Anticipating A Mac Attack

The relationship that a person has with Cats is as mystical and mysterious as they are. Dogs however, live to please and have you at “woof”. It’s common knowledge that Cats are natural born hedonists and for that reason alone, it makes them less popular. Sure, they will seek to charm you with their antics and take some pleasure in putting on a show, but even then, they have to be in the mood and the feedback they get from you needs to be something that they find rewarding.

After my daughter and her husband became Dog people, one of the Cats they had, Jake, just could not adapt the way that their other Cat, Peanut did. He hid under the bed and lived in fear which was very sad because Jake was a burly brute, twenty one pounds of black and gray tabby. He was also what’s known as a  Hemmingway or polydactyl, with seven toes on each foot which made him look even larger. To see this gentle giant cower in fear was too much for me to take so I convinced my daughter to let Jake live with ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’.

The move was confusing to Jake, and although he had shared our home when our daughter was on Summer break from college when she first acquired him, it was all strange to him. Trying to blend in with our four Cats was also difficult. Micro was the only male and the three females had roles that consisted of Isis the Queen, Rhiannon the Princess, and Astarte the Duchess. Micro was definitely the court jester and he was fine with that, until he needed to confirm his masculinity. A few slaps to the head made him think that his appointed position was quite acceptable.

Jake was slow to come to grips with the fact that his parents were not going to take him back to what was familiar, though unpleasant, and the transition was hard on him. He obviously was not going to dethrone the monarchs and he had too much dignity to juggle balls for tuna. He kept his distance from the ladies, and reestablished his relationship with Micro, though the two had been apart since our daughter returned to school and took Jake with her.

I remember it so well and think of it often, even though Jake crossed the rainbow bridge about 4 years ago. I was sitting on the sofa and Jake was sitting on the floor about ten feet away. I looked at him and he looked at me, but this time when our eyes met they seemed to lock onto something that up until then, had been separated by invisible distance. Suddenly, he got up, jumped up onto the sofa and enfolded himself in my arms. His purr was as deep as what he was feeling and was so strong that he made a chirping sound between the rumbling, resonant tones. In that moment he totally accepted his new home, and me.

You have to earn a Cat’s affection. It’s not done with food, toys, or constant petting. It develops with a blend of love and trust that builds just like the bonding relationships that grow with others of our own species. Maybe that’s why people who dislike Cats find them to be distasteful. For one thing, those people see a distinct separation between animals and humans and for that reason, feel that they should have the upper hand. Dogs are fine with this and except for the instances of having their owners having to establish themselves as ‘alpha’ to keep them under their control, they find their place in the pack and contentment within it. That bond is not something they have to work for like a person has to do with Cats. No one successfully ‘masters’ a Cat. If a person needs to be the one in control and dominate when it comes to an animal companion, then a Cat is not for them. It will be a relationship fraught with contempt and aggravation. If the idea of sharing your life with a smaller, domesticated Lion or Tiger still appeals to you and you don’t want to deal with the behaviors and mindset that are part of the equation, best get a virtual version on the internet.

There are different aspects of the relationship so it depends on what an individual wants from a Cat, be it free spirited side-kick, rarely seen roommate, or doorstop. I prefer the symbiotic relationship that occurs on their terms. It’s so much more rewarding. I don’t ‘have’ my Cats, as in ‘own’ them. They are my companions, confidants, and equals. They are family. They are independent enough to not ‘need’ me, they ‘want’ me.

Last year over Labor Day weekend we adopted Hmandu…yes, as in Kathmandu. It just seemed as if the grief over losing Micro had softened enough to want to fill the space that he had left. I chose his name because he looked rather exotic with his Bengal markings, and he had a spiritual countenance about him. However, the more comfortable he got with his new home the more curious, adventurous and raucous he became. The little guru went juvenile delinquent and began to test my patience as well as that of the former Princess, now Queen Rhiannon, and Astarte, still the regal, long haired, blue eyed Duchess.

Hmandu is a teenager now, and would take dad’s little red sports car if he had Jake’s ‘thumbs’. I wanted another polydactyl like Jake had been, but Hmandu has the skills to crack safes without the extra ‘fingers’. That being said, he is bored with the ‘ladies who nap’ and they’re tired of his attempts at making them forget they’re fifteen and seventeen years old. So, we contacted the rescue that we adopted him from in search of a playmate.

There was a polydactyl female, but she was a year old and I was concerned that there would be turmoil in the castle. However, after we met her, I fell in love. She was gorgeous and had a sweet and quiet temperament so I knew that there would not be a plan to overthrow the Queen. However, we still needed a Kitten who could keep up with Hmandu and one of the new arrivals to the foster home was all that and a bag of Catnip. He and his brother took turns climbing us like trees, snuggling and purring like little jet engines. Obviously, they knew how this game is played.

My husband gave me that look when one of the boys, Macaroni, clung to him with all fours. He’s the same shade of tan that Micro was so this little weasel was clearly fighting dirty. Brother, Mick, circumnavigated my head and wound himself around my neck like a toffee colored fur scarf. Clearly, we were about to adopt two, the female polydactyl, Millie and Macaroni.

Millie had to be spayed and we were to officially adopt and bring her home the day after. However, there was an illness among the new Kittens and the foster mom wanted to put Millie on medication too so the date was postponed for a few days. Then I received an email that Millie was having trouble breathing. This was followed by another email that she had pneumonia and had to be taken to an emergency vet for oxygen therapy. I kept a vigil by my computer as the foster mom kept me updated on her progress. Hope and plans to still share our home with her ended with a phone call that brought the news that Millie had passed away in the oxygen chamber.

The grief was not lessened by the fact that we had not spent more than a few minutes with her. In my mind we were ‘family’. I was going to change her name to Skye, Celtic and lovely, and I wanted nothing more than to shower her with love and adoration and make a forever home for her that would more than make up for her lonely disjointed life thus far. It was not to be and it was so hard to understand why and what had happened  to a seemingly healthy one year old Cat.

Macaroni, aka Mac, is big enough for his surgery now and will be getting ‘fixed’ this coming week. We will officially have the honor of giving him a forever home a week from today. We inquired about brother, Mick, but he got adopted last week. There is part of me that still morns the loss of his new ‘sister’ and that will shade the event slightly, but I’m sure the excitement of welcoming the new baby and watching the interaction between the ladies and Hmandu will make this a happy event.

Hmandu is getting tired of promises of a playmate and sits by the door with anticipation in his eyes only to have us come in with groceries instead of his brother.  The ladies, on the other hand, are enjoying the peace before the storm. Interrupted naps, teaching him where the back of the line is at the food dish, and the impropriety of chasing the tails of the royals will be the norm until little Mac finds his niche in the pride.

And we will, once again, find that there are hiding places in this house that we never anticipated. Closets and cabinets will need to be checked before closing doors and the clothes dryer fully inspected before hitting the button. The food dish will empty faster and the litter boxes will need scooping more often. And I will lose my heart, once again.

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Stop, Love, and Listen

Recently, I had the occasion to be upset. I mean really upset. Under the same circumstances, if someone else had a similar experience and shared it with me, it would be my natural inclination to encourage them to move past it. You see, I am a mentor and motivator so the aspect of allowing the pain to linger is not something I ordinarily would foster.

However, when a friend called me after the event that both shocked and hurt me, I was in no position to follow what would usually be my own advice. What I did need was to be allowed to grieve and heal in my own time. To some, the situation could have been trivial, since it involved the destruction of a beloved object as opposed to the loss of a life, but it was an heirloom that cannot be replaced. I am searching for something similar, now that I have moved past the pain of the reality that the original is gone. It represented memories of the celebrations that had my mother getting it out of the china hutch and using it because she always felt that precious things were meant to be used and to be enjoyed, even if only for special occasions.

Often, when a person is in emotional pain, we are at a loss as to how we can help. It’s an uncomfortable situation because even though we can try to empathize, we cannot feel the depth of the emotions involved. The desire to distance ourselves from those emotions can have us reacting in a way that does more to maintain our own comfort level than to support the person who is hurting. We say the expected words and make the acceptable gestures, but after that, we just want to separate ourselves from the awkward attempt to fix the irreparably broken.

Don’t even think about telling someone that you feel that they are overreacting. Rating some one else’s level of pain and passing judgment as to how you think they should be dealing with it makes you totally unworthy of the honor of having someone trust you enough to share it with you.

How does a person help someone transition from the place of pain to the land of hope and not risk appearing to diminish what they’re feeling? To be ready to once again pursue their dreams, reset goals, and move past the desperation and temptation to quit. Having been through this on many occasions, for many different reasons, I have come to see that allowing a person to grieve is a necessary part of the healing process. This can’t be hurried, buried, or injected with guilt. Neither can it be eliminated by some over zealous motivator attempting to verbally drag someone up by their bootstraps, shove them back in the saddle and slap the horse on the ass, forcing them to rejoin the race.

Many times, in my effort to be a good ‘coach, I dust off the wounded player, encourage them to get back in the game and shake my pompons from the sidelines. But, I have to keep in mind that sometimes they just want to sit on the bench a while longer and cry. Empathy involves the ability to just shut up and listen to someone, provide a shoulder to cry on, and a hand up when they’re ready to stand. The best way to know what they need is to pay attention to what you needed when you needed it and didn’t get it.

Micro Moments

I was at the front of the store where I worked tagging new merchandise when my husband and daughter walked through the door exchanging sheepish grins and acting as if being followed by the KGB.
“Ok, what are you guys up to”, I asked, recognizing the signs of devious behavior. As if that question was his cue, a furry, tiny, tan head popped out of my daughter’s jacket. The grinning continued back and forth, punctuated by my daughter’s exclaiming, “oops”.
This was the moment when Micro and I first met. I will never forget it…nor him.

We already had a Cat, Isis, who was a major part of our family of three and would indeed, not be amused. She had assumed the role of co-mothering our 13-year-old and saw no reason to add another ‘child’. And what a child he was. When he discovered that fake brick made it easy to scale the walls it added a whole new dimension his skills which included running up the coats hanging on the hall tree and riding it down to the floor when it toppled over. There was no limit to his antics or his energy.

My love for all things furry, feathered or scaly was evident by our array of cages and aquariums in the den. From the Hedgehog, “Edith Prickly” to “Iguana Trump”, the formerly tiny lizard who was now over 2 feet long, we were never hesitant to provide a home for someone who needed one. However, Micro and I bonded in a way that was like super to glue.

He was a talker who had a vocabulary that included chirps, squawks, normal ‘meows’ and calling me ‘ma’ that began as plaintive, quickly escalating to demanding if I even attempted to ignore him. Every one loved ‘Mike’. He had a personality that radiated charm and he never really cared about ‘Cat dignity’ even though Isis tried hard to instil that universal attribute in her young protegé. Laughter at his expense was not only acceptable, but soon became a sound that he loved to hear so he was always inventing new ways to make it happen. Essentially, we had the Queen and the Fool under the same roof.

The roof changed locations a couple of times as did the number of inhabitants under it. The words, “free” and “Kitten” were aimed at my heart like Cupid’s arrow and hit their mark when Rhiannon and Astarte came on board and Jake and Peanut became part of the family when my daughter discovered that she and her husband were ‘Dog people’ so their Cats become our Cats.

Shopping in the Cat food aisle always won me the first place title in the game of ‘how many do you have’ with other “Cat people” discussing what their little divas would or wouldn’t eat. Only once did I lose out to someone who had me beat by one with seven. Show off.

This was where we drew the line and stopped acquiring additions. By now we had built our own home so hiding our ‘stash’ from landlords was no longer an issue but each of us had our niche and it felt purrrfect as it was. When Trump crossed over at the age of 9 from renal failure, we lost the last of our ‘exotic’ family if you don’t count the Koi from the pond.

Looking back now, it amazes me how these little wonders share so much of our lives. When Isis left us, going on 3 years ago it was so hard. She was 21 years old and showed it. It was hard for her to get around and a daily pill for hyperthyroidism was the norm. Then Jake became diabetic and had to be given injections twice a day. He also had IBS that never responded well to anything from special diets to probiotic supplements. He crossed over a year ago at the age of 16.

Micro, however, never missed a beat. He still ran around and jumped, never losing his love of ‘getting high’. My daughter and son-in-law’s visits with the ‘grand-children’ including the towering Great Dane, Duncan sent Micro skyward as he hung out above the kitchen cabinets glowering in the gargoyle position until they left.

It’s almost two weeks ago yet the loss lingers like greedy, hooked fingers tearing bits and pieces out of my attempts to feel ‘normal’. The day began like any other. I burrowed under the covers until Micro’s repetitive renderings of “ma” had me scavenging for slippers that automatically aimed toward the kitchen and the food. The can was popped and its contents were emptied into a dish where the rules changed according to who was there first. Micro had lost weight, but his last visit to the vet indicated that his numbers where great for a Cat that age.

I went down to the lower level to work out in the home gym and Micro ate his breakfast. The first indication that something was wrong was when he appeared to be trying to relieve himself in the hall way. This was out of character for him. Soon he bagan to vomit. My daughter had called for our daily chat before work and I filled her in. By then, I decided I was not going to work and called in. I woke my husband, who called the vet and his job. We could not get him in for 2 hours. Since Micro had never been sick we didn’t think it was anything serious. However, the vomiting continued and he became lethargic. Instead of waiting for our scheduled appointment, I gathered him in a blanket and we headed out for the vet.

Normally, Micro hates riding in the car, but he remained silent on the trip. We were ushered to a cubical and as soon as I placed him on the table he had a seizure. The vet rushed in, listened to the stuff they listen for and announced, “he’s on his way out”. Nothing could be done for  renal failure except an IV and some blood work, but it was not going to help. “Neurologically, he’s already gone”, pronounced the vet as Micro slipped into a coma. After all, he was 22 years old which translated to 105 for you and me and there were no miraculous recoveries waiting in the wings no matter how badly we wanted one. We just never thought of him as old because he never allowed us to.

From that point, the numbness invaded my being and it all unravels in a heap of disbelief and tightly knotted pain. On the trip home, as I held him, he kicked twice and left this incarnation to join Isis and Jake, my heartbeat, the last thing he heard as I embraced him.

We coccooned him in his blanket and placed him on the sofa as if he was sleeping and my husband and I spent the day sobbing and escaping into occasional ‘Cat naps’. Arrangements were made to take him to be cremated the following day after work. Coming home that day was something I dreaded most of all.

Micro was always sitting in the window awaiting my arrival. By the time I parked in the garage and came through the service door, he was right there. It was our ritual. He’d lift his front paws up like a child begging to be picked up so I’d put down my bag, pick him up, gather up my bag and climb the stairs to the kitchen. There was a time he’d turn himself around and perch on my shoulder for the ascent, but perhaps feeling a bit unstable, he began to choose just clinging to the arm I supported him with.

The days passed and I now come home to Astarte assuming the role of official greeter, and I am grateful for that. Yet my eyes fall upon the little paw printed tin can at the base of the fireplace that contains Micro’s ashes and the tears begin to flow. The can next to his contains the remains of Isis, and Jake rests in the Woodland garden in the yard, where I know he would want to be. Micro, Isis and Jake have crossed that Rainbow Bridge of which the legends speak. That rainbow is created by sunshine and tears.

The grief is going through its stages and, true to the pattern, I have good days with random crying jags and the empty echo of denial even though I know it’s true. The guilt was laid to rest by the vet who assured that there was nothing we could have or should have done differently, although I still struggle with would have.  I have this time line based upon his presence running on a loop. Two weeks ago was my last day, week, hour, second of having Micro.

Time, a funny thing that. It seems to pass so easily and quickly, yet there is a thief that sneaks in and grabs increments of it and we barely notice unless it is marked by a memorable event. My daughter was in her second year of junior high when we got Micro. Next month she will be 36. She pointed out to me how ‘heroic’ it was that Micro was 22 years old. That is so rare, she said. He had a very long and very happy life. Was I naive enough to think he’d live forever? Of course not, but I expected there would be signs of his getting ready to leave like Isis and Jake displayed. Not that it made it easier, but it was expected and accepted when they crossed over.

The other day I was thinking about all that Micro was a part of. Our daughter’s wedding to the boy she dated since the time we got Micro, the career changes, the moves, my husband’s heart surgery and the burglary that, upon discovery, had me dashing around the house to make sure that all the Cats were ok and the guy was more interested in stealing our stuff than sadistically harming our Cats. The milestones, tossed over my shoulder, accumulating into a huge pile as I recounted the moments, significant and seemingly not, that Micro shared with us. Then I began to focus instead on all the lessons that he was in our lives to teach us, all the while being patient with students who were too oblivious to notice. This is the Tao of Meow of Micro.

“Be totally unaware of your age. Pay no mind to the ‘rules’ of how you should behave or think or live as dictated by society. Let the years pass seamlessly.”

“Routines should be loved for the beautiful reminders that they are of the assurance that life goes on. Form them and embrace them because they are comfortable. Being comfortable is more important than being excited.”

“If there is something wonderful that has your full attention, whether it be a sight, sound, taste, smell, touch or thought and someone calls your name, ignore them.”

“Experience things as if it’s your first time no matter how often you have been there and done that. Tuna, a toy, or seeing the face of someone you love come into view.”

“Live in a perpetual state of “Oh wow!!!”.

“Be curious about everything all the time. Granted, there will be times when that curiosity will get you into trouble…it is always so worth it”.

“Accept diversity in all things. When others are different it simply confirms the fact that you are special and unique”.

And the most important lesson of all, “Love as if there is no tomorrow. Because there just might not be.”