Pets 0; Cars 2.

Yesterday was the Girls on the Run (GOTR) practice 5k, and I volunteered to be a running buddy for my daughter and a group of 16 third and fourth grade girls from her school.  They have been training for months and the final race is Sunday.  Wednesday was a big day.  The first time they would actually run five entire kilometers.  Buddies were needed to ensure that no one was left behind as the sprinters and walkers spread out across the course.

It was a warm fall afternoon and the sun was shining.  I had decorated the sidewalk by the side of our house with chalk hearts, GOTR, and arrows, because our house was on the route.  It was my special surprise.  At school, the coaches met with the excited girls for a few minutes and gave them their matching sunflower yellow shirts to wear.  The parent buddies marveled at the amazing weather while waiting to start running.  After no other parents seemed willing to wrangle the sprinters, I took off with the lead group.  Steps into our run we heard a horrible noise: a thump and then a cry.  One thought crossed my mind as I turned back toward the school and the crosswalk we’d just passed.  A kid got hit by a car.

Relief when I saw a golden dog limping and whimpering it’s way across the street.  There was no blood and no gore just sad sounds and a slow moving animal.  One of the Girls on the Run coaches and a mom ran to help the dog.  My 6 girls and I were the only ones who didn’t witness the dog getting hit.  We paused and the kids asked hard questions like, “Will the dog be okay?” and “Will the dog die?” and I said, “I don’t know.”  In no time the singlemindness of 8 and 9 year-olds took over and the runners started again, so I went with them.  After all, we were there to run.

There was no hysteria.  There weren’t even any tears, but each intersection I stopped traffic – the sound of car hitting flesh fresh in my mind – and girls passed me talking to each other. “That dog reminded me of my dog.”  “My mom was crying.”  “Do you think it is dead?”  “I would be sad if it was a cat.”  The conversations continued throughout the run and after we celebrated our accomplishment the dog news was relayed to moms, dads, teachers and siblings.  The coach who stayed with the dog told her story.  The owners were called, but not contacted and a nice neighbor took the dog to the vet in his truck.  “Will the dog be okay?” the girls asked.  “I don’t know.”


 

Today is my work from home day, and I watched our new backyard cat stalk mice, our chickens, and investigate our maple tree.  My house cats dart from window to window not growling but fascinated by the cat that’s outside.  How did she get there and why isn’t anyone making her go back inside?  She’s not our cat, and she isn’t friendly, but chicken bring mice and I’ve been happy to see her hunting the past couple of weeks.  It’s been a few years since Mark the cat stopped coming around and since I’d watched his muzzle and then coat turn from orange to white I assumed he’d passed on.  He used to leave us mouse presents on our front stoop and while the baby  mouse piles were disturbing, I was glad he kept the pest population down.

After picking up my daughter from school I watched the grey cat prowl around our yard.  When she disappeared behind a tree I went back to the basement to finish my work day.  I glanced out the egress window and there she was, her sleek grey fur gleaming and golden eyes staring at a rodent or bug just beyond the edge of the window where I couldn’t see and she couldn’t reach.  I called to my daughter, “Come see the new cat.”  My cats each stretched into the window screen and our family examined her.  My daughter cooed, “Hi cat.”  The huntress didn’t waver from her prey.  Suddenly her focus broke and she glanced down at us before leaping into the front yard.  We all went back to watching TV, typing, or napping in our cat bed.

Fifteen minutes later I heard my husband come in the front door.  He thudded around upstairs and tromp tromp tromped down the stairs.  He greeted my daughter who ignored him in favor of her show.  He stood by me and said quietly, “You know that grey cat that’s been around.  I think she got hit by a car.  I saw someone stop and pick up her body from the middle of the road.  She’s lying in the yard across the street.  She’s not moving.   She’s definitely dead.”

“I just saw her.  She’s been around all day.”  Back upstairs I stared out the kitchen window at an unmoving pile of familiar grey fur sprawled in our neighbor’s yard.  Her positioning and stillness left no room to wonder if she was going to make it.  Her body was right across from the colorful hearts and arrows I’d drawn.  Our new outside cat wasn’t going to help manage the rodent population anymore.

My husband pointed to the white car with blinking hazards, “That was the person moving her.  I hope they are calling someone.  Did she have tags?”  I didn’t remember.

Numbed I went back to my computer and when my daughter asked what was going on I said, “I don’t want to tell you.”  I kept working and my daughter went upstairs to find her dad. I held myself together until her little arms wrapped around my neck and she said, “I’m so sorry mom.”  Only then did I cry.  I cried for the pets, for the owners, for the kids that witnessed a car hit a dog on what was supposed to be a magical day, and for my daughter who would have been “sad if it was a cat” the day before.  When I was done, she sobbed.  “Mom, animals do so much for us.  Why do we run them over?” All I could say was, “I don’t know, kiddo.”

I glimpsed the grey cat’s body across the street while I made dinner.  When I noticed my daughter crying while staring out the window I paused.  We hugged and she moved on. When dinner was finished I looked and even in the dark I could see that the remains of the outside cat were gone.   “Mom, do you think an animal got her, or did her owners find her?”

“I don’t know.”

Depression and the circle of sadness

As I’ve mentioned before, my husband struggles with depression.  His is a disease that comes on strong and hard and completely disables him for months, only to lift leaving him the same vibrant man he was before the episode hit.  It is really hard for me, who has never experienced the depth of his anguish, to relate.  Thank goodness for animated movies!

We saw Inside Out when it was released, and were blown away.  It was such a great movie and gave us such an age appropriate vocabulary to talk about feelings with our daughter.  (Cause, you know, two engineer parents don’t necessarily excel at talking about feelings.  We excel about talking about Excel, the spreadsheet tool.)  It’s great to be able to say to the seven year old Afthead, “Hey, what’s going on?  It seems like Fear has taken over the control panel.”

But the most enlightening conversation came about with my husband.  We were chatting about a specific part of the movie when Joy tries to ensure Sadness won’t interfere with Riley’s first day at a new school.  Joy gives everyone a job (Fear has to come up with the worst possible scenarios, Disgust has to help with friends) and Sadness’s job is to “stay in the circle.”  Joy draws a circle on the floor and pushes Sadness into it.   Of course, Sadness doesn’t stay in her circle and causes Riley to cry at school.

My comment to my husband was, “Too bad your Joy can’t shove  your Sadness into a circle.”

He replied, “Oh, my Sadness always stays in his circle, but when he escapes he’s impossible to get back in.”

It was an incredible vision into my husband’s brain.  He is a man guided by Joy, Anger, Fear, and Disgust, but Sadness isn’t really his thing.  I’ve only seen him cry once, and it was when he was depressed.  He doesn’t really do sadness, which just makes his depressive episodes that much more disconcerting.  But it makes total sense when viewed in the Inside Out context.  Sadness gets out of his circle, and takes hold of the controls and only he and Fear run my husband’s brain.  His normal forceful Anger, Joy and Disgust are gone, pushed aside by Sadness.  Eventually time and drugs wear Sadness out and he heads back to his circle to hibernate for years, decades if we are lucky.

Still, I don’t understand his depth of anguish.  Still, I can’t put myself in his shoes, but finally, I have a metaphor for his pain, and a wish.  I hope his Sadness stays in the circle for a long, long time.

 

I Really Want Kittens

I have always wanted kittens.  A litter of tiny kittens I could watch grow from birth through kitten-hood.  I want to see the tiny babies born, licked clean by their momma, and then nursed.  I want to see their ears open, their eyes open, and watch them take wobbly first steps.  I want to have kittens chewing on my fingers, crawling up my leg and sitting on my shoulder.

I am a responsible pet owner.  I spay and neuter my cats just like I’m supposed to.  I think letting your cats have kittens is irresponsible, but I really want kittens.

My daughter wants kittens.  We sit together and watch the Animal Planet show Too Cute, and we marvel over the tiny furry babies.  We coo as they take first steps.  We laugh when the fluffy ones get their first bath and become wet and sad looking.  She asks me, “Mom, why can’t our cats have kittens?”  I tell her that our cats had surgery and they can’t have kittens, but I want kittens too.

Our last cat we adopted from the shelter was a foster cat.  A seed was planted.  A lovely woman I met at the shelter had my kitten at her house, and had cared for the tiny kitten until she’d grown “big enough.”

I found the program.  I signed up.  I went to training.  I was interviewed.  I went to more training.  My house was inspected.  Finally I got the e-mail that I was an approved foster parent.  If I could get to the shelter within the hour I could bring home kittens.

My daughter and I had discussed the perfect number of kittens.  Three: one for each human in our house.  We wanted them to be fluffy.  We wanted a momma and her kittens.  No, we just wanted kittens.  We wanted them to like our other cat.  We wanted them to love us.  We discussed how we’d have to give them back when they were 8 weeks old and 2 pounds.  That would be hard, but we could do it.  We dreamed about our kittens together.

We did not discuss the other side of fostering, but I learned.  Kittens die.  Kittens get horrible diseases.  During my interview I heard about an entire dead litter.  Kitten after kitten inexplicably dying.  It had only happened once, my interviewee assured me.  Pan Luke she said, but I didn’t know what that meant.  I heard about ringworm that infected your entire house and sounded like lice on steroids.  That had only happened once my interviewee assured me.  There were terrible things that could happen, but I really wanted kittens.

We came home with three tiny fluffs.  They were four weeks old and black head to toe.  They were exactly what we dreamed.  Two tiny boys and one big girl.  We laughed at the mistake we made at the beginning assuming that the aggressive big one was male and the small one we named Tiny was a girl.

Tiny had a purr inversely proportional to his size.  Holding him would start a motor in his chest that could be heard across the room.  His sister Adventure would purr, but not as big.  His brother Blackie had a quiet rumble that you could feel but not hear.  They all had personalities and we fell hard and fast.

Something wasn’t right with Tiny.  He ate less each day while his brother and sister got bigger.  He’d climb onto you and sit and purr but wouldn’t drink and wouldn’t play.  Five days after we got him I took him in.  I knew something was wrong.  They tested him and said the horrible words: panleuk, not Pan Luke.  He was going to die.

He sat on my shoulder while they filled out paperwork.  Someone mentioned the other cats in the litter.  Tiny just sat while I said I’d take any litter mates that weren’t sick.  The kittens had to be quarantined for two weeks.  They might as well all be together at my house.  They brought the two litter mates in.  One more time I heard panleuk.  There were five kittens in the litter and two died.  I brought three home, but not the same three I brought from home.

I watched my daughter when I told her, “Tiny died.”  She crumpled in a way I’ve never seen before.  This grief was bigger than any she’d ever felt.  I watched her and for the first time saw her feel sadness the way I feel sadness.  She tried to stand tall, but all she wanted to do was curl up and sob.  We are too proud to show that grief, but we feel it, and you can see it as our head drops and shoulders slump.

It took us four days to name the new cat.  Finally he became Sneaker because of his ability to escape.  As if the name had attracted the attention of unknown spirits the next morning he was lethargic and had lost weight.  I took my daughter to school and we both worried silently.

At home alone I went to the kittens.  I held all three and sobbed.  Alone the tears fell and the cries become audible.  How could I have done this to my family?  How could I have done this to myself?  I wanted kittens.  I didn’t want dead kittens.  What kind of person does this to herself and her family?  All three kittens purred in my arms as I wiped my tears and snot from their soft fur.  Then I e-mailed the shelter and made an appointment.

“It’s negative.” she said looking at the test.  He was sick, but he wasn’t dying.  Or if he is dying it’s of something else.  I’m instructed to give him a huge shot of fluid under his skin twice a day.  Gleefully I box up the same three kittens and take home the needles and fluid.

He spent the day next to my heart in my jacket.  It wasn’t fair for me to keep my distance because I was hurt by his brother.  I wanted kittens.  His warmth and motor kept me company through spreadsheets and graphs and conference calls.

“You are such a good person.”

“I am moved by your dedication.”

“You are an amazing person and foster parent!”

“Thank you.” I reply, but inside I know I just really want kittens.