Category Archives: Cats

That’s OK

or
Some words about parenthood, three months in.

smiles500

By and large social media is a highlights reel or a trailer for how your life is. And we all know that we can be duped into seeing a crappy film by a fancy trailer that edits out the shit bits. By extension, we must also all know, surely, that the person most conspicuously having an easy time of it also has days when they get shat or vomited on or screamed at or woken six times in a night by a baby who just wants to sit on their boob and not actually eat, or days when they feel absolutely isolated and incapable and alone. And that’s OK.

To put it more simply, “There are days when I eat a whole pack of Oreos and cry at you when you get home,” said Emma. And to be fair they’re pretty few and far between – which is great – but they do happen and we should acknowledge that.

We’ve been very lucky – Nora is a pretty smiley, contented, happy baby, and she came into the world, from conception through pregnancy to birth, with relative ease – but she’s also clingy, and sometimes decides that sleep is for wimps, and she’s alert, which means she doesn’t want to be left alone, and she’s also a baby, and babies are gross and disgusting and full of congealed milk and yellow shit which quite often leaks out of both ends at once. And that’s OK.

“I think it’s about how you perceive it. Some people might be going through the same things that we are right now and really struggle. And I’m really trying, which isn’t like me [except it is, Nick], to just accept this and be lead by her.”

We both spend a lot of time trying to put ourselves in Nora’s shoes, as it were; what is she thinking and perceiving right now, how is she feeling, what does this mean to her? And this is incredibly difficult because Nora, three months ago, started from a base of absolutely nothing; no physiological, emotional, or intellectual experience at all. As smiley as Nora is a lot of the time, the entire world is still entirely new to her, and that means it is baffling, and terrifying, and confusing sometimes. And brilliant at others. But when she wakes from an afternoon nap and immediately screams as if she’s terrified, and nothing but loud Aphex Twin and bouncing will calm her, that’s OK, because she’s a baby and the entire world is entirely new to her, and wouldn’t you scream, too?

There are no magic bullets here. If there was ‘one weird old trick’ to getting your baby to sleep / eat / stop crying / lose weight / gain weight / walk / sit up / beg / roll over [delete as appropriate] then the entire world would all be doing it and there’d be no enormous industry selling books (or websites, or apps, or whatever) of advice to paranoid new parents. But every baby is different, and every parent is too, and that’s OK.

This post is pretty unfocused and rambling, and the paragraphs don’t necessarily follow on logically from each other, and that’s OK too; it’s not easy to concentrate on anything for long when the baby monitor might explode. I’ve barely written anything in months – even before Nora arrived – but I’ve had it relatively easy. I’m sleeping in the spare room (so I am actually sleeping, almost as much as I used to), and I still manage a bike ride most weekends, and I’ve had record club a handful of times. But Emma’s life has been turned upside-down as mine’s just been tilted.

“I can’t believe we talked about getting her adopted, and we really meant it [we did!]; looking back she wasn’t ever that difficult.” She wasn’t (mostly still isn’t) a crier, and she slept relatively well early on (even if that’s not the case right now), but in those first few weeks you simply don’t know what the hell is going on or how to deal with it or who/what your baby is, and it does feel like a massive, idiotic mistake, and like you should have bought a house with one less bedroom and a bigger garden and wouldn’t a dog be easier?

“I guess feeding was an obvious issue; she always fed well, but… I was in fucking agony.” We had to get Nora’s tongue-tie cut twice, and she still sometimes causes Emma a lot of pain through latching lazily or coming on and off the boob absent-mindedly (absent-mindedly? She’s a baby!).

Before Nora arrived I kind of expected – and this is ludicrous, but it’s the way culture teaches us, through both religion and science (evolution) to think about ‘progress’ – that there’d be a kind of linear upwards curve in her development and sleep an so on; that is, that she’d get a little bit better every day. But that’s nonsense, and if there is a graph to be plotted then it’s a jagged mountain range of a line, which, yes, is ascending, but with crazy, almost unpredictable troughs caused by developmental surges and growth spurts and “the 4-month sleep regression” (how terrifying does that sound?). And that’s the same for everything. Evolution took millions of years to get from amoebas to ragdoll cats, and, you know, there were dinosaurs and dodos and duck-billed platypuses and all sorts of other miss-steps and oddness en route. Why should babies be any smoother? And that’s OK.

“I know you said [this post] is disjointed but to me it feels really disjointed.” And that’s OK, because I think that’s kind of my point, and the medium is the message, or something. Em’s read plenty of stuff – blogs, books, forums, etc etc – about parenting, because she just naturally does research things without thinking, but we’ve both tried not to read too much stuff (I’ve been very successful at this, as usual), because we want to just kind of work off instinct as much as we can. “Sometimes I let this stuff [points at phrase ‘blogs, books, forums, etc etc’] cloud my judgement, but I’m trying not to. I’m trying to just go with it. Not worry about routines and sleeping through the night and all the things that books and other people put pressure on you to do.” And that’s OK.

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Bob

Bob, by Emma

Bob, by Emma

Bob could never have a door closed to him. Not a door between rooms, or a door to a cupboard, or a door to a lean-to, or a door to an airing cupboard. He had to have access to everywhere. The only doors that didn’t concern him were those that lead outside, which is fortunate, because we never wanted him to go outside; we’d chosen him especially because his breed wasn’t suited to going outdoors at all, and we lived back then in a flat up several flights of stairs by a busy main road. But that was fine; as long as all the internal doors could be opened to him, Bob was happy.

Bob has died, tragically and suddenly, a little less than three weeks ago. We were away on holiday in Sweden, not having the best time. In our final two days it got a whole lot worse.

On the day before we were due to fly back our cat-sitter phoned and said she was a little worried about Bob; he seemed lethargic. But his temperature was OK, and he seemed to be eating and drinking, so we thought that he just missed us, and was being grumpy, because he often could be grumpy when he didn’t get his own way. It seems insane to write that down or say it out loud; a grumpy cat who demands his own way and misses his ‘owners’, when cats are meant to be aloof.

We were wrong. Bob was suffering from an abdominal obstruction, which rapidly, overnight, caused him acute renal failure. This is disastrous if not caught early. The cat-sitter came back the next morning early because she was still worried, and she found him collapsed, in the cupboard under the stairs, where he had taken himself to die. She rushed him to the vet, and we got a phonecall moments after we got back into Stockholm.

We rushed to the airport; I cried at staff until they helped us find our bags and then we desperately tried to convince people to put us on an earlier flight. It couldn’t be done. We received another phonecall in the departure lounge, and then we wailed, and wailed and wailed, as Japanese tourists and Swedish businesspeople walked past, trying not to look at us. Neither of us have cried like that in many years; both of us have cried frequently since. Cried because Bob died; cried because we weren’t there for him; cried because we felt we had let him down; cried because we miss him. I miss him now. I’m crying now.

I’ve written about Bob before, and over the 2441 days we lived with him I have taken more photos of him and made more status updates on social media about him than I could even begin to imagine. He was the glue that bonded our early life living together as a couple; if, in brief moments, we were fed-up of each other, we were never, ever fed-up of Bob. Except maybe occasionally at 5am in summer, when the light outside would make him try and wake us up.

For a couple of years Bob would shun us for a few hours if we went away for the night, until his deep-seated need to sit on a lap and purr deeply would overwhelm him. As a result we holidayed seldom, and never for very long; we had separation anxiety about his separation anxiety, so much so that we bought him Cosmo as a companion (partly so we wouldn’t feel obligated to drive home at lunchtime most days to stroke him). Cosmo adored Bob, following him everywhere (often much to Bob’s chagrin), and it seemed very much as if Cosmo needed Bob’s attention and affection, and Bob needed ours. Now we need Cosmo’s, and Cosmo needs ours.

Some things Bob loved included: having his head gently held in the palm of your hand, your fingers strapped around the back of his face like a mask; rolling on rough surfaces, the harder the better – the tough concrete floor of the lean-to was his favourite; prawns; tuna; sitting on laps; hufflepuffing when he didn’t get his way; long, lazy weekend mornings in bed with my wife while I was out on my bike; pushing his way into every activity that humans in the house would embark upon, from cooking, to playing boardgames, to going to the toilet; pushing your face with his paws; rushing downstairs before you, hiding around a corner, and then pouncing out at you as you caught up.

He was the most singular, awkward, demanding, and loving creature I have ever had the pleasure to know. It is true that he was ‘only’ a cat, but he was also our companion, and he was my friend. I saw more of him, and spoke to him more often, than I have most people in my life, my wife excepted. We used to joke that “hey Bob” was the phrase that both of us had said most often in our lives. This will probably remain the case for quite some time.

I think of myself as quite stoical and self-contained, and in many ways I am. But the bonds that people have with animals, the trust they place in us and the love we give them back, has always and will always reduce me to mush; seeing a blind student near our house, with his guide-dog at his feet gazing down the road ready to let him know when the bus is coming, has had me welling-up in the street in more than one occasion. (The dog’s name is Ronan, and his owner graduated this week with a 2:1 in Law; I’m a little sad that I won’t see them around town anymore.)

Every so often now Em or I will have a little pang of realisation that we’ll never see Bob again; that he’ll never meow at us until we sit down and he can clamber on a lap again; that he’ll never purr himself to sleep again; that he’ll never get the huff with us because we tell him not to eat Cosmo’s food again. We’re crying less often when this happens now, and the guilt we felt for not being here when he was ill is easing; it is, as the vet and many others have said, just a shitty, awful set of circumstances that no one is to blame for. We have Cosmo to look after, and each other, and a baby on the way. There’s a lot of good to look forward to.

But I miss my grumpy, furry, purring friend.