I remember the moment that I came to realize what being a mother really meant. She was three months old, and I was absolutely as madly in love with her as I could possibly be. My mother had taken a picture of us, and she had it on her desk. She’d refer to it as “that picture of Chris adoring Tessie.”
We went sailing frequently the summer she was born, the first time she was only nine days old – a born water dog, like all of us. I’d carry her in a front pack, so I could still haul on lines when we were raising sail or coming about. She usually fell asleep; as far as I could tell, she was never afraid of the motion of the boat, she just found it soothing.
This particular trip was toward the end of the summer. My father and I were sailing the boat up to Port Townsend to get her bottom scraped and repainted. It was a lovely sail, and my mother was going to meet us in town after a bit so we could all grab a bite. Sailing is hungry work.
When we came into the dock, the boat was moving a little faster than we wanted, and I leaped forward to fend off from another boat at the dock. I was moving too fast to compensate for the extra depth of my front, and I ran the baby’s face into the lifeline. The lifelines on a boat like this are fairly tightly strung, plastic coated wire. I panicked – had I run it into her eyes? I just blinded her for life...
The baby screamed bloody murder. I threw a line to some anonymous stranger on the dock, and took off up the ramp. My mother was by the car, and I leapt in, said take me to Dr. Ellie. When we walked in, nurse Annie took one look at my streaming face, my mother’s distraught expression, and the screaming red Tess, and ushered us back into a room without even asking what had happened. By this time a fairly large red welt had started to appear on Tessie's forehead.
By the time Ellie, my friend and the doctor who had delivered Tess, came into the room, Tess was calm. I was still hysterical. Ellie looked at Tessie, peeped in her eyes, and said, “Chris, she’s FINE. How are YOU?” I gulped.
I said, “It was my fault, I wasn’t being careful, and now I’m having visions of every time in her entire life she’s going to get hurt. The first time she gets her heart broken, if she ever gets divorced, if she ever gets injured or has to be in the hospital, and oh my god, it’s MY fault...”
Ellie laughed, and looked at me. “Is this the first time you’ve thought about this?” I nodded, tears still rolling down my face.
“Chris, accidents are going to happen. It doesn’t matter that it was your fault. That’s part of the whole deal.”
This. THIS is the part of being a parent that no one can warn you about ahead of time. That while it is love squared, it is also pain squared. Any hurt she feels, any sadness, any fear, comes back inside me doubled. I would so much rather be sick or in pain myself than see her that way. She gets dressed one morning, and I put the wrong shoes on her. When we get outside, her face scrunches up, tears start to roll down her checks, and she says woefully, “But mom, I look UGLY”.
My fur bristles. What 3-1/2 year old monster has been telling my child she’s ugly? It should have been drowned at birth. But it’s not too late now... I hustle her back inside to change the shoes, now to be late for work. How can I explain to my time conscious boss that changing those shoes was so much more important to me than my work, that there is no comparison? The aesthetic is interesting, now she is wearing white shoes with black tights and a purple party dress, but she’s happy with it. That is ALL that counts.
People often ask me why I chose to become a single mom. It was the right choice for me. Since the day she was born I have never looked back, never regretted for one instant the things I gave up when I chose her. I came into it with my eyes wide open, and it has turned out to be so much more than I could possibly imagine, than anyone can imagine ahead of time.
But there is one comment that I hope never to hear again. At a party, a woman I did not know gave me the classic, “Oh, Bill and I weren’t sure we were ready to have a child, so we got a dog”. For once I had the right comeback ready: “Oh, well I wasn’t sure I was mature enough to get a dog, so I had Tess to see if I was ready”. Inane Party Lady looked horrified, which was exactly the result I wanted. And apparently it gave me good karma, because I have not heard that since.
I’m sure your dog is lovely. Almost human-like in all its myriad charms. And I also genuinely believe you can love a pet as much as a person. But how on earth could you think a dog, as much as you are now responsible for another creature’s comfort and well-being, has any comparison to this? Nothing compares. I have played god. I have made myself responsible for another person’s life, for her well-being, her mental health, her eventual adulthood, everything. There is no comparison. You will NEVER hear a parent saying this. "Yeah, I'm glad we practiced with old Fido first, it was a really good experience. Really applicable."
...so keep your damn dog away from me. You don’t understand, and you may never understand.