Lots of people without kids have pets, who they lovingly refer to as their fur babies. I have two fur babies and one relatively furless baby (well, toddler now). And I’ve come to the conclusion that there really isn’t that much difference between them.
When we were contemplating getting pregnant, my boy and I talked endlessly about the pros and cons of it, and whether or not it was for us. (Of course, at that stage, we had NO IDEA what was really involved in being parents.)
To try to get me to think more favourably about pushing an infant the size of a watermelon out of my vagina and essentially having it hanging off me and my boobs for a year (or more in my case), vomit, snot, sleepless nights and dirty nappies (and pants and tops and bibs), he’d say that babies were just like cats, but with less fur. I thought about this for a little while and figured if that were true, I could probably manage one.
When I was pregnant about two seconds later (and freaking out a little about what lay ahead), I talked with my mum about it. Now, my mum had four kids. Three were born very close together, and I was born quite some years later. She also had very little support – or interest in parenting at the start (her priorities were more aligned with travel, gardening and work, like mine). Being in her mid 70s today, she’s probably seen (and/or done) it all. I think this makes her a bit of an expert.
Mum listened patiently to me trying to rationalize parenthood, as I talked myself in and out of it. Then in an attempt to reassure myself, I said, “Well, really, when you think about it, babies are just like cats, but with less fur. That and you just have to feed them more often.”
Mum went quiet for a few seconds. (I could tell she was thinking about how to reply without upsetting me – me, full of new pregnancy hormones and panic.) Then she said bluntly, “Well, not really darling.”
I’ve been thinking about this again recently. And as much as I hate to admit it, mum was mostly right (again). Mainly because of the sheer amount of work involved in looking after a baby (and all the extra work around the house and family and friend commitments they bring) versus a cat (or two).
But… I’ve also found some pretty convincing similarities between having cats and kids. Here are my top five.
1. Sleep deprivation.
We like sleeping with our cats, but soon learned the only way to try to get a night of unbroken sleep was to ban them from the bedroom.
Bella is a bed hog. She snuggles right up to you, then pushes you out of the way so she has more room (she is very, very strong). You’re left balancing precariously on the edge of the bed with no doona. That or she sleeps on your face.
Indi keeps to her corner of the bed, but will randomly come up to pat you on the face to check if you’re still asleep. Then once she wakes you up, she’ll jump up onto the sink in the ensuite and wait for you to turn the tap on so she can have a drink of water. (She has access to two full water bowls in the kitchen at all times.)
Of course, closing the door on them doesn’t guarantee they won’t wake us up by running around the house, fighting with each other or the neighbours’ cats through the window, or banging on or trying to open our bedroom door. When all of this fails to stir us, they sometimes sit outside our bedroom and meow pitifully for what seems like hours.
When Little Red isn’t sick or teething, she usually sleeps through the night, occasionally half waking us up with a grizzle or groan, or a few minutes of crying before putting herself back to sleep. If all is well, I get up maybe once or twice a week to resettle her when she’s standing up crying because she’s too sleepily confused to lie back down herself.
However, to get to this point, we had to bring in the big guns – a sleep consultant. Until then, I was sometimes up with Little Red several times a night, for anywhere from one to five hour stretches. And when it all got too much, I’d pop her into bed with me and feed her to sleep (it’s hard to cry with a boob in your mouth). I’d wake to her taking up two-thirds of the bed, me huddled on the edge, my legs and arms aching or numb from not moving as they formed a U around her, and a milk-and drool-soaked sheet beneath me. Happy times.
2. What goes in, must come out (part 1).
Nappies and kitty litter. Without too much detail, they’re both pretty gross.
The main difference is you need to change nappies more often. And thankfully, our cats very rarely ‘leak’.
(PS What they say is true – you do talk about poo A LOT when you’re a parent. Especially when you’re a new parent.)
3. What goes in, must come out (part 2).
Little Red isn’t such a big spewer these days. In fact, the last time she kind of vomited was from crying too much on the way up to visit my parents a couple of months ago (that car ride was a joy). But when she was tiny, it was spew city in our house (and out of it). The couches, cushions, carpet, car seat, stroller, bedding, and us and our clothes all featured regurgitated milk highlights. What I could throw into the washing machine, went into the washing machine. What I couldn’t, got one of two treatments: a proper clean with soapy water/stain remover, or a quick rub with a cloth (or in the case of the carpet, my socked foot). The extent of cleaning usually depended on volume, shade, surface affected and the amount of sleep I’d had the night before (see point 1).
Cat vomit is so much harder to clean up. It usually consists of fur, the last thing they ate, and something unidentifiable, often green, likely from the garden. Bella has the most delicate stomach of our two cats, regurgitating God knows what a couple of times a week on average, usually on the couch or carpet (90% of the time), in Indi’s bowl (5% of the time), or tiles or wooden floor (5% of the time). This is where I tell you that carpet accounts for about 10% of our total floor covering. Thank goodness for Scotchguard, because no quick rub with any sock will fix cat vomit (not that I’ve tried).
4. The red dot.
You can give
yourself cats and kids hours of fun with a
laser pointer. As long as you don’t shine it in their eyes, I’m sure it’s
perfectly legal (just don’t let Customs inspectors find one in your suitcase or I hear they’ll
confiscate it, even when you assure them it's for your cats).
Our cats are generally pretty lazy, but whip out a laser pointer and they’ll happily chase it until they’re puffed (which is in about five minutes). It didn’t take Bella too long to realise that I was in control of the red dot, but she still succumbs to its elusiveness.
Purely by accident (well, kind of), we discovered that Little Red is also quite partial to chasing the red dot across the floor. She hasn’t quite worked out why she can’t pick it up, but like Bella, knows that its source is the little pen in my hand.
5. Kisses and cuddles (AKA Love hurts).
There’s a lot of love in our house. It’s quite nice, really. While Indi tends to be a little restrained with her affections, Bella is without doubt THE MOST affectionate, loving and clingy cat I have lived with. She demands to be on you (or at the very least, leaning on you), and snuggles right in and doesn’t stop until she gets your undivided attention. She is very liberal with her kisses and will give them on demand. Some people might refer to them as Liverpool or Glasgow kisses. They leave bruises if you’re not careful.
Bella isn’t too fearful of Little Red, and sometimes gives her ‘kisses’ too (although is intuitively much more gentle with her than with us). Little Red also likes ‘kissing’ Bella, and will do so on demand. It’s pretty cute to see them butt heads.
Little Red is just as affectionate with us. The problem being that most of the time she kisses us in the same way that she kisses Bella. With her forehead. Hard.
Raised by cats? Maybe in part. (Don't tell social services.)