Cats, Puberty and God (the Big Questions)
“It’s good that Elsa [the cat] is making milk for her kittens; now we won’t have to keep buying milk for my cereal all the time” says the spendthrift seven-year-old. There are two weeks left until term starts, one of which we are spending in Spain, and the cat has given birth in the drawer under the seven-year-old’s bed, all over his washed, dried, ironed and folded school uniform (I’m lying about the “ironed” part). Elsa gave birth to five chubby kittens during the night and the seven-year-old didn’t even hear it. Maybe cats just don’t feel pain because, after all, it was only us human females that God cursed with the terrible pain of childbirth, wasn’t it? Cats didn’t get punished. Cats don’t even like apples. Maybe that’s why people say they have nine lives: God didn’t curse them with mortality in the same way he did with us. Why hasn’t anyone else picked up on this before? I think I might be religious now.
“Why is there blood, mummy?” the seven-year-old asks, and I feel my stomach turn as it occurs to me how little I care to think about the birthing process, let alone talk about it or explain it to someone who understands absolutely nothing about it. When you explain stuff to children you can’t allude to things or speak suggestively or metaphorically, they don’t understand that. You have to use ugly plain speak. When it comes to birth I stick to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. I wish everyone else would do the same. My mother likes to tell my friends and boyfriends about how my brother had a big head and how she needed five stitches even though he was premature. They didn’t ask. Then she likes to ask me, in front of my friends and boyfriends, all about the time I gave birth. This is why it’s not surprising that I’m the sort of person who dislikes too much talking. This is definitely too much talking.
“The kittens have come from inside her body” I say to my son “and of course there’s blood inside her body” that’s as much detail as I’m willing to give. He’s going to be useless if he ever has to be a “birth partner” and that will be because of me and I don’t care. Men shouldn’t be in the delivery room. In fact, if I ever find myself in that predicament again I think it’s perfectly within my rights to say to my partner “go away; go watch Match of the Day; go watch 300; go watch internet porn; go and have the fatherhood equivalent of a stag do and a good night’s kip and come back to me after I’ve showered and reapplied my fake tan” (note to self: don’t fake tan breasts otherwise man will return to greet freakishly orange-faced baby and possibly question his paternity). I think this is a good system. If you’re fortunate enough to have the help of the father then let him rest while the midwives take care of you. The only downside is that he won’t have witnessed the agony you went through so he will never truly understand how much he owes you. I saw on the news recently that someone invented a machine that simulates the pain of labour — just make him wear one of those for five minutes (why was that invented?)
“Where did they come out?” asks the seven-year-old.
“From her vagina” I say. I feel safe saying this because (thank God) his school has already taught him the basics of the sexual organs, so I know there will be no further questions.
“Did I come out of your vagina?” I want to lie to him so badly. When he was younger I used to tell him I bought him from a shop and if he was too naughty I might take him back for a refund. I also told him that I found him in the reduced section. I can’t do this anymore though because I’m a Christian now and Christians aren’t meant to lie.
At bed time we read Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Usually I read two days of diary entries to him and then he reads another two to himself, which is how we’ve ended up getting through five years of Greg (the Wimpy Kid)’s life in six months. Now Greg is going through puberty but my son is still seven. Again I am faced with these awkward conversations at a much earlier date than I’d expected.
“What is adolescence?” asks the seven-year-old. I think carefully about how to answer.
“It’s when you’re changing from a child to an adult. It happens when you’re a teenager; it’s when girls grow breasts and boys grow beards.” I think I nailed it (and feel free to use this all-encompassing explanation on your own kids when the time comes) but I worry about what else might crop up in book six that I’m not prepared for. This is all happening too fast. Now I really appreciate the value of sex education in schools. I felt relatively comfortable learning through an hour-long video in year six which featured a fake couple having fake sex under some sheets, a lot of diagrams, and an eighties woman who may or may not have been well-known at the time the video was filmed, walking around an empty girl’s locker room and explaining to the camera what tampons and sanitary towels were. Just like hair, earrings and shoulders, feminine hygiene products were at least three times larger in the eighties than they are today. Just for the record, it was 1999 when I was made to watch it. There were probably smaller tampons on sale at the time, but we weren’t to know.
Meanwhile, at home, my mum tried to do “the talk” on me at the age of ten. The conversation was prompted by an awkward episode of Brookside and it was traumatic. I’m pretty sure cats don’t have to go through this. I don’t like talking about things; God has given me the gift of shame and it is the gift that keeps on giving.
“Cleo! Elsa! Jesse! Yoda!” I do that thing mothers of multiple children do when they forget which child they’re shouting at and go through a whole list of names before they reach the right one. One woman at my son’s school has three kids named Shayna, Shania and Shane — their house must be very confusing. These aren’t my children though; these are my cats. It’s a good thing I do actually have a child otherwise I’d come across as the archetypal crazy cat lady (see — I do appreciate my child! He is of use to me!) I’m shouting out cat names because Yoda has pissed in the corner of the bathroom where the litter tray used to be. Usually you don’t have to potty train cats; usually it comes naturally once they start going outside, but Yoda is no ordinary cat. Yoda is special. Yoda shits in the shower then goes in the garden to chase wasps. I love him. I love cats.
We are going on holiday next week and I’ve got a high quality, large memory USB stick which I’ve filled with films and TV shows to bring with us so we don’t have to watch Spanish TV for a week (yes, I need TV on holiday) it’s plugged into the laptop as I’m putting The Hobbit trilogy on it; Yoda jumps on the laptop, slides down it, the laptop slips off the sofa and lands USB-first on the laminate flooring in our living room. The expensive USB and all the hours spent transferring high quality files onto it have been laid to waste by the cat.
I love cats. Cats bring people together. I’m not good at meeting new people, but if we can bond over cats it makes it a hell of a lot easier. Some people have the same relationship with football, which makes absolutely no sense to me. But there’s more to it than that. Cats don’t feel shame or guilt and I think I might be envious of that. If I left a pile of horrific-smelling, semi-liquid excrement in the main shower and everyone knew it was me I would definitely feel shame and guilt. God gave humans the gift of shame, but not cats. Cats didn’t eat the special apple after they were told not to. I wonder what the world would look like if God had instead given the instruction: “thou shalt not lick thine own arse”. In a parallel universe, that actually happened. Do Christians believe in parallel universes? I’m out of my depth; I need to Google how to believe in God.
God gave us suffering and mortality. God fucked up. What God should have done is give us one or the other. Having to die when the world is free from pain and suffering is way worse than having to shuffle off from this cruel world we live in. And having to live forever in a world full of suffering is way worse than being allowed to die. Also, dying’s not really a punishment if you get to go to heaven after. I think God realised his mistake and that’s why he gets his religious minions to make sure assisted suicide and dignified death remain illegal. God is all-powerful but he can’t time-travel to correct his own mistakes. Time-travel is impossible. Cats, on the other hand, get put down when they’re suffering and nobody goes to prison for it. God really was quite decent to cats.