During casual conversation with people who I meet or friends that I have not seen in a while, I am asked that inevitable question, “Do you have children?”
It is not that I mind the question. For a long time I was perfectly comfortable with my response, “No”. I knew at a very early age that I did not want to have children and have always been very comfortable with the decision and thus my response.
Until Winston, my first frenchie entered my life. And then my second, Madison. And then my third and fourth, Chelsea & Cocoa. Then my fifth, Cleo, sixth, Bailey, seventh, Bello, eighth, Blue and ninth, Bucky. Somewhere along the way, as the number of dogs increased, I realized that I was growing a family. Not a traditional family, by most people’s definition but what does that even mean anymore? In my home, I had children with real needs, food, exercise, schooling, clothing, doctors appointments, medicine, etc., and they were all dependent upon me to fill these needs.
There were also other needs, learning how to share, play well with others, the meaning of compromise, supporting others, effective communication, to name a few. I was also looked upon to provide these lessons too. And these children didn’t speak “human”. I had to learn their psychology. How do they process feelings like fear, happiness, loneliness? What is their understanding of family?
Am I their mother? What makes a mother a mother? Do they, the dogs, see me as their mom? Can other species parent each other? I have seen stories of dogs parenting baby tiger and bear cubs. Both the dog and the cubs she is mothering appear to fall into their roles without missing a beat. They simply accept what is, what seems to be the most natural thing to be and do.
I did not plan on becoming a mother or starting and raising a family and yet, there is no doubt that is exactly what I have become and done. I don’t know if my dogs see me as their mom they same way they did their dog mom, but I do know that they rely upon me to fulfill their needs. And without realizing it, they are fulfilling my needs as well. They teach me patience and acceptance, how to give and receive unconditional love, how to live each moment in the moment and how to recognize that the smaller things in life are really the things that matter most. They have shown me how and allowed me to be their provider, nurturer, nurse, friend, teacher and protector and in turn have given me the most wonderful gift.
So now when asked that question, “Do you have any children?” It feels odd but I have to answer, “Yes, I have 7 kids.” Of course, I have to follow-up with “They have 4 feet and fur.” But they are my kids, of that I have no doubt.