I was chatting with a friend recently about the kids and how big they are getting. She asked me when their birthday was. When I told her, she replied excitedly, "My baby's birthday is on the same day! I love being a mom to my fur babies!"
On another occasion, my brother spewed his narcissistic venom upon me, condemning me for my inability to take care of two ten month old infants while hosting a family gathering. "We had to work around the kids schedule, when they eat and when they sleep and it was all about them." It was Christmas. How silly of me to think a day of gifts brought by Santa Claus wasn't all about my 47 year old sibling. He justified his opinion with, "I have friends who have kids." Good for you. Here's your cookie.
Now, I can be somewhat forgiving of ignorance, but there was something unsettling about their sincerity. To assume you know best about a situation you know nothing about is absurd. In my brother's case, perhaps owning a pet would be a real eye opener. I wouldn't want to subject innocent children to an environment that, as he puts it, "Would interfere with my drinking." Enough said.
But what really struck me as peculiar was the comparison between pet and child. My friend often offers advice on how I should parent my children. She truly believes her opinions are validated because she has two dogs. I used to have pets. In fact pets were a part of my life up until "Riley, the Tiger", an orange tabby with extra toes that weighed in around 23lbs. Both kids together didn't outweigh the cat until they were well over a year old. Riley has since passed on and the kids mention him on occasion. I was never so arrogant to assume that I knew anything about parenting children just because I owned a cat.
I understand a pet soon turns into a loving companion that requires regular care and attention. It is not the same as being a parent. At. All. Sure, there are some similarities between kids and pets. They both need attention, food, training. There's that warm, fuzzy feeling that happens when they trust you enough to fall asleep on you. Fair enough, but this is where the parallels abruptly end.
See, children require constant supervision. You cannot lay out a bowl of cereal for your infant and head out to a friend's for the evening. You cannot put a coat and some cute matching booties on a toddler and let them out into the backyard to defecate at will. Attempting to treat your child like a pet will likely warrant a well deserved visit from the local child protection authorities. The discipline that you use on your beloved dogs will not work on precocious, attention seeking preschoolers.
Both friend and brother have suggested that I should take better care of myself. Get my hair dyed, my feet pampered, sign up for a program at the gym. All great ideas. When I informed each that they needed to find me the time - which means someone has to mind the kids while I am following their advice. They replied, "I'm busy". Busy? Really? Your hair is dyed and your feet are pampered, friend. Brother spends hours, every other day at a time at the gym. I can live with my greying roots and my unpolished toes. My arms are solid pipes and it's not from lifting weights at the gym. It's from carrying children. There's no day off to rest the muscles or a set number of reps. There's no taking a break because I'm feeling under the weather. This workout happens everyday. All the time.
Signing your pet up for obedience training is not the same as sending my child to school. A few weeks of sit, come and stay does not entitle you to suggest how well or not my children are progressing at school. Children will spend at least two years learning to socialize with other children before they invest the next twelve learning the basics to support yet another two or more years of post secondary studies. You train a pet to be an obedient companion. I am teaching my children how to survive in a world that doesn't play fair. Empowering them with the sum of my experiences so that they can learn from my triumphs and failures without having to repeat my mistakes. All of which needs to be presented in a way that captures their easily distracted attention. Did you digest all of that? Don't worry if you didn't, because your dog will likely be dead by the time my kids are just beginning their respective futures.
And please, don't embarrass yourself by trying to compare losing a pet to losing a child. Not. Even. Close. I am fortunate that I don't know that kind of pain and there aren't enough stars in a billion universes to thank for that blessing. It's like equating losing your baby teeth to severing a limb in a horrific accident. One is expected to happen. The other is not. Tragically, it does happen and unlike a pet, that bottomless void of vast emptiness, that devastating and heart wrenching loss which is too unbearable to imagine, cannot be eased by replacing that loss with another child.
So next time you feel the urge to describe yourself as a parent to your pet, please don't. You can't possibly know what it means to be 'Mommy' or 'Daddy' until you understand that the life you hold in your arms means more to you than your own. Only then, will you truly know what it is to be a parent.