Photo: Courtesy of Natalie Stechyson
My name is “Mamama,” and I’m a recovering crazy cat lady.
It all started 11 years ago, when my university boyfriend broke up with me and, in my melodramatic, heartbroken twentysomething angst, I decided to become a stereotype and get a kitten, Milo, to ease my solitude. “I want the spiky one,” I said after looking at adoption photos of two serene fluffballs and one skinny black runt with eyes that said “I will piss all over your life.”
It was love at first bite.
Milo has been my constant cranky companion over the past decade, when I spent much of my time moving from city to city for work. No matter where we lived, he slept in my bed every night—something my eventual husband had to learn to embrace. (Not metaphorically, my husband literally had to embrace the cat every night to keep him from gnawing on any exposed flesh—Milo turns feral after midnight.)
When I told my mother I was pregnant with her first grandchild, after she finished screaming, crying and jumping up and down, she lowered her voice—as if the cat lobbyists might hear her—and whispered “And you’re going to get rid of Milo, right?” She spent the rest of my pregnancy sending me articles about the perils of cat litter and telling me that Milo would steal the baby’s breath.
“You won’t believe how quickly you stop caring about your cat once you have a baby,” a colleague warned me when I tried to show him yet another photo of Milo in a jaunty Christmas sweater. What a heartless monster.
Then I had a baby.
It was instantaneous. I spent my drive to the maternity ward fretting over leaving Milo overnight. I begged my sister to feed him and give him lots of cuddles (she promised to feed him). When I returned home with my newborn, Milo greeted us at the door and poked his head in the baby’s bucket seat and I shrieked, “He’s trying to steal the baby’s breath!” The cat galloped downstairs to the basement and we didn’t see him again for three days.
Just like that, I went from being the person who brings her cat to have photos taken with Santa to someone who forgets to pick him up at the cat sitter’s after getting back from vacation. I used to let Milo eat ice cream out of my bowl; now, my vet congratulates me on finally getting “the little pork chop” to lose weight. I used to let Milo perch on my shoulder like a furry parrot; the other day, I watched him eat my houseplants and wondered whether he actually has any redeemable qualities.
My 11-month-old son, who made me understand what unconditional love really is, was a real jerk about sleep for the first seven months of his life. When it got so bad that we were up every 20 minutes, I moved him to his own room and sleep-trained him lest I act out my recurring fantasy of getting on a bus to the coast and starting a new life.
With the baby out of our room, Milo tried to undo seven months of banishment and reclaim his spot on our bed. But I did not come out on the other end of mind-numbing, despair-inducing, life-abandoning sleep deprivation to be kept awake by a creature who once dropped a live mouse on my neck. After his first feral wolf howl, he promptly found himself on the wrong side of a closed door.
It’s not that having a baby made me love my cat less; it’s just that I’ve finally come to realize something I hadn’t in all those years: He is a cat.
To my son, though, Milo is an enchanted creature—a harbinger of joy. He shrieks with delight every time the cat skulks into a room and has been chasing him around the house since the day he could crawl. His only goal in life is to ride Milo like a horse.
There are some evenings when the cat curls up in my lap after a long day and I feel terrible about the emotional abandonment of my previously spoiled pet. As I rub his head, I think about what a good sport Milo is when my son body-slams him and tries to suck on his tail. “Good cat,” I mutter with guilty tears in my eyes.
Then, a few weeks ago, I discovered that Milo had pissed all over the bag of maternity clothes I’d packed away in the basement, targeting each item with liquid rage and sending a pretty clear message.
Well, someone isn’t getting a new Christmas sweater this year.