Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Eyes lowered, he steps down one foot at a time, casual and deliberate. Chin tipped at an angle, he holds his shoulders broad and powerful, eyes carefully glancing left and right to take in the peripherals without being noticed. He grabs the bag, showing no signs that its weight is cumbersome and slings it over one shoulder. A scowl of indifference, he grabs the door with force to close it, too nonchalant to make eye contact, too cool for good-byes.

The scene reminds me of an old western where the dismount from the horse, the saunter to the door and the force with which the saloon doors opened spoke volumes to onlookers; a force not to be reckoned with…challengers beware. In a cloud of testosterone, he makes his way into the building, image intact. In spite of the minivan substitute for a horse and the skateboard shoes in place of spurred cowboy boots, he enters the doors of the middle school with cowboy cool.

They are the same doors I entered nervously three years ago when my first born was on the threshold of seventh grade. The building seemed large and unfriendly; a dramatic contrast to the 5th/6th grade middle school. It was the same school that my husband attended for seventh and eighth grade and apparently changed little since his days of roaming the halls.

Entering the gymnasium for parent orientation, I exchanged pleasantries with comrades as I climbed to the fourth row of the bleachers and settled myself. I sat ready to be filled with inspiring speeches and began to thumb through the hand-outs in my lap. “Welcome to the Cat Years,” immediately grabbed my attention.

The paper informed me that until now I had been raising a puppy. Puppies are delightful and full of adoration. They come when you call them, yearn for your attention, aim to please you and love you unconditionally. According to this paper, my sweet puppy was about to morph into a cat.

For the unsuspecting parent, this evolution is shocking and parents franticly search within and without for answers: where did we go wrong? I learned that my puppy would take on a feline attitude and was reassured that this is perfectly normal. I could expect to be ignored when I said his name, as if he had never heard the name before. I should expect my cat would avoid being in my presence, would turn its nose up at the food I offered and would interact on his terms only; a distant aloof composure at all times.

I sent my first born off to seventh grade, in spite of the urge to home-school, a bouncing tail-wagging twelve-year-old in hopes that this was an exaggeration. By the end of the first semester, the cat years had taken hold.

“If you have to come in the school, don’t make eye contact with anyone.”

“So when your friends say hi and wave, I should look away and ignore them?”

“OK… say hi, but don’t make conversation.”

Suddenly, I had become the most embarrassing thing in his world and the very fact that he had a mother was humiliating. In public, he walked at least twenty feet ahead of me, pretended not to hear me when I spoke and was sure that anything I said in the car with the windows closed could be heard by all.

I would frequently remind myself that he was immersed in the Cat Years, and held tightly to the promise that at the conclusion of this phase, a dog would emerge at the other end; no longer needing me in the puppy way, but loyal, loving and close. I learned to disengage in debates, as reason has no value in the cat years and would occasionally hiss back and move on.

Unpleasant as this was, I endured the past three years and just recently, I saw glimmers of the canine returning. My oldest, now golden retriever-like, is enjoyable to converse with on occasion and as he approaches the age of sixteen, I see the sweet and loyal beginning to shine through. He is now able to be with me in public, say good-bye in front of others and even asks for my opinion from time to time.
I thought I was prepared as my second born, the sweetest and cuddliest of my litter, entered the seventh grade. I was well- equipped in feline management. I knew what to expect, how to react and felt unruffled by the hormonal eruption about to take place. As luck would have it, this one is no Tom Cat. I am now the proud parent of a full-fledged Mountain Lion! Hissing and disengaging are futile efforts and my previous strategies require complete revamping.

He awakes each morning, right on time and emerges from the shower with a stone-like exterior; ready to be annoyed at the slightest pleasantries. He looks at me with distaste, casting breakfast aside after a bite or two and moving through the morning as if life itself was inconvenient. Grabbing for my highest healed boots in an effort to look down at him still, I drive him to school with the radio on; music to calm the savage beast. As we approach the driveway of the school, he slips on a layer of attitude to get ready for his dismount. He forcefully thrusts open the door of the minivan, taking no notice of the driver behind the wheel.

“Have a nice day! I love you!” I say.
I know he needs to hear the words, even if they go un-answered and I am not insulted by the non-response

Living in the lion’s cage, I have learned several things:
Take nothing personally; this too shall pass.
Keep your sense of humor.
Never show fear or hesitation.
Stay calm in the face of roaring aggression.
Keep the lion well-fed at all times.
Never stop loving.

I am sure that by the time I have mastered the art of lion taming, it will be time to place my youngest and the only female on the threshold of middle school. It is likely that the estrogen storm will be dangerous and perhaps everything I learned with her brothers will be rendered ineffective. I realize that I will have to re-think the philosophy that de-clawing is a cruel practice.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

I've got me a cat, too! I'm all for de-clawing!

Jerri said...

LOVE the cat analogy. Sure wish my son had gone to a school where they explained that to me.

And cowboy cool? Great turn of phrase.

Good luck with the estrogen. For my daughter, jr. high was the best of times AND the worst of times. Hope you have plenty of the best to carry you through the worst.

Terry Whitaker said...

I love this piece. Every parent of a fifth or sixth grader MUST read. You need to find a publication for this.

Both mine are there right now--and I'm hoping they are a lot like March. In like a lion and out like a lamb??