My daughter got scratched by a cat a few weeks ago. Someone else’s cat. In spite of my better instincts the cat is still alive. We have cats. 2 cats in fact, called Loki and Puck as The Mamanator and I are a pair of massive mythology nerds. Our cats have different, almost antithetical attitudes towards children which have left our progeny vulnerable to cats.
In short, Our cats are soft. They have mollycoddled our children and not prepared them for the ways of the harsh feline world.
I shall start with Puck. His attitude to children is a simple one. It is a five step process:1.) Avoid, 2.) Get away, 3.) Evade, 4.) Run and 5.) Bolt. Fleeing is his first through last line of defence. He leaves the room, he jumps to higher ground or he scarpers as fast as he can to the other end of the house. The kids have laid hands on him once or twice in nearly 3 years so I assume he has some sort of spidey sense tingling that alerts him to the presence of infants.
He is a skittish cat, poor boy, we adopted him from the local Vet 6 years ago, apparently he was found in an abandoned lot by someone who’s dogs caught the scent of him. They picked him up and took him to the vet. Apparently when he was picked up he was grey. They discovered he was actually ginger and white once they got all the muck off him. Poor boy, but it explains his skittishness and his natural distrust of humans.
Loki is a different story. He was born under The Mamanator’s old house. He was lured into the house with food, captured ever since he has been our cat. His mum was a feral, too wild for human hands, and ended up being taken away by the RSPCA. Loki’s response to the children is to roll on the floor and timidly submit to what ever is being done to him. He has been headlocked, sat upon, yanked at, scratched and I think even bitten – and sometimes during these ordeals he has purred.
The insane thing is that he occasionally walks up to the kids and lies down in front of them. I’m not sure if it’s masochism or co-dependence. The one time he has ever retaliated for something The Lass was doing to him he turned and nipped with his teeth. He didn’t nip The Lass, but The Mamanator as if to ask her to get her child to lay off, leaving the baby untouched and oblivious to the discomfort she was inflicting.
So neither of them is crotchety or aggressive with the children. They have never raised tooth nor claw to either of them.
Plato writes about justice in his book The Republic, but that’s not really my point. In the book a bunch of friends (including Socrates, Plato’s teacher) are walking to the port, but that’s not my point. The friends discuss the nature of justice, but that’s not my point. They compare the “just man” and the “unjust man”, but that’s not really my point. Someone argues that the unjust man is happier because the just man can always be harmed or ripped off or deceived by the unjust man. That’s starting to get to my point. Socrates counters that the unjust man must be unhappy because he can never form good friendships if he assumes everyone is unjust and that everyone is trying to harm him. He is alone and without friendship in the midst of a world he thinks is evil. He is unhappy… That little part of The Republic (which is 10 books long by the way) has always stuck with me, and I’ve turned it over in my head more than once. For some reason the cats made me think about it.
I could raise my kids to believe all cats will scratch them. I could warn them about cats, take them away from cats or not let them near cats. I could tell them all cats are “unjust” to talk about it in Plato’s language. They would avoid getting scratched, wouldn’t they? But what would they lose?
I could tell my kid’s that everyone is out to get them. That con artists lie in wait, that everyone they see is going to mug them. That paedophiles are about to kidnap them around every corner, that terrorists are about to blow them up . That everyone is out for themselves and that the world is a nasty, cold and hard place. In Plato’s language that the world is unjust. But what would that do?
Patting a cat is a risk. So’s trying to eat it’s ear (just ask The Lass), but she’s going to do it any way. Saying hello is a risk. Smiling at someone is a risk. Shaking a hand is a risk. Making a friend is a risk. Falling in love is a risk. I know bad things happen, the news tells me so every day. EVERY DAY. Often more than once. But the news isn’t the world….
So what do I do? I don’t want my kids wandering blithely onto the road thinking that cars will stop for them. I don’t want my kids to not read things before they sign them later in life. I don’t want them to try to pet a dog that’s baring it’s teeth. I don’t want my kids to get into a stranger’s car. I don’t want my kids to do stupid things.
But I don’t want them to live in constant fear and anxiety. I think that’s more damaging than the odd cat scratch.
Finding the balance is the hard thing. To use the catch phrase of a government of the past I want them to be “Alert but not Alarmed”. Cautious when appropriate, but not paralysed by fear.
I won’t gloss over the bad stuff when they ask, and I won’t lie. At least I’ll try not to. I’ll just make sure to tell them about the good in the world too. About people who help people, about kindness, about volunteers and about people who look after each other. About the 120 trucks with 600 people on them that turned up to save peoples’ houses during the fire season last year, without a dollar being paid to any of them (I will totally mention that I was one of them!). There is a lot of goodness out there, and it’s easy to forget it.
I’ll leave the bad stuff to the newspapers. one day their voice will be louder in my childrens’ lives than mine.
In the meantime, if a cat looks particularly nasty I’ll make sure we steer clear of them…