My cat rests his round body on my chest; back down, belly up. His white paw meets his pink nose, and he begins licking the paw—preparing to groom himself. I watch his process carefully. Five licks, a reach up to his ear, a swift rub and back again—lick, lick, lick, lick, lick, ear. And so on.
I bend my right toe downward and the subtle “pop” stops the grooming process. For the few seconds that follow, Roman looks around to see where the noise came from. I hold my breath, hoping the sound did not make him curious enough to jump off (I am a sucker for cuddles). The seconds feel like an eternity as I await his decision. Finally, he seems at peace with the stillness of the room and returns to bathing.
I had never owned a cat before Roman. He was a spontaneous college decision made by a former roommate and me. Somehow, I ended up a single mother. Roman tests my patience on the regular, and I know I spoil him far too much. Beyond that, though, he is nothing like the big, dumb labs I grew up with who would cock their heads at the word “walk?” or “treat?”
No, Roman does not care what I want him to look at or pay attention to. In fact, he frequently does the opposite. It is frustrating to me how hyper-fixated he becomes on things that are clearly irrelevant—like the popping of a toe or flickering of a candle—letting random noises or sights interrupt a perfectly good cuddle-session.
If only he could know what I already know.
My mother is a preschool teacher, and a good one at that. She runs the business from her home, and on any given day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. you can find up to 10 little children playing, screaming, or stinking up the classroom with their un-potty-trained bladders. I think of her as some sort of miracle worker. A direct-admit to heaven, for those who believe there is one.
When I come home to visit, I must reassure each little child that they are, indeed, my best friend. I play cars and entertain the violent crashing noises my mouth can sputter out. I tell Brynn she looks just like Cinderella in her dress-up clothes and wand before I am quickly turned into a frog. I ribbit and Jimmy is quick to come and run me over with his car. Now, I am a dead frog and I can’t ribbit. I lay there, with my tongue out. Quick. Brynn suddenly brings me back to life and the next thing I know I am a patient. She holds her stethoscope up to my heart, and, sure enough, I am dead again. Quick! “Someone, find the medicine!”
Meanwhile, my mother stands and watches. She sees me not as a frog, nor as a patient. To her, I am trying. I am learning you cannot entertain them all at once. That when you tell the doctor you are feeling better, she might start screaming because that wasn’t the right answer. She observes the moment as a whole—already knowing what I do not.
In those first moments I enter the classroom, I am Roman, stopping to inspect every little noise he hears or flicker of light he sees. I direct my attention to multiple occupations, sure to appease each child—or at least attempt to. Only when you pull yourself out of the moment, with the humanlike ability to reflect, can you piece together the importance of letting yourself get sucked in.
While sometimes the learning isn’t pretty and the child is screaming in your face or (if you are my cat) you have uneven whiskers because you sniffed too close to the candle— it is sure is necessary. How else would we ever grow to fully know and understand?