Lately I’ve been thinking about metaphors. Specifically metaphors like, “My pets are my children,” or “My writing is my baby.”
I can understand, almost, why people use these metaphors. Having children is a monumental step that reorders your entire life. Your world basically revolves around your children, because they need you to survive. Plus, they carry your genetic code and are, in a very real sense, a part of you.
Saying, “My pets are my children” is, I think, mostly an attempt to say, “My pets are as important to me as your children are to you.”
But I don’t see my dogs (or my writing) as “children,” and several things about comparing them to children bothers me.
It’s an easy metaphor, one that most people can understand, but it implies that important things like pets, art, etc., are intrinsically not as important or worthy as children of time and attention, and that pets are simply replacements for human children.
Plenty of parents also have pets. You rarely hear them say “My pets are my babies!” And yet, I’d be willing to wager those pets play an equally important, albeit very different, role in family life.
Growing up, that was my experience. We had a dog, a German shepherd/border collie mix, who was my constant companion. We played together, went for walks together, even sat on the couch and watched TV together. We all loved him immensely, and he was, without a doubt, a part of our family.
But my parents never referred to Maverick as one of their “children.” My brother and I were the children, and Maverick was the dog.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with calling a dog a dog. That’s what they are. Their dog-ness is why we love them. If dogs were strictly replacement children for people unable or unwilling to have children, you’d probably see a lot fewer human children with doggy companions.
Dogs make excellent companions because of their emotional intelligence and their ability to read body language and smell pain and illness. Children are naturally intuitive, but I’ve never met a human who could read another person as well as a dog can.
Dogs often know what we’re feeling physically and emotionally before we have any idea ourselves—and this is partly why many dogs bond so easily with children, I think. There’s no need for the child to verbalize her emotions, because the dog just knows, and is there with a nuzzling wet nose or a long drippy tongue to the face.
Even now that my brother and I are grown and my parents have turned into crazy German shepherd people (they have four), they do not make comparisons between their actual human children and their dogs. My mother doesn’t ignore me because she has her furry children to keep her company.
It’s essentially the same with writing. My writing is not my baby, it’s my writing. It may be work in the same sense that raising children is work, but it is very, very different work. Yes, it’s hugely important to me, but if I ever got struck by lightning and suddenly decided I wanted children, I’m guessing the human babies would be an entirely different kind of important.
Ultimately, my point is that dogs play a large and important role in my life, and so does creating art. Neither my dogs nor my writing is a replacement for not having children. They are rewarding in their own rights, and fill very different emotional and mental needs than children do (I imagine, as I don’t actually feel any desire to have children).
My dogs are not my children. They are my dogs, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.