I think when my family looks back on the pandemic, we will remember our pets the most.
We float around the house, afraid of too much contact. If we make too much contact we’ll rub each other the wrong way, and we MUST NOT DO THAT because we’re STUCK here in the same place, without access to face to face with anybody else on a regular basis.
We love each other. We don’t want to hurt each other.
So when we talk, we don’t talk about our FEELINGS or our WORRIES or even politics. Mate and I talk politics– we know that if we have a disagreement we can explain to the other one and we’re generally of the same of thinking, so we know we can be candid. But my children were born in cancel culture–and Mate and I are afraid of being cancelled. Not now, when everyone’s so fragile. Not now when they might really need us in spite of our dunderheaded slowness in adjusting to social media progressive values. So we don’t talk politics to the teenagers unless they talk about it first. We don’t tell the teenagers when something they do or say hurts our feelings, cuts us to the bone.
We don’t get feelings in a pandemic. We don’t get to go find a friend and pour our hearts out over the phone–what if the teenagers can hear us?
We must be accessible at all times.
And Goddess–everything else is so forbidden.
We have to find something to talk about.
We study our pets like bibles.
“Your cat was such a freak!”
“Well, Mom, if you didn’t want him to be a freak you shouldn’t have spoiled him rotten!”
And unspoken in that is the reply, “I have nothing to offer you, my child. Your cat gets the best white trash soft food money can buy.”
“How does it feel, Mom, to know the dogs worship your?”
“Well, I am a goddess!”
And the unspoken part is still there. “I can’t disappoint them. Food, naps, walks–I know the key to their behavior. I’ll do that forever, because the dogs I can make happy, but for you, my baby, I am at a loss.”
And our glimmer of hope is that, now that everybody knows the pet language, when our children achieve adulthood, it is still there. Our crutch, our touchstone, our way to be a family when the things in our hearts are at their hardest.
“Mom, I can’t help it. I’m looking up French Bulldogs on the internet.”
“They’re hugely expensive!”
“And your apartment may be able to take another cat, but it can’t take another dog.”
And I think, “Maybe, my darling, it’s too soon. Maybe your heart can’t take another cat, and you’re looking at Frenchies for hope, but not for real.”
And my grown child says, “It’s too soon for me to get another cat. I think this is just taking up all my worry energy now that the other one has passed.”
And I cry in relief because in the middle of all the pet language, we have taught each other to say something real.