Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Cat We Never Owned

This morning she brought me a bird. This night she is a cat from my past, curled up at the end of somebody's bed, in somebody's house, but not my bed and not my house.

It turns out Moxie's real name is Cuddles.


Moxie came to us in August when I thought our world was falling apart because I couldn't for the life of me figure out if schooling our children at home was truly the best thing for our family. Which indecision led to severe anxiety, which led to working over my six year old son to the point that he developed a head and facial tic, which caused me instant and terrible panic/guilt.

And here comes this gray cat covered in dirt from my back garden where she has been rolling around for two weeks under cover of six foot tomato plants, until we finally noticed that she never went home. It took me two weeks to consider that she might be thirsty, two weeks to hold the door open for her on purpose. It took me no time at all to see that she was THIRSTY, and no time at all to see that an open door led to an open heart.

The day I gave her water I called Matt to ask him to bring home cat food as well. I made this request to a man that has never, in his whole life, owned a cat or admitted anything resembling the slightest affection for the species.

He came home with cat food.

We gave it to her in a red cereal bowl from the cupboard. In the morning she put a dead mouse in the same bowl.
If it hadn't been for the dead mouse, I might not have ever loved Moxie. We might not have given her a name. We might not have bought the second bag of food when the first ran out. We might not have let her sleep at the end of the bed. We might not have taken her to the vet to make sure she was fixed.

She was fixed.

Moxie was also microchipped. This is new to my domestic-pet-lexicon. When I was a kid and we had a cat, and a cat, and a cat, we were responsible owners because our cats always had a collar with a tag. Evidently a collar is now retro. Animals have microchips hidden under some mysterious layer of skin with all this information on it about how I am not the real owner, but they are out there...somewhere...or, no...out there at this address and this phone number waiting to come take the cat back. Microchippers who expect the rest of the world to know this is the 21st century means of animal identification. Microchippers who are happy to come to my house at 4:00 and pry the cat from the bosom of my family.

Does this sound dramatic?

Yesterday I would not have thought I could shed so many tears over a cat.
This morning as Moxie curled up on my bed under my chin, licking my hand and purring lustily, I had a strange premonition that she would not be there tomorrow morning. I dismissed it, and entered a day of ridiculous devastation. My face is swollen and my eyes burn from all my crying.

They say animals can assume their owners' maladies. So, maybe I get a cold and by some strange, string-theory phenomenon, my cat steals it from me, expelling great, altruistic sneezes that leave me fit as a fiddle. Remember Jonah's tic.....well....Moxie did not develop a tic. She entered our life in customary feline fashion, locating a throne and perching regally within our household. Regal though she was, her reign was fraught with tender ardor. Moxie came as leg rubber, foot snuggler, lap layer, bed sleeper, hand nudger, purr box extraordinaire. All this she laid at the foot of Jonah's troubled moment. She didn't develop a tic, but as she loved my little boy, he undeveloped his.

Who is to say this cat did not know that when she got to our front door after wandering a mile from the door that fed her, she knew we were aching inside, and that she had something to offer? There were plenty of doors before ours.

She was a stray, and as such I eventually had to make sure that her growing belly was a return to health and not a brood of little, stray kittens. This is what landed her in the vet's office, under a gun that reveals the bar code of true ownership.

This is when Moxie became Cuddles. On principle the people at the Vet's office immediately dismissed the name we had given the cat we took in off the street. Cuddles has a family, or at least she has a woman. A woman of some years who was eager to reclaim her property.

My telephone conversation with Cat Woman was brief and tearful, and I made sure to mention that my three young children would like time to say goodbye to their cat. She made sure to bring her grandchildren to my door for the reclamation. "See," Cat Woman is saying, "I have children too, staking equal emotional claim on this animal." She scoots the disinterested children into my home, wielding them like pawns in this unorthodox exchange. Jonah had no qualms declaring his opinion that the cat "likes us better." Cat Woman didn't miss a beat in denouncing this opinion. I stood in the corner absurdly blinking away tears as though I should become uncharacteristically stoic to spare the feelings of Cat Woman and her mute phalanx.

But truth was on her side. Moxie had a microchip because Cat Woman loved her enough to put it there. I knew what was right...and inescapable. My pain does not inherently vilify her.


A few days on now, and we are doing well.

I am glad we discovered we can be "cat people", and perhaps we will be again someday.
But this cat....she was a bit on the perfect side.

I agree with my sister's boyfriend who says:

I like Moxie's moxie.

But, in the end, I have to admit that just as much, or maybe even more,

I like Cuddles' cuddles.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Holy Crud ----- The Toothless Man"


Don't let this confuse you. I know. You are also the tooth fairy.
It's one of those universal titles. Like when you are walking around in the grocery store and there are little people everywhere saying "Mom", and they are not your children, and it grows ever more confusing that you are just one of many millions of women with the same name. So it is with "tooth fairy". Except in this scenario you are just one of many millions of women (or men) who are complicit in the harmless charade that there is that one, solitary fairy, flitting about from bed to bed collecting little dead bits of our children's bodies that fall out of their heads.

Jonah is "at that age". The age when little dead bits of his body fall out of his head. He's lost four now, and I'm growing less mournful at the loss of his "milk teeth." His mouth is moving and spreading in the strangest of ways, giving me no choice but to hope for a better world. A better world being one wherein Jonah's mouth does not resemble that of a 50 year old English, drunkard. At present he is leaning in that direction.

Two days this week have ended in a stealthy transaction in Jonah's room. I slip four quarters into his tooth-pillow while removing the small mark of his childhood. I'll not admit to him, of course, that they could very well be the same four quarters he got last time he transacted with the tooth fairy. I dip shamefully into his "Disneyland" jar to reconcile these debts to tradition. My integrity would have me withdraw real money from my real bank account and deposit it with clinking finality into the jar Jonah so naively leaves on my dresser. This would do much to ameliorate my guilt whenever he declares his intent to save these new quarters in his "Disneyland" jar. Thus far those "new" quarters have all been "old" quarters already living in that jar, because I have NO quarters of my own. I have plastic that will, most assuredly, not be traded for a tooth.

I will count the remaining milk teeth and repair to the bank this week for a sufficient supply of dollar coins, and if we're going to concede interest, I might as well slip a twenty in the jar while I'm at it.

Behold the evolution of a six-year old mouth in just five days time.

"Snaggle Tooth"

"The Toothless Man"

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Does "Whole Foods" Mean Eating the Stem?

Cecily eats whole pears. She devours them from stem to stern, in great, greedy bites, leaving only the stickiness of her fingers as evidence of the edible encounter.
Who gave her that pear with a stem still attached? Who strapped her into her booster seat and slapped down uncut fruit on her tray? That pear might as well have a label fixed to the stem that says "My Mom can't be bothered with a knife," or "My Mom is too busy washing dishes," or "I am child number three."
We could call it lazy...but let's not. I do have my mental health to look after.

When Caroline was two our plum tree brought forth branches so heavy with fruit that a few of those branches couldn't hold their own. In the dark of night they buckled under the weight of luscious, ripe plums. This became Caroline's sustenance for the week that followed. Several times a day she would make her way out the back door to gather the harvest. She would squat and suck the nectar from as many of those little purple orbs as she wanted. I couldn't say for sure that she never swallowed a pit, but I can vouch for her having never choked on a pit.

This is the way to feed children...whole foods, in the purest sense. Yes, it comes of being busy, or being tired from being busy. It comes with the addition of more hungry mouths, but mostly more hungry whines and words.

Food....food....food....the whole consuming affair picks at my consciousness like the vexing drip, drip, drip of the Chinese water torture. Filling our vacuous bellies seems so...stone age, like we could have moved past this tedium around the same time penicillin moved us past the tedium of dying from a cut.
My Mother maintains that the day of "the pill" will come.
No, not that "pill". That one is old news.
She means the one that really liberates women. The pill we set down on the table with a glass of water in front of each famished member of the family that has gathered for a bounteous meal, and tell them to "dig in." Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub.

And I sometimes think I would buy that pill and dish it up guilt-free to my family three times a day...

Until I eat one of those pears that Cecily has been feasting on. Not the pear from the store, but the one off the tree in my back garden. I am a "God made the earth so it could bring forth perfect strawberries" kind of person. Although in late August we would just switch that strawberry bit out for "peaches." And then came the house with the pear tree. After five years of owning this house and this tree, I have finally figured out when to pick them. There is a thirty minute window between the time a single fruit reaches its full size and then begins to ripen. It is a different thirty minute window for every pear. This is too complicated for me, so I guesstimate and pick the tree clean in two harvests about a week apart. I empty my refrigerator of insipid things like milk or bread and fill it full of not-quite-ripe pears. These I remove four or five at a time to sit on the counter and ripen to...perfection? I marvel that I could think such a thing of a fruit that has so long been just bland, gritty flesh to me. But I tell you, every last fruit off this tree is perfection. It's like a new species. It is an ambrosia tree in my back garden.

I know food is heavenly beyond many things in this life. My pears keep me anchored to this reality. So I blame the absence of a dishwasher in my kitchen as the source of my food rancor. Well, no dishwasher and three kids. Ok, no dishwasher, three kids, and no one to cook or clean for me.
Oh no! That really is called lazy.
I need a new food paradigm. One that doesn't torture me.
It starts with feeling good about "whole foods" as distributed a la me. Giving a kid an apple doesn't dirty a dish, and it's good for my psyche.

Cecily may have swallowed a few pear seeds in her time (all fifteen months of it), but she is none the worse for wear. So far no pear trees are sprouting out her ears.

I'll keep cooking dinner (most of the time). But I am working on my gardening skills, and someday I will do as my husband's grandmother and announce to the family that "dinner is in the garden."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Curiosity With a Voice

Caroline comes to the garden with me, a great festering mess of rotten tomatoes hanging from rotten vines that need throwing out before snow renders them immovable until spring. We work at unwinding the gratuitous lengths of wire I laced around my six-foot tomato cages and the rebar stake meant to anchor each cage to the center of the earth. She is surprisingly adept at this, her little fingers making quick work of the tangle that my bumbling, gloved fingers struggle with. Behind me she hums and talks aimlessly to herself until she realizes she's pretty good at what Mom is having a hard time with.

"Mom, did you ever know that you would have a four-year-old who is not so big, who is a helper and works hard like me?"

"No, I didn't know I would have a four-year-old like that."

She returns to her quiet work for a moment, then declares "I'm a Jesus girl."


We are in the van driving to meet Granny and Auntie Maren at the park for a fall picnic. Jonah and Caroline are in the back seat coexisting, for this brief moment, in peace. Caroline threatens the peace with an innocent question.
"Jonah, I think we're near the park. Do you want to take your jacket off before we get there?"
"Why?" he asks.
"So the people at the park won't see what you look like," she says with an implied 'of course'.
She asks this as if he wasn't wearing an ultra cool, height-of-kid-couture, GAP hoodie with an outline of Mt. Everest embroidered on the back. And he is wearing that hoodie!
"Like what?!" he demands to know.
"Well, your jacket has that funny thing on the hood that sticks out."
He's mulling it over. Weighing the consequences of a six-year-old fashion faux pas at the park.
"No," he replies, completely unoffended. "I'll keep it on."
And we carry on, pax romana intact.


Caroline stands on the fourth stair. I don't know if this is fourth from the top or from the bottom, but I do know that the fourth stair is, for Jonah and Caroline, the pinnacle of stair-jumping bravado. It is Greg Louganis on the high dive, only we hope Caroline's jump has a more auspicious outcome than Greg's famous "whack."
Matt is Caroline's only audience. She readies herself while he watches intently, poised with saving arms should the fourth stair prove beyond her means. Caroline closes her eyes, puts a steady hand to her heart and pleads "Jesus, help my heart."
This must be the dramatic indicator that she is about to leap.
But no!
She has a thought, a question for which she requires an answer before her feet leave the fourth stair. Caroline opens her eyes and asks, "Dad, would it be bad to say 'Jesus, bless my little broken body'?"
I'm guessing Jesus has been asked to bless significantly less holy things than Caroline's little broken body.
But wait!
Such a question is more than alarming to the father waiting for the jump.
He might think to stop her at this point, the vision of her question being too much for his natural propensity to caution.
But Caroline is ready, her curiosity satiated, mind turned back to the inhuman feat ahead of her.
Before Matt can voice concern...
she bends her knees just a bit...
and flies...