May 2017

Motherly Love

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Years ago, I used to joke that I was no one’s mother except the cat’s. That statement is no joke in that I have not carried a child in my womb, although I now have two stepdaughters, two grandsons and one granddaughter on the way. I claim no blood relation to these charming, life-enhancing human beings birthed by other mothers, but they are family by my marriage, and I love them as my own. In this sense, I am a mother and grandmother.

Similarly, I did not give birth to any of the cats who have graced my life over the past 60 years, yet I have loved them all with undying devotion. I chose to be a cat mom as opposed to the mother of human children, and while I would never suggest that one is a substitute for the other, I can say from experience that mothering an animal is a viable alternative and, to some extent, satisfies the maternal instinct to protect and nurture. Unfortunately, some women do not have a choice in the matter, and pets can help fill a significant void.

In my lifetime, I have loved many cats, and each has stamped its paw print on my heart, never to be erased or replaced. In January, my cat Dixie, who shared my life for the past 18 years, crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, as we pet people like to refer to the place where our beloved animal friends wait to join us again in route to heaven. She was a loyal companion, and yes, I considered her “my child,” even though there were times when she mothered me.

In 2001, not long after my husband passed away, when I was struggling to make myself presentable to go out of the house, I had spent the morning putting ice packs on my eyes and applying makeup, only to sit on the side of the bathtub, sobbing it all off in a towel. (A box of Kleenex could never contain my tears. It took a bath towel to absorb the river of sadness.) Hearing my cries, who came along but a precious angel wrapped in fur. As she rubbed against my legs with sweet purrs and head nudges, I believe she understood my grief and was offering her version of care and compassion. She never gave birth to kittens, but she certainly knew how to mother. I guess you might say we mothered each other.

It has come to my attention recently that quite a few mothers of human children get their panties in a wad when those of us who are not parents of human babies refer to our pets as “fur babies” or “children.” I’m not saying in any way that raising a child is as simple as having a cat, but I have to wonder why anyone would question another person’s capacity to love. The scope of responsibility is much greater with human babies, of course, but since love cannot be measured, who are any of us to judge the depth of a person’s feelings for one of God’s creatures?

In March, I brought home a new bundle of joy—yes, another fluffy cat. Words cannot describe the bond I feel with this animal. He has brought me more happiness in a few short weeks than I could ever have hoped for or dreamed of. We have an unspoken agreement that I will take care of him for all nine of his lives. I house him, feed him, pet him, play with him, clean up after him, bathe him, groom him, teach him, and provide medical care. I treat him as my child, call him my baby, and do my best to meet his every need, just as any mother would care for her offspring—or an adopted child, for that matter. I am pretty sure he knows I’m his new “mom,” or the closest thing he’s going to get to a mama. In return, he acts like a cat: He plays, cuddles and purrs. That’s pretty much all I need or expect from him.

It puzzles me when some people try to convince others that loving a pet is somehow “less than” loving another human being. How can one kind of love be better than another? And how can any form of love be anything but wondrous and amazing?

Some people say that a woman shouldn’t call herself a mother unless she has human children. They might be more comfortable if I called myself a pet owner. But my cat is not a “thing” to be owned. He is a living, breathing, unique being whom I am privileged to know. I would do anything in my power to protect and care for him, and isn’t that the root of every mother’s love?

If you are a better person for the love of another, whether it is a child, a puppy, a kitten, a hamster, a turtle or an orangutan, happy Mother’s Day.

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