On imagining the Christmas morning to come, the scene was looking sparse, which meant I was feeling the pinch of parental inadequacy (which, I daresay, is the stuff on which American consumerism feeds and grows fat, especially on this most sanctified of holidays).
And my Elf on the Shelf made a terribly unoriginal habit of getting into the liquor cabinet.
Moms have been known to slap at one another in Wal-Mart in order to be Santa Supreme. We (by 'we' I mean not me) will endure any indignity for that early morning discovery … the bright dawning when we imagine our kids are measuring their sense of self worth, good /bad, naughty/nice with the yardstick of Santa's largesse. And at least on that one day, a mother is loathe to short her children. I might try to teach the girls virtue and character the other 364 days a year (might is the key word), but this is a day for indulgence, reward for a full year's hard work, a longed-for tally of their progress.
So, to amplify the Christmas spirit, to infuse, suffuse some magic into the day, and not the cheap kind afforded by more tinsel and glitter, I decided to buy a kitten. A kitten IS a Christmas morning. And I wanted a grey one in particular. But upon arriving at the local Humane Society, I found TWO grey kittens; siblings, a little brother and sister, a yin yang circle of grey fur.
As litter mates, they came with a buy-one-get-one-free deal. A free kitten! Who can turn down that bargain? And who could turn down these two sets of enchanting eyes, this little bond of bravery, playing, pouncing, tail chasing, and making happy despite their cold, unkind environs.
Not this mother. Not this mother who already has two kids, a dog, two turtles, a rogue hamster, and enough to sift through already without adding a litter box to the list of unpalatable tasks.
These are things that perhaps I should have considered before I allowed myself to be so blinded by adorableness:
1. This is my bed. (If my bed were illustrated by Richard Scarry).
By adding two kittens, I reduced my allotted ten inches of sleeping room to four. If we were all pieces of a puzzle, you would find that my particular form doesn't fit anywhere, at least not comfortably. The tendency of matter towards diffusion, the idea that molecules will move from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration naturally, does not happen in my bed. Add Bo's irresistible impulse to “cannonball” you, and you are seeing the most unpleasant sleeping arrangement ever conceived.
I think everyone would be happier if I became a Standing Baba, standing at the bedside all night, because I am not allowed to leave the room. If I try to sneak ever so slowly from the bed to another bedroom, the kids have some sort of ESP trip wire that is activated on the third step of my retreat, and the heavy, somnolent bed becomes a frenzy of activity full of needy little hands and paws.
I am the crucial piece to their sleeping peacefully. I am Safety and therefore Sandman.
2. Here's something else I hadn't fully considered. At least not in the olfactory sense.
3. Kittens are full of energy. They swing from the drapes.
4. And I had not considered that my four-year-old would adore them so much. She is my own Elmyra Duff. My beautifully well-intentioned Lennie Small.
To mitigate some of the inconvenience of living with cats, I promptly bought an improved litter box. It looked more like a spaceship.
And it was packaged in impossible promises and false hopes. “All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” It looked sentient even, a sister-in-arms to assist in making the task more tolerable. Maybe it would babysit! And vacuum! And I paid a hundred dollars for it (pricey considering its intended contents). And it was wonderful for four blissful days. It was a self-cleaning female Optimus Prime.
But on day four, she betrayed me. This was no Transformer. She was a Decepticon!
And she was literally scaring the shit out of the cats. If she detected the vibration of their little paws, she would activate preemptively. And a young cat's catabolic processes are extreme. There seemed to be little growth, just constant breakdown. Like five times a day per kitten. That is ten poo piles. And ten poo piles at the end of twelve hours could not be put off a single day. But of course it was. And at the end of two twelve hour shifts, there were twenty poo piles waiting on me.
But the poo wasn't the main problem. It was rather the urine icebergs. (My friend called them such, and it's a perfect description).
My theory is that like a ship in the night, the rake went about her dirty business and was surprised by the depth and tenacity of these icebergs. Chagrined by the difficulty of the demands placed on her by the household, she became angry and spiteful. Expensive, angry, and spiteful? Sounds like the kind of wife I used to be, and my sister-in-arms was bluntly tossed onto the curb.
But I must say, despite the yuck of cats, there are some valuable lessons to learn from these spirited little rascals. Namely, that shame is too heavy a companion. The cats continue unfazed and happily unaware of their trail of havoc. The poo is part of their past, and they are always forward looking, leaving the past in its rightful place. They are unashamed, and always regal. Their bad behavior; swinging on drapes, knocking my keys into the garbage disposal on a hectic school morning, wayward poo, is simply part of being a cat. No recrimination, no reenactments, no self doubts over which to worry overnight into a wound for them. No. They are cats, blissfully unaware that there is anything else to be. Of ALL the hindquarters of four-legged beasts, the cat's tail stands straight and proud and is the most immodest. With nothing to hide and no shame, the irony of a cat is that he may be the only beast that stands starkly naked and still unabashedly awaiting his crown and coat of ermine.
And I duly venerate.