A completely throw-away line in an email from a friend has been rolling around in my mind all week, and got me doing some deep, deep thinking.
She was telling me about her Thanksgiving, and how she'd been to a neighbour's where her young grandaughter was fascinated by an African mask hanging on the wall. She said:
"She wanted to go down the hall and touch its nose all night. I think that means she is ready for a babydoll. I think all children need to learn to nurture little humans, and stuffed animals arnt the same. Who really wants their children to grow up to nurture a dog or cat as the final product. No. "
So, here I am, aged 42, with no children but a shit load of animals. I have no idea whether I'm able to have kids, as I've never tried. I can honestly say that I have never
had a single "maternal urge". But the animals? I would defend them like a lioness, to the death if I had to.
Does this make me a bad person? That I'd rather nurture animals than nurture children of my own? I like kids - I love my 4 nephews, and love spending time with them. I just don't want any of my own.
How did this happen? I am the only member of my family who has any pets or other animals. My mum and dad both grew up in the back streets of Liverpool where pets were far too much of a luxury when you lived in a house where all the kids slept in the same bed - boys at one end, girls at the other.
And yet, for as long as I can remember I have been passionate about animals. I know my parents bought me dolls, lots of them, but I was never remotely interested in them. But my family of stuffed toys? I had oodles of them, and they all had
to come to bed with me. The night time ritual involved putting all the toy animals in bed, each in their respective place, and then somehow my parents had to shoe horn me in as well.
At the age of 7 I was given Enid Blyton's "Shadow the Sheepdog", a story about a young boy growing up on a farm, with his faithful border collie who was allowed to sleep on the end of his bed.
For the next two years the night time ritual changed. Not only did we have to accommodate the soft toys, but once I was in bed, my parents had to carefully arrange a specifically chosen pile of books - just the right size, just the right weight, to place on my feet, so that I could go to sleep dreaming that I too had my faithful companion sleeping at my feet.
From the ages of 7 to 9 I entered every possible "Win a pony" competition. I begged to be taken to the New Forest, then sobbed my heart out the whole time we were there. I would leave notes all over the house for my parents to find saying "please, please, please, please buy me a pony". At 9 I got her - Samara, a New Forest, Arab cross. The first great love of my life.
Once the precedent had been set, a pony was swiftly followed by one of the feral kittens from the stables, and then a puppy, Fella, a Labrador cross who lived to be 17, surviving long after I had left home.
At 16 I had chickens in the back garden, and a goat living with a neighbour. If I hadn't been so crap at science I would have loved to have been a vet.
Since leaving home at 19 I have always had a pet in the home. I can't imagine a life without animals in it. I honestly think if I absolutely had to choose between spending the rest of my life either only with human company or only with animals for company, I'd choose animals.
So why am I like this? I can't believe it has anything to do with my upbringing since I was never either encouraged to want animals (I ended up with them simply because I think I ground my parents down), or discouraged from playing with dolls.
So, it's got to be nature hasn't it? Either I'm a throwback to some distant Irish ancestor who was a farmer, or I'm a genetic mutation. Either way, I believe that my friend is kidding herself if she thinks giving her grandaughter dolls to play with is going to make a mother out of her.