Small cat, long lens

For the past three months, we have had a kitten. I’ll try not to bore you with too many Insufferable Pet Owner stories (are they worse or better than Insufferable Parent stories?) about how cute, charming, playful, affectionate, well-tempered and utterly sweet he is. I’ll just make two side points before getting to my main point: 

  • Side Point # 1: He is a particularly Loved Cat since both Sam and I are allergic to cats, and had to give away two cats several years ago. This one is a Siberian, a breed that often has lower levels of the allergen that bothers humans, and came from a breeder who specializes in breeding for low-allergen levels. We had a dicey few weeks there at the beginning, but with two visits to the allergist and a slight adjustment of asthma medications, we are A-OK and cat can stay. 
  • Side Point #2: He has been a blessing for my relationship with Becca, our 16-year-old daughter. Becca really, really, really, REALLY wanted a cat. She has been visibly happier since we got him, which for a teenager dealing with all the usual teen angst is no small thing. And we suddenly have a shared activity. She comes home from school, and instead of closing herself in her room with her iPod, we play with the cat. Or tell stories about the funny things the cat did earlier in the day. Or kvell together about what an incredibly excellent cat he is. The cat has, amazingly, made home into a place where this 16-year-old wants to be. Which makes us all happier. 

But enough pet gushing. Here’s what I really wanted to say: 

I think about this cat getting old and dying a lot. 

Typical morning: I’m at my computer and the cat is sitting on my lap. He’s about six months old, small and still growing. I stroke his soft fur. I smooth his ears back, which he likes. And I imagine him an old cat, kind of scrawny and drooling and not doing so well at getting to the litter box in time. I picture him moving slowly, playing less and sleeping more, trying to jump onto things and not being able to make it. I can see in my mind’s eye what this kitten will look like at the end of his life. I can almost feel it when I pet him. 

I never thought about this stuff with our earlier cats.  I didn’t think about them getting old, or running away, or getting run over. And when we got them, I didn’t think, “Okay, this is a 15-year commitment I am getting myself into.” 

Similarly, when I was pregnant with Becca and she was a baby I didn’t think into the future. I didn’t think about all the things that could go wrong – the  genetic diseases, prenatal conditions, infant crises. (By contrast, there was a pregnant woman in my prenatal water aerobics class who was a pediatric nurse who worried about a million ailments whose names I didn’t even know. She knew too much for her own good.) 

I didn’t try to imagine what Becca would be like in the future – didn’t try to picture her as a preschooler or teenager. I couldn’t have imagined it even if I tried: I didn’t have a clue what preschoolers looked or acted like! Basically, I read one chapter ahead in the parenting books and lived in the present. 

Now, with cats at least, I know. We had one cat who got cancer and had to be euthanized. We had another who was run over. I have friends with old cats and sick cats. 

If we’re lucky, of course, this cat will live to a ripe old age of fifteen or sixteen. And if I’m lucky, I will outlive this cat. I will bracket his life in mine – I will know him when he is a crazy, funny kitten and then a staid adult cat and finally a doddering old cat. There are not a lot of other beings that we can say that about. Our parents? Even if we witness the end of their lives, they were around long before we were. Our children? Hopefully they will be around long after us. Maybe our siblings, but our lives move in such parallel tracks that it is hard to have that kind of “bracketing” perspective. 

So what’s the point of all this? I’m not sure. It does make the cat even more precious to me. 

And I’m aware that this is not a perspective I would have had ten years ago with our previous batch of cats. It’s one of those midlife things: I think about endings now. 

Not to get too lugubrious, but…. it makes me sad, and reminds me of the Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and his poem to the child Margaret who is saddened by trees losing their leaves in the fall:  

It is the blight man was born for

It is Margaret you mourn for. 


P.S. On a lighter note, the kitten is named Bowie.  That was Becca’s idea, after David Bowie. And he truly is the most wonderful, affectionate, cute cat in the world.  

(Speaking totally, completely, 100% objectively, of course.)


Bowie in fine kittenish form


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5 Responses to “Small cat, long lens”

  1. fuff Says:

    having recently lost my 19 year old cat, i can relate. having a perspective on the stages of life seems oh so appropriate for your mid life bat mitzvah blog.

    what does it mean that the yoots of today like the beatles and david bowie? i can’t imagine liking my parents music, though their generation gave us pete seeger. is it possible that our generation’s music was actually better?

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Perhaps there is more continuity between “our” music (early rock) and today’s music than there was between our parents and ours…. certainly Big Band or Sinatra seems like a different animal than Bowie or the Beatles.

      And as far as Seeger being our parent’s music… I listened to Seeger as a teen… and my daughter not only listens to him, she has just gotten into Woody Guthrie! As I write this, she is playing Pastures of Plenty on her iPod. What a world.

  2. rachel Says:

    What a sweet cat!

    My mum currently has a cat that is at least 18. We’re not sure of her exact age as she was a stray that was taken in – as was the cat that was her predecessor. And she also has a cat that was my grandmother’s, which she took in when my grandmother died a couple of years ago.

    The heartache when they go is hard, but all of those years of cat-fun… I don’t think my mum would swap them.

  3. Kaveh Says:

    Poignant piece, Ilana. And I loved your title, Small cat, long lens.

    There is something fundamentally sad about the process of aging and degeneration, not without reason, in my opinion.

    Your imagining Bowie as old and incapable while in your lap? I have had these thoughts with my daughters, vivid and breathtaking. I have looked at their young, lithe bodies, and ‘seen’ them weak and frail, white haired and gaunt, struggling to breathe, in agony. Why did I bring them into this world, I’ve wondered.

    Yes, you regain yourself, counterbalance the bad with the good. You think of all the gains before the loss of body. It’s too dark a depth, a zone too oxygen-depleted to spend too much time in, but at the end of the day, it’s damn sad. It’s meant to be, I think, an stark envelope we have no choice but to negotiate against.

    It’s a mystery.

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