Friday, June 18, 2004

I used to like cats

We have three cats – Katmandu, Cassatt and Cleo. It’s a blended cat family, Brady Bunch style – the girl cats (Katmandu and Cassatt) came with me when I moved into Tom’s house; the boy cats (Cleo, and Lionel, who was sent to a home for wayward cats) were Tom’s. Having cats was no preparation for the demands of parenting children, but we did get to practice saying such things as “YOUR cat just did such and such”.

I’ve nearly always lived with cats, to the point where people think I’m a “cat person” and like cat related gifts. I don’t. So please, if you’re thinking about getting me a present, don’t get me anything with a cat on it. No cat earrings, cat notepaper, cat statutes, or cat pins. I already have them.

Our cats are getting pretty old (16, 15 and 10) and they have each have their little things about them. Katmandu has arthritis and must be going deaf, judging from the volume at which she believes she needs to meow, especially in the middle of the night. We have no idea why she does this – is she lonely? Thirsty? What? Regardless, her meowing wakes up the baby, and given that full nights of sleep are still very precious around here, she has been banished to the basement at night. She’s too slow to get away from William, and luckily she’s extremely patient with his head butts (how he says hello – my future WWE star!), as well as his crawling over and stepping on her.

Cassatt has diabetes, and requires an insulin shot twice a day. I always worry that the pharmacist thinks I’m a heroin addict when I go to buy the needles we give the insulin with. Tom’s parents claimed that children would be a piece of cake for us after dealing with Cassatt’s diabetes. So far, I’d disagree - you can't put out a bowl of Purina Kid Chow and call it dinner - but I do like William a lot more than I like my cats. Cassatt lately has been acting more and more like an addict herself around both water and food – furtively drinking from the sink, the garden hose, leftover glasses of water we leave around. Last night she snagged a cooked chicken breast off the stove. Between this behavior and her scratching William across the face this morning, she is this week’s candidate for Least Favored Cat status. The vet says Cassatt is starting kidney failure and we need to put her on some special food, but I’m not sure I care enough.

Cleo is a little more spry, but is exceptionally emotionally needy, and will do almost anything to get petted. His redeeming quality lately is that anything he does makes William laugh.

It’s not really Cassatt’s fault that William got scratched on the face – she’s really a moody, bitchy cat (except to me, mostly) and has scratched other children, so I expected this to happen at some point. I didn’t realize that she was sitting in the chair he was using to practice standing with, but he squawked excitedly in her face at eye level and that was that. He was just so disappointed when it happened.

I feel kind of bad about it, but I’m ready to be done with cats for a while. I’m tired of cat fur on my clothing, snags on my furniture, cat stinks, having to budget for the expensive in-home cat sitting visits for insulin shots when we want to go away overnight. A couple of years ago when I made a furtive attempt to use Quicken to try to get a handle on our finances, I found out that we spent more on cat care (food, vet visits, cat sitting) than we’d spent on clothes for ourselves in a year. OK, honestly, it’s not like we’re fashion mavens by any stretch of the imagination so perhaps it’s a bad point of comparison.

We placed Tom’s other cat Lionel in a no-kill cat shelter a couple of years ago after we’d had it with his spraying. Lionel peeing on Tom’s electric guitar was the last straw. Believe me when I say we tried EVERYTHING short of antidepressants (for the cat, though we needed them too at that point) before taking that step. We couldn’t figure out what made him spray, and after 5 years (jesus, how pathetic does that sound?) we’d had it. Tom had been through a lot with this cat, and it was a really hard decision to send Lionel away. I haven’t seen Tom cry very many times in our 11 years together, but leaving the shelter after placing Lionel was one of them. We noticed that everyone else in our household was a lot calmer after he was gone and we weren’t constantly screaming at the cats to stop doing something.

I really do like animals in general, and I’m not going to start offing my cats, but I will happily welcome another phase of life that doesn’t include living with cats.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

My beautiful son

I have this beautiful son, William. He’s just over a year old now and I’m still totally amazed by him and the experience of being a parent. I was really ambivalent about becoming a parent for years – could I hack it? How much therapy would this kid eventually need with me as his parent? – you know, the usual.

Plus, I wasn’t exactly the type of woman who gushed over kids. In fact, infants (particularly crying infants) scared the crap out of me. You have no idea what they need! Their crying could mean a million different things – who knows? (I now know infants crying – at least for the first 6 months – really means either: I’m hungry; I’m tired; my pants need changing. Parents' crying during the first 6 months: that's a different story).

Some of this fear came, I think, from my first real babysitting experience when I was 13. Our neighbors two doors down had a nine-month old girl. They left me with her (note the order there – me with her, not her with me) and went out for the evening. As I recall, all was fine until I was to put her to bed. Suddenly I became the evil scary monster from hell – no amount of anything I did would calm her down. She wouldn’t take a bottle, when I tried to lay her down, she stood in her crib and screamed for what seemed to be hours, and would only cry louder when I would try to comfort her. In tears myself, I called my Mom on the phone for advice, shaking with terror. I can’t remember exactly what my Mom said, but I think it was something along the lines of: she’s OK, babies cry, she misses her parents, you’re not killing her. Eventually, after giving up doing much else than sitting terrified on the couch, waiting, the baby stopped crying and drifted off to sleep, and I plugged into the TV for an evening of “Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island”.

The baby didn’t appear to be irreparably harmed (or at least the parents didn’t notice) by my ineptness; I continued babysitting for this and other families regularly throughout high school (or at least until I had a social life); and this baby, last I heard, had graduated from NYU and was moving to Portland, Oregon with her boyfriend and starting medical school. I don’t know whether or not she’s needed therapy of any kind from this early child abuse.

I’m not sure why this episode cemented my belief that I was incompetent to be a parent, but it, along with the craziness of my own parents and my lack of a strong maternal urge, did for many years. Looking back now, I can see that this baby was probably just going through separation anxiety normal for her stage of development (blah, blah, blah), and she poor thing didn’t know who the hell I was or why I was there. Now that I am a parent, I also know now that babysitting experiences have almost no relationship to what parenthood is actually about.

(Actually, mostly when I think back on this now, I think why didn’t my Mom come over to help me? Did she not offer to come over, or was I too proud and wanted to do it myself? And, what the hell were these parents (who I think must have been younger then than I am now) thinking to leave their infant alone with an inexperienced 13 year old?)

I think I really only first realized that somewhere inside of me I wanted to 1) get married and 2) to be a parent after my Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 1995. Getting married or having kids really weren’t things I was planning on happening for me, necessarily. They certainly weren’t de facto expectations of mine. Having kids wasn’t a mortality thing or some cute image in my head, or redeeming myself or my misdeeds, or wanting to be pregnant, or doing a biology experiment. I really looked down on and mistrusted the intent of people (and I think still do) who didn’t know why they wanted kids, or gushed excessively over children.

Visiting a friend shortly after my Mom told me the news, I was on the beach at Cape Cod, talking about the situation, and I suddenly burst out: “oh my god, if my Mom dies, she won’t has see me get married! If she dies, who’s going to help me raise my kids?” (Voice from Now: um, hello, whoever you have these kids with?) I don’t think I honestly knew before then that getting married or raising kids were anywhere on my list of expectations for myself.

I think that one of the things that my Mom’s illness forced into view for me was that I wanted a family. Getting married and having kids in my life seemed like a good way to do that. At the time, I was dating (and am now married to) a totally great, patient, funny, loving guy who’d been a friend for years before we started sleeping together. Even after we were married in 1998, I wasn’t sure how kids fit into the picture. I think I’m still figuring it out, a year into having a kid on the scene. I still don't gush over kids, including my own, but I think I'm doing OK as a parent most of the time. William doesn't seem to have any major tics at this point. But we'll save for therapy just in case.

Someone said to me once that if you think you want to have kids, you should, and that was a good enough reason. I’m not sure that’s totally true, but it’s certainly better to want kids if you have them.

My Mom lived long enough to see me get married, and to meet my son, for which she and I both were very grateful. She died in July 2003, a month after William joined our family. It’s an amazing thing that their times here overlapped at all. I have this beautiful son, William. Crazy.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Venue of the Smartass

I've lately found myself in the world of blogs - my husband introduced me to this world of crack. Fantastic opportunity to waste a lot of time reading online. It's great.

I'm not really sure why my new addiction draws me to start my own. I'm finding a lot of very funny, very human, very sarcastic (in particular but not exclusively) women out there who are blogging. It seems that blogging is the venue of the smartass, and while I wouldn't necessarily consider myself the smartass-est person, here I am. Perhaps it's aspirations of finally becoming cool in my late 30's.