The Vine: May 19, 2010
It looks like I am going to be driving a moving van across the country this summer…with my cat. I have a vague recollection that you've done this before, maybe when you drove to Canada in the fall of 2001. Do you have any advice on how to do this without dying? Should I let her roam about the cabin, or confine her to her carrying case all day? Install a litterbox somewhere in the car (how??)? Are there motels that let you take cats in with you? Help!
I did drive both cats to Toronto. Any long car trip with an animal or animals boils down to the same things: keeping them safe; keeping them calm; not spending a fortune on same if you can avoid it. A lot of how you decide to undertake it depends on your cat's individual behavior.
My vet gave me a mild sedative for my cats. It lasted about eight hours, and helped ensure that there wouldn't be an escape attempt at the border. It also allowed me to let them out of their carriers, which made them happier, but they didn't really roam — they skulked around a bit, looked out the window a couple of times, and then curled up in the footwells of the back seat and passed out for six hours. If your cat is good in the car, and if you have a traveling companion who can help you wrangle her at rest stops, maybe you want to skip the downers — but if your cat hates the car, or has never traveled in one for any real length of time, it may make her and you less anxious to numb her out for the trip.
I had a litterbox set up in the trunk (my car at that time allowed me to fold down the back seat for through access to the trunk). A nervous poo in the confines of a Honda two-door is not the most fun you've ever had in your life, but if you'll have an entire van, you'll have room for a small box set-up, and presumably more breezes.
Take some time before you leave to plan out your trip, and make reservations at hotels that accept pets. Figure out how long you'll drive each day, then look for pet-friendly accommodations within your stop radius. They do exist. You can also smuggle the cat into your room after check-in; it's marginally easier to hide a feline than a dog, as long as she doesn't express her displeasure by peeing on a bedspread.
But again, it really depends on your cat's personality and experience with traveling. With those things in mind, give your vet a call and ask his advice.
I have two kind-of-related questions that I would love your help with. The first involves my stepmom.
My parents divorced when I was nine and my dad remarried (we'll call her S) when I was 13 (ten years ago). S brought two kids — a daughter who was six at the time and a son who was three (I also have a younger brother).
I had no objections to the marriage at the time — they'd been dating for a while, she seemed nice, etc. And for the most part it did turn out okay. My dad definitely seems happy, and there wasn't too much open drama in the house.
But S and I never really clicked. We've never been a very demonstrative family, so when I'm presented with a stressful situation my first response is to withdraw. S saw this as a rejection, which I feel led her to categorize me as a Difficult Teenager, regardless of all evidence to the contrary (I mean, I wasn't perfect, but I had good grades, a good attitude toward chores, a job…). I feel like this perception of me colored all of our interactions — if I didn't call, it was because I was blowing them off, and not because maybe sometimes I'm a bit of a flake. My dad seemed to assume that she knew what she was talking about and mostly followed her lead.
Compounding this issue is the fact that S is extremely passive-aggressive. When you do something she doesn't like, she'll never say so in the moment — she'll just wait and hope you come to your senses until she just can't stand it anymore and then she'll condescend to let you know what you're doing wrong.
The situation changed when I went to college, but only in that I was a thousand miles away so we didn't have to see her much. She would still periodically call me to lecture me about something I was doing wrong — most often interceding on my dad's behalf because I had apparently hurt his feelings somehow, usually by not calling enough (I never heard this from my dad, only from her). She (and, apparently, he) is the kind of person who keeps score with things like that — if you don't call her often enough, rather than just picking up the phone and calling you and trying to establish a pattern of communicating regularly, she just decides that you must not like her and are therefore a bad person (I'm serious about her not calling me — if she ever called or e-mailed me just to chat, I don't remember. My dad's a little better, but still the main responsibility of keeping in touch would fall on me).
For a long time, I really did believe that my deteriorating relationship with my dad was my fault, and I was really stressed about how to fix it, especially given that I never found out he/they were mad until long after the fact when I couldn't do anything about it. Finally, though, I realized that while I was not perfect and I certainly could have called more and made more of an effort to connect, the main issue with our relationship was her refusal to understand that just because she and I have very different personalities doesn't mean there's anything wrong with me.
I had pretty much come to terms with that, but when I went home to visit about two months ago, everything kind of blew up. Once again, S waited until the last possible minute (the end of an hour-long car ride that was the last time I would see her or my dad on that trip) to lecture me about everything that I had done wrong during the trip. I didn't respond much then, because verbal confrontation is REALLY not my thing, but after I thought about it a bit I sent her a really angry e-mail addressing what she'd brought up and telling her not to act that way toward me anymore. It was by far the angriest thing I've ever said or written to anyone, although to some people it would probably still seem pretty mild.
In her reply, she refused to engage with any of my arguments, told her no one can make us feel how we feel, that I should get therapy (which I am, which is why I was able to write the e-mail in the first place), and that she was "sorry for [her] part in any miscommunication between us." After a few more e-mails and a completely unsatisfactory phone call during which she called me self-centered and essentially said she's going to continue keeping score on phone calls and such, I've come to the conclusion that for her, it will always be my fault when something is wrong with our relationship.
So my question is, how do I deal with her? I'd be totally fine never speaking to her again, but she's married to my dad and I still mostly like him. I don't want things to be awkward all the time, I don't want her to poison him against me, and I really don't want him to feel like he has to choose. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure if he did have to choose, he'd choose her, so I'm not sure I'm all that worried about his feelings.
I'm going to visit for my brother's high school graduation in about six weeks, and I won't be staying with them (I'll be staying with my mom, who has been totally awesome about all this. Hi Mom!), but I'll still have to see them a lot, and I'll eventually have to decide if I ever want to stay with them again. I feel like it would be pretty easy to just ignore all this and pretend it never happened, but I'm still pretty angry and I don't want to be the person who gives up on getting what they need in order to keep the peace. So what would be your advice going forward?
The second question is much shorter. Basically, my stepsister and I are completely different people — different tastes, different personalities, different hobbies. We also didn't spend much time together — what with overlapping schedules and me going to college, I think we lived in the same house at the same time for maybe a little more than a year in the whole ten years since our parents got married. I've never consciously been cruel to her, but I wasn't very friendly (…at all). I just kind of assumed that she didn't care what I thought of her, which in retrospect is obviously stupid, but…too late now.
So apparently I make her really anxious. On the one hand, I can't be completely responsible for her feelings; on the other hand, sixteen is a tough age and I don't want to make it worse. And frankly, I do feel pretty terrible. If I gave her even a fraction of the stress her mom gave me…that would just really suck. I wrote her a friendly-ish apology after my most recent trip when this was all brought to my attention, but never got a response. I meant it sincerely, but I'm not great at this stuff and I'm worried that it may have come off flippant.
Should I write her a longer and more detailed apology, or would that just be self-serving at this point? I do, of course, plan to try to change my behavior — I don't think we'll ever be bestest friends, but I could certainly be friendlier than I have been.
Aren't life coaches supposed to be good at this kind of thing?
Your stepmother sounds like she's stuck back on the relationship you two had ten years ago: still taking adolescent behavior personally that isn't personal; still lecturing you about your behavior. Parents and stepparents have trouble seeing us as adults sometimes, which is annoying, but you can't do much about it besides refusing to engage it if it's not relevant — remember, you play your part here by reacting. A simple "I'm sorry I upset you" is all you can really offer S, and it's all you should attempt, because you can't change her. You can only change your own behavior.
You can't change your father's behavior, either, and the only sense of him I get at all from your letter is that he's content to let S speak for him. Not all dads do that, but many many dads do just kind of let the wife take the lead on emotional issues and intra-family angsting, especially with their daughters — perhaps because they feel uncomfortable talking about said issues, who knows, and again, it's not every dad. All we can assume here is that he doesn't have a problem with S haranguing you about your relationship with him, and your response to that is something like, "I'm sorry to hear that; Dad hasn't mentioned that to me himself, though, and I know you're trying to help, but I'd rather talk to him about this directly if it's an issue for him."
Just try to keep it calm and polite; like I said, you can't change their behavior, only your own. Be as conscientious as you can about keeping in touch, without keeping score yourself, and if S still feels the need to catalog your shortcomings, listen, give her the super-unsatisfying "I'm sorry you feel that way" non-apology (heh), and let it go. I understand that this breed of handling conflict is maddening, but as you say, your father has made choices in his life, and if you want a relationship with him, electing not to get pissed off every time S is a pill is the price of that.
Your stepsister presents a different challenge, and I think your best bet is to make an effort to reach out when you're around, without pushing the issue. Let her adjust or withdraw as she sees fit, keeping in mind that she still lives there and can't really come and go like you can. She's also only 16 still, and will have a lot going on in her mental life that has nothing to do with you. You apologized; she may feel some pressure to respond in just the right way, or she may feel paralyzed with anxiety, or some combination, but the ball is in her court, so leave it there. Either she'll get there or she won't, but she may have to get farther out of childhood before she can get right with things that happened during it.
I know it's hard to leave things alone, let things calm down, accept that you can't get a resolution Right Now (or sometimes At All), but it's how things go sometimes. Work on it in therapy; that will help.
Okay, this has been bugging me for a while. Why are some items of clothing singular (a shirt) while others are plural (a pair of pants)? All the tops I can think of are singular (except maybe glasses) so considering it's only bottoms that are pluralized (panties, shorts), I thought maybe it has to do with the fact that two legs go into the item. But we also have two arms and no one ever says they're wearing a pair of sweaters!
And of course amongst all the tights, boxers, and jeans, there's that one singular skirt. No matter how many legs go into them, a pair of jeans are still only one item of clothing, so why do we pluralize them?
Why, to annoy you, of course.
Heh. I don't have an answer offhand, but I assume it has to do with the etymologies of the various words — or, really, of "pants," because I suspect that "shorts" and "tights" derive from "pants" in that shorts are short pants and tights are "tight pants." Well, not really, but you get the idea. "Panties" and "briefs," same thing.
Looking at the 10C definition of "pant," I see that it's "short for pantaloons," and the coinage, "usu. used in pl.," dates from 1840. The entry for "pantaloon," meanwhile, has this as its first definition: "a character in the commedia dell'arte that is usu. a skinny old dotard who wears spectacles, slippers, and a tight-fitting combination of trousers and stockings."
That this remains the primary definition struck me as dated, so I went to the 11C; the entries read exactly the same. It seems as though a pantaloon is a person, and I guess that somehow the word evolved through "pantaloon-style breeches" to "pantaloons" and then "pants."
Readers of Lucky or various catalogs know that the pluralizing of certain "pair" clothing items is moving in the other direction, with the copy referring to "this season's chic-est pant" or "the Sweetheart Jean." Garner notes that "[c]lothing retailers lack standardization when referring to trousers," an "inconsistency [that] has been around for a long time," adding that both "pant" and "pants" "are actually abbreviations of pantaloons, and have been so used since the late 19th century[.]" Wordnik had little to add on that point (but I did enjoy the Star Wars game).
All of that explains without illuminating; "because it just is" isn't a satisfying answer, but unless or until a commenter posts a link to a better clarification, it's all we've got.
Tags: Bryan Garner cats grammar sites the fam