Pet Parenting: The “Mother Lode”

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Thanks to all the mothers in my life.

Let’s start with my birth mom in suburban Chicago. Aside from the fact that I would not exist without her, she was the only one who could assuage my irrational, childhood fears - like the one where my shoelaces get caught in the collapsing steps of an escalator which pull me under and shred me like parmesan cheese.

Then there’s my “spiritual” mom, a retired actress who played all kinds of whacky roles. Possibly the most consuming of these was as the mentor who steered me away from bad influences while instilling in me some modicum of street cred.

Next is my “step” mom, a woman who had the courage to keep loving me, though my 11-year old self repeatedly and soundly rebuffed her embraces. I probably also won the lotto for having the most caring and supportive mother-in-law of all time.

But my list would not be complete without the most special mother in my life: my wife, Susan.

We don’t have children in the traditional sense. In the non-traditional sense, we are parents to an endearing and rambunctious five-year-old who lives to eat dirt and is as inconspicuous as hard liquor served on a doily. She pushes her mother to the limit during walks, mostly by her penchant for sunbathing in 108-degree weather. But our “daughter” is also the first one to sense that mommy has had a challenging day and responds by cuddling up next to her.

Susan adores our Lilly, the Boston terrier, as much as she would have loved the fruit of our loins should we have chosen to go that route. Each day, Susan showers our once-abandoned girl with healthy doses of attention and has learned just when to back off to allow Lilly to solve some of life’s vexing mysteries - like how to free her chicken-filled Kong wedged in between two couch cushions. And how to get along with other “fur-children” on the block.

There’s been a learning curve here. Perhaps not as arduous as raising a human child, but steep nonetheless. Before we married, Susan had no history of pet parenting and never believed she was a “dog person.” However, as the love between us deepened through the years, Susan discovered it was time for that love to overflow onto a being we both could nurture. And what being could be more deserving than a rescue animal.

I have to give Susan full credit for this epiphany. Honestly, my first reaction to the prospect of having a pet was to shudder at my potential loss of “freedom.” I soon learned, however, that the joys and responsibilities of pet parenting compound freedom, they don’t detract from it.

Susan harbors absolutely no shame that Lilly is the closest thing to a child that she and I could run up the family tree. Okay, so Lilly won’t graduate from Princeton, marry a professional with loads of “potential” or bear us a brood of precocious grandchildren. The fact that Lilly is not of the same species as we are is simply an accident of nature.

Thank God for “accidents.” And for the mothers who embrace them.