It is almost impossible for someone to to look back on their life without finding at least one seminal moment that changed them forever.
I have been fortunate enough to have had several over my 62 years. There was that triple I slapped down the right field line against a rival softball team in sixth grade. There was that dream I had the night before I started my college-level statistics class where each number from zero through nine told its own “story.” Then there was that special phone number my sister-in-law got from her colleague at work and passed on to me. Little did I know when I made that call, my future wife would be answering.
I entered each of the above scenarios believing there was little chance of my succeeding. But succeed I did - beyond my imaginings.
For practical reasons, my wife and I chose to remain childless. We married in mid-life and were each making major changes in our careers. Family and friends were supportive and always responded appropriately when we disclosed our plans. But a deep-seated fear that I could never be a good-enough parent also lived within me. I seriously doubted my ability to balance a child’s needs with my own.
Relieved as I was that no one ever challenged my well-rehearsed rationale to be a perennial empty-nester, I was also disappointed. Just once, I wish that someone would have called me out to peel back my heavy curtain of doubt. Perhaps I would have been jubilant - even grateful - to be shaken enough to discover what my wife’s and my parents and many of our brothers and sisters already knew: that being a parent was the best and bravest job in the whole world.
Over the years, my wife and I nurtured our shared love. Our love allowed us to expand our individual identities without losing ourselves. An unseen, but palpable energy pulsed between us. We became as devoted to this unseen “being” as we would our own child. It was this devotion that ultimately compelled us to step out of our comfort zones and jump into the world of pet parenting.
We started with a low-maintenance betta fish who blew bubble nests on the roof of his watery world and twice almost catapulted himself out of his bowl to greet us. We then had a long-term foster dog who was agile as a circus acrobat, but who also had an incurable - and aggressive - startle response. Currently, we have a rambunctious cuddle-bug of a doggie daughter who lifts us to ever higher levels of patience and understanding.
Along the way my wife and I have experienced everything from indescribable joy to unfathomable heartbreak - and emerged as more loving and compassionate people. Like many who become “parents,” we had no idea what we were doing at the start. Books, websites and other references shaped our knowledge, but they could not inform our day-to-day choices. Ultimately, we chose to trust in our ability as pet parents.
Sure, we’ve made many mistakes and often longed for a “do-over.” But that’s just the cost of doing business with companion animals who’ve taught us more about love than Jane Austen or Oscar Wilde.
We will always have questions on “how to” become better pet parents. What matters is that my wife and I are living our lives into the answers.