It was around 4:30 a.m.
I had just quieted a screaming Caron with a bottle of liquid gold when I heard an extra-loud gulping.
Realizing it wasn’t Caron, I turned around to see our cat, Stokely, throwing up all over the living room.
My unfortunate choice of words: “Dammit, Stokely, I don’t have time for this!” Not my most nurturing or sympathetic moment. But it was 4:30 a.m. and I already had my hands full.
From there, I had to clean up pools of cat vomit that looked like curry with one hand, while feeding a baby with the other hand.
Or at least I tried to do that. At some point I had to put Caron down to devote more attention to Stokely’s throw-up — and of course Caron decided to throw up himself at that moment, adding some funky milk to the curry produced by the cat.
As it happens so often, a middle-of-the-night feeding I hoped would go quick and painless turned into a whole ordeal.
With no visual evidence that Stokely had made himself sick by eating some object he wasn’t supposed to — a hair tie, a rubber band, etc. — it was suggested to me by my sister (fellow parent of two kids and former cat owner) that Stokely had thrown up simply to get my attention.
It sounded crazy, but it made me think about how the pet who preceded the babies is fitting into this new family dynamic.
I got Stokely four years ago. It was near the end of my first marriage, when with the will-we-or-won’t-we have kids argument was pushing us toward divorce.
My now ex-wife got him from a co-worker whose cat had just given birth to a litter. I had been talking for months about getting either a black cat, an English bulldog, or a turtle, and I believe this was an earnest attempt to give me something to take care of and soothe my baby fever.
If that was the goal, it didn’t work.
The urgency of my desire to have children never dissipated after I got Stokely, even as I threw myself into being a pet parent. I spent hundreds of dollars on cat stuff before Stokely came home with us. I read books on cat care and watched hours of “My Cat From Hell” episodes on Animal Planet.
The pursuit of traditional parenthood led Stokely and I on a path with a lot of twists and turns together. One thing I’d read about cats is they don’t respond well to change. If you’re going to switch their brand of food, their style of litter, even something as minor as the location of their bed, you have to do it gradually and carefully so you don’t shock their system and abruptly throw off their routine.
Stokely must be built different from the average cat.
Forget some new food or different litter; in four years, Stokely has lived in seven different homes in four different cities: (1) the home he was born into with his mother and siblings, (2) the house with me and my ex-wife, (3) my first apartment post-separation, (4) an apartment with one now ex-girlfriend which included a dog, (5) a brief stay at my Dad’s house after leaving that relationship, (6) the apartment I first moved into with now fiancee and future wife Taylisha, and (7) our current apartment that now includes twin babies.
And there are at least two more moves left. The Burton clan is not staying in our current place after the lease is up in September — the location next door to a bar in the heart of downtown just doesn’t work for us anymore — and after that, eventually we plan to move out of state.
Through it all, Stokely has adapted well. So I wasn’t too worried about him adjusting to the arrival of the babies.
But I now realize that I underestimated exactly how much things would change for him this time.
Anyone who’s owned a cat knows that a comfortable cat walks around like they own you and your home. The more locations in your home where they feel like they can just plop down and take a nap, the better.
Stokely pretty much had run of our place before, but now he’s lost a lot of real estate for his regular napping and lounging.
The bedroom that has become the nursery is not entirely off-limits to him, but his access has been greatly restricted. The master bedroom now features two bassinets and a makeshift breast milk pumping station.
The living room has been taken over by strollers, playpens, diaper bags, still-unopened boxes of baby registry gifts, and constantly rotating piles of laundry.
A cast of grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends have been making more frequent visits, and Stokely is the type to hide from new people, so he’s spending more time under our bed and cautiously keeping his distance from those people with which he’s slowly becoming more familiar.
As far as the babies, they’re still new to Stokely after being home for just a few weeks. He’s gotten close enough a few times to sniff and stare, but one little squeak or sudden infant movement is enough to send him darting off.
Then there’s the lack of attention being paid to Stokely by me, his primary caretaker.
In this case, I overestimated my ability to not miss a beat as an attentive pet parent with two new additions to the family.
I’ve missed a few of Stokely’s meal times — which he won’t allow me to forget for long — and I’ve neglected to freshen up the litter box on some days. I haven’t been combing/brushing his hair as often. Our daily playtime has dropped to somewhere between slim and none; at this moment I couldn’t even tell you for sure where his favorite feather wand toy is within the apartment.
Something I have kept up with regularly are his nail-trimming appointments, but that is definitely inspired by wanting to keep the babies safe from an accidental (or intentional) scratch. So that’s not even really about him.
Cats are notoriously aloof, and Stokely is one of those cats who acts like he doesn’t care about his owner most of the time. But I can tell he wants more attention than he’s getting currently.
While cats and dogs have been known to go as far as peeing, pooping and puking to get their message across, I don’t think the 4:30 a.m. incident was tactical. The more likely reason — as Tay and I discovered a couple days later — was that Stokely had found a bag of turkey snacks (people food) that he smuggled into a closet and devoured in secret.
Even if it wasn’t by design, it was a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call for me that even though we’ve brought these two new lives into the world and into the home, that the incumbent baby can’t be overlooked or ignored.