Sunday, July 2, 2017

Of cats and kids

As EB, [redacted], and I drove to the Shaker Square Farmer's Market on Saturday morning one of the sweetest and most touching things ever happened.

Two weeks before, during [redacted]'s first and EB's second visit to Cleveland, I had mentioned to them something that Cara had often said to our two cats Mitters and Eponine to try to discourage them from the altercations they frequently got into: "No fights, and no bites." (Today I also have two cats. Eponine remains one of them, but the older Mitters passed away three months ago. Last fall I adopted a very rambunctious kitten who I named Gavroche, now a still very rambunctious one-year-old. So clashes between cats remain an issue in my household.) I didn't place any special emphasis on the story; it was just a nice little anecdote that seemed relevant when I brought it up. So I was astonished and moved nearly to tears when, out of the blue, two weeks later, [redacted] said, "Hey remember that thing Cara used to say? No fights, and no... scratch?"

At four years old, [redacted] would undoubtedly have no way of fully comprehending just how touched I was by what she had just said, but EB understood perfectly, and I exchanged knowing looks with her. "That's really close," I told [redacted]. "It was actually 'no fights, and no bites.'"And I delved into a brief explanation of how it was a funny phrase because the words "fights" and "bites" rhyme with each other - rhyming words being a concept in which [redacted] has recently taken interest.

[redacted] took this to heart, and later that day she was repeatedly heard to exclaim, "Gavvy [Gavroche's nickname], no fights, and no bites!"

Seeing [redacted] and my two cats become acquainted with each other has been a very interesting experience. EB and [redacted] have a dog named Beazy and used to have a cat, originally EB's husband Todd's cat, named Firenze, but like [redacted]'s daddy, her kitty cat passed away when she was a baby. She once told me that she hopes they can get another kitty some day. I smiled at this.

My cats, on the other hand, had no prior experience with a child of [redacted]'s age.

(Above: Eponine. Below: Gavroche. Both these pictures were taken less than an hour after Mitters passed away. I was in a very sentimental mood.)

Eponine is one of the nicest and most sociable cats I have ever known, and as far as I can remember has always wanted to be friends with every person she has met. But she had never before met a wild four-year-old. On [redacted]'s first visit to Cleveland, [redacted] very quickly and enthusiastically approached Eponine - and Eponine was terrified. For the whole rest of that weekend, Eponine acted nothing like her normal self. All cats have their typical spots where they like to hang out. That weekend, Eponine mostly abandoned her normal spots, instead opting for other locations that would decrease her visibility.

Gavvy, on the other hand, knows little fear. The little guy reacted in a quite different way to being startled. I came home from work on that first Friday to hear that Gavvy had bitten [redacted]. I asked if [redacted] had done anything before he bit her, to which she answered no. EB, on the other hand, explained that [redacted] had sat down next to Gavvy and had then, inadvertently but quite suddenly, brushed against him, to which Gavvy had reacted by swiping at [redacted]. (It was a scratch, not a bite, EB believed - and only a very minor scratch; fortunately I had trimmed Gavvy's claws the day before.)

We explained to [redacted] that kitty cats should be handled with care - even friendly cats like Eponine and Gavvy don't like it if you approach them in a sudden and unpredictable manner.

By the end of that first weekend, [redacted] had improved in her behavior around the cats. Eponine was still quite frightened of this strange new creature who had invaded her domain, but she quickly got over it after EB and [redacted]'s departure.

On [redacted]'s just concluded second visit to Cleveland, things between her and the cats went much, much better. As EB and I like to say, "Like sea slugs, we are capable of learning." ("We," in this case, could refer to both humans and felines.) [redacted] knew to approach the cats slowly and purposefully rather than rapidly and unpredictably. This time around, Eponine showed no signs of the terror she had expressed two weeks ago. She even let [redacted] pet her with no other humans in the immediate vicinity, and clearly enjoyed it. [redacted] was quite proud of her accomplishment.

While Eponine's fear of [redacted] mostly disappeared, [redacted]'s fear of Gavvy was still present, but she's learning how to behave around the little fellow to avoid his scratches (none of which occurred this time, although there were several times [redacted] thought Gavvy was about to scratch her), and even called Gavvy a "sweet kitty" (echoing EB's description) when I held Gavvy and let [redacted] give him a goodbye pet.

Amusingly, [redacted] seems to default to thinking of cats as girls, and despite our many, many corrections, still usually refers to Gavvy with feminine pronouns.

Another amusing incident occurred the other day when I, from another room, heard a frightened shriek from [redacted] and quickly entered the dining room to investigate. [redacted] and Gavvy were standing a few feet apart from each other in a little standoff. But [redacted]'s fear quickly turned to excitement. "Gavvy jumped at me like a hero!" she exclaimed, laughing. And after this, [redacted] decided she wanted to be like Gavvy and "jump like a hero" herself. For the rest of the visit, she performed many such "hero jumps" (which to her meant jumping off of a chair to the floor) herself.

What a sweet, sweet girl. Perhaps some day in the future I'll try to explain to her how much it meant to me when she brought up that story about Cara and then imitated Cara's spoken instructions to a cat. [redacted] is definitely wise beyond her years. I think even now she'd have some capacity for understanding the importance, but I'll wait. I'm sure it's a memory that will always stick with me.

And now a few more adorable stories about [redacted] from this visit that aren't related to cats but are very much worth sharing.

The three of us went to the Stone Oven bakery near my house most days of the visit. [redacted] has developed a thing for the bakery's dinosaur cookies. On one morning she said that she wanted a green dinosaur cookie and told the girl behind the counter this, but then said she had changed her mind and actually wanted a yellow dinosaur cookie. On the walk back to my house [redacted] explained her reasoning. "I remembered that yellow used to be one of my favorite colors, so I thought I'd like to have that cookie." Apparently four-year-olds can be influenced by feelings of nostalgia!

At the farmer's market, on a wet morning following a night of heavy rainfall, [redacted] discovered that she enjoyed standing under trees and shaking low hanging branches to give herself little "showers." She'd stand under a tree for several minutes doing this until EB told her it was time to move on, after which [redacted] would tell us she had to go find the next shower. Her hair was quite wet by the end of our visit to the market. [redacted] provided a great deal of entertainment to several of the market vendors that morning.

On Saturday night we had my friend Jessiye over for dinner, as well as a delicious holiday-themed blueberry pie that [redacted] helped me make using fresh berries from the market.

After dinner EB and Jessiye were talking and [redacted] and I were coloring with crayons. [redacted] decided that we were going to draw dinosaurs and frogs, so we did. After completing some drawings, I remarked (very truthfully) that I was much better at drawing dinosaurs than I was at drawing frogs.

"Am I much better at drawing frogs than drawing dinosaurs?" [redacted] asked.

"It looks like you're pretty good at both," I replied.

[redacted] pondered this for a moment, then produced a priceless response. "I'm good at things."

No argument here!

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