Monday, March 18, 2013

Nine Lives Well Spent

Prickly, unfriendly, antisocial. These are all words that have been used to describe me. They are also the same words used to describe my cat. In addition to the standard pre-leaving the house body check for snot, vomit, poop and stickers I also had to check for cat hair.

I’ve always liked cats better than dogs. I’ve always found dogs too needy. Always wanting pet or running to meet you at the door. I’ve always liked my pets the way I liked my women when I was in College, standoffish, untouchable, uncommunicative and as a result obviously gay.

Forget purse dogs, backpack cats is where it's at brother.

Smudgie, or as family and friends nicknamed him, “Devil Cat” was totally unfriendly to adults. He would hiss and claw at anyone tall enough to ride the Scooby Doo Ghoster Coaster, whether they were coming by while we were out of town to feed him or deliver our baby (for those confused, we were home when the baby was delivered, mainly because she was sent C.O.D.). The latter resulted in his first night out of the house ever.

"They won't even see me until I am upon their heads!"

However to kids he was tolerant. I wouldn’t go so far to say he was good, nice or fun, but tolerant. The girls loved him. We got him before we had kids and probably took him from his mother a little too early. I’m pretty sure I never saw him properly clean himself, but instead would lick his chest hair twice and decide it was good enough, like a newly divorced man washing his underwear with Lysol.

Now in travel size for the man on the go.

He would look for body heat wherever possible and lay on our faces while we slept or snuggle with one of the children. I’m still pretty sure he was trying to smother the adults. “Without them I can dress in their clothes and hit the pet food store. I am so jonesing for a hit of the nip!”

"Am I high, or is a tiny octopus attacking me?"
Having a cat with small children is a great thing. When my oldest was a baby she would throw herself into a fit similar to Tasmanian Devil. For some reason the sight of Smudgie would calm her right down. Our youngest got so excited by the sight of him she would tremble and squeal. This of course made the cat run away in fright.

"They get even warmer when they are angry."

Cats also teach children how to touch gently. One nip or swat from the cat was enough to let them know that not everyone wants a feather boa tied around their waist. This is a lesson that will also serve them well in adulthood.

"I will not sleep until the mission is complete."

Though the cat tolerated the kids, I think he was annoyed that he had moved from the number one position to number three in the past five years. He was a very smart and diabolical revenge seeker. He decided the litter box was beneath him (not literally, because it wouldn’t have been a problem if it was) and started pissing in front of the washing machine. The only carpeted area in the house that I have to kneel on, ensuring my knees smell of cat urine, but is just far enough away from my nose that I search the house for the puddle. We will never again buy a front loader, I’ll tell you that!

Sharp eyed readers will have by now noticed that the cat is mentioned only in the past tense. If you didn’t notice, go back and read it again, but this time in a German accent. It will become clear. Sadly, Smudgie went to the big front loader in the sky last Monday. With his rebellious nature and floor peeing we started letting him out of the house. It was win-win. He was happier getting outside and we were stepping in less bodily fluids around the house. I still have two children, so I say “less”. The front and back yard however were not too happy. It appeared that the cat never left our property. That’s why is was such a shock when a neighbor came to the door to tell me the cat had been struck by a car and was dead.

"Together my Friend we will have our freedom."

Thankfully this was late in the evening after the girls had gone to bed so they didn’t have to witness it. Worrying about his nemesis, the raccoon, being able to say they won the battle, I placed his body in a cooler and placed him in the shed weighted down by power tools. You know because of the raccoons, not because I was afraid of a kitty zombie.

The other benefit to when this happened was it gave my wife and I the night to game plan on how to tell my eldest daughter. We very carefully planned what to say and when to say it. I was to take the cat to the vet while she ate breakfast and then tell her afterwards. As the saying goes, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Because mice are such great planners. I can’t even count how many times have I found tiny day-planners in our cupboards. Anyway in the morning while she was just waking up I mentioned I was having trouble reaching the vet. She’s a smart kid, we had to tell her then.

Kitty likes retro gaming.

She cried heartbroken tears, as did we. No matter how tough sounding my wife and I were when discussing that cat, we loved him. We cried for fifteen minutes straight, and then my daughter wiped her tears away and asked, “Can we get a hamster now?”

Later in the day she would speak to her friend on the phone about what happened, and in her mind the whole thing went down like this. “I think it was two cars that banged together. One bad guy going the wrong way and a good guy going the right way that banged together. Smudgie thought he was an ambulance cat and tried to stop them, thinking he could talk like us, but he forgot he can’t talk. He ran at them and meowed. Then he was dead.”

We decided it would be best that we all walk down to the vet with the cat so we could have a chance to say goodbye and have some closure. My daughter wanted to see him, but I couldn’t let that happen. So I told her no, because he didn’t look good. She wanted details. I refused. I explained that we wanted to remember him how he looked yesterday when he was alive. Thankfully that worked.

We walked down the street dragging this cooler behind us, hoping that neighbors wouldn’t come out and ask where we were going to have a picnic. My social network genius wife had posted about it before we left the house. Thankfully my neighbors are addicted to Facebook so no one asked.

The cooler was loud, so my wife asked me to carry the cooler, rather than drag is on it’s plastic wheels. The cat was no a fit cat, so his weight and the cooler was heavy. I had to stop every half block to rest my arms. Finally we decided the noise was better than my being laid up with a wrenched back. Our sad funeral procession made our way to the vet office, where we took turns placing our hands on the lid of the cooler and saying goodbye. To the cat, not the cooler.

We are trying not to dwell on thinking of how he died, but instead how we loved him. My daughter said it best, “Yesterday he was alive and funner than now.”

Good kitty

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Water Logged

Years ago, when I was a young man with a mane of golden wavy locks on either side of my head (I had male pattern baldness early in life), I taught an after school acting class to small children at a French Immersion Catholic school. After a long day of being forced to talk in a language not their own about the seemingly impossible magic that is the Christian religion (spoiler alert: it is impossible), children are not at their most attentive. This is why I have a lot of respect for teachers of these types of programs. They see the children once a week for an hour, which is not enough time to get to know how to teach each kid to their own individual level, or figure out a way to mock them without it getting back to the parents.

Mock: My favourite pastime and food

I recall one time I asked a little girl, likely in grade one or two, what else she did after school. The kid broke out a day-timer and started rhyming off what she did each day. Between tennis, horseback riding, acting and painting there wasn’t a spare day. There were even a few days with multiple activities. I was horrified. I asked the kid when she had time to play, to be a kid.

My eyes are playing hide-and-seek with my brain right now

I was a stupid single man with no children back them. Now I know what her parents were thinking. “I need a break”. Children are tiring and because we live in a country that discourages under-aged employment we have to find extra curricular activities to get them out of our faces for an hour.

"Guys, lets get going! The way you are working we'll only be called a perspiration shop."

With this in mind, tomorrow is the dreaded registration for city programming in Toronto. For the last three days parents have had the cold sweats, and planned on who would be manning the phones, staying sober and who would be keeping the children at bay. If nothing else we need to get our oldest into swimming.

I come from a line of people who grew up and worked on the Rideau Canal. My Grandfather and Uncle were lockmasters. I wish that meant I came from a line of sexy cat buglers stealing diamonds in the middle of the night. Actually they let boats in and out of the canal. Suffice to say you would think that my family would be great swimmers and love the water. That is not the case. Knowing everything there is to know about undertow and freak water flow does not make one very excited about swimming. We fear the water and would be happier being where we can touch bottom at any time (so long as there are no yucky seaweed down there- blech!).
It's like underwater salad. And like surface salad kids don't want to touch it.

Also, I am a sinker. If I stop treading water for even a second, down I go to the depths of the sea. This makes it difficult to swim with two children. Children think it’s the best to crawl on you while in the water. Little do they know it means certain death. So whenever swimming with my kids in the lake I wear a life jacket to keep me above water. This makes me look and feel like an idiot. Believe me, as a teenager I wore a t-shirt swimming so I know how to look ridiculous.

When my oldest was nearly two we took great pains to teach her to enjoy the water so that she wouldn’t be a victim to my family history.  This was a year where the temperature rarely went above about 18 degrees Celsius so my wife and I would try to smile as our bathing suit areas were submerged in the icy cold water. “L-l-l-l-l-look h-h-h-h-ow m-m-much fun this i-i-i-i-is!” we would shout at her. She would have none of it.

Then this happened:

 That was a set back.

Somehow we managed to convince her that swimming was fun. We spend a lot of time at my wife’s family cottage, where everyone has worked as a lifeguard or swimming instructor (except me, see the comment about wearing a shirt swimming), so being able to swim is extremely important.

That’s why every week I schlep the kids 10 blocks to a city recreation center. This particular center does not have a family change room. The first time I was there I was going to take them into the mens changing area as I figure having two small girls in there is better than having me in the women’s changing room with a ton of small girls and their mothers. I was about to walk in when another father looked at me and said, “You aren’t going to take them in there are you? You should take them into the mens washroom, where it’s more private. I decided to go for this option only to find that I had the girls getting dressed next to a toilet that badly needed a flush on a floor that also badly needed flushed.

It was somewhere between Dumb and Dumber and Trainspotting.

From that point on I took the girls into the men’s room, which for some reason was always occupied by old Asian men. Though I tucked the girls away in the handicapped stall where there were a few walls to separate them from the larger change room, the old Asian men refused to get dressed while the girls where there. Instead they sat fully dressed, or in their swimsuits staring at the floor until we left. It gave me the same anxiety that the grocery store does since they all moved to self bagging.

No the next guys food is about to touch mine! Hurry hurry hurry!

On those times when someone does decide to get changed in the company of my kids I would catch the oldest staring at them. I know it’s not out of anything more than she is bored and procrastinating on getting herself dressed, but it is fun to shout out, “Quit judging that man’s junk! It’s not his fault it’s cold out!”

I also quickly found out I am completely biased when it comes to the swimming instructors. One the first class I walked in and a middle aged heavy set man with glasses greeted me. I was sure this had to be an administrator or an accountant or something. Swimming instructors are supposed to be emotionless teens with necklaces made of twine and beads, not hairy backed dudes. Turns out he was an instructor, but not ours. We had the bored looking teen with Bieber hair who looked at the clock more than at my kid, instead of the heavy guy who seems both excited to teach and was engaged with the children. So you know, we dodged a bullet there.

No less than four times over a nine week session have we made our way to the recreation centre to find that class was cancelled. Begin old man rant: In this day and age I don’t understand why an email or phone call can’t be made to those people expecting to have a class that day to tell them it’s not on. We don’t own a car (still better than you) so that 10 block trip is actually pretty significant. A heads up could save us over an hour of prep and travel time.

The one cancellation I don’t feel badly about is when there was a pool fouling. That’s lifeguard speak for “someone shat the pool”.  Without any grumbling we changed back into out regular clothes and went home. Later, from a friend that swims regularly at that pool, I was notified that they were still fishing out full pieces of broccoli hours later.

Someone's digestive track is seriously fucked up.