Parents Are People Too: What I Learned As A Fur Baby Parent

Thursday, February 18, 2016

In November, my dad drove out to Long Island to visit my grandpa for a week and as a surprise he brought Charlie along for the ride.  Grandpa was ecstatic and it was probably the worst idea ever because he now expects us to bring Charlie along every time we visit.

The following weekend, I flew into visit some friends and trek back along the Pennsylvania Turnpike with my dad and Charlie.  Charlie is an excellent passenger.  We've traveled back and forth between Cranberry and Bay Shore so many times she's a pro by now.  Her only issue is that she wants to sit on the dashboard and watch the cars go by, it generally makes her pretty happy.  The problem with this, of course, is you can't see past her when you drive this way and that is extremely dangerous.  So Charlie only gets to run around at rest stops and will cry and whine when you put her back into her carrier because it's not fair that she doesn't get to watch all of the cars and trees go by!

The morning Dad and I drove back, we loaded Charlie and all of our items into the car and departed Long Island a little before 4 AM.  I was exhausted.  The night before I was in the city late meeting with friends and I could barely keep my eyes open.  All down the Southern State, Charlie cried and cried and cried.  I shushed her with my eyes closed and only opened them when my father shook me thirty minutes later.

The Verrazano Bridge loomed behind us.  Firmly in Staten Island, something smelled.  This isn't really cause for alarm because Staten Island has an awful smell all of its own, but this one didn't smell like rotting garbage.

Charlie was screaming her lungs out and when I switched a light on I could see she "had an accident."  Charlie has never had an accident: never gone outside her litter box, always waits during car rides until we pull over, or gives me notification that she needs a bathroom now, now, now!

I knew the difference in her desperate yowls and her whiny cries but I was so tired I ignored them.  I pulled her out of her carrier and held her close to my chest.  She shook a little because I think she knew she'd done wrong, but wasn't sure how.  I felt so awful I wanted to cry.

Dad pulled over in New Jersey at the first rest stop.  We did our best to clean out her carrier but it was destroyed.  Luckily, I left her kitten carrier at Grandpa's and packed it to bring home with us.

"You're a negligent mother," my dad joked as we pulled out of the rest stop.  Charlie cried softly, upset she was back in a carrier, but settled down soon after.  I failed her.  She needed me, she asked for help, and I didn't do anything and now her favorite place to nap was destroyed.

I apologized to Dad, repeatedly.  I know her, I kept telling him.  I knew that those cries were more than "let me out" cries, I just didn't want them to be because, I admitted, it meant I would have to do something about it.  My dad shook his head and told me mistakes happen, it wasn't something to beat myself up over.

I looked at my dad in the dark and I realized he wasn't perfect just because he was a dad.  It's so easy to make a mistake when you're in control of another living thing, even if you love it so much you want to cuddle it to death.   All of the choices my parents made raising my brother and I were ones they deliberated about, tired themselves out over, and begrudgingly awaited the aftermath of once they chose.  Every once in a while, they may have ignored us when we complained our head hurt because they couldn't see straight themselves and thought we were only suffering from a sugar rush when it was really the onset of the flu.

Being responsible for Charlie is nothing like being responsible for a human being.  She doesn't tug on my shirt when she wants a snack or talk back to me or beg for money, with an attitude, to hang out with her friends.  But she's opened my eyes to the idea that just because you have children doesn't mean you're infallible.  Parents make mistakes even when they love you.  Children tend to blame their parents for their shortcomings and errors their parents made along the way.  We forget our parents are people like our friends.  They like weird things, make bad decisions, and know exactly how to tick you off, but we don't hold these things against our friends.  We just accept these characteristics as part of their personality.

Before my parents became parents, my dad was just a dork with a boat, annoyed at the girl who was bringing the beer everyone else was waiting to arrive.  When I remember that, I'm so honored they chose to make mistakes with me.

I pulled Charlie out of her carrier and she kneaded against my neck.  She still loved me even though I let her down in such a major way.  The guilt hadn't subsided yet, so I let her crawl all over the backseat.  Eventually, she parked herself in the back window and cried to the cars passing by.  When she grew tired of that she curled up in my lap with her head resting on my arm so she could creep out the window.  She's my best friend and, thankfully, I'm still hers.

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