Keith Snyder
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Cat cascade

Grover is black, but he's got Asian forebears. Forecats. Whichever--he's always had a meow like a rusty screen door and an overstock of opinions.

Loyal as a dog, dapperer than Fred Astaire, always appreciative of whatever little cubby space we line with Bouchercon tote bags when we move to a new apartment, he has consistently won our award for Most Excellent Cat. He's always been a talker, always tips over whatever drinking glass La Diva leaves out, and is the source of what I believe is probably the World's Best True Cat Story.

But now he's 16 years old, and like his purebred kin, he's taken up night calling.

Also day calling.

Also long-distance and local calling.

He has a BUSY RETRY feature.

We have two 3-month-old babies and we're dangerously sleep deprived. The cat must--must, must, must--SHUT UP!

A good dousing with the spray bottle works sometimes, but when you're bassinette-jiggling a baby who's just given you the slow blink, the yawn, and the requisite three rounds of sleep fakeouts, and you know he's only 30 seconds from shutdown--and the cat starts up six feet away, the baby's eyelids flicker, and the spray bottle is ten feet in the other direction? Then what?

Oh, and then the other baby emits his first waking squawk in the other room.

In my experience, a pantomimed kick is then what. As though to fling my cat-silencing ankle energy through the ether. Kick! That was a kick! Be silenced! Slink away! SHUT UP!

Life with twins is a series of cascade failures. The spray bottle is too far from the bassinette, so the cat wakes up Baby #1. Baby #2 is now crying in the crib in the other room (where he's stored so Baby #1 won't wake him up). Grab the spray bottle, drench the cat (feel guilt later--no time now). Baby #1 notices the lack of jiggling and is now looking around wide-eyed, registering the disturbing information that he can't move his arms in your quite perfect five-blanket swaddle system, and beginning to stoke for his own core breach. Baby #2 cranks it up a notch--panic!

Had the spray bottle been on the side table instead of the bookcase, you'd have a sleeping baby in the bassinette, another baby on the bottle, and an indignant cat trying to tongue-dry with dignity in his cubby.

You have two seconds. What do you do? Stop the filmstrip here.

There's almost certainly a clever, efficient solution. First the fox rows the boat across, then the chicken comes back and rows across with the cat. The problem is, to solve such a puzzle in the seconds before catastrophic meltdown requires the capacity for orderly thought--and we're so sleep-deprived that not only is my short-term memory shot, but the year preceding my boys' births is gone, too. They've eaten into the data banks, Spock. (Where did the Enterprise do its off-site backup? I'd like to look into that service. I seem to recall some nice things happened mid-2004, and I'd like to know what they were.)

Absent the quick, clever solution, we're left to soothe a baby all over again, prepare a bottle, change a diaper, and squirt the cat; and since these things can't all happen simultaneously, somebody gets to lie there and scream for a while.

Never a parent. That would be too fair.

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