Published on September 9th, 2016 | by Laura Crossett3
Laura Crossett on THE FAMILY BED
I am puzzled as to why the child hates the cat so much. He does, really. The cat is not allowed to sit on him, or near him, or on anything he owns, wants to own, or thinks he owns (like the eggs that he carried “very, very, very carefully, Mommy” into the bathroom and placed on the floor under the step stool), but now the cat is also not allowed to sit on or near me, or on or near anything he perceives as in some way being connected to me.
The child is not quite three and is usually a man of few words, but he is quite vocal when it comes to the cat. “No kitty in my spot!” “No kitty on the bed!” “No kitty, no sit on my eggs!” (The eggs he put very, very, very carefully on the floor of the bathroom under the step stool. The next morning he discovered the cat sitting there. I had moved the eggs.) Often just plain “NO.”
He’s physical, too. He hits the cat and pulls her tail and pushes her off things, which he can do now that he’s twice her weight. (Maybe that is why the cat is gaining weight? Maybe she is trying to catch up with the child? If so, I am doomed. I will be the woman with the 400 pound cat someday.)
The child’s hatred of the cat puzzles me, because I am a cat person, but it worries me, too.
My chief goal in life as a child was to ride the cat. I was sure he could carry me around the house in fine style, my own personal furry white knight named for a dead white whale. (Our cat’s name was Moby Tom.) I succeeded in sitting on him once, according to photographic evidence. He looks as you would imagine a cat would look in such a situation: displeased, but unwilling to make an effort to change the situation. I managed to use him as a pillow. He was a remarkably tolerant creature, which is a good quality in an animal that has to be around small children or people like my father.
My other goal in was to sleep on my parents’ bed, or, barring that, at least to be admitted to it in case of emergency. I was afraid of things, as small children are, and I was convinced that the things I was afraid of would get me in my room. It was closer to the staircase, whereas my parents’ room was down the hall. Also, they were big and could defend against the scary things, which I could not. But they would not be able to save me from the scary things from down the hall, and there was not enough room for them in my room. Thus I needed to sleep with them. But I was not allowed on my parents’ bed. They were proper people who put their child to sleep in a crib down the hall, thus ensuring that they would be called out of bed many times during the night to comfort me.
But the cat! The cat was allowed to sleep on my parents’ bed. Even my father allowed it, and he did not particularly like the cat. My mother says this may be because the cat liked to sleep with his face by her face, which meant his butt was to my father’s face (and no human being, no matter how cat-loving, wants cat butt in his face all night). Sometimes early in the morning I would come in and curl up very, very small on the end of the bed. I would purr. “I’m a cat!” I would say, in case they hadn’t gotten it. But they didn’t fall for it, and I had to get up and go back to my own room.
The child and the cats (there are two cats, really, at our house, although for the purposes of this essay I have made it sound as though there is only one) all sleep on my bed, along with whatever else the child deems necessary for sleeping—stuffed animals, a book or two or three, a sippy cup of juice, 400 toy trains. One morning I discovered a screwdriver in the bed, which made me feel like a Child Protective Services case waiting to happen. The cats, being clever, do not arrive until after the child is asleep, and then they curl up on my other side, so that my body acts as a buffer between him and them. Many mornings I wake up unable to move, because there is not enough room on the bed for a grownup and a toddler and two cats and a stuffed monkey and a stuffed zebra and a teddy bear and a sippy cup of juice and some books and 400 toy trains.
“It’s wake up time, Mommy!” the child says in my ear. “No,” I say, “it’s sleepy time,” because I always want it to be sleepy time. “It’s wake up time!” he says. “Two minutes!” I say, because that is the rule about toys at his daycare. In two minutes you give someone else a turn, and then in two minutes they give you a turn. I am not sure how they measure this. I make two minutes last as long as I possible can with three hungry mammals (remember there are two cats) pawing at me for attention.
* * *
You have noticed perhaps that there are no other humans sleeping in our bed. There was a man, but the man does not sleep here. We have never lived with him, nor he with us. Usually I refer to the man as “my son’s father” because this seems like the most accurate and least complicated way of describing his relationship to us. Surely that is ridiculous, though When was a father/son relationship ever not complicated?
The child always wants to know where the man is and what he is doing. The child wants to know this about everyone. Where is Daddy, where is his brother, where is his other brother, and his other brother, and his other brother, and his sister, and where is Granna, and where are all his friends, and all of their mommies and daddies, and where are all my friends, and where is Dr. B, his pediatrician? Where are they, and what are they all doing? Whenever the child asks about where the pediatrician is, if the man is around he says “at the gym” or “getting his hair cut.” The pediatrician seems like the kind of man who would spend a lot of time on these activities. I just say “he is working” or “he is home” because I am tired. I answer these questions many, many times every day.
Some days I worry about these inquiries. If we lived with his father and his half siblings, would he not wonder all the time about where they are? The problem with children is that it is so easy to call pathology what is merely peculiarity. Maybe that is a problem with all of us.
After my father died, when I was five, I no longer tried to get into my mother’s bed. Instead I tried to make her stay on mine. She sat on the edge of the bed to read to me—all the Oz books, and The Wind in the Willows, and The Wheel on the School, and The Good Master, and Heidi. Then she would give me a kiss good night, and I would grab hold of her finger and not let go, not till she pried my hand off. After she left, I’d call her back, again and again and again. She would tell me not to call her again unless the ceiling fell in. The ceiling never fell in, but sometimes I called her back anyway.
When he was two and a half, the child started to say, “I’m scared of the dark.” He is a child of few words and of economical language; a predicate, a verb, and an object is a complex sentence for him, and this is one of the first he uttered. We got nightlights. We performed monster exorcisms. I could not decide where this fear had come from. But all children seemed to have it. I talked to other parents, and they reported similar things, even the happy, stable, married parents without mental illnesses. Nothing worked, so we gave up on his room, and we started sleeping exclusively in mine.
I do not remember saying that I was afraid of the dark, or feeling it. I was not afraid of the dark, or not specifically. I was simply afraid: of aloneness, of night, of being. I wanted someone to be with me, or I wanted not to be at all.
The child sleeps in my bed to make him feel better, but some days, I know, he is there to make me feel better, too.