Last fall, before my sons left for college and abandoned their alternating schedules — one week at my house and the other at their dad’s — my younger son suggested a revised custody agreement. The change wasn’t for himself or his brother. Instead, he was asking on behalf of a tiny black ball of fur named Natty.
Three months before his unusual request, my son spotted Natty on the side of the road, scooped the skittish kitty into a plastic bag — she was covered with fleas — and brought her to his dad’s house. A dedicated cat lover, his dad gave the green light to keep the feral kitten. An avid cat hater, I was as thrilled for my son to adopt a mouse-chaser as I was about spending the next two weekends preparing my taxes. But it wasn’t my issue or concern. The she-kitty was going to live with my ex and I could continue to enjoy my pet-free home.
Apparently, congratulating myself for dodging the cat lady bullet was a bit premature.
A few days later, before my son brought over the water bottle-sized kitten, I convinced myself I wouldn’t allow her to live at my house, even if it was during my son’s week to stay with me. When I peered into Natty’s soft green eyes and learned that where my son went, his kitty followed, I conceded defeat. At the same time I realized if the cat stayed with me, my son would no doubt spend more time at my house while on his break from school. That appeared to be a fair trade-off.
There was only one problem (aside from my overall disdain for cats): my long distance relationship that took me out of town every other week. This was one major issue I wasn’t sure we could overcome.
“Who will take care of Natty when I leave town and you go away to school in the fall?” I asked my son.
“No problem,” he said. “You and dad can share custody.”
“Custody…of a cat?” I asked as the subject of our debate was playing tug of war with my shoelaces. Suddenly I understood my best friend’s propensity for watching an unreasonable amount of cat videos.
My mind was reeling with questions: Did I need to contact my divorce attorney to modify our decree? Would I have to get a custody addendum? More importantly — and what could possibly be considered a strong motivator — was I entitled to monthly pet support from my ex?
“Also,” he continued, “she can keep you company now that the house will be empty.”
“I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” I commented, remembering the time his older brother suggested we give his sibling away to a family unable to have kids.
I’m still not sure how it happened — maybe my expert negotiator son should consider applying to law school instead of medical school — but I became the primary caregiver to a cuddly, mischievous cat who at times needs more supervision than my children ever did. At least I can’t recall either son leaping inside a garbage can, prowling the kitchen counters, or scaling the top of a bookcase to take a nap. Although one son is a bit nocturnal and wouldn’t mind sleeping all day.
Our pet hand-off is simple. Before I leave for the airport, I coax Natty into her plastic travel crate and take her to my ex’s house. As I pull up to his home, I often flash back to the thousands of times my sons were the ones riding in the backseat, instead of a confused pet. Yet, unlike our children, their dad’s and my shared custody cat doesn’t require return trips to either home to retrieve track shoes, grab schoolbooks, or search for misplaced cell phones. I pick her up on the way home from the airport and she stays with me until my next long trip. During my shorter trips, a friend drops by my house for what she calls “kitty therapy.”
Our game of cat ping-pong isn’t only about two adults trading off care of a cat. It’s about my ex and I working together, ensuring our son has a sense of comfort that his cat is safe, and being open to considering various requests from both of our sons.
How else could anyone explain why, at a recent party my sons hosted, eleven college kids enjoyed a cookout at my house with my ex and his fiancée in charge, while I spent the holiday out of town.
I heard the cat enjoyed every minute.
About the Author
Lisa Kanarek is a mom of two sons in college, a freelance writer, a house rehab addict, and a frequent flyer. Her work has been included in the anthology “Feisty After 45” as well as various websites, and writes the blog Forgottotellyou.com. She lives in Texas where she may be breaking state law by not owning a pair of cowboy boots. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter .