And all for the want of a little gray cat

Okay, so this post is just way, way, way too long and anyone who reads it to the end gets an automatic jewel in your crown in heaven. Any armchair therapists who want to take a stab at helping me deal with my neuroses get a whole palace.

Here’s the Story:

Sunday afternoon, late, after naps, we took the kids to the park. Illyria has been sick with a nasty cough, but she lit up once we were there, laughing and running and climbing and sliding. I asked her at one point if she needed to go to the bathroom and she said yes, so I took her to an adjoining café, but then she didn’t actually need to go after all.

The walk to the café is lined with twin hedges, and long ago (we go there a lot) she learned that tossing a toy into them is endlessly amusing – it might land on top, magically suspended on the leaves, or sink into the bushes and huddle around the roots. We used to use a brightly colored Very Hungry Caterpillar, but this time she had her cat.

It’s a gray beanie baby cat, called “Silver” on the tag, but she calls it Tom Cat and for the last three months or so it has been her constant companion.  She sleeps with it, goes to the bathroom with it, wipes her tears on it (it was getting so manky I recently washed it, and it was so sweet to see her carefully hanging him up on the drying rack by the ears. It took long enough to dry that she had to substitute in a Corduroy Bear for about 18 hours and then it was back to the still-slightly-damp cat).

I was a little annoyed, and bored, not really wanting to play toss-the-kitty-into-the-bushes with her, so I pulled out my cell phone and called Gimli to tell him where we were, and then started playing a stupid little game (kind of like Bejeweled, but more boring), pausing intermittently to retrieve the cat from the bushes for her. I suggested several times we go play something else but this was what she wanted to do. And then, on the fourth or fifth toss, I didn’t see where the cat landed. So, annoyed, I started at one end of the shrubs and worked my way down to the other end, parting the leaves at the top and looking to the very roots of each individual plant. I didn’t find it, so I started up the other side.

I was on my third or so round of the shrubs when I started to get that feeling in the pit of my stomach, that sick, slightly panicked feeling you get when it begins to dawn on you that something is missing, really and truly missing. Your keys, your wallet, your Tom Cat. Gimli came over and I sort of snapped at him, “I have to keep looking until I find it.” He began to question Illyria and me – where was she when I looked up and saw her? – and to hunt in a wider circle around the overgrown garden there – and he was clearly angry with me, I could see it in the set of his mouth and shoulders.

I found a number of silver-dollar-sized snails, but no gray beanie baby cat. I looked again. I joined Gimli in the hunt through the grass, around rosebushes, into small palm trees, around the fountain. He tried to see onto the roof of the café. A waiter came out to ask us what we were looking for.

Oz ran off to the slides nearby, and I went after him to supervise, and then Illyria came too, saying “let’s go play, that will make it all better.”

It was getting dark. We hadn’t really had supper. Gimli had bought some souflaqe (can’t remember offhand what they’re called in English – gyro meat, French fries, tzatziki sauce, ketchup, wrapped in a pita) but they weren’t very good and he ate most of them. Oz ate the French fries and some meat. I was worried about bedtime. Illyria wanted popcorn, which we bought from an ambulant vendor.

Gimli was really mad at me.

Finally I explained to Illyria that we were going to have to go home without the cat, but that I would come back in the morning to keep looking for it. Gimli and I agreed it was probably in the fountain – which wasn’t turned on, but was filled with murky green water, soggy fluff from the cottonwoods floating all over it. We also agreed that the loss of the cat was, ultimately, my fault, and I felt absolutely sick over it.

Illyria didn’t cry, but I did, the whole walk home. Gimli and I didn’t speak to each other. Illyria actually seemed ok. In fact, I asked her that night, “do you feel sad that we came home without Tom Cat, or do you feel ok?” And she said, “ok.” That night before she had to go pee, she picked up a beanie baby bunny, and has been holding it ever since.

So Monday morning I went off to “work,” without my laptop. I asked at the café if it was all right for me to poke around in the fountain, and they actually came out then and unplugged it to let the water drain out. (It was so, so gross.) I pulled up a small, young sapling – I think a volunteer cottonwood, actually – and stripped off the leaves to poke around as the water drained. It took a long time. Periodically, I went off and looked again throughout both long hedges, every nook and cranny, and around the whole garden area. It was a lot easier to see in the bright morning light. All I turned up were snails and some empty plastic water bottles. Eventually, I could see orange-brown lumps appearing under the water in the fountain – fruit that had fallen in and was rotting at the bottom – but nothing that even resembled a small gray cat. When the water was gone, I did another look around, then sat on a bench deep in the shade and cried.

When I saw a waiter come out and start poking in the bushes, I went and thanked him for their help and said “it’s not here, I think a child must have taken it.” I’m sure he could see I’d been crying. Then there was nothing to do but leave.

I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I walked around and around city blocks, only stopping when I was too tired to keep walking. I didn’t want to go anywhere I usually go, do the things I usually do. I didn’t eat lunch. I went home when I was sure the kids were asleep and took a fitful nap, waking up with a pounding headache that lasted into the next morning when I think I finally managed to get rehydrated.

I’m not sure why I took this so hard – honestly, harder than Illyria did – although today she did say she’s sad that she doesn’t have the cat. But she hasn’t cried for him (at least not directly – she has cried over other things, although she’s also sick, and that makes her more sensitive). Sunday night when I was trying to fall asleep, I realized the feeling in my body was exactly the same as after breaking up with someone. That kind of sick feeling of loss and deep, deep regret. I thought about Mel’s post on The Undoing of Things and all I wanted was to PUT DOWN THE DAMN CELL PHONE AND KEEP MY EYES ON MY CHILD. Or even not push her to go use the bathroom when she really didn’t need to. Or have gone to a different park. Or, maybe, never have been born.

~::~

Yup, that’s how I felt, pretty much until Tuesday afternoon. It seems so melodramatic and ridiculous and poor-me and narcissistic. Because it’s not deriving entirely from Illyria’s sadness over losing her cat, and my guilt over not being able to prevent its loss or find it then later; a LOT of it is deriving from Gimli being mad at me.

I don’t know why I can’t handle his being mad at me, why I take it so deeply to heart, why I just fall apart. I suspect it has to do with how my family of origin doesn’t know how to handle or process anger. When my mom was angry, she’d shout at us and spank us. When my dad was angry – which was very, very rarely – he’d get really quiet, say something cutting, and then leave the room.

But there’s another side of it, too, and that’s this feeling I have that there’s something in our relationship that isn’t quite as it should be, for me to have this extreme reaction. It doesn’t seem healthy. Obviously, he’s my life partner and best friend, my confidante and companion – and here, where I don’t really have close friends outside the family, my dependence on him is exacerbated. And it’s not like he’s violent or anything – all it takes, really, is just KNOWING he’s mad at me and I get upset. A word, a look. If I think it’s unjust, that I shouldn’t be blamed for whatever he’s mad about, then I get really mad myself (also out of proportion, usually, to whatever the issue is) but if I also blame myself… then I sink into this hopeless depression and fits of crying like with the kitty incident.

~::~

Tuesday afternoon when I put the kids down for naps they both fell asleep really quickly, and for some reason my ability to get them down for naps has become in my heart a measure of my parenting. Days when they go to sleep easily on schedule I feel like a good mom. Days when they don’t…. well. So my heart was lifted, and Gimli commented when he got home from work that I seemed to be in a good mood.

But there’s something there, still, this dark cloud hanging over me. I haven’t talked about this with him yet. I haven’t told him how deeply awful I felt about the whole thing. There was just a quick “so you’re not mad at me anymore?” exchange, a hug, a gift of chocolate and I think for him it’s all in the past. But I feel wrung out and exhausted. I will probably write him an e-mail later today – or direct him to this post – since we never really have time to talk away from the kids unless we schedule a date night, and somehow the restaurants we go to aren’t really conducive for heavy conversation.

He’s not mad at me anymore; I found “Silver” on Amazon for $5 and am going to order two so we have a backup. (I’ll have to cover his pink nose with purple thread like I did the other one at her request – don’t know why, she has some funny little quirks.) Strangely enough, a few days before this incident she unearthed a book we have about a little girl who goes on a trip in an airplane and en route loses her teddy bear. A man in a light plane finds it and brings it to her, meeting her on the runway with her beloved bear. We told Illyria that Tom Cat had to go to the States and we’ll find him there when we go in a few weeks (a 2-week trip related to the job in Colombia – dreading the jet lag, but maybe it will make the new job seem real). I think that for her it’s actually a valuable lesson in resilience and responsibility and not entirely a bad thing. I wish Gimli saw it the same way.

~::~

But here’s the armchair therapist thing – How do I fix this? Why am I so destroyed by Gimli’s anger, and how can I change?

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7 Responses to “And all for the want of a little gray cat”

  1. Rachel Says:

    What a crumby day. I’m not sure why his anger is so upsetting to you, if I knew I might understand more about myself. I do know that men and women are wired differently. Men will honestly forgive and forget about a situation, they don’t tend to stew as we women do. On the other hand, we may feel at peace about something and then a day, a month, or even a year later feel just as upset as we once were.

    Don’t beat yourself up about Tom Cat. Every child is going to lose a favorite toy at some point in their childhood. You could have been watching and it fallen someplace you couldn’t get to and the end result would have been the same.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      That’s so true, Rachel – there is no way to completely safeguard everything all the time.
      I recently remembered to stop by and catch up on your blog but I wasn’t able to leave a comment – thinking of you and your nephew. More soon.

  2. meera Says:

    I am not sure how helpful this will be, as it is based on my own situation. I have recently realized that my response to my husband’s anger has been to blame myself. My image of my husband is that he is a relaxed laid-back guy (and my image of myself is the opposite – quick to get upset or speak up, etc). So when he gets angry, the way I have reconciled this with my image of him is to believe that I must have done something really terrible for him to get so angry.

    Our story is more complex that just this, though. I recently discovered that my husband has been drinking progressively more and more over the last several years – and that is the explanation for his worsening temper. I am not suggesting that G is doing the same, but just that sometimes our ideas of who people are are very powerful in shaping our reactions to them.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      This is so true – how much perceptions matter. As much as I hate to admit it, I give Gimli a lot of power in our relationship.
      I’m sorry to hear you’ve just discovered this about your husband’s drinking – it must be very worrisome.

  3. tara Says:

    hmm that is a really sucky situation. i wouldn’t feel badly about the cat. i think i would ask Gimli why he was so angry at you- that seems out of proportion to me.
    in this situation it sounds to me like you are so upset by it because it confirms an unfounded fear of your own. you think he’s angry because you think he thinks that you aren’t/weren’t being a good mom- which isn’t true… (we all check our phones/ tune out at times- that doesn’t make us bad parents, you can’t be “on” all the time and unfortunately 4 yos can’t quite grasp the mommy needs quiet time idea) but you worry about this all the time and he’s who you are looking at to validate you.
    So for this situation, it seems like you could press him on why he was so 1angry that he didn’t talk to you- i.e. what’s going on for him
    and separate it from what is going on for you.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Tara, you have hit the nail on the head. “You worry about this [being a good mom] all the time and he’s who you are looking at to validate you.” I’m like stunned at how succinctly you summed it up – like, this is EXACTLY what is going on – and I wrap it in this fog of clouded emotions. Thank you a million times. How well you know me.

  4. Aisha Says:

    Hi Elizabeth, I found your blog via Stirrup-Queens- I felt so sad reading this post and how upset you were about the entire situation. At first I thought I misread and you had lost an actual living cat lol but then re-reading I realized it was her toy. Losing the stuffed animal is ofcourse not desirable but your husband’s reaction when he knew you felt badly about it was not the best reaction he could have had in that given moment. I strongly recommend you read “The Four Agreements” honestly, I read that book and it changed my life. I remember one quote in there which said, humans are the only animals who beat themselves up 200 times for one mistake by the internal lashings they give themselves. You are human. Toys get lost. It happens. Your daughter too learned a lesson about keeping her things close to her as well which is an important lesson in life. Tough things happen to kids and it helps them learn and grow.

    *hugs* I’m sorry it’s been so tough and I hope you guys have a frank and gentle discussion about this to help you move forward.

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