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?

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