This has to be one of my all time favorite bits of prose. I thought it was funny when Claire was a baby. I received it in an email chain thing way back then. I appreciate it more now as my children grow.
I just realized that while children are dogs – loyal and affectionate – teenagers are cats. It’s so easy to be a dog owner. You feed it, train it, boss it around. It puts it’s head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting. It bounds indoors with enthusiasm when you call it.
Then around age 13, your adoring little puppy turns into a big old cat. When you tell it to come inside, it looks amazed, as if wondering who died and made you emperor. Instead of dogging your doorsteps, it disappears. You won’t see it again until it gets hungry — then it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn its nose up at whatever you’re serving. When you reach out to ruffle its head, in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you, then gives you a blank stare, as if trying to remember where it has seen you before.
You, not realizing that the dog is now a cat, think something must be desperately wrong with it. It seems so antisocial, so distant, sort of depressed. It won’t go on family outings. Since you’re the one who raised it, taught it to fetch and stay and sit on command, you assume that you did something wrong. Flooded with guilt and fear, you redouble your efforts to make your pet behave.
Only now you’re dealing with a cat, so everything that worked before now produces the opposite of the desired result. Call it, and it runs away. Tell it to sit, and it jumps on the counter. The more you go toward it, wringing your hands, the more it moves away.
Instead of continuing to act like a dog owner, you can learn to behave like a cat owner. Put a dish of food near the door, and let it come to you. But remember that a cat needs your help and your affection too. Sit still, and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has not entirely forgotten. Be there to open the door for it. One day your grown-up child will walk into the kitchen, give you a big kiss and say, “You’ve been on your feet all day. Let me get those dishes for you.”
Then you’ll realize your cat is a dog again.
I have a puppy and a very likable cat right now. Once you realize the cat phase is in full swing life with a teenager gets a little easier. I love them both very much, I might not like them every day but I do love them. So I will romp and play with the puppy and enjoy that time because I know already that it ends way too soon. I will enjoy my time with my beautiful cat and do cat things with her for now.