Mr. Watts

 

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This is Watts. He’s our big orange tomcat. Can you tell he thinks he owns the place?

We adopted him from my cousin’s farm a few years ago. He was tiny and hungry and needed a home. He came to us startlingly protective of his food, and sort of fierce, yet willing to cuddle up in my sweatshirt and nap. He got really sick when he was still a tiny guy and we had to get him IV antibiotics. We were all so worried that you’d have thought he was a real baby. He is the least friendly cat I’ve ever owned, but even with his “dark side” as we call it, we all love him so much.

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Even as a tiny kitten, he has always been a commanding force. My niece Riley started calling him Mr. Watts when he was just a couple months old, and it fit so much that we still call him Mr. Watts. Which is funny because we don’t really stand on ceremony around here and the only people we give titles to are teachers. And cats, apparently.

Watts will gently headbump Steve, or try to clean my face if he’s in the mood. But most times, he accept a handful of pets from Steve or me before he gets frisky and starts to warn us to knock it off. He doesn’t hurt us, but I wouldn’t really test him. He puts his teeth on our hand without hurting us, just enough to tell us to back the hell off. He’ll come hang out with us on the porch or in the living room, but he insists on having his own chair and would never sit with us or beside us.

That said, Watts is the animal who would protect us from some evil force should we need it. I have no doubt that if something bad occurred, Watts would go down swinging as the one who tried to save us all. He will occasionally be cuddly and want our affection, but the majority of the time, he merely tolerates our affection.

When I took him to the vet the last time, he kind of freaked out and wouldn’t let anyone touch him. Not even me. They gave him something to calm him down and sent us home with a borrowed pet crate, for the protection of all of us. So, he’s kind of a wild card.

You can see why we might worry about bringing, say, a little kitten, into in the house.

Only here’s the thing about my tough guy Watts. He loves babies.

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All babies of all kinds. He loves the kids in some way that makes him seem like a completely different cat. His patience with them far exceeds what any other cat I’ve had would accept. He is happy to be cuddled with and kissed and dragged around. He works diligently to sneak into their rooms at night so he can sleep with them. He is mellow and sweet. He is a lover.


Every day, I watch my big beast of a cat play with our tiny kitten, Eleven. She wraps her paws around his neck and bites. In return, he cleans her. She wrestles him and bites him and he allows it. He plays back so gently that she doesn’t need to cry out. He wouldn’t hurt her. It warms my heart, this love. This sweet gentle love coming from my tough guy.

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It makes me think we all have this. These gifts hiding just on the other side of our dark side. That even a rough and tumble tomcat has a gentle side. A kryptonite that turns him to putty.

We all have something that make us crumble and turn to love.

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The Little Voice

There is a little voice inside me. She whispers things like,

“Slow down.”

“Take it in.”

“Be thankful.”

Sweet and gentle, like a mother would speak to a young child. Some small encouragement in tough moments, or to remind me that I’ve done a good thing. It’s a great little voice. She says to be patient with my 4-year-old because he has no concept of time. It tells me that his dawdling pace is a good thing, as he will grow fast. He already has.

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“Slow down and look around. And listen.”

I try to listen.

But her voice gets buried underneath the craziness of my day. Her quiet whisper gets lost in the din of Paw Patrol episodes in full color through the TV. A squealing baby. The thunderous hooves of my horse-like puppy chasing the cat through the house. And the “to do lists” on the counter and in my head, adding items all day long, no matter how fast I cross them off. The cat with his paws under the bathroom door, or the baby with everything in his mouth, or a kid yelling for applesauce. Not five minutes of peace, at least not until Steve is home to help wrangle them.

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The alarms and calls for assistance, butts to be wiped and dogs to be taken out. They keep my day going, breathing me in and out like tides from dishwasher to the email to nurse the baby before nap. The day and weeks and months disappears with these moments, and I chase them all, once in a great while stopping to hear the soft voice tell me to be present where I am. Trying to remind me that chasing never got anyone anywhere.

This is hard to do. I am once again overwhelmed by the ride that is a couple small kids in the house. I do remember from my girls that it passes. I will wake up one day, just like that, and I will wonder where the hell a few years went. And I will sigh with relief, realizing that I can speak in full sentences or even paragraphs again without being interrupted. I can sleep through the night. Hallelujah! Everyone can wipe their own everything! The ride will slow and the kids will start growing up. Just as we grew up. Just as our parents grow old and die. Stop and notice or not, life marches on.

“We are but links in the chain,” whispers the gentle voice.

It’s a work in progress, this journey. Maybe we circle through over and over, the same battles and dreams, and that’s why they seem so familiar. We ebb and flow like a tide. Sometimes strong and bold and authentic and present, and other times curled up, bobbing along, just trying to make it through. It depends on the day, the part of life. As for me, I listen better some days than others.

“We are all doing the best we can.” She whispers calmly.

I believe this.

Right in this moment, where we are at today, we’re doing our best…

The lady who cut you off and then gave you the finger when you had the audacity to squeal your brakes as you swerved to miss her. She’s actually trying her best, too. She may very well be doing it badly, but I think she’s doing her best.

When I stop for 10 seconds and take real breaths in and out and make time to be still and be quiet and do yoga and be right here and now, then I remember that. And the world is a remarkably nicer place.

I hear her little voice and I remember that.

I have to choose to listen. She refuses to scream over the crazy.

She will patiently wait until I’m ready to listen.

Grocery Store Blues

I was at the grocery store last week and kept literally almost bumping into a woman and her two small children. I was hungry and tired from cleaning all afternoon and I had a heavy baby tied to my body, and honestly, this little family was seriously getting on my nerves. And my first instinct, the first thing that I did, was judge this mom. Her kids had dirty faces and the mom looked like she was wearing pajamas and hadn’t showered in days and they were all loud and irritating me.

The kids were little, a girl about 4 years old and a boy about 2, and they were just wild. Running through the store, one chasing the other, yelling loudly. Running into displays and carts and people, all the while with their mother chasing them, yelling at them. Ironically, yelling, “We don’t yell in the store!” I was honestly trying to avoid them and their tornado path. Everyone was.

And what I started thinking was that woman was not a very good mother. That she should take those bratty kids out of there so we could shop in peace. That they were undisciplined and that my kids don’t act that way. I was judging her.

And then I remembered how much I hate that the first freaking thing that we do is judge. Judge someone when we don’t even know them, much less the story that got them where they are. I mean, I despise it so much that I devoted a big chunk of my life to writing a book about how women judge each other’s lives. And how we are all alike in so many ways, as wives and mothers, and how we are just trying to make it through the day, no matter what our day looks like. And yet, still, here I was, judging.

Her kids were undisciplined, that’s true. As I turned a corner, I saw the mom physically trying to wrestle the youngest into the cart while he bucked and fought her with all his might, resulting in the loudest screams thus far. She couldn’t get him in the cart and they both knew it wasn’t working. And that’s when I realized that it was too big for her. Even trying to get the situation under control was too big for her. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, that kid wasn’t going to learn manners that afternoon in the grocery store. It takes years. It takes patience and good decisions and solid parenting and lots and lots of factors that that woman just didn’t have, at least not in that moment.

“If people can’t take care of them, they shouldn’t have kids.” This is what I hear in my head, and what I’ve read SO MANY TIMES on the internet about everything from poverty to formula feeding to anti-vaccinations to homeschooling. But I really freaking HATE that statement. You know why? Cause those kids are already here! They are alive and breathing and here already, so how about we all just recognize that and come up with some workable option that doesn’t involve going back in time and not having kids? What if we see if we can find a solution instead of just placing blame?

Because here’s the thing… That woman was doing her best. Her kids had dirty faces and they were running wild and she was yelling so they were yelling and she didn’t have control. But she was trying. Just like you try with your kids and just like I try with mine. Because I guarantee you that there are times my kids are dirty. And there are times that I am just flat out exhausted and so done that you might as well stick a fork in me. And I need a shower and I can’t get my kids wrangled. It just is what it is. Life is not always picture perfect.

And really, you and I don’t have the same capabilities in math, or writing or water skiing or chess, so why the hell should we in parenting? For all I know, that mother was raising those kids on her own, trying to shop on her last $43 dollars in the world. And she was tired and her ex doesn’t pay his child support and she hadn’t had a break or more than 5 hours of sleep in years. Or maybe she was just having a very, very bad week. You don’t know. I don’t know. But I do know that all of those possibilities used to be my life, and it was very, very hard.

So maybe, the next time we see her, or someone like her in the store, we ask if we can help. Or maybe, we just say something nice, anything nice, so that she knows we see her trying. So she doesn’t feel alone. Because the thing she probably needs most in the world is for someone to tell her that they’ve been there, and it will get easier.

And because I still believe that we are all a lot more alike than we are different.