Once a Dog Mom, Always a Dog Mom, I Guess

It’s 6 a.m., rainy and dark here on the Oregon coast.  My dog Annie is sleeping beside my bed, but I have work to do. I’ll be quiet so as not to wake her. She needs her sleep, and I need time to focus without her nudging me for food and attention.

“Writer/musician/dog mom,” it says at the beginning of the bio I use when I submit my writing to publishers. Dog mom. Other writers’ bios say “X lives with her husband and children in X,” but this is what I offer.

My dog Annie is old now, almost 14. She’s can’t hear. She’s arthritic and loaded with benign fatty tumors. She has a permanent head tilt since her bout with vestibular disease last winter. When we walk now, she weaves back and forth, unable to stay in a straight line. I know one of these days she will die. I will have cared for her through her entire life from puppy to old dog.

Today she is sleeping next to my bed, and I’m wondering if I should call the vet about her constant itching and licking. It’s always something. That’s parenthood. That’s also caregiving, not so different from what I did for my husband and my parents before they died although I didn’t have to dry them off after they went out in the rain to relieve themselves.

In a couple weeks, I plan to leave Annie overnight for the first time since the pandemic began. I am finally going to see my family in California. I have hired a dog-sitter who will sleep here and watch the house as well as Annie. No way could I put my dog in the kennel or leave her alone with someone dropping in twice a day to put kibble in her bowl. When she was younger, yes, but not now. She’s not just a dog. She’s my best friend, my baby, and my family. Dogs are not children. They don’t grow up, move out on their own and become independent adults dropping in occasionally to visit “mom.” They are your responsibility till they die.

Annie has fallen in love with my neighbor Cheryl and her partner Alec. When we walk, she drags me to their house. On good days we sit in the sun, and on rainy days we sit inside. As we talk, I watch Annie every minute because this old dog suddenly acts like a puppy or a toddler. She’s into everything. She devours the cats’ food. She runs off down the hall exploring. I’m constantly removing items from her mouth, whether it’s a garden tag, a stray piece of plastic, or a dropped popcorn puff she found beneath a chair. “What’s she up to now?” is our theme song until she finally wearies and takes a nap.

I can’t imagine life without a dog, yet I’m beginning to think Annie might have to be the last one. Or at least the last big dog. Many of my aging dog mom friends are saying the same thing. We want to travel. We want to be free of constant care. We worry about tripping over the dog and breaking a hip.

I know I can’t have another dog that I can’t pick up and put in the car. Annie is too heavy to lift, and, after two knee surgeries, she can’t jump. Getting her to the vet in an emergency is a nightmare.

But who am I without my baby? Without being a dog mom? I’m thinking of fostering dogs in need of homes. Or maybe I’ll get a small dog. Because I’ll still be a dog mom.

Dogs are not children, even if some of us put them in baby strollers or dress them up for Halloween. They are beautiful creatures, my favorite in the whole world. But they are not children. On our walks, I greet the neighbors’ dogs by name. Hey Oakley, hey Dewey, hey Harley, hey Scout. Hey Booboo, nice sweater. The children? I don’t know their names. I’m a dog mom.

When people ask about my children, I don’t counter that I have a dog. I say no, no kids. Having dogs is not the same. It’s a wonderful thing, but not a substitute for children. A dog will never call you on the telephone or sit by your hospital bed. They won’t sort your stuff when you die. But they will snuggle with you by the fireplace on a cold night and force you to get out and walk in the rain when you’d rather watch another episode on Netflix. They will love you unconditionally and don’t care whether you are dressed up or look like an unmade bed.

Writer/musician/dog mom—yes, I’ll probably get another dog when Annie goes. She won’t be Annie, but she’ll be my friend. My companion. My baby.

And now my baby wants breakfast. And a cookie. And an arthritis chewy. Gotta go.

The Christmas season has begun already, not even taking time for a breath after Halloween. Hang in there. Meanwhile, tell us about your dogs and how they are or are not your babies. I look forward to your comments. 

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Our pets are not baby substitutes, but . . .

Are our pets baby substitutes? We have talked about this before, and my answer to anyone who says, “Well, at least you have your dog,” is that it’s not the same, but recent events have made me think about this more deeply than ever.

My dog Annie has been in the veterinary hospital since Christmas. Because nothing local was open during the Christmas weekend, I took her to Corvallis, 55 mountain-road miles from where I live. The Willamette Veterinary hospital is incredibly busy. Due to Covid, people can’t go inside with their pets. I have now waited in my car in the parking lot for 12 hours spread over three different occasions and waited for phone calls every minute of every day and night. I constantly wonder if the vet will tell me it’s hopeless and recommend that she be euthanized. I constantly fantasize that the vet will tell me Annie is up and walking, hallelujah.

Day after day, they say she’s “about the same.”

Until Christmas afternoon, she was having a great time with me and “Auntie Pat.” She shared our Christmas food, went for a walk, and lay between us enjoying our company. Then she went to get up and collapsed. Got up, collapsed again. Somehow, falling again and again, she made it to the back yard, where she lay soaked in the rain and refusing to move until my neighbors helped me get her into the car. Christmas was so over as I sped in the dark to Corvallis.

At almost 13, after two knee surgeries, Annie has severe arthritis, but her main problem is something called Vestibular Disease, a sort of doggy vertigo that makes it impossible for her to find her balance. At first, she looked like she’d had a stroke, her face scrunched up on one side, her body falling to the left. She wouldn’t eat or drink, just kept whining and crying. Now she’s eating and drinking and acting much like herself, but she still can’t walk on her own. She has worn a catheter to urinate, which led to a urinary tract infection. She has bed sores from lying on her left side so much. Are we just putting off the inevitable?

The doctor asked me to buy a “Help ‘em Up” harness that lifts under her shoulders and hips When I brought it, I could visit. Wonderful. I would be able to see for myself whether Annie was still Annie. I got up early and drove to Corvallis, then called from the car to say I was there. An aide whisked the harness away, saying she wasn’t sure about a visit. But I could wait. I waited. All morning.

I watched the woman in the next car be reunited with her little dog. The dog licked her face, sniffed her all over, and settled on her shoulder, much like a baby, finally going to sleep, safe and content with “Mom.” But not Mom. His mother was a dog. The woman is his human, the person he trusts to take care of him. Watching them, I sobbed. I hadn’t seen my dog in 12 days and the way things were going, I wouldn’t see her that day either. They kept telling me they were too busy to arrange a socially-distanced visit.

At 12:30, I got them to let me in to use the restroom and broke their Covid protocol to accost the receptionist and beg to see my dog. She went into a back room to check. Maybe later today, no promises, she said. I went back to my car and cried some more. I felt cold, hungry, and hopeless.

In late afternoon, I was thinking I’d have to drive home without a visit when they told me to come in. Annie and I met in a little sitting room where the workers put blankets on the floor and brought her dinner. It took two of them to get her there, using the harness. Three hours of driving and five hours of waiting were all worth it just to hug my Annie and tell her I loved her, to stare into those big brown eyes. She looked better than when I brought her in, but she was not ready to go home. Maybe a few more days with the harness . . . God knows how much money this is costing me, but I don’t care.

This morning while I was in the shower, the doctor left a message that Annie is about as good as she’s going to get and is ready to go home. I have appointments and work to do today, and I don’t know how I would get my dog out of the car or into the house. The folks at the veterinary hospital don’t seem to understand that it’s just me here. No husband, no kids, no roommate. The four other people who live on this street are gone during the day. My friends, mostly older, are hiding from Covid. I don’t know what to do.

She’s just a dog, some might say. But she’s my Annie, my person, my partner, and my dependent. Because I am a childless widow with no family nearby, Annie is the only flesh and blood mammal I can hug freely and with whom I can be completely myself. I have cared for her from 7 weeks to old age. We have been through so much together.

Last night, I thought about what our pets are to us, what Annie is to me. I had watched an old episode of the TV show “Parenthood.” Talk about triggers—everybody is dealing with their parent-child relationships, and it just made me cry. Somehow I felt like a worried-sick parent as I watched. I am not Annie’s mother. But I have been responsible for her care since she was a puppy. She depends on me. She loves me, but she does not take care of me. She is my companion, but not an equal one. I control the keys, the leash, and the can opener. “Mother” may be the wrong word, but it’s something like parenting.

Whatever you call it, she’s an integral part of my life, the one I greet in the morning and say good night to when I go to bed. Child. Best friend. Partner. Roommate. Old Auntie. Pet. Pride and joy. A human is not supposed to be all these things wrapped into one body. You’re either a child or a best friend, a partner or a pet. But a dog can be all these things. Annie is.

The vet hospital “hold” recording that I have heard over and over refers to us as “pet parents.” The receptionist has asked if I’m “Annie’s person.” They don’t say “owner,” which I suppose would be accurate, too, although I hate the sound of it. I did pay for Annie, just like I paid for my car, but it’s a lot different.

Whatever we are to be called, a dozen of us sat for hours in that parking lot in the rain waiting to have our dogs taken care of or waiting to be reunited. Sitting there, I remembered my mother coming to get us after school on rainy days, the safe feeling when my brother, the neighbor kids, and I were in the car heading home.

If I bring Annie home tomorrow, I will have to cancel my few outings for the foreseeable future. I don’t know how I will manage by myself, but at least she will be on this side of the mountain and we’ll be together.

I have gone on too long about my own problems. The country is going crazy this week, and that is very frightening. But the subject of the day is our pets. Mine is a dog, but cats, rats, gerbils and llamas count, too. What are our pets to us and what are we to them? I still say they are not a baby substitute. For many, many reasons, it’s not the same. So, how do they fit into the picture for you? I welcome your comments.

Will the New Year Bring Babies, Breakups or ???

Adios, 2020. Happy New Year? This has been a year far beyond our control, a year when the “normal” just around the corner keeps moving beyond our reach. We’ve seen lockdowns, businesses closed, and people sick or dying of a virus we had never heard of a year earlier. We’re wearing masks and minimizing contact with other people except by computer on Zoom—never heard of that before 2020 either. Wildfires, hurricanes, political upheaval, Brexit—we’ve had it all. In the midst of this craziness, when most of us are just trying to survive, how can we even think about having babies? What if you’re single? If you didn’t go into the pandemic with a partner, how could you think about dating?  

I often compare COVID to musical chairs. Whoever you had with you when the music stopped, that’s who you have for the duration. If you had no one, well, welcome to my world. As I write this, even my dog Annie (pictured above as a puppy) is gone. She has been in the veterinary hospital since Christmas, when she collapsed with a type of vertigo called Vestibular Disease. It looked like a stroke, but it’s not that. As of now, she is back to eating and drinking and can sit up, but she still cannot stand or walk. Will she recover? I don’t know yet. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Now that we have a fresh new year, a blank page on the calendar, can we go back to normal? Can we go from sick to healthy, fearful to confident, isolated to together again? To eating in restaurants, attending concerts and plays, working out at the gym, going to church, and throwing parties?

If only. On Jan. 1, we will still have the same problems we’ve got on Dec. 31, including childlessness. I have lost nine people I cared about this year, one to COVID, the others to the maladies of old age. I wish there were more children coming up behind them to fill the gaps they leave behind. I have my nieces and nephews, but they are far away, and I haven’t seen them in person in over a year.

I hope 2021 can bring some added daylight to your situation. As I have said in past years, make this the year that you speak plainly to your partner about childlessness and make a conscious decision to accept a life without offspring or do something about it. When you can’t have this partner and children, which are you willing to give up?

That’s the question explored in our new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both. I just got my copies yesterday. It offers the best of my blog posts and your comments, and I hope you buy it.

As we wind down, although we can’t see the future, we can hear the stories of older women who have lived the childless journey at Fireside Wisdom for Childless Elderwomen webinar today, Dec. 30, at noon Oregon time. Speakers include Jody Day, authors Kate Kaufmann, Jackie Shannon Hollis, Donna Ward, and Maria Hill, “NotMom” founder Karen Malone Wright, and me. This will be my first Zoom outing with this international group. To participate, click here and go to the registration link near the bottom. The session will be recorded, so you can listen another time if you can’t make it today.

I wish you all the best of new years. May the problems that keep you awake at night be resolved and much happiness come to you.

Big socially distanced hug,

Sue

The Cool Things Childless Women Do

Sorry I’m a day late. This is the first morning in two weeks that I haven’t felt horrible. Nope, not COVID-19. Let’s just call it a malfunctioning body part and a bad reaction to new medication. And then last night, after adjusting my prescription, hallelujah, I felt human again. I slept soundly and woke up ready to write. Whew.

What does this have to do with being childless? Nothing really. Even if I had a grown child nearby, he or she couldn’t have helped me—unless one of them was a neurologist. The biggest help was my friends offering advice and sympathy via texts and Facebook and my new doctor being concerned and available by email. Thank you, Dr. G.

Today’s post is a potluck meal, a little lasagna, a little potato salad, some brownies . . .

I’m finding that my friends know me so much better than my family. I suspect it would be the same if I had kids. I’d be “Mom” and “Grandma” to them, not Sue the writer and musician. Or the dog-mom. Annie is getting too heavy for me to lift. Yesterday after a beautiful walk in the woods, I couldn’t get her back into the Honda. We stood in the parking lot and stared at each other. Now what? Yes, a husband or a grown child could have lifted all 75 flailing pounds of her right up in the car, but we figured it out. I gave one more heave-ho, and she was in. Then I drove home and ordered a ramp from Amazon.

Let me tell you about a couple of very special childless women.

I encountered Kate Greene in a new book I was asked to review titled Once Upon a Time I lived on Mars. Science writer Greene, married to a woman and childless, had always wanted to be an astronaut. She came close by joining a simulated Mars mission, living with five others in a geodesic dome on a volcano in Hawaii. They stayed inside, seeing no one else, ate astronaut food, and did science experiments while experiencing what it would be like to be isolated from sunlight, freedom and family for months. It’s fascinating stuff, especially at a time when many of us have been sheltering in place because of the coronavirus. Not having children was one of the things that allowed Green the freedom to do this.

Catherine-RickboneI also want to tell you about Catherine Rickbone, who has just retired at age 74 as director of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts. She never had children either. She has four college degrees, and worked a variety of jobs, including teaching, marketing and public relations before taking the OCCA job. She’s also a singer and poet. A natural with her booming voice, she has hosted a radio show on the arts for years. Supervising not only local activities at the Performing Arts and Visual Arts centers in Newport but overseeing arts all along the Oregon coast, she has been extremely busy for years, dashing into our writers’ meetings at the last second, out of breath but smiling. I’m hoping she can relax a bit now, but I know she’ll keep busy. As for children, when did she ever have time? Listen to one of her poems here. Read about her here. The article was written by my friend Lori Tobias, a longtime newspaper reporter who is also childless and whose book, Storm Beat, is about to come out and become a best-seller.

I’m telling you those of us without kids can do some cool things.

Thanks for being here. Socially distanced hugs all round.

Have yourself a very doggy Christmas

Annie 9215AAnnie and I had not been to the dog park in a long time, not since she got into a fight with another dog and its owner cursed me out so thoroughly we both had our tails between our legs. My sweet pup has always been unpredictable around other dogs. I will not forget the day she grabbed a neighbor’s chihuahua and I was sure she was going to kill it. To her, that dog was no different from the rabbit she killed on one of our wilderness walks. I screamed like crazy, and neighbors rushed out to help separate the dogs. The little dog was okay, just a little bruised. Thank God.

There are certain dogs in the neighborhood Annie dislikes, especially Donut and Katie on the next block. Maybe they remind her of her brother Chico who used to pick on her. I wasn’t able to keep Chico, but she seems to have developed a prejudice against black dogs, and I didn’t trust her with any other dogs.

Harley, the yellow Lab who lives across the street, has helped change that. Annie and I met him when he was a puppy, just a handful of cream-colored fur. Now he weighs over 130 pounds and makes my tan 74-pounder look small. Harley is the kind of dog who loves everybody, human or canine. Annie was no exception. She didn’t know how to deal with that at first. She growled a bit. He didn’t react. She tried to walk away. He slapped his paws on the ground in an invitation to play. She hesitated, then jumped into play mode. They have been buddies ever since.

As the years passed, she has mellowed around other dogs. She still barks and pulls on the leash but does not go total Cujo anymore. Still, I have avoided the dog park. Even if Annie is calm, another dog might not be. One time, a pit bull attacked both of us, ripping my favorite pants. The owners just shrugged it off.

Yesterday, I had to mail my last Christmas gift to California, and it was walk time, so I put Annie in the car. Not in the mood for the beach—too cold—I stopped at the post office, then drove up the hill to the community college, which is just past the dog park. Maybe my music teacher friend would be there for a visit. If not, we could at least walk where Annie could sniff some new smells.

School was out for winter vacation, but it was a good walk, although I was wearing these leggings that kept wanting to fall down (Anyone else have that happen?). We walked around the college and then down the road a bit and finally circled the dog park fence. Inside, two large dogs streaked across the sawdust, running full speed. “Look at that, Annie,” I said. “Wow. Look at them go.” I didn’t know if my 11-year-old with her two patched-up knees could run that fast anymore. We continued around the outside of the park until the other dogs spotted us and came running.

Uh-oh, I thought. “Be good, Annie,” I said.

The dogs wagged their tails. One of them whined a little. Annie wagged her tail and whined back. She wanted to play with them.

Okay. I took her to the double gate, warned her that the others would be in her face, and let her in. They sniffed, Annie barked, and they took off. Oh my God, my dog was playing with other dogs. Soon I was talking to the other dog mom. We might have nothing else in common, but we had dogs.

After she left, it was back to just us. I kept praising my pup, and I swear she was smiling.

Yes, she’s a dog. Yes, I do not have human children. But I could not have been prouder if my child had won the school talent contest or gotten straight A’s on her report card.

Some days, I promise, you do not have to think about the children you don’t have.

And some days you do. I played the piano both Saturday and Sunday at my new church. They were incredibly welcoming, and I already feel at home on the piano bench there. But at “coffee and donuts,” sitting with other women, out came the baby pictures on their phones. Having none, I soon slipped away. It’s great being a dog mom, but it is not the same. We’re a different breed.

I don’t wrap gifts for my pup, but I did buy her a new blue collar yesterday. Her old red one was looking kind of ratty. I also bought myself an expensive pair of earrings for my newly pierced ears. We’re happy.

Choose your own kind of Christmas or whatever holiday you want, and don’t let the folks who don’t understand get you down. Feel free to share here about how your week before Christmas is going.

You can call me ‘Annie’s mom’

I had just left my dog at the vet’s office for surgery. I was walking down the aisle at the Fred Meyer store looking for chocolate chips when a familiar-looking woman saw me and yelled, “It’s Annie’s mom!”

I smiled. “Yes, it is.” Let the other people shopping around us think what they would. Does it matter that our ‘kids’ are dogs?

Dog moms connect wherever they are. This woman had joined the crowd in the waiting room at Grove Veterinary Clinic while Annie and I were waiting to check in. Annie raced over to greet her. She just knew this was another dog mom, and ooh, she smelled good. As the dog mom waited for $200 worth of dog meds, she told me about her three pups, including a big Lab a lot like Annie. I never learned the woman’s name, but her Lab’s name is Walker.

Like Annie, I love dog moms. I don’t have much experience as a mother to people, but dogs I understand. I admit I can get a little obsessed. Catch Annie and me alone together and you’re likely to hear me tell her she’s the best dog in the world, that I love her soooo much. I’ll rub my face against her fur because it feels so good. This week, she has a cone-shaped collar blocking her movements and keeping her away from her stitches. The tumor she had removed may or may not be cancer, so I’m worried.

When a friend was visiting the other day, I realized that I was being just as distracted and disgusting as human baby moms can be. I kept watching the dog, interrupting the people-talk to ask Annie, “Does it hurt? Are you thirsty? Want to go out? Did you fart?” Call it mothering. Call it taking care of a friend recovering from surgery, but my first thought these days is always “Where’s Annie?” and “Is she okay?”

Friends who have been watching her while I’m working report that she worries every minute until she sees me again. What if I never come back?

Although the typical household contains at least two humans, there are a lot of single women whose life partners are big dogs. I think of Episcopal priest-friend Susan Church, who is rarely seen without her two big hounds; my late friend Jill Baker, whose dogs were her constant companions, and my friend Orpha Barry, who for years traveled with a massive Akita named Sgt. Pepper.

It’s different with little dogs, which remain like babies. I met a friend with her four-pound pom-poodle mix at the vet’s office yesterday. She obsesses about that dog, talks baby talk, buys it tiny clothes. That’s fine, but I prefer big dogs you can hug hard without hurting them or spoon on the sofa when you’re both weary.

Big dogs provide protection as well as wonderful companionship. With their superior hearing, they detect invaders before you do, and with their big teeth, they scare them off. Annie would probably invite a burglar in and give him big kisses, but a criminal can’t tell that by looking through the window at her 75-pound hulk while she’s barking and growling.

Annie, 11, is considered old. People keep telling me she won’t be around much longer. I’m trying to enjoy every minute with her. Annie follows three other big dogs I loved, Heidi, Belle, and Sadie. When she goes, I’m not planning to get another big dog. My aging body can no longer handle such a large creature. If I get another dog, it will have to be small enough for me to lift in and out of the car. I’m thinking once Annie is gone, I’ll need to move to someplace where I’m surrounded by people who can help me when trouble arises—like this weekend when I had to go to urgent care and was told I should not drive myself. Annie doesn’t drive. I called the neighbors. The childless widow thing gets tricky sometimes. But for now, it’s Annie and me in the woods.

I’m drawn to stories about women with dog partners. A few suggestions: A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, Part Wild by Ceiridwen Terrill, and Woodswoman: Living Alone in the Adirondack Wilderness by Anne LaBastille.

Also try Dogs and the Women Who Love Them by Allen and Linda Anderson. I haven’t read it, but it sounds good.

If you know of other good books—or movies—about women and their big dogs, please share in the comments. Are you a dog mom with fur clinging to your clothes and saliva smears on your car windows? Tell us about it.

Men, don’t feel left out. You can tell us about your dog bond, too.

No, my dog is not my child substitute

Annie 9215AAnnie turned 11 this month. My dog, the blonde in the picture up above, has been my companion since my late husband Fred and I adopted her and her brother Chico at seven weeks. She weighed six pounds, the same as I weighed when I was born. She was a baby then. Now Chico is gone (long story, click here), and Annie is an old dog. Her muzzle has turned white, her knees are held together with plates and screws, and she’s covered with fatty lumps. In dog years, she’s older than I am now. We only have a few years left, if we’re lucky.

Is Annie my baby, my child, a substitute for the children I never had? No. There are occasions when I get called her mom, times when I might even call myself that, but her mother was a dog, not a human like me. Although we understand each other very well, we don’t speak the same language. I am responsible for her care, but she will not grow up and become an independent adult who might carry on my name and my traditions. She will not drive me to the hospital when something goes wrong. She is a dog.

We are partners in our life here in the woods. Together, we cope with the snow, rain and occasional sun. We eat together and we snuggle on the love seat while I write, watch videos or talk on the phone. She takes me on a walk through the woods every day, rain or shine around 3:00. She knows that’s when I’m ready to leave my desk. We know each other’s ways and rhythms. But she is not my child.

Annie will eat poop, plastic, pens, and paper clips if I don’t stop her. She wakes me up when the thunder scares her. She insists on constant belly rubs. She won’t let me eat without sharing. But she’s a lot less annoying than some people. Plus she’s always up for a hug, and she thinks I’m wonderful. How many 11-year-old humans are that agreeable?

I know there are people who consider dogs and cats their fur babies. I wrote about them in my Childless by Marriage book. Some go so far as to dress them in coats and sweaters and push them in baby strollers. They give birthday parties for their pets. I don’t do that with Annie.

Do I tell Annie she’s the best dog in the world? All the time. Do I tell her I love her? Constantly. Do I take her outside and make sure she goes potty? Every day. But she is not my child. She’s something different but equally wonderful. She is my friend, and I thank God for her.

Annie 82517A.jpg

What is your relationship with your animals? Are they your children? Do they make up for not having them? Do your parents accept them as “grandchildren?”

Are You Childless by Marriage Like Me?

Annie 9215A
Babies? What’s that?

Dear friends, I’ve hit a wall. After 11 years, I feel as if I have told you everything there is to tell. Because I’m childless, widowed and aging, spending my days with people well past menopause, I’m completely out of the baby/no baby loop. It’s just me and my dog Annie riding this spinning globe together. I can write endlessly about the neighborhood dogs and Annie’s upcoming knee surgery, but I rarely interact with children or young parents except on Facebook, with a “like” here and a “love” there.

Being childless means that while my friends are either visiting their children and grandchildren or hosting them at their homes this summer, it’s still just me and Annie. It would be different if I lived closer to my family or they were the kind of folks who actually got together. My father and I often have telephone conversations like this:

Dad: Have you heard from your brother?

Me: No. Have you?

Dad: No. He never calls. Have you heard from anybody else?

Me: No. In fact, I had to call myself to make sure my phone could still receive incoming calls.

Dad: Don’t your friends call?

Me: They text.

But my dysfunctional family is beside the point. I’m living in a  green forest bubble with  my dog. I have nothing new to say. But I have no intention of quitting this blog. So let’s talk about you. I surrendered my chance to have children before many of you were born. Times were different. I want to know how it is for you now. Let’s start with this:

What brought you to the Childless by Marriage blog? Do you consider yourself childless by marriage or fear that you will be? What’s going on? How can we help?

Please share in the comments. Let’s get this conversation going.

Thank you all for being here.

 

Spending the Fourth with My Best Friend

annie-9314Happy Fourth of July, U.S. readers. Have fun and be safe. While you’re eating barbecue and watching fireworks, I’ll be home holding my puppy’s paw. The fireworks frighten her. Also, she’s injured. I don’t know if you remember last year when I wrote about her knee surgery, but we’re about to do it again.

I had not been home an hour from my trip to San Jose last week when Annie started limping. When she tried to put weight on her back left leg, she just fell down. Uh-oh. I hoped to find a thorn in her foot or some other minor problem, but I knew what it probably was. The vet confirmed it the next day. As often happens with Labs, after one knee goes, the other follows. She has a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and will need surgery. Here we go again.

When I told my father about it, I forgot that I never admitted how much it cost last time:  $4,000. My father was shocked. He noted that she’s an old dog and suggested I should just let her go.

Not a chance, no more than we should put him down because he has a bum leg. Annie is my person, my companion, and yes, my baby. I will spend whatever it takes to get her walking again. She is actually doing pretty well on three legs, but we’re doing the surgery. The last procedure worked well, and I’m confident that six months from now she’ll be walking on all four feet again. So what if I have to make massive payments to pay for it?

Would I do this if I had a human baby to take care of, too? I suspect I would, but I might have to debate that with a husband who disagreed, who had a more practical attitude toward money.

Meanwhile, I’ll be staying home with Annie tonight. I am going out to watch a parade with a friend this afternoon, but then I’ll scurry back in time to give my pup her dinner and pain medication. Maybe we’ll watch a movie and share a bowl of popcorn.

I know the parade will be loaded with kids. I know I will be torn between grieving over my lack of grandchildren and being glad I don’t have to deal with little ones who scream, whine, and dart out into the street. My friend, who is a grandmother, won’t have children with her either because they live far away. If you live long enough, you don’t have to deal with other people’s kids, although you might have to love their dogs.

What are you doing for Fourth of July? Does it bring up the childless miseries? Do share.

Childless dog-mom takes pooch to church

IMG_20170605_120334609[1]Taking your dog to choir practice must be a lot like taking your toddler to work. By the time it’s over, you vow, “Next time, I’ll get a sitter.”

Annie, 74 pounds of Lab-pit bull love, had knee surgery a week ago today. It was done out of town, very expensive. Now she has a long incision with 13 staples that I have to keep her away from until next week. She is wearing a big blue inflatable collar that looks like a life preserver. She has so many pills I have organized them in days-of-the-week pill boxes, and I have orders to keep her from running, jumping or playing. Right. She can already put weight on her injured leg and she wants to go, go, go.

Choir starts at 7 p.m. At 4:30, we were sitting out in the yard when Annie rolled around on the grass enough to dislodge her collar. A little push with her good back leg and voila, it was off. Oh no! I jumped up and forced the collar back on before she could fight me.

Please God, let her keep it on, I prayed. We still have seven days to go. We ate dinner. I slipped one of Annie’s blankets into the back of the Element and put the seats up so she’d have room to relax. When Annie realized she was going for a ride, she went nuts. She ran, she jumped, and she nipped my arm with her sharp teeth. Unable to jump into the car, she waited for me to lift her. So heavy! I could feel my spine crumbling under her weight.

Before we got to the end of our short, one-car-wide block, Annie had shoved her head between the seats, trying to get up front. Another car was coming the other way, waiting for me to move while I was fighting back the dog. Sorry! Just as I eased around the other car with an apologetic wave, Annie eased out of her collar. Naked dog again. Damn!

I pulled into a neighbor’s driveway, climbed into the back and wrestled with my dog to get the stupid collar on. She wasn’t interested in wearing it anymore. I couldn’t blame her, but I knew she’d be licking and biting her staples as soon as I left her alone. Taking her to choir is a bad idea, I thought, as I clicked her regular collar back on and sealed the Velcro around her balloon collar. I should just stay home. But I had been home constantly since I brought Annie back from the hospital on Thursday. In addition to choir, I needed to return my library book, pick up my mail, and buy a few things at the store. “Lie down!” I ordered the dog. As I drove, I could hear her nails clicking as she walked around. Every other minute, she shoved her face up next to my arm. “Down!”

Post office. I literally ran from the car to my box, grabbed my bills, and ran back. Library. I stopped at the drive-through return, leaned way out the window and let the book thunk into the box. Grocery store. Race down the aisles, glancing constantly out the window to check on the dog. Grab strawberries, bananas, lettuce, cookies, a bag of flour, try to find frozen yogurt, can’t, no time, hurry through the checkstand. Senior discount? Yes, please. Out with my bags. Oh, thank God, she was still in the back. But footprints and nail marks on my choir book showed she had tried to get into the driver’s seat.

Okay, church. Nobody there yet. Annie was going out of her mind with excitement. I helped her to the ground. She dragged me all over the grass and pavement. She did her business. She nosed bits of garbage, chewed on weeds, sniffed at doors, shoved her head into the bushes.

The other singers arrived. “Oh, how cute,” they said, all wanting to pet my dog. Annie dragged me from person to person. They stroked her and talked baby talk to her. They praised her for being such a good dog. They thought she was healing well.

“How is Mom?” someone asked. I let my tongue drop in a sign of exhaustion. My spine was all jumbled from lifting and restraining the dog. My clothes were covered with fur. I had a wet spot on the breast of my blue shirt where Annie’s water bowl tipped over while I was moving it. My arm was bruised where she nipped me.

Annie settled down as we did the readings and started to sing. But when we decided to adjourn to the sanctuary so we could try some of the songs with the organ, Annie dragged me ahead of the others through the vestibule and across the altar to the choir loft. “Slow down! It’s church!”

She raced up the steps, trying to sniff everyone at once. As the organ sounded. “Holy, Holy, Holy!” the dog settled down below us, smiling her doggy smile and panting percussion as we sang. Finally. Peace.

That fell apart when we went back to the chapel to finish our practice. I drained my water bottle to fill a plastic container with water for Annie. She lapped it up, the sound reverberating off the skylight and stained glass window. Then she dragged me to the door. Need to pee. So did I, but I couldn’t leave Annie to go to the restroom. We walked around the yard while the singing went on. Annie and I were there, but it was all about the dog.

After choir, a friend held my stuff while I lifted the dog back into the car. Oh my back.

At home, we each had a snack before we settled on the loveseat with my tablet to watch a TV show. Annie nestled up against me and fell asleep, softly snoring. “I love you,” I whispered. And I do, but this single-parenting business is hard.

Stitches or not, she’s staying home next week. At least with a dog, you can leave them at home for an hour with a bowl of water and a doggy door.

I don’t know much about motherhood, but I have seen that for mothers, it’s all about the child. If the child needs to stay home, you stay home. If the child needs to be fed or changed, you abandon your own needs to feed or change him. If the child acts out in public, you pray everyone understands. At the age I am now, I don’t know if I could be a real mom to a little human. I don’t have the stamina or the patience.

Would I have been up for it when I was young? I’ll never know. But I do know that we need to forgive our loved ones with kids if they seem to go nuts for a few years and don’t have time for us. Forgive them and offer help. Maybe, at least for now, those of us who don’t have children are supposed to help those who do. Try it.

My niece, who is single, recently became a foster parent to a four-year-old boy with special needs. This week, she took in a baby. God bless her, I don’t know how she does it. God bless all who play the mother role in whatever form it takes.