One of the biggest liabilities to having a packrat memory is having a realistic assessment of your own accomplishments and achievements. This is one of the biggest reasons why the Czarina and I don’t have any kids of our own, and prefer to adopt others for Halloween and Christmas. (Let me tell you: the best thing about our adoptive daughter Jenny is that we adopted her when she was 25. School’s already finished, she already had her own job and her own place, and we didn’t need to give her The Talk.) Namely, I remember all too well what I was like when I was a kid. I wasn’t a leather-jacket- and motorcycle-boot-wearing monstrosity until my early twenties, because I understood the value of the statute of limitations. Heck, I pulled stunts back in high school so secretively that I still can’t talk about them, but let’s just say that I’m quietly glad that the demolition of that high school removed most of the best evidence. If you see a little aluminum box in the wreckage of the newspaper staffroom, about so long by yea wide, just call the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. NOW.
The Czarina feels the same way, even though she wasn’t the sort to get into trouble in high school. In fact, we regularly joke that we should be glad we didn’t meet back then, because they tell jokes about that sort of spectacle. “Susan Foreman and Herbert West, sitting in a tree,” and comments along that line. My mother-in-law used to tell the Czarina, only half-jokingly, “I hope you have kids just like you.” Combine the two of us, and I dare anybody to say that without screaming.
Well, we figured that we’d bypassed that. Who knew that it still applied to one’s cats?
Here’s the situation. We’ve introduced previous readers to Cadigan, the newest member of the household. She’s about seven months old, which is the feline equivalent of mid-adolescence. For a cat, she carries an impressively human amount of teenage angst and rebellion, to where I expect to come home to find her with a purple Mohawk. Naturally, since the Czarina is home much more than I am, this means that I’m the Good Guy, who brings home treats and the occasional bit of chicken. This also means that all of her dominance displays and all of her subversive behavior aim right at the Czarina. She’s going to lose in any pack quarrel, but she hasn’t quite realized it yet.
It started with the Czarina’s bathtub. We can both attest that the secret to married bliss is having separate bathrooms if at all possible, with hers in the bedroom and mine on the other side of the house. This works extremely well on weekdays when I have to get up much earlier than she does, and the cats only harangue me in there when they’re particularly worried about something. A few rumbles of thunder, and Leiber tries to climb into the shower. Therefore, it was rather surprising to see Cadigan rush out of the Czarina’s bathroom in a furtive manner, and even more surprising to hear the Czarina’s scream of rage.
“PAUL! Come here! Did you see what your daughter did in here?”
I looked inside, and wished I hadn’t. “Well, either she mistook the bathtub for the litterbox, or someone dumped a dead copperhead in here.”
Now was NOT the time to bring up the first thing that came to mind, which involved the John Waters movie Pink Flamingos. In fact, to avoid judicious application of the Elbows of Doom, I wasn’t going to bring up John Waters at all. We went out into the living room, and there was the cat, perched on the back of a chair, with a very self-satisfied expression on her face. I should hope so: she’d managed to lose about four pounds just thirty seconds before, and she only weighs two.
That’s when I realized that when faced with disciplinary issues involving children, human or otherwise, we both default to the lessons taught to us by our parents. The Czarina started lecturing the cat, who was about as threatened by this as being grounded for a month. Me, I suddenly understood why my father was on so many business trips during my high school years. I no longer had worries about Cadigan getting a Mohawk. She was going straight to “sneaking off and getting married in Vegas to a guy she met on the bus” territory.
And the dominance battles continued. Another massive dump in the bathtub, and another. This wasn’t a matter of a potential health issue: I was rather familiar with similar expressions of displeasure (having become quite good at doing them in double-parked convertibles that blocked in friends’ cars back in the late Eighties), so it was a matter of finding the issue and fixing it. Cadigan wasn’t angry at me: she was angry at the Czarina, so I had to be the good cop.
“Now, Cadigan, your mother is halfway to getting an ice cream scoop and turning you into a Davy Crockett cap. Do you REALLY want that?”
“Shut up! She’s not my real mother!”
“What are you going to do: ground me?”
“I’m serious, young lady. I’ll give you a bath if I have to.”
“You should be glad you got me fixed already! I could come home with KITTENS!”
That went over about as well as can be expected. After she learned that she actually got punished for her exploits in the bathtub, she learned that the best way to get our collective goat farm was to jump onto the kitchen table and skip off as soon as we noticed. Yeah, about as subtle as a ball-peen hammer, that one. It’s minor, but it gets just the right response, and it’s rapidly become the feline equivalent of playing with matches or stealing my credit card to buy new ringtones.
We aren’t helped at all by the realization that we haven’t dealt with a kitten in the house in a solid decade, and Leiber wasn’t rebellious. In fact, he was so neurotic that he spent his nights meeping until someone yelled “SHUT UP, CAT!”, in which case he knew we hadn’t abandoned him. These days, he sticks to his new role as the elder statesman, mostly by climbing onto the couch and giving his most disapproving expressions to the new interloper. That’s when I remind him “Go ahead and laugh, cat. I have permission to get that crocodile monitor after all.”
And won’t that be fun? Speaking from experience, the lizard wouldn’t waste its time with the bathtub. He’d go straight for the dishwasher.