When we lived together, Kristy had a cat named Ned. My archenemy. I’ve never loved cats (like most people who are allergic), but Ned made it easy for that slight disfavor to evolve into an extreme dislike. He was loud, and when Kristy left for a period of time, he got louder. He was a moody kitty, and he gave me the attention of a 7th grade bully – frequent, and not in a loving manner.
While Ned was his own kind of cat, he wasn’t unlike cats in general. My friend Patty once told the most hilarious story of her dad wishing they had a dog, but having a cat instead, and trying to teach it to walk on a leash. They simply don’t do that. They don’t have the obedience and lovable nature of a dog. A person who loves cats tends to love the unloveable. (The world needs more of these people! I’m just not one of them.)
To be fair, let me give the positive qualities of cats:
1) They catch mice. I might be convinced of a barn cat for this reason, once we get barn.
2) They always come back. In fact, it’s common knowledge that if you don’t want a stray to return, you have to turn off that compassion and the temptation to provide a meal, because if you do, congratulations, you now have a kitty. My sister just bought a house that came with a cat because the former owner fed it a time or two and now she gets to buy the kibble.
Today is one of those days where I’ll be parenting solo for the majority, on the verge of a week where I’ll be parenting solo for the entirety. I’m thrilled that JJ will get to enjoy experiences he loves – and we all know he puts up with my own tendencies to leave for an adventure or two. Yet even before I went to bed, my mental state began to shift as it does in these times: preserve and endure. Make it through without going mad.
There’s a space for survival mentality, for sure. And there’s nothing wrong with hoping to preserve your own sanity. Yet, as I woke and turned to a poem by Victoria Erickson (a new favorite; I’m reading Rhythms and Roads), she had words for me:
“when you give this day all the courage, love and intensity you can.”
I have to admit, those words to not reflect the way I tend to approach my days of solo parenting. I don’t bravely face the challenge or seek the potential joy. Which, perhaps, is why I tend to never find it.
Maybe joy is a little like the stray kitty. When you feed him, he’ll keep showing up.
You see, I tend to conserve. Any leftovers go back in the fridge, “just in case.” On these days, and in these situations, I don’t have the generosity of spirit to be tossing my scraps into a bowl on the back porch to tempt joy my way, which might just be the reason that nothing appears.
And why wouldn’t I be tempting joy my way? My girl, Brene (when you quote her enough, you get to be on a first name basis, even if she doesn’t know your name), says joy is one of the most vulnerable emotions we experience. To abandon yourself to love – to open so completely to another, or to a situation – can feel overwhelmingly vulnerable, which is why it’s easier to slip into my preferred method of Survival. If you don’t open yourself to joy, it won’t reject you, right?
So my tendency to shut out joy like a stray cat hasn’t served me well. My days of survival will end exactly as I direct them, with exhaustion and, likely, frustration. A day filled with joy will also likely end with exhaustion, but wouldn’t I rather live with the tiredness that comes from showing up, engaging, and loving? I can tell you, I would. I do.
Just because I have this habit doesn’t mean I have to continue in its pattern. So here’s to bravely showing up to joy, today. With all the courage, love and intensity you can. The day awaits.
Here, kitty kitty.