We took three cats to be spayed and neutered last week at the local vet’s office.
Yes, three is excessive, but they were all adopted strays. We didn’t set out to require reproductive surgery for three simultaneously. It just happened, which is better than three unexpected litters of kittens.
On the day we were supposed to pick up our recovering furballs, it snowed. Not as much as it’s snowing now, but enough to make driving the two who reside with my oldest son and his girlfriend an hour away unsafe. So, we grabbed a box of cat litter and headed home. The girls were overjoyed to have three house guests, especially since the cats were still loopy from the surgery.
The next day, I sent my son Riley home early from school to collect the two cats and return them to their home. We communicated via text.
Riley: I can’t find the cats.
Riley: Luke has climbed up under the dishwasher and is behind the sink. I can’t reach him.
Riley: Leia is so fast. She’s a ninja!
Riley: I hate cats.
The entire family made it home, and Riley still hadn’t caught the stealthy cats. Phillip assured me his felines are wonderful pets; I, he said, am simply bad with cats.
And this reminded me of one of the greatest stories of Riley’s childhood.
He was playing little league basketball, and at the age of eight, was a key shooter for his team, the Knicks. They were scheduled to play the Minutemen, arguably the best team in league at the time.
As usual, our lives were hectic, requiring much planning. Throw one thing into the mix and the whole day could quickly become a mess. On this particular day, my now ex-husband was supposed to travel to Pennsboro to pick up three cats who we’d just had fixed.
Yes, I’m realizing doing this in threes is a bit of an odd habit.
Nonetheless, as was typical of that marriage, my ex-husband was unable to keep his commitment to pick up the cats. It, as well as everything else that day, was left up to me. As moms though, we roll with it. We figure out an alternative in our packed schedule, and we often rely on each other when the perfectly good plan turns to crap.
I arranged for Riley to ride home with a friend, who would also take him to the highly anticipated basketball game. As soon as school let out, I rushed to the babysitter to pick Gracie up. Gracie was close to two at the time and in the middle of potty training. I strapped her in her carseat, and we headed up I79 and over Rt 50 to the Pennsboro exit. The five miles off the exit were incredibly curvy, but we were making great time. We gathered the cats, signed the release papers, and were back in the car.
Each cat had its own carrier. Gracie desperately wanted to release one to pet along the way, but I explained it would be much safer for the cats inside the carriers, just like she’s much safer in her carseat.
We made it back to the highway, and I had an optimistic thought. We were making such great time, we might actually make it back for the big game. Yes!
But as is the standard with optimistic little thoughts, the second it entered my mind, reality sucked away the possibility of that hope.
Gracie announced she had to go to the bathroom.
On a highway with absolutely no fast food or gas station restrooms.
Okay, I thought, we can do this. I’d pull over and hold her as she peed. Simple.
I stopped the car, unhooked my seatbelt, and heard the worst sound a mom can hear from the front seat.
Gracie was vomiting. Not just throwing up, but projectile vomiting.
I raced out of the car and opened her door. My poor sweet girl was covered in her own regurgitation. The car seat was now a vomit container. And, to make matters even more complicated, a good bit of the mess had hit the back of my seat and dripped down inside her diaper bag, right onto her extra outfit. You know, the outfit mommies pack just in case.
Well, the just in case had happened, and I had no back up options.
I improvised. I wiped her face with a baby wipe and grabbed the roll of trash bags from the trunk (a necessity for any soccer mom). I stripped her down to her Pull-up, tossing her clothes and the entire diaper bag into a trash bag. Next, I put the car seat in a trash bag, stuck it back in the seat, and strapped my mostly naked baby back into it.
And away we went. In my mind, the curvy road had caused Gracie to be car sick. I couldn’t take her into the basketball game naked, and I couldn’t run in Walmart to grab her an outfit with my kid in just a Pull-up. Did I mention it was the middle of January? Way too cold for a naked toddler anyway.
I called my sister, explained the situation, and after much laughter, she agreed to bring an outfit to the basketball game. These things are always funny to the individual not living it. My story was the highlight of her day, and, sadly, it was just beginning.
About two miles down I79, Gracie started crying, and I knew what was coming. I pulled over, unbuckled, and hopped out of my car…..but was too late. Vomit all over my daughter, her Pull-up, and her trash bag-lined carseat.
Lord, give me strength.
I cleaned her up with more baby wipes. Grabbed another trash bag, in which I tossed both the car seat and Pull-up. I scooped her up, snagged a blanket from the backseat, and strapped her naked butt into the front seat. Because she was so distraught (does it ever get less terrifying for food to play out in reverse??), I let one of the cats out of its carrier so she could pet it the rest of the drive.
Yeah, I know. You’re seeing red flags in this decision. I did not. I was still clinging to the idea that this was just a terrible spell of carsickness, and this had to be the end of it. The cat would calm her.
We pulled into the gym parking lot. I could see my sister’s vehicle. But as she made her way to our van, Gracie hurled yet again, this time all over the cat. Gracie cried hysterically. I screamed at the cat to hold still, which, of course, made her jump to the backseat, where she promptly laid down and began licking the vomit from her stitches.
I realize now I should’ve written a disclaimer that this story is not for the weak stomached.
I wiped Gracie down yet again. As my sister dressed her in fresh clothing, I grabbed the cat and returned her to the carrier. I scrubbed the vomit from the front passenger and back passenger seats as best I could, then covered both seats with trash bags.
I was running out of seats in my seven-passenger van.
It was halftime at the big game, and I had no desire to sit in the vomit-infested van. So my sister and I headed inside with Gracie, being cautious to sit near a trash can, just in case.
Two minutes after sitting, Gracie got sick again. I tactfully held her over the trash can and not a drop of vomit hit either of us. Win!
I couldn’t sit in a gymnasium with my sick baby girl, particularly now that people knew she was sick. Without witnessing a single one of Roo’s 22 points that game, we returned to the Van O’Vomit. My sister baled immediately.
Now, all moms have breaking points. As I held Gracie, singing Amazing Grace to calm her, I knew I was on the verge of losing my shit. Three recovering cats. One licking vomit from its stitches. Two trash bags of chunk-covered clothes and a carseat. Two more seats with trash bags hiding the regurgitation.
Oh yes, I was close to the edge.
Then my darling eight-year-old, pissed off because his team had lost as expected, huffs into the van and slams the door behind him. He immediately complains about the odor.
I breathed, reminding him coolly that I’d been living in the odor for about two hours.
We left the parking lot. I needed to get home. It would likely save Riley, who, by the way, was now eating Hot Fries from a bag he’d bought at the concession stand. Yes, eating in this filthy, stinky car.
I said nothing. I drove. I breathed. I dreamed about a long, hot shower.
And then a new smell wafted up from the back of the car.
Riley: Oh my God, what is that smell??
Me: Did you fart?
Riley: No! I can’t make a smell that bad!
He’d wrapped his shirt around his face and was making gagging noises.
Trying as I might to be the grown-up, I rolled down the window and willed myself not to throw up.
Riley: Oh gross, Mom, one of the cats pooped in his cage.
Why, Lord, do you hate me?
Riley: Ohhh, it’s really runny diarrhea. It’s dripping out of the cage!!
This was the moment I lost it. It was too much. Nothing in life could’ve prepared me for this level of disgust and stench. Tears gushed from my eyes. Every doubt I’d ever had about motherhood flooded my mind. I was a terrible mom. I wasn’t cut out for this. I just couldn’t do it. I wanted to run away.
And then Riley, in complete seriousness, asks: Mom, if I stick these Hot Fries up my nose, will it hurt my brain?
I died. My tears shifted to laughter. Crazy, maniacal laughter. The kind you can’t control. The kids were certain I’d lost it, and maybe I had, but laughing felt so much safer than crying.
It was undoubtedly the stinkiest day of my life.
So maybe Phillip is right.
Maybe I’m just not good with cats…or vomit…or children.