Friday, June 27, 2014

Our New Normal (wherein I anthropomorphize to my heart's content)

Summer is here. As I write this, Sugie is beside me, curled into a fold of the softly worn green blanket that has covered this swing for eight summers now. During the school year, when things get so crazy with early hours, papers to grade, parents to call and impossible time schedules, this is what I daydream about. This is what keeps me putting one foot in front of the other, shuffling one more graded essay to the bottom of the stack, these long blissful moments of swing-sitting with this little chunk of a cat… and writing slowly, leisurely, thinking through my word choices as the ice cubes twirl slowly in my glass of sweet tea.

This is heaven for both of us. For me it’s the writing. For Sug it’s having her mom home so she can spend hours outside on the patio if she so desires (as long as I am out here with her).

This summer, of course, our routine is just a wee bit altered. Sug now shares me with annoying little sister Purrrl and the world’s most quirky dog, Sgt. Thomas Tibbs. So far, things are working out just fine.

In previous summers, when I’ve done my annual pilgrimage to Missouri, Sug has been left with various housesitters. I have always returned to find her somewhat emotionally shut down, always clingy and anxious for many days after my return. (And if you think I’m simply projecting or anthropomorphizing here, take a moment to read this piece in today’s Los Angeles Times by Amy Hubbard.) Even those closest to me have never fully understood that my deep anxiety in leaving her stems not from worry about her physical well-being but about how her psyche will fare while I’m gone. I am the center of her daily routine, her source not only of food but of safety and security. My absence means subjecting her to her own ‘worries,’ primal as they may be. Keep in mind, this is a sentient being I have cared for and loved for eight years. I know the difference in her response when I’ve been gone for an hour compared with an absence of twelve hours. It’s not about the food; she does truly ‘miss’me.

To help Sug feel slightly less alone when I travel—or when I’m gone from the house for a grueling early-morning-to-work-plus-parent-meeting-plus-grocery-shopping day—I brought little Purrrl into our lives last fall. And this year, when I returned from Missouri, Sug had not shut down. Well at least, not to the extent she usually does. Yes, I’m sure there were some moments of anxiety—my housesitter, with whom Sug is acquainted, invited people over a few times, so the house was noisy and there were strangers. But when the girls get anxious, they dive under the bed and huddle up together. They don’t cuddle, but I have no doubt that being near each other during a potentially scary experience helps them both to cope and offers them the comfort of familiarity.

All of that is preamble to say that, where my late summer mornings used to consist of yawning, stretching, and strolling outside to the patio with Sug, there is a bit more to it now. Now when I wake I have to move cautiously around a sleepy gray kitten who hogs the middle of the bed (Sug and I relegated to the left side, always) and who will lash out with cranky claws if her beauty sleep is disturbed. But ten minutes later, I will hear the girls chasing each other through the house. Because apparently cats do not need one or two cups of tea before they can officially begin to wake up; they seem to be able to go from I’m-still-sleeping-Mom! to I-got-you!/I-got-you-back! in about thirty seconds.

And after everyone is fed—except for me, though I am allowed one cup of tea to drink while I dispense fresh water, pick up rawhide chew remnants from the floor, start the sprinklers and put my shoes on—there follows a long, luxurious walk with my boy, Thomas, who is quite the happy dog these days. (Update on the good boy in an upcoming post.) Later in the morning, Sug will let me know it’s time to stop cleaning or folding laundry or goofing off on Facebook, and we will wander outside together to this very spot. This routine is what keeps me sane, and I am grateful to the Universe that the sanity it brings will last me for ten months when school starts again.

Today’s blog post is dedicated to my dear friend and faithful reader Barbara Tinsley, who gave me just the nudge I needed at just the right time.

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