A few years ago, as our two oldest boys were simultaneously wading into the shoals of early adolescence, a friend sent me a brilliant essay on how, as kids grow from elementary school age to teens, they essentially morph from being dogs to being cats.
I am here to say that it is absolutely true. I currently have one cranky old cat, one spunky kitten and one aging but happy puppy living under my roof – and my family is still in negotiation about whether to get a real pet.
My oldest, who was still an older dog/younger kitten at the time of the article, is now 17 and has completely transformed into an old, mercurial cat. He shows up in public for food, but only on his own schedule, and only will eat what he likes.
He enjoys the downstairs living space when no one else is home, stretching his long, lanky limbs out on the couch, watching tv and leaving a trail of cracker crumbs and juice spills in the kitchen on his way. But as soon as he hears the key in the lock, he hightails it upstairs to his room, with his door always closed and often locked (against house rules.) He will reappear around 10:00 at night, after having taken his early evening nap, and stretch and scrounge for dinner leftovers.
He ignores you completely in the early morning when he has to get up long before his circadian rhythms tell him it’s time, and he snarls at night when you need to ask him a question. But if he has a question or a need, it’s right now, immediately, or else he retreats to his lair, mumbling under his breath about the unfairness of it all.
Left to his own devices with no school or work responsibilities, he would sleep about 18 hours a day.
My 13-year-old is more of a playful kitten. She is still at that stage when she is trying out her skin, trying to figure out who she is in the pantheon of possible personalities. At the moment, she is in a silly stage, laughing at her own jokes and telling stories about something funny that happened at school, usually with her own starring role in the middle of the funniness. She is easy going and happy – always has been – and her cat personality is no different. While she needs time behind her own closed door each day, surrounded by her boy band posters, her nail polish collection and her secret notes and texts, she happily comes down for dinner to regale us with the day’s events.
She is still willing to play with her younger brother, who remains a puppy, but like the growing, regal cat that she is, when she’s finished, she simply picks up and deserts him, her tail high in the air, leaving him panting for more fun.
She likes company, and from the time she was a little girl, she was at the front door searching for her friends. She is frisky and playful, a little dramatic from time to time, but basically a sweet pet to have around.
My youngest, 11, is still thankfully a puppy, but I sadly seem some cat characteristics starting to sprout up. He is athletic, and like any good puppy, will chase after a ball of any size. He always wants to play, and always wants to talk, and always has a question or a comment and is a bit exhausting at times, especially when it’s 6:30 in the morning and everyone is trying to get out the door.
He has always worked hard to keep up with his big brother and sister, and puts up with a fair amount of friendly pounding from them (although, to be fair, somehow the sibling dynamic in our house has been pretty mild. Alliances may shift, but overall, they seem to enjoy and respect each other and fighting has always been kept to a minimum.)
He always wants to take a walk. He always wants to be in the company of others. He always wants to sit next to you on the couch, cuddle in when his favorite show is on, lie next to you in bed when reading at night, and pull you in close when you’re tucking him in and kissing him goodnight.
But, as I said, there are a few cat whiskers starting to sprout. I rarely get a kiss anymore, unless we are safely in the house and no one is watching. When I ask him how his day was, he will, as often as not, look at me like I have two heads as if to say, “what on earth are you asking me that for?”
He does not close his door yet, but I know that day is coming fast, for privacy is the sine qua non of adolescence. I have found that so long as you allow your teen cats to have their own space, they are more likely to slink back downstairs on a regular basis for food and water and occasional company.
I am glad that my youngest is on the transformational path to cat-dom, for that is what he’s supposed to do, although quite sad to be losing my last pup. He has always been my most puppy-like child, and I have often said that as soon as he stops being cuddly, we would get a real dog.
I watch the final stages of my family’s transformation from a dog family to a cat family, and think about their younger years, when it was all dog, all the time. It was adorable, and tiring, and relentless. I think I like this phase better, although I do miss being the mama dog, with three young pups hanging off every inch of me and needing me at all times.
As the cats emerge and our house quiets down, I think it may be time to shake up their feline world a bit – new puppy, anyone?
Photo by FastPhive via Flickr