Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
It's been nearly a decade since we welcomed a new baby into our house. I'd forgotten how topsy-turvy life becomes with late night feedings, the baby crying, poo and pee in unlikely places and, of course, sleep deprivation.
After four kids and two decades on the job as parent, I've decided having a baby in the house is akin to a stand-up comedy routine; it involves a lot of improvisation and thinking on your feet. A new baby will take your ordinary and organized adult life and turn it into an unpredictable and rather messy affair.
In the last few days, our new baby (we named her Gertrude) has reminded us of this. Like all babies, she is cute, cuddly and hasn't yet learned to sleep through the night. Unlike our other babies, she won't enter kindergarten in five years. Gertrude is a kitten.
My husband and I decided to surprise our youngest son with the tiny feline as a gift for his ninth birthday. We rationally discussed the logic of a kitten and what it would bring to our lives. We explored specifics, so we'd recognize the perfect one when the time came.
"It has to have short hair," my husband said. He made a sweeping motion with his hand, gesturing toward the dog hairs (courtesy of our yellow lab) permeating every crack, crevice, flat surface and piece of furniture within our house. I understood his logic.
We've been cat owners before. The one female we had was painfully shy and much too timid. The male cats we've known possessed bolder personalities and were less likely to be afraid of living with a large yellow Labrador retriever. We reasoned a male cat would be best for our household.
"Gray would be a nice color, or calico," my husband continued. "We don't want a black cat."
I nodded in agreement, thinking about how all our furniture is light brown. Black cat hairs would stand out like a beacon.
And so it went, until we had a specific recipe for a new kitten down pat. Written in ink (blue, not black). The permanent kind.
The next day I made a trip to the animal shelter, to take a preliminary look at the kittens. I brought along a box Ð with blanket and lid Ð just in case. You know.
I don't need to tell you how this turned out. I already let the cat out of the bag about our new kitten's name. You don't have to be a veterinarial linguist (yeah, I made that up) to realize Gertrude is clearly not male.
I don't need to add that one of the kittens available for adoption Ð crying in her cage, begging to be taken out and held (and not the least bit timid) Ð had fluffy, medium length fur that just happened to be... well... black.
When I lifted her in my arms, she nuzzled into my sweater and it was love at first purr (for me at least). After a quick call to confer with my husband about the slight discrepancies between the kitten we were looking for and the kitten I'd found, I went out to my car to get the box.
Gertrude is not what we planned. In fact, in some ways, she is exactly the opposite. Life can be like that: the more you grapple for control, the more unpredictable it becomes.
I learned this the hard way. When I was expecting my first child, I remembered Ð as an eldest child myself Ð always wanting an older brother. So, I hoped for a boy; I got a girl. Once I had a daughter, I longed to give her a sister. Instead I delivered three (consecutive) brothers.
One could say I never got what I wanted. Truth is, I got exactly what was right. I can't imagine wanting anything different now.
To make a short story long, our family has a new black kitten named Gertrude. She's nothing like we envisioned, but that's okay because in lots of ways she's even better. After years and years of practice, I think I've finally realized that's what life and family (and improv) are all about.
Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication." E-mail her at
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