Busted Halo
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December 19th, 2003

Mother of a Different Breed

Parental Metaphors Gone Awry?

 
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I learn from people. I respect their opinions, try to see both sides, and usually succeed.

But recently there was one argument I couldn’t reconcile. It came from a woman who read a newspaper essay I wrote about my pet greyhound, Elvis. She didn’t appreciate the fact that I had referenced myself as a “mother” to my dog and admonished me for using that expression.

Lost in La-La Land?
“You apparently don’t have a very firm grip on reality,” she emailed me. “While I commend you for adopting a greyhound, I am completely dismayed by your reference to yourself as a ‘mother.’ Here is a very important piece of information—you cannot return a child if you feel it is bored. You will be put in prison if you leave a child alone all day or put it in your garage for the night. If you decide to crate train your child, you will cause them mental anguish. If your child has a problem, you are rarely able to take it to work with you for the day. If your child starts marking the walls, you will need to find a good psychologist.”

Mother in a figurative sense
Of course you can’t possibly compare a child to a pet. That was never my intent.

I’m not so far gone that you’ll see me standing in line at the Hyatt breakfast buffet on Mother’s Day, wearing a pink carnation with my “son” Elvis, at my side. I understand the difference between that of mother to child and guardian to pet.

But what this woman failed to recognize was that “mother” was used in a figurative, not a literal sense. For me, the word “mother” evokes an image of outstretched arms embracing a loved one. It encapsulates warmth, care, affection, protection. Above all else, the word “mother” symbolizes a deep, abiding, unconditional love. All of which capture the feelings and emotions I have for my dog.

Webster’s and the Bible say…
I turned to the dictionary. As a noun, “mother” is defined as, among other things, “maternal love and tenderness.” As a verb it is characterized as “to watch over, nourish, and protect maternally.” Nowhere could I find the word “mother” ordained as exclusive to the relationship between a human female and her human child.

Granted, Elvis is not the “fruit of my loins,” nor is he the product of a blessed union between two people in a loving relationship. But is my dog a creature of God? Absolutely.

And as 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I imagine that the deep affection I harbor towards my dog is representative of the love that John describes: something that is pure and gentle and complete.

Like the love a mother has for her child. Not the same thing. But like it.

Motherhood for all
This is why I struggled with this woman’s argument. How could “mother,” when used in a loving context, be in any way construed as detrimental or degrading? Her email continued:

Having several animals myself, I spoil the dogs with human food or let them have an occasional cuddle with me on the sofa. But there is a very distinct line between whatever species and a human being. Perhaps,” she concluded, “you should get out and spend more time with your own species.”

And I do. With a species that is, for the most part, kind and compassionate, and open enough to embrace motherhood of all types, be the babies two legged or four.

 
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The Author : Eileen Mitchell
Eileen Mitchell writes from Northern California.
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