Looking back and thinking forward

Month: August, 2013

Of cats and me


"Just open the door," my sister Sue said to me, as I sat huddled in a corner behind the closed door of one of the upstairs guest rooms – the one I call my son's room. Some time ago, he sent me about a dozen boxes of his books and private papers to store for him as his apartment was too small. I was ecstatic that he entrusted me with his things, and carried each one as heavy as they were, up the three flights of stairs, as if my sacrifice and suffering was a testament of my love of him. I packed each box carefully in the tiny clothing closet of the old futon guest room, the one next door to the Ikea-everything-floral-matching room that most guests choose when they come to stay. Not my son though. He says the bed is uncomfortable. He prefers the futon. And so, that space, up there across the hall from my study on the third floor, has become precious to me.

I realized the other day, as I sat weeping anxiously behind the closed door, that there is a large, red carpet lying warmly next to the bed. Almost the same as the rug in his room in our old apartment, when he was a child growing up in Ramat Hasharon. He would sit on that old rug and build all kinds of amazing creations with his lego bricks for hours and hours. Now I wonder if that has any effect on his preferring that room – subconsciously, I mean. Although he would probably reject that notion out of hand, and say he just finds the futon more comfortable, that's all. And probably that is so – after all, I tend to psychologicalize everything!

There I was, stuck, huddled, and weeping behind the closed door of "my son's room." I had received instructions from a variety of sources that were to keep our new kitten, Oscar, whom we had recently adopted, closed off in a room apart from our cat of the house – Mimi. That way the two cats could smell and twiddle their paws with each other under a crack at the bottom of the door before actually encountering one another face to face. But, I thought to myself, what was happening to Mimi out there on the landing? There was no one to stroke and cuddle her as she explored the new kitten paws and smells under the crack in the door. What about Mimi? Sitting there with the kitten mewing next to me, and the cat, Mimi calling on the outside, I felt torn in two. "How on earth do people have more than one child?" I thought helplessly to myself. "How do they spread the love around without making one of the children feel left out?" The more I pondered that, the more anxious and weepy I became. 

Finally, unable to contain myself a moment longer, I called my oldest sister Sue on the phone from my home in Philadelphia to hers way up in the upper Northern tip of the Galilee in Israel.

"Where are you?" She asked. In between tiny, gasping sobs, I described my hopeless plight. "Oh Tamar," she exclaimed. "Just open the door!"

"Open the door?" I said weakly through my tears.

"How will they ever be able to meet each other and form a relationship with one of them locked behind a door?" She asked. "Just open that door and go about your business. It will free you up as well. They will be fine." I was silent as I thought about all the disasters that could befall them if I set the kitten loose out into the terrifying and unsafe universe. 

And then Sue said quietly, "That little kitten's mother has given him all the skills he needs to survive. He will know what to do." I was silent, but starting to become convinced. She continued, "Tamar, you are not a cat, nor are you their mother. Now open that door."

And so, I did. I opened the door, dried my tears, and sat close by observing as the two cats greeted each other with a few hisses and growls, backing off and returning to check each other out over and over again. 

As I watched them throughout that day starting to adjust to each other's movements, smells, and antics, I realized that what had convinced and calmed me most about what Sue had said to me was not so much the knowledge of cat development she shared with me. What had comforted me that morning was faith - Sue's faith and hope for the best for the two cats - faith and hope for the best for me too. 

Indeed, it was a lesson in faith.


Mimi and I are preparing for Oscar the Second to arrive. Well, in fact Mimi hasn't a clue that the little fellow will be entering and sharing her space within a couple of days. She stares out the window as she does every morning at dawn while I clickety clack away at the computer. She has had her five little treats atop the scratching post, a habit she and I have developed over these past five months since Oscar, her brother, died. She runs around chasing after a small, soft, rubber ball, or woolen toy mouse on her own, calling out for me to join her – or is it to announce her play? I keep thinking, 'Oh dear, she does so need a little kitty playmate." Frankly, I am unable to chase after those items and romp around with her. I am a sixty four-year-old woman, for goodness sake! She must be so bored with me.

I know I am.

And so, I adopted Oscar the Second. I found out about him from a Facebook friend, whose cat had birthed eight kittens about three months ago. I drove out to meet him, and he seemed to fit the bill. Strong, playful, and sweet. We have had to wait a couple of weeks while he became older and strong enough to undergo neutering surgery. And now, after recuperation, he is ready to join our family unit. Just two more days and he will be here. This past week, I have been talking to Mimi, explaining to her that Oscar the Second is due to arrive. She has sat as still as a sphinx while I washed blankets, cleaned out litter boxes, and rummaged around in the basement for small food and water bowls. I have discussed with her about how they might play together, even snuggle up on the couch, perhaps? She certainly seems to know that I am talking with her about these matters. Sometimes she chirps or meows in response. Or perhaps she just loves all the attention.

Oy! Attention! And here's the rub. Preparing blankets, buckets, and bowls is not going to be enough. Emotional preparation is what is needed here – for me, not Mimi. Mimi knows what to do: how to protect her turf, or roll about on the carpet with mouse and ball toys. She knows how to jump into the litter box and kick around the sand making it fly in the air only to land yards away from the box spreading out all over the floor. Then she adores chasing after the broom as I sweep it all up, running and tackling it as it swishes back and forth gathering up the pieces of litter from all ends of the basement. She is emotionally prepared.

It's me. Attention getting is an issue for me. Having never felt a priority, or mostly felt invisible as a child growing up in a house full of older, charismatic adults busy with their lives and not much time for me, I am constantly worried about children – or cats, in this instance – feeling lonely, abandoned or neglected emotionally. I can't seem to help it. These anxieties rise up and grab me with the slightest twitch of Mimi's eye, or murmuring meow. Indeed, I have never had to deal with sharing my love with my own children, having only had one son.  

This is not new for me, understanding that "our own emotional development affects how we relate to … children and families" - for I have addressed these issues in books I have authored, and prior blog posts. However, these past two nights I have found myself tossing and turning as the anxiety mounts. "How will I handle all those feelings of the two cats?" I ask myself as I lie awake, staring into the darkness. Today I realize, quite profoundly, that the question is rather: "How will I handle those feelings I have around attention getting, of abandonment, and neglect?" 

What can I say? Challenging myself to understand and overcome ancient childhood wounds sounds doable these days. And what better way to go about it than with the companionship of Mimi and Oscar-the-Second?

Eight years ago at Tamarika: Never okay; & The blog … my inner world