When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”- Mr. Rogers
Being an overwhelmed mom of a toddler who unexpectedly found herself working a full time job, yet still having a strong desire to write novels, I often wonder why and how I can be a part of Familiar Legacy and the cat collective. Or how I will ever get back to writing anything, at all, ever again. I’m so far from completing my book for the series, and it’s a struggle to carve out time to write a thoughtful social media post to keep my Facebook author page alive, much less write a blog, a short story, or a novel. But I just can’t throw up my hands and say, I can’t do it, because I want so badly to write about Trouble, his adventures, and the people he meets along his journey. It was only after I was sitting at a park with another mom talking about global issues and contemplating my little girl’s future that I realized why holding onto the chance to write this book meant so much to me. And it comes down to, what I think is, the most important lesson that Trouble (and his sire Familiar) teaches. That cheeky cat always finds a way to be relevant.
I have a toddler daughter and, if you haven’t noticed, we are in the midst of a lot of unrest and push for change socially, politically, and culturally. It’s a scary, noisy world and, I, like so many parents before me, find myself asking, “What kind of a world have I brought my child into?”
Minority rights and corrupt politics are at the top of the headlines, the planet is dying, and what often seems like a general global disgust for the state of our world, where it’s going and what we are doing to it and it’s inhabitants, weighs heavy on anyone’s mind who glimpses the news and allows themselves to think about these issues for any stretch of time. Conflict, unhappiness, and criticism litter our TV, radio, Internet, and daily lives. I’m not saying I don’t see the need for all the noise, it’s important and relevant, but I will admit I’ve turned the TV and radio off and limit my exposure to social media and conversations that make me think about these huge overwhelming issues because I’m already overwhelmed.
I am overwhelmed by sleepless nights with a crying toddler, piles of laundry and dishes, and the pony stickers I keep finding stuck to the antique china cabinet my deceased mother gifted me. First world issues, I know. But knowing that doesn’t make me any less stressed. So, I often take the approach of micro focusing on my life, my family, and my immediate tasks for work and getting through my day. Needs and conflicts like, “For heavens sake, Michelle, you have to empty the diaper pail now!” Most days, I feel like I can’t get through all the general tasks of my daily life, such as putting on pants, much less being an activist and solving the issues that plague our society.
I’m a person that carves out time to write my congress people. I wish I were because these issues worry me. Honestly, as a mother of a daughter, I have a lot of guilt and shame that I am not more involved in the social and cultural conversation going on right now. It’s important. Then I convince myself that making sure my child doesn’t only eat jellybeans from her Christmas stocking is equally important. But shame and failure haunt me daily, yet I move on because those half eaten grapes and the yogurt smeared across the floor aren’t going to clean themselves.
Then, when you already feel you don’t do enough, there is always someone around to point out how much you don’t do. Let me explain. I got mommy-shamed at a playground because I voiced that one of my biggest desires is to use my precious spare time, if I ever get any, to write a cozy romantic mystery about a cat that solves crime. Moms talk to other moms about anything, and conversations often go squirrely when you least expect it. Most of the time when I hang out with other moms, I leave feeling worse than when I had no one to talk to. This was one of those moments.
I was sitting on a bench watching my daughter tackle the wobbly bridge when this stranger mom started chatting me up. My daughter was wearing a dinosaur baseball tee and she mentioned how well our boys were playing together. No big deal to me, I corrected her and she, in turn, commended me on not adhering to gender stereotypes. We talked about our frustrations with kids clothes and the increased interested in Women’s Rights with the marches and the #metoo movement. Our micro focus turned global. We talked for a while about big ideas and feminism. It was awesome, until it wasn’t. She asked me what I did, and I told her I was an unpublished writer before I was an entire online customer service department.
“What did you write,” she asked.
“Fantasy and romance,” I said. “Actually the next book I hope to finish will be a romantic cat cozy mystery. If I can ever find the time.”
Her face didn’t hide her disapproval. “Wouldn’t your precious free time be better spent writing congress members?”
What I thought was a moment of intellectualism with a like-minded mom devolved into a rushed and awkward “yeah, probably” as I collected my daughter for a fictional doctor’s appointment. I stewed and worried and pained over the implications of what this other mom laid out before me. What is writing a romantic novel that includes a cat that solves crime going to do about the serious issues presenting themselves in the world I’m raising my daughter in? Would my currently non-existent and very precious free time be squandered on selfish desires to write cat detective novels?
This became a weight I carried all day, shame and failure to do more and to be more for my daughter, for my world, crushed my mom spirit. Then, that night when I opened my email, waiting for me were drafts of Trouble the cat short stories intended for the upcoming anthology that I agreed to help edit. In the back of my mind an ugly voice was telling me, “This is a waste of time and energy. You don’t even have the time anyway! Write your congressperson. Plan a march!” Feeling downtrodden, I read the stories.
Trouble was at it again, nudging lovers together and dropping clues to his human friends, solving crime and reversing injustice in his neighborhood by just doing what he does, living his life and acting on the wrongs that needed to be made right in his microcosm. In every story, Trouble is a helper. He doesn’t solve world peace and hunger. He doesn’t stop wars. Trouble affects his friends and community in a meaningful way, nudging wrong things he sees into right things. In every story, Trouble is a small influence and his tiny movements make his world a better world. Reading the drafts for the anthology Trouble taught me a valuable lesson, he reminded me of something I so often forget. No matter how huge the conflict in the world seems, there is always a helper, there is always someone doing small seemingly insignificant good in the world. I may not change the world, but I can always be a helper.
This is why Trouble and his books and stories the cat collective have created, and the one I will one day write, are so important to me. I realized at their core, they contain a way of life that I want to embody, that I want my child to learn from me. Trouble teaches that it is through small change, small nudges that we can impact our world and the people in it. It’s okay to focus on my day, my family, and my immediately community—just be active and present. Make the wrong things right things. I don’t have to join a global movement to be relevant in making the world a better place. For a working mom in over her head most days, wishing to do so much more, he is the best role model. What better lesson to teach my daughter than you can be a big helper or a small helper, even a small cat helper, because any help is good help. So, of course, I’m holding onto Trouble the black cat detective. Trouble is my hero.
Michelle Ladner is a writer and full time online subscription box customer service rep living in Vancleave, MS. Married to a micropaleontologist and mother to a precocious toddler and three worshipped felines, she enjoys travel, photography, overanalyzing motherhood, and ordering fantasy fandom subscription boxes. After obtaining a B.A. in English at University of South Alabama, she pursued her dream of becoming a published commercial fiction author. Still in pursuance of that dream, she also cradles hope to one day owning a tiny animal farm and a full-scale velociraptor statue intended as a centerpiece for her outdoor holiday decorating.