The relationship between my youngest son, Evan, and the stray cat who showed up at our back door in December has always been a rocky one. In spite of Evan's eagerness to make friends with him, Mewcifer the cat hasn't been nearly as excited about Evan. In fact, if given a choice, the cat would rather hang out with the dog versus Evan every time. I'd watch helplessly as Evan's heart was broken on a daily basis by his love for a cat who did not love him back.
Part of the problem was that Evan has never been around a cat. He's accustomed to dogs and has no idea of what to expect from a feline. While a dog will generally appreciate a robust pat on the head or a good belly rub, a cat will hiss and spit his displeasure at being handled so roughly.
Evan's attempts at picking up the cat were especially cringe-worthy. Instead of merely scooping up Mewcifer under his front legs, Evan would try some awkward behind-the-belly grabbing motion which pretty much guaranteed that scratching and biting would follow.
Mewcifer, who did not earn his devilish nickname by being mellow, makes no secret of how and when he prefers to receive attention from his human family. Stroke his fur for too long and he'll nip. Try to play with his feet and he'll scratch. And don't even think about touching that soft fur on his belly.
Over the past months, I've done my best to teach Evan about cat body language - or at least as I've come to understand it: one ear back means he's becoming agitated and you should stop doing whatever you're doing to him; two ears back means he's already passed the point of annoyance and has moved on to seriously pissed off. Do not attempt to negotiate or change his mind. When that second ear goes back , it's time to abandon the cat-handling mission and seek cover because you are about to have some major kitty-scolding unleashed upon you.
Having been bitten and scratched by the cat so many times, Evan was understandably nervous around him. Mewcifer, of course, could feel this weak energy and would take total advantage of it. After all, that's what cats do as part of their efforts to rule the world. I'm almost positive it's in their contract.
The other night, Dan and I had an appointment. As we tried to leave the house, Mewcifer did his best to block the door so that he could bolt outside as soon as we opened it. Again, it's what cats do. Bonus points are earned if the humans trip over the cat in the process.
I asked Evan if he'd move the cat so that we could leave the house without him running out. Evan bent down to pick up the cat but then hesitated. I could see one of Mewcifer's ears turn back and lower ever so slightly. This was not going to go well. This cat was capable of progressing from zero to monstrous in 2.5 seconds.
"Just be pure positive energy," I coached Evan. "Remember, you're the boss!"
With that, a newfound confidence came over Evan. He straightened his posture, scooped the cat up and out of the way, and proclaimed in his loudest, proudest voice, "I'm the boss!"
Instantly, Mewcifer returned his ear to its normal upright position and completely relaxed in Evan's arms.
Ever since that night, Evan is much more confident in his interactions with Mewcifer, and their relationship is becoming increasingly more peaceful. Instead of fearing being bitten and scratched, Evan has learned to say those three magic words that make him all-powerful: "I'm the boss!"
Too bad they don't have the same effect on laundry. Or teenagers.