“I don’t want the cat sleeping on Mommy’s bed. I don’t want the cat watching me get on the school bus. I don’t want the cat going outside. I don’t want the cat sleeping on my sister’s bed. I don’t want the cat to go outside and go hunting. I don’t want the cat to play with his toys. I don’t want the cat to slap me.”
You’re probably wondering right now what our cat CAN do but back to that in a minute because the story doesn’t begin here.
Our family cat “Charcoal” trying to sleep on Johnny’s beanbag.
When I was wishing that Johnny could talk and tell me what was on his mind I didn’t know I would hear this…every…..single…..day. We used to have two cats and sadly, the elderly one named Tasha died last December at the age of 20. Johnny liked to try to and pat her and give her attention because she was lovely and she was fascinating to him. Just like we expect pets to do, I think she helped soothe his anxiety and make hm happy. But she preferred to sit or lie beside you but she was the kind of cat that really didn’t like to be touched so much. He would try and she would only put up with only so much before she put him in his place. When he was anxious and had trouble sleeping she would insist upon sneaking quickly into his room and trying trying to sleep on his bed just when we were tucking him in. The only thing was because he is a restless sleeper, she would swat his feet if he kept moving too much and he would then try and keep her out of his room. As you can expect it was very upsetting when my children had to say goodbye to their first pet when we knew her time had come.
Now fast forward to one year later and our other cat, Charcoal, who never used to get any attention from Johnny is now the center of his world. My daughter is quite frustrated because she always lavished tons of attention on both cats and never ignored the younger cat. From the time that she could barely toddle around she doted on both of the cats and learned how to be gentle and kind to them. But now to her frustration, not a day goes by that we hear all the things that the cat is not allowed to do including go near her. I have to admit it has started to drive me crazy and to endless moments of frustration.
For example, the cat is looking out the window and then suddenly Johnny is there and not just patting him but patting him too much and the cat is out of the window and Johnny is laughing. The cat is resting in a warm spot in the house when suddenly Johnny is there patting the cat and giggling because he’s gently pushing the cat along because he wants to see the cat move. Then later, the cat is stretched out having a peaceful nap on my bed when suddenly he is no longer having a peaceful sleep he is being hustled into my son’s bedroom. It’s 4 o’clock in the morning and Johnny is storming into our bedroom looking for where the cat might be. “he’s not on my bed I want Charcoal to sleep with me.”
I suspect that our cat Charcoal has not only become a soothing companion for Johnny, but at the same time has become too stimulating for Johnny. It’s hard because he’s learning that the cat is not just a toy but is alive and has feelings and ideas too and I can see that Johnny is very slowly trying to learn this concept. Johnny “knows” he needs to respect the cats “personal space” as he has been taught at school but it’s like he can’t seem stop himself from going after what makes him feel good and his having real issues with impulse control. I want my boy to be happy but not so arroused and excited that he is giggling and can’t settle himself down to sit at the table to eat or to ready himself to out to bed or go outside. It is really hard to keep him on task with verbal prompts then we have to use visuals and lots of patience. This gets really hard if we have allowed extra time because we are trying to get ready to go somewhere and the cat has unexpectantly come by and suddenly Johnny is too excited to get ready. The flip side of our challenge is that Johnny stubbornly thinks that if he tells the cat to do something, the cat is going to it and as any of us know that our cat owners they are very different than dogs. Charcoal MAY NOT stay on his bed. Charcoal MAY go for a walk. Charcoal WILL do what he wants.
Its winter now and it’s been bitterly cold, so Charcoal can’t escape and go for a wander in our neighbourhood or go for a nap on our porch if things get challenging with Johnny. I give full credit and extra cat treats to him because he never loses his temper and frustration and slap Johnny like our elderly cat would have done. In a way I wish Charcoal would because our elderly cat taught Johnny where the boundaries were with her and which is especially important for a little boy who needs those kind of reminders. After all is said and done, Charcoal will actually curl up on my son’s bed and will let Johnny be a little bit rough with him because he just loves attention good or bad. He had been a stray cat that we took in over a decade ago that needed a home very badly.
I worry because if Johnny can’t figure out the personal boundaries for pet how does he do with his friends at school? The situation with the cat in the end gives us teachable moments to use positivity. I have Johnny feed the cat and give him treats but share the task with his sister. When the cat meows a lot I tell him not give Charcoal attention and not yell “No meowing.” I also take a deep breath and let loose my frustration and and instead list what Charcoal CAN do.
Charcoal can play with cat toys because he has no real mice outside to hunt and he has to practice. He can sleep on Mommy’s bed or chair if he would like to because he’s allowed to sleep where he wants. Charcoal will choose to sleep in your bed Johnny but he is allowed to make his own choice. Charcoal can go for a walk outside even if it is just to go to potty because if he gets to go for a walk he will come back and be a happy cat. Charcoal can sit in the window and look outside and watch the world go by because that’s some of those few enjoyments as he cannot go outside that much right now because it’s too cold. We be kind to Charcoal and we have gentle touch with Charcoal so that he has gentle paws with us.
So Johnny, I’m sharing our story about you and Charcoal on my blog because when you’re older I want you to read about how I thought about all of this and how I tried to use it to teach you. You are probably going to remember Mommy and Daddy was extremely frustrated because you didn’t know when to stop with the cat and when too much attention was too much and that you’re bothering the cat. I know right now that you get upset if we lose our tempers because we are just concerned about the cats welfare and you are not stopping all the time. We are worried that one day he’s just going to go for a walk then go visit and stay with someone else if it gets to be too much and how it would break your heart if he ever decided to do that. You see this cat is a stray Johnny and he decided 11 years ago to live in our backyard, hunt and just hang out. After 4 months of just hanging out with us (we never fed him) he decided to come in and never left. So Johnny I want you to know that we tried our best to try to teach you how to handle having a pet and giving personal space. Yes it was hard and yes we would get upset but know that we truly loved you and our family pet and we hope that in the end as we navigated frustrations and tried to keep our cool and teach you how to handle him that we did a good job because that’s all we can hope for.
Art by Johnny done using the Drawing App on his iPad titled ~ “My Cat Charkie”