Dispatch from an Empty Nest

empty nest

(Anna Seward)—Every time I come home, something is slightly different. I’m an only child and my parents are gradually shifting to an empty nest (not that my room is not constantly preserved and cleaned like it’s a museum; it is. It really is). The first Thanksgiving break of freshman year I came home to a father who had dropped Diet Coke. This sounds lame, but you have no idea how stark the difference is between 2-3 Diet Cokes a day and none. After a series of relatively small changes over the years I thought my parents might be done. Well, obviously not because this time my parents found themselves the perfect pet.

I think it’s pretty typical for parents to become obsessed with a pet after their child goes off to college. I have sat by many an elderly woman in Rao’s who goes on and on about her “little girl” and it only comes up ten minutes into the conversation that she’s talking about her cat. But my parents are doing it a little differently.

Now I grew up in a mostly pet-less household. I had a cat when I was very young (young enough that I thought her name was spelled Squweeky and refused to be corrected), but I was allergic so we gave her away soon after. I begged for a dog for the rest of my time in Portland, but my mother has never liked pets and begrudgingly let me have parakeets that both faced fairly gruesome deaths before I left for college. (Trust me, you don’t want to know.) Basically they are not pet people.

So when I came home from the airport and we started to eat our takeout from my favorite Chinese place at the dining room table, you can imagine my shock when my dad looked slightly down and behind me and said, “Oh, look, Kitty’s coming over.” I turned around and found a mangy tabby looking at me through our glass porch door.

“You got a cat?” I said.

“Oh, no, she’s just a stray.” My mother said as she continued eating. “By the way, Jeff, did you feed her today?”

“Seriously, you feed her?” I asked.

“Twice a day,” My mother shrugged.

“We also bought a little house for her so she wouldn’t get cold.” My dad added.

So I looked outside and sure enough they had bought a little covered cat bed and laid some tarp over it to keep it dry.

I guess I’m writing this to make sure I’m not crazy, but that’s weird, right? She’s not allowed in the house. Over Thanksgiving they left my uncle in the house alone for a few hours and he let her in because she seems like she’s their cat. Sure, I have heard of “outdoor cats,” but this is a little extreme, right? They don’t even ever pet her. They just feed her from a giant sack of cat food they bought at Costco (Kitty doesn’t like shrimp or milk or any normal cat/people foods). They even bought her a little pet bird she plays with and religiously keeps inside her “little house.” And then she watches them eat dinner. Every night. They talk about her too. Every time she turns away from the window as if to defend the house from other strays, my dad will say, “She looks just like Batman when she does that,” and they both marvel at the mystery of why neither of them has ever seen her actually walk into the hut. Am I crazy or is there perfect pet a zoo animal?

I should probably leave them alone with their weird feline companionship, but really? Kitty doesn’t get to come inside? Not even for Christmas? Don’t worry; I’m working on it.