One summer day I was visiting with my family, enjoying the company and the intelligent and funny post-dinner conversation that graces most Kelley family get-togethers, when we started oohing and aahing over my newborn niece. I don’t know how it happened, but suddenly I found the baby’s mom looking at me with one of those Beatific Smiles of Smug Mommyhood and asking me, "JaneA, don’t you want a baaaybeeee?"
You know that squiggly mouth expression Charlie Brown makes after Lucy Van Pelt pulls the football out from in front of him when he tries to kick it, sending him flying in a somersault and landing on his back with the wind knocked out of him? I’m pretty sure my face looked like that.
I was in my early 30s at the time, and every single member of my family knew that I was — and still am — childless by choice. They also knew how I doted on my feline family and spent much of my spare time learning everything I could about cats.
After I recovered from my momentary shock, I said, "Well, Fredwina [not her real name, of course], if I did, I know how it’s done and I’d have one by now."
Don’t get me wrong: I love kids and I love my family, but this was the latest in Fredwina’s ongoing onslaught of alternatingly patronizing and snide comments, which led me to believe she saw me as a defective woman who never fully grew up because I didn’t want to have kids, and that my love for and desire to take good care of my cats was a pathetic fifth-rate replacement for raising a real baby.
I’ve more or less come to accept that some people will always hold disdain for those of us who choose to parent cats (or any other animals) rather than children, although I think it speaks more about the people doing the disdaining than it does about the disdained. But just for a moment, I’d love to imagine a world in which cat parents could operate in the same way that baby moms do. Think about it:
- You could hang out with a bunch of your friends at the local hippest-of-the-hip eatery, loudly taking about your cat’s bowel habits with utter disregard for the people around you who are trying to eat.
- You could inundate your colleagues and friends with text messages and daily e-mails full of pictures of your cat, and nobody would call you a freak behind your back.
- Everybody would totally understand if you stopped hanging out with anybody who didn’t have or want a cat.
- You’d get to look condescendingly upon petless people and act as though your two undergraduate psychology classes qualify you to diagnose them with a personality disorder, because they don’t have the same desires and values you do.
- You’d get a tax credit for dependent cat care.
- You’d be able to use Family & Medical Leave Act time rather than sick or vacation days when your cat needs vet care.
Fredwina’s an ex now, and I’m pretty fortunate that the rest of my family respects my "cats, not kids" choice. My mother doesn’t give me tearful looks because no grandchildren have sprung from my loins, everybody knows I love all my nieces with all my heart, and they’ve all turned to me for cat advice, because they understand that I know at least as much about cats as they know about kids. They also know that I’ve used my love for cats and my writing skills to help make life better for all cats and all the people who live with them. My best friend once called me a "universal cat mom," a title I wear with joy.
In your perfect (or perfectly silly) world, what kind of privileges that baby parents enjoy would you have as a cat parent? Let us know in the comments!