So the thing is, sometimes I stare at our cat and I think “you know, she has a brain the size of a walnut.” 

I inherited my cat when I fell in love with my husband.  She is mean.  Really mean.  She’s a tiny gray tabby and she’s full of hatred and spite, I swear.  The first time I met her, as I rushed with a cat lover’s enthusiasm to pet her and she promptly bit me, my spouse-to-be apologized, saying that she bit EVERYONE.  She’d drawn blood on five different vets.  She scratched, hissed and bit her way through his entire group of friends.  So, I asked him “Why do you have this cat?” 

“What do you mean?” he asked, genuinely puzzled. “She’s my CAT.”   

What he meant was that he had taken a chance on her, adopted her and made a commitment to raising her.  She loves only him but she bites him, too.  Because she’s stupid.  Stupid and mean -it’s a bad combination.  She is really, really mean.  When Ana was first learning to talk, I would read her those alphabet books where you look at the picture and it corresponds to a letter of the alphabet?  Our exchange would go something like this: 

Mom: A is for…?

Ana: Apple!

Mom: That’s right!  B is for…?

Ana: Ball!

Mom: That’s right!  C is for…?

Ana: Scratch You! 

The few times she has actually scratched Ana, I have somehow developed the ability to throw an object with unerring aim (hypothetically speaking, a child’s shoe) and hit my target.  (Once, when Ana emerged from her room, a scratch on her arm and her eyes welling with tears, saying “Kitty mean.  Kitty mean,” I went after the cat swinging a teddy bear.  Thank goodness the sight of her teddy bear menacing the kitty didn't give Ana nightmares for months.)  Anyway, normally, I can't hit anything I aim at so it's pretty amazing what Mama Bear rage will do… 

So anyway, I thought it boded well for our relationship that my husband made a (completely insane) commitment to this cat and stuck by it.  And in a strange way, it was a good foretaste of my life with a toddler.  It helped me develop what I call the Kitten Theory of Childrearing.  It goes something like this:  When you first adopt a kitten, it is really, REALLY cute.  Which is a good thing because as it enters the Destructo-kitty Phase, you would have to kill it if it wasn't so CUTE.  But it DOES enter the Destructo-kitty Phase and it proceeds to shred curtains and furniture and occasionally, your skin.  Then it grows into Serious Destructo-kitty and starts breaking precious heirlooms and shredding houseplants and expensive oriental rugs.  By the time you notice that damn cat is no longer so cute, you have so much money invested in it that you CAN'T kill it.  (And then it graduates into Super Destructo-kitty, which involves the Tripping Mom Olympics and Screen Climbing 101 but that's another column.) 

Now, with children, it’s a little different but it’s a similar theory.  You bring this baby home from the hospital and about the time you have healed from the birth experience and have slept more than 45 minutes at a time, that baby starts to smile.  Wait, wait, before smiling, the baby’s eyelashes come in and it's mesmerizing.  But then the smiling starts and after about two weeks, you realize that there's no food in the house and you haven't showered in four days because you've been so busy standing on your head to make your baby smile.  (When my oldest daughter smiled for the first time at her daddy, he took out his wallet and handed it to her.  I stared at him.  “It'll save us so much time later,” he said.)  Then comes rolling over, finding her feet, smearing herself head to toe with sweet potatoes, crawling, and walking.  Cute, cute, super cute, cute, terrifying. 

By this time you have invested somewhere close to $200,000 in gear and have childproofed your house so that, amusingly enough, dinner guests come out of the bathroom, pull you aside and ask if you would mind showing them how to unlatch the lock on the toilet.  You've stopped wondering when the real parents are going to show up to take this kid.   You've begun the endless negotiations that are now involved in every single activity from getting out of bed to brushing teeth at night.  You come up against the notorious intractability of toddlers; you find yourself getting madder than you ever thought you could be at a being less than three feet tall who can't pronounce the word “yellow,” and somewhere along the line, you realize that the diapers you are changing are now worthy of being named like tropical storms and escorted from the house.   But there you are, see.  You got suckered in by cute and by the time you woke up, you were in too deep to be saved.  Just like that damn cat.  It’s the Kitten Theory of Childrearing.

This is as far as I've made it with my theory since my oldest is not yet three.  But I can see the years stretching out in front of me-now it's Little People and Elmo; soon it will be cars and computers, and in the case of Ana, maybe a space shuttle. The expenses will go up and the cuteness down, but by then we'll have so much invested, we'll have to let them live.  The good news is that at some point, if you do your job right as parents, your children will grow up and leave home and God willing, they will have children of their own and you will have your revenge.  

But you’re just stuck with that cat.

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© Barbara Cooper 2001