I should start by leveling with you dear reader.
I am not maternal.
Before you run for the hills, don't panic! This is not going to be some tear ridden diatribe about how hard my life is because I do not have the capacity to bear human fruit from my loins. While I understand there are women out there whose one sole reason for existing is to procreate, while I sympathize with those who have tried to reproduce and cannot, for one reason or another; it's just never been for me. I guess I'm just not programmed that way. My life, to a certain extent, is complete without a gaggle of children hanging around, covering the walls with whatever stickiness they've located in the past five minutes.
I've thought about having children and at one point or another when in a long term relationship I've certainly pondered upon the pros and cons of taking such a momentous step. I've debated whether he or she would have the family ears or nose, whether they would grow up to have my frivolous streak or lack of coordination on the dance floor; would they take after him instead and be obstinate yet devilishly handsome, would they have my singing voice (and believe me, if you'd heard my ex in the shower you'd be wishing the child had mine for sure) or my natural hair colour?
Such ponderings though have not reached the point where I have taken the steps to attempt creating life, in part due to my health. An overweight child has morphed into an overweight adult and, along with this, my reproductive system has become a lazy and unreliable sloth. My diabetic nurse seems to gleefully remind me at every annual review that if I'm wanting to take the next step I need to do it soon, the general consensus being that I am turning into a latter day Ms. Haversham, soon to be devoid of any option of repopulating the earth once the apocalypse is in full swing. In short I will become barren with no way back...
And I'm surprisingly okay with this.
I'm okay with it as I already have a ready made family. One with paws and fluffy tails.
For the best part of my life I have been an adoring fur mama to various four legged friends. Always one for adopting and not shopping I have been lucky enough to find myself in the presence of some of the weirdest and most wonderful creatures, each of them adding something to my life that I never felt I needed before.
“Our pets are the kids who never leave home, and that's absolutely fine by us because these kids don't ask for the keys to the car, don't turn up drunk at two in the morning, and don't complain if you turn their bedroom into a home gym. Their presence in times of upheaval and transition acts as a touchstone, a reminder of normalcy, of comfort, and the certainty of a love that can get you through.”
― Nick Trout, Ever By My Side: A Memoir in Eight [Acts] Pets
For 15 years I have fed, watered, walked, and groomed. I have fretted and sat up with them through times of sickness and sorrow, taken endless photos and hours of video footage, pleaded "drop it" till my voice is hoarse, walked the length of a metaphorical Sahara in the dead of night, swam in the sea with them, dried their fur and soothed their aches and ailments. There have been nights where my contortionist skills have been shown up as some of the best in the Western world, filing myself in to a matchbox sized space while my furry counterparts lounge spaciously and conspiratorially over my king sized bed; sleepless nights of tossing and turning to avoid disturbing them, to the point where my limbs are deadened and sore but my heart is satisfied and light.
"I meant," said Iplsore bitterly, "what is there in this world that makes living worthwhile?"
Death thought about it. "CATS," he said eventually, "CATS ARE NICE."
- Terry Pratchett, Sorcery
I have had a mix of canines and felines over time. While my cats have been chosen and have deigned to allow me the privilege of waiting upon them hand and foot it has always been the other way around with my dogs. My dogs have always been my buddies, my equals. Each dog has, in its own way, chosen me. They seem to be able to sense a kindred soul. With the newest member of the household, Star, a beautiful Jack-chi mix, it took one kiss from her and a stare down from those big almond shaped eyes and I knew I was done for. She wagged her way into my life and there formed an unspoken promise that I would not leave her at the rescue kennels; she would come home with me and I would be her human. Her fur mama.
Simple creatures that they are, dogs never seem to demand very much. A warm bed, a bowl of food, toys to destroy and a favourite person, young or old, to walk the path with.
Cats though are another matter altogether.
"I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It’s not. Mine had me trained in two days." - Bill Dana
I also currently share my house with the Boy Kitty, aka Bug Man, aka The Furry Overlord. Boy Kitty is a bog standard ginger Tom who has the innate ability to wrap me around his little dew claw with one look and a purr. I've lost count of the times that I have made a special journey to the shops due to him suddenly deciding on a whim that he now vehemently dislikes the expensive cat food that he adored but five minutes previously. Or the countless hours that I have stood in the moonlight trying to coax him back into the house because he has decided that there is an interesting shadow in the distance and the garden gate has taken against him for some reason. I have awoken to token presents of decapitated mice on my pillow, been kept awake at 3 am by him serenading me with the song of his people (extra creativity points were added for the 15 minute drum solo on the bedroom door) and I have climbed step ladders to rescue him from the shed roof, only for him to effortlessly hop down from the fence moments later, usually leaving me still working out how I'm going to get down myself. He is the destroyer of phone cables, the worrier of pigeons, the hider of pens and the killer of socks, but I love him deeply and I tell him so every night before I drift away into the land of REM.
"The difference between friends and pets is that friends we allow into our company, pets we allow into our solitude."
- Robert Brault
I had a conversation with a colleague recently about parenting. A mother of two young children, she extolled the virtues of reproduction, citing that I couldn't understand true completion and contentment in my life until I had pushed forth a shiny new human from my bodily parts. When I advised her that I was fairly content with my lot she looked at me, shocked. How could I, a woman in my thirties, be content without a child to continue on the bloodline? I surely couldn't feel fulfilled.
So I explained...
I am a fur mama. While my "children" do not suckle from my teat or cry for a pacifier or a blanky, they will always need my love and my care, I will always worry about them and shed tears for them. While I may never walk them down the aisle or see them graduate from college I will remain the most important person to them for their whole lives. I will ensure that they are always safe, that they never have to be afraid of being beaten, burnt, or abused. I will go hungry so that they can eat, I will work extra hours until I am almost dead on my feet to ensure they have the best medical and dental care that can be provided. In return they need not give me anything but themselves.
I will laugh at their antics and grieve their loss when they have departed for the rainbow bridge. In my own hours of darkness (and there have been many) I will seek solace and counsel in their warm fur and soft barks and purrs. I will hold them close in the short time we have and at the end I will let them go with their dignity and grace in tact. The love I have for them is unconditional. Whether or not the rest of the world agrees with my life choices is inconsequential, all that matters to me is what I have.
A family made up of love and paws.