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This year on Mother's Day, I've decided to embrace the fact that I am a mother. I am not exactly the mother I thought I was going to be, but then again, I am not exactly living the kind of life I thought I was going to live either. I've overcome the roadblocks of infertility and chronic illness to discover this alternative to traditional motherhood and this year I am going to fully and joyfully embrace it and celebrate it.
I am a proud pet parent and mother to two dogs and three cats.
I started with a kitten in 1990 and over the past 20 years I have raised a total of five cats. My cats helped me get through the months and years after my cancer treatment, subsequent infertility and premature menopause. Back then I wasn't sure that I would ever date again, let alone get married or pursue family building options. My cats didn't care about all that. They were just grateful I found them at the shelter or cat adoption event and wanted to take them home.
In all my time as a cat momma, I've come to see its similarities to parenting a teenager. After all, they don't really listen to you, they seek your company on their terms and they only clamor for your attention when they want something. Sure, they are more than a handful when they are kittens. I've endured slashed furniture and unintentional scrapes on my hands while my kittens learned to use the scratching post and play gently with mom. One time, my cat Charlie actually stole my college class ring and I spent several hours searching my apartment for it. The whole incident reminded me of my teenage raids on my mother's jewelry box in search of cool accessories to wear to school.
Last Fall, at the urging of my hubby, we humanely trapped a stray kitten living in our back yard and I spend several months taming him. I see this as my greatest mothering triumph, getting a skittish 9 month old kitten used to being touched, played with and fed by a big, scary human. Now he runs around the house with his brother and sister and interacts with Robert and I like he was always meant to be inside the house.
All in all, being a cat momma takes a few minutes each day to feed them, clean the litter box and engage them in play. In return, I get a warm fur ball snuggled up against my belly when I go to bed at night. As I fall asleep, my hand resting on my purring child, I know this will be the closest I will come to having a child in my womb.
Initially I adopted a dog from the city animal shelter in January 2008 in an attempt to see if I could handle more responsibilities despite my chronic illnesses. Frustrated that chronic illness put a halt to my family building plans in 2005, I longed to fill my mothering void. I took a chance knowing that, if I failed, I could always find my dog a new, loving home.
I've learned that being a mother to my dogs takes much more of my time and energy. Some days it can be overwhelming physically to take care of them, which is why I feel fortunate to have my hubby's help. Reluctant at first, Robert now enjoys being a doggy daddy. Parenting our dogs brings my hubby and I together as a team and gives us an experience we can share with each other.
I find parenting dogs to be more like taking care of young children. I find myself wiping poopy butts, giving baths, trimming hair, keeping them out of trouble and teaching them how to behave. I've gone to parenting classes (aka dog training) and searched for appropriate child care (aka doggie day care.) There are daily walks and occasional trips to the park, play dates with their friends from class and practice for the big test (the Canine Good Citizen test.) I try not to spoil them, but they need some toys to divert their boundless energy and healthy snacks to reward them for a job well done (i.e., sit, stay and down to name a few.)
I even let my first dog Brunswick bring home a little brother. He met Theodor at doggie day care in 2009. When I came to pick him up, I saw how well they were playing together. Robert was with me that day and I convinced him to let Theodor come home with us for a trial sleep over. Needless to say, Theodor never went back and Brunswick is a much calmer and happier dog for it.
Brunswick loves to be near me, and every once in a while, he'll raise his head from my lap, throw it backwards and into my chest as he gazes into my eyes. I feel my heart melt every time he does this. In my head I imagine him saying, "I love you mommy."
Yes, today I am going to relish my well-behaved and happy furry children. I am going to acknowledge how all my hard work in caring for and raising them pays off in the unconditional love I receive from them every day. They are my companions and my company when I am home alone. They comfort and calm me when I do not feel good. They help me feel needed and appreciated on a daily basis and their presence in my life provides a means to fulfill my wish to be a mother each and every day.