79: My Daughter the Cat

79: My Daughter the Cat

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

My Daughter the Cat

Little children, headache; big children, heartache.

~Italian Proverb

My knees grazed the bottom of my fourth grade daughter’s desk. I stretched and shifted my legs so that I could occupy the space that would be hers for the next nine months. I looked around self-consciously, relieved to see other parents wiggling, maneuvering and just plain giving up trying to fit into their children’s desks.

My daughter Amy, giggling with several friends in the back of the classroom, saw that I’d found her desk and came prancing over to join me. I scooted over to make room for her and soon both of us were balanced on the honey-colored wood and metal schoolroom chair. Just as she was about to show me the contents of her desk, a man in the front of the room cleared his voice, and everyone perked up and sat at attention.

“Welcome to ‘Back to School Night’ everyone. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Mr. Jones. I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and why I love to teach fourth grade.”

Mr. Jones was a friendly-looking man, with a balding head and kind eyes that looked out through round wire-rimmed glasses. He wasn’t very tall; in fact some of the taller students could nearly look him in the eye if they stood on tiptoe. He wore a plaid shirt, khaki pants and a cable knit sweater vest. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I almost wished I were back in school again.

“The reason I like to teach fourth grade,” he continued, “is because fourth graders are like dogs. Think about it — they love to see you when you come home, and then follow you around like a shadow, thinking you are wonderful. They want to be with you every second, whether you’re sitting and reading a book or outside weeding the garden. They love to go for walks with you or ride in the car and will give you their unconditional adoration on a daily basis. Every day is new and exciting and they meet it with enthusiasm and joy.”

There was a blanket of murmurs that fell over the classroom full of parents and children, and it seemed that everyone else was as confused as I was. Where was he going with this?

“And then around fifth or sixth grade,” he said, shaking his head sadly, “something happens. Almost overnight, they turn into cats. Instead of running to greet you at the door, they barely look at you from their cushion on the couch.”

There were subdued bursts of laughter and a few knowing “uh huhs” floating amongst the audience, which was now being very doglike, hanging on his every word.

“Yes,” Mr. Jones went on, “suddenly instead of coming when you call them, they might stroll by and grace you with their presence, if they feel like it. They no longer want to be on the same planet with you, let alone the same room. Gone are the days when they’d sit by your feet in front of the fire. Now they disappear to their rooms and only come out for food, and then turn up their nose at what you are serving. They don’t want to be seen on the street with you anymore, so no more of those walks after dinner. It’s a sad, sad thing. But don’t worry, because this phase doesn’t last forever. Sometime during the high school years, things change again and they slowly turn back into dogs! You just have to be patient, and know that this too shall pass.”

Everyone applauded at the end of the teacher’s presentation, laughing and nodding in agreement. My daughter leaned over, her eyes wide in amazement and whispered in my ear, “Mom! Lindsey’s a cat!” She was referring to her older sister, a seventh grader, who had been exhibiting more and more feline qualities every day. We finally understood! I stifled a laugh, and had to agree; she was right.

Several years later, Amy came home from school like a tornado, jacket, shoes, and a backpack flying everywhere. She was in a prickly mood, and she ignored my cheery greeting: “Hi! How was school?” She retreated to her room and slammed the door behind her.

I tiptoed down the hall and knocked gently on her door. “Amy?”

“What?” she hissed from behind the closed door. It was decorated with a sign that said: “KEEP OUT! Only enter if you are NOT a parent or my sister!”

“Can I come in?”

“I don’t care,” she growled.

I opened the door a crack and peeked inside. Sprawled on the bed was my beautiful, gangly twelve-year-old daughter. Her head was buried in her bunched up pillow, and I had to strain to hear her muffled sobs. Sitting down on the edge of the comforter that resembled Monet’s water lilies, I placed a gentle hand on her back, hoping to give some comfort.

“What’s wrong with me?” she sobbed. “I’m always crabby and I can’t help it no matter what I do! I hate it! What’s wrong with me, Mom?”

I hesitated a moment, and then softly said,” Honey, I think you’re turning into a cat.”

A tear-stained face turned to look at me. Tugging at the corners of her mouth was a small smile. The glint of the afternoon sunlight on her braces made her look like a cartoon princess, as her smile covered her face. In that moment, I knew that she remembered her beloved fourth grade teacher’s story and my heart filled with gratitude. Not only did his story help me understand her frantic adolescent moods, but most of all, it helped Amy make sense of it herself. We were both able to breathe a sigh of relief and understanding that afternoon as we sat on her bed, me with my daughter the cat.

~Nancy Roth Manther

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