I don’t really like cats.
This is probably due to a combination of being scratched by one of my grandmother’s kittens as a kid, and never owning one because of my dad’s allergy.
However, the more time that passes, the more I’m sure I may not be a cat person, but I have become a cat myself.
To understand this analogy, picture an affectionate cat. One that rubs up against your legs, sits on your keyboard at the most inopportune times and loves to be held.
Before you get the wrong idea, I don’t cuddle up against people’s legs, but I did cuddle up next to my church small group leader during our “Tarzan” movie night. I don’t sit on keyboards, but I did sit on my roommate’s lap while she finished her calculus homework. The last one I will concede to: I do love to be held.
Somewhere along the way, this need for physical contact became synonymous with a cat. I blame it on my sister, who saw a picture on Facebook of me lying across a group of choir friends at a Christmas party. There was no room on the couch, so I made room. I thought I was being logical. She thought I was a cat.
She mailed me a keychain that read “Crazy Cat Lady” and a handwritten note attached to it that read, “Not because you like cats or have cats. Because you are cat-like.” The metaphor stuck — and so did the keychain. (It still dangles from my key ring and strangers give me confused looks).
Soon enough, the rest of my family and most of my friends started calling me a cat, too. Every Christmas and birthday, it was one cat thing after the other. Cat socks, cat shirts, cat bike light.
I credit the cat-ness to my nature: a people-person disposition, and my nurture: a childhood resembling “Full House” where a hug is the answer to everything. Bad day? Hug. Good day? Hug. Need a hug? Longer hug.
When my sister visited from Nashville at Christmas, my family went into hyper-quality-time-mode. We united around bacon and coffee to have breakfast together from about 9 a.m. to noon. And each morning, without fail, it was the same routine: My brother came into my room, scooped me up, carried me down the stairs like a baby and plopped me down at our round table. Then I made my rounds and gave each family member a hug. When I was done eating, I curled up and laid my head down on the lap of whoever was lucky enough to sit next to me that morning.
Growing up in a household that valued hugs more than heart-to-hearts, I didn’t know other families operated differently. I thought every brother sat on their younger sister while she tried to watch a movie (even though he was 100 lbs. heavier) and every dad let their daughter stand on his feet to waltz around the kitchen.
My sister and mom, who are more in the middle of the physical touch spectrum, had to create a system to signal when they needed me to finally stop hugging them. We call it “the pat,” and it has become infamous in our household. (Although the pat’s effectiveness is questionable, since my brother and I largely ignore it.) My family knew that with me, a personal bubble was more of a fantasy than a reality.
So I encountered a bit of culture shock when I met my first non-huggy friend. It was beyond my understanding that someone didn’t enjoy hugs longer than three seconds or didn’t sit right next to people. We met in the middle: I learned to reserve myself and she learned the art of a bear hug. My community leader, who is several inches taller than me, is not a huggy person, but she knows to open her arms for a hug so I can fall right into the “nook” – the little space where my head fits under hers.
Most of my friends now know if nothing else is in their lap, I will be. If an ENO is made for two people, we can squeeze in six. If my roommate is sitting on our thick rug watching “The Office,” I’ll rest my head on her leg as she plays with my hair. No questions asked.
While it started out as a joke among my loved ones, I’ve embraced this part of myself as a way of breaking boundaries and showing Christ’s love to others. And most of the time, I’ve found people appreciate it.
However, I do want to apologize to all the real cat ladies out there. I may be cat-like but the irony is, I’m actually more of a dog person.