From the age of one until about year 11, my daughter was a cat. She meowed, cleaned her face with her paws, and scampered around the house, chasing yarn and toy mice. I’d be lying if I said that I always thought this behavior was cute, because more often than not, it was annoying and embarrassing. Strange looks in the grocery store aside, it was difficult when my bright, articulate little girl refused to speak except for meowing, purring, and hissing.
Some kids have imaginary friends, some glom onto a “lovie” that goes everywhere with them. For my daughter, channeling her “inner kitty,” was her childhood coping mechanism, I suppose. So, we humored her a lot. We let her wear cat ears most everywhere (but she couldn’t wear her pinned-on cat tail in the car because her car seat didn’t accommodate it. Safety over Cosplay, kid.).
While the other little girls at her elementary school were chasing boys around the playground and staging elaborate pretend weddings at recess, my daughter and her friends were engaged in major cat Cosplay, climbing trees and sunbathing. I’m not going to lie: I kinda liked that my kid wasn’t one of the ones chasing boys.
Luckily, we were able to channel her “inner animal” a few times during this stage. Obviously, her Halloween costume every year was a no-brainer. We also got her involved in the community performance of The Lion King, thinking that she was born for that show. While she ultimately wasn’t cast as one of the lions, she was cast as a bird. Thus began a months-long character immersion exercise, wherein she flapped her wings and strutted around, working on her best bird imitation in the grocery store, at the pool, and during our family’s Thanksgiving meal.
But then, one day, she woke up and her inner cat had died.
No, it didn’t taper gradually. It was a full stop. And I’ll be the first to admit that it was nice to finally have just a girl living in our home; to have normal conversations with her about something other than cats; and to speak with her without having to pause for her inquisitive meows and angry hisses.
Looking back on it, her cat persona was probably our earliest indication of her creativity and certainly felt like a safe place when she was feeling uncomfortable. If she was put into an unfamiliar situation, she would immediately become a cat. It was her safe place.
So, if you have an “animal” living in your home right now, don’t sweat it. It’s very normal. Regardless of what your mother-in-law might tell you, pretend play is an important part of development for young kids. Just grit your teeth and endure this time in your kid’s life when he/she is an animal/princess/Stormtrooper/etc. Sure, it’s embarrassing at times. And yes, your family might roll their eyes and question your parenting. But, your kid is also developing totally normally and is likely very bright and creative.
Don’t squash your child’s inner animal due to your own perception of social norms. Their time pretending to be an animal is just a blip on the radar of their life and of your time as a parent. And, like me, you just might find yourself looking back on this time wistfully someday.