My three-year-old daughter Bridget has been blaming all of her problems on Catfish lately, even though he’s her favorite stuffed animal.
He’s a Siamese-looking cat with a fish on his collar. She snuggles up to him every night even though he keeps wetting her bed.
And I was already having a rough day the other day when Bridget walks up to report:
“Really sorry mama, but Catfish pooped your bed…”
I run up to my room to find a bunch of poop circles all over the duvet cover (which of course I’d JUST washed and changed).
I walk into my bathroom to see a three-foot tower of toilet paper exploding from the toilet bowl, leading all the way back to a nearly-naked toilet room on the wall, which was splashed in brown handprints. Dirty crumpled pants were wadded up on the wet floor.
I take a deep breath…
“Bridget,” I say in the most understanding tone I can muster. “I know it was you who pooped my bed, not Catfish.”
“IT WAS CATFISH!”
“Catfish doesn’t poop. Look, I’m really proud that you’re using the potty like a big girl, but you need to tell me because you still need help with…”
“STOP LYING, THAT NOT TRUE!” she screams, stomping away all indignant and mortified.
See, a guy friend of mine once ranted on Facebook about how badly his female coworker’s blatant grabbing of a newspaper before walking into the restroom had shocked him. He said women were delicate creatures whom he needed to picture floating several feet above the toilet to do their business, yards of fluffy tulle skirts separating them from the foulness below as they plan their next unicorn ride (or whatever it is boys think we do in our spare time).
The crazy thing is how he has two high-school aged daughters. Because I have no idea how the myth of the fartless female could survive the raising of two actual girls.
For my part, I’ve been reminded that girls poop every day for the past six years. My daughters still think farts are hilarious and will demand credit for them (I should probably do something about that before they reach high school).
Still, I’m finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Honestly, I don’t understand what other parents mean when they say their kid was potty-trained “at 11 months” (or whenever) because it’s not exactly a sudden event.
It’s more of a process spanning many unpredictable months (or years) of still needing diapers when asleep, relapsing for several days, or wetting themselves whenever they’re distracted or because they’re telling you they have to go potty eleven seconds before it happens and there doesn’t happen to be a toilet five feet away…
Handling Number Two all by yourself is the black belt of potty mastery, and Bridget really, really wants to believe she’s already there.
But her skill level doesn’t match her confidence yet. She’ll ask me to “PLEASE LEAVE” if I’m hovering and shriek “NO! DO IT MYSELF!” whenever I try to help.
But I still do, to avoid the gross aftermath of her independence streak, which is why she started sneaking into one of our four bathrooms to poop on the sly.
I find out whenever she’s mysteriously changed into new clothes, stink lines wafting above her head, and I start suspiciously checking the bathrooms for clear evidence of a struggle:
“Why did you change your pants, Bridget?
“Um… Like these pants better.”
Understandably, she’s not been wanting to own it. So, poor Catfish has been stealing Brontë’s toys, occasionally peeing the bed and leaving poopy clothes all over the bathroom floor next to piles of half-dirty toilet paper. Even though he doesn’t wear any pants.
So, Bridget the Viking has been rapidly civilizing ever since her big sister Brontë started Kindergarten a few weeks ago.
Gone are the sudden, inexplicable tantrums that would alarm neighbors living two blocks away.
She doesn’t throw Legos at cats anymore, or refuse to eat anything while simultaneously screaming about how hungry she is. She’s actually using the potty (like a big girl) instead of calling me into the bathroom, 600 times a day, to watch her yell “DONE” (after not really trying), before running into the next room to pee on the floor.
At first, I was baffled by Brontë’s absence accomplishing what a million stern talks and time-outs couldn’t…
The more I thought about it, however, the more it started making sense: this is the first time Bridget is getting regular, one-on-one attention from mom.
Believe me, I’ve tried…but it’s tough to maintain focused attention on one toddler when there’s always another one feeling threatened, nipping at your heels. One who never quits jockeying for lap space or talking all the air out of the room.
I’m not kidding about that last part. Brontë will start talking at 4 in the morning and literally not stop until she’s sleeping that night. She talks frantically, sometimes even glitching while repeating the same question, over and over, when she’s too keyed-up, repeating the same few words until they garble as she panics in a desperate attempt to filibuster the house…
Which has got to be very intimidating for Bridget, who is two years younger than Brontë, which is a massive developmental gulf at this point. Bidgie might be struggling to pronounce the “t” in “water,” fighting to successfully bark out one-word demands in the rare breaks of big sister Brontë breathing during her hour-long dissertations about why Pinkie-Pie makes a better pony than Applejack.
Brontë also has more advanced psychological manipulation techniques up her sleeve. She can silently work Bridget into a screaming fit with just the right look or whispered catchphrase, which I finally caught one day in the rearview mirror, after demanding that Bridget stop shrieking in the car for the thirtieth time.
Like that time I caught Bridget hiding the remote control under her blanket as Brontë went into hysterics about why her cartoon kept flipping off & on. Brontë was really freaking out, starting to wonder whether she was making it happen by waving her arms, when I finally caught Bridget doing it and Bridget kept a completely straight face until that moment.)
Well, I get it now… Bridget was really frustrated. She was angry and didn’t have enough skills to communicate what she was feeling, so she kept acting out. Because ever since Brontë started going to Kindergarten, Bridget has been talking more, stringing together entire sentences, and generally being a little angel who picks me flowers and does whatever she’s asked.
After dropping Brontë off this morning, Bridget and I took a walk to Starbucks so we could have some special time together, and she sat nicely in her chair (instead of jumping and climbing), had a civilized conversation with me about the current issues plaguing Sesame Street (instead of unpredictably screaming), and happily finished her hot cocoa and cake pop before wiping her hands on a napkin and throwing away her own trash.
On the walk home, the idea of building her own cow struck Bridget like a thunderbolt. She began gathering materials for her project (including dandelions, sticks, and Starbucks napkins), announcing she planned to paint it orange and pink and that she needed enough stuff to make it MOO.
(Given her obsession with dairy, I can only assume she was thinking up ways to access an unlimited milk supply.)
She abandoned the project upon returning home, however, deciding instead to line up Elsa, Anna, Ariel, and a shark on the couch so she could serve then all a bunch of coffee and tea. She also gave them napkins and little plastic cakes.
And that’s when Ariel started acting up.
She was apparently making a bunch of noise, because Bridget had to run over and frantically shush her. But Ariel kept at it, crawling on the furniture until Bridget ran over to insist she “SIT STILL!” Bridget tried calming her with a baby blanket and toy, but Ariel just wouldn’t behave.
This went on for a while until Ariel completely lost it, jumping on Bridget until they were rolling all over the living room floor. Bridget marched the Ariel doll over to a chair, saying “That’s IT! TIME OUT!” before running away laughing.
I never would’ve pictured Bridget getting into law enforcement, but there it is.
I just didn’t want it all to click into place one night at dinner. Especially after 5-year-old Brontë started asking me if octopi had feelings, since our pet kitties obviously did.
So when my husband and I found a dead bird in the yard, we quietly disposed of it. And then a mole. Then another bird.
Until finally, Brontë and I left the house one morning to see a dead bird laying on the doorstep…
Brontë (upon seeing the bird): AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!
Her beloved cat Frodo proudly sits next to it.
Me: Looks like Frodo got that bird.
Brontë (horrified): Oh NO, Frodo! Bad! That’s SO sad.
Me: Well… see, I think he’s giving it to you. As a present.
Me (taking her hand): Well Brontë, cats eat birds. They catch them and eat them and they don’t understand how we don’t eat birds like that. Frodo probably noticed he hasn’t seen you eat a fresh bird in really long time, so he spent all day catching it for you to have a nice dinner. And he was probably sitting here waiting to see how excited you’d be about his gift.
Brontë: Aww, Frodo loves me.
Me: Yeah, he thought it would be a great present for you and that you’d really like it.
Brontë (speaking slowly to the cat): Aww Frodo, THANK YOU! That bird looks SUPER DELICIOUS. I’m gonna eat that later, kay?
(Whispering to me): Okay mom, hurry up. Let’s get out of here….
Maybe I’m psychic, but the other day I got a distinct feeling there was something going on in our closet.
Or, maybe it had something to do with seeing this:
And then, this:
Empty space couldn’t be this exciting
Yup, this wasn’t looking coincidental in the slightest. Next, Frodo the Cat got involved:
Let me just zoom in here, in case you missed it…
Yep, there was a cute little baby lizard hanging out in the closet, delighting my kids. It ran in a graceful S-shape, seeming rather shy.
“CAN WE KEEP IT AS A PET?” Brontë squealed.
I had nearly picked it up so the kids could hold it before my husband came racing over with a bowl and paper to trap it. “Are you SURE that’s not a SNAKE?” he shouted.
“YES. It has LEGS.”
Still, he promptly walked it out the door and dumped it into some bushes. The kids were disappointed.
But it ended up being the right move, because we eventually figured out that the little guy was an alligator lizard.
And alligator lizards, it turns out, are NASTY.
Good thing I didn’t try to grab it, because alligator lizards are really aggressive and will hiss, chase, attack, and bite you HARD. Like this:
See? It’s so common, they have free stock images of alligator lizard bites all over the web. Here’s a YouTube link about some guy looking for alligator lizards and another one, where some guy thinks it’s hilarious to get his finger bitten multiple times (!?). I wouldn’t recommend this, btw, because apart from the obvious unpleasantness of getting bitten by a lizard, they also spread a lot of infections and Lyme disease.
The one we found in our closet was small though, clearly a baby. He may have been harmless…
BUT, after my parents came to visit the next day, they found THIS one sitting on their car when they were leaving to drive home:
I’m convinced it was the closet lizard’s mom, giving everyone a stern warning. “Don’t even THINK about messing with my kid!”
Ugh, okay. No problem. You guys just go do your own lizard thing, okay?
I’m a cat person. In fact, this was very nearly a cat blog instead of a mommy blog.
Occasionally, cat-themed posts have still found their way in, like that time I was trying to figure out why hating cats is so popular. I even started pulling them in order to start a separate kitty blog until I figured out how maintaining both would be unrealistically time-consuming.
And everyone here has a personal cat. This wasn’t by design, but somehow every family member ended up taking ownership of one kitty in particular. So to understand our household politics, grasping the shadow feline alliances going on behind the scenes is critical. It provides relevant character insight:
Wylie is a gorgeous grey-striped cat with white eyeliner. He looks and acts a bit feral. In fact, he had been labelled an “unadoptable” kitten with “problem behavior” when we met him in Petco that day…
He IS a bit stubborn and neurotic, though otherwise sweet. He jumps into every open cabinet and gets accidentally trapped all the time, which is really annoying around the kitchen. He’ll also keep jumping into your lap, easily thirty times in row, when you don’t want him sitting there and keep throwing him down. He’ll put his ears back, jump onto your chest and scream, “You WILL love me, damn it!” in cat.
He is my husband John’s cat, which is kind of hilarious. John was always a dog person until Wylie kept putting his front paws on John’s chest and meowing in his face, occasionally hugging him tightly around the neck and smashing his cat face into John’s forehead.
I don’t know if John, who once considered cats aloof, ever pictured himself being worn down by some cat’s incessant neediness, but Wylie follows him around like a crazed stalker and repeatedly torpedoes into John’s lap whenever he sits down. “Not NOW, cat!” John barks at him, as Wylie endlessly climbs up the opposite side of the couch and dives again, hoping a fresh angle will make all the difference.
John can’t help but be somewhat touched by this, especially since Wylie used to guard Brontë for hours when she was napping in her baby swing.
Very few people in the world will ever know of Violet. Violet sightings are extraordinarily rare.
She’s utterly elusive, slipping soundlessly out of view at the slightest footstep. She’s a tiny, 5-pound, black-and-white cat who must not have been held very much as a kitten because she’s deathly afraid of humans.
And she’s my kitty.
Luckily for her, I’m quasi-Druid and have an uncanny ability to tame wild animals (or part ranger, depending on how you roll). I spent about a year slowly sidling up to Violet, which was tough because she’d vaporize any time I made noise or perceptively moved in her direct line of sight.
But finally, she became my loyal friend. She only hangs out in my territory, sleeping next to me every night and whenever I’m up too late writing, she sneaks in to settle atop my desk until I’m ready to go to bed.
My daughter Brontë holds Violet in special regard, her being “mommy’s kitty.” She was hurt that Violet always ran away from her, so I taught her how to make friendly cat sounds and approach gently… this was invaluable practice being quiet for a toddler who usually stomped around screaming, because the cute little kitty would always disappear when she did. Violet taught Brontë how to be sneaky.
Now, Violet will let Brontë pet her and will even climb onto her lap. Brontë is very proud of this and loves to talk about how Violet “only trusts mommy and me” to anyone willing to listen, except they may suspect Violet is only a legend, having never caught sight of her.
Frodo is the little black cat who always had a special bond with Brontë. When she would cry in her pack-n-play as an infant, he would jump in, ninja-style, licking her face until she stopped. He’s Violet’s brother, but much less shy than she.
Frodo is a good hunter and likes to hunch up his shoulders and walk like a panther as he terrorizes the local birds and squirrels. He our best bet for taking down errant spiders.
Fun fact: Frodo was initially named “Vivien” until the name became clearly inappropriate.
Another fun fact: Brontë keeps trying to teach Frodo to walk. She’s not there yet, but she can get him to stand on his hand legs by holding up her hand until he raises to meet it. He appreciates all the time she’s spent trying to help him evolve and tries to make it up to her with dead bird offerings, which she keeps pretending to like.
Raj (whom I sometimes call “Roger”) is a big, meaty cat that looks like someone went to town decorating on with a black Sharpie. I mean, he’s yellowy with white eyeliner ringed in black eyeliner and a ridiculously ornate color pattern of black swirling and stripes, dots, waves, and a distinctly raccoon-looking tail. Big, beefy paws.
He’s our unpretentious, galumphing, cuddly enforcer… the only one chasing our lunatic dog Douglas to beat the crap out of him, whenever he’s getting out of hand, before collapsing into our laps in a purring lump. He likes to eat, fight, love, and sleep.
She’s also a fighter, who responds to skinning her knee by first punching the air and walls around her, then collapsing into my lap in a snuggly, toddler lump. Raj and Bridget “get” each other.
Bridget has a ridiculous ongoing routine with Raj that involves her tackling him with everything she’s got like a 3-foot Lenny, which he handles the best he can until she’s crushing his intestines to the point where he has to lightly smack her to not suffocate. Then she cries about “Raj scratching” until I remind her that she had it coming, which seems to keep getting us nowhere.
But she still profoundly loves him with all of her toddler heart and he loves her too. Raj is the cat she measures all other cats against… she screams out “RAJ!” whenever she meets a new one. And when our dog gets too hyper around Bridget and knocks her over, it’s Raj who always comes running to her defense.
Ah, Zoë… she’s a beautiful black, long-haired girly cat who adopted shy little Violet when Violet was still scared and missing her mom. They would snuggle together for hours.
Zoë has a sweet little voice, is a beautiful doll, and knew I was pregnant before the tests did. She would signal this by sitting on my belly, purring, and guarding me. I’m convinced my girls could hear her purring when they were in the womb, and are still soothed by the sound.
Zoë is such a girly-girl cat, however, that she’ll blow up to 3X her original size upon catching sight of Wylie, Frodo, or Raj. I don’t know what her problem is, but she HATES boy cats.
And I mean HATES them. Wylie, Frodo, and Raj instantly transform gentle Zoë into a spitting, cat-swearing, claw-flinging maniac.
Having to live around boy cats pisses her off. Even after we tried everything from cat pheromones and separate liter boxes, Zoë would still protest her unacceptable proximity to boy cats by crapping in Brontë’s bed every time she saw one.
Night after night, Brontë would throw back her covers to reveal yet another curling cat turd before raising both arms in the air and shrieking at the insult. We finally decided Zoë would have to mostly be an outside cat.
Which is where she is now: circling the house perimeter in relative harmony until she happens upon one of the boy cats and flies into lunatic ravings.
So, there’s my introduction to the cat members of our household. Our sweet neighbor has also started fostering kittens for a local shelter, so there are two new kitties next door. She asked me if I wanted to participate, but frankly I’m a little worried because, as you can probably tell, I have some issues getting attached to stray animals and welcoming them into my home forever. Because I kind of like animals. A lot.
So you may have caught on from earlier posts that I’m generally a cat person. Cats just make sense to me: they’re calm, dignified and will cuddle you while you’re reading a book or watching a movie.
Dogs, on the other hand, can stress me out. They have all this jumpy energy and need constant validation.
But a crazy thing happened a few days ago when my husband and I went out to eat at one of our favorite Sacramento restaurants. We sat on the patio, right next to volunteers from the local animal shelter who were also eating lunch. They brought some dogs.
And when I turned around, one of those dogs was staring at me: A little yellow dog with a curly tail. One ear sticking up and the other down. We locked eyes…
I smiled. He wagged his tail, ran over, and started licking my hand.
And suddenly, I had a dog.
His name is “Douglas” and I’m still not sure how it happened. I can only assume Douglas pulled some kind of crazy dog sorcery because everything is a blur until the part where I’m filling out paperwork then driving home with a little yellow dog curled up on my lap, hoping he wasn’t about to attack our four cats.
Here’s what happened:
My husband and I walked into our house with Douglas trotting after us. The cats were all lounging about, lazily cleaning their ears until they suddenly noticed a dog in their wake. They froze, poofing up to 3X their original size.
Douglas wagged his tail then trotted up to Raj, our enormous stripey cat, who promptly punched Douglas across the face.
Instead of fighting back, Douglas backed off. This was wise, because he was outnumbered. The cats didn’t bother him again.
I went to sleep that night with Douglas curled up next to me when Violet, our shy black-and-white kitty-cat jumped into bed. She usually sleeps there.
Everything was fine until she realized she had a dog next to her, whereupon her tail blew up like a Christmas tree before she bounced across the room. She jumped onto the desk where she gave Douglas a cold, murderous, death stare FOR AN HOUR.
Frankly, I was a little creeped out.
Douglas is chewing EVERYTHING. Apparently, the squeaky duck and badger toys we got him just aren’t cutting it. I left the living room for two minutes and came back to find a cantelope-sized hole in the rug.
This is especially problematic because our kids still leave their crap all over the house. He’s been choking down Legos, left and right, and likes to eat princess dolls.
I’m trying to make the best of it by telling the kids they have to clean up their toys before they get eaten. This is a crash course in toy management.
Bridget is compulsively feeding the dog. She’s throwing lunch and dinner on the floor and shoving food in his mouth all day. Either the novelty will wear off soon, or Douglas is about to get really fat.
Brontë is revealing in the dog’s shenanigans because it gives her an excuse to boss him around. Four-year-old girls can be really bossy. All day, I’m hearing “DOUG-LAS! That is NOT your princess mermaid doll! YOU PLAY WITH YOUR DUCK!”
The transition hasn’t been entirely smooth. Still, John had to drop Douglas back off at the shelter to get neutered yesterday and the poor guy was shaking, refusing to leave the car. He must’ve thought we were sending him back.
When we picked him up and brought him home again, he was sooooooo happy.
Don’t worry, little Douglas. We’ll make this work.