cradleI always thought I’d be a mom. There was never any doubt. Though if experience was necessary for the job, I was screwed. I’m the youngest with two older sisters. Essentially I grew up with three moms. And I was mom to no one. Not to younger cousins, though I did some babysitting. Not to neighbors, friend’s siblings or even my sisters’ eventual kids. I am not a mom type, I guess. My arms don’t instantly conform to a cradle position when infants are present. I see children and have no idea how old they are. And even when I find out, I don’t remember what that means for their development or preferences in toys. I don’t understand their logic. I only have a few child-pleasing tricks up my sleeve and even less patience.

I always thought I’d be a mom. It fueled my dating in my 20’s, then even more so in my 30’s. Must find partner. Must procreate. Must have at least two children, but preferably three. I was like Johnny Five in Short Circuit, “Need input. Need input. Need input.” So when I found an appropriate suitor and married, the hard part was over. I bought a book called, “The Motherhood of Pregnancy Books” so I could get ready. My gynecologist suggested taking prenatal vitamins when I decided to try, maybe even earlier. Need input.

I always thought being a mom was inevitable. I told myself this as a comfort urging myself not to try so hard. Not to look so hard after my short marriage ended. It will happen. I’ll have it all. Despite having this end goal, I never considered having a child on my own, freezing eggs or adopting. It would either be the sum of a great love or not at all. Years later, I entered the high risk zone, though I was already high risk because of a stroke I had at 28. High risk felt more like high anxiety. I worried I would have an unhealthy baby because of the stress I had about possibly having an unhealthy baby. What if this? And what if that? Then an important relationship came along. We named all the kids we would have- first, the twins, Rose and Reed. Then our rambunctious third, Scarlet. It’s what I needed to get into the right mindset. He was family minded, excited to develop this team with me. But love changes. Lives change. And with it the dream of this family.

I was more determined than ever to have these children. They had names. They weren’t just ideas. I wanted to love them. I wanted them to love me. I had relationship after relationship with incredibly kind and loving men. The kind of men who would love and support me always. The kind who would be great fathers. And despite all this potential awesomeness, it turned out to be me who was dragging my feet. In fact, it always was.

I always thought I’d be a mom. From the marketing of motherhood, it is pretty sweet. Unique limitless love. Tiny clothes. Tiny shoes. Tiny voices. Big dreams. Countless moments. And even more pictures. But there’s another side to it. Responsibility. Sacrifice. Being pulled in multiple directions. Strain on relationships. Limited self care. Stepping on legos. And “mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom mom…” I grew up with the fantasy. We all did. And it’s not like moms in our day ever said, “Honey, you don’t have to be a mom.” Being a mom is part of life so if you’re not a mom, then something is missing. Need input.

I’m nearly 39. I’ve made the decision not to have children. This is the first time I’ve written these words. There are days I feel like a failure. There are also days I feel like life could not be more perfect. I struggle to embrace other people’s kids. I want to like them just enough. But not too much. Not so much that it slaps me in the ovary and asks, “What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you want this?” Not so much that it hurts because no one will embrace me the way kids embrace moms. The kind of hug that means, “You are my entire world.” I worry I will go through life looking for this love, haunted by this longing. I worry I will overlove my partners just trying to feel a piece of what this must feel like.

I always thought I would have dogs. After I got married, I found out that my husband hated dogs. How was this possible? We would surely never have a dog. This was nearly a deal breaker. As I got older, my allergies worsened. Perhaps I would never have a dog and it was because of me. A few years ago, I dated a man with an iguana. After I got over the sheer ickyness, I sort of loved it. I would pick it up and rock it back and forth in my arms (it was big- four feet, head to tail). I fed it by hand and then with an eye dropper when it was sick. I gave it baths. I wrapped it in a towel. I watched tv with it on my lap. The relationship failed and I was bummed to lose my reptilian baby.

I always hoped I could care for something of my own. A friend took me to the pet store. We looked at lizards. I tried to see a future but something was missing. And then a dog came into my life. Well, a man and a dog. I was severely allergic at first but for the sake of the man, I was willing to do anything to conquer my allergies. All it took were two nasal sprays. The doctor said it would take weeks to feel the effects. It worked the same day.

I grew up with dogs but it had been a while since I took care of one. The first time I dog-sat for a weekend, I was worried I would forget something or not be prepared in some way. I already had recurring nightmares of forgetting to feed an array of animals and they die. How can he trust me with his dog? It’s only been a month! But it was fine. Uneventful. And in the last year, she has taken up part-time residence with me. Neighbors, local businesses and some friends assume she is mine. On Saturdays, we walk to the flower shop to buy a bouquet for the week. After getting to know the store owner, I let her off the leash so she can run around the store, behind the desk and generally places most customers can’t go. One afternoon, I was picking out loose flowers for my bouquet and the owner remarked, “She keeps coming out front looking for her mama.”

I smiled inside.

I would have corrected her. But explaining the dog was not mine was not a conversation I needed to have. It’s not like I was masquerading as a human mom. Just a dog mom. The more I thought about it, the more it felt like the right thing. In all my travels, I always go where the animals are. And no, an animal won’t grow up to be your caregiver. Or prompt the tooth fairy. Or give you tears of joy on graduation day. But you can overlove them. And you can spoil them. And when you’re sick, they comfort you. When you’re cold, they lie down next to you. They never complain. Never need new clothes. Never neglect their homework. And never demand anything but love. And maybe food and walks.

I’d always thought I’d be a mom. And for me, it’s now a love that is redistributed to friends, family, coworkers and even this dog (and her owner). Being a mom doesn’t have to be fulfilled in the most obvious ways. My childless friends and I have a unique bond. A bond uninterrupted by kids and obligations that can trump social connection. I’m not saying having kids is a bad thing. I’m just saying, I wish not having them was an acceptable option earlier in my life so I wouldn’t have beat myself up trying to settle down. In all the feminist messages out there – you can be an astronaut, you can be a boxer, you can be the president, I wish there were a new message – you can just be you, even if that means decorating your home with hand-me-down furniture, enjoying cake and wine for dinner on a whim, not rushing to the altar and just curling up with the animal of your choice. Do great things. Invent some cool shit. Break personal records. Buy more shoes. Find your perfect place in this life.