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When I Learned to Love Cats, I Learned to Love Myself

My second-grade teacher would divide the class into teams and evaluate things like, which group of kids remembered to raise their hands instead of blurting their thoughts? Which group was kindest to their classmates? How many of each team made it a point to clean up after activities? The winners were offered a choice between “grab-bag” and a “homework pass.”

Since I was a nerd who liked homework (and missed it when I was pulled out of class in the fourth grade to embark on a terrible homeschooling experience), I usually picked the grab-bag. This paper grocery sack was full of miscellany that would delight any 7-year-old girl: a Snow White lapel pin, an orange beaded necklace glistening in its plasticine majesty, a photograph of a kitten.

When my team won and I found that photograph, I hesitated. Guilt washed through my little body. I was not supposed to look at a cat and find it adorable.

Nevertheless, the pull of the kitten’s big blue eyes was too much, and I brought the picture home to stash under my pillow so my mom wouldn’t see it.

Growing up, I had no option but to acquiesce to my mother’s scrupulous choreography of what I could like and what I was allowed to find distasteful. This set of rules was mercurial and contradictory. For example, I was not permitted to wear dresses outside of special occasions, but I was also forbidden from alluding to my burgeoning attraction to female peers. I was praised for being book-smart and simultaneously scorned for being “pretentious.” I was occasionally lauded as a “genius” and, within the following hour, lambasted for the absence of “common sense” that would surely keep me from being able to operate in society at large.

Also, I was not supposed to like kittens. My mom hated

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