Before we decided to have kids, my husband and I did what so many other couples do – we decided to adopt a pet and see how we handled the responsibility of keeping something little and cute alive and healthy. We came back from our honeymoon in Hawaii and very quickly adopted an adorable black-and-white kitten. Still reveling in feelings of romantic tropical bliss, we named her “Keiki,” the Hawaiian word for “baby” or “child.” (Feel free to roll your eyes here – she was literally our “fur baby.”)
Fast forward a couple of months, and I’d landed my first real job post-graduate school and started working full time. With my husband and I out of the house most of the day, our poor kitten was left to amuse herself in our small apartment until we got home. I felt guilty. I imagined her there, mewing pitifully, waiting for us by the door all day. (I later learned, while on maternity leave, that I could attach a pedometer to her little kitty legs during working hours and probably register no more than 20 steps total.) So we did what made the most sense to us at the time – we adopted a tiny gray fluff ball of adorableness, Leo, to keep her company.
There are a few reasons why our cats must be indoor cats, despite the fact that we moved into our first home with a yard the next year. The most important reason is that Keiki is certifiably deaf (as in, we actually have a document certifying her disability from a specialist). So, they have been “forced” to live a very cushy life indoors, a life full of soft blankets and abundant cat food. Unsurprisingly, our cats grew to be a bit spoiled and, well, rotund.
Enter children, and subsequently a complete change in perspective.
The cats I adored and babied? They’re not as adorable at 2am when I’m up feeding a human baby. They slink around in the darkness of night, nearly tripping me up as I’m walking with a fragile newborn in my arms, and then rattle the pet gate at the baby’s door noisily in an effort to break in and crawl in my lap next to the baby.
Now that we have a toddler and a newborn, nights are a very delicate balance of me getting up at night to feed the baby as quietly as possible so that our toddler doesn’t wake up any earlier than his usual time of crack-of-dawn A.M. Cue whiny, noisy meows and random cat fights as I’m trying to stealthily change a diaper. And then, when I finally get everyone to sleep and I collapse into bed, I hear the disgusting sounds of Leo upchucking a hairball – right next to the bed, of course, where I will probably forget about it in my exhaustion and then step in that exact spot at the next feeding.
Even worse, the cats are now on a strict diet requiring that we feed them only twice a day with a measured amount of “special” (read: expensive) food. This means that at the first signs of dawn breaking, I usually wake up to find a cat face in my face. If I push it aside and ignore it, they go into “knock everything over I can find” mode to ensure that, even if my husband and I sleep through their antics, one of our kids won’t.
I used to be that crazy person who created an album of cute cat pictures on Facebook and talked about them like they were my babies. Sometimes I would feel panicky at the thought of something happening and our cats escaping from the house. But these days? I find myself joking that, if the house were on fire and I had time to grab only one thing on my way out (besides the kids, of course), well – it wouldn’t be one of the cats. And anyway, if they can open closet doors and cabinets, then I’m confident they can find their way out of a burning house without my help.
To be honest, I really can’t imagine life without pets. In many ways, adopting a pet is similar to having a baby – you can’t really know what you’re getting into, and the level of commitment it is, until it’s too late. I know several new parents who have thrown in the towel and quickly sought out new homes for their pets, but ours are a part of our family – 2am cat fights and hairballs and all. But as a working mom with a very limited sleep schedule, I sometimes find myself wondering if I would choose to adopt my cats again if I were suddenly transported back to my first year of marriage.
What about you? Has your perspective on pets changed since you became a parent?