Today is Pet Travel Thursday at A Traveler’s Library. Stop by to read my full review of Driving by Moonlight: A Journey Through Love, War, and Infertility and tell me what you thought.
No married woman of a certain age has escaped the question: So, when are you going to have kids?
If having a child is your greatest, unfulfilled desire, words can’t express the pain those words must cause. And writer Kristin Henderson reveals that pain with brutal honesty in her touching memoir, Driving by Moonlight.
But this isn’t a Mommy Blog. It’s a Dog Blog. And I was interested in Henderson’s choice to get a German Shepherd puppy after receiving yet more bad news in her attempts to conceive a child. She called Rosie her consolation prize.
If You Want a Baby, Will a Dog Do?
Rosie the shepherd did not diminish Henderson’s desire to have a baby. But she did provide an outlet for nurturing. And she was an acceptable family addition for Henderson’s husband Frank who did not want a child but did want to see his wife happy.
Henderson’s husband experienced as much fear at the thought of raising a child as she felt joy. He worried that as a parent, he would be as angry and abusive as his own father had been. And besides, as his wife pointed out several times in her memoir, Frank had many chances to nurture in his daily work as a Lutheran minister.
So, is having a dog like “child lite?” Tastes great but less fulfilling? Or is loving a dog (or other companion animal) its own rewarding experience with only slight similarities to raising a child?
I come down firmly on the latter. And I believe that Kristin Henderson did too.
When she brought Rosie home, she knew it would not lessen her burning need to have a human baby. But raising the puppy did give her a focus outside herself and a life to care for.
A Dog is Not a Furry Child
We’ve probably all read that scientists believe most dogs’ intelligence is comparable to that of a two-year-old child. But despite having reasoning abilities similar to a toddler, dogs become adults quickly. And it’s this maturity beyond the simple intellectual capabilities of dogs that makes our relationships with them unique and so very special. Henderson’s memoir provides a clear demonstration.
Driving by Moonlight shares Kristin Henderson’s reflections on the big questions of her life while taking a cross-country road trip with her dog. It is a very different story than it would be if Henderson had been driving with her toddler.
- At pit stops, Henderson fills the car with gas while Rosie takes herself to a grassy area for a potty break. Just try sending a toddler into a gas station restroom by herself.
- When meeting strangers, Rosie’s fierce barks are a convincing warning. No menacing person is likely to be intimidated by a crying baby.
- Rosie remains engaged by the landscape and the smells throughout the trip. I don’t know many children who can amuse themselves for hours at a time in a car seat.
And no, I’m not saying dogs are better than children. But they aren’t a substitute for them either, no matter what your in-laws begging for grandchildren think.
People raise their children, whether born to them or adopted, hoping to mold those young lives into reflections of their best selves.
I want Honey to be well-mannered and happy. But I don’t fool myself into thinking I can shape her personality in any way. I need to discover it, work with it, and appreciate it. She’s a different species. And I’m privileged to live closely with her and gain some small entry into her very different world.
I’ve chosen not to raise children. I understand and share some of the dread Kristin Henderson’s husband Frank expressed on the subject.
But I don’t love my dog because she’s the next best thing to having a kid. I love her because she’s my dog. And for some of us, that’s good enough.
What do you think? Do childless people get animals as substitutes for children? Are there similarities between the way you relate to your pets and your kids? Have you been accused of using your dog as a child substitute?