I have been cleaning up poop for over sixteen years. First my son’s, then my daughter’s, and now the cats. The cat shit issue was much less problematic when we lived in the kooky old Craftsman. We had a mudroom, which housed an enormous self-cleaning litter box that could contain cat excrement for two weeks without smelling.
But now we live in an apartment. For those of you who have ever had the misfortune to live in an apartment with cats, you know that there really is no good place for the litter box. If you are not a relentless cat-poop remover, your place stinks. All the time.
Our powder room, which is situated directly across from the front door, is tiny. Too tiny for the self-cleaning litter box. So now we have a small one, the kind without a cover. Franny is pretty good with remembering to clean out the cat box, but on the days when she’s at her dad’s, and I slog home from work and open the door to be greeted with the olfactory presents of a day’s worth of deposits from two cats, some of which have landed on the floor and not inside the box…frankly, I want to vomit.
Because the last thing I want to do is deal with shit, after a day of dealing with the metaphorical kind.
* * *
I have every other Friday off from work. This is a good thing, because my job is so grueling that by that Thursday afternoon before the Friday off I have very few neurons firing.
Suicide attempts, sliced-up arms, violent kids being restrained on the floor — these are things I handle well. It’s the bureaucratic shit — the endless job-justifying paperwork, the chasing-down of social workers, the wrangling of personality-disordered parents who want to know when are you going to fix my kid – that makes me, on occasion, put my head on my desk and wonder if it would really be so bad if I just took off for the Amalfi Coast without telling anyone.
Anyway, last Thursday was heinous. Daisy appeared at my door at 4 p.m., shaking, tears streaming down her face.
“Why can’t I visit my brother?”
“Who said you can’t visit your brother?”
“My new social worker.”
I sat Daisy down in the chair by my desk while I punched in the numbers on my phone for the old social worker’s supervisor. The old worker didn’t know who her replacement was, which was a bad sign. It meant that no one was familiar with Daisy’s case and decisions were being made with little information.
I watched Daisy’s chest heave, tears popping out of her eyes. I could feel my blood pressure spike as I was transferred from clueless social worker to clueless social worker until finally I got this snippet of information:
Child Protective Services was investigating the brother. The brother who was the last link in the chain that kept Daisy somewhat tethered to reality. No one seemed to know why the brother was being investigated, exactly, or how long the investigation would take, and no one had thought to alert me so I could ease Daisy into this new development.
The news had been delivered with all the finesse of a giant cat turd onto a fragile girl who had been known to hide under her bed and stuff glass in her mouth when you told her to take a shower.
I hung up the phone and turned to Daisy.
“I wanna go home to my real family!” said Daisy, who has nothing resembling a real family.
“I know,” I said. “I wish you could.”
“But why can’t I visit my brother?”
Before I could mutter another useless I don’t know, the phone rang. I picked it up, hoping it was someone with helpful information about Daisy’s situation.
It was not. It was Mr. Chester, the ragingly narcissistic father of James, an adopted kid he had deposited at the residential facility, informing me that he would not be visiting his son, or even accepting calls from his son, until James decides to change!
The conventional wisdom for treating narcissists is that you coddle them. You do this so you don’t lose them; their egos are so fragile that they can’t tolerate any hint that they are less than perfect.
So I had taken this tack with Mr. Chester at first. I had Zenned myself through half-hour phone calls in which Mr. Chester demanded details of every moment of the treatment of the son he refused to visit. I patiently explained that kids are most likely to be successful if parents participate in therapy.
But Mr. Chester was too special for therapy, so he had steadfastly refused, while steadfastly needing a lot of hand-holding.
“I need to talk to you about James’ field trip!” Mr. Chester snapped. “I’ve been waiting for a call back all afternoon!”
I had to make a judgment call quickly. I could either continue eating Chester’s shit, or I could go Alpha on him to see if that would change the dynamic.
I chose the latter tactic.
“I have a kid with a crisis in my office,” I snarled. “I will call you back when I have the time.”
I hung up on him, then escorted Daisy into the living room where Staff could watch her. I sat next to her on the couch and put my arm around her.
“I want you to stay in the living room for awhile, Daisy. Don’t go back to your room, okay?”
Daisy sniffed and nodded.
I returned to my office, took a deep, pained breath, and called Mr. Chester back.
To my great delight, he apologized and asked politely for information about the field trip.
* * *
When I stepped into my apartment that night, I almost gagged on the stench of cat poop. I almost gagged again at the sight of several mounds of cat shit nestled in blue crystals.
Both kids were on the couch multi-electronics-tasking.
“Mom! What’s for dinner?” Franny asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, walking right by her. “But clean out the cat box.”
I climbed the stairs to my bedroom, shut the door, and collapsed on the bed. I heard sounds of sibling distress, tousling, and yelling.
“Mom!! Luca’s twerking on me!!” Franny yelled.
“Clean out the litter box!” I yelled back.
I settled my head on my pillow. Only seven more years, I thought to myself, until Franny leaves for college, and I can get rid of the cats.
Today, I’m thankful for the occasions when I don’t have to clean up cat shit.