I dated the Basketball Player all 4 years of high school. One year, his team made it to the city finals, which were played at the Palestra, University of Pennsylvania’s home court. His team won the semi-final game, but lost the championship game. His picture was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s sports section…two pictures in fact. One shot of the Basketball Player jumping in celebration with his teammates after the win. And one shot of the Basketball Player with his head in his hands, hiding the tears streaming down his young face, after the loss. The caption read, “The Agony and the Ecstasy”.
When I think about our first trip to Disneyworld, that caption fits. In my mind’s eye, I see the exhilaration on my kids’ faces when we finally arrive and the fun is about to commence. I blink, and that image is replaced by Waldorf’s profile. He’s looking out the window of our rented minivan. And he’s taking deep breaths. Fighting to hold back the tears that threaten to spill. And, no, he’s not crying because it’s time to go home.
I am not a cat lover by nature. We had a dog for a short time when I was growing up, which makes me more a dog kind of gal.
Why did we have a dog only for a short time? Because we kids never participated in taking care of her.
Mom: “If you kids don’t start helping with that goddamn dog, so help me God, I will give her away!”
Older brother: Worried, “Give her away? To whom?”
Mom: Emphatic, “To a farmer, that’s who! That dog is part kangaroo! She jumps all the hell over the place! And she has run a path in the lawn!”
One day, we kids noticed a disturbance in the force…
Little Sister: Curious, “It’s quiet.”
Me: Observant, “Mom’s singing more than usual.”
Older Brother: Panicked, “Where’s the dog?!?!”
True to her word, Mom had given away the family pet. It was a full week before we’d even noticed her absence, so we really weren’t the answer to a lonely pet’s prayers.
Me: Upset, “Mom, you gave the dog away? How could you?”
Mom: “I told you children I would! Not one of you walked her, fed her, or played with her.”
Little Sister: “But she jumped on me when I tried to play with her!”
Mom: “That’s because she’s part kangaroo. She’ll be much happier on that farm where she can run and jump to her heart’s content.”
*And, farm is NOT code for Chinese restaurant. Our dog literally moved to a farm.
Me: Inspired, “Can we get a cat?”
Mom: Eyes narrowed, “Absolutely not.”
Mom: “Because cats are sneaky.”
The Great Oz had spoken. I grew up believing cats are sneaky. Because Mom said so.
So, I have all of these kids, right? And they’re always asking for pets. Not just your common dog, cat or fish. They want the obscure pets. A rat. A warthog. A scorpion. An owl.
But my Waldorf has only ever wanted one pet. He is a lover of my nemesis, the cat. Waldorf is consistent and relentless. He’s always wanted a cat, and he’s never stopped asking for one.
I try very hard not to put my shit on my kids. By shit I mean my baggage. And I’ve got some fascinating quirks. They deserve a post all their own. But here’s one example. I hate bugs. Like vomit hate. I like to do a dance to illustrate my hatred upon sight of a bug. But, because I’m surrounded by penis-wielding sponges, I refrain from indulging in my bug-hating dance while I’m in their company. My kids spend most of their formative years with me. Chances are, if I hate bugs, they will too. And that would be putting my shit on them. Which I’m trying to avoid.
Me: Swallowing back the bile, “Hey, Kenyan, check it out…it’s one of those stink bugs. Cool, huh?”
Kenyan: “Oh, they are like something right out of the cretaceous period! They closely resemble a smaller version of an ankylosaurus. Without the tail. And the spikes. Well, they don’t really look like an ankylosaurus at all, but they are cool!”
Me: “You really know your dinosaurs, buddy!”
I hate you, bug. Feel my hatred. Oh, I’m acting so cool around my kid, but I want to dance on your dead carcass right now.
I’ve never divulged my “cats are sneaky because my Mom said so” theory to my kids. Just because I don’t trust felines doesn’t mean my kids should distrust them.
So, my good man Waldorf hit the double digits his last birthday. And we wanted to get him something special.
Waldorf: Excited, “You know what I want most for my birthday?”
Me: Hoping for a practical idea for a present, “What?”
Waldorf: Animated, “A phone!”
So much for practical…
Waldorf: Pleading, “All of my friends have phones!”
Me: Feigning agreement, “Well, why didn’t you say so?! What color do you want?”
Waldorf: Incredulous, “Seriously?!”
Me: Grinning, “No.”
Waldorf: Excited again, “How about an iTouch?!”
Waldorf: Borderline whining, “All of my friends have iTouches!”
This is indeed true. But I know my child, and I know his 10 year old brain should not have unsupervised internet access. Sure, I’ll be whistling a different tune when the Verb hits the double digits; for now, it’s a no go on the iTouch.
Me: Apologetic, “Sorry, big guy. You’ll have to come up with something else.”
One evening I broach the topic of Waldorf’s birthday with B&B…
Me: “Waldorf’s birthday is next month.”
Me: “He wants an iTouch or a phone.”
B&B throws his head back in laughter.
Me: “I know. Let’s do something special, but unrelated to electronics.”
B&B: “I’m on board. What are you thinking?”
Me: “Maybe a pet.”
B&B has three populations who are completely enamored with him: 1. Elderly people, 2. Children under the age of 12…this includes infants, 3. all 4 legged creatures. And the 4 legged creatures may be his biggest fans. He is like Snow White and Cesar Milan all in one. Without the dress, the beautiful singing voice, and the Spanish accent.
B&B: Eyebrows raised, “Wow! A pet?”
Me: Nodding, “Maybe a cat.”
B&B: Laughing again, “You hate cats!”
Me: “I do not hate cats. I just don’t understand cats. They seem like good pets though. I don’t have to walk a cat. Or play frisbee with a cat.”
B&B: “Have you forgotten that the Kenyan is deathly afraid of all 4 legged animals?”
Me: “I have not forgotten. I will run it past him first. And we will only move forward with it if he’s comfortable.”
B&B: Getting excited, “Alright. I’m sold. I had better start thinking about good names.”
Me: “Think of 2 names.”
B&B: Nodding, “Good idea. Then we’ll let the kids choose between the 2 names.”
Me: “Oh, then think of 4 names. If we get one cat, we’re actually getting two cats.”
He looks at me quizzically.
Me: “Isn’t it obvious? Double digit birthday means double present birthday.”
So, I talk to the Kenyan. This child is an enigma. He is a lover of animals. He retains a plethora of obscure facts about animals. Yet he is scared to death of creatures that walk on four legs in the flesh.
When I ask him, his initial reply is “Um, no thanks, Mommy.”
A few days later, he approaches me.
Kenyan: “Mommy? Remember we were talking about the” he looks left, then right, then over his shoulder, then whispers, “the C-A-T?”
I smile and nod.
Kenyan: Looking over his shoulder again, “Well, I was thinking. I think I can do it. Actually, I know I can do it. It’s only a cat. And it’s Waldorf’s 10th birthday. And that’s a big deal. He deserves a special present.”
Me: “Actually, sweetheart, it’s two cats. Does that change things for you?”
Kenyan: “2? Like brothers?”
Or sisters, because I could use some girl power in this house.
Me: “Yes. Like brothers.”
Kenyan: Brightening, “In that case, I definitely want to do it. We can’t separate brothers! Can I help name them?”
My sweet, brave boy. I love the way you love your brother.
Me: “That’s the plan. Watch out, because Dad wants to name them too.”
We take the Kenyan with us to the SPCA. He helps us pick them out. Two adorable kittens. One shy, one outgoing. Brothers. God forbid we have another female in the house.
They are cute. Really cute. Even if they are sneaky, they’re still cute.
While they get their shots, we have time to decide on names. The only names in our lottery are those affiliated with the Harry Potter books. Waldorf really wants Severus. The Kenyan really wants Fawkes.
*Head’s up for an HP spoiler alert…
B&B: Concerned, “Waldorf, in the book, Severus Snape meets with a tragic ending, buddy. Are you sure you want to choose that name for your cat?”
Waldorf: Unwavering, “Severus Snape is the bravest character in all of the Harry Potter books. And I respect bravery. That’s the name I want.”
B&B: To Waldorf, “Sound logic. Severus it is.” Quietly to me, “Let’s just hope he doesn’t meet with a tragic ending, like his namesake.”
We get the kittens home, and Waldorf is in love. Absolutely smitten. Particularly with Severus, who’s outgoing. He’s the alpha…so is Waldorf in the sibling hierarchy…and he and Waldorf are BFF’s.
The Kenyan takes a few days to come around, but he quickly reaches an understanding with Fawkes, who’s painfully shy. The Kenyan seems to have his Daddy’s way with animals. And he’s the only one whom Fawkes responds to in his first weeks in our home.
And I warm up to both cats. And, not to brag, but they both have a crush on me. Especially Fawkes, the shy guy. He follows me everywhere. And he stares at me all the time. When I look at him, he averts his eyes, like he’s a boy I’ve just caught admiring me. I demonstrate this to B&B as we go upstairs to bed one night.
Me: “Watch this. Fawkes is sleeping by the computer now. But he’s obsessed with me. He’ll leave when I leave.”
B&B: “Bullshit. He’s sound asleep.”
Me: “Puleeeze. That cat is in love with me. He lives to protect me from you. Wants to make sure you don’t deflower his lady love.”
I stand up, walk toward the stairs, and Fawkes immediately awakes and follows me.
She shoots…and she scores.
Me: Smiling, “See? He hearts me.”
B&B: Shaking his head, “That’s so bogus. You don’t even like cats.”
Me: Acting wounded, “Bite your tongue! That was the old Bethany! Now I love cats!”
It’s true. I am now a big fan. They increase the chaos of our household. They fit. Two more boys at which I roll my eyes and shake my head.
Severus turns out to be a wiley little feline. He has claws. And he uses them to climb my curtains. My custom curtains.
Severus breaks six ornaments on the Christmas tree this year. And not the crappy ones my kids make at school that make my tree look so junky. The nice ornaments.
Damn that cat.
Cats supposedly hate citrus. So we drop lemon and orange peels all over the counters a few months ago to discourage him from jumping onto them. Severus eats the orange peels.
Son of a bitch.
Most cats get really sleepy when you give them catnip. Fawkes chills out like he just smoked a giant doobie. Not Severus. He gets violent. He climbs on high pieces of furniture and sits very still. When I walk past him…not even realizing he’s there…he flies into the air and jumps on me. Then he proceeds to bite my shoulders and claw at my hair.
Freaky little feline.
Cats notoriously hate getting wet. That’s why many people squirt them with a spray bottle in an effort to “train” them. Good luck training a cat. Severus gets in the bathtub with my kids. While they are bathing. He steps right into the bubble filled water.
He drinks my coffee on a regular basis. Recently, I have been on a brownie baking tear. One day, Severus steps on a fresh batch of my homemade brownies. And he eats half the batch before they have cooled enough to cut.
Me: Furious, “Severus!!! Goddamn you! Your pawprints are all over my brownies!!”
Severus looks at me. I get up in his grill for a staredown.
I am the alpha. I am the alpha. Blink, you dumb cat. You know you want to blink. I am the alpha. My eyes are getting dry, but I am the alpha. Jesus, how long can you hold a stare? Blink!!!
Verb: Curious, “Huh? Mommy, why are you staring at Severus?”
Me: “Because I’m showing him who’s boss.”
Severus breaks eye contact and flees the scene of the crime.
I’d like to think it’s because I’m the alpha. Sadly, it’s Severus’ survival instincts kicking into high gear. The Verb is dangerous and unpredictable. And both cats avoid him at all costs.
Waldorf loves every bit of this cat’s quirkiness. He believes Severus is absolutely one of a kind. And we happen to agree with him. Every day, upon his return home from school, Waldorf and Severus make a beeline toward each other. And every morning before school, Waldorf bids Severus a dramatic farewell. This puzzling cat happens to be the first love of my 10 year old’s life.
So, when the kids are on spring break, we travel to Florida to get our Disney on for the very first time. We arrange for our neighbors to feed the cats while we are away. Right before we leave, Severus darts out the back door into the darkness.
Me: Muttering, “Damn, Severus just ran out.”
B&B: Shrugging it off, “No problem, he’ll be back. He loves being outside.”
Me: Concerned, “I know, but Waldorf will be upset he can’t say goodbye.”
And Waldorf is upset. But he internalizes his feelings. He walks around our house at 4:30AM for 30 solid minutes the morning we leave. Searching for his favorite cat. So that he can say goodbye.
Me: Patient, “Waldorf, sweetheart, we have to leave. Your buddies will check on him. I’m sure he’ll come back. But we’ll miss our flight if we stay longer to search.”
Waldorf: Concerned, “OK. Please leave a note for them to look for Severus.”
Me: Assuring him, “We did, honey. And we’ll text their Dad to let him know as well.”
So, we leave a note. And we drive away. And we almost miss our flight. But I blame B&B for that. And I text Waldorf’s buddies’ Dad. And he gets his boys out of bed to look for Severus. Then he texts me back…
“No cat. But I heard an owl while we were out looking for him.”
I show the text to B&B.
B&B: “I was afraid of that.”
I know 6 different ways to end a toddler’s temper tantrum, but I know nothing about wild animals. Nocturnal, feral, or otherwise.
Me: “What do you think he means?”
B&B: He looks at me like I’m stupid, but doesn’t call me stupid, which is progress, “He means the owl ate Severus, Bethany.”
Sweet Jesus! Say it isn’t so!
I blink back tears after this news. And realize how much I’ve grown to love that idiotic cat. Then I swallow down an entirely new wave of sorrow, thinking of Waldorf.
His heart will be broken.
We sit down for lunch in Disney one afternoon. I place the kids’ lunches in front of them on trays.
Me: “Bon appetit, gentlemen.”
B&B sits down with his tray. It contains a meatball parm sandwich, a water, an enormous brownie, an orange, an apple, and a bag of doritos.
Wait a minute, we’re on the meal plan. What’s he doing with 1, 2..3 snacks?!
Waldorf: “So, Severus is back, right?”
This is not good. We have no answer for him. And I still have to address B&B’s lunch time gluttony.
Me: “Um, we don’t know, honey. But we’ll send a message to your friends’ Dad and ask him. But he’s working, so he’s really busy.”
B&B: “I’m sure Severus is OK, whether he’s come back or not. He’s a tough little cat. And it’s warm outside. If he’s still out there, he’s probably having a ball!”
That satisfies Waldorf for the time being. B&B and I look at each other with a mix of relief and discomfort.
Me: “Bullet dodged for now.”
B&B: “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Me: “I do too. Ahem, what are you doing with those snacks?”
B&B: Looking at his tray, “I’m going to eat them. I’m hungry.”
Me: “No, you’re stealing from our children. We are on the meal plan. Every person gets two meals and one snack every day. You are either consuming every day’s worth of your own snacks at this lunch table, or you’re forcing our children to go without a popsicle on the last hot afternoon in the park.”
I look at him with obvious attitude.
What do you have to say for yourself?
He replies by opening up the Doritos and placing them, one by one, slowly and deliberately into his mouth while maintaining eye contact with me.
Me: Reaching across the table to take his hand, “I certainly hope you don’t choke. Since I don’t know the Heimlich maneuver. It would be a darn shame if you choked right here at the lunch table. On one of your sons’ snacks that you had to have.”
In response, he picks up the apple, looks at me, and deliberately bites into that.
Choke. Please choke.
He doesn’t choke. And we don’t hear any news about Severus.
Our neighbors look for Severus. And my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces look for him. They email more neighbors. Post signs. Leave food outside. It remains untouched. There’s no sign of him.
Near the end of our trip, Waldorf makes an announcement.
Waldorf: “I’m ready to go home. I’m ready to see Severus. I miss him.”
B&B and I exchange a quick glance. I take a deep breath. And prepare to deliver the news that will break my first baby’s heart.
Me: Quietly, “Waldorf, Severus hasn’t come back.”
Waldorf: Eyes wide, “WHAT?!”
Me: “Since he ran out. He hasn’t been back. Your buddies have looked for him. And your cousins have looked for him. But no one has seen him.”
Waldorf, my private little man, always guarded with his emotions, blinks back tears. The gravity of the situation sinks into his young brain.
Interrogator: Chiming in, “What?! Somebody STOLE Severus?!”
Verb: Like an angry mob member, “Huh? Stole him?! Well, I’ll get him back! I’ll use my Spinjitzu on that bad guy who stole Severus!”
Interrogator: Quick to join the angry mob, “Yeah, me too! And we’ll rescue Severus from the bad guys!”
All roads lead back to Ninjago with these fools.
Me: “Maybe somebody took Severus in because he’s so friendly. But there’s no need for Spinjitzu, my little ninjas. We’ll keep looking for him.”
Trust me, they’ll return Severus as soon as he mounts their curtain rod. Or their Christmas tree. Or eats a birthday cake that’s been set on the counter to cool.
I steal a glance at Waldorf, who’s very quiet and continues to fight back his worried tears. And I do my best to blink back my tears at the sight of his struggling. The Agony.
B&B and I don’t even have to look at each other to know…there is no chance we’re mentioning the piece about the owl. No way.
So, we return to a home that’s lost a pet. For the short term or forever…we don’t yet know. B&B and I feel the weight of the loss of Severus, whose name may in fact be a self fulfilling prophecy. And, as his parents, we’re tasked with being honest (but not entirely forthcoming) with Waldorf…and with maintaining an optimistic outlook that our cat is simply hiding. Waiting for his best friend to find him.
I don’t like broken Christmas ornaments. Nor do I appreciate claw marks on my window treatments. And I am not a fan of sharing my morning coffee with anyone. Especially a pet.
But I’ll live with all of it. Chalk it up to the chaos of my household. If it means that my oldest boy, my private son, is reunited with his first pet. If it means that the worried look on Waldorf’s face whenever Severus’ name is mentioned transforms back into the easygoing smile of a boy whose world is just right again.
I’ll take paw prints in my brownies for Waldorf. After all, I am a cat lover.
Who’da thunk it?
This WAS the end of my story. A real cliffhanger. But we’ve had a very recent development…
Thursday evening I’m getting ready to walk out the door with the Kenyan for his track practice. I receive a text from my brother…
“Am at the pizza place one town over. Could this be your cat???????”. He’d attached a picture of what looked like Severus on a “Found Cat!!!” poster.
Holy crap!!! Severus!!!!!! He’s still alive!!!!!
I creep upstairs and leave a message on the contact person’s voicemail in a loud whisper. I don’t want Waldorf to hear me and get his hopes up unnecessarily.
I show the message to B&B, who walks through the door 2 minutes after I needed to leave, and he is equally excited. And equally hushed.
Me: “We’ll be back soon. Mum’s the word about this to the kids.”
After track is over, the Kenyan and I settle back into the car. I check my phone. There’s a text from B&B.
“We have Severus!” with a picture of Severus on the dashboard of my minivan.
Why take the animal carrier to pick up the traumatized cat when you can give him a spin on the dashboard of the family vehicle?
We arrive home to find Waldorf, standing at the front door, cradling Severus, who looks thin and very much like he’s lost a fight with a pine tree. Waldorf is grinning from ear to ear. And the Ecstasy.
All is right once again in my oldest boy’s world.
Waldorf approaches us before bed that night.
Waldorf: “Mommy? Daddy? I think I owe my Uncle something for being the one who found Severus.”
We smile and wait for him to continue.
Waldorf: “So, I think I should buy him some olives. And I’d like to do it with my own money. Because I wouldn’t have Severus back if it weren’t for him.”
Waldorf and his Uncle have a shared love of this little cocktail tray regular.
B&B: “I think that’s a great idea, Waldorf. We’ll get some olives for him tomorrow. I’m glad your cat is back. Now off to bed you go.”
I walk out of the room as Waldorf does.
B&B: “Where are you headed?”
Me: “I’ll be right back. I’m just going to the kitchen.”
Severus is back. I’d better cover the brownies.