Tuesday started out like any other day. We were running a little bit late, and I got my youngest in the car. We hustled out of the driveway and had made it maybe 100 feet past our house when I saw it: our cat, dead, hit by a car in the middle of the road.
Thank God for adrenaline, because I turned into someone I am not usually. I called out quickly, “Oops! Forgot something!” and wheeled the car around, my mind quickly telling me what to do next and then what to do after that. I just listened to the much more crisis-ready voice in my head, wherever she came from.
I hustled the child into the house, ran downstairs, grabbed a blanket, ran out and down the street and scooped up our cat. He was, mercifully, only hit once, and it was clear that it had been swift and instant. I was able to hold it together knowing that.
Immediately I took responsibility for it. The cat had been on a desperate quest since we’d gotten him last summer to get outside. Since the weather had turned warmer in the last few weeks, I’d relaxed my vigilance and let him go out when the boys went to play on the swingset. The cat had been good about coming back in until last week, when he spent one night out. It must have been the best night ever, because he’s been on a quest to get out again ever since.
So when he escaped Monday night, I gave up trying to call him and find him and get him to come inside. I just went to sleep and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.
I gently set the blanket under one of our bushes and let my husband know about it. And right then I decided we weren’t telling our kids that the cat had been hit.
I don’t know why. Maybe because we had to put our beloved dog down less than six months ago. Maybe because I didn’t want them to have a mental picture of such a violent death.
I just said no to that idea.
So I embarked upon the first big fat lie to my kids. Okay, there is Santa. But that’s it. I haven’t had to lie to them.
I’m not lying, not just yet. Neither of them have asked where the cat is. It’s a sin of omission right now — I haven’t told them what I know.
My plan is to tell them he’s missing when they realize he is gone. Our house borders wild foothills. They know about coyotes and foxes and what they sometimes do to cats. They won’t kid themselves about what they will think has happened to the cat. They will come to the conclusion the cat is dead. But I will not have told them.
The toughest part was to be sad and keep it hidden. The second toughest part was to lie. I have no poker face, and I usually have no guile. And luckily enough, I have made it nine years into child rearing with no real reason to lie to my children. So I have no experience doing this.
I think part of it is fear. I don’t want to be the one responsible for my children’s sadness. I am weak, I guess, and I don’t want them to suffer if I can protect them from it.
One of my friends suggested that telling them the truth teaches them a life lesson, and she may be right. Except that I can’t figure out what the lesson would be — that life can be cut short in a very brutal way? That mom made an error in judgement in ever letting the cat out, even once?
I guess we all have our experiences with accidental death, but I don’t know what we’re supposed to learn from them.
I keep looking for what the lesson in this whole episode is, and what I should be doing, or what I should be teaching my kids.
Maybe the lesson is, this is one of many mistakes I will make in the raising of my children. If the lesson is that I am not perfect and that I can make stupid choices, I figured that one out a long time ago, thanks very much.
For now, I will continue to harbor my first big secret from the kids, and hope that my instinct to protect them serves me better next time.
And if someone has a better plan, or figures out a life lesson I could glean from this, could you please let me know?