Monday, June 13, 2011

The Problem with Kitty Cat Heaven

When Snappy was a baby, I used to carry her around in a Baby Bjorn. She slept soundly, nestled between my boobs in a brazen, SIDS-defying face-down position. I took her everywhere. I even took her with me when I did my comedy walking tours--which had us trekking from Union Square to North Beach to Chinatown and back. She always returned home from those tours well-rested and with bright, red lip prints on her head from the old women who could not resist smooching the newborn who was helping to lead the tour.

Snappy and her kissable head.

Now the conventional mom-tip wisdom at the time would have me smacking the Clinique Parisian Red right off their presumptuous mouths lest they spread their deadly germs to my fragile baby.  Thankfully for them, and for the tour company I worked for, I chose to follow my own instincts instead of the “wisdom” of the tiposphere. This attitude served me well when, at seven months, Snappy started to treat the Bjorn like her own personal bouncy house, jumping like a grasshopper from the moment she got in to the moment I kicked her happy little butt out due to the massive strain she was putting on my upper back. The poor thing, life was just too exciting to experience sitting still.

If I’d been a devotee of the Attachment School of parenting, I would’ve had to get on the message boards and ask everyone how to stop my baby from jumping in the Bjorn, and everyone would tell me that their baby never jumped in the Bjorn and was I sure I breastfed in public places enough? And then I would end up staying in the Family Bed until the kid was old enough to walk on a leash. But because I was a devotee only to my own instincts, I was able to quickly and confidently banish my little jumping bean from my bazooms and let her experience the world from the stroller. Sure, we got a wee bit of tude from the other Bjorn moms (which is my excuse for the snarky tone of this paragraph), but I solved our problem the best way I could in a way that made sense for my back and Snappy’s sense of adventure.

Still, parenting by the seat of your pants is not always easy. Recently, my nearly five-year old baby girl laid across my lap and looked up at me with big, fat tears in her sweet, blue eyes and said, “Do kids die, mom?” I was on my own. Although there were, I’m sure, volumes of clinically researched advice on how to talk to kids about death, none of these sage tomes could help me. I told her that yes, kids do die, but most of the time they didn’t because grown-ups worked so hard to keep them safe and healthy.

I would’ve immediately jumped up and run around the room, singing the Rocky Theme had she not followed up with a mournful “Am I going to die, mom?”

“Well…” Yeah? Well, Miss I-Don’t-Need-No-Parenting-Advice…well what?

“I don’t want to die, mom.”

Well there it was. She had just conjured up my own personal boogey man. She had uttered the fear that I had lived with since she was still breaking my back from the inside. The fear so painful and persistent that I would gladly give my right arm for a pill that could leave me with all my capacities intact, but would  stop my brain from worrying about the ever growing, Gorey-esque list of all the things in the world that could kill my baby: everything from aluminum poisoning to old-lady germs to zoo-animal attacks.

“Well of course you are not going to die. Death is for suckers, not you.”


Okay, I knew that was the wrong thing to say, but I also knew that this topic would be revisited at another time—hopefully when I was better prepared. And the next time I was. When my little crazy-cat-lady-in-training realized that the fact that some cats went to kitty cat heaven meant that all cats went to kitty cat heaven, even *sob* Ralph, her beloved big, fat fifteen-year-old tabby, I was ready. “I’ve got an idea, let’s take really good care of Ralph, so that he can be with us for a very, very long time.” I said, successfully getting the mournful wail down to a pensive whimper.


The next time, I was not prepared. It came out of nowhere. We were having our usual argument about who loves who more, when she suddenly started to cry. “Don’t die, mom. You can’t die!” I knew how she felt, I’d felt the same way, every time I was faced with how awesome it was to have a Snappy, I was immediately cold-cocked with how impossible life would be without her. I wanted to break down with her and cry about how painful it was to have something to lose, but I didn’t. Instead, I told her the same thing I needed to tell myself.

“Hey Snaps, I’ve got an idea. Let’s take care of each other so we can both be old ladies together. Won’t that be great? What shall we do when we’re old ladies? Shall we go on cruises and out for lunch? Shall we take a walking tour? I know! Let’s walk very slowly through intersections and drive people crazy. That’ll be fun.”

And that worked. Mostly. The other night, she handed me a kitten book she had when she was a baby and, with a glance at the Cat Heaven book she had bravely insisted on taking out of the library, said “let’s read a happy book tonight.”

Later, she came out of her room, sniffing back what was threatening to be a torrent of tears and told me, “we can’t be old together, mom.”

I looked at her and said, with conviction, “yes we can.”

“Ralph too?” She asked.

“Yes, Ralph, too.” I said with less conviction. “Now go back to bed.”

A girl and her beast.

She did, but I could tell that she didn’t believe that thing about “Ralph too”. Which was fine with me because I could tell she believed that thing about us being old together, which helped me to believe it. As long as we were stuck facing that stinky old boogeyman, it was kind of nice that we were facing him together.

Up yours, Boogeyman!


Jon said...

So sweet.

Jody said...

Very sweet. I dread having that conversation, for all the reasons you listed, plus that it could be her sister she's worried about.