A two weeks ago I stood for the first time in the pet aisle of the grocery store, critically weighing the options in kitten chow, blundering exactly how I had gotten to that point. Up until an hour before, I had never before considered all the many options in kitten chow: wet, dry, bag size, flavors, and brands; let alone having a cat to feed it to.
That morning we had gone as a family to the farmer’s market and the library, and came home with two kittens. Going out I anticipated picking up some tomatoes, okra and a few books; new pets, not so much. Yet, somehow passing by the shelter, turned into “well, let’s just go look at them.” It was a perfect storm, right inside the door was a fuzzy eight week old orange kitten, litter box trained: my son’s birthday wish made flesh. Oh, and on sale. Today only, all cat adoptions half price. That’s how we got talked into the other cat, another eight week old orphan with black and white markings. It was a very happy early birthday present to my son.
We collected the pets my son would name Calvin and Hobbes, and headed out the door with our previously empty arms now full. I dropped off my husband, kids, and kittens packed into a vented cardboard tomato box, and headed out for supplies. When I came home, the kids were swooning over the new furballs. Three weeks in now, they still are. Every morning is like Christmas, the kids rush out of bed to go find the cats. When they get home from school, it’s a cat hunt. They’ve built the cats forts, feed them hourly, and sung them songs. Bedtime means snuggle time with the cats. I can’t recall any favorite present ever having this sort of effect or become the target of so much attention before.
The cats have brought out a new, affectionate, obsessive side in my children. My husband fears they are channeling Of Mice and Men’s Lenny. I pray it’s not going that far. But there are times I worry. My four year old carries the ever patient Calvin around like a baby on her hip. Stroking his head, whispering sweet nothings in his ear and the poor caps whimpers for release. My son plays vigilant shepherd, always looking for Hobbes when he hides for a break from the shepherd. I’ve been made to explain that our cats are not laser cats, or that stuffing them into your zipper pajamas is not a good idea. They just love those cats that boundaries, guidelines and rationale carry little weight. They get enough cat goodness in the short hours of each day, but they continue to try, rubbing their faces against the soft fur with not just their hands, but their faces as well.
What is it about those kids and their pets?
I almost always had a cat growing up, and liked them, but never considered myself enough of a “cat person” to merit getting one of my own. The hassle of a litter box, food to buy, and getting someone feed then when I was gone, seemed like enough of a nusiance to seal me to a pet-free adulthood. Then years later, puky and pregnant I was visiting my parents, while I had a conference in my hometown. One night as I sat in the bathroom, quietly moaning as my stomach rejected dinner, and realized I was not alone. The family cat came to join me in my low moment. She mewed, rubbed against my leg and curled up next to me in my sick, lonely misery. Looking back to that moment and across the room to my kids with their cats, I get it. My son who is outgrowing his bear is transferring his affections to something that reciprocates. When he’s sad, he has a cat to purr contentedly next to him, and he’s reassured. When Hobbes developed some kind of a cat cold, my son held, and held, and loved that cat, gently wiping the cat’s eyes with a tissue and watched with concern as I struggled to syringe amoxicillin down the cat’s throat. And then held, snuggled and cared for that cat even more. The tenderness pets have brought out in the kids is so good and so surprising; a rare sweetness I want to encourage and celebrate and wishfully, mentally store up for moments when he isn’t.
And while the smell of the litter box has me vowing to toilet train the cats, and I am spending money on litter and food and inevitable trips to the vet that I would rather spend on other things, I’m okay with it. Because as much as those kids love the cats, I think my husband and I might just like them too, but most especially what they are doing for our children.
Are you a pet person? Do you do it for yourself or kids? And do you know the zen art of mastering the funk litter box? I’d really like the solution to that one.