Animals and children seem to have an understanding, a large portion of which has to do with unconditional love.
The Girl has two cats: extroverted Daisy (orange, white, with streaks of black), and the more introverted and downright reclusive Teacup (all black, but for a single toe and a single patch on her breast, both of which are as white as the driven snow) . She got them last year, when she immediately began to think of them as sort of mobile stuffies. That attitude has changed since she began to take responsibility for their upkeep - well, slightly.
One thing having cats in the house has taught her is about respecting another being’s space. She sometimes learns this the hard way, as cats are particularly apt to decide when your space is actually theirs, for instance. The Girl has been scratched a few times. Sometimes this is because of this catitiude with regard to space. At other times, it’s about the Girl’s tendency to continue to treat her cats as toys, left over from her earlier and younger days.
For whatever reason, when I see her interact with the cats – constantly picking them up, sometimes getting in their faces – I’m torn between the idea of wanting her to learn about how to respect someone’s right to be left alone sometimes even if they are a cat, and with the idea that the reason the Girl is overzealous at times is that the kind of love a 5-year old girl has for an animal isn’t something that I myself can approach or fully understand. It has a depth of its own.
Sometimes, I get the balance completely wrong.
The day I noticed a cat-scratch on her cheek, I decided to sit the Girl down and have a chat about this idea of space, and the respect of boundaries between her, and her cats. I asked her why she thought Daisy had scratched her, and she couldn’t tell me. I suggested that it might be because there are times when Daisy doesn’t want to play, and that Daisy’s space should be respected at those times.
The Girl’s face crumpled.
“But … I love her.”
Cue my heart breaking in two.
Of course. If the Girl sustained scratches from her cat, is was not out of malice, and that she deserved it. It was out of sheer, unadulterated, and unguarded affection on her part that perhaps her cat wasn’t in tune with – or was in tune with, and was returned in a playful manner that resulted in the scratch. It doesn’t stop the Girl from embracing, picking up, petting, and speaking in affectionate tones to her cats.
The point is, The Girl still resides in that particular Garden of Eden, where the loving is more important than the (very mild in this case) injury. It’s me who’s calling to her from the Biblical Land of Nod, a place for all kinds of adult baggage that is of no use to her.
Oh sure; I’m exactly right about this issue of space. Everyone needs space away on one’s own, untouched by others, even if they don’t know they need it. The Girl does need to learn this truth. It’s important.
But apart from my relationship with my daughter, it’s been a long time since I’ve thought of giving someone that level of intense affection without thinking of the claws. The two go together. That part doesn’t change, whether you’re my age or the Girl’s age. But, like Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the emphasis one places on one thing or another depends on which point of view one chooses to take. It all depends on what is held to the greater value. And ultimately, that comes down to choice.
Looking back, I’ve sustained scratches from those I’ve loved and trusted, not to mention doling out a number of scratches my own. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone lashes out unfairly at those they love. I’ve experienced both.
But despite all that, I’m not regretful of having risked loving them, just as I hoped they don’t regret ever having loved me. Had I confused a need for space by taking it and building a fortress with it, my life would have been the poorer even if it was more safe.
And perhaps, I’d be one Girl short, too; a sobering thought.
Anyway, enough about me.
The real point here is that I hope The Girl continues to value the bounties of love over its sometimes painful costs. I hope that she continues to embrace the warm furriness of love, and accept the scratch of bitter acrimony in her stride.
I want her to continue to choose love, while making allowances for fear and pain. For the latter comes along whether we want it to or not.
The other, we have to chase.