What I Learned From My Cat During Quarantine
Like many of you, I’ve been confined to my home these past few months, not just trying to set up a makeshift home office, find toilet paper, expand my mask collection, and stay healthy, but also spending an unprecedented amount of time with my cat!
This is especially noteworthy because Miss Ida Mae had only been with us eight months when quarantine started, so we were still getting to know each other.
Ida is a five-year old Ragdoll my husband and I adopted from the local county shelter last July. She’d had a rough time of it, her beloved human passing away only to have family members relegate her outside until she ended up at the shelter unwanted. She’d been there two months already when we adopted her, and given her trauma, she was understandably not the most trusting or affectionate at first. We’ve worked through fear, aggression, even marking issues, and now with quarantine we’ve had a real opportunity to bond. I’m pleased to say that while she remains a fiercely independent female, she now also loves playtime, brushings, and falling asleep with us each night.
Part of this pandemic has been finding the silver linings when possible, and this blossoming relationship and quality time with Ida has definitely been one. Truth be told, Ida has taught me some valuable lessons that have helped me get through this quarantine at home.
Consistency and variety are key to a successful day
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to being home 24/7 was finding a routine that felt both productive and meaningful. I really floundered at the beginning, not understanding how to separate work time from free time, how to manage the sudden limited physical space I had for all parts of life, or how to get traction on anything!
Ida stepped in and did some critical mentoring, showing me with her own daily routine that what’s needed is consistency and variety.
- Breakfast first thing (non-negotiable!)
- Sit with Mom while she drinks her coffee
- Play time (preferably with a string)
- Use the litter box and meow until it gets cleaned
- Begin critical nap time
- Rouse from nap time
- Play time
- Afternoon cat TV
- Start the vigil to dinner time
- Dinner no later than 5pm, earlier if it can be finagled
- Brushing and play time
- Lie on the couch with Dad for belly rubs and dozing
- Bedtime with Mom
And while Ida rarely deviated from this general routine, she added unexpected variety. For example, naps might be under a chair, on the guest bed, or on my desk. The vigil until dinner time might take place lying at my feet, sitting in a box, or from her scratching pad.
Ida demonstrated that consistency is important for a sense of comfort and control, in a world that often feels out of our control. And yet, we all (felines and humans, alike) need the spice of variety. With Ida’s wise guidance, I developed a routine myself, using the full space of the house for my activities, making time for both work and fun, and mixing things up once in a while.
The right setup makes all the difference
You’d think working from home would be easy but it actually presented all sorts of new, unexpected challenges: getting the right technology, turning paper processes into electronic ones, figuring out communication, and setting up the right space in which to be productive.
Again, Ida was key to getting me setup for success. First, she gave up her room (which had once been my home office and the guest bedroom, but quickly became “Ida’s room” when she moved in). Second, she gave me some invaluable advice on setting it up:
- Don’t clutter your desk. Sure have some fun and inspiring things, but leave space for the important (fluffy) stuff.
- Make sure you have a screen big enough to work on so you don’t develop eye strain looking at all those important emails, documents and...other things.
- Enlist an assistant to get your home filing system sorted. You don’t want to be working out of a box. Those are for other uses.
Always make time for exercise
You might also think that being home nonstop would present endless opportunity for exercise. And while I started out strong, somehow after the first couple weeks of quarantine my time exercising diminished in direct correlation to my increased time watching Netflix.
It was Ida who got me back on to the mat. You see, each day I’d throw my yoga mat down on the floor in the morning, But instead of using it, I’d get caught up in emails and tasks, worries and frustrations.
Then one day, I turned around and there was Ida, sitting smack in the middle of the mat, giving me a look that said, “This is awesome. You should really try it.” She reminded me that the mat is a place where I can rest mentally while nurturing my body and spirit. That it’s a comfy, wonderful place to be. And so I eventually joined her!
Ida also invited me to participate in her favorite exercises, namely wrestling with strings, corralling felt mice, and chasing her favorite red ball back and forth. In fact, she was so encouraging that she’d let me run back and forth after the ball while she and the mice watched approvingly from the sidelines.
Self-care is critical, especially now
Let’s face it, when it comes to creatures that know their comforts and don’t compromise, cats are at the top of the list. They are huge advo-cats of self-care...making time to groom, napping when it suits them, and encouraging frequent treats.
And I think there’s an inner cat in all of us, who wants creature comforts when we want them. Unfortunately, we humans have inhibited ourselves with lots of “shoulds” and “buts.” For example, I’d love to sit and read all afternoon with a cocktail, but I should get the kitchen cleaned and drink more water, instead.
So when quarantine started I made an impossible list of new “shoulds,” things to make good use of this unprecedented time. You know what I’m talking about: learn to speak a new language, learn to play a new instrument, read all of Shakespeare, etc. I made my list and then beat myself up for not accomplishing it.
Quarantine has been stressful and tough. Yes, I had lots of time at home, but it wasn’t exactly relaxing. Life was uncertain and disrupted. Ida reminded me, leading by example, that especially now it’s important to be kind to yourself, practice some cat-styled self-care, and let go of too many shoulds.
I’m not going to stop aspiring to learn Swedish or the fiddle, but if some days I don’t feel like it and opt instead to nap, watch reruns of Formula 1 races, or read with that cocktail, I won’t beat myself up. And Ida assured me that she’d stand (or lay) by all my self-care decisions!
We all need our alone time
When Ida and I started spending all our time at home together, she was beside me 24/7, whether I was working, relaxing or sleeping. I was so pleased, but another part of me started to worry we might face abandonment issues and separation anxiety when the time came for me to return to work.
Then two months into quarantine, Ida started sleeping in the living room during the day, sometimes under the sofa, sometimes under one of our covered chairs that provided her complete darkness and privacy. At first I was puzzled, feeling slightly abandoned myself! Then I realized: my novelty had worn off. In essence, she was a bit sick of me being home all the time and needed some alone time.
Cats love us, for sure, but they're also proud of their independent nature. Ida has shown me she feels comfortable and safe enough in our home to enjoy it, but when the day comes when I can finally leave the confines of this house (or better yet, leave this city and go for vacation!), Ida will be just fine. In fact, she’s probably looking forward to having the house to herself, with visits from her Meowtel sitter, of course!
Meowdel: Miss Ida Mae, California