing.

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  14. I already know I like dogs better than children, or people in general for that matter … 😉

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  15. I’ve had kids and I’ve had dogs and it’s not the same and then it is.
    Discipline: dogs need leadership and so do kids but the way we achieve that is different.
    Kids understand consequences, dogs don’t but catching them both ‘in the act’ is very helpful.
    I would recommend both but in both cases YOU HAD REALLY< REALLY WANT TO DO IT as it goes on for a really REALLY long time.
    Children (your children) are great but they grow up and leave (if you are lucky) and dogs are great and they leave too (all too soon).
    Love is love.
    Terry

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  16. Lovely post,i have four adult children and two dogs four cats three sheep all are my babies.Now the kids have grown and l have my furry babies,the difference is really not much,you love what you love and whether it is human or animal it is just as important to you.There are plenty of people who can’t have children,and in all honesty it’s the hardest job i ever did..and some people who have them are not suited just as some people ( a lot) should not have animals.Love your babies,and enjoy your relationship with them,the future can sort itself out when it needs to.

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    • What I love about dogs, especially small dogs, is that I can carry them around. My teenage nephew would be less than thrilled if I tried to pick him up and carry him around the house, no matter how much he loves me.

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  17. Pingback: Day 28 of APRIL’S BLOG LOVE CHALLENGE | Linda's New Garden & Wildlife Journey

  18. What a moving post. I think, seeing what you do with Butterfly makes me confident that you could successfully adapt to anyone joining your family, kid or dog or whatever. And yeah, the kids are lots of work. But I compare them (ok, mostly only in my head) to dogs all the time.

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    • I have, often, compared Cricket to my niece. They were especially similar when my niece was three years old: the big smile, the tantrums, the crazy laugh, even the way they ran around in circles. For some reason, my sister in law was bothered by the comparison. I don’t know, I thought it was a compliment.

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  19. Amazing story and hits very close to home for me. Thanks for this! 🙂

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  20. I thought I would never be able to have a baby, in fact, I had back surgery, and suffered greatly from it, it didn’t help but made things worse…and that is a polite way to sum this ever going nightmare up…I threw my hands in the air with all those docs and decided I know what I want and Im gonna do it. I put on my Wonder Woman cape and boom, I was pregnant. It’s proof that if you dream it, do it!!!! There are a million things to fear with everything, there is never enough money and when you have the desire to be a mom, it’s greater than anyone can imagine!!!! Blessings and hugs on your quest…I love your babies now and you are greatly blessed with them…The pic of Cricket biting the hand that feeds her cracked me up…You have a heart FULL of love and it shows!!!!

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    • Wow! Thank you! I actually have a wonder woman bracelet. I wear it to block nasty people from my path. Or at least to block them out of my head. But maybe I need the cape, and the whole outfit, to get where I want to go. I’ll have to check Amazon.

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  21. Loved the poignant tone of this this piece, and I empathize. If I could skip the revolting biological joke that is pregnancy along with the bit where all they do is poo and scream and skip straight to when children become curious about the world and become little people, maybe. At this point, though, it looks like it’s my Molly and holding out to become a cool aunt or mentor may be my thing.

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  22. I do believe this may be one of the most honest post I’ve ever read about becoming a parent. In days gone by, heaven help the woman that said she didn’t want children. I became a career woman and stayed on the fast track. It became my excuse when people asked questions about home and hearth. I love your girls and we have two rescues also. I’ve always gone the rescue direction and it’s always turned out great. Thank you for this post. It shows such integrity on your part and I look forward to reading more.

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    • Thank you for the encouragement. My little Butterfly is still blossoming five months after her adoption. She learns new things and smiles bigger and more often. i was so lucky to find her when I did.

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  23. This was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts on the matter.

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  24. Good post. Depth … about parenting. Dogs are priceless / unique. I like your writing style.

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  25. Great read, and your Dina looks like she was a Sweetheart!

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  26. You are the sweetest Mom. Your Butterfly and Cricket are so lucky to have you. I do not have kids either and I treat my pups as family. Some people cannot understand it, but I find the pet blogger cyber world the perfect space to share my dog love with people who can understand.
    Keep on blogging!

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  27. Great post! Definitely can relate…

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  28. Wow, your honesty blew me away and is so beautiful. I am a firm believer in fate and that life always works out. In your case, I believe that Butterfly was put in your path because you are such a nurturing person and that is exactly what she needs after her very rough start to life. I also believe that we are never burdened with more than we can handle, and no matter what, we can always find the inner strength to deal with life’s challenges.

    No matter what happens in your future, you are definitely in the right place in the present moment.

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    • I agree about Butterfly. She was my birthday present and she has been such a gift. She’s such a snuggle puppy and so good with every dog she meets. She’s going to teach me a lot.

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  29. You are a good doggie mom. Your heart is big and you love your “kids” unconditionally. Those are strong qualities for the job of a human mom. If a child finds his way to you, he will be a very lucky child.

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    • Thank you so much! Just today, a new cat came right up to me and made friends. I seem to have a magnet attached to me that brings animals over. I wonder if the same mechanism will work with a human. We’ll see.

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  30. “not sure if I would like children as much as I like dogs.”

    I’ve got 3 x Jack Russells and I definitely like them much better than a whole lot of kids I know (including my own) !

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  31. Love your blog. I’ve always said that dogs are easier to housetrain than kids, but that doesn’t mean they have any less anxieties. Thanks for the visit. Hope you stop by my blog again soon.

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  32. What you may find yourself doing is restraining yourself from comparing the antics of nieces, nephews, etc. to those of your dogs, because there are so many similarities at certain ages. Just not sure their parents appreciate the comparison!

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    • My youngest nephew is in love with Butterfly and tries to carry her around under her armpits. And they DO have the same smile. I don’t know, I think that’s a compliment, to both of them.

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  33. As a childless person (through personal choice), I can understand the desire to share your life with your own (or adopted) children but I totally agree with you that the decision to become a parent is so life altering that one needs to be comfortable with it/feel up to the challenge and that it is a strength and not a limitation to acknowledge where one is in one’s life. Conversely, I find that all my relationships, 2 or 4-legged, are opportunities for me to learn about myself and others. Great post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  34. after my own childhood experience, i had to go through it again to fix things, and since my mom died when i was 25, and my dad died when i was 19, the only way was to go through the looking glass & be on the other side, be the mom. i had a baby girl at 28, and another baby girl at 37. babies & toddlers are a lot like dogs; it is the teen separation-of-identity years that can do you in! still, it was boot camp of a sort, and toughened me up!! i think you are a lovely human being & adorable to boot. whether you have a child of your own or not, i think you have taught yourself much of what you would get from the experience already. but there’s nothing like burying your nose in their hair. so just keep an open mind

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  35. I thoroughly enjoyed this post!
    Pets are so often like our children. All my dogs except Chicki came to me as puppies, but I can honestly say that I am no less bonded to her than I was to any of those I nurtured through babyhood.
    Yours are beautiful, and blessed to have found you…..

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    • Thank you! I’m amazed by how bonded I am with Butterfly, more and more each day, even though I met her when she was already eight years old. She’s my baby. Cricket is my grumpy teenager.

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  36. Dogs are cute fur-babies. I have a great time with mine.

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  37. Just tweeted this lovely post 🙂

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