When I was growing up, we always had pets. There were dogs: Tinus the boxer, Bingo the Shepherd mix, Tipper the indescribable blend. There were cats, too, mostly wild ones that lived in the abandoned barn behind the house, but at least one - Waldo Kitty - that was our housemate.
I loved my animals. I was a preschool when Tinus died, so I don't really remember her, but I have great memories of running and tumbling and snuggling my dogs. I also remember how much it hurt when we lost them.
When I was 18, I traveled to Guyana on an exchange program. While we were there, I got the dreaded letter from my mother: Tipper had died. She hated to tell me when I was so far from home, but she didn't want me looking for him when I returned. And then she delivered the final blow.
The cat is fine.
I believe I hated cats in that moment.
I knew it was irrational, that the poor kitty hadn't done anything, but dagnabbit. I loved that dog. I would have traded a hundred cats to have my sweet Tipper back again.
The years (decades) passed. I got married, bought houses, had kids. Every once in a while my boys would ask about getting a dog, but I always told them that we were not a pet family. They were too much work, I said. We travel too much, I said. They're too expensive, I said.
All true. But in my heart of hearts, I knew those weren't the real reason for my reluctance. The truth was, I was afraid. My chief memory of having pets as a kid was of the pain of losing them, and - like a romance novel heroine who's been burned once already - I didn't want to relive the experience.
But heroines earn that title by facing down their fears. Our characters earn the love of their partners by taking chances, by putting themselves on the line, by choosing to take a path that they know could hurt them like nothing else. They do it knowingly. Willingly. They do it knowing they will undoubtedly end up crying, but that the reward is worth the risk.
A few months ago, we decided that it was time to move. There were many attractive reasons to make the leap, but one big loss: we would lose our wonderful neighborhood. Hard on all of us, but especially for my Tsarina, who had built up some wonderful friendships with the neighbor kiddos. We talked up the house, mentioned the fun of living in a more rural setting, pointed out that a smaller place means less housework for everyone (can I get an Amen?). The kids liked all of that. But Tsarina still didn't want to say goodbye to her friends.
Tsarina loves animals.
It took a while for me to come to terms with the obvious solution. All those reasons I had trotted out for not being a pet family ... they were all still true. But my kiddo was hurting. And I knew there was a way to help. The only thing standing in the way was my fear.
Was I really selfish enough to let my own fear stand in the way of my child's happiness?
Well, I defy any of my kids to come between me and a box of Tim Horton doughnuts, but this was a totally different matter. I screwed up my courage, pulled my husband aside, and said, "I've been thinking ..."
We agreed that cats were a better fit for our lifestyle (read: laziness). We sat on our decision as long as we could, until a day when the girls were especially morose over the impending move.
A week after the move, my husband took the girls to the local shelter. After much cuddling and weighing of options, the decisions were made. Fidget (aged five months) and Caesar (three years) became the newest members of our family.
Am I still a little anxious, a little worried about the inevitable? Yeah. I am. But when I see my girls running up our new hill to greet their kitties after school, I know that this was the right step.
Someday, there will be sadness again. But for now, we are all purring.
EDITED TO ADD: I just saw a teeny tiny little mouse in my front hall. My inner rational adult knows it's good to have two felines in the house. My inner four-year-old is whimpering and hiding in her office because she's afraid it's going to be Mutual of Omahas Wild Kingdom in the hall at any moment.