To My Beloved Son: Some Tips for Living Your Best Life

They come around about once per year. Whether it be in response to a milestone (graduating from high school, turning two years old, a photograph of them receiving 100,000 likes on Instagram) or simply a result of a parent getting weepy-eyed and reflecting on life, around once per year some parent will write up a list of life advice for their child. Cherish the present. Learn from your mistakes. It’s okay to feel emotions. Wear sunscreen. Rather than penning this advice in a beautiful handwritten letter, sealing it in an envelope, and presenting it to their child on said child’s eighteenth birthday, they will publish this advice on the Internet. It will go viral. I probably won’t read it, but I’ll know it’s there.

I don’t have much patience for this. Like many people who don’t have and don’t want to have children, I think that I would make the very best parent. I would never splash my children all over the Internet to earn validation from strangers! I would never pat myself on the back for doing something as basic as offering my child life advice, which, let’s be frank, seems like the bare minimum you’re supposed to do as a parent. Fortunately for me, I do not have any human children, and am therefore not confronted with these moral concerns.

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My son, Alfred, is a black and white cat. He lives with his mother (me), his aunt (my roommate), and his cousin Ivy (my roommate’s feline daughter). He does not have a job or go to school, but that is okay, because he is only about twenty-two months old, which means he is naught more than a wee babe.¹ He has a soul patch. He is a Libra. In currently being his mom and having been a mother to numerous other pets in the past, I have noticed something. While people love to publish life advice to their human children online, what people rarely do (or at least, what trends on the Yahoo homepage less often) is write life advice for their pets.

This seems like a failure on our part. People write thinkpieces on what their pets have taught them, mostly consisting of tips such as, “Take more naps!”² This is good. We all learn things from our pets. Alfie, for example, has taught me a myriad of positions to sleep in.

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That said, shouldn’t we be teaching our pets something in return? Sure, we provide them free food, free lodging, and a lifetime of unconditional love, but don’t we owe them more? Every time I watch Alfie try to eat something through the window screen, I wonder if I am failing him as a parent. Surely, the best way to help him would be to write out some life advice and post it on the Internet.

Of course, like all parents, the advice I want to offer my (feline) child is endless. For example, I would love to tell Alfie to stop walking across my laptop, because my laptop cost just over $1,000 and he was living under a house or something and cost exactly zero dollars and zero cents. But I have limited it to just five points of advice, as I know readers probably won’t read the whole thing were I to go on any longer. Nor, I should note, would Alfie, as he is completely illiterate.

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The longer you let a small problem lie, the bigger it will become.

Sometimes, you may think you have a fairly minor problem. Your shower is backing up, just a bit. You decide you don’t want to deal with it right now. You don’t have time, you’re tired, you’re too anxious to even think about doing anything about it. You can live with it for now, and you’ll get to it eventually.

And then a month or two has passed, and you’re showering in ankle-deep water every day. Also, when you turn the shower off, your cat drinks the nasty bathwater.

You could blame this on your cat. “Don’t drink that water, Alfie,” you could say. “That’s nasty.” But really, would your cat even be drinking that dirty bathwater if you just told your landlord that the drain was clogged up?

Anyway, I’ll get around to taking care of the shower drain eventually, but until then, remember: don’t let problems build up.

2. You don’t have to yell to be heard.

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Saying something loudly doesn’t make it worth saying.

You’re a talker, Alfie, and I respect that about you. You have a lot to say and no fear or shame in saying it. However, you do tend to say it very loudly. This, I promise you, is not necessary.

As you go through life, you’ll meet a lot of very loud people. You will eventually realize that, very often, the loudest people are saying the least. This is because, when people have something of substance to say, they don’t need to yell to be heard.

Don’t misunderstand me — sometimes yelling is good. Sometimes, it is absolutely necessary to yell, and you should yell as loudly and for as long as you possibly can. You just don’t need to do so in the bathroom at 7 A.M. when I am getting ready for work.

3. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

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Do not covet thy cousin’s food, for it is the same as your food.

This is an old cliché, but there is a reason that old clichés stand the test of time. Alfred, I know you think that Ivy’s food is better than yours, but it isn’t. I am very happy to inform you, in fact, that it is the exact same food that you eat, out of the exact same bag. I could be wrong, of course. It could be that you are perfectly aware that Ivy’s food is exactly the same as yours, and you’re eating her food not because you think it’s better than yours, but because you know it will annoy her (we will discuss that scenario in a minute). But just on the off chance that you do think that Ivy’s food is better than yours: it is not. It has the same amount of hairball prevention as the food in your own bowl, I promise.

4. Respect women.

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Give Ivy her space.

To me, very few ideas are more frightening than raising a human son in the United States. If you mess up, even just a little, he could become anything from a garden variety misogynist who posts rants on Reddit to a mass shooter to a rapist to a serial killer. Fortunately, Alfie, you are not a human boy. You are a feline, and you are neutered. You do not have opposable thumbs. That said, you still need to learn to respect women.

The main female feline in your life is, of course, your cousin Ivy. As discussed above, you could be eating her food because you genuinely think it is somehow better than your food. However, given your penchant for just casually hanging out in your aunt’s bedroom (which is very clearly Ivy’s space), I’m inclined to think you’re doing it to annoy Ivy and/or to assert your dominance. This is ridiculous for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that you are not the dominant one. I’m not saying this because I’m a feminist and I want Ivy to be dominant, I am saying it because she could kick your ass into next week. But even if she couldn’t kick your ass into next week, you would still need to respect her and her space.

I know you want to be friends, but Ivy is not there yet. You need to respect that. I should also inform you that eating someone else’s food is a very quick way to not become their friend. I could be married to a man for fifty years, and if he one day decided to eat all of my fries without asking, I would divorce him without a second thought. You and Ivy may be friends one day, but until then? Stop eating her food.

5. More isn’t always better. Sometimes it’s just more.

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This line is stolen from the 1995 film Sabrina³, which makes it a great truth of life. I know you want more food in your bowl, Alfie, but the fact of the matter is, you already have plenty of food in your bowl. This is because you have been eating Ivy’s food. If you want more food, you need to eat your own food. There is no point in me dumping quarter cup upon quarter cup of cat food into your bowl if you’re only going to take a few bites.

The earth is dying, Alfie. The earth is dying, and we are woefully unprepared to relocate to the moon, Mars, or Europa.⁴ We need to learn to use less, which means we need to take advantage of and appreciate what we have before we go looking for more. As you grow up, you will find that moderation is key in everything. You may think that having too much of something can be a good thing, but it almost never is. Make sure to use what you have before you go about getting any more.

That’s it for now, my dear boy; though, as I noted above, there is still so much more I could tell you. Stop walking across my laptop. Watch where you’re going when you make zoomies across the apartment. Stop scratching the furniture. Drink more water. Wear sunscreen. Is there sunscreen for cats? I don’t know. Like most parents, I’m learning as I go along.

¹ I don’t know how old he is. The most I could get out of the oddly secretive vet was, “He’s a young adult.” A family member who has owned many cats throughout her life said, when I got him, that she doubted he was much more than a year old. Emotionally, he is about 50% absolute baby and 50% snotty teenager, but that is also just what cats are like.

² This is because all pet owners, at heart, are deeply jealous of how their pets get to sleep all day while not paying any bills.

³ A remake of the 1954 film starring Audrey Hepburn, which was itself an adaptation of the 1953 play Sabrina Fair, written by Samuel Taylor. The 1995 remake is one of my favorite films of all time, and definitely a formative part of my adolescent years.

⁴ Europa is too cold to live on, they say. The radiation level is too high. The gravity is too low. We’ll see about that.

Cat mom, librarian, and writer in Chicago.

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