My humanities moment comes from a cartoon by American B. Kliban. My mother had a kitchen towel with the image on it, and it had been in my kitchen for as long as I could remember. When I was young, pre-kindergarten, it was one of my favorite things in the house. The image on the towel is a cartoon: a single panel image of a fat, black-and-grey tabby cat sitting on a barstool playing a guitar, singing a song about how much he loves to eat “mousies.” The cartoon feline resembled our real-life cat, Max, and I was astonished how these two cats, who looked almost exactly alike, ended up in the same house – what were the odds??

Besides the cat itself, the cartoon has four lines of song. I had my mother sing the kitty song approximately 500 million times, as young children do when they have a favorite song. The best part was the last two lines, which went into thrillingly graphic detail about how, exactly, this cat eats the mice, including which body parts to start with. When I heard the song, I felt both shock and like I was getting away with something – children are not supposed to learn about things like this! I was both delighted and horrified that my mother, who was a VERY nice lady and very good at all the things mothers are supposed to do, would intentionally expose me to such violence.

Singing the song on this towel was the first time I ever remember being conflicted about something. It forced me to grapple with what I perceived to be an inconsistency. To me, the following sentences by themselves were all true, but when you line them up, they couldn’t possibly all be true at the same time:
My mother was a good mother.
Good mothers didn’t talk about nibbling on small animal’s feet.
My mother repeatedly sang me my favorite song about nibbling on small animal’s feet.

To make matters even worse, polite girls did not sing about gruesome things, yet here I was, continually requesting it! What did that say about me? Eventually, I would learn that there are many different ideas about what “good” mothers and “polite” girls do. I learned that even if you were labeled one thing, it was ok to act in ways that might be unexpected, and that it was sometimes ok to transgress the limits I thought were there.

– Brandy (Ph.D. Student)