So it turns out we now have a cat!!!
And it’s had an unforeseen and profound, but delightful affect on my husband and I and completely changed our life. We now feel ready to be “mum” and “dad”.
I’ve wanted a cat since I moved from London back to the countryside 4 years ago, but it was more like a nice idea until Nick (my husband) and I moved into our dream home a year ago, and we felt that we wanted a pet to love and give a home to. However, with a travel schedule that could take us to Manchester or Scotland one week or the United States the next, we just couldn’t justify having a pet and constantly leaving him on his own.
Well… all that changed a few weeks ago, when Dexter arrived.
Nick was putting the bins out, when a fluffy, black cat came out of the bushes in the front garden, purring and rubbing around his ankles. “Awww how sweet” thought Nick until he tried to walk away and the cat threw all four feet around him, complete with claws and teeth.
When Nick told me, I found his description of the new psycho cat stalking him, quite funny, until we realised a few days later that he was actually living in the bushes outside the front door. Every morning, as we came out the house, he would crawl out from under the bushes, stretch, yawn and start rubbing around us. We both agreed that it would be crazy to feed him, otherwise he’d just keep showing up, which would be a futile exercise on his part, since Nick and I were already in total agreement that we couldn’t have a cat.
But a few days went by and he definitely seemed to be living outside the house 24×7, so out of fear of him starving, we relented. We gave him a tin of mackerel fillets and agreed that we would leave food outside the house, but but not let him inside. After all, we definitely couldn’t have a cat! This was just a charitable measure to ensure he wouldn’t starve while we looked for his owners!
But then every time we opened the front door, it became a mission to stop the cat coming in the house and so in the end, we just let him inside…. cut to a few days later and we’d installed a cat flap, bought a bulk load of cat food and put fliers in all the neighbouring houses, looking for his owners.
We took him to the vets to see if he had a microchip and to see if there were any reported lost cats in the area, but no chip and no reports. Either he was from a very long way away, or possibly no one cared enough to look for him. For a moment, we toyed with the possibility that he’d attacked his previous owners, eaten them and when the food had eventually run out, left to seek out a new food source…but we were sure that wasn’t the case.
At first, our new psycho-cat was very stressed out and seemed quite schizophrenic. He would be very friendly and loving one moment and then out of the blue, spin round and bite or grab hold of you with all four feet and punch and scratch like a trained killer. We realised very quickly that he had “HANGER” issues. He didn’t like being hungry and his initial attacks were out of hunger and desperation to get our attention. He also kept catching mice and eating their heads off, right in front of us, all of which contributed to us naming him Dexter (in honour of the TV show about the lovable serial killer). But despite all of his potential behavioural “issues”, within just a few days, we were already keen to keep him and started to hope that no one else was missing him.
The first major challenge we faced, was that a few days after he decided to move in, we were due to do some work up north and of course, this was the exact situation that had prevented us from getting a cat before. However, since Dexter had decided to come and live with us, without invitation, we felt none of the guilt that we would have felt by consciously deciding to go and get a cat. It was his decision to come and live with us, so he would have to accept that we were gone a lot of the time. We bought an automatic feeder, programmed it and went on our way, hoping that he would still be at home when we returned.
The entire 5 days we were away, we worried about him, like insecure new parents. I kept wanting to call home and see if he was ok! If only Dexter could use the phone or the internet! God please let the automatic feeder be working! What if the cat flap gets stuck and won’t open and he couldn’t get in or out? But sure enough, 5 days later when we arrived home, he was fast asleep inside the house and very much the king of his own castle. A long cuddle with him, with him purring like a motorbike and dribbling in utter bliss, made us realise how pleased he was with his new owners and how much we adored him and that was that! We were all in love!! The next day we had him micro-chipped with our details and rubber stamped the arrangement.
Since then, our new “baby” Dexter has been teaching us so much about being real parents… something Nick and I have yet to embark upon but are very excited about. Remarkably, Dexter’s presence brings up things for us that we are grateful for having the opportunity to work on before being parents. Things we would never have thought to discuss about our different approaches to parenting and at the same time it’s reassuring us that we already have some really positive parenting behaviours and characteristics in us that we didn’t know were there.
Here are just a few of the wonderful things Dexter has taught us. I’m sure there will be many more… before a real baby comes along.
- It seems that roles for good cop and bad cop have been naturally assigned.
Already duties have been split between two main areas. The first area is mine and it’s feeding, worming, cleaning up sick and snuggling when he’s cold, wet and covered in questionable materials. The second area is Nick’s and it involves snuggling and a lot of playing, making toys out of boxes, string and paper and then checking whether I’ve done my duties and picking up anything that’s left. Nick’s job is also to hoover up after the constant trail of fur he leaves around the house.
- When people say to me that there is no right time to have a baby, so just get on with it? Turns out I can see why this might be true.
A few weeks ago, we were definitely not equipped to have a pet and couldn’t understand how we would ever get ready to have a baby. It just seemed like the most incredible life-changing decision and how would we ever decide that NOW was the time to change our lives forever?
Yet, with Dexter’s sudden arrival, we just effortlessly adjusted our lives overnight to ensure we were at home to feed him on time and make sure he has his needs met all day and if necessary, at night too. We miss him when we go out, look forward to seeing him every morning when we wake up and no job is too much trouble if it means his life improves. And most importantly, we can’t imagine our lives without him now. Nick and I have also realised how loving the same being, has brought us even closer together. We now understand that having a baby is a process and there’s no need to “make” a decision so much as just “let” it happen and go with the flow. Everything will just work itself out somehow.
- We have to accept Dexter for who he is, and however he wants to be with us, or NOT be with us.
We fell so deeply in love with Dexter that initially, we just wanted to snuggle with him and cuddle him every time we saw him. We encouraged him to go wherever he felt safe in the house and hoped that his safe place, would be somewhere near us ALL the time. We admit that at first, in our falling-in-love stage, we were initially very needy parents and yet, although he likes to be around us most of the time, Dexter is also really happy just being on his own. He often stretches out in doorways or on the stairs, somewhere that he can keep an eye on us, but doesn’t want to be fussed or stroked. If you fuss him too much, he just grabs you and bites and scratches. At first, we were a little upset that he didn’t crave as much affection as we wanted to give him and then we realised how unfair this was on him. We realised we had to accept him the way he is. If our job is to make his life as good as possible, then we need to give him what HE needs. We realised that it was OUR need for love that we were trying to meet. The constant cuddling and snuggling was because WE enjoyed the affection he showed us! We also had to accept that he may or may not change his more aggressive behaviours towards us and we would have to accept that too (though he does seem to be getting better). Now, that doesn’t mean I will volunteer myself to be bitten and scratched whenever he feels the need. It just means that I love him regardless of whether we can change that behaviour or not. When I have a baby, I will love that baby regardless of who or what they choose to be and I will be wary of using them to meet MY needs for love, affection, attention or certainty, because of the huge burden that would be for them. I was reminded of the burden that was put on me when I was a child and my parents marriage broke down. I felt that I became the surrogate companion for my dad. I gave him the adoration and significance that he couldn’t get in his marriage and I grew up thinking that was my job. I existed to make someone else feel good about themselves and would be rejected if I didn’t. This is why Nick and I firmly believe that we have to invest energy into making sure our relationship meets our emotional needs and then we can provide our child’s needs together. It’s not their job to make us happy.
- I don’t need to worry so much about him or feel so guilty if I’m not the perfect “mum”. He’s more resilient than I give him credit for.
I worried so much about Dexter when we went away the first time, that I couldn’t sleep. It was ridiculous! I’d only known him a few days and yet he was in my thoughts almost constantly. And yet, Dexter had clearly survived on his own for possibly weeks before he came to live with us. (We later found his owner who told us it was actually months since he’d run away after allegedly having an altercation with the elderly next door neighbour). We had watched Dexter catch and eat his own food with terrifying ease and so I knew consciously that he was totally capable of taking care of himself. I also knew consciously that my worrying about him, made no difference to anything. However, my sense of responsibility was so great that Nick realised this ran deeper than the cat and performed an emergency NLP Time Line technique on me to find and release the original cause of my over-sensitive sense of responsibility. Thankfully, after this I felt so much better and even glad that Dexter was having the opportunity to be independent. So thanks to Dexter, I learned that I can do my best but it’s OK if he gets the opportunity to fend for himself occasionally.
- We love shopping for and buying things for “baby”, yet most purchases are totally pointless.
We spent ages in PetsAtHome scouring all the latest gizmos to see what essential pet equipment we would need. We bought him a bed, toys, treats, scratching post etc and proudly bestowed them upon him when we got home. To our dismay he wouldn’t have anything to do with any of them.
His favourite toy? A scrunched up post-it note!!! He’ll spend hours chasing it round the house!! His bed? anywhere he feels like… preferably where you’ve just hoovered.
We can see how easy it would be to get down to Mothercare and buy all the baby gadgets and yet most of them would be a complete waste of money (the automatic feeder being the exception, but a kind neighbour would also have done the trick).
So we’re already thinking for our future baby, that less is more! No need to let the excitement carry us away in John Lewis!!
- You get the “baby” you need, not the “baby” you want.
If we had gone looking for a cat at the rescue centre, we probably wouldn’t have chosen Dexter. We would have gone for a more placid, friendly, cute, playful, sweet creature that gave us huge amounts of love and affection. And we wouldn’t have learned anything from that kind of cat. Because of Dexter, we have grown as people and we feel ready to take on the baby we get, not just the baby we want. I’ve always believed the your children come into your life with so much to teach you and although they need guidance in how to be a productive member of society, each child is ready to teach you something in order to help you be happy. And yet, so many families try to change the child to fit in with their ways of being instead of letting the child change them. In my own family, 3 sisters were joined by a 4th one who was the funniest child you could ever meet. She was just joyful, spirited and a beautiful soul (she still is a beautiful soul) … and could have brought into a troubled household the joy we all needed. Instead, as my mum and dad’s relationship broke down even further, her wonderful exuberant behaviours and talents went under-appreciated and an opportunity was lost.
When Nick first met my amazing nephew George, who was 6 at the time I watched as George pushed every one of Nick’s buttons around his need to stick to the rules and follow a process. George went out of his way to NOT play anything the way Nick wanted to and yet he never pushed me in the same way. I mentioned to Nick the possibility that George was trying to teach him to loosen up a bit; to be more playful, to relax and not be so stringent with the rules. I watched this dynamic work its magic as Nick allowed George to be his teacher. Both George and his brother Harry have both taught us so much over the years (especially how to find joy in the smallest of things and laugh A LOT) and long may they continue to do so! I wonder what our babies will want to teach us and I hope we stay open to letting them teach us, rather than thinking that we know best all the time.Thank you, Dexter! Now can you please take your teeth out of my leg