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Life has been so surreal lately that I expect a hobgoblin to round the corner at any moment, hand me a bag of McDonald’s food and skitter off to sweep my patio. Or maybe that actually happened.
I know this is because I’m sleep deprived after getting up with my new kitten Leo twice a night for nearly four weeks. For awhile it was fairly easy: turn off the alarm, trudge into the kitchen, heat up a bottle and go wake Leo. He would eat, burp, pee, perhaps poo, then back into his box he went. However, lately I’ve been trying to “introduce some solids”, just as my directions say to do. This means making gruel for each feeding, and since one of the nice ladies at our Animal Hospital informed me that the gruel must be fresh every time—not made in advance—I’ve been fumbling around in the dark with a paste of kitten kibble dissolved in water, then mixed with formula, then heated in the microwave for ten seconds, then stirred, then heated again for five seconds. I carry the tiny plate of gruel and a bottle to what used to be my library, my spare room—the room where I used to stretch each morning in the sun, with my older cats stretching around me.
It is now Leo’s room.
Night feedings became very messy because Leo did not prefer his gruel. No matter how I served it up (on my finger, on my shirt, doused with fresh warm formula), Leo didn’t like it. We both needed baths after struggling over the gruel, Leo’s desperate clawing at his bottle, Leo’s admirable but not yet perfect attempts at using his litter pan. Sometimes Leo actually did get a bath (in the sink, which he enjoys), but Mama never did. I would get up after a night like that with gruel and piss in my hair, step into my gruel-and-piss covered pajamas, and start the day like usual, singing gentle morning songs for my older cats so they would know the world was still right.
Then we would look into Leo’s room and see wads of icky paper towels, kitty litter clumped here and there on the carpet, a fresh pile of dirty rags, and Leo—beautiful big-eyed Leo—sitting in his box full of fresh linens and a warm heating pad. “Mama,” he’d say, rocking back and forth. “It’s time for me again.”
Finally yesterday I took Leo himself to the Animal Hospital; up to that point, I had only gone alone to buy his formula, get advice, and share my baby pictures with the front desk ladies. I put my tiny black kitten in yet another box and drove us to his appointment. We were supposed to be going to get de-wormed, because indeed I had noticed tiny white streaks and beads in his poo. To make sure, we had a stool sample in a baggie.
I continue to marvel at the longevity and multiple uses of one simple baggie, washed and reused.
We arrived at the hospital right on time, greeted first by an English mastiff waiting his turn with his owners. I put Leo and his box on my head, securing it with a scarf tied under my chin, and I would have walked many miles that way looking for water with firewood strapped to my back if I had to.
Soon, the vet tech came to get us, a kind young man named David. We got weighed (0.94 pounds), temperatured, and when I started worrying out loud about who was going to take care of Leo when I leave for Minnesota, what would happen if he wasn’t fully potty-trained yet and not eating real kibble, that I was thinking of taking him with me, David interrupted me and said, “I can help you out with that.”
“What?” I said.
“Yeah, I can help you out. We take care of orphan puppies and kittens all the time. My kids love it. My wife expects it. Everybody at my house knows how to bottle feed. You don’t have to rush him through anything; we can take care of him when you’re gone. Ten days, right?”
If indeed I was the hobgoblin who had been prowling around my house, doing chores and making messes, meaning well but never pretty, my hobgoblin costume fell away. The headache I’d had for weeks started to throb less. My heart soared a little bit. “You would take care of him for ten days? That would be excellent! Of course I would pay you.”
“You don’t have to pay me,” Sweet David said. “Just buy his supplies and we can do the rest.” He gave me a card with his name, number and work hours on it. “Just let me know when it’s time.”
No one had been this super-nice to me since…since…my best friend had left a balloon and roses in my office the day before, my 44th birthday. I am my own worst headache. Things are never as bad as they seem. My relief continued on through our wellness check, with the vet running tests on Leo’s poo. Leo did not have worms, but he was dehydrated and lacking vital bacteria because he never got to nurse from his biological mother. Those white spots in his poo were undigested formula.
My heart stopped until the vet looked at me and said, “But we can take care of that.” Thank God.
It’s springtime in Arizona and people are getting married. Students are graduating, teachers are taking deep breaths. This teacher is dispensing one measured click of live bacteria and prying tiny jaws open so somebody can start digesting his food. This teacher had her first full night’s sleep in four weeks because the vet said it was okay.
My hobgoblin sits on the window sill in Leo’s room, pointing silently at the dirty panes. He dangles his hairy legs down to the carpet, flicking bit of clumped litter with his toes. He seems comfortable there, so I’ll let him be.
Everything is fine for now.