“Mom! I want to ride my bike in the front yard!” The insistent young man had left the low branch of the tree, where he was performing an acrobatic trick we used to call “skinning the cat,” starting from hanging on the branch and then flipping up and over it, barely missing the other branches with his head as he spun. Now, he sat impatiently waiting for his mother to move out of the way, but she didn’t oblige. She had already told the preschooler that he wasn’t to take his bicycle through the gate, knowing that he had a huge backyard in which to ride safely, but he really, really wanted to ride his big boy bike (no training wheels!) outside the confines of the fenced backyard. His mom stood her ground, so he backed away from the gate. Still objecting loudly, he turned and pedaled off around the back. Obviously, he understood that when Mom said “No,” she meant it.
Well, that’s the way it appeared to me, for just a moment. The young fellow’s mom and dad stood outside the fence and we talked about everything and nothing, just enjoying the company. A few moments later, I saw the blond head of the little guy poke tentatively out the front door of the house. Pretty quickly, the little bicycle’s front wheel and handlebars were visible coming out of the door also. Our conversation came to a pretty sudden stop as his parents became aware of his intentions. The disappointed boy pointed his mount the other way and headed back once more to the dull and oh-so-tame backyard to pedal along the familiar paths worn by daily use. I couldn’t help but be proud of the innovative lad. I think he takes after his grandfather a little bit.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I had to grin as I thought of how it applied so accurately to this adventurous boy in more ways than one. Once again, a familiar adage lights the way to original thought. I have wondered why anyone would want to skin a cat, so I explored the origins of this well-known phrase, only to be left disappointed. It seems that no one can point to a widespread practice of removing the hide from felines as the inspiration for the saying. The use of the phrase is documented well back into the seventeenth century, so neither can it have anything to do with the aforementioned trick of flipping up over a gymnastic bar or branch of a tree. The name for that maneuver doesn’t appear until well after the mid-nineteenth century. To my amusement, I found another similar phrase which was also in use early on: “There are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream.” My disappointment at not finding any proof of a widespread trade in tabby pelts will have to go by the wayside. I may, however, have to find a way to incorporate that newly discovered adage into everyday use.
As much as I would prefer that my grandson not use his intelligence to find ways around his parents instructions, I admire his quick wit and inventiveness. We can only hope that his Mom and Dad find a way to guide his adroitness at finding alternative methods to more constructive and acceptable uses. A ready wit and the ability to adapt are equally as useful in productive avocations as they are in delinquent acts. Time will tell, but knowing his parents, I’m betting on the former.
The ability to think originally, to change gears and take another approach is a gift which will serve throughout life. We hit barriers in life almost daily. Many of us panic and stand petrified. The tried and tested routine has failed and we have no idea how to proceed. The innovators, the trailblazers…they have the innate ability to see alternatives, to think through the problem and come up with a different path which achieves the same purpose. I would like to be one of them. Oh, I have moments of brilliance…okay, these days more like nano-seconds of brilliance…where I can think “outside the box” as the overused catchphrase goes, but it takes longer and longer, the more set in my ways I become. What a breath of fresh air it was to me today, to think about the future for the young rascal, as he learns to turn that bent for disobedience and selfishness into positive behavior. The innovation and adventurous spirit turned to worthy undertakings will work to his advantage for his entire lifetime.
And, while it’s dark and no one is watching, I may just go out to the maple tree in my backyard and see if there really is more than one way to skin the cat. Yeah…maybe not. Probably the only one who would lose any skin would be this old man. Maybe I’ll just rest up for tomorrow. I’m pretty sure that there will be an opportunity or two to test out the old adage again then.
“You have a ready wit. Tell me when it’s ready.”
(Henny Youngman~American comic~1906-1998)
“We must cut our coat according to our cloth, and adapt ourselves to changing circumstances.”
(William Inge~English priest and educator~1860-1954)