When Lily was just a few months old, our 15 year old, lovable fat cat Watson got very ill, and we had to put him to sleep, which broke my heart. I needed time to get over the loss, I thought, and with a new infant in the house, I wanted less stress rather than more. So we put off getting another cat for a while.
Lately, though, I’ve felt ready to take the plunge, despite one big, big problem: Lily’s utterly, profoundly terrified of both dogs and cats. She’s interested – she likes to watch them from afar, or even carefully pet them if their back is turned and they’re utterly uninterested in her – but the minute they look at her and move toward her, she completely wigs out.
Even so, I thought we’d try and go to the Humane Society and see if we could find a gentle little feline. Because I was in Ann Arbor for a meeting one Sunday, I arrived first, checked out the candidates, and narrowed our options down to the cats that seemed the best fit for our household. After Joe arrived with Lily, I asked for a private visit (sounds like a strip club thing, doesn’t it?) with a calico named Joyce, and the volunteers took us to a separate room to spend some time with the cat. Lily was intrigued, checking out the cat, but then Joyce sneezed five times in the row, and Lily’s whole body trembled in fear.
“The cat’s just sneezing,” I tried to explain, since she now knows what sneezing is. But she was still shaking, and unfortunately, just at that moment, the cat turned and starting walking toward Lily – and Lily exploded with a piercing shriek of terror.
Volunteers came rushing in, though we quickly assured them that nothing had happened, and that Lily had just gotten spooked. To Joyce’s credit, the cat rolled with it, never flinching, despite being screamed at. Joe even said, “Maybe that’s a sign. If she can take that while Lily gets used to her, maybe this is the cat for us.”
But then a volunteer poked her head in and said, “I hate to tell you this, but the former owner of this cat just called, literally two minutes ago, and said she wants to take the cat back.”
So we played with Joyce a moment or two longer, holding Lily to comfort her in the meantime, then let the cat go back with the volunteers. Joe’s parents showed up (we’d called them to tell them they were welcome to come, if they wanted, since they live nearby), and we looked at some cats in communal rooms. Lily was still quite skittish, to the point that if you were holding her and a cat was walking underneath where she was, she got frantic. Maybe this just isn’t in the cards, I thought, sadly. Here I seem to have traumatized our poor little daughter, all because I like having a kitty around the house. Sigh.
I asked for a second visit, this time with a black fluffy cat named Baxter. He was sweet, if shyer than Joyce, and seemed as scared of Lily as she was of him. This might be a reasonable compromise, we thought. But ultimately, we decided that we should probably come for a few visits before bringing anyone home. Lily obviously wasn’t ready, and while I don’t know that more visits will help ease her fear, I have to hope for the best.
I am really saddened, though, that this is yet another of those invisible sacrifices that come up in parenting – stuff you’d never even guess that you’d have to give up. Yes, presumably, as Lily gets older, I will probably be able to get a cat again; but it never once struck me, not even for a second, that I wouldn’t be able to get one as soon as I was ready.
And that’s an adjustment I’m still struggling to make in my day-to-day life as a new parent. It’s not just about me being ready (or not ready) for things anymore. At best, it seems, that’s a secondary consideration now. And that’s still strange to me.