Kitten See, Kitten Do

A cat teaches me something about parenting.

September 30, 2019 • 3 min read

When I was a kid, we had a kitten named Rab. She was thus called because she was small, fluffy, white, and tail-less – like a rabbit. She was endearing and snuggly and prosh, or at least she was when she wasn’t drinking from the toilet bowl. Even as an adult, she stayed small and roughly spherical. To us, she was still a kitten.

One day, our kitten had kittens. So turns the circle of life. The litter was scrawny and stumbly, and blind enough that they’d attempt to suck milk from the olive green strands of our old shag rug.

As they grew, they got a lot cuter and a little less clumsy. As cute as they were, though, they weren’t the least bit cuddly. You could get one second of snuggle in, perhaps two, before they’d promptly mew and squirm – all they wanted to do was climb and play.

A few weeks into this, very late one night I was woken by a mewing pile of kittens in my bed. A pleasant surprise! As I blearily moved to let Rab lead them under the covers, I discovered that they were distinctly cold, wet, and shivering. Confused but dutiful, I did my best to help her warm them up, and soon fell back asleep.

The next morning, it promptly became clear what had happened. Rab, in her wisdom and stubbornness, had decided to drink from the side of the toilet in the middle the night. The kittens, in their curiosity and adventurousness, jumped up – and directly into – the bowl. Mama then taught them a critical lesson in leeching body heat from an unsuspecting human.

Disgusting, but endearing. Like much of parenting, I suppose.

As a parent, I do my best to teach my daughter well, and to keep her from harm. From time to time though, I slip up. I notice her copying behavior I wish I hadn’t modeled. I get overconfident in her climbing ability and she knocks her tooth on the pavement. Or, most recently, I give in and let her watch a cartoon that’s a little too scary. (Apparently we’re not born with the innate knowledge that “the floor is lava” is not likely to actually occur.)

If there’s a way to totally prevent these transgressions, I don’t know what it is. Nor is that a goal worth having, honestly. Letting kids slip up is a fundamental part of their education.

What’s important is, when that happens, we take care of them. We lead them to warmth, and give them comfort. Even if it’s a little gross.

And with luck, seeing my habits and mannerisms reflected in my child will continue to give me the perspective to better myself. The strength to choose my words thoughtfully, and be the person I’d like her to one day be. To stop drinking from the toilet.

Rab, mind you, she was unstoppable. Still, she was a good mom. You could just tell.

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