On this day, I want to share my experience as a first-time pet (Indian) grandparent. It will soon be one year to this great event in my life and I do feel like I have enough hindsight now, to describe the evolution in my thinking.
My husband and I grew up in strict vegetarian families. There was a general aversion to animals and their supposed uncleanliness – an unfounded, but strong belief. Unfounded because these ideas were certainly not from experience -most people we knew had no pets. And strong because, hey parents have to have strong beliefs about everything in our child’s presence, don’t we? It is so important for us to be the ones who have all the answers, It is so difficult for us to own up to the fact that we don’t know everything and are often stumped in the face of life events ourselves. So, yes, strong beliefs were rampant in my parenting style.
Coming back to my background, the standards of cleanliness and hygiene in my childhood home were high. My thinking was that having a pet means compromising on those standards. It meant allowing pet poop, pee, and hair to be a part of your household. It meant having a smelly home and having to warn guests about the existence of a four-legged family member and then having to try and manage their fear and/or revulsion around the presumed lack of cleanliness. For these and other preconceived notions, I did not allow my only child the pet that she deeply desired all her growing years.
Fast forward a few years and the said child grew up. As soon as she had her own apartment, my daughter got herself a cat! He was an adult cat at 2 years, with a plush coat of white fur, baby pink ears, gray nose and spots on his forehead, and big curious eyes. He had the inquisitiveness, playfulness, and extroversion befitting a feline at the peak of his existence. He was christened Sir Atlas Floofington to acknowledge both his physical fluff and his inner regal. Now we, the new pet grandparents, were perturbed. To have a relationship with our only child, we would have to learn to live with a cat!
When we first visited our daughter’s (and her cat’s) home, we now had to share the space in their matchbox-sized studio with this tiny four-legged aristocrat. On the day of that first visit, he occupied the chair at the head of the table and napped peacefully while we chatted in low voices wondering if our conversation would disturb his nap. After a few minutes, he woke up and decided he wanted a change of scene. He walked across the table straight to me and gave me a meaningful look. It unnerved me enough to stand up and back up a little. At this, he claimed the chair with an air of authority, dropped a soft sigh, and promptly launched his next nap. I was left wondering, does that mean I can now take the chair that he just vacated? There are very few seats in this miniature home, namely the said table and the four chairs around it. So I timidly walked back to the chair he just vacated and gingerly occupied it, keeping one eye on the sleeping feline.
I tried to pick up the thread of the conversation, right at the part where I was advising my daughter on the merits of home-cooked Indian vegetarian meals over the quick sandwich she picks up on her way back from work. I attempted to speak with the same air of parental influence that I used with her as a child. But we both sensed, as though overnight, that the said influence had been greatly diminished. She had grown up and had made a significant life decision without convincing, or even consulting us.
I cleared my throat and self-consciously asked where the cat ‘goes’. My daughter pointed to a plastic box in the hallway that is filled with some grainy, sandy material. “That’s his litter-box and he uses it whenever he needs to relieve himself. He cleans himself thoroughly several times daily so I don’t have to. I rake the litter box once every 24 hours.”, she explains.
“That’s not so bad”, I remember thinking. “What about his food?” Over the next hour or so I learned from my daughter the many responsibilities of being a cat parent. I learned about a cat’s lifespan, diet, health risks, risks of letting him out versus keeping him at home, and so many more facts. I was impressed with the amount of research, thought, and preparation, my daughter had put into the weeks leading up to the day she adopted Atlas.
In my mind, I was wondering where this personality trait comes from. Certainly not from me. In my defense, I did read ‘Baby & Child Care’ by Dr. Benjamin Spock when I was pregnant with her. But I remember frequently dozing off in a pregnant woman’s stupor after a couple of pages. I had to concede, I had not given as much thought and preparation in the bringing of a human into this world, as she had to the adoption of her pet. I found my heart swelling with pride at my daughter’s thoughtfulness and preparedness but I didn’t express it just yet. Especially since I hadn’t yet finished telling her how concerned I was about her being the single responsible person to care for this furry bundle of energy. Sir Atlas Floofington was not just a bundle of energy but also of joy. I was yet to learn to fully experience that joy.
To be continued…