Though by night I am a writer, by day I have another identity—as a Pregnancy and Early Parenting Specialist (yes, we call ourselves PEePS) at a wonderful boutique and resource center here in Madison.
As a result, I never, ever have a shortage of fun family stories. Many of my favorites are origin stories—how the family came together, or how a couple became three, or a threesome became four. These aren’t always a laughing matter at the time, but mothers have a way of retelling even the most difficult trials of their lives—like childbirth, for example—as though it was a funny PG-13 movie they saw once long ago. (Or, in some cases, a campy horror flick.)
Of course, those stories aren’t mine to tell, but I can tell you instead about another family origin story—the day we brought home not our baby, but our kitty.
It was Valentine’s Day. To say Josh had been wanting a cat would be like saying BLB kind of likes blueberries. If there were a bathtub full of blueberries, my kid would be in that bathtub right now, emptying it out one berry at a time, taking breaks only to shout “MO! MO BOOBERR!” And if there were a bathtub full of cats, God help us all.
This is all to say Josh really wanted a cat. We went to the humane society with the stipulation that I would not bring home any cats that I hadn’t shared a room with for at least thirty minutes—I am allergic to some cats and it takes that long for my histamines to really get cranking. I sort of figured we’d pick out a test cat, I’d start with the watery eyes and sneezing, and after a few more tries we’d leave, catless.
But I never counted on Priscilla Pufferson.
She was the ugliest cat I had EVER seen. And that includes the one-eared cat my best friend and former roommate took in one night when I wasn’t paying attention. That includes the weird hairless cats that they use on cop shows to demonstrate that the suspect definitely did it, because only mass murderers would own cats like that. She was not a pretty cat.
And the smell. She had long, never-groomed gray hair matted from tail to chin. Her head was dwarfed by all that hair but her wild expression still came through. At some point, way back when, she had been hit by a skunk and stopped grooming herself. She had been moved from one shelter to the next for nearly ten months, and her time was quickly running out.
The cat room was full of plucky tabbies, cute calicos, and purring, docile kittens. Josh picked out Priscilla Pufferson.
The vet tech running the show pulled PeaPuff out of her cat condo and brought her out to us in our cat sampling room. This cat looked even worse from the back. She stank to the heavens. She climbed my body like a tree leaving puncture holes in my jeans (and my legs, I would later discover). She yowled until the moment she was placed on our laps and then would not under any circumstances get down. She bit.
I waited for the allergies to start.
They never did, of course. So we brought Priscilla Pufferson home in a cardboard box with holes in it. We put her in the finished part of the basement so she’d have a smaller space to get used to. She immediately climbed up into the rafters and stayed up there for hours and hours, while we spoke in soothing low voices and prayed she would one day come down. I spent much of that time deeply regretting getting a cat.
Then, around eight that night, she came down. She ambled around the basement coolly, sized us up, and then chose my lap as the perfect place to settle in and immediately began purring. I was touched. I was won over. I thought, I can do this. I can be a cat person. I love this cat.
“We shall name her Pufferson,” we agreed.
“What’s that smell?” I asked.
Ms. Pufferson stood up, dignified. She hopped down, off my lap, and headed back up for the rafters. Most of the terrible smell went with her.
But not all.
Needless to say, Ms. Pufferson had pooped in my lap.