Sounds like motherhood to me

Once upon a time, what seems like a lifetime ago, but actually only 4 1/2 years, I had a husband with Alzheimer’s disease and two 7-week-old puppies named Chico and Annie. This was an insane combination. I have been reading my old journals lately, and I have to tell you, this sounds exactly like someone trying to take care of twin human babies while caring for an older person with dementia. Why did we adopt these dogs? Our old dog had died, and we missed having a dog around the house. Neighbors advertised a litter of Lab-terrier pups, and they were so cute Fred suggested we get two, the black male for him, the tan female for me. It was insane and wonderful at the same time.

My journal entries are all about the pups peeing, chewing, crying and needing to be held and loved and about how Fred needed pretty much the same thing, minus the chewing of furniture and shoes. I’d put one pup in the crate, and the other would pop out. I’d leave them alone for a minute and find them fighting, one pup trapped behind the water heater, her ear bloody. I had the vet’s phone on speed dial. I’d clean up one mess and turn around to see the other dog squatting on the carpet. I bought absorbent pads by the ton and my hands always smelled like urine. If I needed to leave, I had to find someone to care for the dogs or take them with me in the car. Fred couldn’t dog-sit. I’d say, “Put them in the laundry room,” and he would respond, “What’s the laundry room?” It was that bad.
This went on for weeks, then months. I took the dogs to training classes, doing an hour with one, then putting that one back in the car and doing it all again with the other dog. As my husband deteriorated, I had paid caregivers coming in and left them lengthy notes about what needed to be done for both the husband and the dogs. If I couldn’t get a sitter or they didn’t show up, I couldn’t go. I worried every minute until I got home, usually to a disaster of some sort. Although I tried to pretend otherwise, my work suffered. I tried to write when the husband was busy or asleep and the dogs finally conked out at night, but I was always listening for them to get up or cry out. I write about eating a pancake breakfast at church and wanting to cry because finally I could eat in peace and someone actually served my food to me.
It sounds an awful lot like being a mother. So what if I was mothering dogs and a 71-year-old husband? I did everything but give birth and breastfeed. And yes, I had already helped raise my youngest stepson, too. He lived with us from age 11 to 20. I didn’t do motherhood in the normal way, but I feel justified in claiming the title of “mom.”
How about you? Many of us weep over our loss of babies, but are there ways in which you feel you have been a mother, even though you never gave birth?

Dogs you can give back

I’m sure there are times when mothers would like to give their children back. When they’re on the floor of the supermarket throwing a tantrum for example. Well, you can’t really return children. Once they’re born, they’re yours, which may be why some people decide not to have them at all.
There have been moments this week when we wanted to give our new dog, Halle Berry Lick, back. I mean, we have seriously discussed it. The shy pooch we met at Safe Haven Humane Society bears only physical resemblance to the creature who jumps up and plants her paws around my neck while I’m trying to eat breakfast and won’t let anyone sit on the couch for more than 30 seconds without trying put all 56 pounds of herself in their lap. We have already signed her up for school and gotten some emergency advice from the dog trainer. We have also spent a fortune on a crate, food, leash, shots, license, treats, chewbones, toys and dog-training books. Halle destroyed three balls, a coaster and a ceramic pot in two days, has tried to eat at least four of my husband’s shoes, and keeps trying to eat the fuzzy slippers right off my feet.
I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since she arrived.
And yet, there are moments when she is so sweet and such good company. She makes us laugh often, and she forces us to take breaks from work and worries.
The trainer and the vet both assure me that she can be trained and become a wonderful companion, but right now it’s constant hand-to-paw combat. I do see progress, but it’s in tiny increments, and somehow she seems so much bigger in our house than she seemed at the kennel.
This dog isn’t dumb. She has mastered “sit” and showed me yesterday that she already knows how to shake hands. Sometimes she’ll come when we call.
So what does this have to do with childlessness? Well, when I didn’t have a dog, I felt like a mother with no kids. I’m a dog mom. It’s part of my identity. Everywhere I looked, I saw people with dogs, and I felt so left out. When H.B. joined us, I showed her picture to everyone, called the family to announce her arrival, got her a name tag and a license, in other words did everything to stake my claim and show her off, just like someone would do with a baby.
Give her back? We’ve gone too far. Part of me really misses the quiet peace of our house before Halle came, the long nights of uninterrupted sleep, the ability to leave my stuff out without it getting chewed up. It’s the same with a toddler who gets into everything. If it’s too quiet, they’re into something.
In fact, Halle just stopped barking, so I have to go.
But the truth is, you can give a dog away if you get tired of parenting it. Can’t do that with a child even if you’d like to claim no knowledge of the red-faced screaming toddler on the floor between the soup and the pasta. Then again, kids rarely eat your library books or chew up your favorite shoes.