How My Childhood Cat Ruined My Dream of Children

All my life I have wanted children. Perhaps this was a product of my being an only child and dreaming of a world where my kids could play with each other rather than the weird games I made up. My favorite was a game I called ‘marriage,’ where my mom and I sat under a sheet, for long stretches of time, silently. It might have been the fact that as the first grandchild, I helped raise many of my younger cousins, becoming the one they turned to for help on school essays, college applications, and high school boyfriends. It could have had something to do with the pride I felt when I was voted the MVP sleep-away camp counselor at the age of seventeen or that fact that as a freelance writer, I am also a professional babysitter, and I stay in touch with the families I have worked with far beyond my employment.

Nurturing and caregiving is something that comes naturally to me. I leave my phone on in case of emergencies. If a friend stays over and sneezes in the middle of the night, I appear creepily at their bedside with a glass of water in a matter of seconds. I was made to be a parent, it is my calling, I got ‘dis.

In high school, after a dumb decision and a late period, I waited in the third-floor bathroom for a pregnancy stick to tell me my destiny. Standing there, worried that I might be late to my next class, I closed my eyes and wished for that plus sign. Despite being woefully unprepared, I told myself, “I’d figure it out.” It would be the baby and me against the world and one day; there would be a mediocre biopic starring Drew Barrymore about our inspiring trials and tribulations. Unfortunately for my teenage hormone-infused dreams, I opened my eyes to find only half of that desired plus sign as well as an intense confrontation from my AP Spanish teacher regarding the paper I submitted with far too perfect vocabulary and grammar. She was right, my friend’s dad had been sick of listening to me complain about my homework and had written it for me the night before. I moved on from both of these potentially life-altering occurrences intact and in deep reflection: disappointed to have confirmation that I was still barren for the time being, but grateful to not be expelled from school.

Though I didn’t know it then, I met my husband in my senior year of college. We bonded over recent break-ups and fell for each other over late night falafel. Over the course of our six-year courtship, my late night, drunken banter moved toward that of babies, not a lavish wedding. I didn’t care for an overpriced, stressful, fluffy party; I wanted a little human, one with my eyes and his eyelashes. An adorable, helpless being that would grow up to be progressive and witty. Someone who unlike me, might understand science and find the cure for some widespread, chronic ailment. Matt would indulge my whining and even spent a few too many hours with me on YouTube, watching ridiculously cute babies being fed lemon wedges for the first time. He engaged with me in talking about our unborn spawn, naming them after his late father and my grandmother, the matriarch of my family. Then, after Matt came down from his internet-induced baby high, he would patiently reason with me, convinced that logic would show me the light and prove that we weren’t ready. He reminded me of things like we lived in a glorified shoebox and took water bottles of vodka out to the bars with us because we couldn’t afford more than one drink. Our daily protein was either sausage or beans because chicken was out of our price range. He only owned three pairs of pants, and I had a powerful weakness for unnecessary, expensive vintage sunglasses. In my mind, this only added character to what could be our young parenthood; a life of unending material for my memoir titled, “Scrappy Decisions, a Real New York Love Story.”

Eventually, we moved into a bigger apartment. One where (I thought), he could not make space-based objections to my baby-fever, but Matt continued to push back at the idea of our duo becoming a triad.

My second cousin once removed in Brazil had a child, and I essentially fell into a rage-induced coma, then I came back to life and threw a temper tantrum the size of the Real Housewives franchise. At my wits end, I tried to bargain for a puppy, but Matt explained that aside from the whole giving birth aspect of having a child, puppies and babies are one in the same. I was infuriated that I was being denied the very thing that defined me because he wanted more time to bask in his immature, unevolved, mannish ways. Everything felt unfair and out of my control. Then my stepfather passed away.

Chuck’s passing was unexpected and happened on Christmas Eve. I had lost grandparents before, but this was different, Chuck had been a parent to me for almost seventeen years. Even though he and my mom had split up, we still shared the holidays together. Chuck continued to use my birthday for his lotto numbers, and he regularly texted me, asking when Matt and I were going to give him some grandbabies.

The loss of Chuck also meant that I re-inherited my childhood cat, Miss Zeus. One of the hardest things to cope with directly after his death was watching Zeus as she wandered around, exhausted and traumatized, looking for Chuck.

I threw myself into taking care of her, something I had never done when she was originally my responsibility. We took her to countless vet appointments, and after thousands of dollars eventually found the correct dosage of medication for what we learned were failing kidneys and thyroid disease. I followed her through the apartment, vowing to care for her the way Chuck would have expected us to. Once she became settled, she fell into a strict routine, a feeding and treatment itinerary that we had to follow to keep her healthy. This meant I woke multiple times in the middle of the night when she cried for food. We arranged our work schedules to allow for one of us to always be home in time for her medication. We rarely had a chance to go on vacation and missed out on other social events because we only felt comfortable asking those closest to us to spend the time necessary to care properly for her. It made traveling for holidays effectively impossible, causing tension with our families. My mother had to leave halfway through our wedding to give our cat medicine and feed her. It was expensive, exhausting, and unrelenting.

Matt, however, had fallen in love. He never seemed to hear her screaming in the mornings and his vision became selective when she vomited on our bed or had a hairball in the middle of the floor, but he bought her a brush that massaged her and a toy that she played with for a few seconds before tiring herself out. I reminded myself that Chuck would be so proud of the level of care we were giving her in this phase of her retirement. While I had yet to receive as much as a look of gratitude, Zeus showed off her lack of feminism as I watched her flirtatiously inch her way closer to Matt on the couch, rubbing her head against him and receiving a treat in response. I became resentful and mean and took it out on Matt. I looked like shit, having not had a full night’s sleep since we adopted her. I missed going to happy hours. I hated having to hold her down as Matt gave her subcutaneous IV liquids to help her nausea. Deep down, I felt genuine love for her and yet I also felt like she was ruining my life. Essentially, my wish had been granted, I had had a baby, and I hated it.

For the first time in my life, I imagined what my future would look like if I remained childless. I pictured the ability to pick up and travel anywhere in the world. We could take trips long enough to become a local at a neighborhood bar. We could splurge on fancy meals, wasting no time or concern on how the kids were doing at home, or worse, how to find reliable child care.

I saw myself building a successful career as a writer, taking the long hours necessary to develop and craft the stories I barely have enough time to devote to with just an old ornery cat and a husband. I thought about my friendships and how they could continue to grow without the eighteen-year gap of negligence required to raise a human. I thought about my marriage, how lucky I am to have such a loving person as a partner, and how happy a life it would be to devote ourselves fully to one another. I thought about money and after doing the math learned that we would save hundreds of thousands of dollars. I thought about how that meant that we might one day purchase a home in our native New York City; something that is currently only an option if we pursue an elaborate scam of convincing an elderly stranger that we are their next of kin and assuming ownership of their rent-controlled apartment that (*fingers crossed*) might one day be converted to a condo.

I worried that I would end up being the bad cop, missing the chance to really bond with my children as the disciplinarian. I saw myself stuck cleaning up the vomit, watching as Matt forged more emotional bonds with our kids, not unlike the cuddle sessions on the couch with the cat. I thought about what it meant to be ready and how much pressure I had been putting on myself to fit the mold expected of women under the age of 35. I thought about how much I still want to accomplish before I actually decide that I am ready and how even then, I might realize it was a mistake after all. Horrified, I had multiple inner-crises; how I could have been so out of touch with myself that the only thing that I had been so sure of in my life might be completely wrong? I realized it didn’t matter whether or not I would be an amazing parent. If I didn’t know who I was, how could I allow another human to come into the world permanently dependent on me?

Recently, when my husband received a job offer that would take us across the country, we considered whether we should put Zeus through the trip. She’s now sixteen, hates to go to the vet only eleven blocks away, and goes on hunger strike if we take a quick vacation, leaving her at my mother’s house for a week.

Ultimately, despite our concerns, we decided that she had to come with us. She has become a part of our family; we committed to care for her until her quality of life declines beyond our ability to counteract it, and we plan to fulfill that commitment. My home is permanently covered in the hair that trails behind her as she walks, finding its way inside of my freezer as well as every other remotely unreasonable place. We have to hire a cat sitter if we want to make an early show or dinner, we can’t buy new furniture, and we can’t close our bedroom door for privacy without her throwing her body against it and screaming. I still don’t sleep through the night and we continue to spend ungodly amounts of money on her medical care. We sacrifice, but that’s what you do for those you love. It’s what I will do if I decide, later in life, to have children. It’s what I will do if I don’t.

Photo: ©Julie Anderson All Rights Reseverd

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