Since around last Christmas, we’ve been planning on getting kittens. We delayed in part because we need another needy little being in our home like Jaws needs another swimming lesson. But since the girls are getting slightly less likely to torture, and even more slightly likely to actually care for such a critter, we finally took the plunge this summer.
So Pepper "Loveball" Bennie, sneezy orphan Siamese kitten, moved from the San Bernardino City Animal Shelter to the San Bernardino Mountains, a move up in the world both in the mile of elevation she gained and in the tonnage of love she now bears. She joins my wife and me as one of the few who know the joy and the torment of living with our three daughters.
It’s hard to know whether it is ignorance or ignoring of the signs of feline displeasure that leads kids to love a cat in ways that push the limits of the animal’s endurance. Melía holds her for durations that would try even a dog’s patience. Eager to enrich the kitty’s life with adventure on the day she arrived, Ashlyn tried throwing her for distance. Brielle still pleads not-guilty for holding her captive in the treasure chest all day yesterday while we were at the fair.
We always hurt the ones we love, don’t they say?
Maybe a week after we got Pepper, Melía asked me this:
“Daddy, do you love the kitten?”
Let me defend myself before I tell you how I answered. I’m really clear that “love” is this holiest of words that has been profaned by overuse. Call me a snob or an idealist or whatever you must. But for me, true love is a sacred act of will that I define something like M. Scott Peck does in The Road Less Traveled: “the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Love is God.
And if I teach my kids anything about anything, I want it to be This.
So I'm all cautious about my answer, which, I was certain, had the heinous power to distort her idea of love for eternity.
"Not as much as I love you, my Melía," I hedged, circumspect as all get-out.
"What?" she asked, appalled at how the soul of any sentient being could be anything but filled with love for her kitten. "Why don't you love our kitten, Daddy?"
"Well, it's just...." I was tempted to bust out my arsenal of words that mean love but don't mean Love, words like cathexis and affinity and like a whole bunch. But I was smart enough not to. "I do love the kitty. But it's a different kind of love than how I love you. A much smaller, much less important kind of love than I love you with, Melía, because I love you so MUCH."
Was that a sign of relief I saw on her face? "You do love our kitten, Daddy. But a diffwent kind of love."
Relieved? Yes, I think she was.
But still a little worried about my soul.