Category Archives: Family matters

In which we discuss matters of the family.


I am grieving.

I am grieving, but I am hesitant to say it aloud because it feels somehow wrong and small and silly to grieve for a cat.

But she wasn’t just a cat. She was my constant and my comfort. She was waiting at home 14 years ago when our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. She was waiting at home 12 years ago when we brought our first baby home. She always knew which one of us needed her, be it because we were sick or sad or just a little bit cold. And she was always there.

I wanted her to be the Oldest Cat Ever, but it wasn’t in the cards for her. We’ve known for a few months that she was in her final days. We took her to the vet after a sudden and dramatic weight gain, and we learned that she had advanced heart disease. We could try to treat it, the vet said, but the medication would hurt her already-struggling kidneys.

She was a strange, funny little cat. She was the runt of the litter, and she chose us. She loved to be carried, and she liked it when we danced around the living room with her. She always wanted to be where her people were, even if it meant being dressed in Santa suits, doll dresses or cowboy hats. She never met a person she didn’t like, and she adored every member of our household.

I thought I was ready. She was always a communicative cat, and she let me know she was ready to go on Saturday morning. I was not ready. I carried her to my bed and woke the kids up, and we gathered around her and thanked her and told her we loved her. Then we took her to the vet and said goodbye. It was peaceful, and it was horrible. I was not ready. I would never have been ready.

I’ve been struggling a lot this week. I cried when I put some ice cubes in my cup, because she wasn’t there to remind me that she too would like some ice cubes in her water. I cried when I walked past her spot on the couch and absentmindedly reached out to scratch her head. I cried when I drove past the vet’s office and when I cleared away her litter box and when I heard a sad song on the radio.

Marsha T. Cat was the finest of felines. I am so grateful to have had her in my life, and I am heartbroken that she’s gone. She was 16 years old, and she was beloved for each and every one of those years. I hope she knew it.

On Joy and Sorrow
“The Prophet”

by Khalil Gibran

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.
When the reassure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Baby’s first existential crisis

The author as a young philosopher, probably 1982.
When I was very, very small, my family lived in what felt like a big, rambling house out in the country. The house was on a corner. Across one street there was a sugar beet field, and across the other was a little corner store where my mom worked for a while.

In the back yard there was a swing set that had an exhilarating tilt when you were too enthusiastic on the swings and an expansive garden where the sunflowers towered above my head and I ate my first bite of raw garlic. There was a playhouse on the other side of the garden, and that’s where my cat Rainbow had her kittens. A small boy ran screaming “Creatures! There are creatures in there!” when he discovered them. I don’t remember who the small boy was or why he was in my playhouse.

Across the garden was my best friend’s house, and the neighbor on the other side had raised boxes in his side yard where he raised snapping turtles. They were terrifying and thus magnetic. My first school was just down the street. My best friend and I once ventured into the fields beyond the school and found a huge beaver dam that we revisited again and again until the deep snows kept us away.

There wasn’t a garage on the property when my parents first bought the house, but my dad wanted one. So he and his brothers built one because that’s the kind of thing they did back then. I remember the day the concrete was poured. My dad held me at an awkward angle and I hovered over wet concrete and pressed my hand into the corner. Someone — probably my mom — carved my name and the date next to it.

Later, after the concrete was dry and the walls were up and the doors were installed and shelves lined the walls, my dad was working on something in the garage and I was in there with him, not being particularly helpful. I don’t know what I was planning, but it involved climbing the metal shelves against the wall. They sat in the corner above my handprint, and they were one million feet tall. Dad worked, and I climbed. I reached the top and cut my hand on a sharp edge.

It hurt, but not enough to make me cry. But then I looked at the small wound, and I was mortified.

I’m not sure where I got the impression that the inside of a people was roughly the color, texture and density of bologna — which is probably why I have never been able to eat bologna — but I was mortified to discover that the inside of my hand was decidedly un-bolognaish.

I wailed, and I launched myself from the top of those metal shelves. My dad stopped what he was doing and came to help. I’m pretty sure he thought I was overreacting, but that’s just because he thought I was crying about a cut when actually I was enduring my first deep existential crisis.

If we weren’t all bologna, what of my other assumptions were wrong?

A lot of them, as it turned out. A few years later my mom packed my baby brother and I up and moved us back to her childhood home. She sold my playhouse to one of her friends, and quite a long time later my dad sold the house altogether.

I drove past the house a few years ago, and it looked exactly like and not at all like I’d remembered it. The tree I rode my Big Wheel around was still in the front yard, and the turtle boxes next door were still there. The swing set was gone, though, and the rough pink-and-grey siding was gone.

I’ll bet my handprint and my name are still in the corner of the garage, though. I’d like to go inside and look at it some day.

How Pete sailed into our lives

I was freshly 29 years old a decade ago, and I was heavily under the influence of anesthesia. Little 2-years-and-3-months-old Poppy was waiting at home with her doting grandparents, and Rockford and I had gotten up in the wee hours of the morn and driven over to the hospital to greet our little gentleman, Pete.

We’d only moved to the area two months earlier, so my original birth plan — which included midwifery, rainbows and a harpist playing gentle, lilting tunes in the corner1)only 2/3 of these were part of the plan — was out the window. I had to scramble to find a practice that would even see an 8-months-pregnant human person. The doctor I ended up with told me a lot about his plans for the weekend when I saw him, and after Pete was born he gave me what turned out to be awful advice for my personal self.

But he delivered unto us our Pete, so he’ll always hold an appreciative but complicated place in my heart.

Anywho, it was November 7, 2007, and we were at the hospital for a scheduled C-section. We twiddled our thumbs in the waiting room for an eternity, and then they whisked us back for Go Time.

“Do you have a playlist you’d like to hear?” a nurse asked.

“A what?!?!” Rockford asked, astounded and miffed. “You didn’t tell me we could have a playlist!”

“I’M SORRY THAT SLIPPED MY MIND,” I said calmly and lovingly.

“Here’s my iPod,” the nurse said. “Is there anything you’d like to hear?”

“Do you have anything from the ’70s?” Rockford asked.

“Sure,” she said, and she pushed the Play All My ’70s Songs button.

The anesthesiologist didn’t believe me when I told him that he wasn’t going to need to give me as much of whatever he was dishing out as his charts and PhDs and what-have-you told him, so he went ahead and followed his heart and then suddenly I couldn’t feel my lungs anymore. So they flipped me hither and yon and gave me some oxygen until things were A-OK again, and then we went trit-trotting along our merry way to Babytown yet again.

Rockford didn’t notice when “Come Sail Away” started to play. Nor did he notice when the song when it hit its crescendo just as Pete’s tiny head — and he did have a very tiny head — crested my splayed-open abdomen and entered the world. He didn’t notice it at all; I had to tell him later that the world’s most ridiculous song had ushered our child into the world.

As soon as Pete was out and uttered his first cries, Dr. Weekender held him skyward as Styx declared “We climbed aboard the starship and headed for the skies” and the doctor said “Boy, someone hasn’t missed a meal!”

“Hey,” said I. “I’m in a very vulnerable position here and that’s a really inappropriate thing to say.”

And Dr. Weekender apologized to me for that at every appointment for the next two years, even thought I assured him every time that I knew he was talking about Li’l Petey and that I was making a hilarious joke.

Pete, meanwhile, was perfect and tiny and one of the greatest things I’d ever seen. His sister came to meet him later that day and said “No Baby Pete” when we asked if she wanted to hold him, and then she threw up on the way back to the car because she had, unbeknownst to us, a raging ear infection.

A few days later we took him home, and he was the most easy-going, cheerful newborn on the face of this planet or any other. He stayed that way for quite awhile, too. He slept through the night when he was just over a month old, and he’d eat just about anything we offered him, and he smiled with his entire being every time he saw his sister.

Today he’s 10. He almost always sleeps through the night still, and he’ll still try most anything we offer him. Except mashed potatoes and sushi. He hates those. He’s funny and bright and determined and brave, and he’s still one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.

Happy birthday, Petey. I can’t imagine my life without you.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. only 2/3 of these were part of the plan