It's only funny in retrospect.

The morning of our first day of summer vacation, when I could have slept late for the first time in ages, I had foolishly made an appointment with the vet for our three cats to get their rabies shots.  My second blunder nearly made up for the first:  I set my alarm for p.m. instead of a.m. and ended up sleeping late anyway.  I might have remained in dreamland even longer, but the doorbell started ringing and wouldn’t stop.  Thinking there must be some neighborhood emergency, I fell out of bed and hunkered to the door like some female version of Frankenstein. 

Throwing it open, I beheld one small boy—the smallest kid on the block.  He was undoubtedly hoping my son and daughter could come out to play.  Blinking my sticky eyelids at him, I mumbled something incomprehensible.  His mouth dropped open as he recoiled in horror and he beat a quick retreat.  That was when I glanced at the clock and realized that we were already five minutes late for the vet.  I quickly roused the kids and called Affordable Pet Care to beg indulgence. The receptionist said, "Sure, fine," so we threw on our clothes, grabbed the cats, leaped into the car, and barreled away.

I thought I had it all planned.  Each of us was assigned a particular cat.  Three people.  Three cats.  It just seemed so perfect.  The kids sat in the back holding their cats, and the mellowest cat of all rode shotgun in the front seat.  Nice plan.  Of course we had to take all three at once, because I am nothing if not efficient.  I would have thought it wimpy to borrow the neighbor's cat carrier and ferry them over one at a time.  Not me.  I was brave.  I was courageous.  I was completely insane.

The day was already hot.  We were sweaty.  The cats were shedding.  Soon we were wearing as much fur as they were, and there was plenty left over to cling to the brown velour upholstery.  As I approached an intersection, Annie suddenly let out a horrified wail from the back seat.  Her assigned cat Sukey, overcome with rage and terror, had retaliated in the most effective way possible.  No litter box being available, she had deposited half her weapon on Annie's new summer dress from Grandma, and half on the seat beside her.  The smell was horrendous in that small, hot, enclosed space.  I hit the buttons to roll down the windows.  I carefully calculated the amount of opening that would let in the maximum amount of air while letting out the minimum number of cats. 

Just then the light turned red and I slammed on the brakes. The guilty cat, still on Annie's lap, dug in her claws to keep from sliding to the floor.  Annie's wail developed a shriller edge, climbing half an octave in frequency and a few decibels in volume.  I handed the box of tissues into the back seat, making sympathetic mothering sounds.

The fresh air wasn't helping.  She began to gag and retch. Then from the other side of the car I heard little sister Sarah begin to do the same thing. There were stereo vomiting sounds coming from the back seat! The light turned green and I peeled out, driving as fast as I could under the circumstances, hoping to get more fresh air into the car.

Sarah's dry heaves were briefly interrupted when she began to giggle at Annie's sorry state. She was so enraged she stopped retching long enough to threaten her with violence.  That interrupted her giggling, and she resumed gagging.  I've known this girl for a number of years now, and I have never heard her alternate so rapidly between the two forms of expression.  It was eerie.

The two of them continued to make disgusting noises until the worst of the smell blew out.  Luckily, we hadn't had time for breakfast. They produced nothing from those empty little stomachs.  I'm not sure I could have mushed bravely onward had I been inhaling fumes from both cat AND kid accidents!  The car might have been rapidly unmanned.  (Unwomanned?)

It was only a few more blocks to the vet’s.  I was determined to persevere.  Now or never!  I was not going to spend the rest of my vacation trying to get us all back in the car for a second attempt.

Soon Annie recovered her aplomb, using the tissues to effect some attempts at repair.  In a few more minutes we arrived at the vet's. We sat tensely in the waiting room, each clutching a cat, all senses alert for the next disaster. I held Sukey this time, just in case she had some ammunition left.  When my name was called, we paraded into the examination room. The vet gave me the guilt treatment. "Only the rabies shot, Ms. Clark? Not the other shots to protect them from those deadly feline diseases?"

"How much?" I asked, grimly.

"Only $35 more per cat," he warbled.

"We're going to think about it," I muttered through clenched teeth. I would never admit it in polite company, but at that moment I was thinking that a couple of deadly feline diseases might be just what we needed, provided they were fast acting.

("Sarah, put BOTH hands on that cat!")

Sukey behaved like an angel.  Innocence personified.

("Annie! DON’T let go of your cat!")

I shelled out the bucks for the rabies shots and we started out the door.

("Sarah! GRAB...THAT...CAT!")

We drove home.

("DON'T roll that window ALL the way down! The cats will get out!")

Somehow we survived the trip. With great relief we opened the car doors and let the cats leap out to freedom.  I sent Annie directly to the showers, and then fortified myself with breakfast, including an extra bowl of corn flakes (I thought I deserved it) and a couple chapters of the current murder mystery.  When I couldn’t put it off any longer I tackled car clean up.

The Texas sun was really hot as I dragged my sorry ass out to the yard, bearing a handful of rags and a bucket of ammonia water.  I put Annie's dress down on the grass and hosed it off.  I had to bring out the super-sucker Electrolux for the cat hair.  The car-vac had proven useless.  As I slaved away in the blistering driveway, I kept thinking that if virtue is its own reward, then idiocy is certainly its own punishment.  I did my best to repair the damage, but I'm sure that when it comes time for that car to go to its junkyard grave, it will wobble through the rusty gates still trailing a corona of cat hair. 

I hope I come up with a better plan before the cats are due for their rabies shots next year.  Just about anything would be an improvement, short of rabies itself.

There is an old proverb that recommends eating a live toad for breakfast every morning so that no matter what happens, the rest of your day will seem pleasant by comparison.  I have reason to suspect this is an effective strategy.  Later that same day as I watered the flowerbed I remained blissfully unaware that I was standing in a fire ant nest until they all bit down at once.  I hope none of the neighbors were watching.  They would have seen me take off like a rocket, slapping myself everywhere at once.  I ran into the house to find something for the pain.  That's when I discovered that the kids and their friends had coated the kitchen floor with equal parts mud and grated cheese.  Unbelievable as it may seem, I remained frighteningly calm.  There was nothing that could rile me after the morning of the great cat disaster.

It's amazing how much a "live toad" experience can improve a mother's perspective.

Copyright © 2010 Dana Clark.
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