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.

Eating as political act

I spend much of my Sundays in the kitchen, preparing food for the coming week.

This is not a simple domestic ritual to me, though I enjoy it immensely. No, fermenting my own yogurt, baking my own granola, and cooking all my beans instead of getting them from cans is a radical political act.

Here’s why: By making my own foods from scratch—even just some of them and not all—I am rejecting our industrial food production system and all the dollars they pump into political candidates.

picture of a corn field

Most of our food is made from corn and soy. Photo by Tyler Allen. Used under Creative Commons license. Click through for source.

During the 2012 election cycle, agribusiness donated $90 million to political campaigns and advocacy groups, mostly Republican or conservative. In 2014, the food and beverage industry donated more than $16 million, again, mostly to Republican or conservative groups. I am registered Democrat, though the reasons for this have more to do with local politics and my state’s closed primary system than national politics, but that’s another post.

This is not a blue versus red issue to me, though. It’s a life versus death one. The way we produce food is not only killing the planet, it’s killing us, and (some) Republican lawmakers have shown again and again that profit trumps our very lives. So I refuse to take part.

Or, at least, take as little part as I feasibly can.

If that means I have to spend more on what I buy to get it from a co-op instead of a traditional grocery store and spend four or five hours in the kitchen every Sunday pre-cooking rice, chopping vegetables, making granola and cooking beans, then so be it.

My eating and cooking habits are not above reproach. I still enjoy eating at restaurants, many of which likely get their ingredients from agribusiness and giant corporations. I also eat at fast food places like Subway and Panera. Sometimes I rely on products that I know come from developing countries where the workers are paid barely enough to feed their families.

I am not perfect, but perfection is not the goal. Being mindful and engaged with what I eat is the goal. I read ingredients labels. I try to find out which giant food corporation owns the organic brands of frozen vegetables and canned tomatoes I buy (General Mills owns Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen, for example). I buy all my dry goods (rice, flour, oats, beans, etc.) in bulk.

I will not judge you if you react differently to our industrialized food system or choose different ways of eating and preparing food. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for you, and that’s okay. We should always have options, and a choice.

The problem is that for many, there is no choice. Plenty of people live in “food deserts” (my own neighborhood in a major metropolitan area is one) where the closest store that sells food isn’t a grocery store but a convenience store, where you’re unlikely to find anything but processed, packaged foods. Plenty of people don’t even know how to cook or even select good produce. By default, they have no choice.

My access to farmer’s markets, CSAs, and a co-op, not to mention my access to information on how to best utilize these resources, is a privilege. I recognize that. And that’s why it’s important for me to talk about the food choices I make and why I make them.

When I decline to eat your hamburger helper casserole, it is a statement, yes. But it’s not a statement about you or your skill as a cook. It’s a statement about our food ecosystem and how utterly broken it is. It’s a statement about refusing to fill my body with “food” made in a factory instead of in a kitchen or on a farm.