Last year, my sister got me a luggage tag — which I keep on my goes-everywhere-with-me-backpack — that says “Dojo’s Mom” rather than my name. It has an adorable picture of my dog: He’s stretched out in his favorite spot in the kitchen, all brooding eyes, fluffy face, the golden and white fur of his little body just visible behind him.
Dojo died two weeks ago. My heart is still in a million pieces. I often burst into tears without warning. I miss kissing his soft head, scratching his chubby cheeks, feeling his ears slip between my fingers. I miss his adorable after-nap stretch and the quiet little yowl he used when he was frustrated.
But at the same time, I have returned to my regular gym schedule. I am sleeping more soundly than I have in years. I am writing and reading more. I don’t feel tied to the house, and I don’t feel consumed with worry and guilt about leaving him home when I’m without him. I am going to visit my family in America next month and I am most looking forward to not feeling sorry for abandoning Dojo.
Of course I miss him every minute. And I can’t help but see this as exactly why I don’t have any children. Of course, having a dog is in no way like having a child. And losing a dog is not even in the same realm as losing a child (I hope that doesn’t need to be said, but just in case).
In all my research and reading and discussions with parents and non-parents, one thing has become very clear to me: Being a mother is all consuming. I see the crux of all conflict between mothers and children as the child’s expectation that the mother’s life revolve around them, and the mother’s realization that the child will not always need her.
I am most fearful of losing my identity in children. Already, in retrospect, I can see how I lost myself in Dojo. I was Dojo’s Mom and not Monica — and he was just a dog. He needed me, more than most dogs do. Medicine, three meals a day, help standing up. He needed his eyes cleaned and drops put in. He couldn’t walk up hills or climb steps or travel long distances. I don’t resent him for the time and space he took up in my life, even though a lot of it was stress rather than joy. But maybe that’s because our time together was short and I always knew it would be.
Obviously, children would require more and for longer, and then I would need to watch as they moved on without me. I would like to think I would be proud of the good work I had done, raising a kind and contributing member of society. But I know it would be at least ten years before I had my life back to the way I know I like it to be. For me, it’s safer to have a dog. Ordinary dogs require far less sacrifice, and one might argue, they give less back talk in the teen years.
I don’t talk a lot about not wanting children myself, because I don’t believe that anyone owes an explanation for their reproductive choices. Those choices are personal and should be unhampered for all. As the abortion rights map in the US grows ever more red with restrictions, perhaps talking about our choices is worthwhile. Maybe my reasons sound selfish, but isn’t that my choice?