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Acclimating Our Cats: A Captain’s Log

A hair-raising account of how that’s going...

by Nikki Palumbo
December 2, 2021
2 cats sitting in a window sill
Photo: Laura Stolfi

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My partner and I have recently taken the biggest step in our relationship to date: making our cats meet and immediately become roommates in some kind of reverse Parent Trap. There have been unique challenges in that my son, Fonzie, age four, is incredibly comfortable with other cats and in fact thinks everyone exists to play with him. Whereas my partner’s daughter, Emma Stone (full legal name), age five, has maybe not only never seen another cat, but might also not know that’s what she is. So here’s the daily account of how that’s going.

Day 1, Saturday

Homecoming for Fonzie! Emma knows something has changed and she immediately dislikes it (and him). With a swipe and a hiss under the door, Fonzie can’t decide where he’d rather hide in the office — his basecamp for now — and is doing his patented tiny screams in between cuddles.

Day 2, Sunday

Emma headbutted me in my sleep and I’m pretty sure I woke up with a concussion. Fonzie did tiny screams all day to keep me awake. Somehow, they’re a very divided team.

Day 3, Monday

Emma is on a food strike. Well, not really, but she’s waiting an extra few minutes to survey the perimeter before she dives into her bowl. Fonzie doesn’t understand why we’re keeping him locked away from what he believes to be his new best friend.

Day 4, Tuesday

Emma and Fonzie are playing footsie under the door — the bad kind. We’ve been following all the best practices: get them on the same food schedule, feed them on opposite sides of a closed door so that they associate each others’ smells positively, etc. but we never read or watched anything about what to do when your cats have diametrically opposed interests in each other. Make them play Monopoly?

Day 5, Wednesday

They have accidentally met each other. What’s the opposite of meet-cute? Meet-nightmare? Fonzie juked around me as I tried to close the office door and darted directly to his new favorite place: under the couch. Emma’s eyes have never been bigger and she’s making guttural sounds that make me think I should move out.

Day 6, Thursday

According to “experts,” we’re supposed to intentionally swap the cats so they become accustomed to each other’s scents. So we have. Emma is currently in the office plotting her prison break and is counting the minutes by carving tallies into the back of the door. Fonzie has already forgotten the office exists and is drooling in his sleep on the bed.

Day 7, Friday

They have been swapped back. Now that Fonzie has tasted freedom, i.e. the other two rooms in the apartment, he’s making the same Bad Sounds™️ as Emma. Emma couldn’t be less fazed.

Day 8, Saturday

An experiment: can they be in the same room as each other? While Emma is distracted with a toy in the living room, we release Fonzie. The result? BAD! Now Emma’s favorite place is under the couch. I’m ready to give it a try. We send them to their separate corners for the rest of the day and try another introduction at night. They’re out for longer, but not for better, does that make sense? Fonzie doesn’t know how to stay away from Emma, even when she’s hissing, growling, and writing notes in very legible English to “GO AWAY!!!!”

Day 9, Sunday

I’m nostalgic for the concussion because at this point, I’m tired in my bones. Fonzie screamed from the inside of the office door, while Emma growled from the outside. We will never know silence, peace, or more than two hours of sleep again.

Day 10, Monday

Okay! It’s probably delirious optimism but after letting Fonzie roam for a while, he found his new favorite spot: Emma’s now-old favorite spot sitting on the window sill in the bedroom. Emma seems happy to trade her birdwatching for distance and has now taken up residence on the window sill in the office — door open! — and we haven’t heard a whimper in a while. It’s calmer… almost too...

Day 11, Tuesday

It was too calm! Fonzie did a pounce. Emma did a big scream. No one was hurt, except all of our feelings.

Day 12, Wednesday

We’re keeping them a little more separate with (obviously) supervised common area time. Through this process, my partner and I have crystal-balled our different parenting styles: I’m a “leave them until there’s something to worry about” and she’s a “if I can anticipate every move, I can prevent anything bad from happening.”

Day 13, Thursday

Fonzie has developed this new superpower where he walks in slow motion to get to Emma — like a malfunctioning cat robot, inching his way closer and closer. She growls and hisses in real time. But she doesn’t ever leave.

Day 14, Friday

Our first full day and night with the kids out and free! There were a couple scuffles (scuffle, noun: a moment in which Emma unilaterally decides that Fonzie has breached the perimeter of her personal space) but no fur flew and at one point while I was on a phone call so I MISSED IT, the cats decided to fall asleep on the bed on opposite sides of my partner. How nice for her them!

Day 21, Friday

We are living in a free-range utopia where Fonzie and Emma can’t seem to keep their distance in a he-has-FOMO-and-she’s-too-stubborn-to-move kind of way. It’s not love and not even like, but the screams from both parties are at an all-time low. This, I have unilaterally decided, is a success!

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Day 1234, Flursday?

Emma and Fonzie are embroiled in a brutal divorce and my partner and I are trying to decide who gets custody of us. Maybe a dog.

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nikki palumbo

Nikki Palumbo

Nikki is a writer and comedian. Her writing has appeared on The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Funny or Die, Reductress, the Google Assistant, and her folks’ fridge. She was named one of WhoHaha’s “35 LGBTQ Creators We Love” in 2018 and a Yes, And Laughter Lab finalist in 2019. She worked as a story producer on the YouTube Originals weekly music show, RELEASED, and wrote for the inaugural 2021 MTV Movie & TV Awards: Unscripted, hosted by Nikki Glaser. Nikki hosts the monthly-ish standup show Queer Tiger Beat, which has been recommended by The New York Times and featured in Time Out.