Annalise came home from a friend’s sleepover last weekend with that expectant look I’ve come to recognize plastered all over her face. It’s a look that means she wants something desperately, urgently, and now she’s going to argue with me over it so incessantly and hurriedly she soon won’t be able to breathe. “Just listen to the whole thing before you say no, ok, Mom?” she begged, already hopping up and down with excitement. Immediately she gulped in an enormous quantity of air and began: “See, Kendall has this beautiful but pretty fat cat named Felix, who’s like a hoarder so they can’t keep him anymore…I don’t mean he hoards stuff like people do on those shows, so you can’t walk anywhere or anything, but he hoards food, I think, because he fights with Kendall’s other two cats…and when they try to eat he pounces on them, which scares them, and they run away, and then Felix stays and eats all the food, so he’s very fat while Twilight and Skittles are starving and that’s why Felix has to find a new home! He has to be a solo cat, Kendall’s mom said. So can we take him? Can he live here? Please, Mom, please! He’s so sweet!”
I sighed. “But you just said the cat was a hoarder, and possessive, and an overeater…”
“No, no, no, listen, Mom! He’s also fluffy and orange and so, so soft. And we can call him Mr. Cupcake if you’re not into Felix.” Annalise clapped her hands feverishly in front of my face. “Please, please, please say yes!”
So, without much further ado, I said yes. And we now have one very fat cat indeed, who crept in the front door and immediately ran and hid on the bottom shelf of our bookshelf, peering out at us all like a rotund, wild-haired professor buried behind his podium.
Felix the cat has been here just over a week now, and he seems less like a wonderful, wonderful cat, and much more like Garfield’s grumpy big brother. I can’t say I blame him though. Annalise tells me his previous abode was a designer home nestled deep in the woods, where there were but two kids and a pretty, lithe mom who jogged religiously. In this tiny house on a busy, busy street there are five, six, seven kids…(the number darts up and down the dial all the time, truly)…a screeching toddler, creaky stairs, no other feline inhabitants, and a mom who can’t remember if she fed him or not, let alone recall which brand of diet nibbles he prefers.
We have found our curmudgeonly cat crouched inside my glass hutch more than once, poised pensively next to my red book collection, eyeing us all a bit scornfully. The entire family has taken to calling him, ‘The Professor’, because he’s so bookish and unapproachable. Yet slowly he seems to be accepting his fate, occasionally letting us rub his back, or read him a story before bed.
In the afternoons, though, when our little house is at the height of occupancy, he hides. Kids clamor in and out he darts, desperate for a quiet space to sequester himself. Yesterday afternoon there were ten kids here. Ten! All roaming within this tiny little place, running, racing, rummaging for more, more, always more!
Like the cat, I, too, tried to avoid these ten humans. Annalise and her friend Cecelia I chased upstairs to my room, where they watched ‘Legally Blond’ while giggling, eating Ritz crackers, and sipping slurpees. Ignoring their myriad bad choices, I turned a blind eye and let them be.
Jacob and his friend Tasha were sitting cross-legged on the bottom bunk in his room playing Skyrim. While doing this, they were both simultaneously skyping on laptops, tweeting on phones, texting on ipads, and trying on costume hats while singing HomeStuck songs. Again, I turned on my heels and walked away.
In the kitchen Eli roamed back and forth dressed only in crew shorts, slicing fruit, toasting bread, singing snippets of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ aloud, in practice for his upcoming musical audition at the high school. Every five minutes or so he’d cease singing and cry out, “Mothel! Where is the jam?” in the pretend British accent he favors. Then again not two minutes later, “Mothel? Can you fry me some ham, please, Mothel? I would love you forever if you make me some ham. Crispy, please, and not too thick.”
Even though I had a horrible cold and cramps, and I was still in my bathrobe and slippers and should be doing a million other things at three-thirty in the afternoon, I did as he wished. Because there was really nowhere else for me to go in the entire house without some kid or another wanting something. So I might as well cook ham!
I stood and watched it sizzle and shrink while I listened to Eli imitate the British blokes on the Podcast streaming through the kitchen computer; guys who explained in intimate detail how to navigate the worlds of MineCraft and utilize all the new mods available. Young men who referred to their English mums as something that sounded akin to ‘Mothel’ (rhymes with Brothel). I, too, was now called ‘Mothel’ by a fresh-faced young man, and I instinctively turned at the sound of their voices on the computer and stared at the smooth, bespectacled gents calling me by name. I wondered if their Mothel’s were also standing just out of camera range, wrapped in fuzzy lilac robes, frying them up some ham and eggs.
Little Lochlan roamed about my legs as I cooked and tidied, wandered and wheezed. Wherever I was, he tottered nearby, calling, “‘Ball!’ or ‘Num Num’ or ‘Ditty!’ – his name for the cat – repeatedly. I watched him totter back and forth on his tiny bowed legs; eyed him peering over the rim of the trash can as expectantly as if it was Santa’s Toy bag; grabbed his pudgy little fingers just as they entered every corner and crevasse of this tiny land called house.
“Lochlan, no fingers in the trash….Yuck!” I clucked.
“Lochlan, no fingers in your nose, Yuck!” I reached for a rag.
Suddenly Eli chimed in with his formal British accent. “Lochlan! No crackers in the vent, wee chap! Mothel says No!”
In the dining room Holland, Juliet, and Katriel busied themselves building legos all across the table. They colored pieces of white paper with lines and stripes and circular trees, then set their lego creations on top. They danced to Katy Perry singing on tv, and argued over who would feed the Professor next. Then they argued over who should name the lego streets. They argued over who had the best house, the biggest yard, the greenest trees. Then they argued over who sounded the most like Katy Perry.
“Enough!” I yelled. I shooed the girls outside and slammed the door. Then I put the baby to bed, grabbed my still unfinished coffee (from the morning, after its umpteenth trip around the microwave carousel), and sank onto the couch, giving in to the misery of my body for just a moment. No sooner was I blowing my nose then in ambled Tasha, who sank down beside me as if we were old friends. “What are you up to today?” this teen girl dressed all in black asked politely.
I peered at her wordlessly from behind my kleenex. “No idea, really….” I finally spluttered. Just then the front door burst open. In stomped my Paul Bunyon-esque nephew Noah. He collapsed on the sofa, threw his gigantic sports bags on the couch, then chucked his backpack and water bottle on top of the coffee table next to his size 15 tennis shoes. Almost immediately he began coughing, hacking from deep in his lungs, barking like a seal. “They sent me home from school!” he croaked, in between fits. Tasha and I both visibly recoiled, then nodded in sympathy. “You definitely sound sick,” I wheezed back, honking my nose into another tissue.
Abruptly the three girls tumbled in the front door, too. Holland was crying and clutching her hand. Juliet ran to the kitchen, screaming “I’m getting band aids!” Katriel hopped on top of Noah’s sports bag still on the sofa and collapsed back in utter frustration.
“Someone always barfs in our yard!” she wailed. “Why do they always have to barf in our yard?”
I wadded up my used tissue and peered around the house nervously. Lochlan was still in bed, right? Eli was doing push ups in his boxers under the dining room table. Annalise and Cecelia were carting arm loads of stuffed animals and pillow pets up and down the stairs. Jacob was playing Homestuck songs on the piano, loudly. Juliet was wrapping Holland’s pinky finger in a SpongeBob band-aid, while Holland marched a toy doll up and down Lego Lane with her one free hand.
“Who is barfing?” I demanded. “Did you throw up on your way in, Noah?”
“No!” Noah barked, then immediately set to coughing again.
“We don’t know who barfed!” Juliet cried. “There’s just barf out there, right by the front door.”
“And it’s just so sad,” Katriel added, bursting into tears. “Someone always barfs in our yard. It can never be nice here at our house, because there’s always barf somewhere.”
At this Tasha burst out laughing. “That is the best sentence I’ve heard in a long time,” she cackled, over the sounds of the piano, tears, coughing, nose blowing and giggling. “Do you mind if I text that?”
Katriel shook her head no, suddenly flattered, while I peered around judgementally. Ten kids, a cat, two tiny rooms, random throw up on the front stoop…
What’s a Mothel to do? I wondered.
That’s when I eyed the Professor, curled behind the glass doors of my china hutch, ignoring us all. And I realized we were kindred spirits, he and I! Both of us prancing around trying to rule an unruly bunch. Both cooped up in this land of House far too often. Both spending our days pattering from one room to the next, forever dieting, forever searching for more food or a head pat or two; always on the prowl for a quiet corner to curl up in and dream the day away.
As I sniffled and coughed and watched kids wreak havoc the length and breadth of my house, I wished I, too, could curl up behind the glass doors of the hutch and peer down judgementally upon them all. Yet I knew, at the end of the day, when the hustle and bustle faded away, I’d want to climb down and join those humans on the couch for a snuggle or two, even though I was a hoarder, and possessive, and an overeater, too…..
Annalise’s words rang back through my mind and like a cat, I gave a little purr of satisfaction, knowing this crazy crew loved me, even though I, too, acted like a curmudgeonly old school marm. Yet wasn’t I also fluffy, orange, and so, so soft?