Me and Gus.    photo by Jon Katz

“Okay Fate,” I say in a voice louder than I have to,” if you don’t want to come with me to my studio, that’s okay.  I don’t care that there are three dogs in the house and I’m alone in my studio.”

Then I cringe.

This is one of the reason’s I didn’t have children.

That guilt thing runs through me on a genetic level.  It’s not calculated, it just happens.  And there I am guilting the dogs.

I even do it to Red.  Red, the closest thing to a perfect dog as I’ve ever known.  “That’s fine Red,” I say, “I know you’re not going to listen to me when Jon’s around.  Why would you listen to me when you can listen to him?”

After I say it, I thank God that Red can’t understand me.  That dogs can’t hear my manipulative tone.

This is one of the reasons dogs work for me and children don’t.  (Another reason is that you can put dogs in a create when you go out or when they’re being annoying).

I never wanted children.  Never even got the biological urge.  Not when I was 28 not when I turned 40.

I don’t enjoy playing with kids and I don’t want to spend my days feeding babies and changing diapers.

Then Gus comes along with megaesophagus.

And suddenly I’m picturing myself  feeding this little creature in a  Bailey (high) chair and sitting with him on my lap so his food can slide down his esophagus (burping him) after feeding him four times a day.

For me, this is getting further away from “dog”  uncomfortably close to “baby”.

(I fostered a motherless kitten once.  And after spending one night getting up every four hours to feed her, I gave up.)

Jon always says “we get the dog we need“.

He insists that I have a latent nurturer in me.

At first I tried to deny it.  But, over time, I’ve been able to see his point.  I mean, I spent a good part of last weekend, giving all my plants showers (washed them in the sink or tub)  and haircuts (pruned them and put the clipping in water to root.)

So do I need Gus?

Do I need a dog with needs that are dangerously close to the needs of a baby for some reason?  To open up or develop a part of me that has been hiding, submerged in the horrors of childhood.

I don’t know.  In many way, I’m still resistant to the idea.  But here I am, holding Gus upright on my lap, after he eats.  And now I’m singing to him too.  Chanting with Krishna Das or making up songs about Gus to tunes like “I’m a little teapot”.

I don’t know if all this is making me a better person.  A fuller and  more complete human. But I’m doing it, because it needs to be done.

(Jon is shouting at me: “Let me  take a video of you talking to your goldfish.”)

And because Gus is a good and sweet dog and I’m glad to help him if I can.

I have to go now.

It’s time to sing the “Gusophagus” song to Gus, Jon is about to feed him.

I’m a little Gussie, short and stout, here are my big ears and my short snout...”

Why is everyone looking at me like that?

(After I wrote this piece, Jon took a video of me singing the Gusophagus song, so here it is….







24 thoughts on “Gusophagus

  1. Here I sit with what seems to be the same ick that blasted you these past few days, cursing because my throat hurts when I laughed out loud at your Gusophagus song.
    The question of whether or not one is a nurturer is especially disquieting when finds oneself (suddenly, lol) a mother. When my daughter was Gus’ size, I sang Rosalie Sorrels’ “Hostile baby rocking song” many a day/night … and she still turned out okay!

  2. Oh, Maria,
    I love this! Especially the song! Lucky Gus and any other living creature that comes across your door step.
    You are one of the kindest people I know and that is as close to nurturing as you can get!
    Love from Fran

  3. not having children doesn’t mean you don’t have a nurturing soul.
    it comes thru in your blog writings in many ways.
    I respect your Choice not to have children. I admire you writting so openly about this.
    personally i have often wondered why having children equates to be a nurturing person in our society. thank you Maria for sharing BUT not defending your choice. too many woman are feeling pressed into defending thier choice i believe.
    about your honest comments about guilt tripping.
    although uncomfortable as hell I feel blessed to have these moments of awareness. as you both already know..with awareness change is possable.
    singing to gus..such a playful, happy gift to share with gus.
    jon,thanks for sharing the video so we could enjoy it too. sooo cute.
    perhaps because your both in safe,stable,supporting,loving a nurtured plant your both opening up,

    1. I have felt at times in my life unusual (or as if there’s something wrong with me) for not wanting to have children. But the older I get the more women I meet and have become friends with who feel the same as me. It’s not so unusual anymore. And I do think it’s true about the nurturing being able to emerge because of my relationship with Jon.

  4. And another wonders…”would I have made a good mother?”
    As for me, some days I think that I would have made a flat-out rocket mom, other days, when I lose patience with my own most-perfect (well almost) dog in the world who at 15+ years wanders aimlessly around the house instead of being focused and on a mission, that’s when I think no, it really is a good thing that little ones never joined our boat out on this rocky sea we call life.

    1. I hear you Linda! You sound like me and the cats and hens. I’m always trying to get them outside, even when it’s cold out and they want to be inside. Like “go out and play”!

  5. I’m also childfree by choice, and at age 66 I have never regretted that choice for a moment. What nurturing I choose to do goes to my husband, good friends, and my sister’s children (now grown) and her 2 grands. I love having them all in my life, but I never wanted to be a mother myself and I’m very glad I lived in a time when it was possible to make that choice. I do family history and I see my great-grandmothers, and farther back, who had 8 or 10 children and I look at their photos, when we have any, and they look so tired. One of them, who I had known as Grandma Great, she lived to age 90, when I was 11, almost always looks very strong but stern in all of her photos. She raised 7 children and buried 3, later cared for her mother who had dementia and lived to be 89. What a life–I hope she had some joy in there somewhere, but I don’t know.

    1. I just finished reading “My Antonia” by Willa Cather, Melissa. There were two women characters in the story who chose not to have children. One talked about how growing up she took care of her siblings and never wanted to do that again. I thought they were unusual for the time the book was written in 1918. Although it was during the Suffragette Movement…..

  6. maggie,thanks for telling us about Rosalie Sorrel.
    just read the lyrics to the rocking baby song. will be checking her out today on YouTube.

  7. He is just so adorable, how could you resist singing to him and cuddling? I also never wanted children ever, but show me a puppy or a kitty and I just melt inside. And I also sing to my dog every morning my original hit, the Diggies and Kitties song, you’re not alone! 🙂 Hugs to lil Gus!

  8. Dear Maria, THIS PHOTO OF YOU IS JUST TOP NOTCH!! Gus is pretty cute, too! The song PROVES it’s time to come out of the closet and admit you’re a First Class Nurturer!! Annie

  9. Maria, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read Willa Cather, though I certainly know of her books. In 1918 it would be unusual, I think, for a woman to choose not to have children if only because birth control would be so unusual for most women to have access to–I think condoms might have been the only option then and of course you have to have male cooperation for that, and that is what many women at that time would have lacked.

    I would bet there were plenty of women then, as now, who did not WANT to have children, but if they were married they knew of no way out of it. Of course in the 1840s there was something called the “single blessedness” movement which actually promoted the value of women who chose not to marry, and therefore also not to have children, for their worth to society as a whole, so they did have that option. I’m just glad I have lived in a time of easy and effective birth control, which has saved me from the life my great-grandmothers had to lead, regardless of their own wishes.

    1. I just read two of Cather’s books for the first time Melissa. I think you’d like her writing. And so much of it is about the natural world. I never heard of Single blessedness. But I know Margaret Sanger was talking birth control around that time too. Not that it was popular….

  10. No, definitely not popular, Maria, as you say–Margaret Sanger was arrested for it. I thought I knew the basics of her life and work but just read up on her in Wikipedia. Wow, her mother went thru 18 pregnancies, 11 live births, in 22 years and died at age 49 and Margaret had to care for a lot of siblings. No wonder she felt strongly about the subject. I had not realized diaphragms were coming into use as early as 1915, when Margaret learned about them at a Dutch clinic. And I was amazed to learn that when she died in 1966, birth control had been made legal in the U.S. thru a Supreme Court case only the previous year. I’m even more thankful that I was born when I was, in good time to take advantage of The Pill (one of the world’s best inventions).

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