Can't We Please Get A Kitten?
When a coward knows a battle is lost, he has a few options. He can throw away his musket and run, he can lie still and hope not to get trampled, or he can try to negotiate with the victor.
This thought flashed through my mind in the final moments of our household struggle over whether we would get a cat.
Wendy, our youngest daughter, had been campaigning for one off and on for years and we've always told her, "Sorry, Marie is allergic to cats." Marie is Wendy's 21-year-old sister.
Of course, there's more to it than that. Cats have sharp teeth and claws. They carry fleas and cause destruction. They can't use toilets (not properly anyway). They have no sense of humor and don't share our values and beliefs. They are unpredictable, and they use their urine as a medium of self-expression. They are called "animals" for a reason.
But last summer, when Wendy was 13, she renewed her attack. "Now that Marie doesn't really live here anymore, can't we please get a sweet little kitten?"
"Yeah, let's get a cat," said Sally, our middle daughter.
She would be going away to college in the fall and should have no say in this. "It'll give you old people something to do."
"But I want Marie to feel healthy when she IS here," I said, hunkering down behind the allergy defense.
Then my wife, Betsy, said, "Marie has mostly outgrown her allergies and besides she never spends more than a couple weeks here at a time. I think we SHOULD get a cat."
I felt like Davy Crockett as Mexican troops surged over the walls into the Alamo. I knew the battle was lost.
If Davy had been on his toes, he would've said, "OK amigos, the Alamo is yours for now. Enjoy. But if you give us Texas, we'll let you host the Summer Olympics. Shall I pencil you in for 1968?"
So I scrambled to do myself some good. "I'm OK with a cat … as long as I don't have to clean up after it," I said.
"It's a deal," said Betsy.
If Wendy had a musket, she would have fired it into the air in joyous celebration.
Betsy acquired a full-grown, white-and-black cat from a co-worker. It had been named Gazoo by insensitive children. Betsy renamed him Mr. Kitty. He was an instant success.
Mr. Kitty likes curling up with people to have his head scratched. Betsy pets and combs him all the time. At night he sleeps next to Wendy's head.
Wendy, now 14, still believes her room is haunted. To repel ghosts, she goes to sleep with two nightlights glowing, an electric fan whirring and a radio playing. Now, Mr. Kitty is part of her defenses.
In the mornings, Mr. Kitty and I are the first ones up. I talk to him a little, one emasculated male to another. I give him a handful of his unappetizing dry grub, and he seems to say, "My favorite!" and crunches it up with gusto. Some milk in a bowl makes him giddy with joy.
It's nice to start each day by delighting a fellow creature so easily. He never complains, is never too busy for me, and never asks me to enroll him in costly paid-in-advance dance or sports programs that he will end up hating and quitting in the middle of.
Then one morning Mr. Kitty pooped on the kitchen floor. All the experts will tell you not to use sarcasm on a cat, but I lost my temper. "Fine!" I told him, "Just poop anywhere you want!"
Having made my point, I cleaned it up and told him we wouldn't speak of it again.
About two weeks later, he did it again. Feeling really mean, I grabbed him, put his face in it and threw him out the back door. But it happens over and over. Mr. Kitty continues to be Betsy's cuddly pet, my special pal and Wendy's nocturnal protector. Betsy tends the litter box and experiments with its placement, but we cannot get him to respect the house rules for more than a couple of weeks.
After having no success with violent reprisals, now I just hold him by his furry arms, look into his yellow eyes, and address the inner beast: "Mr. Kitty, what is your deal?"
He purrs and looks back unashamed. He seems to be saying, "Look, man, that's just who I am."
So that's where we stand. If I find the mess first, I'll clean it up — even though, thanks to my smart bargaining early on, that's not my job. But I get good-husband points for doing it. And I haven't scooped up so much goodwill since the time I sat uncomplaining through a showing of Bridget Jones' Diary. And I think this work is much preferable.