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What did you say?

"What did you say?!" asked my wife.

It's the kind of question for which there is no acceptable answer. I don't know about everyone else, but if my wife is asking me what I just said, it's a pretty fair bet that she knows what I said only too well.

What happened was this: Brigid and Emma were playing with the cats, a pair of kittens we had just gotten. They were litter-mates (the cats, I mean, though I suppose, technically, you could say the same about Brigid and Emma), one male and one female, and virtually identical. We named them John and Abby, but because we couldn't tell them apart easily, we ended up just calling them Adams and Adams.

Anyway, the girls and the cats are not always a good combination. For Brigid and Emma, kitties are not creatures. They aren't co-inhabitants of this great blue marble of ours. They aren't ... life. No, for Brigid and Emma, the cats are just about the neatest toys you could ever imagine, sparking every little girl toy-interest-neuron you could name. They're furry, cuddly, and cool looking. They move all under their own power. Being kittens, they are just the right size to be "babies" to Brigid and Emma. There's also that possession thing. Two girls, two cats. You do the math no sharing!

Therefore, to put it in a nutshell, the kitties generate a level of excitement in the girls which may, in some instances, be counterproductive to the comfort and survival of said kitties.

It is, obviously, a good learning opportunity. How do you communicate to twin three-year olds such ideas as compassion and companionship? How can you get them to understand the quiet pleasures of cats, sleeping peacefully on your lap, purring motors going off at about 1500 revs, claws kneading your sweater ever so gently ... it gets my endorphins going just thinking about it.

The trick, therefore is to try to get Brigid and Emma to treat the cats with appropriate affection (as opposed to inappropriate, over-the-top, screaming, hugging, squeezing, I ... can't ... breathe [gasp] affection).

Typically, the scene runs like this:

US: Brigid. Emma. Put the cat down.

BRIGID AND EMMA: [no response.]

US: Put the cat down!

B & E: [nothing]

US: PUT THE CAT DOWN!!!

B & E: What?

I thought I could handle this. I remember saying to myself, "I can handle this."

The first week was rough, though, if only because Sheryl the wife I mentioned went to work and I was dealing with the thugs ... er ... kids ... all on my own. It was day six when I said the thing which prompted Sheryl to ask me what it was, in fact, that I had said.

It had been a long day. Really, really long. Loud. These are the only things I can offer in my defense. I had stupidly stayed up late the night before to finish reading a book (it's the little joys, right?) so I was tired. It had rained, and we've only got the one car, so we were all stuck inside. Lots of fights among the kids. Lots of fights between me and the kids.

That whining thing.

The cords of my psyche were pretty well frayed. The fabric of my patience was threadbare. The taffy of my understanding had been stretched ...

And I said what I said.

We were all upstairs in the living room. For the umpteenth time, Brigid and Emma had tracked down the kittens, picked them up, and held them, inadvertently, so tight that the cats squealed.

"Put the cats down," said I.

Nothing from the girls, squeals from the cats.

"Put the cats down!"

More of the same.

"PUT THE CATS DOWN!"

This time the girls just laugh.

At this moment, Sheryl walks in from the bedroom, where she'd been changing.

And I say, "LOOK, IF YOU'RE GOING TO TORTURE THE CATS, AT LEAST TAKE THEM DOWNSTAIRS WHERE I DON'T HAVE TO LISTEN TO IT!"

That's what I said. I didn't mean it! If Sheryl hadn't interrupted me I would have immediately gone back to the "put the cat down" stuff. I swear. Really.

What have we learned from this episode?

The most valuable lesson imparted to Brigid and Emma would be this: you can get away with a lot more if only Dad doesn't have to listen to it. Really, would I object to it all the fighting, door slamming, name-calling, TV watching, Lego throwing etc. if I didn't have to hear about it? I'll admit it. I'll cop to it. I'm man enough to say, "I don't know." But I'm also sensitive enough to be bothered by my apathy ... so it's okay, right?

As for myself, I learned that if one is ever confronted with the question, posed incredulously, "What did you say?" One should immediately go into denial try to cast a confusion ("Which what did I say? When?"). I won't tell you what my response was in this situation. It was, literally, too pathetic for words.

Oh, and one other lesson ... what was it? Something about being nice to cats ... was that it? Nope ... no good ... I've forgotten ...

© 2005 - 2012 Hal Levy and the above captioned author.