Neither dogs nor exchange students are the same as having your own kids

annie-9314When a friend at church choir said that his 50th wedding anniversary was June 22, I mentioned that that was the date I married my first husband. After practice, he came up to me at the piano. He said he hadn’t realized I had had a husband before Fred. He asked if I had any children from that marriage. “Nope,” I said, covering the keyboard and turning out the light. He started to walk away, then turned back to tell me I could always host an exchange student. He and his wife have done that for years.

“Sometimes I can barely tolerate my dog,” I said, successfully going for a laugh. But really, why would I want to take in someone else’s teenager, only to send them home at the end of the school year? That is nothing like having a child of your own. Besides, as a stepmother, I’ve done the taking care of someone else’s kid thing. It is no replacement for your own.

Meanwhile, there’s the dog. A bear has been prowling around our streets lately. Neighbors have seen her—they think the bear is female—in their yards. As my chiropractor neighbor adjusted my spine yesterday, he told me his wife had found the bear with the chickens. One of the chickens died.

“What about the fence?” I asked.

“The bear just mowed it down,” he said, cracking my neck.

Since he’s uber-Christian, I didn’t say the word that came to mind. I had hoped my chain-link fence would keep the bear out of my yard.

Last night, Annie started barking around 9:30. She would not stop. She would not come in. Something is out there, she insisted. She’s too big to pick up and carry in. I lured her in with cookies and covered up the doggy door. She was so desperate she pulled the cover off. Racing around the yard barking, she ignored the treats I offered. “I’ll give you 10 if you’ll shut up!” I yelled.

Around midnight, I looked everywhere with the big flashlight, then sat holding my dog under the stars. She was shaking and panting, every muscle taut. I tried to explain to her that it was okay to go off duty and go to sleep. I tried to explain that the neighbors needed to sleep and that the bear might hurt her. But no. She couldn’t rest. She ran off to bark some more.

When I dragged her in and blocked access to the door, she whined as if she were in incredible pain. Lax dog mom that I am, I got out of bed and let her go. Perhaps with the fence, Annie’s high-pitched barking, and the complete lack of anything a bear might want to eat, the bear would not bother us. I hoped gun-toting neighbors would also stay away.

I don’t know what time Annie stopped barking, probably when it started to rain. Now she’s conked out on the loveseat. This morning, I see no sign of the bear, but in her anxiety, Annie shredded the lounge cushion. Nuts. In the middle of my dog’s barkathon, I wanted to a) go sleep at a motel, b) give the dog a sedative, c) never get another pet, or d) trade Annie for a cat because cats don’t bark. But this morning, I love my dog too much to do any of those things.

I hope if I had a baby, I would be willing to stay up all night when she cried and do whatever it took to keep her safe and happy, even when she turned into a teenager. In return, by the time I reached the age I am now, I would have a younger adult who (I hope) loved me and made sure I was all right. Someone who would call and say, “Hi Mom. How are you?”

I will never get that from an exchange student or a dog. My friend means well, but as a father of three with several grandchildren, he doesn’t understand.

As for that first husband we don’t talk about at church because Catholics frown on divorce (I got an annulment!), he got married two more times and never had any children, but that is ancient history.

What kind of lame things do people suggest to ease your childless emptiness?

12 thoughts on “Neither dogs nor exchange students are the same as having your own kids

  1. “You have stepchildren.” That’s fine, but it’s not the same. And NO, someday they will not be a source of comfort to me when I’m old. Or care for me when I’m sick. Or check in daily to see if I’m taking my medication. Or take some kind of class with me. Or visit me on holidays once my husband is passed. And I certainly don’t want them making decisions for me about my health, my living arrangements, and my finances.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Amen to every word you said. People are often surprised when I tell them that no, seven years after my husband’s death, I don’t hear from my stepchildren at all. Somehow they think we have this warm fuzzy relationship. We don’t. Thanks for sharing this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Little late, and no you don’t know if your own kids would do that. Look in the nursing homes. We never neglected Daddy’s step-mother who had no kids, but she had bio relatives who never bothered. She lived with us four or five days out of the week and the family farm the rest. She had a lifetime estate there.


  2. This frustrates me. The man at church automatically thinking that you NEED to have something else in your life. Humans try to FIX people who don’t meet their preconceptions of what life should be. And they assume the way they live is the best/only way.

    Also I love blogging and reading blogs. It seems so ridiculously exotic to me that you have bears wandering around your house!


  3. I was a foster carer for four years for children from one family. I thought it was real and forever. It ended in tears (mine mostly, and for the youngest child who had to move because of older siblings’ behaviours).
    However, whilst recognising it is not the same as having children of your own, I would be up for hosting students. I would also like to go to help in a baby home in Tanzania that I currently financially contribute to. I regard these activities as “opportunities I can take up because I don’t have birth children”. I find they give me an outlet.
    Strangely though, I cannot allow myself to get involved with nephews on my hubby’s side. Not sure why, maybe it is too close to what I feel I should have had? I also resent hubby’s family now, as they backed him up when he wanted to end the fostering. They never spoke to me about it, just him.
    Now they think I should be grateful for the nice holidays and freedom to work less, and can’t see why I take no pleasure in their grandchildren. In reality, when everyone is together on celebration days, I feel like the cuckoo in the nest. I am usually thinking, I am the only person in this room without a blood tie to someone else, Why am I here?


  4. On Fathers Day, my mother-in-law wished my husband a “Happy Father’s Day” because he is a godfather. My husband kindly said, “Thank you, but it’s really not the same.”
    “Yes it is,” she replied. “It’s IMPORTANT to be a godfather.”
    “But . . . it’s not the same” he replied.
    “Yes it IS!” she persisted and insisted.
    “No, it’s really not!” we said loudly and in unison before leaving the room.
    This isn’t new to us since I get the same treatment on Mother’s Day. We’ve decided that people who act this way hurt FOR us. Either it’s a genuine “I’m really sorry you’re missing this aspect of life” or a less desirable “I’ll throw you a bone because your life is pathetic” sort of way. They mean well. But they are essentially acknowledging that they consider our life “less than.” I find that to be disrespectful to the perfectly nice life we’ve built for ourselves.

    While walking away I caught my brother-in-law’s gaze and I know he understood how awkward that whole exchange was for everyone in the room. That it would have been far easier (and more “polite”) for us to just say, “Haha, thanks. Yes, we love being godparents. So what’s on the grill? I’m hungry.”

    Arguing the point was our way of rejecting the unintended insult.

    We KNOW that we’ve not spent hours rocking a child to sleep. Or planning birthday parties. Or spent days being excited, waiting to surprise the children with a trip to Disney. We’ve not changed countless diapers, given preteens “the talk.” We’ve not sat in the stands watching mind-numbing games of soccer. Most of the time in bad weather. We’ve not set up allowances and made children do chores. Or taught them manners.

    We are a bit of fun at a family party. We may remind them to say “thank you” after we sneak them a cookie they aren’t supposed to have. We might even babysit every once in a while or catch one of their baseball games.

    It’s a great and fun role to be an aunt, uncle or godparent.

    But it’s not the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My situation is that my stepkids are nearly as old as I am. It was made crystal clear when the grandchild came along that I was *not* allowed to be called ‘Granny’. (For the record, I did not break up Dh’s first marriage – his wife had a relationship with someone else, but wanted Dh to return two years later. I then got the blame for the break-up.)
    The daughter made what was possibly a jocular remark – that I was too young to be a granny. DH suggested I could be an honorary aunty, but was told that the child had plenty of aunties. (Actually, one who is the child’s uncle’s partner, and one who is a friend of the mother. Two.)
    For some strange reason, after 14 years, a Christmas card arrived addressed to ‘Granddad and Aunty’. Too little too late, so far as I’m concerned. Yup, I’m maybe being too hard, but I’ve not been allowed to be close to the grandchild and I’m afraid I have no feelings at all in that respect. Put it this way – DH’s ex has had two men since she left DH. (They’ve both since died.) Each was referred to as ‘Granddad.’
    I choose and buy birthday presents, Christmas presents for them all and I hope that things work out well, but that’s it. Put it this way…I’ve been married 24 years. In all that time, I’ve had one joint birthday card from the stepkids and – this year – for the first time ever – a card from each of them. DH has been ill for the past fifteen years; I always have to organize their Christmas and birthday presents. I get a nominal joint present at Christmas. (Usually the cheapest toiletry available via Amazon.) I’ve never had a birthday present in 24 years. (Before anyone says it – they’re financially secure and I know that they never miss their mother’s birthday. This year, she got a party and theatre trips.)
    This year, I felt sorry for their mother. Her partner had died and she needed a ride to hospital and back. Her kids live a distance away and hadn’t volunteered, so I said I would do it. A couple of weeks later, I got a bouquet of flowers and a card thanking me for ‘helping Mam’. Three months later, I got the two birthday cards I mentioned. One of them was just a notelet depicting the town the son lives in.
    They’re pleasant enough to me, but that’s it. I had a health scare a couple of years ago and phoned the stepdaughter to explain that – if anything happened to me – her dad would need carers. Her response? ‘You’re not thinking of leaving him, are you?’
    Some months later, I got the all clear. I phoned to let her know, but emphasised that if anything did ever happen, her dad would need carers or a care home. (I have to help him wash and dress. No way could he ever even order groceries for himself, I’m afraid.) Her response? ‘But you’re all right, aren’t you?’
    Yup. I’m a bitter old so-and-so.


    • Oh, mrsp, I’m sorry for everything you’re going through. The “aunty” business is just mean. I sympathize with being a caregiving spouse. My husband’s kids left it all to me, too. As long as I was there, they could ignore the whole situation.

      Liked by 1 person

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