Joy, Loss, and Pets on Mother's Day
Today is Mother's Day. My social media feed is full of praise for moms everywhere alongside photos of mothers and children. On this day, I too, want to shout out to the roof tops about my own mom, grandmother and mother-in-law: the mother figures in my life who have mentored and shaped me. Like so many of the posts from this blog, I also want to tell you all about my babies and how they have raised me as a mother. Yet on this day, after scanning my social media, I am cautious in doing so. While most posts are celebratory, others are painful and express the grief of a lost mom or a lost child, or the deep hurt and longing that comes with infertility. I am aware that no one in my life is angry or spiteful that my mothers and children are alive. My friends share in my joy and my story as a mom and daughter, but I know this particular day stings for so many. As a witness and friend to those who have lost a mother or a child, I see that it is a deep and lasting struggle with grief and loss. They quietly carry the grief alongside them. It is silently woven into the pulse of their days, but it is something never forgotten. On this Sunday, as many of us don our finest clothes and honor motherhood with brunches and noodle necklaces, those in mourning still carry their grief and pain, but it is harder to carry quietly. One of my family members, who is a mom and has lost her mom, reflected on social media this morning that Mother's Day, "is an ever-evolving holiday". I am sure, for her, today is about joy and pain. It is not all sweet but instead bitter sweet.
Being a mom. Having a mom. Not being a mom. Not having a mom. We can all identify with the absence or inclusion of motherhood in our lives. In addition to the juxtaposition of joy and grief I noticed on social media, I also noticed that motherhood takes many shapes and forms. Today, some people are celebrating their mothers, those who gave birth to them, or adopted them, those who raised them, lost many nights of sleep caring for them, shuttled them around from activity to activity, helped them with their homework, shaped their morals and values. Today, people are honoring those moms who listened to them, watched them grow, and served as the wind in their sails. Yet, on Mother's Day, people are also honoring their friends and sisters who have shared in the joy and burden of helping a child become an adult or those who stand beside them as they journey through motherhood side by side. This wide-casting celebration of motherhood is not just about being a mother in the traditional sense as it is about sisterhood, female community, women's connectivity and honoring the role that women play in our lives as mentors, role models, friends and caregivers.
I also noticed, on social media, that today is a big day to celebrate women particularly as caregivers and that being a "Mom" takes many forms. I have often heard women refer to themselves as "Fur Moms" who have "Fur Babies." The concept of a pet parent does not sit well with all. This week, even Oprah Winfrey came under fire for making this declaration on her Instagram, wishing Happy Mother's Day to moms of, "all varieties of children." Now, I am a pet owner and I am a mother to human children. I love my pets very much, you know, having had 5 cats, a dog and 2 kids under 5 in our house a few years ago. I tell Andy that our dog Otis is his son (to his chagrin) and I call my parent's dogs, Lilly, Marcus and Tricycle, my sisters and brothers. Pets are a big part of our family and, over the years, they have given us so much joy, while we have suffered their losses, too. Yet they are not human and I can not lie. When I hear someone compare the weight and reward of petcare to childcare, I get pissed off. A dog is not a human. I can't leave my kids in a crate all day (though, on some days, I sure wish I could) and a cat can't talk back. We aren't tasked with instilling good values in our hermit crabs nor do we feel the burden of funding 4 years of college for our bunny rabbits. We don't second guess the punishment we gave our chinchillas for coming home past curfew. When it comes to being a mom of a human or the mom of a pet, we are not comparing apples to apples. The burden, the sacrifice, and the strength required for parenting a human far surpasses that of owning a pet because yes, we own our pets. We do not own people.
Yet, Otis is my son and Lilly is my sister and Marcus and Tricycle were my brothers from another mother. For those who gravitate to caregiving, giving a happy home to a pet fills that need- for some it fills the need whole-heartedly. For others, it is a complement to caregiving for children. And for others, in a small way it fills a big void while anxiously awaiting the news of being able to parent a child, or it fills a void after the loss of a human we have cared for, whether a child or parent.
Next on my list, after wrapping up this post, is to call my mother, who has happily spent the day with her fur baby. They likely took a walk this morning and then my mom made her a scrambled egg. Then, they may have visited my widowed aunt, and her fur baby, before taking an afternoon nap while watching HGTV. Later, they will take an evening walk and Lilly will sit under the table while my parents eat dinner before Lil climbs onto my mom's lap for bedtime. And all of this will make my mom very happy. In a small way, it fills the void of her grandchildren living far away and even more so, the daily companionship she had in my grandmother who died many years ago but for my mom feels like it was yesterday.
Check out the Oprah article here: