A few years ago, my friend was potty training her cat.
Like literally, teaching her cat to go pee and poop in the toilet.
If you were to eavesdrop on our conversations, they usually went something like this:
"So, this morning, around 6am, I was still in bed and Birthday (her cat) started crying and howling. He just wouldn't let me sleep."
"Guh, I hate it when Brandy does that. She lives to torture me in the morning."
"Right well, B-day doesn't do that normally. So I got up to see what was up, and it turns out I accidentally put the lid down on the toilet and he couldn't pee!"
"Oh! Poor little kitty!"
"I know! I felt so bad. But he's just so good, and he came and got me instead of peeing on the couch or something!"
"What a good boy!"
"I know! He still doesn't know exactly what to do when he needs to poop -- he'll come get me and we'll sit in the bathroom for a while and I'll perch him on the toilet, and then he'll actually poop. But this past week, I've come home from work and he's pooped in the toilet all by himself! I'm so proud of him!"
"Oh, my god, that's fucking awesome! I really wish I could get Brandy to pee in the toilet, but she's just so obstinate!"
Yeah, I know, I said, "That's fucking awesome!" in regards to a cat pooping in a toilet. (But come on, it IS!)
This is my life. My pets have always been my fur babies. They are a part of my family, therefore their goings on -- bathroom, bedroom, politics -- make their way into a high percentage of my adult conversations.
No, I don't get all unhinged and tell everybody I meet about my cats' hilarious Midnight Crazies. Not everybody's into that. But if I catch a whiff of the same pet-centric leanings on you, you can bet you'll be hearing a story about my cat's precise and strategic revenge-barfing in my husband's shoes.
I like to talk about the weird shit my cats do. I think they're funny, they bring me joy. If you're friends with me, you will probably hear about it. If I get the vibe from you that pets just aren't your thing, I'll usually back off. But like it or not, my cats are a part of my life, and therefore they are going to make an appearance in conversation. Most of my friends are pretty cool with hearing about my cats from time to time.
If you replaced the above "cat" references with "baby" references, it would sound pretty familiar to parents wouldn't it?
OK, fine, I know some people are only humoring me with the cat talk, but honestly it goes both ways. I like babies, and I've even been known to find quite a few of them eye-crossingly cute and enjoyable. And there are times I really do want to know about the intimate details of parenthood. It's so far outside of my realm of understanding that I want to know all the gory details.
But sometimes -- and I'm positive some people have done this to me too when I'm talking about Tailsy's astounding command of the English language -- I am simply smiling and wracking my brain for ways to relate when a parent is telling me about their baby's teething trials or onesie fiasco.
But we do these things, and I'm okay with that. If it's important to you, my friend, I'm going to try. And I appreciate your trying too.
BUT. There are people that really seem bothered by this whole pets-as-family thing.
When I was working for a theatre in LA, our department kind of had the reputation for being the SPCA of the building. Some people rolled their eyes and went on their merry way, but most knew to come over to my boss' or my desk when they wanted to gush about their puppy's antics or for a shoulder to cry on when their cats went on to that great cat box in the sky.
There was peaceful coexistence. Until there wasn't.
When a co-worker's dog passed, she was beside herself. Some of us banded together and gave her some flowers, kind of hokey, but as a gesture for the passing of her beloved dog. I regularly found myself at her desk, helping her make arrangements for her dog's cremation. Even the managing director of the theatre came by to offer his sympathies. We all felt for her. So I thought.
Early one evening, I was finishing up some work at my desk when one of the women from the next office over walked through our department. She glanced at the flowers on my co-worker's desk, and asked me, "What are those for?"
When I told her, she let out an exasperated laugh. "Oh, my god, it's a DOG. Get over it. I get it, it's sad, but come on, you guys, flowers? Really?"
It's not worth going into the ensuing argument. I got so angry I cried, which is one of the more frustrating symptoms of my rage. On the plus side, it often TOTALLY FREAKS OUT the person I'm arguing with.
I do, however, remember asking her the question, "Who are you to qualify grief or love?" -- which is what I think this all boils down to.
Sometimes I get tired of hearing what a genius your baby is, but if I were to ask you to stop talking about your baby because "She's just a baby," we wouldn't be friends anymore.
I know this is a little bit of an extreme example, but to dismiss any person's suffering because of its focus, is just wrong. Like that episode with the bird at Whole Foods, if you start deciding who or what is worthy of care and who or what is not, that could lead to a very scary place.
Anyway, the point is, that no matter how difficult it is for some people to understand, to many of us, our pets are not just animals. They've infiltrated our lives and made us kinder, more responsible and more compassionate people. Many would say that parenthood changed them in similar ways. Common ground!
I'm not saying children and pets are exactly the same in terms of bonding and intimacy. I know there is something between a parent and a child that I may never understand. But please don't discount the love I have for my pets.
Look, I'm not trying to start the Great Baby-Puppy-Kitty War of 2013 (OR AM I?), and I'm not saying that upon commencing childrearing, all parents become bored and disinterested in their pets. I've caught many of my friends with kids, baby talking and gurgling to their cats or dogs. It's not all or nothing.
I guess I'm just asking for understanding.
You have your baby, and I have mine.
Oh, and here is your moment of Zen. Courtesy of Rebecca.