Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Catching Cats

If I had to describe what it's like to spend your first few weeks with a toddler who is soon to be in your family forever, I think I'd say it's like catching cats.  See, I grew up on a farm where farm cats were half pets, half wild.  Because they lived outside and were useful as mousers and just basic companionship, they were not pampered and often quickly lived their nine lives.  Wild animals, the highway, and a cat's personal decision making regarding where to make his permanent home meant that the farm cats kind of just came and went.  So many times, they were never really tamed.  Would they tolerate people?  Sure, because people meant food.  But they were not cuddly.  And if on the off chance one decided to weave itself between your legs, back arched, tail waving in a surpising show of affection, you could be sure such behavior was on the cat's terms.  Reaching down to further the affection might send the cat hightailing or be met with a quick swipe of a paw.  To really catch such a cat, to get it to set on your lap and to allow you to pet it, maybe even getting it to respond with a purr, required patience.  It meant crouching low to get on the cat's level.  It mean sitting and not moving, too fast of a move was sure to send the cat running.  It meant changing your position, from a tall loud human to a smaller, quiet being. 

And toddler adoption is a lot like that.  Your first few days or weeks together are about patience and time, about small steps towards a child, and a quiet calm voice.  It's about not moving too fast lest the child bolts, about not being too forceful about things that really don't matter.  It's about a small shift in your position that recognizes which hills you want to die on when it comes to compelling a child into action.  The child wants more watermelon despite having eaten what you think is an appropriate amount?  You say yes where you might normally have said no.  The child is pushing away your gentle touch?  You comply with his request and instead look for another opportunity to offer affection.  The child wants only you?  Or only your spouse?  You take it for what it is and don't force the interaction.  The child refuses to change his clothes?  Or take a bath?  Or eat?  You let it go, reminding yourself that stinky clothes, a dirty body, and a hungry belly are not quite as awful as they sound.

Catchining cats, I tell you, it's just like catching cats.