Confession from a (Former) Dog Person

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I’ve always thought the label “pet parent” was twee (more like obnoxious). I considered myself a semi-reluctant cat owner, taking in a foster tuxedo cat named Harrison. I’m usually more of a servant/masseuse/nanny, but still, an owner on a good day. When my apartment building was sold from under me, forcing me to move under a tight deadline, I brought my things–including Harry–to my mom’s temporarily.

I worried that my mom, heavily leaning toward the dog end of the pet spectrum, would hate Harry, pick on his every move and issue a quick, awful ultimatum. To my delighted relief, she took to him almost instantly, cooing and coaxing him into her space all the time, and giving me evening reports like an aide at daycare: “He cried after you left today, but only a bit, he loved the new wet food, and he napped really well!” My mother–whom I’ve always called Mommy–has called me this cat’s mama enough, e.g., “Mama, stop talking to your son like that!” that I recently found myself dramatically singing how much Mama loves him, and Look at how handsome Harry is! in a tone reserved for nom-nom-cheeked newborns and dachshunds.

In a moment confirming that I have surrendered to cat ownership (and that we may be entering the End of Days), we–the two humans–just had an earnest discussion about what *she* should be called now. By Harry. By the cat, who can’t speak. Grandma (my family’s usual preference) was shrugged off. Boring, I suppose. I went exotic with Meemaw, and was shot down outright. Big Mama brought only a weary sigh that suggested I never mention it again. Perhaps she’d prefer an auntie title: “Titi Alice”? She sucked her teeth. “That doesn’t work, we’re not sisters!” I was told matter of factly. Oh, right, I…forgot?

Mama Alice was received lukewarmly, but after a brief but passionate debate, we settled on Nana. Then we returned to our respective rooms and lapsed into comfortable weeknight silence. Harry, his butt parked firmly on both my feet–his usual spot when we watch TV–was oblivious to this critical familial discussion. I’d wrap this up with something clever, but Christmas is next week, and I’ve gotta work fast to make sure my kid’s got something under the tree. As any good mom would. #WhatIsThisLife #AndHeShallInheritAllMyRiches

Little Bundles

You  know how even back in high school, there were those kids (usually girls) who were all “I looooove working with kids!” I learned to parrot them on tutoring and babysitting interviews, even though I didn’t get kids, didn’t think much about them, and certainly preferred not to be in their presence. They stayed dirty, their hygiene was disgusting, they were unpredictable and mostly, they disrupted my reading.

Fast forward many years later: I’ve seen my friends expecting and raising their children. I’ve seen babies now strutting through their first day of high school, I’ve conquered my (deep) fear of dropping newborns, and I gotta admit: they’re a hoot. Not *just* a hoot–those tantrums can shake one’s soul, and I’ve got insta-prayers ready for parents dragging young ones along, that look of “I’m thisclose” in their eyes. Hang on, I think. Haaaang on. Kids don’t stay clean. You’ve gotta keep them well. Your head’s constantly going 180 degrees to keep ’em safe, and if you’re sneaking in a chapter of a good book… you’re in the bathroom, I presume.

But children? Are a good thing. You can love ’em up with hugs and kisses, and they’re constantly looking for laps to climb onto. If you’re handed a picture book you better read it with gusto. No one wants a look of disappointment from a four year old, trust me. And with age comes patience: as a seasoned auntie, I can now listen to a kid chat (or drone, depending on my mood) about who said what and what they drew and where are my kids and do I swim and why is my hair so big and how they don’t like chicken.

Why this post? Eh, recent events, and a humorous bus ride with a small girl nodding off on my shoulder. Let’s enjoy our kids, and look out for them as a community, and ugh, keep sanitizer on hand. (Cause they’re still kinda gross. But awesome.)

Brothers Arm in Arm

Hot Food in Small Hands

I grew up in Clinton Hill apartments off Myrtle Avenue. There were no coffee bars, pubs, or gourmet grocery stores. There was Cino’s, Joe’s, Venice–wonderful Italian restaurants. Kum Kau may predate my birth (back then it was strictly a narrow takeout spot). We had a few diners (including the Greek one on Myrtle & Vanderbilt), I believe we had a Key Food & there were still butchers I was sent to with a list of meat cuts to buy.

The Freemans lived across the hall from my grandmother. Miss Lee and her husband, Mr. Freeman (I’m still not sure of his first name) were an older couple–only slightly younger than my grandma–who were retired and fascinating to me. I didn’t know many older married couples. They had a daughter…I don’t believe they were close and she lived in Europe with her hubby at a time when such things were still considered a bit odd.

I digress. A few years ago, Miss Lee finally succumbed to dementia-related issues. She was a wanderer, once making it as far as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, at night, in a nightgown, before she was found. That broke my heart & I worried for her husband being alone.

As a child, every other week or so, I was sent across the hall to pick up some Tupperware from Miss Lee. It was always a mystery what I was picking up: greens? turkey wings? okra (absolutely disgusting)? It didn’t matter what it was, my grandma forced me to eat it and be grateful for it. My grandma’s cooking was fine & I never understood that things were lean in our household, that a childless couple was passing along their extras whenever possible to help us out, and that my scowling at a free meal made me seem spoiled & ungrateful.

But I was never ungrateful. That food helped a lot. I bought Miss Lee Mother’s Day cards (with some hesitation; she was a hard hugger) and that’s just the way it happened. We had another neighbor, Robert, who apparently gifted us with homemade rolls and then there was pre-fame Millie Jackson, who took me (at age 4?) for drives in her first Cadillac and gave long-forgotten clothes to my aunts. This was the 12th floor, and it was expected that we were friendly, didn’t blast music, and they would always buy a chocolate bar during my Catholic school drives and generally put up with me as the only kid on the floor.

Mr. Freeman lasted several years without his partner, but passed a week ago. I was devastated, because I can see things through an adult’s eyes now, and I’m incredibly thankful. He was the last of the old neighbors. 20-somethings live there now, singles and couples with babies and dogs. I should’ve visited him more often. I wish I’d seen Miss Lee while she still remembered me. But I’ll always remember their kindness, and their amused smiles when I rang their bell to return well-washed Tupperware, and when asked if I enjoyed the okra I’d pipe up, “I loved it!”

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