Fighting Like Cats and Dogs

Who would have thought that a pampered cat and an oversized, Clifford-like dog could teach me a lesson on sibling rivalry?

For years, my four kids –including three boys born in three and a third years—as well as my cat and dog, fought like, well, cats and dogs.

My mistake, I think, was throwing creatures with very strong and diverse personalities together and simply expecting them to get along.

I remember my own childhood—with three brothers, two sisters and a menagerie of furry creatures—as being harmonious, and I believed my own kids would enjoy similarly positive relationships.

As adults, my siblings and I love, respect and trust each other. We rarely argue and genuinely relish the too-rare time we spend together. We share wonderful memories of annual family ski trips to the Rockies, during which we skied together all day and played heated games of Monopoly at night. We adored each other, and thoroughly enjoyed time with our parents.

I like to recall Sunday afternoons sailing on Lake Michigan, lively birthday celebrations, warm holiday dinners with our best-friend family and hours spent watching Saturday-morning cartoons, vintage Laurel and Hardy films and home movies.

Traumatic events only solidified our bonds. We drew strength from each other after our father’s premature death – when our ages ranged from 22 to 30 – and tagged-team trips to Hawaii when lung cancer struck our oldest brother. I savored my siblings’ support while my husband was hospitalized a dozen years ago (my oldest sister visited twice during that time, as well as after each of my babies arrived).

Of course, I do tend to sugar-coat the past. My memories gloss over the early battles between my two oldest brothers, born just 15 months apart, which often ended in bloodshed. I forget about the relentless teasing that could bring any of us to tears. And, I ignore the fact that it took 14 years for my oldest sister and I to develop the friendship that’s now our lifeblood. Back in the day, my parents seemed to ignore the problems, and they did, in time, disappear.

My own kids’ strife brought me considerable angst. From the time my two oldest were tiny, they seemed constantly at odds. I obsessively read books and magazine articles about sibling rivalry. I joined a parent-education group, populated with mothers of “spirited” kids. And, for a few months, I even hired a counselor to deal with the boys’ differences.

Nothing seemed to work; the sparring continued, becoming more mentally hurtful and vicious as the boys aged. We kept the peace by keeping the kids separate; they had their own rooms, own friends and own sports teams. On vacations, we divided them into functional pairs for hotel rooms and rental cars.

A few years ago, after a traumatic brush with death, I decided to add a dog to the mix. The kids immediately took to the adorable Golden RetrieverStandard Poodle mix, but our middle-aged cat did not.

Life for my beloved Pumpkin went into a tailspin. He hid from Bauer, the super-sized puppy, whenever he could. When confronted by the overzealous newcomer – who soon tipped the scales at 85 pounds – he hissed, growled and swatted. Pumpkin no longer sought out my lap for stroking; instead, I became a repository for tennis balls, dropped by a pooch that was ever ready for a game of catch.

Our Tom Cat took his frustrations to the street, and our veterinary bills skyrocketed.

It took a year and a half, but at some point recently, I realized that the two pets had settled into an amicable relationship. The dog now barks to let us know when the cat wants to be let in or out, and will even lick the feline’s wounds after a street fights (gross, I know). The cat now goes out of his way to brush against Bauer in passing, and even encourages the dog’s slurpy forehead licks. (See the recent video clip of my pets here.)

Ironically, the pets seemed to have paved the way for my boys who, with no help from me or “the experts,” have started to get along, as well. In fact, the oldest – a college freshman – recently commented that he “wouldn’t mind” his younger brother attending the same university.

So, my pets have taught me an important lesson. Instead of stressing about and inserting myself into sibling situations, I need to stand back and let life take its course. Apparently, my own parents knew this all along.

–          Linda Williams Rorem, 21 Nov. 2011


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