My husband and I had our first child not too long after our first wedding anniversary. And by that time, we had a puppy and three cats. I’d grown up with pets in our family all my life, and my cats had always been like my babies, and these four pets were no different. But when I became pregnant, many people started telling me, “Just you wait. Once you have that baby, your pets will just become animals.”
I didn’t believe them. I knew that my pets would never be “just animals” to me. And I was right. I still loved my dog and cats fiercely, even after my daughter was born. Of course, we had very different relationships with a human baby than with our puppy and cats, but the way I loved them did not change–not in the slightest.
Thinking of Family in a More Open Way
Today, my husband and I have three human children – our daughter and two sons. We still have that puppy, though now he is a big dog of eleven years. I still call him my puppy, and he is still very much my baby.
We lost the last of those three cats just this past week. Gracie died very suddenly. It will never be the same without her, and we already miss her immensely. She was, and always will be, a part of our family.
Now we have a 2 1/2 year old “kitten”, our tuxedo kitty, Trixie Jane, who very much belongs to my daughter. We have our big dog Wendell, and another dog, Bear. Because of my husband’s and my love for animals, our children have learned to treat our pets and other animals with kindness. They have learned to take care of them, and teach others to care for animals, as well. And because of this, they understand a more open meaning of the word “family”.
Family does not mean strictly those who are related to us biologically. It is so much more all-encompassing. We can call a close friend a “brother” or a “sister”. In many cultures, any older woman can be referred to as a grandmother or aunt. Of course, it can mean family by adoption or marriage. It can mean a close friend or neighbor in your community. And it can mean a pet who spends their entire life among you in your home. Family can literally mean anyone who you consider your family.
So I believe that we include the stories of anyone in our family’s history that could be considered family. For me, I know that I will pass down stories of my cat Gracie the same way I share stories of my cat Ariel, who I had growing up. Ariel was one of my closest friends in my formative years, and Gracie has been one of my closest friends these past several years – to the point that I consider both of them family. And therefore, they are just as much a part of my family history as anyone related to me biologically. Just as much as Zero was part of my grandma’s family history and Boo and Jenny are part of my mother’s family history.
Animals in all their innocence and genuineness can teach us so much. They teach us about kindness. They teach us about trust. And above all, they teach us about love. And it’s love that really binds a family together.
If love is present, then there is a family. Because that’s what family really is: love.