We left off in the last post with Nipples having reached a baseline level of notoriety in our community. After a minor kerfuffle, he had grown familiar with the area and had been exposed to the local religious institutions and veterinary facilities. If I could impart wisdom to creatures smaller than myself, I'd have shown him the prudence and comfort of his state in life in that exact moment. I'd have encouraged him to press the pause button ever so slightly--not on his adventuresome spirit or killer instincts, but simply on that aspect of him that pushes the envelope of "personal boundaries" and particularly "assuming one is human and/or entitled to go all the same places as humans."
I don't know that I've adequately explained the lay of the land around our neighborhood. Our community has a thing about appreciating and preserving nature. And I don't mean that the residents all happen to do those things (although doubtless many do); I mean the planners or HOA or whomever made it a formal and conscious theme of the community to appreciate and preserve nature. Dispersed among our neighborhoods are several little habitats and preserves where one can find an uncanny variety of wildlife. In addition we live directly across the street from a dedicated Nature Center, where people can visit a sampling of the local wildlife (including a resident corn snake, which was not viewable when I visited because it was getting ready to shed its skin and needed solitude. Which I was fine with), and also pick up their pool passes. Surrounding the Nature Center are a decorative pond, wooded area complete with a creek, and a small grasslands. In this same area are the tennis courts and playground, all of which provide a convenient source of outdoor recreation to anyone who visits. As the Cat Daddy says, it is Nipples's own personal Shangri-la.
All of this backs up directly to the "outdoor classroom" portion of the school grounds, so if you can envision this, you can perhaps understand that as far as Nipples is concerned, the elementary school happens to occupy the northwest district of Shangri-la.
After the first public school encounter, we had a peaceful time of maybe a week or two. Nipples turned up during recess, the teachers shooed the kids away from the cat, and all was well. One day while walking His Highness to kindergarten (with the younger two in tow), we happened to catch Nipples at the right time and he tagged along. We were our own, personal parade.
Once we were on the school grounds, Nipples veered off toward the playground and tennis courts, and I didn't think much beyond "Perhaps he has business to attend to over by the Nature Center." Enough of the other parents and kids had seen him that we had a few "Oh, that's your cat!" conversations, but not much else. The afternoon passed uneventfully, and soon the Littler One, Tiny E, and I headed back to school for the end of the day pick-up.
Now, at school dismissal there are kids and teachers everywhere. Going here, going there, catching the bus, directing cars, and so on. It is controlled, but it is busy. As we walked onto the grounds, we heard more commotion than usual, and cries of "There's the cat!" "It's Nipples!" "The cat's going into the school!" etc.
That's right. The cat was trying to go through the big, wide-open, green doors leading inside the school.
And here's where I sighed a little on the inside. Because while it was hilarious to me, I knew that it was a logistical nightmare to those in charge of keeping an orderly dismissal, and trying to protect individuals with cat allergies, and probably anyone else who might take offense to a certain curious kitty wondering where his oldest kid went every afternoon. I went over to talk with some of the staff members, a little worried about what sort of tones I might encounter. But overall the conversation was pleasant, if terse. "Yes, I will try to shoo him away from the doors," "Yes, I will try to get him to come home with me," and my personal favorite (with escalating intensity), "I understand your concern, but I really need to pick up my kid BEFORE I WORRY ABOUT THE CAT."
I grabbed His Highness before he headed off away from the school (and in the opposite direction of our home) with the rest of the walkers, and I shooed the cat away from the building enough that he headed down a storm drain to wait out the excitement, and we all headed home while I thought about ways to alleviate the situation. While every so often there are stories of cute little animals becoming unofficial school mascots/companions--and while I considered the possibility that Nipples was in fact auditioning for a role portraying the school's resident Mountain Lion--the non-cat-person portion of the staff had already shown that this would not be like the heartwarming circumstances I've read about. I sent a quick email to one of the administrators, and as a gesture of goodwill offered to provide spray bottles as a deterrent to any future attempts on Nipples's part to enter the school.
The next morning the phone rang. And I saw the school's number. And I sighed a little.
"Hi Skerrib, this is the principal."
"Don't worry, I'm not calling about anything bad."
(Secretly thinking, 'it's about the cat, isn't it') "OK..."
"I'm calling to talk about your cat..."
And here is where I have to be clear that the principal was and continues to be very cool about the whole thing. Completely understanding, and even appreciative of Nipples's forthrightness, I got the feeling that if he hadn't been busy running a school he would have let me talk his ear off about my cat. Because Nipples remains awesome, and there's very little to dispute about that. On the other hand, the principal also shared about some of the heartburn as a result of the cat: having to comfort little girls who started to cry upon seeing him disappear down the storm drains, convinced that the kitty was gone forever, fending off the more uptight parents who really wanted him to call Animal Control and be done with it, and so on. It was apparent that the cat had crossed over from providing amusement to being truly disruptive to the educational environment.
I again offered to provide spray bottles, but he didn't seem too keen on that idea. He said, "I'm not even sure how to ask this, or how you would do it, but if you could somehow keep him at home during school hours, my problem would go away completely." I wasn't exactly sure how to go about it either, but I assured the principal I would indeed try my best to keep the cat in during the school day, and I thanked him for not contacting Animal Control, and we ended the conversation on a positive and pleasant note.
After talking with the principal, I went to have a stern talk with Nipples, who it turns out wasn't home at the time. So I waited until the next time he wandered in, and gave him a piece of my mind for getting into so much mischief ("I got a call from the principal, Nipples"). I told him as a consequence of his actions, I was forced to enact a Kitty Curfew, and while he could still come and go in the evening and on weekends, he would now be expected to stay in during the school day.
Less than impressed, he looked up at me from his food with slightly narrowed eyes, licked his lips, and immediately went back to eating...