Pecking Order

Back in the days when we didn’t have children, we talked about our cats. Friends would come for dinner and tell us cute stories about their kids, which we would counter with: “Oh yes, Fat Cat does the exact same thing!” I’d like to say we were making some ironic comment on parents not being able to talk about anything other than their progeny, but really it was just that we were crazy about our cats and viewed them rather like children. We didn’t think our friends were boring – we thought we were joining in the conversation by sharing cat-anecdotes. Yes, we were those people.

Anyway, soon after getting our cats we observed that there was a very definite hierarchy in the house, evident from the cats’ perception of who the food belonged to. We had been warned before they came to live with us that our new cats should see us eat first, so that they knew who was boss. This was sound advice, I’m sure, but could not be combined with all the other instructions we got from the Cattery about keeping them locked in one room on their own to begin with so they could acclimatise. It was thus that the pecking order was established.

Fat Cat – unsurprisingly – established himself as Alpha Cat. He made sure he ate first, and if Thin Cat tried to eat from the same bowl he got nudged out of the way. If Fat Cat finished before Thin Cat, he would nudge him away from the second bowl too and clean that one as well. Was Thin Cat second in command? By no means. Although Fat Cat quite happily jumped up onto the dining table to steal our food, Thin Cat would cower in a corner and watch. Thus we discovered that this was how the cats saw our family hierarchy:

Alpha: Fat Cat
Beta: Husband
Gamma: Me
Delta: Thin Cat

When I got pregnant, we joked that our new arrival would end up being Epsilon Cat, because Fat Cat would not think he was much of a threat.

We were wrong.

Our son went straight to the top of the tree – everyone else’s dinner had to wait while he was fed. There were interesting milky smells, but the cats were not allowed near. The baby’s needs always superseded the cats’ and he monopolised our laps. Our son was Alpha Cat. He ate first. And everyone moved down, demoting poor Thin Cat to Epsilon status.

Now that the Toddler eats like normal people, he has moved down to his proper place at the bottom of the pile. He is the sucker that will fill up the cats’ bowls to overflowing at random times of the day, because he just loves watching them eat. I think the cats nIMG_0928ow see him as their personal slave. Fat Cat does not hesitate to jump up and try to take over his dinner, oblivious to his stern remonstrations of “No, naughty Pike, S food.”

What happened when the Baby was born, you ask? The cats don’t seem to have the same kind of reverence for her that they had for our firstborn. They’ve got babies pegged now: they just turn into big humans and so become your willing food-dispensing slaves. They look at her and wait. One day she will be able to reach the bag of cat biscuits, and when she does, they will be right there.

So the pecking order has gone back to normal, with Fat Cat at the top, the humans in the middle in descending order of height, and Thin Cat dead last, now Zeta Cat.

Or is he? The other day he was up on the table licking the pate off my toast while my back was turned. We’d better keep an eye on him – he may be staging a coup…


13 responses

  1. Haha! I am *so* one those people. I can’t help it! I’ll probably never have kids, but I’ll always have cats. 🙂

    The pecking order in our house is very very clear:

    At the very tip-top is Oscar the Cat. Oscar is the boss of THE WHOLE UNIVERSE, which is lucky because it’s the only thing from keeping Winston the Dog from thinking he’s the boss. Oscar is so successful at putting Winston in line that we actually watch what he does to try and mimic it. If he even gives Winston a slightly dirty look, Winston will go sit in the corner and be quiet.

    Next is me, technically, because I Mean Business. This is according to Winston, who appreciates that. Somehow I seem to follow dog rules in this way. I am the only one in the house (other than Oscar) that Winston is afraid of, in a respectful way. I’m not messing around when I tell him to do stuff, so he mostly listens. But really Winston is pretty sure that he should be in this position, so we do have an ongoing struggle for it.

    Next is Winston, obviously. He is way higher up than all the other sucker humans.

    I think the other three humans in the house are all kind of lumped together – wimps to be bossed around. Atticus is the favorite because he’s the walker and feeder, but he’s mostly just a pushover joke. Winston’s got these guys all wrapped around his tiny furry paw. Oscar doesn’t care because he’ll get whatever he wants and, anyway, he’s busy napping. 🙂

    • I love it that Oscar can keep Winston in line. I wonder how he did it. What does he whisper into Winston’s ear in the night that sends shivers down his spine…?

  2. Brilliant analysis! We were those ‘cat people’ pre-children too and yesterday i found one of ours stealing the grated cheese that was meant for my fahitas!

    • Those pesky cats! We found Fat Cat with his nose in a pot of sour cream – thankfully that was post-fajitas, we had merely been slack about clearing up…

  3. There’s a definite pecking order in our house too and I’m pretty certain that our stripy cat Fabbydoo is Alpha female every time! My poor husband is completely outnumbered with wife, two daughters, female cat, female dog and 10 hens (hen-pecked indeed!)

    • Wow, sounds like there are barely enough letters in the Greek alphabet to cover the pecking order in your matriarchy!! So I’m guessing husband is dead last?

  4. I was the first of my friends to have kids. For years I had to endure conversations about dogs and cats. I wasn’t allowed to mention the kids. As soon as I did, the conversation turned back to dogs and cats. Sigh. Now the talk is all of toddlers and it’s SO boring. Nobody ever asks after my kids. I want to stand up and shout at them ‘I’ve got kids too! They’re interesting/ funny/ cute/ clever too!’
    I think you’ve hit a nerve there…
    Anyway, this is a great post as ever.

    • Interesting to hear the perspective of the First Parents in a circle of friends! I apologise on behalf of all Later Parents for marginalising your kids… For what it’s worth, they do sound interesting funny cute and clever!

    • Almost no predicting what will happen! Thin Cat has almost completely disappeared from the house in the daytime, he’s terrified of their love.

  5. Brilliant post! I’m ashamed to admit that once our first baby came along, our cat was shunned into zeta status and was so miffed that he ran away…never to be seen again! Lovely that you still yours. I did laugh at the baby vs cat talk! Thanks for linking up to #oldiesbutgoodies

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