|Crookshanks and Evening, holding hands|
Evening cries loudly, a fat tear running down her cheek as she sits in my lap, her belly swollen and hard with gas. A gas bubble has been stuck for almost ten minutes and nothing I do seems to help. Just then Crookshanks the cat jumps up beside us, and Evening gasps with surprise and grins. Crookshanks sniffs her genteelly and she reaches out to touch his face. He wisely chooses to lay down beside us, just out of her reach. She laughs and squeals with delight, pedalling her little feet with joy as Crookshanks begins giving himself a bath. She looks at me to make sure I’m seeing this, and she does the gas bubble dislodges, sending out a very un-baby like sound from the depths of her belly.
(Wow. I just realized that even the cat can burp her better than I can.)
It’s not just in times of distress that the cats can make her laugh, but all the time. She loves our pets. She loves our neighbours’ pets, and she loves our friends’ pets. I suspect her first trip to the zoo is going to blow her mind.
What is it that draws babies to animals?
|(this is what an eland looks like) - photo from my zoo pics|
I’ve been around animals most of my life, and they have always reminded me of children; their innocence and their life-long sense of play. When I was still working at the zoo I spent much of my time playing tag with a lioness, a coatimundi, a crow, and an eland (not all at once, of course). I once watched a young eland toss a broken, leafy branch high into the air, intentionally catching it in his spirally horns so he could frolic about like a dog chasing her tail. It looked like so much fun I almost regretted not having horns of my own (plus, I could be my own coat rack).
Is that what babies see? Is it a mutual sense of play that bridges the species gap, tingling through the air and signalling for play mates?
Our cats react very well to Evening, as her hands reach out to grab a soft fistful of fur, an ear, and poorly controlled fingers hover near their eyes. Claws remain sheathed, their bodies quiet until she releases them, and yet they still come back for more. They somehow know to be gentle, and they seem to love their little sister. Crookshanks grants her far more trust in her motor skills than he should, stretching out and offering his belly dangerously close to her feet as she leaps with excitement in her jolly jumper and I run frantically to move him away with his ribs still intact. I can tell that Diesel will be the one she dresses up in hats and bows one day, as the sounds of his purr fill the room while she gleefully mauls him.
It isn’t just cats, either; it’s dogs, it’s fish, the penguin she noticed on the TV earlier this week, the bird sitting in our feeder. Every one a reason to laugh with delight.
I spent some time researching the connection between babies and animals, curious about what the scientists had to say, but found very little, and nothing at all that rang true or resonated with me. Maybe there is nothing complicated about it, maybe we just need to get down to their level and look at it through their eyes.
I lay down beside her on the floor, and inevitably a cat wandered over to look at me oddly and lick my nose while Evening squealed with delight. I watched her hold her breath while Crookshanks sniffed her foot and laugh hysterically as he licked her toe. I looked over and met Crookshanks’ eyes.
Then a thought occurred to me – how does she see animals? How does she make sense of them? She has no idea of the concept of different species, that’s far too complicated for a girl who spends most of her day trying to learn to sit up on her own. These cats, not so different in size to her own self, with eyes as soulful and expressive as her parents’ – what does she make of them?
|Evening and Zeus (a friend's cat)|
Could they be a carnival of fuzzy people, dressed up to entertain her, each one more hilarious than the last? Perhaps it is even simpler; they are merely fuzzy and funny looking people that crawl instead of walking, just as she will. Playmates and siblings with fur and unusual bathing techniques. Stuffed animals that her imagination has brought to life. Living, breathing teething toys. There really isn’t any limit to what she could be thinking.
With the cats at least, one thing is for sure: they are something that interacts with her every day that isn’t mummy or daddy. Crookshanks used to curl up on my pregnant belly and purr to her in my womb, with her kicking away at him in their own version of belly Morse code. She knows these animals are part of her family. If we do our jobs right, she will be in love with animals her whole life, and in the end that is the greatest gift I can think of giving to a baby.