After I had my first daughter and my husband posted the birth stats on Facebook, one of my more hilarious friends commented, "Human or kitten?" I suppose it was a fair enough question. I love my cats, and everyone knows it. And now it appears that I’m raising cat lovers, too.
I admit, like most pet parents when they have their first human baby, I was a little worried about the cat-kid relationship. I didn’t know what to expect from the cats … or the baby, for that matter. Would they like each other? Hate each other? Would I have to protect the cats from the kids or the kids from the cats?
It turns out I needn’t have worried. My older daughter and now my younger daughter are happily growing up as cat people.
From the moment my eldest (now 4 years old) came home from the hospital, my cats, Romeo and Pugsley, seemed to gravitate toward her. They slept near her when she was napping in the bassinet. They jumped up on the back of the cushy rocking chair and rocked along with us each night, and they snuggled up on my lap when she was resting there, too.
As my daughter grew and began to walk, the cats were a little more wary of the grabby hands and unpredictable movements. But we took great care to teach her the concept of "gentle." We showed her how to pet the cats softly and to not grab at floofy tails or hang around their food dishes at mealtime. Kids pick things up fast. By the time she was 18 months old, my cat-lover-in-training knew how she was supposed to act around them.
I swear, one of my daughter’s first words was "cat." And her first animal noise wasn’t "woof" or "moo." It was "meow." Actually it was more like "neow," but we knew what she meant. My younger daughter, now 17 months, is learning to recognize animals in her picture book. Guess which one she always gets right?
In our household, the cats are wherever the humans are. We watch TV, they snuggle on the couch. We go into the playroom, they come in to see what’s going on. We go into the kitchen to get dinner, they follow us to observe the activity and, naturally, determine when their next meal will be delivered. They are always around, and things don’t seem complete when they’re not. The other day we all piled into the car to go to the grocery store. I said, "We’re all here!" A little voice from the back piped up, "Well, except for the cats!"
It’s funny — even though I am not the type of cat owner to wear cat-related gear or have cat accessories, it seems I tend to gravitate towards kid items that feature cats. We have cat puzzles, cat stuffed animals, cat picture books, and more. You would not believe the number of Hello Kitty items we own. We can’t go a day without my four-year-old sporting that big old white kitty head across her chest, in her hair, or on her socks.
I think, however, my daughter’s real cat-person self emerged when she bonded with Pugsley through play. Pugsley can’t resist long, dangly things -ÔÇô a tape measure, a bathrobe belt, or (gasp!) an actual cat toy. He may sleep 23 hours a day, but if a long thing is being snaked around the house, he hears it and nothing gets in his way. The day he discovered that my older daughter would play with him for hours was the day that mutual bonding began. I think my daughter was thrilled to discover that Pugsley began responding to her and even seeking her out.
The fonder Pugsley grew of my little preschooler, the fonder she became of him. He began sleeping on the chair in her room at night or just hanging out when she was playing in the room.
The other night, I came upstairs to check on my daughter after she’d gone to bed. I quietly peeked in the room. She wasn’t in bed. I looked over at her chair, and there she was, sitting next to Pugsley, reading to him. The best part? He actually looked like he was paying attention!
As for Romeo, he has always been a bit skeptical, but eventually even he gave my oldest daughter a chance. I think he was shocked when, the first time he ventured onto her bed, she petted him gently and said, "Hi Womeo!" and went on with whatever she was doing. I’m not sure what he expected but it was probably not as sweet and benign as that.
Over time, the cats both started to sleep in my four-year-old’s room. Now, when I look in on her at night and see a cat curled up on her pillow, leaving her an inch of space on which to lay her own head, I think to myself, "Yep! She’s a cat person!"
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