Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Christmas Story

Every great story has a villain. Christmas stories are no exception. Remember King Herod? Ebenezer Scrooge? Hans Gruber? The burglars from Home Alone? This year, our family has its own Christmas Story. And it brings me no pleasure to confess that the Grinch of our story is me. Or at least it was.

To understand our Christmas Story, some context is useful. Our family of four is heading into its fifth year of urban exile in Washington, D.C., a consequence of chasing career opportunities. This holiday season we can reflect and be grateful that we have been genuinely blessed again this year. And by “genuinely blessed” I mean we live every day of every week of every month pretending that we are successfully navigating work, school, activities, and other elements of everyday life while in reality we’re just running around like our clothes are on fire.

The Google family calendar app has become our touchstone in the struggle to look like we have our shit together. My wife, Carissa, is the driver behind adopting this technology, and nothing triggers the Wrath of Carissa™ like failure to enter all relevant data into the family calendar app, the kids and I have learned. Likewise, failure to check the family calendar before asking about the day’s agenda will trigger the Wrath of Carissa™, we have learned:

Me [sets down fork while eating breakfast and reading news]: Who’s driving Kendley’s soccer carpool Wednesday and what time is Sydney’s basketball game tomorrow night? And can you remind me which days you’re in Nashville next week?

Carissa [looks up from loading 2018 kids dentist appointments into family calendar app]: You’re [expletive deleted] kidding me, right? Check the family [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] calendar for your [expletive deleted] self. How many [expletive deleted] time do I need to [expletive deleted] explain this to you?

Me [turns slowly to camera]: >blink<

So she can be annoying as hell about the family calendar situation. To be fair, though, any successful family calendar requires an enforcer to be effective, and Carissa is that enforcer. With our family calendar app and the Wrath of Carissa™ we still may be running around like our clothes are on fire. But we’re running in the right direction. The last thing we need is an additional distraction.

Which brings us to our story.

For many years I’ve held a hard “no pets” line. We don’t have time to be responsible pet owners because, well, check the [expletive deleted] family calendar for yourself. Pets don’t fit our lifestyle. Plus I rage at my kids plenty already; I don’t want to rage at them over walking the dog or emptying a litter box too. Also, pets shed hair. They stink and make the house smell bad. They claw curtains and couches and chew shoes. They climb onto counter tops and dig through garbage. They piss, puke, and poop where they shouldn’t. They get sick and rack up vet bills. They require someone to care for them when we are out of town. Pets are fine, they’re just not for us.

The issue first emerged within our family unit about a decade ago, when our now 16-year-old daughter, Sydney, started nagging us for a puppy or kitten. No pets, I told her. Ever. Full stop. She persisted with her demands but about this time Carissa found out she was pregnant with our second daughter. So we said: How about a baby sister instead? After some thought, our little scam worked and she picked little sister over pet. And that was that, at least for a while anyway. 

Perhaps more important than the villain, a good story needs a hero. Which brings us to the the little sister, Kendley. She is now nine and has many admirable traits. She’s kind, generous, a reliable friend. But for the purpose of this story, you need to know that she is one of those kids who can be described as “strong-willed.”

She has been low-key working me on her desire for a pet – specifically a cat – for most of her life. But this fall something changed. Maybe a friend got a cat and solidified her thinking on the matter, I’m not sure. But her thinking did in fact solidify until she became a living manifestation of Wurzite boron nitride, a synthetic compound that is harder than diamond. She resolved to bore through my layers of resistance and persuade me that she deserved a cat. She researched cats on the world wide web and wrote reports. She developed responses for my every objection. She made promises. She issued threats. She raged. She cajoled. She conspired, recruiting her mother and sister to her cause. She. Would. Not. Stop.

It was exhausting. There’s no way we’re having another kid, so I came up with an alternative scheme to put off her relentless push: I made her a deal. She had three months to show me that she could be responsible and mature enough to care for a cat without the need for prompting or scolding. If she accepted the challenge and successfully demonstrated her capacity to pick up after herself, cheerfully accept additional household chores, complete homework and piano practice without prompting, I would consider her rebuttals to my additional concerns. 

In other words, she’d won. Kendley had worn me down and I was reduced to delaying tactics, buying myself time to adjust to the idea of life with a cat in the house.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, we picked up Cali, a two-year-old Calico rescue cat who had been in foster care for the past 10 months. After searching online shelter sites and visiting Cali’s foster home, the girls and Carissa fell immediately in love. We agreed that Cali would be the family’s cat, but we all acknowledged that Kendley’s persistence made it possible. Cali holds herself with typical feline aloofness: she decides when and if she interacts with human interlopers. But she’s also playful, loves exploring her new home, sleeps with Kendley at night, and hops in laps and purrs when the mood strikes her. She’s a perfect fit for our family. 

I’m not saying my Grinch heart grew three sizes with the addition of Cali to our family. But I will say that when Cali jumps in my lap when I’m sitting by the fire trying to finish a work email on my laptop, I don’t push her off.

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