So, today is sucking pretty ginormously. Still sick, with pounding headache, and just lost a morning's worth of writing and link-wrangling to the mud-suckage that is Typepad. A whole post, GONE. No amount of Tylenol makes that pain go away.
All of which is to say is, what follows is a pale imitation of the work of uncompromising genius that was lost this morning...
As Haley-O said over at her home blog earlier this week, there's a sort of unwritten rule among parent bloggers that you don't post gratuitous pictures of your pets, or make frequent reference to your pets. Pictures and stories about your children are fine, obviously - we're parent bloggers, after all - but dwelling on the minutiae of life with pets is a no-no. I'm not sure why this is, exactly, but I suspect that it has something to do with a sensitivity about a certain stereotype that attends to mommy-blogging - that of the dishevelled, sweatpant-clad suburban mother who is surrounded by a gaggle of children and clutch of domestic animals and who is unable to write about anything other than children and pets and the minivan that contains these. (And, yes, there is also an unwritten, unspoken rule concerning writing about minivans - don't.) For some reason, I guess, we think that if we just don't mention the pets, we'll be taken a little more seriously.
There are exceptions to this rule, of course: a blogger that has some expertise on domestic animals, for example, is often pressed by her readers to write posts that offer advice and guidance on the care and feeding of our four-legged (or two-finned, or two-winged, as the case may be) babies. This has certainly been true for my friend Mrs. Chicky, a mom, blogger and dog-trainer who recently caved in to pressure and started a dog blog. Exceptions are made, too, for bloggers who spin humorous tales about the exploits of their precocious pets, who struggle and sometimes fail to adapt to life with a child. The illustrious Amalah, for example, has written a number of posts about the trials of little ('don't call me a purse dog') Ceiba, and Ceiba's altercations with baby Noah's toys (scroll down in this post but be warned - graphic images and some violence). And Toronto blogger Marla's cat Boo Boo has become something of a celebrity in his own right, his efforts to maintain his rightful place as ruler of his household well-documented on the blog Hello Josephine.
Exceptions must also be made for stories and pictures of pets that are singularly sweet and/or handsome, or quirky or eccentricly charming or simply mind-blowingly-cute-when-posed-with-babies. (My own pets - two resentful Siamese cats - are simply eccentric, and very possibly crazy, but that's another story.) Which means, I suppose, that exceptions can be made for very nearly any post about a pet.
The greatest exception, however - if we are still insisting upon exceptions - must be made for posts that address the tremendous lessons about love and life and death that can be learned from living with pets. Not every family is suited to sharing its life with an animal, but for those that do share such a life (and do so responsibly), the rewards are many. Children learn a great deal about love from this experience; they learn about caring for and being considerate of creatures that are, in many if not most respects, more vulnerable than themselves. They learn about friendship, and about responsibility. They learn about love and respect for creatures that are not human. They learn a little bit more than they otherwise would about life. And, more often than not, they learn about death.
Most parents - myself included - fear this lesson. Jess, the BC blogger who writes Drowning In Kids, is fearing this lesson right now. Her dog Pesto (whose adorable snout looms out from her most recent post) may be ill: the vet recently discovered tumors in his body that may or may not be cancerous. Jess adores Pesto, and fears losing him, but she also fears explaining this loss to her kids. "My heart," she says, "cannot take death right now, and all the discussions with children."
The loss of a pet is a terrible thing, and a difficult thing to explain to a child. But life is full of pain and loss. Death is an inevitable part of life: we will all lose somebody - a spouse, a family member, a friend or a pet - at some point in our lives. And it will hurt, badly. We understandably want to preserve our children from hurt. But, but... it can be argued that there is something tremendously valuable in being able to guide and soothe our children through their first experience of such hurt, in being able to teach them something about life and death and loss and the hurt that attends these while we are still able to do so, before they have to face those things on their own.
I would never say that a family that loses a pet (or any loved one - but that's another post) is lucky. I've been there - as a child and as an adult - and I don't wish the experience on anybody. But that doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't recognize that there is something of a gift in being able to share the whole of the life of another creature, including its death.
(For an illuminating glimpse at one family's experience of the loss of a pet, read Moxie's series of accounts of the passing of their friend Siggy. It is one of the more moving and instructive series of posts that I have had the good fortune to read during my travels in blogland. Begin with THIS post, and then read THIS, THIS, THIS, THIS and then THIS. Or, just begin at the first link and scroll upward through the next five posts. Have tissues handy.)
I hope that Pesto lives a long and happy life with Jess and her family. I wish it from the bottom of my heart. But I know, too, that however long or short that life, Jess and her family have been blessed to have shared in it.