Thursday, September 16, 2010

There's Only One Maxer Cat

Every kid should have a pet. Think about it. The ideal childhood memory usually involves a puppy or a kitten or at least a goldfish. Even the annoying little red monster Elmo has a goldfish. We have certainly had our share of pets: dogs, cats, hamsters, a bird, and even some fish.

The ironic thing about pets is that they never really come with a happy ending. When Santa brought my daughter a hamster one Christmas Eve, did he know it came with only a 2 year life span? For 24 months we fell in love with this goofy little rodent we nicknamed Houdini. There wasn't a cage made that could hold her. And then one day, she just died. That was it. No more wild house hunts for the sneaky, little furball. No more gut-busting laughter while she stuffed her cheeks to twice her body size. No more panicked rescues from the plastic tubing she'd tried to shove her gigantor cheek pouches through.

The demise of the pet fish was way worse than Houdini's sudden departure. They were boiled to death. Apparently the aquarium experienced a malfunction and in the middle of movie night, someone noticed half our fish floating belly up in the tank. I'm still not sure exactly what happened, but somehow the water had heated up. It was more disgusting than sad, scooping out the once graceful angel fish, crotchety giant gold fish and their deceased posse.

 The truth is, I never really like the fish anyway. I'm more of a cat person. Even if our cat, Maxer, wasn't much of a people cat.

Maxer was, hands down, the very best cat in the world. He was beyond self-sufficient. It didn't matter if the kids forgot to feed him--three of four days in a row. He didn't need some human handing him a meal on a silver platter. He'd rather hunt down his own grub. And as for a litter box? Pshaw! The great outdoors was his litter box!

Maxer kept to himself, for the most part. But, strangely enough, he quietly appeared just when he was needed most. Whenever I found him snuggled up with one of the kids, I knew there was a home-from-school-sick-day coming. And he wouldn't leave them until they were well. Maxer endured whatever play the children's imagination could create. And as they grew up, he did too. He seemed to understand heartbreak, rubbing his soft body against your leg and comforting you with a vibrating purr that could be heard clear in the next room. And he made us laugh every time he tormented the alien beasts we call dogs. I truly think he hated those dogs.

In his younger days, Maxer was the toughest brute. But in his later years, when he lost his quickness and his strength, he still surprised us every now and then. Like the time he out ran two pit bulls and climbed just high enough up a small tree to be safe, but still make them go nuts trying to get to him. This summer, at nearly 17, he began to really show his age. There were many times I didn't think he'd make it through the day. And finally, last Friday, he didn't.

I think he was waiting...for Kate to leave for college, for the other kids to start school, for the start of a new season and new interests. It would have been too hard for us not have him greet us on the front walk every time we came home from baseball or swimming. To never hear his scratching at the door just so we could let him in and then right back out. It would have been too hard to never hear that loud, loud purring on those lazy summer days. He purred until the very end.

As hard as it was to say goodbye to Maxer, I still believe that every child should have a pet. It's the best form of unconditional love. And every child deserves that.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Can I Get A Heaping Helping of Normal, Please?

Normalcy? What's that?

Well, it's what all the parenting books and magazines and experts tell you to try to maintain when your family is going through the divorce transition. I'm wondering what exactly a parent is supposed to do when your family was never normal to begin with? And as far as going through the transition? Well, that's never really over, is it?

Now that we are a few years out, my educated guess that "maintaining normalcy" means to forge ahead like nothing is different. I remember a moment when we were just a few months post divorce and Frank developed this habit of asking the same question every single night.  "Hey, Mom, what's for dinner?"  On one particularly trying day, Frank came into the kitchen and asked this very normal question again. I took a deep breath, counted as close to ten as I could get and explained to him in my serious voice (which is quite an abnormal voice for me) that I truly, truly hated that question.

I don't know if that question bothers other moms, but it drives me nuts! WHY do they want to know what's for dinner? Is it so they can decide if they want to do the Secret Pizza Hut dial on the cell phone? Is it a gentle reminder that the rumbling noise echoing through the house for the last 30 minutes means everyone is starving? Could they be taking some kind of scientific poll to see how many times a week Mac-n-Cheese can pass for dinner? Why do they need to know?

Poor Frank. After enduring one of my well-worded, perfectly punctuated lectures, he smiles, hugs me, and cautiously whispers. "OK, but I still kinda want to know what's for dinner."

Years later, he's still asking almost every night, "What's for dinner?" I'm not sure why this habit started. Maybe, at first, it was his way of focusing on the "normal" stuff of families. He might have two homes now, and divide his holidays between parents, but there is always dinner. Or maybe (as is quite normal for me) I'm reading too much into it and he truly just wants to know what's for dinner. And sometimes, I'm quite sure, he asks just for the thrill-seeking pleasure of it. Nothing says you're living on the edge like sneaking up behind a knife-wielding, chicken-carving Roaring Mom at the end of hectic day and asking, "What's for dinner?"

I honestly don't know how well we maintained "normalcy" through the transition. In fact, we're still trying to figure out a whole lot of stuff.

A little over a week ago my oldest daughter left for college. She left behind a mess of clothes the sisters aren't sure if they are allowed to wear or not, an empty bedroom the siblings are wondering if they still have to stay out of, a cat she rescued a couple months ago that I'm not sure I'm obligated to keep, and a few decibels of noise level we're doing our best to fill up. In other words, we're once again striving to maintain "normalcy".

Tonight, after I finished the Roaring Mom Round-up (otherwise known as the extra-curricular taxi time), Frank followed me into the kitchen and asked, "What's for dinner?" This time I hugged him. It's good to know that, at least for now, some things remain.