A popular meme from the web comic Poorly Drawn Lines, by Reza Farazmand, reminds us, “Don’t forget: Drink water. Get sunlight. You’re basically a houseplant with more complicated emotions.”
That message becomes even more relevant in Chicago when shelter-in-place orders began in March. And while extra hydration and doses of sunshine have clearly been essential during this strange, locked-down time, unpacking those “complicated emotions” can be a bit more, well, complicated.
As an animal lover who grew up in a pet-fanatic household, I have always believed that all beings deserve attention, love, and playtime. And like many of the energetic dog breeds that I grew up with (one Golden Lab, two Border Collies, and one Dalmatian), my family also lived in a constant state of FOMO. To manage stress and other emotions, we played sports, socialized, and otherwise “kept busy.” We viewed taking a day to read, sleep in or just let yourself be flat-out bored as unproductive and lazy. Learning that approach growing up has left me less than an expert at managing complicated emotions as an adult.
That is, until year 31, when I became a cat owner and noticed how complicated and unpredictable cat emotions can be — or, at least, how they can be for my feline. Not only has Fritz, my Bengal cat, taught me how to live in the moment and find my inner peace, but he’s also helped me uncover my hidden homebody, which I didn’t know existed. Fritz (AKA @mr.fritzbengalextraordinaire) is my Mr. Miyagi.
Over the course of seven brutal Chicago winters, including two infamous polar vortexes and now four months of quarantine, Fritz has been teaching me how to manage complicated emotions amid multiple stresses. Not only does he embrace all of his emotions, but he also holds up a mirror up to me, revealing my own moods and behaviors.
When I’m anxious, so is Fritz. When I want to snack through my feelings, he is happy to join in. Together, we have gained a greater understanding of each other — and a few centimeters on our waistlines.
I wondered if we were alone in this journey. In purrrrsuit of more feline Miyagis in the neighborhood, along with their students, I connected with neighborhood cat lover Carrie McGath. The Logan Square resident and poet is the proud cat mom of Sophie, a 7-year-old tuxedo who has found that #quaroutine means a lot more naps for both cat mom and cat.
I am completely screwed up on sleeping, and so Sophie is all screwed up too. Usually, at 10 o’clock at night or so, we binge-watch a lot of “Golden Girls.” The result of staying up late is we end up sleeping in until noon.Carrie McGath, pet parent of Sophie
After comparing notes with Carrie, we distilled down the 12 lessons our cats taught us about managing our complicated emotions and keeping all nine lives intact. Hopefully, you and your friends, both furry and otherwise, learn something to get you through these stressful times.
- Recalibrate your #quarantinegoals.
Meme provided by Carrie McGath
2. Stand tall and Zoom on.
3. Honor your emotions and feel everything.
4. Exercise daily … or don’t.
6. Talk to a stranger.
7. Wake up early, nap later.
8. Eat your greens.
9. Get a crush on a neighbor.
10. Spark joy by tidying up your house.
11. Make time for art and creativity.
“We read children’s books together, and I read poetry to Sophie. I also wrote her a kitty diddy, and I sing to her. She also makes art installations with her toys,” said Carrie McGath.
12. Stand up for others.
In all seriousness, if you are a cat or dog owner or foster pet parent and you’ve noticed a difference in your animal’s behavior or health since shelter-in-place began, talk to your vet. Stay tuned for our follow-up story coming soon called “Vet Advice: Managing the Secret Lives of Pets When You’re Stuck at Home.”
Photos: Janna Reddig