About a year ago, I felt like I was living in a constant state of stress. Whether it be work, family, adult and parent responsibilities, finances, aspirations left unreached, creative pursuits, or issues with the world at large, I was a ball of worry, nerves, pressure, and so much more, clawing at the walls for a way out of this invisible box I felt I was stuck in all the time.
Every little thing would bother me, from a comment someone at work made, or a creative project taking a little longer because ‘life things’ just got in the way. Negative, negative, negative, it felt like a cloud that was engulfing me at nearly every turn.
Then, somewhere along the way, either just before or just after the birth of our third child, our second daughter six months ago, something happened. A switch felt like it got flipped.
Why did it take me so long to flip that switch? Was it the birth of our third child that was the impetus for such a shift in focus? Why didn’t it happen with the first two?
I have no idea and can’t tell you. But I can tell you that around this time, I just started looking at things…differently.
Suddenly, the things that I used to find myself so bothered by no longer really mattered. I mean, sure, they were there, they weren’t ideal, they were still annoying. But they no longer gnawed at me, they no longer stayed with me. Sure, it could be that I’m just so exhausted from three kids that I don’t have the energy to worry about other things anymore or to get upset about things that used to bug me. Maybe there’s a quotient of truth there.
But, I think most of all, I just started thinking differently. Somehow, I inadvertently shifted my mindset and instead of getting bothered or down about the things that weren’t working out, weren’t great, that I couldn’t achieve or have, I started feeling incredibly grateful for everything I did have.
And it was world changing for me.
I was looking at the success of other people and I wasn’t feeling joy. Instead it was making me feel bad, as if their achievements were a reflection on what I hadn’t done or hadn’t accomplished. It’s not, but for whatever reason, that’s how I was looking at it. And that view led to toxic feelings, feelings of doubt, of depression, unnecessary comparisons instead of feeling happy that someone was experiencing something good.
It’s like somewhere along the way in our development, this need to have things, more things, or this thought process that when someone gets something we didn’t, that it’s our own faults, our failure. So instead of feeling happiness for someone else, we default to a comparison that we missed out on something, that we’re not ‘worthy’ of it and then start questioning why, then start getting angry, or sad. And that leaves us disillusioned.
Suddenly, after far too long of dealing with the clouds of depression, angst, anger, sadness, self doubt that came about when things went south somewhere in life, I found myself stopping for a moment or two to mentally face these thoughts, these feelings, and start asking myself – “what are you happy to have?”
My family, my friends, a job, a roof over my head, clothes on my back.
I started to look around me every morning. The frustration of the cats waking me at half hour intervals from 3 am onward turned into (most mornings. I’m human, I falter) an appreciation for the love these furry little guys show us each and every day from the moment we took them in and welcomed them to our family. Gratefulness that it was our growing cat population in our house that awoke some paternal instinct in me long before we welcomed home any of our human children.
Ah, our children. How quickly life has changed in the 8 years Meg and I have been married. Sometimes that change can make us feel like nothing gets accomplished because we’re constantly chasing after or tending to one of the kids. But to imagine our lives without any one of them, chaos included, is unfathomable. There will come a time when they’ll be older, when they’ll have their own lives, and we’ll be wishing for the chaos, the sleepless nights and those times when sure, nothing around the house felt like it got done, but man, weren’t those kids fun? The laughter, the joy, the wonder, and the sheer love that each one brings in their own way, from the way they look at you when they first see you in the morning, to that hug at the end of the night. There has been nothing in our lives like it and it has been nothing short of a blessing to be a parent and be there beside them as they grow. And right there with me amid that tornado trio of kids is a beautiful, wonderful, funny, incredibly intelligent wife who is a true partner in all of this craziness of life, through thick, thin, and everything in between.
Friendships. Many of us are all going through the same things in life. Or maybe we’re not, but being around your friends, hearing about their struggles, sharing in the joy of their triumphs, and vice versa is important. Being around them, just knowing you’re not alone, even if no one has all the answers, makes the speed bumps in life a little easier to hit, and the good times even better.
A home in a neighborhood with good people who talk to each other, who look out for each other. A backyard with wildlife, where I can see birds come to the feeder every morning, squirrels doing acrobatics for seeds, or sometimes even a deer wandering through the yard on their way to and from the nearby woods. Space for our children to run, to play, to be kids.
A job that, sure, may not always be ideal, but then very few are. It may not be what I set out to do/want to do with the rest of my life (and it may not end up being, but who knows?), but it’s allowed me many things – the opportunity to go back to school, new professional skills to learn, more time with my kids than other jobs have, allowed me to make my student loan payments on time, to pay our bills, and afford to live when so many other people struggle just to make those ends meet and often can not.
This appreciation and gratitude for all that I’ve realized I have has for the most part made me forget what I didn’t, or what I thought I didn’t and thought I needed.
Several studies link gratitude to lower levels of depression, less toxic emotions like resentment and envy and can actually create higher levels of self esteem.
Over time, I found myself more and more looking for the bright side of situations. When someone came to me with something that might have been a downer to me last year, instead of reveling in what made it bad news, I find myself trying to look for the opportunity, or the silver lining within.
And when I started looking at the positives of situations, of my own life, I just found myself generally happier overall. No one expects you (or me) to be a ray of sunshine 24/7. We’re only human. But I’m a much happier human now.
It didn’t happen right away, but in time with a little work and a little focus, I’ve found that practicing the art of appreciation as gratitude has changed not only my outlook, but my life.
Love the life you’re with, find the reasons to love your life, the pieces of it, even in times of turmoil that can remind you what parts you’d never change, the parts that other people would love to have, and it can make a big difference. At least it did for me.
We haven’t been getting much sleep lately, and it has nothing to do with our six month old.
No, we’ve been quite lucky that she has been sleeping, for the most part, through the night. Sometimes a need to nurse arises in the wee hours, but on the whole – she’s been great.
One of our little kitties however, has not.
It usually begins around 3:30 in the morning. Sometimes four.
Sometimes I try to ignore it, or my arm instinctively falls out of the sheets and down the side of the bed to pet his orange fur, hoping it’s just some attention and affection he’s looking for at these early morning hours. He takes the petting, of course, for a moment or two before turning around to walk away.
Though I wouldn’t call it a success as his battle plan then takes one of several paths – one is to scratch at the bed itself, always conveniently out of our reach, making one of us get up and out of bed to stop him.
Another tactic involves jumping onto my wife’s nightstand and knocking over any myriad of objects atop – a pile of books, a stack of magazines, remote controls, or her water bottle. It used to be a glass of water. We’ve learned that lesson time and time again.
If his plan involves my side of the bed, it means any number of magazine, books, or comics thrown with his back feet across the floor beside my bed, or knocking over any notepads, paper, etc, atop. He’s tried for my alarm clock, with a fifty-fifty shot at success, or the lamp. There’s nothing quite like being awakened by a table lamp, tall, slim in the middle giving it easy tipping ability, landing on your head as you sleep.
Now I should mention, this little guy has been a part of our family longer than either of our kids. In fact, we got him right before we got married, six years ago. And in those six years, he’s found a comfortable spot or two and slept right on through the night. Perhaps a little frisky fighting with his brothers now and then, but otherwise, it’s been dreamland for him. So it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it started just before our little girl was born six months ago.
When the petting did not get us anywhere, I thought that maybe his stomach was the one in the driver’s seat. So, I’d either guide him downstairs, or pick him up and carry him downstairs, setting him down in front of his bowl, always full of food, to remind him he has food there. He starts snacking, to which I then proceed back upstairs to fall asleep, only to have him wake me up about a half hour to 45 minutes later and we start the dance again.
Thinking it was his stomach, I began putting a dish of food in our room before we go to bed. Perhaps having it closer will help and put an end to this.
It hasn’t, and all it’s done is create the expectation that this extra dish will be there.
I should note, with the age and condition of our house, the doors to rooms do not close and latch like you’d find in most homes. That means that even if you close a door, it can with great ease be pushed open by a feline head. So, that option has been ruled out.
And rather than risk him waking Meg (although he sometimes still does), the baby, or our little guy, I continue to get up when he waltzes in at that 3:30-4 a.m. point every morning, and the intervals that follow.
At one point, I woke up in our hallway. I had lured him out of the room and downstairs only to have him come up again, and I fell asleep without making it back to the room.
I just can not fathom what exactly sparked this, and still, months later have not figured out what it is he wants. Petting, hugging, holding – he’ll have none of it in those wee morning hours. Food – a few bites then back at it.
At first I thought perhaps the Daylight Saving change in the fall/winter, but that disappeared in the spring to no change. Could it have been the baby? But this behavior started before she was born? And it didn’t happen when our son was born.
We’ve often wondered if there’s something neurological underlying within him. He was a pretty bad case when we found him. Curled up in the bushes, barely able to move, he lifted one paw up and placed it on my wife as she bent down near him, and our hearts melted. We scooped him up and took him home where he wouldn’t eat, drink or anything. Getting him to a vet, he stayed there for a week before we could take him home with us.
The doctor said had he been on his own a few more hours before we found him, he wouldn’t have made it. He was sick, beat-up, and barely had the ability to move, or even meow. He would try, but nothing would come out.
He was estimated at the time to be about a year or a year and a half by the vet, making him about 7 years old today, though we’ve always suspected he’s either older than their estimation or just lived enough life to seem that way.
Whatever they did at the vets that week, they brought him back from death’s door, and we couldn’t be more grateful. But being that close to the end, we’ve always accepted that his return came with a series of chronic health issues as a trade off. Many an issue that we’ve dealt with short-term, some long, but we’ve handled them.
Could this be among those issues? If so, why only surface now?
I have no idea.
All I know is that I love him, but man am I exhausted and befuddled as to what it is he wants. But, though many probably think of me as crazy, I will continue…because I love him.
As I’ve mentioned (a lot) in the past, storytime is a very important part of our daily routines. Whether it’s post-bathtime or not, our pre-bedtime ritual always involved getting a few books off our little guy’s bookshelf (although for quite some time he’s been old enough to pick them out on his own), all plop down on mama and dada’s bed and read together before calling it a night. It’s a ritual, and one that means quite a lot to all of us.
Sure, sometimes we read many of the same ones over and over again, because the little guy has his favorites that he wants to hear again and again, but every now and then, he lets us slip in a new one to try. That’s why when I was given the opportunity from Independent Publishers Group to take a look at a new book, I jumped at the chance.
So we recently read a new book before bed called “The Little Mouse Santi.”
The book, written by David Eugene Ray and illustrated by Santiago Germano, tells the story of a mouse named Santi who, more than anything else in the world, wants to be a cat. He practices all day at everything he thinks cats are good at – strutting themselves across a room, swishing his tail, cat baths, meowing, and of course, looking bored with life.
While the other mice laugh at Santi, he longs to join the cats he sees outside on the farm, eventually overcoming his courage to give it a try when he spots a cute orange tiger cat lounging in the grass.
The illustrations in this book by Germano are beautiful, with a slick, clean style across every line, making even those mice who are laughing at poor Santi downright adorable.
I really did enjoy it. If I had a critique it’s that I liked it enough that I wanted more from it. I would have liked a little more reassurance and confidence-building from Santi as he finally establishes the courage to step out of his comfort zone in the pursuit of his dream. I wanted Santi to feel bad about what the others say but get over it, realizing what they think doesn’t matter. What Santi does in the course of the story comes with a great gamut of emotions that I think everyone goes through at some point in their childhood, and I think a child could learn a lot about self-confidence and the joy of being unique if there were just a few touches upon overcoming those emotions along Santi’s journey.
It’s a swift read, and as I say, accompanied by absolutely beautiful color illustrations. Having never published a children’s book, I certainly can’t speak to the process. But as a reader, I felt Santi’s adventure and dreams could resonate a lot with a small child, but I’d love a little bit more to it.
As the days get longer, they can also get quite a bit colder, and after bundling our little ones and ourselves up, making sure the car gets started and defrosts, you may be all set to battle the elements of your day.
But, while I know I risk the moniker of ‘Crazy Cat Guy,’ the cold weather always makes me think of the many cats and dogs that don’t have the fortune of having homes where they can escape subzero temperatures, or as is sometimes the case – the pets whose owners don’t let them inside, even in subzero temperatures.
We choose to keep our feline children inside, for their own safety. Not everyone feels the same way. It’s just the way we do it.
With that said, our area and neighborhood has had quite a lot of strays coming and going through its streets, sidewalks and yards in the time since we’ve moved in, and one place that several of them tend to regularly escape the elements and predators, is our garage. Built with the house, back in the 1920s, the doors are a little warped, leaving an opening at the bottom of one set of doors. It’s just enough for a cat or kitten to squeeze into and find their way into a garage that can’t fit a car, but serves its purpose for our storage of tables, chairs, garden equipment, etc.
Some of our visitors pass like ships in the night. Others are too skittish around humans and keep a good distance away when they see me. Others, as I’ve mentioned, become semi-regulars, and grab at my heartstrings, creating a very special bond that always leaves me concerned when they take off out of the realm and safety of our yard. Some, we’ve managed to get to a shelter, where they’ve been successfully adopted.
I do my best to do what I can, as I truly believe that a dog or cat, just like a human, does not deserve to die for the mere fact they lack a home or love (which is what so many, I’ve found, crave far beyond even a bowl of food). So, I periodically leave out food, some blankets, and try to create a shelter they can turn to when the weather (or other animals) get rough.
This winter, though, I felt the need to do a little more. Looking online, I found that some people were making shelters for strays in their neighborhood. They were for areas that had absolutely no shelter, but were being used by the animals nonetheless. I figured if they were already coming and going from the garage, an extra level of security and warmth couldn’t hurt.
So, using what I found online as a guideline, Meg and I set out to create a mini-shelter for the strays that come through.
I started by purchasing two inexpensive Rubbermaid-type containers. One bigger and one that fit within it.
Before we get to the next step, I’ll mention that it makes life easier if you have the following: some duct tape, a circular plate for tracing a hole, a permanent marker, and an exact o-knife.I used the plate/container to trace a hole with the marker, giving me a guideline of where I’ll be doing the damage.
Then, I cut a hole on the far side of each, big enough for a cat, but small enough so anything larger can’t get in. From the looks of things, there is a good chance cats will have an interest in peeking into these holes.
When the apocalypse comes and cats rule the earth, my life will be spared for my works.
We laid some towels down for bedding inside the smaller container (some people like to use hay). Putting the lid on the small container, we placed the smaller container in the big one. Then I took insulation leftover from a house project and put it between three sides of the small container, leaving the entrance way free, of course.
A layer on insulation then goes on top of the small one and the lid to the bigger container goes on as well.
Voila! Cat shelter! And our guys took an immediate interest in it, which was a good sign. Also, use the duct tape I mentioned earlier, to cover up the jagged edges from cutting the holes. You don’t want any animals to cut themselves going in or out.
I placed it in the garage, and as the nights got colder, I found it getting put to good use by the various guests who would come and go. Meg also had the bright idea of using some old, small dish towels stuffed into the areas around the hole (since there is no insulation on that side) to help keep warmth in as well as keep the kitties from going at the insulation if they see it.
And there you have it. For a total of $12, and using some leftover materials around the house, I was able to add a little extra safety and warmth for souls who otherwise would be fighting to stay warm as the temperatures dip.
Almost nine months ago, I poured my heart out after a frequent four-legged visitor to our backyard, whom Meg and I lovingly nicknamed “Monster” (for the extra toes that came with his Polydactyl nature) showed up again after one of his trademark absences, bloodied and injured.
Although we knew we couldn’t keep him with three feline sons of our own and one human baby running around, we got him into our basement, cleaned up the best Meg could and the next day, got him off to the Humane Society so he could get the help and care he needed. If you can’t tell from my original entry, my heart broke that day. Monster had been showing up in our yard shortly after we got our first cat, but he wouldn’t start showing love and affection until years later, following a lengthy disappearance. He really had become like our fourth cat, but was more like our equivalent of a barn cat, coming and going out of our detached garage, with me checking in on him before work each day, leaving behind food, blankets, some petting, whatever he would need to get through the times.
I figured it was time for an update on my buddy, Monster. Since that time, I have been making periodic trips to the Humane Society to check in on him, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s recognized me every time. While it’s made me sad that I couldn’t take him back with me, I learned quite a few things about him from the folks at the shelter.
First of all, he’s around 5-8 years old. And, his friendly demeanor, seems to be a permanent trait not just limited to me. I was frequently told as I’d visit that he became a sort of, unofficial greeter for all those entering the cat room at the shelter. He would meet them at the door, talk to them, show a little head-bunt love and show them around.
My trips continued whenever I could. I’d talk with him, pet him, tell him how glad I was that he was healthy again, and that, while I missed him terribly, this was going to lead to a nice new home for him.
I stopped by within the past few weeks for a visit, but things were different this time – he was no longer there.
I asked around and, while it took those almost nine months, our little Monster (his name changed once in the shelter, of course), has been adopted and given a home. I don’t know the details (it’s not the kind of thing they’d just release willy-nilly), but it’s a home. All those years of dodging dogs, cars and storms, looking for food or somewhere comfy to just rest are now gone. When I got home that day, I felt a twinge of sadness knowing that this now means I won’t ever see the little guy again, but it’s balanced out (or perhaps the scale is tipped quite heavily) with a feeling that my former garage-buddy can spend his remaining years being pet, keeping warm, and feeling the love of a household.
Shouldn’t they all get to feel that way?
Him getting the gift of a loving home after all that’s occurred is one of the greatest gifts I could be given.
Merry Christmas, little Monster, wherever you are, buddy. 🙂