It’s no secret that my dogs are a very important part of my life. Even if I could have children I feel that my relationship with animals would still be a special one. I understand that not all people are animal lovers and there are those who flat-out don’t like dogs in general, just like there are people who don’t like the color green or straight-legged jeans. Call me crazy, but if I do happen to like straight-legged jeans, the last thing you’d find me doing is making a thoughtless comment about someone because they prefer khakis. Sounds crazy, someone being insensitive about another person’s clothing. I mean, who cares what people wear, right?
Many years ago I was having a conversation with my best friend at the time. I can’t remember the exact details of the conversation anymore but will never forget a comment she made when the subject of dog owners came up. She made a flippant remark about how ridiculous it sounded when pet owners discussed their pets as though they were their kids. ‘I mean, it’s an animal,’ she sighed. ‘They’re not ‘family.’ Thank goodness you know that your dogs are just dogs.’
My friend had a family pet growing up; she had children of her own and yes, she knew that I could not have children. Do I feel that her comment was malicious? No. I do, however, think it was incredibly insensitive.
Does this mean I’m called a crazy dog fanatic behind my back? When I ask someone about their kids do I immediately become offended when I don’t get asked about my dogs in return? Of course not. But like a parent would for her child, if one of my dogs became sick or needed an operation you can bet that I would spend every spare dime I had in order to give him/her a fighting chance for survival.
Sometimes when I don’t express my opinion to another person whom I feel has spoken insensitively or out of line it’s not because I don’t know how to stand up for myself, rather it’s because I’ve been so stunned by what’s been said that it feels like I’ve just experienced an emotional sucker-punch to the gut. By the time I’ve collected my thoughts and figured out a proper response the moment is over and I’m left feeling awkward about revisiting the subject.
I rarely have time to indulge in television shows, therefore I’m pretty selective – and you can forget about those reality shows. Well, except for one…..
In late 2011 or early 2012 it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend a solid 5-6 days out of every month on heavy narcotics and curled up in bed, suffering from years of endometriosis that was growing worse. It was during one of those spells that I perused Netflix and came across the first season of a reality show called Sister Wives. The series follows a polygamist family as they tried to navigate through life while practicing their faith despite social prejudices.
I became hooked on this show from the beginning and finished the first season within two or three days. When season 2 was added I quickly devoured that as well. The series went on hiatus and I eventually forgot about the lives of these strangers as I dealt with my own ups and downs which included an abdominal hysterectomy in the summer of 2012.
To my surprise early last week I noticed that more episodes of Sister Wives had been added to my queue on Netflix. Yesterday while on the treadmill I picked up where I left off last year: the fourth and youngest wife announced to one of the other wives that she was pregnant, which for those counting, would be the 17th child added to the family. I watched as the 40 minute episode unfolded with the news being shared among the remaining family members while excitement grew and plans were made. I watched as the wives described what it meant to be a family – that children made a family possible; children were the backbone of any marriage.
As the credits rolled I turned off the tv, powered down the treadmill and went back to my studio to paint. Within minutes I felt like I was going to cry. It didn’t take long to realize what was happening – the last time I saw the show was before my surgery, before my fate was permanently sealed.
I believe that the definition of a family is at the sole discretion of each and every one of us. I am perfectly comfortable stating that my family consists of my husband, myself and our two dogs. If we didn’t have dogs we would still be a family, even though we don’t have children. I am happy with the life that I have, truly; but there are times when I ache to be a part of something larger and still, sometimes, it saddens me.
I have endured more backhanded remarks about members of my family than I can count for things that I simply consider being a responsible pet owner. Leaving a party early because my dogs haven’t been let outside all evening have been followed with a remark. When our dog was very ill and we used our vacation money to treat her instead, we were given an alternative opinion of ‘allowing nature to take its course’ instead.
Back to that conversation with my friend. When I think about it even years later, the thing that troubles me most about it wasn’t so much what she said, but the fact that I didn’t speak up for myself. I didn’t let her know that I disagreed with her opinion or that her words hurt my feelings. Instead, I uncomfortably and halfheartedly nodded my head in agreement and sat in silence as she continued talking. I didn’t speak up for me and my family.
Isn’t it a wonderful thing that we are all different, that the word family can mean anything we want it to? No one should have to feel inferior just because they don’t fit society’s description of what a family should consist of. Before my surgery I had a unique description of family, yes – but especially since my surgery I have felt free to further redefine my use of the word family. I don’t limit it to who lives in my house or whom I call Sister, Brother, or Mom. To me, family can be defined as friends in LA or Box Elder, my blog family; even my oldest friendships from high school. Anywhere I feel love is where I feel family.
Family is whatever YOU define it to be. Don’t let anyone ever tell you any different.