My parents are currently in the process of moving house. Happily for all concerned they are relocating from my hometown of Blackburn in Lancashire to live just round the corner from us in Newcastle, giving us the extra pairs of hands we have been craving for two and a half years, and Joe more time with his Grandma and Grandad. As a consequence of their transition from house to top-floor flat (or penthouse apartment as my mum is rather ostentatiously calling it), we have become the adoptive family of their two cats, Holly and Toto.
Aside from the fact that they are a lot hairier than Joe, and enjoy licking the raw meat juice out of an empty mince packet a lot more than your average toddler, cats and children have a lot more in common than I had realised.
They arrived at our house on Saturday morning, after a fractious two and a half hour car journey from north-west to north-east, meowing in complaint at the general inconvenience and disruption to their normal routine. They had specific food, special snacks, a favourite blanket – all the usual paraphernalia associated with a trip with a small child. They were hungry, they needed the toilet, they wanted some affection; and then wanted to be immediately left alone to interfere with something they shouldn’t, exploring unfamiliar surroundings. We set up their litter tray, put out some food and let them settle in.
“Get out of the cupboard!”, “Leave that alone!”, “Don’t climb on that!”, “Mind, you’ll knock something over!” and other toddler/feline interchangeable phrases were trotted out all afternoon as the cats got used to their new home and Joe was just hugely excited by the whole thing. The weather was just about nice enough for a barbecue, which aside from us taking the usual precautions of not leaving Joe on his own in the kitchen as we prepared the food, was enlivened by the added risk of two nosey moggies sniffing about the countertops hoping we would leave a plate of sausages unattended. We also had to ensure there was no chance of either cat or child escaping into the garden in case of accident or jumping over the fence to freedom (probably more applicable to the cats, that one).
Come 8pm, the house fell quiet. Joe was worn out from a day chasing two confused and probably slightly terrified cats from room to room, and Holly and Toto seemed to have accepted their new environment and were lazily sleeping off their treats of discarded chicken drumsticks. As Holly purred contentedly on my lap while we watched TV, I found myself to be quite contented as well. I thought back to when Joe was tiny, and would sleep for hours, breathing softly, resting on my chest. I was also reminded of that moment when you realise you need to go to the loo and wonder how you are going to extricate yourself from beneath the slumbering baby, or in this case, feline companion, without disturbing them and either being faced with a crying child or a set of claws digging in your thighs.
We had always talked about getting a cat, and now we have two of them. The first couple of days may have been like gaining two children but our house really does feel like a family home now. I think it’s lovely for children to be around animals when they are growing up. It teaches them about being gentle, and caring, and so much about the wider world around them. Seeing the simple joy on Joe’s face as Toto curiously sniffed at his noisy new friend, or hearing him giggle as Holly wandered past him and tickled his nose with her trailing tail makes the extra level of vigilance worth the effort. The cats have taken to Joe with good natured affection, even tolerating his over-enthusiastic attempts to give them a cuddle. I’m going to look forward to getting home from work even more now I’ve got two little furry friends waiting for me – even if they are demanding little troublemakers!