February 25, 2012 – Lessons taught by cats

I want them to stay little forever.  I want to control them. “Whose the mommy?” I say as I pick them up by the scruff of the neck. They just hang there helpless.  At three months old I’m sure they’re thinking What the fuck? 

Sometimes they try to get away from me.  I can hear them saying I’m a big kitten now Mommy, let me go.   

Cathy always says they are full of piss and vinegar.  This was the best when Lulu was really little.  She was such a baby and would cuddle with us and cry when she couldn’t see us even if we were in the same room. We’d have to reassure her, It’s alright, mommy’s right here.”  But when she got up in the morning she was all piss and vinegar.  She would strut around with this cocky little attitude acting all tough, ready to take on the world.

The funniest thing happened last week.  I was in the bathroom and Lulu was in there trying to get into the shower.  Before I could turn around to flush the toilet, splash into the toilet and crash into the trashcan and there she goes running through the house freshly dipped in piss.

When I tell Cathy she says, “That’s your fault.”

“How could it be my fault?” I ask dumbfounded.

“Who lets a cat in the bathroom while they are in there?”

“Good point,” I concede.  Piss and vinegar is right.

“I’m never going to let you go, go, go, I’m never going to let you go,” my mom would always sing to me when I was little, I mean very little like three years old.  It’s one of my earliest memories.  She would hold me on her lap and I would try to wriggle away and she would keep pulling me back singing that song and I remember it scared me a little.  I remember how desperately I wanted to get away.  Not like I was really frightened or anything but I just felt trapped, thinking What if she really never lets me go?  It’s kind of ironic they way I cling to my mom now.

I’m the same way with the kittens.  I want to hold them and cuddle them and I want them cuddling back, damn it.  I don’t want them giving me the straight arm as they try to escape my crazed embrace.  It’s like I’m saying Love me as much as I love you.  No seriously, I mean it.  And they try to run away and I pull them back.  This upsets Tessa much more than Lulu.  I think Lulu feels sorry for me.  She’s the one who will take care of us when we are old.  Percy and Tessa will just send money.  If they feel guilty enough.

There’s no doubt I got these cats for me.  It’s selfish.  I know it.  Rescue kittens.  Who’s being rescued from the ennui of their middle age?  Who enjoys simply watching other creatures that still find pleasure in the simplest of activities?  Who looks forward to coming home each day in part just to be with them?  Who is running around taking pictures of everything?  Yesterday I had poo on my sweatshirt after holding one of them.  I kept wondering why I smelled poo.  I just plucked it off with a napkin and washed my hands.  Me, who is an anal-retentive neat freak.  The house is a mess, at least by our standards.

We are trying to get better in relaxing a little.  Our friend, Mike, planted a seed in my head shortly after we got Lulu.  We were yelling at Lulu about something and he said something along the lines of she’s just a cat and are we going to make her as crazy as we made Percy and Cecil.  (Cecil was our other cat we had to put down five years ago due to kidney failure.)  Truth be told, Percy is as crazy as a bed bug but Cecil wasn’t or so I explained to Mike.  “Oh sure, she didn’t commit suicide because she just couldn’t stand it anymore,” he jabs.

“We don’t want to be a cat-on-the-counter family, like Sandy and Marybeth,” I retort.  This was sort of low as they were the trash of the world.  Cats ate lunchmeat off of trays they were offering to guests and they would just push the cats down and still expect you to make a sandwich with the cat-slobber ham.  Mike is pretty gentle with the discipline of his cats.  He will gently push them down from tables with food but his “No, no” if he gives one is not so convincing.  I imagine it’s normally okay for the cats to be on the tables, just not if there are guests and food.

In any case, despite my criticism, it’s funny he says this because I noticed at Christmas how relaxed and at ease his cats were in their house.  They slept on the backs of chairs and walked behind the Christmas tree without knocking it over or scaling up in it.  The tree was about fifteen feet tall, too.  Cathy always shrieks at Percy when she even goes near the tree.  I always say, “She’s just a cat.”

She comes back with, “Well when the tree goes over, you’re picking it up,” or “Do you want her to get electrocuted?”

But we both are more relaxed about the kittens in many ways.  For one, we let them on the bed with us.  Percy is rarely allowed on the bed.  It’s not right to tell them one minute no and then if she hasn’t seen us in a couple of days we feel bad and allow it.  She must be really pissed off since the kittens are allowed almost everywhere.  They have taken over everything.  We allow them on the red sofa, the one we are giving to Mr. Norman once we get new furniture.  This won’t happen until they are declawed.  We agree that we don’t want them on counters and tables, any hard surface where we have food.  Although we have completely relinquished the cube table.

“I want them to stay little forever,” I find myself saying to anyone who will listen.  It’s the love and kisses and snuggling and I guess that they need us for everything.  At the same time we don’t want to be “those lesbians” who ejaculate all of their maternal instincts into their pets since because they themselves are childless.  Or those people who say the animals are people and buy them tickets for seats on a plane or that woman who I swear was sleeping with, and I mean sleeping with that chimpanzee.

My mom always said that about us, that she wanted us to stay little forever.  I get it.  Kids are more pure, closer to goodness.  “Child is father to man.”  I get it, Wordsworth.

My students asked me a few months ago, before the arrival of Lulu and Tessa, how exactly it is that I manage to keep a cat off of furniture.  “Well, we have an agreement,” I would explain.  “She doesn’t go on the furniture on countertops in front of us, even though we see fur on the sofa or bedspread or paw prints on the island in the kitchen. I figure if she is respectful enough to not do it in front of me, that’s good enough.  It’s a begrudging compromise on both sides, but it works.”   I don’t reveal that it took months of screaming at her and that’s why we also never worry about her running out the door, even if the house was on fire as we have conditioned her not to even go near an open door.  More “Skinner box” than Pavlov but it worked.  I don’t want the little ones to turn out to be such nervous fucking messes.

We are also contacting a feline behavioralist due to the growling and hissing still, eight weeks later, by Percy at the kittens even through closed doors.  I know it’s instinct but I want it changed.  I want them to be what I want them to be and that’s probably not fair.  Then I think about my sister and how I want her to be what I want her to be and at church pastor Jonathan said we have to accept people for who they are.  But then what about us improving as human beings?   Aren’t we supposed to want to be better?  Our nature may be one way but we can change our behavior, can’t we?  Isn’t that what separates us from animals?

I’ll need to return to this later.




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