So my kids were watching Tom and Jerry this morning when my daughter Brontë finally stood up to announce:
“Well, the mouse won AGAIN. Like ALWAYS.”
And stomped off in disgust.
“But if the cat won, that would be the end of the show,” I tell her.
“Yeah, so the mouse is gonna SAVE THE DAY because he’s always the BIG WINNER,” she said with impressive sarcasm for a five-year-old.
I’m not sure whether she’s more upset by already knowing how a show will turn out, watching what’s clearly an anti-cat propaganda cartoon when she’s a fan of kitties, or her Nietzschean disgust for mindlessly favoring the underdog.
But I’m favoring the latter, because she IS my kid…
And I can remember also being disgusted by how the Roadrunner always won. I mean, here you have Wile E. Coyote, who is undeniably brilliant, inventing elaborate schemes to catch the roadrunner that involve sending away for specialized technical equipment and setting it up.
He’s an outside-the-box thinker who problem-solves from multiple angles. You have to admit that he’s VERY advanced, for a coyote.
Then… there’s the Roadrunner.
Who runs straight into landscapes that are obviously painted-on signs. He eats “birdseed” that’s blatantly rigged up to dynamite.
And he gets away with it. Every. Time.
Not because he outwits the Coyote or had worked up an ounce of forethought or defensive strategy.
No, he just confidently blunders forth, smugly aware that the very rules of Space and Time will bend to accommodate his idiocy.
It always seemed so colossally unfair.
Just once, I wanted to see the Wile E. get that roadrunner. Poor guy must’ve been starving to death.
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.
One time, I made friends with a raccoon who hung around my old apartment. Not sure why I thought this was a good idea, but curiosity got the better of me one evening, so I crept up sideways and scattered some walnuts in front of her.
She was pretty suspicious. Also hungry though, so she carefully approached the walnuts and tried one, not taking her eyes off me for one second. She liked the walnut.
I started calling her “Bernice” and kept scattering walnut offerings until she trusted me enough to take them straight from my hands. She eventually started grabbing my hands and flipping them over, once they were empty, to make sure no nuts were clinging to the backsides.
One night, Bernice grabbed two raccoon-handfuls of nuts before plopping down behind me, quietly eating her walnuts as we sat back-to-back.
It was so cool. I’d made a raccoon friend.
And these warm memories of Bernice are probably all that’s kept me from grabbing my BB gun and devastating the local raccoon population, because:
Raccoons started eating all our cat food
One of our kitties, Zoë, is a complete doll, apart from one problematic quirk: she HATES boy cats.
She has long, silky black fur and mews at you in the sweetest, purring voice. She’s fine with our other girl cat, Violet, but instantly explodes into a spitting, scratching tornado of rage upon seeing any of our boy cats. Then, she craps in inappropriate places (like Brontë’s bed) to let us know how unacceptable it was for us to allow boy cats into her territory.
After one too many times of Brontë throwing back her covers and shrieking, “POOP!”, we reluctantly had to make Zoë an outside cat. Which meant providing an outside feeder.
Well, her feeder kept emptying at breakneck speed and she’s pretty petite. We were having to replace cat food left and right. Where was it all going??
Finally, one night, I caught sight of a raccoon gobbling up her food and slopping dirty water everywhere from washing its hands in her water bowl. Dirty little thieving bastard…
I mean, it’s probably just considered intelligent resource gathering in raccoon culture, but the little bandit masks they wear weren’t helping their case. So, I grabbed a flashlight and tore into the yard to scare him off.
The raccoon froze and we stared at each other. Then, three little BABY RACCOON HEADS popped over the porch.
Aww… it was a mommy raccoon just trying to feed her babies. I feed my babies. How am I supposed to handle that!?
Raccoons started hunting our chickens
We got nervous when we started noticing the chicken wire peeled back at the corners of our chicken coop. It prompted my husband to run out and buy a bunch more locks.
We’d raised our chickens, Rosie and Hester, since they were fuzzy little chicks. Our kids pet them daily and were incredibly excited when they grew up and laid their first eggs. These are tame chickens, people.
We’d gotten strangely attached, so the night I suddenly heard a bunch of squawking and ran into the yard to see scattered feathers everywhere, I was genuinely terrified.
We couldn’t find Hester anywhere. The entire yard was filled with loose black & white feathers and I had a lump in my throat. Raccoons WILL try to eat your chickens, even grabbing them through cage bars and breaking their necks against the walls.
The next morning, Hester flew down from a tree in our neighbor’s yard… whew. We don’t clip our chickens’ wings because they don’t try to escape, apart from flying into trees during storms. Now we definitely won’t be clipping them.
Still, I have a hard time blaming raccoons for trying to eat our chickens. I mean, we aren’t vegetarians either. It’s not the raccoons’ fault for not knowing these are special chickens.
Raccoons started yanking up our sod
Since we’ve been trying to sell our house for the past several months, we’ve been painting over the height charts penciled out on the wall, as well as our kids’ early artistic experiments, that time my husband measured wrong when installing a bunch of shelves and the time I tripped over Legos while holding a giant cup of strong coffee…
Basically, we’ve been scrambling to make it look like super-responsible people (perhaps with a touch of OCD) were living here for the past four years instead of us, with our two insane toddlers, five cats, and pair of chickens.
And that meant overhauling our yard. We water-blasted all the chalk drawings away, repainted the deck, filled the perimeters with bark, and invested in a bunch of sod to replace the barren moonscape our chickens created.
No one could touch it until the place was sold. The sod had to “take” and nothing could get messed up.
But corners of the sod kept lifting.
We kept tamping them back down.
Finally, whole rolls of sod were getting peeled back. How was this happening?? Were our kids sneaking out to unroll our lawn? Were the cats hooking a claw in the corner, then pulling?
Then one night, our cat Frodo starts jabbering on about something outside. I peeked out the sliding glass door and caught a raccoon peeling back layers of sod then maneuvering his fingers in the dirt like he was wadding up socks for his feet.
Then, he slurped a worm into his mouth like a strand of spaghetti.
Maddening, yet fiendishly clever. Some raccoon figured out we have an easily-peelable lawn that makes worm & insect hunting easy, like kids flipping big flat rocks. It’s like they found a safe shallow pond brimming with delicious fish, except the fish are worms, and told all their friends.
You can’t help but admire that kind of industry. It’s a nuisance, but what an impressive approach. Raccoons don’t really *get” ownership, after all, and I was having trouble punishing so much cleverness.
Frodo had no such qualms. He clearly wanted them dead.
And maybe that’s what’s tough about loving different parts of the food chain. Raccoons are just hungry, albeit in a very intrusive and irritating way.
If only Bernice could just tell them to cut it out.
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.