Family life

Five lessons from our cat

Tracy Chappell’s new family pet has had an unexpected impact.

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Photo: Tracy Chappell

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

We got our first pet, a one-and-a-half-year-old tabby cat named Mae, from a rescue organization about five weeks ago. She makes me believe in love at first sight, and now we wonder why we waited so long. She’s become that perfect fifth member of our family and, like little ones tend to do, she’s taught our family some important lessons.

Kids can surprise you
Before we got our cat, I wrote about how I had been reluctant about getting a pet because I figured all the work would fall on my shoulders. So I was pretty surprised when my eight-year-old, Anna, immediately stepped up in this department. We’d only had Mae for a few days when Anna said, “We should make a schedule for who is going to fill up her dishes and clean out the litter box every day.” And then she went on to write it up and tape it to our kitchen wall, giving herself three days, her little sister Avery three days, and leaving Friday for Sean and I to share. Umm…OK! And they’re doing it (with a little help from us, but still, it’s kind of blowing my mind).

Read more: Family pet: Preparing the kids >

Pets are awesome
Honestly, I didn’t think I could get so attached so quickly. I wrote on my Facebook page after that first week: “I used to look forward to seeing my kids at the end of the day, but now I just can’t wait to see my cat.” And I meant it! Because she only emerged from hiding in the early days after the kids had gone to bed, I was dying to get them tucked in so I could cuddle up with Mae on the couch. And when we were away on Easter weekend, Anna said, “I want to go home because I miss Mae!” Yes, we really, really love her.

Cats are easy
I knew dogs would be too much work for us, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how low-maintenance cat ownership has been so far. We fill up the food, we change her litter box and that’s pretty much it. She’s been great at only clawing her scratching post. She’s clean. She’s quiet. She sleeps a lot. And while she definitely sheds a lot of hair, she’s so damn cute we don’t even mind.

Patience is a virtue
Mae hid behind our freezer for the first week we had her. Then she discovered a storage room and nestled herself in there for the next week. Next she took a liking to hiding out under our bed. She came out after the kids went to bed and was the sweetest, most cuddly kitty Sean and I could ever want. But whenever she heard the kids’ voices or their pounding on the stairs, she’d high-tail it out of there. We visited a friend of mine recently who’d just gotten a kitten and my kids spent the entire visit carrying this kitten around and playing with her and having a ball. I was worried we’d made a huge mistake buying an older cat. Not that I don’t love her to bits, but we did get her for the kids and I thought, “What if she never warms up to them? Maybe we need to get a kitten, too!” But the girls assured me they loved Mae so much (even though they’d barely interacted with her) which made my heart swell. And they’ve patiently waited for Mae to get more comfortable with them, and now she’s definitely coming around. They may never be able to dress her up in doll clothes and cart her around in a wagon, but she’ll now cuddle up on the rugs in their rooms at night, let them pet her (as long as they don’t charge at her) and she’ll brush up against them and purr if they’re being calm. Anna said to me excitedly last night “I got some special Mae time today!” The fact that they’ve had to earn her love and trust seems to make it extra special to them.

Two are easier than one
Some people say this about kids and I am the first to say that that’s a big fat lie. But I wouldn’t rule out getting another cat at some point—probably a kitten this time, so the girls can experience the fun of a little one. They say cats are happier with a companion, but taking on two at once seemed like too much at the time. But now, who knows? We’ll have to see what Mae thinks of this idea, since she’s become the centre of our universe.

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