The Class of 2013

I am the proud parent of a graduating member of the class of 2013. I will try to refrain from cynicism hereafter, but it must be said that this sentence used to mean something. In my case, it means that my son finished preschool yesterday. He, along with 9 other children now hold that illustrious title of Preschool Graduate. In all fairness, he is the only one of our three children to complete preschool, so I suppose that is noteworthy.

I do not intend to spend my time pointing out our collective fascination with graduations, graduation speeches, commitments to excellence and world change, and of course grad outfits. Actually, I did want to focus on the outifts, come to think of it.

As it were, this year I had two graduates. Yes, I am the lucky mother of a kindergarten graduate as well. Oh, and a grade 3 graduate. It’s practically like being a Triple Crown winner, folks. But I digress. Having had a child graduate from kindergarten in the past, I am familiar with the conventions: put them in a dress shirt, comb their hair, and pray that they are wearing proper footwear by the time they march into the gym to the music of Pomp and Circumstance. (Teddy’s JK Christmas concert had him wearing his winter boots with his dress pants, and Sammy looked like a homeless man for his SK graduation with the tongue of his right shoe hanging out over his toes. This is what happens when 5-year-olds are responsible for their own footwear at school.)

Since Caleb is our first child to attend preschool, however, it perpetually slips my mind that those two days a week he spends colouring and playing under the watchful eye of several patient women qualify as “school.” And so I show up for his Christmas concert on a Wednesday morning by myself, not having thought to invite proud grandparents, godparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbours, and the family doctor. I miss picture day (although in my defense, we were in Europe at the time) and forget about his “special helper” days.

One would think that I’d have figured it out by June that preschool is a bigger deal than I think it is, but yesterday’s  graduation bore witness to my utter incompetency as a preschool mother yet again. Just when I was patting myself on the back for having remembered all of his recent “special helper days,” the graduation confirmed that the “Preschool Mother of the Year Award” would have to go to someone else. Perhaps to the woman pinning a pink bow in her princess’s long, silky hair. At least she remembered to comb her kids’ hair for graduation.

In my defense, the event was called an “end of the year celebration and BBQ,” which, to me, means lawn chairs, meat from the grill, and possibly a bouncy castle. I saw no problem, therefore, with teaching a piano class from 4 – 5, and leaving my husband with the instructions to have the children ready so that we could leave as soon as I was done. The veggie tray was already waiting to go, so nothing could go wrong.

We showed up at the school and I quickly realized that a veggie tray was not the only thing I was supposed to bring. Properly attired children would have been a good idea. While little girls were wearing their new spring dresses with matching purple bows in their hair, our Caleb was still wearing his two-day-old camouflage shorts and army green sleeveless T-shirt. With giant Freezie stains down the front.

Believe it or not, his personal appearance was the least offensive of our three boys. Teddy wore his trusty faded camouflage shirt (the one he had donned on picture-retake day) and his hair was still matted down with sweat from his bike ride home from school. Sammy’s T-shirt and shorts were about as random a pairing as Coca Cola and Belgian waffles, and his legs bore the telltale dirt streaks from having played in the sandbox and then watering the plants. Suffice it to say that our children’s appearance presented a stark contrast to all the cleavage and high heels in the room.

I probably should have been more specific in my instructions to my husband than, “have the children ready”. In all fairness to him, he was interested in only one thing when he got home from having spent 8 hours in a hot, sticky factory on a hot sticky day: a shower for himself. So as it were, Oliver and I were presentable, while our children look like the progeny of dead-beat crack addicts.

At this point a married couple has two options: harangue one another for incompetence, or laugh about the situation. We opted for the second. Oliver joked that it would be a great idea to gather all the children in the room for a group photo, and then assign everyone the task of finding the Trefz children – similar to “Where’s Waldo.” We laughed at the women who had gone to the effort of coordinating their outifts with their perfect little daughter’s, and took solace in the fact that we will never see most of these people again anyways.

As one would expect, our boys were blissfully unaware of being under-dressed, and were more concerned about the lack of a bouncy castle. The food served as moderate consolation, but everyone was happy to return home without too many tearful good-byes or sentimental reflections on the passing of an era.

For those of you considering preschool for your child, take it from me that it is a bigger deal than you think it is. You’ve been warned.

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Mothers and Sons

For better or for worse, kids take after their parents. It’s part of the design of the institution. Parents contribute the genetic material and the environment, and, by and large, their kids will become easily recognizable by outsiders as being a member of that family.

Usually when I see my kids exhibiting my character traits and behaviours, it’s the bad ones that stick out, and I find myself cringing under the knowledge that I’ve contributed both my nature and my nurture to what I’m seeing. Yesterday, however, I had to laugh hysterically as I sat across the table from my little doppelganger.

The grade 3 curriculum focusses heavily on narrative writing at this stage of the year, and so we have watched our son‘s creativity unfold in some pretty wild, imaginative stories. Currently Teddy is devouring C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia together with his father, so he has been inspired to write fantasy stories. His teacher is impressed by his imagination, but not so impressed by his lack of brevity. Every day he starts a new story in school, but all of them lie unfinished in his work basket because he runs out of time to put all his ideas on paper.

Still, his teacher recognizes his writing ability, and pairs him up with students who are weaker in this department, hoping that they might glean a thing or two from his fertile imagination. Predictably, he’s the one doing the work while his partner is content to apply herself to other unrelated pursuits. (At this point I must interject and concur with the writer of Ecclesiastes: “A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun… smart kids will always do the work of slackers, and teachers will always think it’s a good idea to pair them up in a vain attempt at peer improvement . If this was true for your mother’s generation, it will be true for yours.” [1:4 & 9, amplified somewhat])

But I digress. Teddy enjoys and excels at writing, and so I was surprised when he expressed his dread at the writing requirement of the upcoming Province-wide Standardized Test, the EQAO.

“Mom, we have to write a one-page narrative on our EQAO test!”

“Oh Teddy, that’s a piece of cake,” I answered. “That’ll be no problem for you.”

“Mom,” (with that lilt in his voice that develops around age 6 and indicates that your kid has figured out that sometimes you’re just plain dense) “you don’t understand. When I write, I write six pages, not one. That’s impossible!”

There are times in my life as a parent when I shake my head because I just can’t understand my kid. Then there are times when I’m pretty sure my kid was cloned, because it could be me sitting there in that little body expressing those same frustrations about word counts and limits on literary creativity. I looked over at my husband, who is nothing like our son in this respect, and who just could not wipe the grin off his face. “What?” I said in in our defence, “There are just so many good words out there that it’s hard to only pick a few.”

That being said, I’d just like to point out that this piece is under 600 words – a personal best for me in my pursuit of brevity.

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C’est L’amour – a year later

Once every ten years or so I change my mind about something. Most people with my personality will tell you that it is not easy to admit that your views on something may not have been sufficiently explored, and must therefore be subjected to scrutiny. Valentine’s Day is one such issue for me. Those of you who remember last year’s post are no doubt intrigued that I would even suggest a change of heart.It all began with my resolve to be more prepared this year. Because I have always found the tradition of handing out Valentines at school utterly useless, I would wage silent protest by not participating until February 13, when it became clear that my children would be the only ones not professing their undying love for their 19 classmates the following day. So on February 13 at 4:30pm I would yield to the will of the masses, and by 4:45 I’d be standing in Shopper’s Drug Mart with the other parents who had dragged their butts on the issue until the 11th hour, so to speak. (See last year’s post for a more detailed presentation of the repercussions of this type of approach on the home front.)

To avoid the stress and frustration therefore, I vowed that this year would be different. So casting aside my principles about the utter wastefulness of the purchase, preparation and distribution of Valentine’s Day cards, I headed to Shopper’s on February 3 of this year – a personal record in preparedness.

I should mention that the thought had been planted quite firmly by our second son, Sammy, (hereafter referred to as Romeo to better reflect his character) who began preparing Valentines for the entire family on February 1st. When we turned over a new page on the calendar he saw hearts, and immediately felt it incumbent upon himself to prepare for this most worthwhile of celebrations. By the end of the day every family member had a construction paper heart taped to the wall beside their bed with a heartfelt message of his affections. Obviously, someone around here actually cares about Valentine’s Day this year.

Contrary to the common perception, I am not a troll on matters of the heart, particularly not where my children are concerned. If it means this much to Romeo, I will surely do my part to help him celebrate. If I learned anything from last year, however, it is to carefully examine the cards before purchase. Do not purchase anything that has the fine print “some assembly required” if you do not wish to spend the evening of the 13th furiously assembling cards. The cards I found this year are really quite simple (no folding, no stickers, no pop-up construction, no GPS tracking device) and, I think, quite profound in the message they convey. Nothing says “I love you” like a googly-eyed Lion with the caption, “You’re Wild!” (The argument could be made by the astute parent that these cards may not be appropriate for young children, but I’m claiming naiveté in my defence.)It is hard to over-state the profundity of these cards.

The children are excited to hand out Valentines this year, I must admit. I suppose there could be worse things to celebrate. So while I do not ordinarily go on about mushy stuff on these pages, it is only fitting that I close with a small tribute to my stalwart husband who has, in the past year, selflessly taken on a lion’s share of the responsibility at home, now that I have a real-life job. I do not know too many men who do laundry, groceries and vacuuming in addition to working full-time and keeping everything from faucets to hinges to piano pedals working properly. So here’s to you, Babe: Happy 13th Valentine’s Day!

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Picture Day

This is a school picture of me at age 7. Every time I looked at this picture over the years I asked myself the same question: Did the photographer not notice the hair? Could she not have at least drawn my attention to the fact that I looked like I’d just had an encounter with a bear? Check out the dress, folks. Obviously I was prepared for picture day. The hair was the result of recess, and I would have appreciated the opportunity to set it right before it was captured in all its disheveled glory for posterity.

I know how painful a bad school picture can be, especially to the perfectionist control freak. It was with great shock and horror, therefore, that it dawned on me in the middle of the morning while shopping for shirts for our oldest son in Once Upon A Child, that today was Picture Re-take Day, that merciful accommodation of school photographers for those children who a) forgot about Picture Day, b) were absent, c) were cross-eyed in the picture or d) were caught on film picking their nose.

I racked my brain trying to remember what Teddy looked like when I sent him off this morning. I remembered an epic bed-head. I desperately tried to bring to mind what he was wearing, but it just wouldn’t come. Experience has taught me that he gives about as much thought to his clothing as he does to girls, so this could be a disastrous picture. (Note: this is not my kid, but you get the idea)

Thankfully I had four really nice shirts in my hand, so I quickly paid for my purchases, grabbed our youngest son and ran out of the store on my mission to save Teddy’s grade 3 picture. As I raced across town (for yes, I was on the other end of the city) I hoped against hope that his class had not yet been called down to the gym. “At an average of 3 kids per class needing re-takes,” I reasoned, “if they start at Junior Kindergarten, what is the chance that the Grade 3s have not yet been called down by 10:15?” Clearly the odds were stacked against us.

The thought occurred to me that we should have just gone with the original picture. It wasn’t so bad, really, just severe. He was looking at the camera as if to say, “our landfills are filling up, folks, and I don’t see you doing anything about it.” (He is the official garbage sorter of their class – by his own choice. Today he “gets to” stay in at recess to remove the recyclables from the trash and put them in their correct receptacles. Where does he get this stuff?) Still, the severe picture in a nice shirt would have been better than the bed-head and who-knows-what ghastly T-shirt and track pant combo.

I roared into the parking lot, grabbed two sweaters and my now sleeping 36 lb three-year-old and made my way into the school. (By the way, 36 pounds of dead-weight is a lot heavier when you’re in a hurry than when you can take your sweet time). I got to the office, which was empty. I checked in the Principal’s office, which was also empty. The Caretaker is next, a former classmate from high school. “Luke,” I said. “I’ve got a problem. I forgot about Re-take Day, I haven’t brushed Teddy’s hair since the original Picture Day, and his outfit is probably a disaster. Can you help me?”

At this point the music teacher came by, who offered to get Teddy out of class. As she was off getting Teddy, the Secretary came back from the photocopy room and I filled her in on the reason for my visit. Together we figured out that one grade 3 class was already in the gym, but not his. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then they came around the corner: the music teacher and my sweet, smiling boy dressed in a faded grey camouflage T-shirt, poppy-red track pants, and a bed-head that hadn’t settled in the course of the morning. In that moment I knew we had avoided a painful school picture for the next perfectionist control freak in our family.

Together we used water from the fountain to try to tame the unruly hair, and I requested the photographer to crop the bright red pants out of the picture. “Teddy,” I informed my now smartly-dressed son with only mildly unruly hair, “you just pose with your arms crossed and the photographer will take off your pants.” As soon as the words came out I realized that the true meaning had been lost, and the caretaker, secretary, music teacher, and another waiting mother were all in stitches at my slip of the tongue.

Truth be told, of course, we all know that this was about me, the Mom. We Moms care about these things. It’s the reason we show up at school with hairspray and a comb on picture day just to ensure that our offspring will look good in the picture that will grace our mantle for the coming year. We pay attention to the details in our kids’ lives. If we didn’t, who would remember the little things, like bringing cupcakes for the Halloween party or 20 little Candy-grams for all their little friends on Valentines Day?

Actually, I’m not that detail person. I’m quite the opposite. So while other moms made Zombie eye-balls using Oreo Cookie crumbs and cream cheese for their classroom party, I remembered that morning about the party and sent along a bag of chips for one (from Daddy’s secret stash) and a package of store-bought chocolate chip cookies for the other. “Better than nothing,” I assured myself. “I’m doing my part to keep up with the other Moms.”

Apparently not. On the day after Halloween when I picked up our third son from pre-school, I marveled at his large paper bag filled with candy. Upon closer inspection I realized that Caleb was apparently the only child who had not brought little Halloween treat baggies for all his “friends”. Every Mother with a child in that school had assembled little treat baggies for all the other children, stuffing them with erasers, pencils, play dough and sweets, tying them up with a ribbon and name tag, and finally somehow distributing them to all the other children in the class. My only comfort is that some of the bags were anonymous, so they can just assume that one of those was from their “good friend” Caleb.

I have to say though, that the pay-off this morning was the actual picture. The photographer allowed me to stand beside her, and I watched as she tilted his head and adjusted his arms to make the picture just right. His smile wouldn’t really come, so I just reminded him that the photographer was going to take off his pants. Beautiful.

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Parenting 201 – The practicum

United States women's national team and former...

United States women’s national team and former North Carolina soccer player Lindsay Tarpley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes life just passes you the ball of opportunity, and if you’re ready, you get to experience the satisfaction of connecting with that ball and sending it flying into a wide-open net. Such was my experience at tonight’s soccer practice, although my time on the field lasted mere minutes. Just an opportune jaunt across the grass, really, but oh the timing… the thrill of a well-placed shot. Glorious.

I’m not actually talking about soccer, although it happened at my children’s soccer practice. Anyone who read last week’s rant will remember my near-apoplexy at the behaviour of two very wayward, poorly behaved youngsters who managed to spoil the game for themselves and their teammates by insisting on calling their own shots and paying absolutely no heed to any authority figure. As providence would have it, the young lady who dominated last week’s blog was now on a different team, so I no longer needed to watch her antics (although a cursory glance at the other field assured us that she was up to the same old tricks from last week). Her brother, however, is still on our older son’s team, and so we watched him as he sat alone in silent protest of the coach’s agenda. Although his coach paid him essentially no attention, he continued sulking, silently picking the grass, waiting to be cajoled to join the team.

As I walked by to bring our son his water bottle, I noticed that he was out of ear-shot for virtually everybody, as his teammates were having a team meeting at the very opposite end of the field and his mother was coaching his young sister’s team further away. I perceived the clean pass, took the ball, and ran with it. I casually sauntered over to the young man, knelt down to his level, and asked,

“So, are you having fun?”

“Kind of,” he replied.

“Not much fun when your teammates are over there and you’re over here, is it?” I suggested.

“I want to run,” was his reply.

“I’m sure your coach has some running planned, but a soccer player who only runs and can’t maneuver a ball is pretty useless.” At this point he had already gotten up and was making his way to join his team, probably a little confused by the fact that there was a strange woman calling him out on his annoying behaviour.

“I just want to run,” he repeated as he walked away. I motioned for him to get moving in the proper direction, and off he went to join his team. I didn’t see him sit again for the rest of the practice.

To be honest, I’d expected more resistance; more attitude. Evidently he isn’t so far gone that a good honest confrontation by a strange adult won’t do the trick. I’ve got my eye on that kid. Little does he know that his own personal life coach is sitting on the sidelines.

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Parenting 201

Ladies and Gentlemen, I freely admit that today’s post is a rant – pure and simple. If you don’t like that sort of thing, don’t read on. I need to decompress, and since I pay the rent here (figuratively speaking) I will vent as I see fit. If you have ever seen misbehaving children in public and your inner Super-nanny has reared her bold head, you will know what I’m talking about.

Today was Teddy & Sammy’s first soccer practice in a league that we are new to this year. I was feeling relaxed about this new season of soccer, since we now have two children playing and only one to entertain on the sidelines, and we had found a nice shady spot in which to sit and watch. I almost said to Oliver, “I think I could get used to this,” as I sank into our camping chairs, but now I’m glad I didn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ll make it through the season without suffering a stroke due to high blood pressure.

It all started out innocently enough, as most first encounters among children do. Teddy and Sammy practice simultaneously on adjacent fields, so we were able to watch both at the same time. In Sammy’s SK/grade 1 group there were 9 children; seven boys and two girls. Eight of those children were under the guidance of a coach. The ninth (a girl) had a handy-dandy personal assistant (PA) who looked to be either a much older brother/cousin, or family friend. It soon became evident that she required this personal assistant because she could not receive instruction from the coach. True, she couldn’t receive instruction from the PA either, but perhaps he needed community service hours in order to graduate, and this was his project. One never knows.

Before someone chimes in here and says, “now don’t be so hasty… this child may be suffering from ADHD or something similar,” I will a.) attempt not to roll my eyes and b.) suggest that even parents of children with ADHD would be well advised to follow through on the consequences they promise their children for bad behaviour. In such a case, intentional parenting would be all the more critical. While I don’t doubt that there’s something in our label-happy modern-day Psychology manuals to diagnose this girl, she was obviously very smart and a great puppeteer, seeing as all the adults in her life danced like marionettes as she pulled the strings.

After I had watched this young lady prance around the field in blatant disregard for her PA’s pleas to please join the rest of the group “or else she’ll miss out on the fun!” for 15 minutes, I leaned over to my mild-mannered husband and warned him that I may not be able to sit out the hour without intervening in this situation with some measured words for the princess in pink shin pads. I felt real pity for the young man who was assigned to her, because he obviously had no idea how to claim his rightful place as the authority figure in the situation. He would probably thank some stranger for doing him the favour of giving his young charge a realistic idea of her place in the hierarchy of society.

As I sat there planning out the best approach to stop the insanity of the situation (for she was now running off the field during dribbling practice, and sitting in the net into which her teammates were kicking soccer balls – still pretending that her ears were stuffed with cotton) a female assistant coach walked onto the field, ostensibly to help the first coach run his practice. She obviously knew the girl, and I was curious to see how she would handle the situation. It quickly became clear that she had just as little sway over the girl’s choices, and would merely call for her to “come on and join us!” without ever actually doing anything about the fact that she was now walking the perimeter of the field while the other children were quietly sitting in a team huddle. I looked over to my mild-mannered husband, who now sat deeply in his chair with his hat over his eyes. He couldn’t watch, he said. I was coping by squeezing his hand to release some of my inner tension. I found myself wishing for my stress ball. When Oliver’s hand could take no more, I began firmly massaging Caleb’s shoulders, who happened to be standing in front of me.

At about the same time that I heard this young lady call the coach “Mom,” I also observed that there was a similar situation brewing on our other son’s field right next door, except that this boy was sitting in the grass about 10 feet from the sidelines, waiting for someone to come and cajole him to “join in the fun!” When Sammy’s coach called to the young man in the grass to go and join his teammates, and the young lady’s PA ran over to try his luck with the boy, it was clear that these two children shared the same parentage. It should have tipped me off right away that they were born to the same set of parents because the boy was named after a State on the West Coast, and his sister was named after the Native American tribe that lived there. Cute.

Throughout the practice, Mom would either ignore her children’s misbehaviour (having obviously bought into the psycho-babble that if you ignore your children’s bad behaviour it’ll go away on its own) or she would threaten to leave early. At the respective ages of 6 and 8, this sister and brother team knew full well that the chance of Mom actually following through on her ultimatum was about as great as the chance of a meteor hurtling from space and leaving a giant crater at centre field. They live this way. These behaviours do not suddenly creep up once kids hit school. A 15-month-old baby is already checking to see whether “No” actually means “No,” and whether the promised consequences will come immediately or once Mom has finished counting to 3.

Please understand that I am no perfect parent. The pages of this blog are filled to overflowing with tales of my children’s misbehaviours and my failures as a parent. Since becoming a parent I have become much more gracious of other parents who struggle with tough-to-manage children. I have been there, am living there, and will most likely continue to live there. I understand that there are tough nuts out there, and many of them are under the age of 10. But folks, could we at least all agree to follow through on the promises we make to our children? And to do it in short order? For the sake of their future school teachers, piano teachers, soccer coaches, and parole officers, could we please place a higher priority on letting our children know that when we say “No” that really means “No?” And could we please all agree to just go ahead and let the promised consequence rain down as soon as the children step out of line again after we’ve told them not to (once)? A child doesn’t need three warnings any more than the guy caught drinking and driving does. Although I am not a police officer, I know enough about that line of work to know that no self-respecting police officer will threaten 5 times and then count to 3 before actually slapping the cuffs on a guy. It’s ludicrous in policing, and it’s just as ridiculous and ineffective in the world of parenting.

Yes there are children who are more difficult to parent than others. But as I am learning with my own kids, those are the kids who need the solid boundaries most desperately. When we discussed the soccer practice afterwards, both boys told of their respective Disruptors without any prodding from us. Both commented on how annoying they had been to the rest of the team. And when I asked them whether they thought the Disruptive Duo had had fun, they had to admit that no, they probably hadn’t. It’s not a lot of fun sulking on the sidelines, or not being involved in the practice with your team, simply because you need to wage war with the parent that hasn’t enforced clear boundaries. It was a great moment for us to explain to the kids that we are teaching them obedience because we want them to be happy, not because we want to rob them of their joie de vivre.

No, our children are not perfect; nor is our parenting. But by God’s grace our boys are respectful and obedient to those in authority, and there’s something to be said for that.

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Room for one more

I used to have a theory that women who couldn’t convince their husbands to have any more children would get a family pet instead. You know how it is: a couple has two or three kids, and when the youngest becomes a preschooler, all of a sudden a pet arrives on the scene. The cause and effect relationship seems obvious: someone wanted another kid, and someone else had tapped out with the last one.

I’m here to tell you that cause and effect relationships don’t always speak for themselves. The more likely scenario is that by the time the youngest child becomes a preschooler, the oldest is old enough to beg for a pet. For an entire year. And while stuffed animals may delay the inevitable for a while, the day is coming when your children will wear you down and you will find yourself the proud owner of a pet – preferably a furry one.

  As anyone who has followed my blog for any period of time knows, our children have a fascination with animals and animal behaviour. For Teddy, the sweetest memory of the summer of 2011 will probably always be his three mini toads that he smuggled back to the city from the cottage. Letting them back into the wild will probably always be one of his most bitter childhood memories.

Teddy’s first pets: mini-toads in a water bottle cap

Although the toads are long gone, they had the lasting effect of awakening in him a desire for a real pet.

 Here’s the thing: I’ve never been a “pet person,” certainly not a “cat person”, and probably could have lived out my days happily without a pet of any description. But when a charming young lady begs you to take an adorable kitten that you know full well would put your sweet young boys in raptures, your heart is bound to soften, no matter how hard it previously was. And so it was, that after having Lucy at our house for a late-night test drive after the children were in bed, we agreed to take the plunge.

 

Two nights later, our friend brought Lucy and her few earthly possessions to her new formerly pet-free home, and with some parting instructions and many tears left this playful, alien creature with us. Lucy spent the night in her carrier, and we looked forward to the next day when our children would get the surprise of their young lives.

 

The next morning Sammy went downstairs to get his stuffed horse, and walked right past the carrier. On his way back upstairs, this new accessory caught his eye and he curiously peered inside.

“TEDDY!” he called loudly. “You gotta come see this! There’s something really cute downstairs!”

Teddy came bounding down the stairs, saw the kitten, and asked incredulously, “is this really our pet? Is she staying with us? Forever?” That last question is a tricky one. It really addresses one of the main concerns I’ve always had with getting a pet for children: that animal represents a heartache waiting to happen when “forever” ends in tragedy.

The seasoned pet owner’s obvious response to that line of reasoning is, of course, that you’re failing to take into account all the joy that preceeds the sorrow, and that the value of this joy exceeds the duration of the sorrow. Even I must concede that they are right. Lucy is quite a character, and our children are very much taken with her. Let’s put it this way: if they treated each other with the love and affection they reserve for their feline sister, our family would be the 3-D version of a Tricia Romance painting. Lucy is hugged, kissed, squeezed, carried, given good-night hugs, told she is loved, fed, and followed around the house. That cat has somehow managed to secure her little band of groupies by doing absolutely nothing. And if the individual members of her following didn’t fight over who got the chance to pet her next, it would be heaven.

For me, the real joy of owning a cat comes when she noiselessly slinks onto the couch where I am reading a book after the children are in bed, and promptly falls asleep on my lap, making no demands of my time. She’s like a low-maintenance kid: she’s fun-loving and curious, does funny things like chase her tail or jump into the paper recycling can, but is already potty-trained, cleans herself, sleeps through the night (not technically speaking, but I don’t notice her in the laundry room), can be left home alone, and eats from a bowl that does not even need to be washed every day. Whoever thinks this type of pet is a lot of work has never had a baby. We’ll see whether my enthusiasm lasts beyond the first visit to the vet.

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