Click here, then listen.
For my family to go from a single mother of two four-year-olds to that plus a new and unexpected baby has been enchanting. I never knew if I could get Baby Leo to live through the next 24 hours; I would burst home from work when he was two and three weeks old to heat his bottle to just the right temperature, then I would zoom to open the door of the room where I was keeping him, hoping to see him alive.
I always made the bottle first, expecting the best.
To my heart’s fulfillment, it always has been the best: Leo alive and growing, the four-year-olds growling less and less. When they were allowed to mingle in person after the CDC approved it, they each took to their new roles: Sara (Guardian), Lucy (displaced Queen), and Leo (New Struttin’ King of the Mountain).
But families have dynamics, and I’ve discovered in some recent days that if I personally do not enforce those dynamics in my own household, the whole operation falls apart. For instance, when a new kitten is mauling your most devoted older cat, you need to gently pinch the kitten on the back of his neck and say, “No! You do not hurt your sister!” The kitten will whine, but the anti-social behavior will discontinue if you keep up with this instruction.
My cats are inside cats for 23.75 hours out of the day. I allow them outside for fifteen minutes in the early mornings now, since it’s the coolest time of our day, but only under my supervision while I water the plants and feed the birds. It was easy to supervise my four-year-olds before the baby came along: Sara and Lucy were led by virgin spirits, not by uninhibited male hormones. Now we have Leo, who rockets around the back yard like a bat out of hell. I have never seen a kitten move so fast.
We three older women look at this child and we each have our own opinions. I'm too busy to ask who’s thinking what.
Lucy will hardly come outside anymore because so many strays have been spraying our newly decorated cement; she feels like the force is against her. My poor. She has been getting lots of extra attention from her own mama.
Sara comes out and wants to walk the property, but her first priority now is making sure the kitten is safe. The kitten latches onto Sara like Sara is a gymnasium. I’ve spent the last week picking the kitten off Sara, telling him, “No! Do not attack your sister!”, then putting him down.
I imagine if I do this repeatedly, he will learn. Theoretically.
I try to enjoy my own time outside in the mornings, filling the bird feeders and watering some smaller plants I’m babying. Sara has given up walking to the side yard because if I call, “Where’s the baby?” she is suddenly an older sister, helping Mama. I’m so proud of her.
And there I am, at 6:30 a.m., chasing the baby. Chores are over and Leo has to come in. I haven’t learned the art of getting a kitten to come in against its will yet. I chase him, I lure him, I almost get him; I’m sure that by the end of any particular chase scene, he will never want to snuggle with me again.
There we go through the oleanders; there I go, across the yard again, chasing a one-pound cat. He is black and mischievous and full of energy. I have ant bites already. I worry about Leo having ant bites.
“Hey sweetpea,” I say from a half-acre away, suddenly resting on my heels. “Why don’t you come over here and help me water this plant?” The only thing I know for sure about Leo is that he likes flowing water. He’s a shower kitten.
“Okay,” he says, then trots over like the Inspector General. Leo struts, as opposed to me and the girls, who just walk.
“What’s goin’ on and how can I make it worse,” Leo says. He smells my watered plants; he wants to climb into them. He is always cuteness in black and white, but a mother does what a mother must do. I pick him up by the scruff of his neck and say, “Don’t leave when you’re not allowed! You’re still small and you don’t know what could happen.”
I shake him again, gently. “Besides, everyone who loves you is inside.” I stuff him inside the patio doors, where the good girls are waiting.
We thrive on discipline here, and it’s my regret that I have to be the enforcer. But when the little cat is mercilessly attacking the mama cat, and Elizabeth Taylor is hissing at our new Elvis, somebody has to intervene.
When I got the twins, I thought that was hard enough. When the unexpected little one arrived, I gave no thought to doing it again. But when I’m out in my yard by myself—the kids safe in the house—these are still my quietest and best times.
Just give me a garden to play in, without responsibility, for a day.