“Mom, Can We Keep Him? Please??”

26 Jun

The kids came to me yesterday with a tiny black kitten, a wild stray that couldn’t have been more than four weeks old. His trembling little head peeked out from my son’s cupped hands and he looked fearfully at all of us with beautiful, malachite eyes. I knew what was coming. “Mom, can we keep him?”

(SIGH.) It was supposed to be a carefree afternoon of summer fun, swimming with the kids, but all of a sudden I was thrust into the unenviable dark side of motherhood. I had to be the voice of reason. I had to be the one to say, “NO.”

Twenty years ago – ten, even – my heart would have instantly melted at the sight of a homeless kitten, and I would have said “Yes” without hesitation. But now I view things from a different perspective. Now I see things as a parent, a bona fide grown-up. And I think about every time that I pestered my own parents with “Can we keep him? Please?” Oh, I totally get it now.

Imagine, if you will, an ordinary Saturday morning. You’re running errands with the kids, laughing, happily singing songs in the car. Then, right in front of the grocery store, somebody has a box of puppies…and now your whole harmonious morning is about to end in disappointment and tears of betrayal, because YOU have to be the bad guy. YOU have to tell your children, “NO.” One minute your kids think you’re the greatest thing since peanut butter because you promised them a pack of gum; the next, they’re crying and angry, looking at you like they finally understand the meaning of neo-fascist dictator. At that moment you’ve never hated anyone as much as the selfish woman who brought that box of puppies to the supermarket. Whatever happened to solidarity? Mothers are supposed to stick together!

Of course, I see this clearly now, but I do remember being on the kid side of that fence. I remember wanting to bring home every stray, abandoned or otherwise found creature. If my parents had been reasonable people, my childhood would have included about 14 dogs, at least 30 cats, wild rescued birds and store-bought parrots and canaries, a huge fish tank full of piranhas, hamsters in a room-sized tunnel kingdon, bunnies in every imaginable color, a couple of ponies and a three-legged deer. Alas, my parents were not that reasonable, and more than once I tearfully vowed that when I was a grown-up – when it was MY turn to make the RULES – I would never EVER turn away an animal who needed a home, who needed my love. NEVER.

For the most part, I kept my word. I was barely an adult when I had my children, and my heart wasn’t calloused yet. When they would come to me, cupping yet another breathing thing in their hopeful hands, pleading, “Mom, can we keep him? Please?” I always gave in. Cute and hungry guaranteed a home with us. Not to mention that fantastic feeling I would get when I said “Yes, we can keep him” and my kids thought I was the GREATEST.

Subsequently, for the last twenty years, I have been the one walking the dogs, changing the litter, shampooing the carpets, shampooing the animals, buying the food, serving the food, paying vet bills, making sure they don’t run away, making sure they don’t run into traffic, cleaning out guinea pig, hamster cages and fish tanks, ridding the house of animal smells, endlessly vacuuming pet hair, crying over ruined furniture and rugs, only to eventually get the pleasure of paying expensive euthanization and cremation bills, or even better – digging holes in the woods – and comforting sad children as they once again confront death. Because of all this, it has become much easier to say “NO.” I am not cold-hearted – I am TIRED. New pets bring more love and laughter into a house, but they also bring more WORK, and I do not need more WORK. I have plenty TO DO. And as much as I have loved nearly every two-, three-, and four-legged creature that graced our home over the years, I am ready for a house that is void of pet hair, litterboxes and animal smells. Really…it’s time.

Which brings me back to yesterday. When the kids came to me with that itty bitty kitten, I realized (since the “children” are 22 and 17 years of age) that it was time they understood the harsh reality of being a responsible grown-up. This was a teaching moment, an opportunity to remind them that impulsive choices have lasting consequences. Somewhere deep in my heart I felt a sad farewell happening to the optimistic child I once was, as I confirmed myself to be a rule-abiding, sensible adult. But it was right, and it was necessary.

My kids – who had already named the kitten at this point -gave it their best, of course. “But Moooooom, look at him! He is soooo cute! He needs us! He won’t survive on his own! Look – he likes us already! Come on, Mom…please? Can we keep him??”

“NO.” I put my foot down. “We are not having another animal. He does NOT have a name, and we are NOT taking him home, and that is FINAL!” I know they thought I was being unreasonable, and that hurt a little bit, but I DID have my reasons, and I was NOT backing down, no matter how much they pleaded. I took the tiny black furball from my son and paced around, stroking his head while I decided between letting him go free again, to live an uncertain life foraging for food and shelter in the wild, or taking him to the nearest humane society, where he might hopefully be adopted by a loving family.

I walked around for an eternity, weighing those options, and looking down at this fragile little life that was, quite literally, in my hands. He was quiet, content to be held and petted, looking back up at me patiently, trustingly, expectantly, with sad, knowing green eyes (pretty much the same way the kids were looking at me) and I knew what had to be done.

J.D. (that’s what the kids named him) spent his first night in his new home in a cardboard box at the foot of my bed. He’s adjusting to his new home very well. I just added cat food to the shopping list.

And my kids think I’m the GREATEST.


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