N is for Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

She's back for Round 2!

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys
By Jen Lawson

A few months ago, my cousin learned his employer was sending him overseas, where he’d be working for two years. He has two cats, Bingo and Charlie, and the plan was for them to live with my aunt and uncle until he returned to the U.S.

My aunt and uncle agreed to it, but they’re not cat people and they were stressed out trying to figure out how to integrate two fuzzy house guests into their lives and their home.

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My last foster, a kitten with an amputated leg, in 2012.
My husband and I are very much cat people, and dog people, and every type of animal people. I wanted to take them, but my husband and I already have three cats and he didn’t want to add two more to our pack.

So I came up with a plan that involved my husband and I taking in another relative’s cat for two years to free up some “cat space” in their home, then that relative could take Bingo and Charlie so that my aunt and uncle wouldn’t need to take the cats in at all.

I texted everyone involved. And, the idea was not well-received. In fact, people were offended and they said they had it handled and that my meddling wasn’t needed.

My husband and I were eating dinner at a pub at the time and I immediately burst into tears (I never hesitate to cry in public — it happens often) as the texts came in.

Right then I understood the concept of the saying, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

I shift into problem-solving mode whenever I see a problem that needs to be solved, even if it doesn’t directly involve me. It’s gotten me into trouble before, but I continued to be the savior that nobody wants.

After this incident, though, it really hit home: There’s no need to jump in and try to solve the problems of others. It’s a nice thing to be there for people, but sometimes the best thing we can do is to let them help themselves.

A friend had a baby recently and she and her husband struggled to come up with a post-maternity leave child care solution. I work from home, and I had an idea: I could maybe come out to her house a few times a week and work while keeping an eye on the baby.


I didn’t say anything right away because I wanted to think it through. Technically I could do it. She lives an hour away, but that’s okay. I don’t know much about babies —  babysat in high school and I have a bunch of nieces and nephews, but I’ve never cared for a baby for more than an hour or two at a time. Still, I could learn.

And doesn’t it take a village to raise a child?

But ultimately I decided not to offer to help because I’d be biting off way more than I could chew. And then I felt guilty about it!

I know I did the right thing, though. My friend figured out her child care without my help and things seem to be going fine.

Butter and her kittens, 2010
This gets a little blurred when it comes to one of the biggest areas of my life: animal rescue. I’m part of a network of other animal rescue volunteers and I’m frequently asked for my help. How can I say, “Not my circus, not my monkeys” to that, when animals have no voice and they’re helpless and what they need more than anything is our help?

In the past, I’ve jumped in and I’ve done everything in my power to assist. I coordinated an off-site cat adoption center (which I still do) while also walking dogs at a different shelter twice a week. I signed up to volunteer at events nearly every weekend. I’ve driven all over the city with a cat trap in my car to trap feral cats at someone’s request.

It was exhausting.

The shelter where I volunteer regularly sends out emails asking if someone could foster kittens. I found those requests hard to ignore, so back when I was living alone a few years ago, I found myself taking care of nine cats: A nursing mother and three kittens, three older male kittens, and my own two cats. Oh, I also had a dog at the time.

“How big is your house?” a staff member of the rescue jokingly asked me one night when I popped in to pick up the male kittens the day after I picked up the mom and her litter. “I can’t imagine where you’re putting them all!”

I was stressed out. I mean, really stressed out.

And I needed a break.

So I took one, and I haven’t done any fostering for a few years now. Sometimes I think I’d like to start again, but then I remember how much work it involved, and I decide to put it on hold for another year.

Foster kitten Oliver in 2009
Now, rather than jumping into action whenever I see a plea for help, I connect the person with someone who can help rather than personally taking on more than I can handle. I’ll share a Facebook post about the need for kitten foster homes rather than picking up the kittens and bringing them home. I’ll let someone borrow my cat trap rather than going out and trapping the cats myself.

I can’t do it all, because no matter how much I do, there will always be a need for more and more and more help. And I’m just one person, after all.

Can you relate to the concept of “Not my circus, not my monkeys?”
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