“So, when do you think she’ll no longer be a teenager?” my daughter asks me after her 13-month-old cat, Millie, nips her for the tenth time while she tries to pet her.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe another year, until she’s two,” I tell her, thinking how fortunate it is for her that cat years pass by much more quickly than human years.
Not that I would trade my years with my daughter for anything, but even she is aware that her fire personality combined with her teenage-hood makes parenting a challenge. I find it rather amusing that her cat is now a mirror for her.
Millie spent her first 10 months with us as a lovable, albeit curious, kitten. She adored my daughter’s adoration and returned her doting affections with smiles, purrs and frequent snuggles. If my daughter wanted to cuddle her, she’d pick Millie up and nestle her into her shoulders. Not any more.
These days, Millie-the-teenage-cat, starts the day by positioning herself strategically in front of the fridge. If she was tall enough, the door would knock her over. Instead, she looks up at the first human to draw near and stares him or her down until bits of turkey or chicken are laid at her feet. Her two dog sisters stand back aghast, waiting for their bits to fly through the air.
After Millie has finished her breakfast (the bits of turkey are usually followed by a trip into the basement to gorge on actual cat food), Millie follows the dogs and my husband out the front door for their morning walk. Two houses down, she leaves the pack and settles in for a day at
her second home the neighbor’s to chase bees and dragonflies. Some days we don’t see her until dusk, after I meander down the road and call her home. I say some days, because on other days that are not rainy, Millie will completely ignore my calling and stretch the time of her curfew into minutes, or even an hour past. Choosing to return home on her own time.
I like to remind my daughter how alike they are as she bemoans the loss of her loving kitten who has suddenly transformed into a moody, unpredictable, and sometimes down-right mean little cat. “She’s a teenager,” I tell her. “This is what it’s like.”
Sometimes I want to also tell her to cherish the rare moments. Those times when Millie suddenly remembers that she loves her and allows my daughter to scoop her into her arms for a hug and a kiss…the nights when she curls into the covers beside her…but then I stop, because, in truth, no moment with Millie is more precious than another. Just as no moment with my daughter is. Sure, there are days, more than I can count, when I catch myself wondering when this stage in life will be over, but they are fleeting. Eventually I replace them with the knowing that my daughter, like her cat, is living her life as she should be, and teaching her parents, in the process, many things along the way as we each learn to hold on and to let go at the same time. She knows, just as Millie does, that the doorway will always open for her and there will always be arms to enfold, but those same arms and that door will not shut to confine.
It’s not always easy, as my daughter is also learning through Millie, for a parent to embrace the adolescent journey toward the independent self, but through the struggles the love that always remains makes it worth it.