kit and caboodle
26 August 1999
Exhibit A. One CAT, long silky beige fur like wheat or honey with swirling dark rust patterns halfway between stripes and spots. Lush long fur, long lithe body, rabbit ears that prick tall and large, tail like a plume, a feather duster, a racoon’s tail. Name: Silverlock’s Dante. The Silverlock part is his breeder. He’s a Turkish Angora. Exotic, ancient bloodlines. Looks like a sphinx: elegant, even regal. Except when he’s not sleeping, then he’s a goofball, a doofus, a bozo, a birdbrain.

Exhibit B. One SMALL CHILD. Lean body, long legs, bright dark eyes, a ready smile, especially when sighting Exhibit A. Name: Damian. My son. Nicknames include: boo boo, monkey, silly sausage.

Dante was born July 8, 1997, a month and change before Damian was conceived. We got him in October, I was in the throes of morning sickness. He was a wild kitten. I couldn’t play with him (seasickness magnified) and he wouldn’t cuddle with me (too much energy). Later in the pregnancy, I felt better but still kept a distance. I didn’t want him to feel suddenly deprived when the baby came.

During my intense labor, he cavorted with the midwife’s assistants and amused all concerned by bouncing around the house like a deranged Tigger doll, bounding off walls and clambering up to teeter on the top of the door frame. I thought -- during the brief spells I could think -- poor kitty, your life is about to turn upside down and you don’t even know.

They say your pet might be jealous of your new baby. They say bring something home with the newborn human smell on it -- a blanket, a cap -- before the baby comes, as if somehow that’ll make them understand: <sniff sniff> "ah, a small human this way cometh." <sniff> "And somehow connected to these giants." <snuffle> "Wait, I’m getting more. Ah, I must play nice with this helpless bundle of human or the Gods my Owners will boot me from my oh-so-comfortable abode." Sure, cat ESP. I get it.

Well, Dan spent maybe a few hours at home after Damian was born, my mom got I think one tolerable night’s sleep at our place, and the new little family came home a mere day and a half after what ended up a traumatic birth experience. Needless to say, nobody was thinking about giving Dante some baby blankie to snort.

He did okay, though. He settled in his basket at the bottom of the bed, kneading the fake sheepskin and purring like a lunatic, same as always. The first time Damian cried, Dante pricked his ears. "Noisy new object." The second time: "Can’t you turn that thing off? I’m losing sleep here." He left for quieter climes. But they coexisted tolerably well for all that.

Typical exchange of stares:

Damian: "Orange blob. Moves. Squeaks. Further analysis needed."

Dante: "Miniature human. Waves arms. Squeaks. Gonna go find me a toy mouse to kill."

My mom, here for the first three weeks of Damian’s life, would hold him and rock and whisper, "that’s the cat. When you’re older, you can pull his tail." Damian looked very wise.

As I got more adept at being mommy, I spent more time holding Damian and petting Dante or whipping out the cat dancer, making the little faux wood logs at the end of the wire bounce wildly and making the cat bounce wildly in response. Dante and I were bonding, Damian an accepted accessory.

Sometimes I’d hold Damian’s hand in mine, guiding him, letting him feel the sensation of Dante’s thick luxurious fur.

Damian: "eeeee!" (delighted squeal) Translation: "Soft!!! Alive!!! Neat!!!!"

Dante: <yawn> <stretch> Translation: "If it can pet me, it can stay."

One afternoon, I was doing dishes, three month old Damian in his bouncer (baby lounge chair) on the floor, keeping me company. Dante pranced into the kitchen, cat dancer in his mouth. I expected him to deposit it at my feet in his doglike way, asking, "play?" But no. He dropped it at Damian’s feet. Waited, expectant. Sorry cat, the kid’s not old enough to play. I dried my hands, picked up the wire toy, waved it around as Dante leaped and twisted in the air. Enough. I tossed it through the door into the dining room.

Cat bounded back, gripping the wire with his teeth. Dropped it at Damian’s feet again. And Damian -- little helpless non-mobile thing -- picked it up with his prehensile toes and kicked, making it bounce!

Cat was happy.

Cat was gone. I didn’t trust him to play gently. Off to the living room he went, cat dancer not far behind.

But the scene was set, the relationship off to a good start. After Damian learned to sit up, I’d sit him by Dante, where he’d chortle with glee and grab tufts of fur.

Me: "pat gentle," open his hand, stroke the cat.

Damian: "eeee!" <giggle> <grab> Translation: "who’s she kidding???"

Dante: <blink> <stare> Translation: "If I humor him, will I get more catnip?"

After Damian learned to crawl, all bets were off. See kitty. Get look of pure unadulterated joy. Scoot over to kitty. Attack!

Surprisingly, Kitty’s reaction seems to be: "a pal!" rather than "a pest!" He comes to Damian now for play time. Sometimes Damian will be sitting in the hall, surrounded by baseball caps (a current obsession) and Dante will zoom by -- as he passes, he bats at Damian, velvet paw, just a <boink> and he’s off. It’s a "play with me?" pat.

Some mornings -- less now that Damian's obsessed with walking -- the two of them play a "catch me if you can!" game. Damian takes off crawling after Dante, who races away... and then stops in his tracks. Waits. Damian catches up, reaches out to grab that tempting fluff of a tail -- and Dante takes off again. One morning, Damian couldn’t keep up with speedy cat feet -- he was headed for the hallway but Dante got worried his playmate had lost interest. So the cat started zooming back and forth in the hall, flashing by the door just long enough to show a tantalizing glimpse of fur. Baiting the hook, wriggling it in the water. "Play with me!"

They trade interest in toys. Damian has a plastic photo album, a "who loves baby" book. Dante sniffs it, gets this dazed look, sniffs some more, nuzzles and licks and makes like it’s the best aphrodisiac known to cat. And the little Duplo cars -- cat hockey practice.

Damian gloms onto the cat toys, the ones like long flexible sticks with a clump of magenta or canary yellow feathers at the end. He carries them around the house like hard-won carnival prizes. Dusting the plants, slithering the feathers under the fireplace screen to dust the ashes in the fireplace, dusting my armpit while he nurses.

One day he was waving his magic feather duster in the air and lo! A cat popped up and batted at it! Oh boy oh boy oh boy. It’s a cat magnet, this thing! Now he goes up to Dante and waves it in front of the cat’s nose, hoping for more kitty tricks. And Dante sometimes obliges.

Last week, I gave Damian a pile of Go chips, ancient dusty reminders that I used to know how to play the game. Now they’re just a bunch of black rounded coins in a plastic container. He spilled them onto the floor around him, then methodically picked them up one by one and dropped them back in the bowl. He then stuffed a few into a hole in the fireplace.

That was fun for a moment or two.

Then he spotted -- the feather duster toy! -- and I could see his mind working -- idea! -- he went for the toy, came back and spilled the chips out once more. Then brushed the feather on the floor, scattering the chips across the entire expanse of hardwood. Dante heard the clatter and came running. I swear, his whole body expanded with joy when he saw the mess of black chips. He skidded across the floor, batting the chips and diving after them. I’ve never seen Damian laugh so loud and long. Now I understand the term "brimming with mirth", he was positively frothing with mirth, joy bubbling up and over as he watched his buddy skitter and scuttle and bound after the small black disks.

It endears Dante to us, that he gives Damian such pleasure. Dante came into the house with a handicap -- he wasn’t Mithril, my beloved cat of almost seventeen years, the cat who died two years before Damian was born. We may have gotten Dante too soon. We weren’t done grieving and we certainly weren’t ready for this bundle of energy with his eyes that go black and alien when he’s excited, this bundle that does backflips, that falls into the bathtub on a regular basis. But I think he’s not our cat, he’s Damian’s. Born a month before Damian was conceived, they’re linked in some mysterious, unknowable way. And it makes us love Dante for it, for his gentleness and his understanding and his silliness, love him for every time Damian says "Kitty!" with a grin as we approach the house, love him for every time Damian’s eyes light up as he hears the goofball go off on a caterwauling tear, love him more every time he curls up in the sun right beside his pal Damian. Who says a dog’s man’s best friend? In this house, a cat is a boy’s best friend.
last // home // next

current log / Damian essay archive / other essays archive / what's all this, then?

copyright 2001 Tamar