Sunday, June 25, 2006

Madison Wants A Cat

For the last year or so, there has been a consistent and recurring theme in our house. Madison wants a cat. Ava wants one too, in fact she has a feline affinity that goes back much further, starting about three years ago, shortly after birth, when a certain little stuffed pink kitten by Gund called “My First Kitty” became more or less her constant companion, especially at nap time.

We got lucky with Madison because she took a binky, so we could help her get to sleep or calm down at a moment’s notice by breaking out one of those little Avent godsends. Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind has nothing on the moment this magical little throwaway silicone contraption – a friend to parents everywhere – was conceived.

Madison had fully binky access for about 18 months, then we dialed her back to binky use only when napping or going to bed. To finally get the thing away from her around the time she turned three we somehow got her on board with the idea of gathering up all of her current binkies and leaving them out for the Easter Bunny, so that when he dropped off her basket he could take them away with him for distribution to other children around the world who were younger and binky-deprived. Amazingly enough, this worked, and after a couple of rough nights following Easter we were able to say goodbye to the binky forever.

Ava never took a binky, she gravitated to this little stuffed animal by Gund instead – basically could not be comforted or go to sleep without it. We washed them regularly and there was a fair amount of natural wear and tear because Ava carried them around with her everywhere, so we kept an ample supply in reserve. We had a little crisis moment when she was about a year old and Gwen noticed the item disappearing off store shelves. A little Web research validated our worst fear – model discontinued! Panic-stricken by the prospect of returning to newborn-era sleep patterns, I contacted the CEO of Gund and essentially begged him to locate any of these things that were floating around out there and let us buy them.

Let me stop here to offer a little unsolicited advice – if ever you find yourself in a position to make an unusual or extraordinary request of a company, start with the CEO. I’m not talking about a run-of-the-mill service issue or technical difficulty, those are of course better handled by the good people entrusted to helping customers resolve these problems. But if you are after something not likely to have been included in the most recent training manual or CSR script, you really need to appeal to someone rare and special enough to be able to make a decision or, even more important, yell at someone. You need a CEO.

Here’s another tip, something my father taught me many years ago – when you want something, write a letter. In today’s world an e-mail is fine, but the key point here is write it down. You can have a dozen pleasant and seemingly productive conversations with all kinds of nice people, as soon as you say goodbye and hang up the phone the chances are excellent that all of this perceived progress will have disappeared into the ether. Letters are real, physical, they need to be dealt with, and this is never more the case than when they are received and delegated by a CEO or some other C-level executive who just happens to be a screamer. No terrified minion is going to ignore a reasonable request so strategically directed.

Now back to my dialogue with Gund. The CEO handed off our inquiry to a nice and seemingly capable marketing executive, who a few days later contacted me to say that they were very sorry, they had scoured their supply chain and the effort had turned up just two of these stuffed kitties. I was disappointed with the limited outcome, but very appreciative of her assistance and said we’d be happy to take the pair off their hands. About a day later, (I have no reliable way of confirming any internal yelling), she got back in touch to happily report she had just been able to locate one last box of 24 sitting in a warehouse somewhere. We considered ourselves truly blessed to be given the opportunity to buy the remaining worldwide inventory of “My First Kitty.”

So the girls want a cat. A real cat. Normally I would see this kind of curiosity and relentless determination as a good and positive sign in their development. Knowing what they want and going after it, not taking “no” for an answer and continuing to make the case. There’s only one problem with this particular request – I’m allergic. Really allergic. And, for some reason, my condition has gotten worse with age.

When I was growing up we had pets off and on. When I was in elementary school we had a German Shepard named Duke for about six months, which was about as long as it took for my parents to realize that what they thought was a strange case of recurring bronchitis was actually me not being able to breathe in the same house as this hairball. They found a family upstate to take the dog off our hands and my respiratory system resumed normal function.

The Duke Dilemma actually precipitated a chronic condition in our house when it came to pets, pets of all kinds, we always seemed to be getting them and then giving them away. I had a little green turtle at one point named Nopey that lived in a 10-gallon tank, but then my mother read a story in the newspaper about salmonella poisoning associated with little green turtles so off we went to the local pond to set Nopey free.

My sister and I got a pair of bunnies at one point, male and female. I named mine Bugs, and after they quickly mated we anxiously awaited the arrival of the baby rabbits. Bugs and the misses lived in a hutch we built and kept in the backyard. The babies came, we were beyond excited and about a day later we woke up to find that some savage animals – we assumed neighborhood cats – had clawed their way into the hutch with tragic results. Bugs was the only survivor.

The “bunnies in the backyard” thing wasn’t so much fun after that, and not long after the tragic incident Bugs was released into the wild along one of the highways we used to take to get to Jones Beach. We would always count the rabbits along this road on trips to the beach, and for years after the liberation of Bugs my mother used to swear that some of the ones we saw on this stretch had the coloration to support the notion that Bugs was alive and well and mating to his heart’s content in his new environs - as opposed to having been quickly ripped apart by his "wild" cousins. My Mom's story had nicer imagery.

There was just one pet who endured through my childhood and into college, a really terrific cat named Jethro. My parents got Jethro for my youngest sister, Dina, when she was about Madison’s age. For some reason I can’t remember allergy issues with Jethro early on, but they definitely kicked in later. Over the last few years of her life I really had a tough time, especially after I’d shaved. Petting Jethro and touching my face within a few hours of shaving would consistently result in a sustained itchiness and discomfort severe enough to validate the decision-making process that marked Ernest Hemingway’s final few moments on Earth.

My parents got a yellow Lab several years ago to go along with their empty bedrooms and, while he’s been a tremendous companion for both of them – particularly my Dad – visits to their house these days do carry with them a certain level of sensory distress that were not present before he arrived.

And now Madison wants a cat, wants any kind of pet, really. I think we could probably get away with a fish as a first step, maybe a Siamese Fighting Fish. I’ve already suggested this as something we would consider when she gets a little older. But a fish is a gateway pet, of course, and the fascination is short-lived.

I can already imagine returning from the pet store with Madison, our little Betta in its plastic bag, putting the neon green gravel in the little bowl, finding a spot in her room for it, a place to keep the food, and about five minutes later, as we stare at this helpless little creature darting around the tank, Madison says something like, “I wish I could pick it up and give it a hug,” or, even worse, “what else happens now, Daddy, it just swims around in there? Can we feed him again?”

Right around Easter Madison visited her cousin Jack, who had recently been given a rabbit by his father, who is separated from my sister and lives in his own apartment. Let’s just say Madison was significantly more captivated by the fact that Jack’s Daddy had given him a bunny than by the fact that Jack’s Daddy didn’t live with him anymore.

At this moment I have to say I don’t know how this one plays out. As a parent, you hate to deny your child something they want so badly, something that is in reach and is, all things considered, a fairly reasonable request. As time has gone on and Madison’s continued to talk about the cat – and continued to hear about my little condition – her messaging has become more sophisticated. Last week she had a great idea, delivered with the hopeful innocence of someone who’d just resolved a complex problem with the simplest of solutions: “I know, Daddy, how about this? We can get a cat and you don’t have to worry about being allergic because you can just stay in a different room.”

Someone must have mentioned allergy shots in front of her at some point because that one pops up as a “why not, Daddy?” possible course of action every once on a while. I don’t know, the idea of submitting to a steady regimen of shots and chemicals (you know my stance on chemicals) so the girls can chase a little fluffball around the house for a year or two before they turn their attentions to some new attraction seems a little severe.

But as noted above, it's hard to so definitively shut down an ask that is logistically in reach, and in the process compromise the underlying belief we're trying hard to instill in our kids that anything is possible. I was driving home from work the other night and had one of those, “what the hell, how bad could it be?” moments. Then I realized that this one simple decision could induce severe nasal congestion, skin irritation and assorted other ailments in my own home for the better part of 40 to 60. With any luck the thing dies just in time for me to transition to prostate cancer.


Blogger Kinggame said...

Having looked back from the future, I can see how you lost. First was sleep, now it's your lack of itchiness. Some things must be sacrificed in the name f the greater good. Fight on, brave soldier.

5:52 PM  
Blogger TaraMetBlog said...

I was given a kitten at birth, so I alway grew up with them. not having other siblings and moving around a lot, my cat was very special to me. You did a nice thing for your girls. I notice kids with pets are much more gentler than those without

5:55 PM  
Blogger Margot said...

Hi! I just read your post and cannot believe that your daughter's lovey Gund's Pink My First Kitty is also my daughter's lovey. I know this is an older post, so Ith am not even sure you will receive this post or comment. The reason I am contacting you is that we too have a problem in that we cannot find this stuffed animal anywhere. We have looked high and low, but to no avail. Do you happen to have any of those My First Kitties anymore? If so, is it possible for us to buy one off of you? If not, do you have any suggestions on where I might find one since it is discontinued? My mother has sewn the belly of my daughter's kitty 3 times already, but we are not sure she will make it much longer. :( Thanks! Margot Perry

12:08 PM  

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