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“You have got to let that kitten sleep with you,” one of my sisters said while I was visiting in Minnesota. She was talking about Leo, who was back in Arizona with his kitten-sitter.
“Why?” I asked. The only cat who had ever slept on my bed was Joey, now deceased. Joey had been my first cat, the one I got from the neighbors when I turned 31 because if I could take care of a cat, I might be ready for a baby someday. I didn’t know at the time that I would end up preferring camels, timber wolves, and Alaskan brown bears to human children. I give myself credit for at least entertaining the thought.
My sister, who has four children and five grandchildren, gave me a crazy-look. “Because you raised him. You rescued him on the day he was born! He’ll never leave your side.” She finished triumphantly, as if going through the rest of my life with a cat stuck to me was a good thing. She reminded me of the doctor I had read about in an article the night before, William Sears—he would have all mothers nursing their children from birth to graduation, giving them piggy-back rides until they could drive.
“I don’t really want to sleep with him,” I said, risking another crazy-look from my sister, who sleeps with her 80 pound black lab and has breast-fed entire litters of puppies and kittens whose mamas went missing. She gave a hamster CPR once. “I’m allergic to cats,” I reminded her. “I have to take medication to keep the ones who already live with me.”
“I know,” she said. “But it’s just so nice to have a warm little body all cuddled up next to you under the covers.” My sister hugged herself and made kissing sounds, rocking back and forth as if she was embracing a baby something.
My cat Joey never let me embrace him. He would stalk me and jump up to bite the back of my arm as punishment when I came home from vacation. The only time he wanted to be held was when I stepped out of the shower naked, and then it was only for a minute. He actually did bite the hand that was trying to feed him once; unfortunately, that hand belonged to a neighbor who was cat-sitting him. She had to go to the Emergency Room, and I had to pay for it. Towards the end, when I'd recovered from a serious illness and become the Alpha cat again, Joey started pissing all over my house. I would come home from work to find my vertical blinds dripping in urine. I’d cry and wipe them clean while Joey sprayed the legs of my kitchen chairs. I would go to bed at night with Joey attacking my heels, then he’d sit on the floor with his ears back, growling. I would be afraid to get back up. Looking back on the nine years I spent with Joey in my life, I don't think he ever got over being feral. I finally had to put him down. His cause of death: insanity.
I looked at my sister, still rocking her invisible baby. “If I let Leo sleep with me,” I said, “then I’d have to let the other two. They’re four years old and used to having a room of their own.” I think of Sara and Lucy and the goodnight walk we’ve been taking down the hallway now for four years. I used to carry them and sing “It’s time for bed,” but when they got too big for that—ten months, not ten years—I would just sing “It’s ti-ime” over and over, and they would follow me. They still do.
It works for us.
I’m home now, back in Arizona, and today I celebrate the first night that Leo has spent in his big sisters’ room. I moved him in slowly all day yesterday, first his sleeping box, then his food and water bowls, then his litter box. Granted, I got some skeptical looks from Sara and Lucy, and yes, Sara knocked on the closed door at sunrise this morning instead of waiting until the preferred 6:15, but no matter. I hurried to get dressed and crossed the hall to open their bedroom door. Sara and Lucy sat just inside, looking up at me with tired eyes, while Leo frolicked on the floor behind them with a squeaky toy.
So no, I will not be sleeping with my new baby. Nor will I be breast-feeding him or wearing him, or anything else associated with “attachment-parenting”, a popular child-rearing philosophy that many people believe Dr. Sears invented. But they’re wrong.
My sister did.