Monday, July 31, 2017

Some kids don't want to leave their hometown. And you know what? I think they might be happier.

At a high school graduation one year, I was talking with a teacher about the kids who don't want to move away. While so many of their classmates can't wait to leave, some kids are happy to stay right where they are. “They’re minimalists,” he said.

That was cool. And it got me thinking that maybe the kids who stay will be happier than the kids like me who left their hometown as soon as they could. Why? Many reasons:

They must be easygoing
Someone who wants to stay in their hometown likely gets along with their parents, and most everyone else. I figure they aren’t easily annoyed by people. And even if they are, they don’t hold grudges.
“Living in a small town taught me a lot about forgiveness,” a friend told me. “If someone pisses you off, but you know you’re going to keep running into them at the grocery store or your kids’ soccer games, it’s a lot easier to just let stuff go.”
It took a lot of time and effort for me to learn to let things go. I have to imagine that people who could always do that have had a lot more fun and gotten a lot more sleep in their lives.

• They likely have a built-in support system
One of the hardest things about moving to a new city is not having anyone else to call for help, even for the really small things. You wake up without creamer for your coffee or get halfway through a batch of cookies before you realize you don’t have enough flour. If you’re where you grew up, those things are likely just a couple of doors down.
And so is someone to help you bring home new furniture and take the old furniture away, take care of your animals when you go out of town and drive you home from a medical appointment.
And when you have a baby, you likely have a babysitter you already trust. You also don’t need to spend all your vacation time dragging a grumpy toddler along with its car seat and stroller onto a plane to see their grandparents. Or your child’s grandparents don’t have to spend their retirement fund flying to see you.
Starting over in a new city can be exhilarating. But when you get a cold and you pull the soup pot from the top cupboard and the thick ceramic plate you forgot was on top of it lands on your head, you realize that having someone nearby who could bring you soup is pretty great, too.

They have a built-in sense of belonging
All humans want to feel understood and appreciated. Not feeling like they belong is a reason why many people leave their hometowns, especially those not wanting to suffer emotional or physical abuse for just being themselves.
So imagine how nice it would be to have that feeling from day one. To spend all stages of your life in a place with the same people, who know all the cool things and accept all the dumb things you’ve done. And later it’s really nice to have people around who remember what you were like before all the wrinkles and gray hair.
Every day would feel like how one young woman described returning home to work on a television set with her family, her childhood friends and her teachers.
“Growing up I was always focused on going elsewhere to work, but getting to come home and work in my hometown with the community that raised me was something really special. My second-grade teacher was there with us all week, girls I grew up doing ballet with were there, and my mom and brother were there.”
For kids who stayed in their hometown, days like that aren’t special events. They happen all the time.

If my family lived in my hometown after graduation, I might have stayed.
• They have simple needs
Wherever you go, there you are. And unless you’re experiencing torture or deprivation, if you can’t make yourself reasonably happy wherever you are right now, there’s a good chance you will never be happy.
And that’s not to say we don’t need people with the desire to explore and achieve, to invent and discover. We certainly do. But when it comes to being happy, I think the people who have always been content with who and where they are have the best odds.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How I learned to love Lucy, the cat with the baboon butt

A few weeks after we adopted her, our cat Lucy got locked outside and began screaming at the top of her lungs.

That was cool.

Cool because her panic melted my heart, and for the first time I thought I could love this creature I hadn’t wanted in our home since the day she arrived.

Lucy quickly learned to love the outdoors.
She used to belong to my husband’s friend, but he moved to a new place where he said he couldn’t bring her. To prevent her from going to a shelter, my husband agreed to take the cat.
I didn’t want another cat, and all I saw when he brought Lucy home was how inferior she was to our kitty Stella, whom I could not have been more in love with.
Stella was a sleek silver tabby who spent most of her time exploring outside. Lucy was a chunky indoor cat with dull black fur flecked with dandruff and a skinny tail that looked like a rat’s.
And it just got worse when she started losing that fur in big patches mostly around her rump until she looked like a bare-assed baboon.

It also didn’t help that she was clumsy and always getting her claws stuck on things. One time I emerged from the shower to frantic wailing from the bedroom and found her hanging upside down with all four paws wrapped up in the blinds. I tried to untie her but she bit and scratched me, so I finally had to cut up the blinds to free her.

Then we started finding piles of vomit everywhere. She’d yell to be fed, then promptly yak up everything she ate on anything that happened to be nearby. Before we found one pile she was yelling to be fed again so she could make the next one.

But the final straw was the anal squirts.
Few things are more pleasant than a warm, soft cat purring away, so I decided I could forget Lucy’s faults by inviting her onto my lap. It worked at first, with her gratefully purring and soon enthusiastically kneading away at my stomach.
But then I felt some drips on my bare leg and found a brown substance smelling like rotten fish which I realized dripped out of her behind – yes, poor Lucy has a tendency to expel from her anal glands when she gets excited.
I felt then there was no hope for us. A lifelong cat person, I had easily found things to love about every one I knew. Until Lucy.

And then she got locked outside. 
A strictly indoor cat before, Lucy seemed afraid of the outdoors so I never thought she would follow me when I took out the garbage one day and get herself trapped outside when I closed the garage door.
But soon I heard this strange yowling and looked out the window to see her in the driveway, totally consumed with panic and wailing like a car alarm that was getting louder and louder.

It reminded me of my grandmother’s stories about how terrified I was of getting lost as a kid, especially the time we were in a store and she merely stepped around the counter. Since I was too short to see over the counter, I thought I had been abandoned and began screaming in panic, humiliating her.
So I knew how Lucy felt, suddenly cut off from everything she knew and with no idea how to get back inside to the voices and smells that had barely become familiar. All my other feelings disappeared and I felt nothing but empathy and compassion for her.
Because everybody deserves a place where they feel safe. Even a cat with a baboon butt who squirts from her anal glands when she’s not throwing up.

So I brought her inside with a hug and talked to her sweetly for the first time. I started calling her Lucy Liu, her hair grew back when we got rid of the fleas and I eventually found a thing or two to love about her.
I especially love that not once in the six years since she got stuck in the blinds has she bitten or scratched me even a little bit, no matter how many times a day I pick her up without warning, squeeze her until she squeaks, then drape her over my shoulder for a quick dance around the house.
I guess she’s decided that’s a fair price to pay for feeling safe, and even loved.