Tuesdays with Toes – Where Love and Practicality Meet

Eight hours I drove alone from Atlanta to Cincinnati stopping twice–once at a gas station and the second time for gas and a brief stay at a Starbucks where I sat inside my car eating a salad I’d packed for the road. It was a good salad and a great break from the steering wheel gripping journey through heavy storms. Thoughts of Toes kept me going through the rainy misery. I was finally going to bring her home.

Or was I? No, I was.

The doubts didn’t start creeping in until the day before I was supposed to leave Cincinnati. I’d been hanging around Toes for a few days at that point (visiting her at my parents’ house while I stayed at my aunts’ cat free house). The tell tale signs of my allergies had returned–itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and difficulty breathing.

Have I mentioned I’m signed up to run a marathon this coming Sunday?

And I didn’t think through the timing on that when I scheduled my trip home to pick up Toes. Bringing her back and stirring up all my allergies a week and a half before I’m scheduled to undertake the biggest physical challenge of my life so far. Probably not a great idea.

So the morning of my departure, I asked my parents if they’d be okay keeping Toes longer, and they were. I called David and tearfully explained I’d be leaving her there, and he said that made sense. And Toes sat in her cheetah taco bed content with everything.

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Tuesdays with Toes – Taking a Break from FOMO

I’m up in Cincinnati this week picking up Toes to bring her back down to Georgia to enjoy the spring sunshine. Toes’s ability to laze in the sun is something I envy about her. That and her tail.

At times I look to Toes as a kind of spiritual teacher. The simplicity of her everyday activities–sleeping, eating, walking around the backyard, etc.–captivate me. I want to be like Toes. Just living.

One of the major barriers for me to living the Toes life is being active on social media. Those moments I might drink in the sunshine in the backyard are accompanied by an irresistible urge to see what everyone’s up to. As I scroll through my feed, I try my best to be happy for my friends and their cool lives, but I often find myself like a kite yanked upon by the winds of FOMO and think maybe I should…

FILL IN THE BLANK with the solution to my life’s problems.

Problems I’ve likely only been made aware of through comparison or through a thousand sponsored ads looking to fill my needs. Some of those needs are spot on. I do need sports bras that offer superior support and athletic shorts that don’t ride up. Others, like real estate in the West End of Atlanta, are just a distraction.

I want out of the whirlwind, and yesterday I spotted a way. A friend posted about taking time off of social media for Lent which brought to mind the Lenten victories of my youth. I’d set myself up with big challenges–giving up chocolate chip cookies and Saved by the Bell–and knock them out of the park. I crushed Lent as a kid.

And now, even though I haven’t given up anything for Lent for years, I’m going to give it a go and try to give up Facebook and Instagram from Ash Wednesday through Easter.

I’ll still be posting on my website. My hope is this will provide time to write more.

And I’ll also be enjoying my time with Toes out in the backyard–a spiritual teacher and her disciple just living our simple lives.

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Tuesdays with Toes – The Worst Part of Life So Far

Yesterday I ran past a man who was walking and talking on the phone. As I passed him, I heard him say, “Ive found breakups to be the worst part of life so far.”

His phrasing intrigued me–both the deliberate act of naming the worst part of his life and smartly qualifying it with so far (because who knows what’s to come).

Overhearing him brought to mind potential candidates for the worst parts of my life. There are a few choices I won’t delve into today because I’m not up to sharing them, but I will mention one that ties into Tuesdays with Toes: my allergies to cats and dogs.

I’d love to wake up with Toes beside me in bed or cuddle up with her on the couch but my allergies keep our together time confined to the deck or the garage. It’s not the worst part of my life but missing out on the joy of living side by side with a pet is definitely something that makes me sad on a routine basis.

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Tuesdays with Toes – Toes as a Kitten

“Toes as a kitten.”

It’s a phrase David and I say to each other when we want to bond over our shared cat parenthood and feel the feels.

We say it even though we didn’t know Toes as a kitten. She came to us as a full grown adult cat. But I can picture her in her younger days—tiny white toes on tiny black paws.

She appears to me that way in my dreams sometimes–small and meowing and crawling all over me–a little ball of need. And in these dreams, I feel as close to motherhood as I might ever get.

It happened the other night in what ended up being a nightmare. Toes had been born recently, I was her mother, and she wasn’t gaining weight at the rate she needed to be. I picked her up, and she was too light. Barely responsive.

“You’re a terrible mother,” I thought as I jerked awake.

There are many reasons David and I haven’t pursued human parenthood, but being afraid of how worried I would be as a parent has been a major one for me. I concluded in my early thirties that I was just too anxious for parenthood.

Taking care of Toes has softened me on this stance. Kitten nightmares aside, I’ve enjoyed being there for Toes, and when problems have arisen (like her need for subcutaneous fluids every other day), David and I have been able to address them together pretty well. Plus, my family has been a huge help. (Shout out to my mom and dad who are housing Toes this winter!)

My childbearing decisions these days are less influenced by fear of the anxiety parenthood would cause and more a response to the volume of responsibility parenthood entails. I fear fear less, and I have Toes to thank for that.

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Tuesdays with Toes – Character Inspiration

Twenty-two installments into Tuesdays with Toes, it’s clear that Toes is a muse for me. I love documenting our life together through these posts, but Toes has inspired me in other artistic realms as well. Namely, on stage as Cattail, a character I play in an ongoing series of cat themed comedy shows written by my sketch group, Eternal Slumber Party.

This Friday we’re set to debut the third show in the Jungle Cat Lounge series, My Funny Meowlentine. I love writing and performing in these shows because they’re silly. We dress up as cats, sing songs, and make stupid/brilliant jokes about the feline experience. Being in them also gives me the opportunity to be on stage with my fellow sketch group members who are hilarious.

As an actor, these shows excite me because I’m able to draw on my time with Toes to create a character with emotional resonance. Like Toes, Cattail is a grouchy but ultimately good old cat who has trouble moving and loves taking naps.

Her motivations are simple, which can be key for creating comedy on stage. There was a moment in the first show we did, Have Yourself a Meowy Little Christmas, that was one of my best ever on stage. It was a scene that ended with Cattail alone, singing a sad song and slowly lowering herself into a box to try to take a nap.

I loved seeking the comfort of that box as Cattail and feeling like Toes must when she relaxes into her favorite spots in our yard—wherever there’s half shade and half sunlight so she gets warm but not too warm.

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Tuesdays with Toes – Another Poop Story

There’s a guideline in improv that suggests it’s useful to avoid sexual and toilet humor early in a show because once you’ve broken those boundaries it’s difficult to go back to jokes that are less taboo. The thought is that you set the audience’s expectations with your first few scenes and you want them to know you don’t need to rely on vulgar jokes to generate laughs.

I try to adhere to this principle on stage and in my writing, but I breached it last week with my post about Toes pooping on the carpet at my parent’s house. So I guess this week I might as well keep the toilet theme going and share another poop story.

This one is about a time that David was out of town (as so many of these stories go) and Toes had an incomplete poop. I noticed it as she was walking away from me in the garage–a little dried turd affixed to her butt.

“Toes!” I exclaimed. “You’ve got a poop on you.”

I didn’t want to handle the situation, but I knew it was my responsibility. I went back into the house and put on latex gloves, grabbed a plastic bag, and wet some paper towels with warm water.

Back in the garage, I moved with caution worried Toes might bite or scratch me. I held her in place with one hand and tried to work the poop free with the wet paper towel in my other hand. She gave me a low growl–one that indicated her displeasure but also seemed to be thanking me for my effort–the old lady knew she needed her butt wiped.

Assisting Toes in this way made me reflect on my own potential for being an old lady and needing this kind of care. Envisioning it scared me in the same way I used to panic in college about having to learn to cook for myself someday. Back then, I would try to keep from hyperventilating by reassuring myself that I could always buy prepared food.

I figured out how to cook pretty much right out of college, and I’ve built up most of the other skills of adulthood since then: budgeting, cleaning, communicating in relationships, taking care of my physical and mental health, etc. Now, at 36, what frightens me is losing these skills. It’s like I’ve hit an inflection point on adulthood–changing from being afraid of never acquiring skills to being afraid of losing what I’ve gained.

In the past, these fears would have easily overwhelmed me. But luckily one of the skills I’ve built up since leaving college is a greater capacity for residing in the present moment. This moment where I am a caregiver helping my cat out of a poopy situation and where I am a writer continuing to lower my reader’s expectations by a heavy reliance on scatological humor. (You’re welcome!)

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Tuesdays with Toes – It’s the thought that counts

“Toes is pooping on the floor!”

Sitting in the living room with a view into the dining room, my dad was the only one who could see Toes at that moment. We’d brought her down from her usual hang out spot upstairs to spend some time with us on Christmas Day, and when we’d tried to take her back to her room, she’d growled indicating she’d prefer to stay downstairs and explore. Also, could we please put that other cat in the basement–the shifty eyed one?

We complied with Toes’s requests and brought her kitty litter down just in case she needed to go. Which it turned out she did. But rather than situating herself fully in the litter box, when my Dad spotted her pooping, Toes had her front paws in the box but her back paws and butt out over the carpet.

This makes so much sense–my mom and I concurred. We’d both often found Toes’s poops near but not in the kitty litter and assumed somehow those poops had gotten kicked out of the box (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense from a physics perspective but how much thought are you going to give to the mechanics of your cat’s poop…other than this whole post).

We weren’t mad at Toes at all for her failure to make it fully into the litter. She’s an old girl, and it takes some work for her to step in and out of the box. Rather, we celebrated how considerate she was to make the effort to go to the litter even when she knew she couldn’t make it all the way in. It’s the thought that counts, right?

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Tuesdays with Toes – Gotcha Day

Recently I’ve become familiar with the hashtag #gotchaday on Instagram. It signifies an adoption day, and a search for pictures with the hashtag reveals it’s used for both child and pet adoptions.

I didn’t have Instagram when we first adopted Toes, but if I had, I doubt I would have used #gotchaday to share pics of her. First, I tend not to use hashtags much because of the potential for exposure. Don’t get me wrong–I like sharing things on the Internet. That’s why I have this blog! But I find the idea of going viral pretty terrifying so I tend to keep my hashtagging to a minimum (although I’m working to address this fear).

Beyond my hesitations around hashtags, I also likely wouldn’t have captioned a picture of Toes with #gotchaday because that’s not how I felt the day we officially adopted her. Picking Toes up from the DeKalb County animal shelter after having sent her there for rabies quarantine, my feeling was more, OMG, ARE WE REALLY DOING THIS? A sentiment that would perhaps best be captured by the grimacing face emoji rather than a hashtag.

At the shelter, I remember sitting on plastic chairs in a small room that smelled of cats and dogs while we waited for them to bring us Toes. I could feel my allergies activate (I have them to both cats and dogs). We were handed a clipboard with forms we signed to indicate we were accepting responsibility for Toes’s care. It all felt very official. And my response to making this formal contract was low level panic.

Taking Toes out of the shelter, I felt a brief bit of relief as I breathed in the fresh air only to be hit with fear again when we loaded her carrier into the car. We were really taking her home. It wasn’t until we were home with her in the garage that the fear subsided again. We’d set out kitty litter for her, and as I watched Toes use the bathroom for the first time, I swelled with pride and thought, THAT’S MY CAT. SHE KNOWS HOW TO USE KITTY LITTER.

I don’t know where my first picture of Toes is, but this is the first one I posted on Instagram (interestingly enough with the #catsofinstagram despite my fears of hashtags). It’s one of my favorite pictures of her.

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Tuesdays with Toes – Leave Me to My Taco

“You may pet me here,” Toes seemed to be saying as we greeted her in her room at my parents’ house after nearly a month apart. She lay in her cheetah taco bed next to the heater. “This is where I live now.”

Did I expect her to get up to say hello to us? Yes. But she didn’t. And in that moment I knew. Regardless of how much I’d missed having her home, Toes wanted to spend the rest of the winter in Cincinnati where she could stay inside my parents house cozied up next to the heater in her taco.

My parents felt the same way and so it was decided that Toes would stay in Cincinnati for a little longer. Until Spring comes to Atlanta and Toes can enjoy her other favorite activity–basking in the sunshine in the backyard.

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Tuesdays with Toes – Hopes of a Purr

Frequent readers of Tuesdays with Toes today you are in for a treat! I am excited to share this week’s guest post written by my mom, Deb Zureick. She and my dad have been taking care of Toes during her winter vacation in Cincinnati. Like me, my mom has found there are many lessons to learn from Toes. 

The older I get the more I want to enjoy life – I even made that my 2019 resolution. I appreciate the importance of love and have been focusing a lot lately on what in my life I love. The list is long and what a great feeling that is. For me that feeling reminds me of a cat purring all comfy and warm and loved.

Toes, the cat, is a guest in our house for a few months. She is a bit crotchety, a little mean, and she’s old. Reminds me of myself in many ways. I get it with the achy joints, enjoying time alone, and just wishing to run & play crazy like back in the day. I sympathize with her completely. We do our best to make her accommodations comfortable for an old cat – a room all for her with books and paintings, kitty litter and food close by, carpeted floor, and a sweet faux cheetah fur bed aligned next to the heat register. She seems to enjoy the lodgings.

Watching this old cat and knowing what a hard time she has gone through, I sure would be glad to do what I can to make her life enjoyable. What I want for Toes is for her to curl up on my lap and purr with contentment, but I would gladly take any purr. So I brush her hair, play music in her room for her to listen to, my husband serenades her, and we talk to her about how beautiful she is. Hopefully we will get a peep of a purr out of her before she heads back home to Atlanta. It would be so nice if Toes and I could share that warm, comfy love.

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