Today it is my pleasure to offer you a thought-provoking guest post from Jana of An Attitude Adjustment. Jana and I first “met” in the comments section of Motherlode, a locale from which I have since fled, seeking kinder, gentler pastures in the bosom of my blogging community, but where she remains, honorably defending mothers and women with her trademark strength and reason.
At An Attitude Adjustment, Jana muses about her triumphs and struggles as a stay-at-home mother of two and tackles a bevy of topics from current events to marital politics. An English teacher, she also writes frequently about books and poetry. Jana brings wonderful humor and energy to her writing and her posts often provoke excellent discussion in the comments section.
Thanks, Jana, for posting at Motherese today.
I Don’t Want a Dog
One of my first memories is being chased by my blonde dog, Corey, around the dining room table. It was glass, so I could see my reflection, and my only clothing on that hot summer day was a diaper. I was shrieking partly from joy, and partly from fear. It wasn’t often that Corey came out of the basement in our row-home. He practically lived there, and when I saw him after a while, he seemed to have grown whiskers. He was like an old man. And he bolted right for me. (This is why, I assume, my mother didn’t bring him up that often.)
A few months later, my mom found another home for Corey. She worried I’d be upset– even though Corey and I weren’t the best of friends–so she didn’t tell me. Finally, my family convinced her it was something she could no longer hide, and she told me Corey went to live with someone else. I was sad for a bit, but I got over it easily. I was more of a cat girl, anyway.
That was the only time I owned a dog, and it will probably be the last. Ever.
When my husband and I were setting up our first real date, after a couple of years of friendship, we chatted on the phone for an hour or so. It was that conversation that was pivotal to our burgeoning relationship, because in that conversation, he revealed that he was allergic to dogs.
I decided then and there that he might quite possibly be The One.
I don’t really like dogs. I like some dogs. Good ones. Ones that are calm and quiet and nice and not too imposing. I liked the golden retriever who lived at a childhood acquaintance’s house because she behaved like a classy lady. I like my neighbor’s black Labrador because she lies in the warm summer sun like a yogi.
But most dogs are not like that. Most dogs bark, jump, pant with bad breath, drool all over tennis balls, lick.
I dislike dog hair. I dislike dog smell.
I don’t want a dog. Ever.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I have no compassion for dogs. I do feel a bit bad when a dog stands before me with raised eyebrows, begging for attention. And I usually give the obligatory pat. When I watched my aunt’s dogs for a week just after college, I left them downstairs at night because I did not want to share a bed with them, as they were accustomed to. After fifteen minutes of high-pitched crying, though, I let them come up. They stopped crying and took up the entire bed. I didn’t sleep well, but at least no one could call me a heartless person.
But I don’t want a creature who wakes me at the crack of dawn to go outside, who barks so loudly my house shakes when someone comes to the door, who requires me to walk him, who needs his hot, soft poop picked up every day, several times a day, with a plastic bag from the supermarket. It’s just undignified. At least children, eventually, wipe their own butts.
And this is where I came to my epiphany about how my un-want of dogs is a lot like other people’s un-want of children.
Since I was young, I knew I wanted kids. I never questioned it, even though I question almost everything. I wanted the very human experience of being a mother. And so far, motherhood has come very naturally to me.
Yet I have friends who don’t want kids, or who are on the fence about it–friends in healthy, happy marriages, friends with good incomes and nice houses. And they don’t want to see what little creature they can create through a lot of heavy breathing.
I’ve often tried to understand this un-want. When I plop on the couch for fifteen minutes before I inevitably doze off, when I try to convince my toddler to eat a bite of ravioli that he claims, after 15 minutes, is “too hot,” when I wake up in the middle of the night to a screaming baby who’s teething, I think, This is hard.
And from my vegetal state on the couch, I often ask my husband, “Can you believe some people don’t want kids?”
Of course, I usually say this when both kids are magically asleep, the state in which I adore them most.
When you have kids, there is never enough time to do all that you want to do. There is rarely time to see yourself as a separate entity from the little ones who hobble around, hiding your keys behind couch cushions. Having kids becomes a part of your identity, part of the way you look at the world. There is fatigue and anxiety and frustration, but there is also joy, more joy than I ever thought possible in my life.
Before children, I’d wake on a Saturday morning around 8:30 a.m. My husband and I would listen to the soft music from a college radio station and read the paper, or we’d go out for breakfast. We’d shop or see a movie, see friends for dinner or go to a restaurant. Then, on Sunday, we’d do it all over again.
Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Yet I was getting bored. I was ready for a new stage in my life, the next grade level. Once I had a washer and dryer to call my own, heavy breathing commenced, and nine months later, a wailing boy who looked just like me was wrapped in swaddling hospital blankets and handed over. I’ve been the same and not the same since.
I imagine the people who don’t want kids like them well enough, when they’re someone else’s. They might have a kid if there were certain guarantees, just like I might have a dog if he agreed never to lick me, poop on my floor, or bark for no reason. Some couples might have kids if they could be assured of no night-wakings, no hot spit-up on their jeans; they might agree to having a child if he or she could be miraculously transported out of the womb with nary a drop of blood or vernix. I assume they don’t want the anxiety that comes with rushing to the pediatrician when a baby gets a fever, or to the emergency room when their middle-schooler falls from the jungle gym. They want quiet nights of opera or jazz, vacations to Hawaii or Switzerland, a house free of broken crayons and cookie crumbs. Women who don’t want kids are certainly horrified by the sensation of their very neatly kept vagina splitting-in-half, followed by the red raw blisters that become their nipples after breastfeeding for the first couple of days.
Yes, it’s all gross. And yet those things don’t scare me, or bother me, really. I find each of those experiences amazing, even beautiful, in a weird way. With each heartbreak or rough patch (physical or emotional) of parenting comes renewal, light-heartedness, spiritual fulfillment, fun.
I guess that dogs bring joy, too. They give one an excuse to take walks. They’re happy to see people, and they don’t expect much in return. They’ve taken up space in art for centuries as symbols of loyalty. They lead the blind, they help solve crimes, they scare away burglars and villains.
But dog joy is a joy I will leave to others, for now. Or at least until my kids are out of the house, and I want to feel needed again. Then I may get a cat.
*I hope I haven’t offended any dog-lovers.
Why do you have a dog, or why don’t you?
Why did you have kids, or why didn’t (haven’t) you?