When I was sixteen, my mom made me read Just Wait Until You Have Children of Your Own by Erma Bombeck. I laughed back then, never intending to have children myself. I still don't have any, unless you count pets as children (which I do). However the responsibilities are the same, the cost is the same, the frustrations are the same... the only difference is that animals can't talk. But, once in a while I imagine what would happen if they could...
"Miss Mantle, your cat is on line three. Shall I put her through?"
"Yes, thank you." I reply, picking up the receiver. "Morgan?" I ask, "Is that you?"
Her tattling teenage voice calls out. "Mom? Ghost is on the fish tank again, and he won't get off of it."
"Honey," I reply. "I am trying to work. Can you please just take care of this for me?"
"He won't listen to me, mom!" Her voice calls out to her rowdy, younger by only three minutes, brother. "Ghost! Mom is on the phone and she says you had better get off or she's going to put you in the kennel with the dogs!"
"Morgan!" I whisper loudly, fully aware of the co-workers in the next cubicle. "You stop lying!"
"But mom," she whines, "He's going to eat the fish! He's trying to convince Blackie that they are food."
"All right," I sigh, "put him on." This is ridiculous, I thought, waiting for Morgan to retrieve her brother. They are old enough to take care of themselves. Honestly, do I have to do everything? Ghost's voice comes over the line. "What?" He asks in the most rebellious voice possible.
I remain silent, waiting for him to address me civilly. "Hello?" He asks. I wait a bit longer, he is almost there. "Mom, are you there?"
"That's better," I reply firmly. "Now, you will leave those fish alone. They are not here for your entertainment. And neither is your sister." I add quickly. "You quit teasing her this instant. Haven't you got any homework to do?"
"Awww, mom. We're on break. And we're bored. There's nothing to do."
"Well," I reply. "In the event that you didn't notice, I am NOT on break, and I don't appreciate being bothered every five minutes by my 'bored' cats. If you want something to do, go watch TV."
"The only thing on the Discovery channel is that stupid spider thing. It scares Guinnevere. Besides, why do I have to turn on the TV all the time, can't Morgan do it?"
"Because you are the only one who knows how to do it." I say, exasperated. "Now turn on the spider special or lay down and take a nap. I'll bring home some canned food if I don't get one more call from you." I hated resorting to bribery, but under the circumstances, it seemed the only way to go.
I hear him drop the phone and chase after Blackie who, from what I can tell, is grabbing Tristan the coyote's tail as he passes under the table that Blackie is sitting on. Morgan picks up the phone, yelling at Blackie to stop harassing the coyote. "Mom?" she asks, picking up the phone. "Did you tell him?"
"Yes. I told him. Tell Blackie to quit harassing Tristan or I'm going to let him get eaten next time."
Morgan yells at Blackie to stop, and is answered by a hiss. "Honestly, mother. They are out of control. When are you coming home?"
"The same time I always come home." I say. "Please try to keep them under control until then."
Morgan sighs heavily. "All right, but I'm not a miracle worker. Can you at least put them into the box when you get home?"
"The box is not a punishment, Morgan." I sigh, tired of explaining the cage to them. "It is simply a means of transport. You have to stop thinking of it as a punishment."
"Well, then you had better give me control of the spray bottle while you are gone. Because they just won't listen to me."
"Okay, I have to run. I'll talk to you tonight."
I hang up the phone, and return to my work, now frustrated. Parenthood was not what the books said it would be.
Twenty minutes later, I receive another call. "Miss Mantle, it's your cat again." The sarcastic again is implied by the secretary as I pick up the phone.
"What is it Morgan?" I ask as politely as I can.
"Socks is threatening to pee on the garbage can." She says in her sweet childlike voice.
"This is it." I say, clenching my teeth. "Put me on the speaker phone."
Morgan complies and I hear myself talking as if I am in a cave. "This is enough!" I say loudly to the animals that I know are all within hearing range. "I am hereby placing Tristan second in command for the rest of the day." I hear the coyote yip excitedly at my words, and already regret them. But, what is done is done and I continue. "He answers only to Morgan. If one cat threatens another fish, or even attempts to urinate on anything in that household, Tristan has my permission to take that cat outside and play tag with it." I pause, and in my most threatening voice say, "Do you understand me?"
The cats are all silent, and I take that as a yes. "Now, you will go into the family room, and you will all lie down on the floor. Ghost, you will turn on the television, at a reasonable volume, and you will all quietly watch TV until I walk through those doors. Do any of you have any questions or not understand these instructions in any way?
"Then let the games begin." I slam the phone down as my coworker leans over the cubicle wall.
"Cats?" She asks sympathetically.
"Well, if it's any consolation, they tend to mellow with age." She says, then disappears once again.
I lean back in my chair. If only they were kids, I think. Life would be so much easier. . .
*This is an excerpt from the book, "Conquering the Food Chain: Living Amongst Animals (Without Becoming One)". Buy now at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.