* Editor’s note: This column originally ran in December 2000, Angelo and Milo’s second Christmas, and runs in memory of Milo, who passed over this year and is especially missed at Christmas.
When that last ornament was delicately placed on the Christmas tree, I took a moment to admire the finished product. My little angels came into the room, and that glimmering look of awe in their bright, shining eyes was priceless. They stared up in disbelief, at what was surely the most fabulous spectacle in all of creation.
Just as I was filled with hope that my darlings would be on their best behavior for the holiday season, two flashes shot past me, almost too quickly for the human eye to detect, and suddenly the Christmas tree began trembling and quaking, as if overcome by a massive, violent, full-trunk spasm.
“No!” I shouted (like that ever had any effect) and tried to get hold of them. But they were too fast. Ornaments sprayed in every direction, and I knew that beautiful Christmas tree would be a shambles in moments.
Quick discipline was in order: A time out for both of you. I grabbed each of them by the scruff of their necks, and after some squalling and squirming, wrestled them to the laundry room, tossed them in and slammed the door shut. You can come out when you’ve learned your lesson.
No, I’m not reminiscing about Christmas when my kids were toddlers. The only little creatures in my house these days have four legs and furry faces: my cats.
Christmas with cats comes down to a matter of perception. What people see: a beautiful fir tree adorned with perfectly matched red, gold and green velvet ornaments, glittering gold garlands and tiny white lights — a gorgeous sight to behold. What cats see: an irresistible tower of cat toys. Kowabunga!
I couldn’t leave Angelo and Milo on Kitty Time Out for the rest of the holiday season, so I had to find a way to keep the Christmas tree from looking like it had been run through a paper shredder. The easy answer would be to kick the cats outside, but they’re strictly indoor pets because I’ve learned the hard way that cats have a nasty habit of ending up as street pizza. I had to find a deterrent.
The solution, I’d hoped, was Bad Kitty Spray. That’s a spray bottle full of water. One good shot in the face terminates any and all bad behavior instantly. It works just great until a feline’s tiny, pea-sized brain forgets that going near the Irresistible Cat Toy Tower results in a wet face. That takes about seven minutes.
My daughter and I are in charge of guarding the Christmas tree now, because The Boy is away at college. But he never used the Bad Kitty Spray anyway. He had his own method of cat discipline. When that familiar rustle of tree branches and tinkle of glass ornaments warned that the Christmas tree was once again under attack, my son would leap into action (drawing upon lightening quick-reflexes developed from a lifetime of playing Nintendo) and snatch those feline buzzsaws from the tree in two quick grabs. Then came the lecture.
Now, I told him time and again that cats do not speak English, not even if you repeat it over and over again in progressively louder volume, but he continued to deal with them the same way every time: holding them up to his face, screaming reprimands at them like a crazed Army sergeant and spanking their furry little bottoms. He’d then set them on the ground and they’d scurry for cover, only to return five minutes later and do it again.
Amazing. This discipline strategy is no more effective on toddlers with four legs than it is on those with two.
This year, as I once again sat in frustrated defeat watching one cat play air hockey on the kitchen floor with an antique velvet elf and the other wrestling a tinsel garland like a giant anaconda, I wondered how to teach these little critters (that I adore 11 months of the year and want to skin alive at Christmas time) that the felt catnip mouse is a toy and the felt Christmas mouse is not.
Then it dawned on me. The perfect solution, as if the heavens had parted and sent down the answer on a ray of light: Next year, I’ll decorate the entire tree in cat toys. It will be cute, it will be creative, I will be happy, the cats will be happy. It will be one of those rare perfect solutions in life.
Best of all, I can maintain the illusion that I’m in control, just like I did when my kids were toddlers and instead of putting them into the playpen to keep them away from the Christmas tree, I put the tree into the playpen where it would be safe. Sometimes I’d get in there with it, so I’d be safe from the kids too.
Of course I’m in control. I chose to get in here, didn’t I?
As with everything, it’s all a matter of perception.
— Email Debra at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com, www.edebra.com and www.ipinion.com