My kids became obsessed with cats last summer. It began one super hot day when I’d run out of ideas to keep them busy and desperately drove us to PetSmart because they have air conditioning and clean restrooms. I figured we’d look at the fish, pet a gerbil, avoid the people buying mice to feed to their snakes and we’d be out in 15 minutes. But then the boys discovered the store’s cat adoption area where they could look at kittens through a big window and suddenly, we were there three times a week. We’d become Cat Stalkers.
If the adoption volunteer working that day was nice, she’d take pity on the two little faces pushed against the glass and let them into the back area where they could play with five or six kittens at a time. I’d sit on a bag of dog food and watch as they waved sparkly cat toys and laughed delightedly at the little furballs dive bombing their feet. Inevitably, the volunteer would then ask us if we were ready to take one home.
“Sorry,” the boys would say, “but our 19-year-old cat Miss Dickens has to die first. And mommy says she’s not even close to throwing in the towel and meeting her maker.”
Miss Dickens’ advanced age is definitely the reason why the boys loved playing with the kittens. They were completely shocked to see cats that didn’t just sleep and eat all day, as well as cats that actually ran and jumped and had energy. “Wow!” Jack yelled when he saw a tabby sprint across the play area, “this place has cats that MOVE! I didn’t know that cats MOVED!”
After a while, the volunteers seemed to get a little irritated with our permanent Looky Loo status, so we had to switch it up. I started driving us to pet stores in other parts of town. Stores where we didn’t know anyone. Stores where tattooed bald guys in wife beaters walked the aisles with frothing pit bulls tugging at their leashes and teenagers tried to buy fish with Chuck E. Cheese tokens. But despite the rough clientele, the boys still loved it. Not only did they get to play with sweet kittens, they also learned how to say, “¡Qué gatito más mono!” (“What a cute kitten!”) from a nice volunteer. Which is a lot more than most kids learn during summer vacation.
My husband and I know it’s not easy for the boys to walk away from the kittens, so we’re very proud of them for understanding that we need to wait until Miss Dickens is no longer with us. Sometimes I think that she could maybe handle a cute, new interloper, but my instincts tell me that it’d probably be more like All About Eve with Miss Dickens as Bette Davis screeching, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night, beeyotch!” while new kitten Eve hungrily eyes Dickens’ cushy spot next to my laptop. And lord knows we don’t need that drama.
We’ve cut back on our kitten visits since school started, and I’ve also told the boys to try to enjoy their geriatric cat as much as possible. They can pet her, feed her and help her when she wanders into a room and starts yowling because she forgets where she is and doesn’t want to miss her Bingo game. Of course I know that’s not as exciting as taking care of an adorable, little kitten, but still. It’s teaching them compassion, patience and kindness. As well as how to take care of me in 30 years.
The boys will get their kittens some day. But for now, we’ll just be happy smiling at them through the window. And waiting.
MORE CAT NEWS: My very good friends Marinka and Paul (who is an award-winning filmmaker I worked with at Warner Bros. and who I had all to myself before Marinka blatantly stole him, but that’s another story) have just published the perfect book for all cat-crazy kids. It’s called Wanted: Cat and it’s really, really funny and wonderful. I’m SO proud of them for doing this and ask you all to buy five copies each. (OK, two, if you’re on a budget.) Please be sure to take a look at the book and also their very cool website that even features Miss Dickens!
Also, I went to a Cat Fancier’s show last weekend (what?), so I’ll be writing about that little experience later this week. You know, after all of my scratches heal.
Buy this book!