Fear freezes us, very often. We tighten our fingers, clinging on to the known and the settled, but that instinct can be counter-productive. Ask any parent. I’ve got *three kids, and two of them are filling me with fear at the moment. I want to protect them, desperately, but I also know that if I give in to that fear – if I let it rule my behaviour – I will lose them both.
As some of you know, our eldest cat was injured a little while back. We found Lucy at the bottom of the fire-escape one morning, cold and wet and unable to walk. It was terrifying. We rushed her to the vet, who determined there was physical trauma, but thankfully no breaks. With steroids and pain-killers, she should recover, but we would need to restrict her movement. A cage, ideally. Lucy’s always hated the cat box, so we made her comfortable in our bedroom instead. She was happy enough to lie on her rug and be pampered at first, but as her healing progressed and she regained the ability to walk, she started to go stir crazy. Proper bonkers.
She’d had enough of our room, and more than enough of the **litter tray. Then a couple of weeks in, she suddenly deteriorated again, losing all sense of balance. The vet suspected a swelling on the brain, but whether it was caused by the original injury, a secondary one picked up in her restlessness, or the tumour we silently dreaded, he just couldn’t tell. A change of meds did thankfully reduce the swelling, but she made it abundantly clear that she wanted out. Night after night, she disturbed our sleep, batting and scratching, yowling and knocking things over. Eventually, we gave in, opened the door and she pelted ***upstairs to the cat-flap. (Don’t worry, we’d already locked it on the off chance she’d slip past us.)
We wanted to give her some measure of freedom, but after what had happened, we weren’t about to let her out onto the fire escape. Her arthritis had been getting worse – may in fact have led to her initial fall – so we didn’t want her using that again. No. She was to be a house cat from now on. We brought up her rug, plugged in the pheromone device that was supposed to help keep her calm, and a new normal began. Yeah…that didn’t last too long. Our Lucy’s a skinny little thing, but she’s 95% willpower. Once the novelty of this new location wore off, she started pushing our buttons again, determined to have her way. Her final trick was to walk along the slender handrail of our balcony, a good 10 feet off the ground. She had a point to make and she made it. Effectively. Her balance issues were over—or she thought so, anyway.
We could keep her inside, sure, but she would make every second of our lives a living hell. She decided to put herself into danger so relentlessly that keeping her in became more stressful and dangerous than the alternative. Full of misgivings, we had a family meeting, reached a decision, and let her out. She stayed away all day, but finally returned at night via the propped-open front door. We’ve had a week of this now, and each night we try to wait longer before going out to call her back. She knows there’s food and warmth here. She’s started to use the fire-escape once more, proving her agility and independence. She won’t stay for snuggles, though. She comes in for 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night to eat her food, then scarpers, seemingly convinced we’ll imprison her again.
We did what we could to protect her, but we held on too tightly, too long. Lucy simply doesn’t trust us anymore, and it’s heart-breaking. In time perhaps, she’ll forgive us. All we can do is wait and hope, and give her space. We don’t want to make the same mistake again though, and here’s where the larger fear comes in: Summer-Rose, our sparky, funky, and altogether wonderful daughter. She’s 15 years old now, and has just taken her mock exams. It’s a few years yet before she leaves home, but every day brings that inevitability closer. I’m proud to say she’ll walk out into the world more capable and confident than I ever was. However, the way we treat her over the next five years – as our daughter bursts through the doors of adulthood – will shape our relationship with her for the next fifty.
We live out in the sticks, so Summer’s opportunities to get into trouble have been few, but independence is blossoming. She earns her own money with a weekend job, gets herself into town and back on the bus, meets up with her pals to get into who-knows-what mischief whenever she can, and she has a whole social life beyond our ken online. Tonight (at time of writing) she’ll be out in town until 10pm, then cadging a lift to my mum’s house and swanning back home again tomorrow. I mean…WTF, man? She was a toddler three days ago, I swear.
Am I nervous about her being out so late? You bet. Have we had conversations about the dangers? Yep. Have I tried to talk her out of it, reasoned with her about how few places are actually going to be open by that time of night, told her how cold it’ll be on the seafront? Warned her (again) about the kind of predatory opportunists who might be around? Have I suggested that 9pm may be better? Or 8, maybe 8? Of course I have! But she’s going to do what she’s going to do, living and learning as she goes. We’ve brought her up to be sensible and trustworthy, confident and strong. We have to have faith that we’ve done a good job, silence our awful imaginings, and wave her off into the world with a hug and a smile.
We cannot, should not, must not keep her locked up in childhood. The more we try to do so, the more she’ll feel the need to escape us – and that kind of schism is too painful to bear. I want my daughter to think of our home as a place of refuge; I want her to feel free here; I want her to want to come back to visit us once she’s out there forging her own destiny. I love her so goddamned much it hurts. The thought of losing her to life’s vagaries scares the shit out of me, but the thought of losing our bond, of our loving family unit degenerating into recrimination, bellowing and bitterness…that scares me more.
As parents, we’ve tried to guide her, but we’ve also tried to be guided by her. To spot and cater to her underlying needs; to realise when we’ve gone too far (or not far enough) and correct our course accordingly; to recognise that the insistent push against boundaries is not only natural but necessary for any child. They need to test their own strengths and abilities, they need to know what they are capable of, and build trust in themselves—and we need to build our own trust in them. So we’ve picked our battles with care, ceded ground with forethought, relented and relaxed our rules as she’s earned independence.
It hasn’t always been easy, but it hasn’t always been hard either. She’s shown her appreciation for our balance of trust and attentiveness and, bless her, she’s never asked for much. As she enters the last phase of childhood, we just want to give her a secure foundation to stand upon – to know she is actively supported in her life, in her self, by her parents – no matter what she does or where she chooses to go from here. And as much as we want to cling on to every word, every look, every hug as though it’s our last, we have to let her go. Fuck. I’m crying as I write this, but it’s true. I have to let her go. And I have to believe she’ll come back to us.
[EDIT: For anyone worried or wondering, yes she came back. It was ‘too cold’ out and about, and the whole group decamped back to one of their houses for cocoa and gaming. Sensible bunch. Here’s hoping they stay that way. Lucy is currently curled up by the cat-flap. I rescued her from the boiler-house roof yesterday, so that’s rebuilt a little bit of trust. She still won’t come for snuggles yet, but we’ll take what we can get. One day at a time.]
* One human, two feline adoptees. Don’t come at me. I’m a dad to them all; I feel how I feel.
** She even started to eat from it in some kind of dirty protest. We to shredded paper, which solved that issue, but her behaviour got progressively more scatty in frustration.
*** Our apartment is upside down and the only place we can actually have a cat-flap is the 2nd floor window, leading out to the fire escape.
If you are interested in reading more of my Personal reflections on life, I produce something new on the first week of every month.
I post Reviews on the second week of each month, covering games, books, comics, or tv.
The third week is reserved for Business-related posts. Sometimes it’s my business journey, other times it’s professional thoughts and observations.
The fourth week of each month is for Hobbies. 2021 was entirely taken up by Audio productions. There’re one or two more of those to come, and then I’m switching things up. Keep your eyes peeled.