My dogs are not my children

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.”

puppies

Lexi and Jaina. They leave fur everywhere, but I love them anyway.

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.

Copper and ceramic

Slowly, in fits and starts, we’re turning our house into a home.

Renovating a house feels a lot like writing fiction, actually. You start with something raw and unfinished, and you slowly polish it until it shines, until it’s yours.

My house is starting to shine. The pieces are coming together: paint, new (and used, and refinished) furniture, new light fixtures, some new flooring.

It still needs quite a bit of paint and a good deep cleaning to get rid of all the leftover construction dust, but I can see it, there, my house, my home, exactly like I envisioned.

Photo of an old, tarnished copper mailbox

We found this buried in a pile of bricks in the back yard. I’m going to make it shine again.

We started a year and a half ago when we bought the house as a fixer-upper. It’s a 1920s wood frame. The original wood siding has been covered up (more than once), but many of the original interior features are intact: solid wood doors, glass door knobs, wood wainscoting, brick fireplace.

This past weekend I found what I believe to be light fixtures original to the house, as well as a copper mail box. Right now they are tarnished and brown, but I want to clean them up and make them shine.

History has always fascinated me, and I have a collection of objects from our renovations: ceramic pieces from the old knob and tube electrical wiring, a window weight (oh, if only I could afford to put in wood windows!), an old hinge, the transom from over the door that was just covered up when they put aluminum siding on the house.

I like that my house has character, even if that means it has flaws and weak points. That brings me back to my point about renovating being like writing. Flawed characters are what make fiction compelling.

There’s nothing interesting about a perfect, sterile environment. There’s no story there.

And I love my house—my home—the same way I love a good story.

Respect my choice to be childfree

When I was around 14 years old, I realized I had no desire to have children.

And here I am, a few months away from hitting 30, and still, I have no desire for children. Neither does my partner.

It’s not just a lack of desire though. The thought of having my own children, of the ways in which their presence would fundamentally change everything about my life, is unappealing. I enjoy the ability to go out when and where I want without need to tote along a toddler or scramble for a baby sitter. I like being able to control my environment, to rest when I need to. I like spending money on books rather than diapers.

To be fair, I don’t know anyone who actively enjoys changing dirty diapers or waking up at 2 a.m. to a screaming infant, but most people, it seems, are happy to do these things because of the rewards they receive: a burbling laugh, a joyful smile, watching something they created take shape and become a person.

I am genuinely and truly happy for my friends who have (or are going to soon have, or eventually want to have) children. But it’s not for me.

(Considering also my chronic illness, preparing for pregnancy, going through pregnancy, and then caring for an infant would be incredibly difficult. Not impossible, but not pleasant, either.)

childfreeecard

My opinions on lots of big things have changed over the years, but excluding children from my life plan never has. My partner agrees. My parents don’t care if we have kids or not. They’d be happy if we did, but they’re just as happy if we don’t. My in-laws, too, have never hinted that they want more grandkids. They have instead expressed many times that they want us to be happy, in whatever we choose. My friends, too, even the ones with kids or who are planning to have kids soon, think nothing of the fact that I don’t want that life.

Not having children is our choice. It is not a comment on your desire (or lack thereof) for children. It is not a comment on the state of the world, overpopulation, or politics. It is simply the choice we have made for our lives.

Many people—customers I meet at work, business acquaintances, friends of friends of friends, distant relatives, random strangers I meet by happenstance—do not seem to understand, nor to respect, this choice.

Frankly, I am fed up with that bullshit.

Before I got married I heard, “Oh, just wait until you find the right man.”

After I got married I started hearing, “Oh, you’ll change your mind,” and “Oh, if you have dogs you’ll definitely have kids,” and “Just wait until you settle down a bit.”

Found right partner. Got stable jobs. Bought house. Writing career is progressing well. Library career is progressing well. Health is better than it’s been in a long time.

And guess what? We still do not want kids.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why people who hardly know me care so much whether I want children, and I have a few theories.

  1. Women are “supposed” to want kids. We are expected to want marriage and motherhood and to make dinner for our families and do the whole housewife thing, even if  we also have a full-time job outside of the house.
  2. People sometimes see the choices of others as attacks on their own choices. So, me not wanting children is another way of saying their decision to have children is less valid or somehow “wrong.” (It’s not, of course—both choices are equally valid.)
  3. The choice to eschew child rearing is often seen as selfish. Young people are generally considered to be self-absorbed navel gazers, and supposedly become less self-absorbed as they mature. So, to some people, the “selfish” decision to be childfree will eventually be worn away by life experience and the realization that the world is not all about you.

The irony, of course, is that most of these points of view are inherently self-centered. They are based on the assumption that having children is “right” and not having children is “wrong.” These feelings often come with more assumptions: That I hate children and/or look down on parents, especially stay-at-home-moms.

I don’t, of course. Parents are rock stars, and humanity could not go on without them. I love seeing my friends raising awesome little people, and I’m excited for what those little people will do.

The choice to be a working mom or a stay-at-home mom is a personal, individual choice that every mother has to make for herself. One isn’t inherently better (or more “feminist”) than the other. Every family is different. What’s right for one family may be wrong for another.

And I don’t hate all kids, either. Sometimes they drive me up the wall and make me want to scream (I have to deal with them a lot at my job), but sometimes they make my heart melt and they give me hope for the future of the world.

But I personally do not want children of my own. If you want children, awesome! Go for it. Raise the next generation of creators, inventors, doers, movers, and shakers.

But please, please, please stop telling me how to feel or how to live my life. Respect my choice to be childfree, and I’ll respect your choice, whatever that may be.