Friday, July 29, 2011

The way we're made

My child’s lovey—a black-and-white stuffed cat—took her first bath today. Eliot—so-named because it’s brand is “Jellycat” and Cats was the first musical I ever saw and my husband does this impression of a cat in Cats (even though he claims he’d rather die than attend a musical) that’s, well, to die for—so I wanted to name the cat “Jellicle Cat,” after the song/T.S. Eliot poem but that proved too cumbersome, so—Eliot.

For some reason we’d never locked in on Eliot’s gender—I’d sensed she was female but was just as apt to say “he” as “she.” The other day I randomly asked the baby if Eliot was a boy or a girl, and without giving it any thought at all she said “Gow” and nodded for emphasis.

Eliot has a black body with light paws and nose and mid-section, and the light had turned darker from seven months of love and sharing snacks and almost as many months of parental nervousness about accidentally “ruining” Eliot in the washing machine. I’m not sure what we were imagining, but since the tag said “spot-clean only,” I figured it would be like tossing an antique lace doily in there and letting the agitator rip it to shreds.

I try to take a relaxed approach to parenting—ignoring the books, not fretting over the small stuff—but the internet sometimes makes it difficult. If a million articles and blog entries and threads on old-fashioned looking things that I think are maybe abandoned chat rooms (?), if they’re just sitting there waiting to give me advice on how to wash my kid’s cat, who am I to ignore them?

Many moons ago I did the requisite Good Parent research and discovered, like all aspects of parenting, every single approach and its opposite was recommended. Dry clean. NEVER dry clean! Wash in hot water. COLD WATER ONLY. Toss in the washing machine. NEVER EVER WASH IT EVER. Hang it by its toes and gently swat it with a carpet-beater. I’M GOING TO CALL SOCIAL SERVICES ON YOU!

For practice, I tossed a similarly made stuffed animal into the machine, one that the baby likes fine but doesn’t sleep with or ask for or mention when she’s at the zoo alone with her dad, as if to say, “Eliot would really have liked these snow leopards—when we get home we’ll have to tell her all about them.”

That animal turned out just fine, all its limbs still attached and not growing inner mildew to the best of my knowledge, though how long would it take to discover such a thing?

For months we put off washing Eliot—when were we ever going to do it, anyway, given that she’s always in the baby’s arms or very close by?

“Wow, that cat’s been around the block, eh?” grandparents and random strangers would comment upon making Eliot’s acquaintance.

“Oh, she’s a little loved, I guess,” I’d say evenly, trying not to betray my maternal defensiveness. “But she wasn’t ever black and white—she was always sort of grey. And her fur’s just like that. It’s the way she’s made.”

But we’re heading to L.A. for the weekend, and you know how they are there. I didn’t want Eliot to feel like some grungy Seattle hippy with B.O. just because her owners’ parents were too wussy to bathe her.

So the baby’s daddy took her to the zoo this morning with zero stuffed animals in tow (because where there’s one, there’s Eliot), and I stayed home and washed the cat—washing machine, cold water, delicate cycle, lingerie bag—and then dried her in the dryer on low for two mildew-preventing hours.

Eliot lived to tell the tale.

She looks beautiful, in fact. The grey patches actually are meant to be white. Who knew?

I felt weirdly full of pride, like I’d accomplished something great today. I even wished I’d taken a Before picture so I could share it as well as an After version, but I realized I’d be one of those people.

Then I realized something kind of major.

I’ve become one of those people.

While I wasn’t paying attention I’ve become the kind of parent who loves her child with the fierceness of a jaguar and a lion and a tiger and a snow leopard combined.

You fuck with Eliot, you fuck with me.

And this makes me inordinately happy.

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