My Male Cat Has Totally Softened Me to the Idea of Having a Son Some Day
Some people get IUDs because they are a long-term and often inexpensive solution for delaying pregnancy and childbirth. I got one because I didn’t trust myself not to sabotage my less permanent form of birth control because holy Christ in Heaven, do I want a baby. Somewhere around the age of 25 the baby fever kicked in and has continued unabated for the past years with no apparent end in sight.
I get that blissed out high feeling that people talk about happening with breastfeeding when I just hold a baby. I daydream about pregnancy and even childbirth, particularly after watching those videos that are designed to gross out teenage girls but get me all sentimental about the miracle of life.
But the second reason that I got my IUD was because more than I was scared of getting pregnant with a baby for whom I did not have the financial and emotional means to care for adequately, I was afraid that the child would be a boy. And I simply could not hang with having a male child.
My family fantasy centered around me, a feminist dude partner, and two adopted daughters that I could call Mary and Margot after my favorite lady monarchs. We would pile into a stylish but fuel-efficient car for Planned Parenthood rallies and read bell hooks together when the time came. Our home would ooze estrogen and empowered ladyhood. Excellent sartorial choices would be made all-around.
Growing up in a household of women, with some extended cameos by my father when he was not working overseas, made me most comfortable around women and girls. I have never uttered nor thought the words, “I just get along better with guys!” "Spiceworld" is my favorite movie and I say this without a hint of irony. Sometimes, I fantasize about old age when my best friend and I can be widows that live together making crude jokes and wearing brooches, Golden Girls-style. I am just all about girls.
To have a male child seemed an intolerable intrusion of my carefully cultivated fantasy Life-O-Ladies. Boys were a mysterious and rambunctious species with strange appetites and interests. I feared that mine would grow up to be misogynists, rapists, and general asshats. Fear of having to raise such a foreign brand of person had actually made me ready to forfeit my dream of biological children.
And then last summer, a tiny grey boy came into my life. Orphaned and alone in an abandoned lot in South Brooklyn, when he was taken to the vet by a neighbor, he needed two itty-bitty kitty IVs to nourish him. His temperature had dropped well below normal and he was not expected to make it through his first night. But he did. And he became my baby.
At this point in the essay, I would like to address parents of real human children directly. I know that having a kitten is a very different thing than having a baby person. If you have one, you either 1) went through the emotionally draining and expensive process of adoption 2) pushed one out of your vagina or 3) HAD SOMEONE CUT INTO YOUR ABDOMEN AND PULL THE CREATURE OUT OF YOUR INSIDES.
And that was just getting it into your custody! Now you are raising it to be a well-adjusted member of a society wherein the odds are stacked against anyone becoming well-adjusted. Good luck and godspeed! Now, back to my cat.
When Keith was just a tot, I didn’t really think about his maleness. In the same way girl babies and boy babies are both cute mostly for their enormous heads and chubby cheeks and goofy outfits, Keith was just cute because he was super small and made a really funny noise when he tried to be tough.
Warning: Gender Normative Statements Ahead. As Keith has grown, he has become decidedly more boyish in his interests and manner. He insisted on being Batman for Halloween and prefers roughhousing to more quiet activities like crochet. He is rambunctious and kind of a lunatic, just the way I always imagined little boys. And yet in him, I find it endearing and loveable.
As he grows into a little man cat, he is becoming quite the gentleman, due in no small part to my excellent parenting skills. He waits at the front door for me to come home and cries when I don’t pick him up. After I left him alone for half a weekend and returned, he held me much more tightly than usual as if to signal that he had missed me very much, and by holding me so close, insisted that I not leave him again for so long.
There is tenderness and sensitivity in him that I of course knew existed in boys but that I had willfully forgotten about because I was so deadest on staying in my lady-centered comfort zone.
I am well-aware of how silly it is that I needed a cat to remind me that little boys can be sweet and gentle and that they can grow up into amazing men. But Keith made the hypothetical a reality. He made the foreign familiar. I pick him up and give him a kiss and call him “my sweet baby boy” and can imagine doing the same to a person in a way that I couldn’t before.
Now raising Keith is going to be a lot easier than raising human boys. Keith can’t be forced to read Judith Butler or have awkward conversations about respecting the bodies of whomever he gets involved with sexually. It will be hard work to raise a good man. But there is innate goodness in all those tiny little people and I am no longer recusing myself from the responsibility of dealing with little people that come in dude version.
My IUD has a good four years left on it so it’s not anything I am worried about in the immediate future. But at that point, Keith will be five, which I am told is the age that cats are best-equipped to understand the dangers of over-emphasizing a baby’s sex so he’ll help me pick out outfits and nursery decorations accordingly. He is going to make a great big brother to whatever the baby fates have in store for me.