Posted in Life

My Purrfectly Crazy Week

Nothing truly prepares you for motherhood.

You may think you’re ready. You may have bought all the things you were supposed to buy and prepared all the accommodations you were supposed to prepare. You may even believe, naively, that you are mentally and emotionally equipped to devote your days to the care of someone other than yourself. But until you have a dog crate full of squirming, flea-infested babies who walk through their food dish, lay down in their litterbox, and then use their brother’s head as a stepstool to leap to the top of the cage only to crash down into the water bowl—only then will you truly grasp what you’ve gotten yourself into. (If you haven’t been following my blog, you might be confused or calling Child Protective Services right now. Please, calm down. The babies are kittens.)

On Thursday, July 21st, at 6:30AM, my house and my life were both pretty tidy. Yes, there were a few dirty dishes in the sink, and of course I needed to vacuum the dog hair (When don’t I need to vacuum the dog hair?) but otherwise, things were running on schedule. My to-do list included yoga, grocery shopping, writing time, and date night. None of those things happened.

After stalking mama cat (now named Maggie) for a few of weeks, I had finally located her kittens under a neighbor’s house. On a couple of occasions, with bribes of wet food and some very good sweet-talking on my part, I convinced Maggie to call her kittens out. I got the chance to glimpse a few of the adorable little fuzzy things, but she was still guarding them, and I couldn’t get close. Once, she even brought a few of the babies to my driveway. This seemed like a promising turn of events until the kittens climbed up into the underside of my car. Maggie and I agreed the visit was not going well, and she took them home again.

Finally, last Thursday, I saw my chance. When I went to feed Maggie that morning, she wasn’t waiting on my porch as usual, so I walked over to the house where she was keeping her litter. There she was, laying in the driveway, watching her kittens play all around her.  At first I thought Maggie had four kittens, then I counted five. The truth was she had SIX growing babies. No wonder she was always so hungry! I could tell the kittens were healthy and well-fed. Maggie was obviously a good mama. They were seven weeks old and cute little bundles of energy. It looked as if I had interrupted climbing practice; the kittens were taking turns scaling the wooden fence while proud mom looked on. I gave Maggie a plate of food and went to get my humane trap.

Between 7:00 and 9:00AM, I had caught five kittens and Maggie. (Don’t worry, we caught kitten #6 a few days later.)

It was crazy! As my brother put it, it was like I’d found the perfect fishing hole and just kept reeling them in. I’d catch a kitten, bring it home and put it in the crate, re-bait the trap, come home to check on the kitten, go back to check the trap, and there would be another one in it. And repeat.

That’s when my to-do list went out the window.

The kittens took all of two seconds to settle in and become friendly. We could pick them up and cuddle them immediately, and they took to their kitten food like champs. Mama Maggie watched serenely, seemingly unconcerned as I carried off her children, but when SHE ended up in the trap, she was not happy. We needed to get her to a vet for her spaying surgery ASAP so that we could release her. I called a few places and found a clinic that would take her that day, so hubby and I jumped in the car, drove Maggie to the vet, got her checked in, and made it back home just in time to meet the notary at our house to sign the closing documents for selling our home in Austin. Whew! (I guarantee you I did NOT smell good during that meeting. Also, it was hard to sign my name 47 times due to a cat bite on my thumb that occurred during the process of getting Maggie from the trap into the carrier.)

Documents signed, notary departed, I let out a sigh of relief and then thought, I have a litter of kittens in my bedroom. This is going to be so fun!

I was right. Mostly.

I named the babies after the characters in Stranger Things. Meet Eleven (the tortie and only girl in the litter), Hopper (the brown tabby), Steve and Eddie (the gray tabbies), and Dustin (the blue one). The other blue one is kitten #6, named Will because he spent the first few episodes of the kitten saga lost in the upside down before rejoining the litter.

The following week was an endless loop of feeding kittens, bathing kittens, cuddling kittens, cleaning up after kittens, hosting people visiting kittens, making flyers about kittens, sending kittens home with adoptive families, looking for kitten #6, catching kitten #6, re-bathing all the kittens thanks to kitten #6, convincing Maggie to trust me again after releasing her post-surgery, herding kittens, briefly losing kittens before finding kittens under bookshelves or inside the bed, and taking many many many photos of kittens. During this time, there was not a ton of showering, eating regular meals, maintaining my house, or writing. Or sleeping. Or remembering what I did with my life before kittens.

The babies are an absolute joy. I’ve watched them learn to play and wrestle and climb. I’ve heard them purr and squeak. And I’ve felt them fall asleep in my lap as I stroke their tiny faces.

But, to be fair, the kittens are also disgusting and exhausting. I’ve watched them roll in the litterbox right after going potty in the litterbox (Hopper). I’ve heard their persistent mews at 4:00AM (Thanks, Eleven). I’ve smelled their not-so-little kitty farts (Cheers to you, Eddie). And I’ve cleaned up the accident someone had right underneath the center of my bed (I’m looking at you, Steve).

Motherhood, as it turns out, is actually kind of difficult.

Now, eight days from that exciting Thursday morning, life is finally starting to go back to normal. Hopper, Steve, and Eddie have all gone to their forever homes, and the three kittens who remain have stopped crying at night and using the litterbox as a playpen. I’m finally getting some writing time and have even taken a shower today. Woo hoo!

I’m so grateful that I found these precious babies and had the free time to take care of them. It’s been a gift getting to spend time with cats this young. I’ve loved every second of it (even the gross parts) and now I’m ready to send them on to loving homes. Hubby and I have decided that it’s not the right time for us to take on a new baby. We have an 11-year-old dog and a 24-year-old cat (no, that’s not a typo) who we love very much, and they are enough for us right now. Plus, there wasn’t a troublesome orange tabby in the litter.

I’m also grateful that we were able to get Mama Maggie fixed. She didn’t like being trapped and taken to the vet, but I know it was the best thing for her. Since my last post, I’ve learned that this was actually her third litter, poor thing.

I have someone interested in Dustin and Eleven, but little Will still needs a loving, patient home. If you’re in the Dallas area (or willing to drive here) and looking to adopt a new little fur baby into your family, send me a message!

Tips for Trapping and Caring for Baby Kittens:

  • Buy or borrow a good trap. Kittens are tiny, so you need a trap that won’t hurt them but that’s sensitive enough to spring with very little weight. We have this one, and it worked great. Also, figure out how to work the trap BEFORE you need to use it. For me, the trap wasn’t intuitive, which meant I had to wake up Hubby to show me how to work it.
  • Don’t be a hero. Wear gloves when interacting with a feral cat. I’m very fortunate that the bite on my thumb didn’t become infected. Thanks to thoroughly cleaning the wound, soaking in Epsom salts, applying Neosporin, and a fair amount of luck, my bite healed nicely, but it hurt like heck and I couldn’t open a bottle or a turn a doorknob without wincing for days.  
  • Don’t let personal feelings sway the facts when describing a feral cat. When we took Maggie to the vet, they asked how feral she was. I thought about how after weeks of patience she would now eat just a few feet away from me and how I had touched her twice (briefly) and not been killed, and I said she was “moderately feral.” When we picked her up from the vet, they informed me that she was “extremely feral.” Oops! Perhaps a chart of some sort would have helped me.
  • Acquire a lot of towels. No matter how many towels you think you might need to care for a litter of kittens, you need more. Prepare to do a lot of laundry.
  • Labels are important. Toothbrushes are excellent tools for kitten care. They’re useful for bathing, especially when you’re soaping up their tiny necks to keep the fleas from running to their head, and they’re good for gently stroking their widdle faces to remind them of their mama. But when you decide to take your own old toothbrush and use it on cats, you need to label it for that moment when you are severely sleep deprived and need to brush your teeth.
  • Follow the Kitten Lady! This lady is awesome. Her bathing tips and socialization video both came in handy this week.
  • Be creative with your marketing. There are kittens who need homes everywhere. How will you make yours stand out?
I made this flyer before Will rejoined the litter.
Posted in Life

Finding Stillness (But Not Kittens)

I’ve spent the past few days setting up stakeouts to stalk a cat.

There is a mama cat in my new neighborhood that recently had kittens. My sources say they were born on or around June 1st. No one has seen the kittens yet, but mama cat (who will be properly named once I get to know her better) is obviously nursing a litter, and she comes out of her hiding place to eat the cat food that people are leaving out for her before disappearing again to wherever she has her nest.

Why am I stalking her? For several reasons.

Reason #1: Kittens!!!

Duh. I want to see her baby kittens and snuggle them and play with them and convince my hubby to let me have one or two of them. * I’m hoping there’s an orange one because 80% of orange cats are male, and I want a boy. (It’s a fact, you can look it up.) Plus, 90% of orange cats are trouble, and I love the troublemakers. (This statistic is not so much “factual” as estimated based on personal experience. For data points, see: Rusty, Tiger, Murcott, Phoebes, and Zeus.)

“RUSTY” – Wanted for licking the peanut butter out of the container and trying to eat the family’s pet rabbit

Reason #2: I agree with Bob Barker.

This is mama cat’s second litter, and she needs to be done. She’s young and deserves to enjoy her life without being tied down. And there are too many stray cats around here already. So, my plan is to find her, feed her, befriend her, locate her kittens, and when they’re old enough to be weaned, take mama to be fixed. The babies too, of course.

Reason #3: I think mama cat wants to be found.

She’s not feral. She allows humans to get close and lingers curiously nearby after eating. With a little patience, it won’t take long for her to trust people. I’m pretty sure, when her babies are old enough, she will want to bring them somewhere safe. I want to be that safe house.

So far, my stalking has been mostly unsuccessful. The problem is that the block where I live has very few houses but lots of sheds and bamboo thickets and woodpiles where a smart cat could make a nest. I’ve meowed outside a couple of likely locations ** and “here kitty-kitty-ed” near several more and listened for tiny, adorable mews, but no luck. I climbed into my parents’ treehouse and sat for half an hour watching for movement, but no luck. I put a bowl of kibble outside my house in view of my reading corner and read/watched for an hour, but no luck. I’ve realized I just have to be patient (<– not my strongest trait) and wait. The next time I see mama cat, I’m going to dash outside with a can of wet food, sweet-talk her while she eats it, and then follow her to her lair. ***

Despite the fact that I don’t have any kittens to snuggle yet, my stakeouts have not been completely in vain. While I haven’t found a troublesome orange tabby, I have found a stillness I didn’t know I was searching for.

I’m a fidgety person. I cross and uncross my legs when sitting, pace while talking on the phone, pick at my fingernails while reading, and pause movies half a dozen times to use the restroom, get a snack, write down a random thought, or walk outside to see if the moon is full. I used to hang out at a coffee shop once a week with a good friend who we’ll call El (because I’m not sure if she wants her real name in my blog and because I’m really into Stranger Things right now). I was always fascinated by how still El could be. While I shifted in my seat, adjusted my ponytail, stretched my back, took my sweater off and put it back on again five times, El simply sat. I talked with my hands, scratched my elbow, and popped my knuckles. El sat. During the drafting of this blog post, I have rearranged the pillows in my chair, laid on the floor to stretch my back, and taken at least five breaks to look out the door and see if mama cat is strolling by. (She isn’t.) Meanwhile, back in Austin, I’m certain that El is sitting serenely at her computer without so much as a twitch. (Though perhaps she is smiling while reading this.)

My fidgetiness isn’t a usually a problem, so it’s not something I try to change about myself. When I want to practice being still, I go to yoga or take a nap or choose to see a movie in the theater where I can’t pause it because I’ve randomly decided to water my plants. But stillness was necessary this week while stalking mama cat. I needed to stay in one place for a decent period, not make too much noise (except for the occasional meow), and limit my own movements so that I could notice if something around me stirred. When the reward is the possibility of kittens, I can calm my fidgets. Although no kittens appeared, I did find benefits to being still. Sitting in the treehouse, straining to hear the mewing of hungry baby cats, I heard so many more birdcalls and squirrel chirps and insect buzzes than I normally would have. Staying in one place and watching for movement below allowed me to see more clearly what was right in front of me: a cobwebby hole in the tree, ants climbing the bark, the delicate veins of an oak leaf.

My stakeouts have reminded me how important it is to stop and be present in the moment. There’s so much to see, hear, and notice when we take the time to be still and breathe.

Also, somewhere there are kittens, and I intend to find them. Wish me luck.

The last time I had the privilege of snuggling kittens was in March 2020 when a friend of mine was fostering these cuties.

* I have a sneaking suspicion that my husband doesn’t read my blog anymore. Perhaps I’ll find out for sure after this post.

** Yes, I’ve been meowing in my new neighborhood. I’m not ashamed of it. Before you get concerned that the neighbors might think I’m weird, you should know that the neighbors are my parents, and they already know I’m weird. They’re WHY I’m weird.

*** This is probably a good time to remind everyone that I don’t have a job right now.

Posted in Life

I Shall Be Telling This with a Sigh

In 1995, I left my home in Richardson, Texas, to go to college at UT in Austin. I studied English there for four years and got my teaching certificate, and when I graduated in 1999, I decided to stay. Austin was a cool town: liberal, young, easy to navigate, and full of green spaces and swimming holes and bats and music. There was a lot to love.

Littlefield Fountain and UT Tower

The longer I stayed, the more I found to love. Over the past twenty-seven years, I made life-long friends, taught more than 1500 seventh graders, married my husband, and found myself. I lived all over Austin—north, central, east, southwest—with roommates and alone and with pets I’ll never forget. I swam in Barton Springs, went to concerts at Stubbs and La Zona Rosa and The Continental Club, took countless strolls through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Violet Crown Trails, and tried every coffee shop I could find. I let Austin become a part of me, and I’d like to think I, in turn, became a part of the city I loved.

Austin has changed a lot over the past couple of decades. Apparently, you only have to be an Austinite a couple of weeks before you get to start complaining about other people moving in and ruining things, but I definitely put in the time to earn my opinions about outsiders. Despite the growth, though, I still love Austin, still think it has a lot to offer, still think there are plenty of people keeping things weird.

That’s why it was so hard to leave.

At the start of June, I packed up my house and life and moved back to Richardson with the hubby and pets.

There were many reasons for the move. Mostly, I wanted to be closer to my family, a feeling I’ve had for a while but which was deepened by the pandemic. I was also ready to walk away from teaching again. (Permanently this time? Maybe. Probably. But all that is for a different post.) So, it seemed natural to combine one big move with another.

Part of the decision can probably be chalked up to a mini mid-life crisis on my part. After the past two years, I found myself wanting CHANGE. Covid shrunk our worlds. When the pandemic forced us inside our homes, I obediently folded myself up into a tiny package, got comfy, and stayed there. My isolation was safe and cozy, and I was grateful that the tiny world that became my cocoon was such a happy one. But when society opened up again, I found myself wanting more than just out of my house. I wanted something new.

Not too new, obviously, since I chose to move back to my hometown. Living in Richardson as a woman in my forties isn’t the same as living here as a kid. The town’s changed, and I’ve changed, but our roots are still the same.

We’ve been here two weeks now, and I already miss the people and places I loved in Austin. But there’s a lot to love here, too. New scenery, new walking trails, new coffee shops, and new opportunities to jump back into some dusty writing projects. Plus, a lot of familiar faces I love seeing every day.

What does this mean for future blog posts? Not much. I’m still writing from my same little desk, just with a new view out the window. And I still have my same writing companions, just with new spots to fall asleep to the sound of my typing. I’m looking forward to my new life here, and looking forward to sharing it with you.

Note: This piece is being posted from my favorite new coffee shop, Staycation, because after two weeks of living here, we still don’t have internet. We’ve had two cables buried in our yard, two installers who came to the house, two installers who didn’t come to the house, and we’ve racked up roughly eight hours of phone time/ hold time/ trying-to-keep-our-blood-pressure-down time with Spectrum*, but we still can’t watch Stranger Things. (So don’t you dare talk to us about it!) Based on the empathy we’ve received from family and friends over this, I know we’re not alone. I’m thinking of forming a support group for people whose lives have been negatively affected by Spectrum, but we’d have to meet in person because… no internet.

* Before you suggest we go with someone else, we have very few options where we are, and I refuse to start over with someone new after going through all this. But, if you have a choice, I recommend you don’t choose Spectrum.