So what if my kid has four legs and a tail?

I walk in the door of the vet’s office, and the receptionist shouts, “Annie’s 736fa-anniebaby2mom is here!” A worker comes into the waiting room. “Are you Annie’s mom?” The vet, her assistant and I crouch down on the floor holding my dog as the vet examines her injured knee. “Annie, look at your mom.” “Now, Mom keep her calm.”

Etc.

I am Anne’s mom. Annie is a dog. A Lab-pit bull mix, tan with a white face. She is my best friend. She is my family. She is my baby. I did not give birth to Annie. Her mother is a dog. But I brought her home when she was seven weeks old, just six pounds. I also adopted her brother, Chico, who was eight pounds. Chico had a need to keep running away and a tendency to attack other dogs. He doesn’t live with us anymore. But at nine years, two months and 17 days, Annie is still my baby. In dog years, we’re almost the same age now. Next year, she’ll be older than me, but I’ll still be her mom.

Annie has torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her knee. She gets around pretty well on three legs, but she will need surgery. It’s extremely expensive and has to be done out of town. It costs as much as the summer workshop in Lisbon that I decided I couldn’t afford, even with the $950 scholarship they offered. Some people would say forget it; she’s an old dog. Just put her down. No way. She’s my Annie. Except for her knee, she’s healthy and strong. Would you euthanize a human with a bad knee?

I know she’s a dog, but it’s just Annie and me out here in the woods. When I adopted her in 2008, I made a commitment to take care of her for the rest of her life. I became Annie’s mom.

I can’t imagine my life without a dog.

In the world of dog-moms, I never feel childless or left out. I have Annie. I had Chico. Before that, I had Sadie. Many years ago, I had Heidi and cats named Dusty, Poo, and Patches. While Annie and I were waiting for X-rays yesterday, a friend from church came in clutching a tiny dog. Her big dog, Sarah, died this week, and she’s heartbroken. She was donating Sarah’s leftover medication to the vet’s charity. She has human children and grandchildren, but in that situation, we were just dog moms feeling each other’s pain.

I love being Annie’s mom. I know she won’t live forever. But not get her knee fixed? That’s not even open for discussion. It will be a pain. I know because we went through this with Sadie. She blew out both back knees. In addition to the driving and the cost, the convalescence will mean constant monitoring so she doesn’t chew her stitches or jump on her bum leg. It will mean wearing a plastic cone around her head. It will mean many more trips to the vet. But I’m Annie’s mom.

Are you a dog or cat mom? How do you feel about being called their “mom?”

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This seems to be a time for caregiving. As I have written before, my father broke his leg in March. My posts here have been intermittent because I have been traveling back and forth to California to help him transition from hospital to skilled nursing facility to assisted living. I’m going back next week to be with him when he sees his surgeon. He’s 95. He doesn’t hear well, and he doesn’t always understand. Someone has to be there, and I’m elected. With luck, the doctor will tell him he can start putting weight on the leg. It was a bad break, requiring metal plates and screws to be installed. We’re not sure if he will ever be able to walk normally again or what we will do if he’s wheelchair-bound forever. He just wants to go home. Please pray for him if you’re into that.

These days, I’m leading a double life, caring for my dog and for my dad. If only they were both in the same state. I have very little control over my time or my money lately. I make myself crazy by thinking about how much easier this would be if my husband were still alive and well or if I had grown children to  help. I wonder who will do all this for me if/when I need it. But women are built for caregiving, whether they’re caring for children, elderly parents, or dogs. It feels right.

Note: People at the vet’s office call me “Annie’s Mom,” but often the people caring for my father think I’m his wife. He does not look his age. Maybe I do. 🙂

In spite of the upheaval, I am reading and responding to your comments, so keep them coming.

Dog who is NOT my baby visits the vet

Last week I wrote about my dog Annie and how she’s not my baby, not a substitute for children. Well, my not-baby and I went to the vet yesterday. Annie has been limping pretty badly on one front leg and one back leg. She also has a lump on her left front shoulder that seemed to have grown since our last vet visit. I was afraid of cancer. I also feared she would need knee surgery. Not that she showed any problems as she jumped around the waiting room greeting everyone.

It was a long visit, involving an extensive exam, blood tests and biopsying the lump. Good news. The lump is a benign lipoma—fatty tissue. The knee is fine. It’s her hips that are wearing out. And her weight making it worse. Ms. Annie is now on a diet because “Mom” has been giving her too many treats. Time for “tough love,” the vet says. I have some new drugs for me to hide in her food and a bill for $285. Feels like parenting, but I am still not my dog’s mother.

I was proud of my baby, no, friend, no, companion, no, partner, at the vet’s office. Huddled between my legs in the waiting room, trembling with nerves, she behaved perfectly. She didn’t even try to murder the two poodles who came in and whined the whole time. She just barked once at each dog to let them she was there.

She poured on maximum cuteness as she pulled me down the hall trying to greet every doctor and aide that we passed. In the examining room, she set her massive paws on the counter where she knew the cookie jar sat. “She’s so cute,” the vet’s assistant kept saying. I know. Her body might be 8 ½ years old and her joints starting to go bad like mine, but she’s a puppy at heart and she loves people. Thank God that lump was nothing life-threatening.

Now, how do I convince her that carrots are better than cookies?

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In other news:

I have been chosen to be one of the speakers at the NotMom Summit happening a year from now, Oct. 6-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be on a panel discussing aging without children, but there will be lots of different topics related to childlessness. Check out the website and “like” the Facebook page to keep up with plans for the conference. You might even think about going. Another Oregonian, Kani Comstock, author of Honoring Missed Motherhood, will also be speaking. I just got her book yesterday. I look forward to reading it and sharing it with you.

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Speaking of sharing, here are some articles you might want to read.

“Being Childless Feels Worse Than Being Single” by Rachel Kramer Bussel, published Sept. 22 in the Washington Post.

“Women Who Rule the World Still Asked, ‘Why are you Childless’” by Stefanie Bolzen, Sabine Menkens and Peter Praschl on Sept. 22 at Worldcrunch. You have probably heard it before, but why are women who are elected to lead countries chastised as “less than” for not having children? Does anyone dare say that about men?

“The Case for Including Childless Adults in Your Parenting Village” by Louise Fabiani, published Sept. 27 in the Washington Post. The childless aunt or uncle, biological or not, could be a great help with the kids. Why not let them in?

I welcome your comments on any or all of this pot luck post.

A Childless Life Well Lived

Jill Baker
Jill Baker photo posted by Maureen Little on Facebook

Dear readers,

One of the women I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book passed away last week. Jill Baker had been suffering from major heart problems for years. She was married once in her youth, divorced and never remarried. She never had children. But none of that defines who Jill was. Full of life, even when her body was failing, a large presence even though she was a small woman, Jill stood out wherever she went. She was funny, opinionated, and loaded with talent.

I first met Jill at the Central Coast Chorale, a singing group that I joined shortly after I moved to Oregon. Jill was the one always raising her hand with suggestions or laughing loudly from the alto section. We were both chosen to sing in a smaller ensemble that used to be called Octet Plus and is now Women of Note. You could count on Jill to hold down the low notes while the rest of us warbled up above. She was also a talented flute player. After I moved on to other musical endeavors, Jill rose to assistant director of the chorale.

Jill taught music—piano, flute, voice, and more. She sang in small groups and major choruses. She had also worked in bookkeeping, accounting and computer software because it’s hard to make a living with a music degree, but she was finally able to focus on music after she moved to the Oregon coast.

Back in the 1960s, she was engaged to be married when she discovered she was pregnant. Her fiancée took off as soon as she told him. She had an abortion in a motel room. “She was some kind of a nurse and did illegal abortions and it was awful,” Jill said. “I hemorrhaged for six months, during my final six months of college.” Once the baby wasn’t an issue, her fiancée came back, and they got married. He refused to even discuss having children. Eventually the marriage ended. She said she never found another man she felt strongly enough about to marry.

Before our interview, Jill had never told anyone about the abortion, but she had reached a point where she was willing to share her story and happy to have me use her real name. Telling me meant she would have to tell her family, she said. She was a brave woman.

Jill never knew for sure whether that abortion affected her ability to have children. Suffering from fibroid tumors, she had a hysterectomy in her 40s, . “I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” she said.

When I asked how she felt about never having children, she said, “I felt lucky in that I didn’t have that massive craving to have a child. I would have liked to have kids, but only if I was in a marriage where the husband could be a father. I never wanted to have kids just to have kids.”

Instead of having her own children, she dove into the role of aunt to her siblings’ children and dog mom to her precious canine companions. Jill was the one holding her sheet music with one hand and petting her dog with the other in the chapter of my book about dog moms. Asked if she felt left out when her friends talked about their children, she laughed. “No. I get ‘em back; I talk about my dog.” She added, “I get irritated when people feel sorry for me. I really detest that because I think I’ve had a good life. I don’t believe you have to have a husband or kids to be happy.”

As for old age, she was determined to live on her own as long as she could, moving into a retirement home if necessary. She never had to. As she left this life, her hospital room was full of friends who loved her like family.

Rest in peace, Jill.