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It’s 2 a.m. and my alarm goes off: time to feed the kitten. I get up and zombie-walk to the kitchen, where the light has been on since Easter Sunday, Kitten’s birthday. I need to see what I’m doing every two hours when I fill the kitten’s bottle with formula, heat up a cup of water, and grab a paper towel.
Back I go to my bedroom, dressed only in my Bruce Springsteen t-shirt—my favorite, which I wouldn’t be wearing if all my regular ones weren’t covered in poop. I put the cup on my night stand and place the bottle in the water, letting it float, nipple up, while I go to wake the kitten. He’s a heavy sleeper for weighing three ounces.
“Hey,” I say, kneeling by his box. “It’s time.”
He’s sleeping on his tummy, legs tucked under, his head resting between the folds of a towel. I run a finger down the inch of his back and he comes alive, not bothering to stretch or yawn. No eyes and all nose, he screams and keeps screaming as I scoop him up, hold him against my chest and head back to the bed.
“Hold on there, cowboy,” I say as I lean against the pillows, repositioning all my supplies: stack of towels at my elbow, bottle out of the water and at my hip, paper towel on the night stand, student papers piled next to me…all of this with Kitten still warm against my chest, screaming.
I test the bottle by sprinkling my wrist with droplets of formula. Too hot. We get back up and go to the bathroom sink, where I run cold water over the bottle, bringing the temperature down a notch. We return to the bed, where I spread a hand towel over my t-shirt and tiny-wrestle Kitten into sucking position with my left hand...my right hand holding the bottle, poised.
My neighbor, who gave me this kitten with umbilical cord still attached, thinks I am too rough on Kitten during feedings. I tell him that Kitten is blind and would never find the nipple without my help. Even at three ounces, Kitten is strong and always resists my efforts to serve him the bottle. That’s why I have to gently shove the nipple into his mouth by way of his chin. This show of force is too much for Nabe; he can't watch.
Once Kitten has latched onto the amber tip of his bottle, he sucks like this formula is not only the tastiest formula in the world, but salvation and a liquid set of encyclopedias all at once. Soon Kitten will have all the answers. I learn from watching that Kitten likes to flatten out and fly like Superman when he eats. I hold his belly and the bottle, one finger under his chin. He stretches his front legs to the sun that has set long ago, his backs legs to the moon he was born under.
When Kitten is finished—maybe for good, maybe for a minute, his bottle always at the ready in a warm cup of water—I rub him with one finger. I tap his back so he burps; I rub his tummy so things move along. Things move along quickly with Kitten.
Kitten is suddenly full of energy and crawls everywhere he can: over my sheets, down the crook of my bare leg, skittering across my students’ papers. I keep bringing him back, even though he screams every time. Kitten wants his way.
But mama knows best, and by the time Kitten is back on my chest, he succumbs to a wet and warm paper towel, dipped in the cup of water, rubbed gently like a tongue over his backside and underside. Kitten lies still, loving this moment, but soon Kitten is off again and I’m fumbling with him and a real towel. “Please poop in the towel,” I say to Kitten. “You can poop anywhere you want, but it would be nice if you could hit the towel.”
It is now 2:30 a.m. Kitten appears to be shivering, so I roll him up in my Springsteen t-shirt and hold him close to my chin. “You need to poop,” I whisper encouragingly, as I might to any three year old child in my care. “All the experts say that I can’t put you to bed if you don’t poop, so you should think about….”
His soupy warmth soaking through my t-shirt, Kitten is off and scrambling again, anywhere he can get that’s away from his poop. Tonight, his shelter is my head: I loosen my tiny-grip on him and he cries as he climbs up my chest, grabs onto my long hair and burrows to the island of my earlobe, suckling between my earrings until his cries turn to whimpers.
This is how I know he’s ready for bed again. I grade three papers with one hand because I know Kitten will stay still for that long, and I want us to bond. When I put my pen down, cradling the sleeping baby, I wish I had more hours in me.
I tuck him back into his box until 4:15. I take off Bruce and throw him onto my to-do list, along with meal-making, more grading, and keeping Kitten alive. I go to bed naked, everything I want within reach.