Retrospectives: Pets and my need to nurture


Yes, I have four kids now. Did I EVER think I was going to have so many kids? No. Was I particularly good with kids growing up or even as an adult? Absolutely not. I never was good as a babysitter. And I never really ever wanted to hold my friends’ babies when they became mothers. I just wasn’t into the “baby” thing. I guess I thought I would break them.

But that doesn’t mean that I was uncaring – in fact, just the opposite.   From a very early age as a child, I have always had an undeniable urge to care for things. So don’t think babies… think animals.  Just to give you a GLIMPSE of how insane I was (am) about dogs and puppies, I was a complete sucker for ANY puppy walking down the street – even when I was living in NYC. Yes, I would get on the sidewalk and play with strangers’ puppies on the urinated streets of NYC. In fact, one night at about 1 AM I was waiting for a bus on the upper West Side with my boyfriend. Along came a stranger with a cute little lab puppy. I was immediately on the sidewalk playing with the puppy, rubbing his belly, scuffing his ears, wrestling with it, and talking to its owner — “what’s his name? How old? oh my goodness how cute this puppy is!!!” Over and over and over I was rolling around on the sidewalk with this puppy and loving life. Then the bus came, and I heard my boyfriend say, “Thank you very much….” to the man. When we got on the bus I asked him why he acted like that and he said, “Do you know who the f&%* that was? That was Conan f*^%*&%ing O’Brien!!!!” So there I was talking with Conan O’Brien for about at least 2-5 minutes playing with his puppy and I never even looked up at him or even noticed who he was. Maybe that’s why he stayed so long because I honestly did not give Conan the time of day…. just his puppy. So, that’s how crazy I am about animals.

My childhood was filled with little hairballs and fecal matter –some were official pets, some were orphaned wildlife. Some were saved because of my care, and some were lost because of my carelessness. But they were special to me and it’s because of my experiences with them that helped to build the kind of mother that I now am.

  • My first pet was a sorry excuse for a dog — a “peek-a-poo”. I didn’t like him. He was ugly and smelled bad. We “gave” him to my grandmother and she claimed he ran away. To this day I don’t know the truth behind that story.
  • We looked after guinea pig from school for a summer when I was about 8. He was missing a foot. He was cute and cuddly.   But I had to give him back to the school when summer was over.
  • We then progressed to a series of hamsters. “Rocky Balboa” was our first (I grew up in Philly) and lasted for 3 years which is actually a long time in hamster years. There were many times when I would forget to latch his cage but he always managed to come back… except once…. the poor thing made it to the basement but I guess drowned in the sump pump.
  • We also tried fish — Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. I think they died pretty quickly.
  • I adopted a baby wild rabbit from our backyard.  What a terrible idea. We had no idea what to feed it. After several days being trapped in a shoebox, the poor fuzzy guy died. I remember we had a funeral for it in our backyard. What a shame. I’m not proud of that story.
  • I once saved a nest of baby robin birds – there was a huge summer storm and their nest had collapsed outside of our door. I grabbed s shoe box and swept them up. We had to feed them a concoction of soft dog food, wheat germ (i think) and some other stuff by toothpick every several hours. I did this even throughout the night — I set my alarm and everything. It was such a strange feeling to lift that shoe box top up and to have these baby birds opening up their beaks real wide and chirping for me and my toothpick. I really felt like their mommy bird. After 3 days the birds flew away – I was so proud, but a bit empty inside.
  • When I was about 10 years old, I’ll never forget the day when my dad came through the door with this LITTLE puppy cocker spaniel, SOOOOOOO cute, with her little face and droopy ears hanging. She started running and jumping all over the place and then quickly pooped on our living room (white) carpet. We named her Lady (Lady and the Tramp) but then her nickname quickly turned to Aldo for no clear reason. She was beautiful.  We loved her. We teased her. She became a solid member of our family. She wasn’t that bright. We over-fed her and she became heavy. She lived to be about 15 years old (I think she started to small bad too towards the end). I heard of her death when I was at work — and was surprised by my reaction – I was sad, but I did not cry. I don’t think I ever cried over her because she lead a very long life and we were good to her. She was loved. I didn’t see her too much towards the end since I was living on my own in NYC so I hope she didn’t feel too lonely. I do feel bad about that.

 

Aldo, a cocker spaniel who was part of our family

Aldo, a cocker spaniel who was part of our family

 

  • We had a rabbit once that overlapped with Aldo. It was a lopped eared bunny and was beige, with hanging hears, so the rabbit actually looked like Aldo’s twin. This rabbit was great. He actually would hop over to me for attention and love. I would give him a bath which was totally unneccessary but again, I had a need to nurture. This rabbit did not last long – about 6 months — he was put outside one summer day and we thought he would enjoy it and had lots of water – but I guess the sun was too strong for him and he had a heat stroke or something. His name was Cupid.  I’m not thrilled about that story either.

    Cupid, a mini-lop rabbit who loved to give and get affection

    Cupid, a mini-lop rabbit who loved to give and get affection

 

  • I went back to fish when I went to college; it was very pretty and very colorful with hanging, flowing fins and a tail. I took him/her home on Thanksgiving break and was planning on giving him extra fish flakes for the holiday but he didn’t seem right after the car ride to mom’s house. I think he got tossed around too much with my driving. He wound up down the toilet before the turkey even came out of the oven.
  • When I moved to the West coast by myself I got lonely and decided to get TWO mini-lop rabbits — Lenny Kravitz and Sarah McLachlan.  I got two so they could bond while I was away traveling for work. I had them “fixed” so that the pair would not propagate. My experience with them was terrible. Instead of bonding with me, they bonded with each other and rejected me. So I had to deal with rabbits that hated me but still clean up after their hair, their poop, and they smelled terrible. When I started to date Hubby and then moved in with him, the rabbits made their exit. I interviewed several people until I found the right home for them.

Despite not being all that great with kids while I was growing up, having experiences with pets groomed an inner need to nurture – to care for another being, to be responsible for that being, and to say goodbye.  I guess some could say that these experiences got me started on a much bigger (and longer) road to the challenge and joys of REAL children.   But honestly nothing could prepare me for the real thing, let alone four of them!!!

When I was younger and thought about what my life would be like with kids, I always assumed that a dog would be part of that story…. but what a change of heart I’ve had. It is so much easier for me to say, “No more dogs!  I have enough mouths to feed!!”  Imagine my reaction when Big Bro innocently said just the other day, “Mommy, when are we going to get a dog for a pet?”   Of course I’m at some point going to give in to HIS “need to nurture”…. Uggggh.    But maybe we can start with a goldfish or something.

So, I guess the moral of the story is 1) listen and cultivate to that need to nurture; and 2) people’s attitudes change!   Any advice from moms who have been there with their kids??!?!??!

Thanks for listening –

– Mama K

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Comments

  1. Deirdre Flynn says:

    I don’t remember you having a dog! I guess I really wasn’t paying attention back then. I always wanted a dog but because we lived in an apartment it wasn’t possible during most of my childhood. As soon as my husband and I fenced in our yard I started the big push for a dog. My youngest was only 18 months old when we got our boxer Maeve. I only had two boys and very often it felt like I had just taken on more responsibility and it wasn’t very fun at all. Now that the boys are older she has become my constant companion and, silly though it may sound, my best friend. Living so far from home is exciting, but can be very lonely and she is always there keeping me moving forward and helping me to keep an eye on the necessary even when I want to get into bed and pull the covers over my head. I have one son who is a born nurturer and one who is a bit less sensitive to others feelings and she has brought so much to their lives as well. She has made two wild and active boys focus on reading someone’s body language and emotions. They each have a job to do for her; one feeds her and one walks her. Therefore she has also taught them about the idea that “love is an action word” and that when you love someone you do what they need you to even when you don’t want to or don’t think you have the energy to do it. Frankly I think that was one of the most important lessons I have ever learned and I am glad they are learning it early!

    Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

    • Thanks Mama D! I love your thought about “love is an action word” — I actually see this now with my older kids and how they treat the twin toddlers. I’m trying to teach them that everyone in our family needs to look out for each other… that’s what families are about. The twins need to look out for each other and the older siblings, and vice versa. And the kids need to look out for mommy and daddy where we need help. So far this is working well but I know that the pet thing will happen eventually. It just sickens me to think of another thing to care for. I’m wondering what age it would be best to introduce. I hear you about living far from home. I’m psyched that you are living where you are (I spent a year there myself for work and it is a beautiful place in the world to live) but understand the lonliness it can bring. Thanks for your insight on the dog and also how you’ve managed to make it your sons’ jobs to help in the care for her. I miss you! – Mama K

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