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 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.

Hey, some of us are not having babies!

A childless Facebook friend had a horrible experience at the dentist last week. Her hugely pregnant hygienist never stopped talking about her baby and she had to sit while doing the work, forcing my friend into awkward positions. But that wasn’t the worst of it. My friend was having an impression made of her teeth. The hygienist clamped a goop-filled mold onto her teeth. It was supposed to stay on for 15 minutes. The patient waited over 45 minutes while she could hear the hygienist talking to other people in the building about her baby. She knew it was too long but felt helpless to do anything about it. By the time the hygienist came back, the stuff had hardened so much it had to be painfully chipped off. The impression was ruined. I hope the hygienist was fired.

It’s not always that way. The last time I had my teeth cleaned, my hygienist was about to go on maternity leave. Once in a while her belly bumped against me, but she was completely professional and did not talk incessantly about the baby.

I know having a baby is exciting, probably the most exciting thing that can happen to a woman, but sometimes it’s hard to hear.

Another friend recently got pregnant via in vitro treatments. I’m happy for her and praying the pregnancy results in a healthy baby. But do we need a daily report of every symptom and every little doodad you have purchased for the baby? The rest of us are still back in no-baby land.

Today is my great-niece’s first birthday. She lives far away. I can’t get away to see her. My nephew posted a video of her first steps last week. So cute, but I’m missing it all. I will never get to experience the milestones of life with a little one, not my own, not a grandchild, not even my great-niece while all around me people are glorying in babies. Even at my age, that still hurts a lot.

Meanwhile, I’m torn between dog and dad. Annie got her stitches out yesterday. Her incision seems to be healing well. She is walking gingerly on her repaired leg. I’m still afraid to leave her alone for long, but this morning I slept in for the first time in weeks because she can finally take herself outside through her doggie dog. Before, the inflatable collar around her neck made her too wide to get through.

As for Dad, I’m heading back to California Monday for his next appointment with the orthopedic surgeon. Pray the doctor says he can start trying to walk. I don’t know how he’ll survive if he gets bad news again. He hates the nursing home, but we really don’t know if he’ll ever get to go back to living in his own house. Complicating matters, he was being taken to Kaiser yesterday for a bad cough. I’m still waiting to hear what the doctor said. What if it’s something worse? Sunday is Father’s Day. I won’t be there. What if it’s his last? I can’t let my mind go there.

Father’s Day. Childless male readers, I’m sorry about this stupid holiday which causes pain for everyone who isn’t a father or who doesn’t have a living father. Women get more attention for Mother’s Day, but Father’s Day is tough for men, too. As with the women, I suggest that you stay away from social media the whole weekend and get out of town if you can. Don’t expect your stepchildren to honor you. It’s probably not going to happen. Go fishing. Take a hike. Read a good book until it’s over.

So that’s what I’m thinking about this week. What’s on your minds?

 

 

Celebrating Childless by Marriage the book

7d455-childlessbymarriagecoversmallFirst you marry a man who does not want children. He cheats and you divorce him. Then you marry the love of your life and find out he does not want to have children with you either. Although you always wanted to be a mother, you decide he is worth the sacrifice, expecting to have a long, happy life together. But that’s not what happens. This is the story of how a woman becomes childless by marriage and how it affects every aspect of her life.

That’s the description of my book Childless by Marriage, which debuted five years ago this month. At that point, it had a different cover and was only an e-book. The paperback with the current cover came later in the year.

The book tells my story, but I also include interviews of many childless women, as well as things I learned in over a decade of studying childlessness. Chapters include “He Doesn’t Want Children,” “What Have I Done?” Who Knew It was a Sin?” “The Evil Stepmother,” “Exiled from the Mom Club,” “Why Don’t You Have Kids?” “Can a Woman Be a Dog’s Mother,” “Mothering Fred,” “Side Effects of Motherhood” and “What Will I Leave Behind?”

The book has not become the raging bestseller that I dreamed of. The many publishers who rejected it all warned that while it was well-written and covered an important topic, there might not be a big enough audience. Also, it might be depressing. Maybe they were right. But I published it anyway. You can buy it at Amazon.com. Or just send me a check for $15.95 at P.O. Box 755, South Beach, OR 97366, and I’d be happy to mail you a copy.

I hate advertising myself and my books, but that’s part of the writing game these days. You have to build a “platform” and promote, promote, promote. That’s part of why I started this blog, but it has turned into more than just a plank in my platform. We have built a community where we can share our thoughts and feelings freely. It has been almost 10 years since that first post! No wonder I struggle some weeks to find a new topic.

Another part of book promotion is giving talks. To that end, I will be one of the speakers at the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio the first weekend of October. The most exciting part of the conference for me will be meeting the many other childless/childfree authors whose books I have read, quoted and mentioned here. Anyone can attend. Check out the website for details.

Ten years, five years. So much has happened in all of our lives during those years, right? I feel like everything has changed, but I have no intention of quitting the blog or the book. You all are such a gift to me. Thank you so much for sharing your stories.

Keep coming back, dear readers, and let me know what you’d like to talk about here.

***

As I write this, my dog Annie is a hundred miles away having knee surgery. Over the next few weeks, I will be wrapped up in keeping her comfortable and quiet and preventing her from chewing on her stitches. I suspect I won’t get much sleep. I came home from the veterinary hospital covered in dog fur. Annie drooled all over my car seats. Motherhood, human or animal, is messy! I hope I’m up to the task. Our old dog Sadie had a similar surgery, twice, but my husband Fred was around to help. This time, it’s just me and Annie.

 

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?”

***

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?

*****************

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.

******************

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.