April 06

Cats and Dogs

by 

Ah, middle school.
The smell of axe wafting through the air.
The endless group texts.
The hormonal mood swings.
It really is a magical time, isn’t it?

When my oldest son was a middle schooler, my wife and I were blindsided by the changes. We were constantly second-guessing ourselves, and wondering what we were doing wrong. Our parenting, for the most part, had worked well up to that point. Now we found ourselves immersed in some kind of mystery with cryptic clues.

Then we went to open house at the middle school. Those types of gatherings usually have me scanning FB updates on my phone for the duration, but the person at the podium had me hooked with a promise. She had solved the mystery of the middle schooler.

I went all Joe Hardy and leaned in. (I wanted to be Shaun Cassidy back in the day.) She read this poemWhen Children Turn Into Cats by Adair Lara.  The poem says that elementary kids are little dogs, middle schoolers are like cats.

Dogs are happy to see you when you walk in the door.
Cats may or may not acknowledge you as you come in, it depends on their mood.

A cat comes around when he wants something—food, attention.
A dog will sit there and just “be” with you.

A dog will let you pet him.
Many times, a cat will shrug away.

Light bulb moment. My son had become a cat. It all made sense.

I got it. I remember being that moody teen, annoyed at the sight of my parents for no apparent reason. I enjoyed being in my room for hours alone.

And now I was on the other side having to deal with that kid. (And as a side result, the appreciation for my own parents grew even more.)

So my wife and I developed a system to help us wade our way through these murky waters.
We would label moments as “cat days”or “dog days.” Notice I said moments, because with a middle schooler, it can all change very quickly.

And it gave us perspective.
It didn’t feel so personal.

It gave us the objectivity to realize our son was changing, and to adjust to the change.

Fortunately, it was a phase. Now that our oldest is 17, we have very few cat days.

But we still have cats in the house.
This time they are twin 13-year-olds.
But hopefully mom and dad are a little wiser this time around.

TIM WALKERTim Walker works at Orange and is a husband, father of three boys, editor, writer– well, you get the idea. More of Tim’s words can be found at www.timswords.com.