I was looking for a Mother's Day card this week and was astounded by all of the different kinds of mothers out there.
Birth mothers (yes, there is a card if you've been adopted). Stepmothers. Grandmothers. Mothers-in-law. Second mothers. Godmothers. Even cat “mothers.”
I fit the last two categories. My precious goddaughter, Addie Grace Howard, is coming to the Glen Rose for the first time this weekend. She is about 2-1/2-years old and lives in Wimberley with our dear friends, Susan and David. I can't wait to take Addie Grace to Dinosaur World, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Big Rocks Park and all the other fun places for kids around town. She is the prettiest girl in the world! (Spoken like a true “mother.”)
I also am a “cat mother.” The story of that is a tale of three tails.
I've always had cats as well as dogs (and now I also have miniature donkeys and longhorns). But I've never raised cats that look at me and see “Mama.” Or maybe they're seeing “dinner” or “pet me.” Who knows? All I know is when they all look up at me, I feel like I'm looking at my kiddos.
After all, I've raised them from birth, fed them, taught them to do various kinds of “business,” taken them to doctor's appointments, protected them, scolded them and loved them.
About six years ago my husband and I moved into a mobile home on my in-laws' land. We planned to build a house and sold our home in Fort Worth, put most of our furniture in storage and squeezed into the single-wide. We built a wooden porch across the front and back. Then we settled into country living. Ahhhh.
Two weeks into this more laid-back lifestyle, my husband popped his head into the bedroom. It was a Sunday morning and I was snuggled under the covers in bed, relaxing.
“Guess what I found under the porch?” he asked.
I could tell from the tone in his voice that it was something beyond the norm. Uh-oh.
“A snake?” I asked with a grimace.
“No kittens!” he said.
“Oh, no. That's even worse,” I groaned. Worse because I knew the only cats we had on the ranch were feral. Great. More wild cats.
I got dressed and went out back. Sure enough, underneath the wooden steps were five kittens, no bigger than chile peppers, lying together in the grass. One of them was covered in blood. It was August and already hot, so I knew they'd be warm. I was afraid to touch the cats and decided it was best to wait for the mother to come back.
We waited all day, peeking out the window and occasionally checking on the five kittens. I had never even seen the mother cat, but everybody else had spotted a white-and-gray feral cat hanging around the houses.
As evening began falling, we debated what to do with the kittens. Snakes, racoons and possums would be coming out at night. We couldn't leave the babies there. And they were hungry.
I gingerly picked up the kittens, cleaned up the bloody one and put them all in a box on the back porch and nestled them in soft towels. No vets were open, of course, so I got on the Internet and found a recipe for emergency milk replacement. As I recall, it was a combination of cow's milk, egg yolk and salt. I didn't have a baby bottle, so I used an eye dropper to get as much of the liquid down the kittens as they would take.
Then I spent a sleepless night worrying about the kittens and keeping an eye on them.
The next morning, still no mother cat. In fact, we never saw her again. Something must have happened to her during the birth. It was unlike a mother cat to abandon her babies.
I called Rocky Terry's office and made an appointment to bring the cats in. I didn't know Rocky at the time. But my in-laws had taken their Yorkie to him and he had saved the dog when it had gotten bitten on the nose by a rattlesnake.
I put the kittens in a cat carrier and brought them to town. Two of the kittens were smaller than the other three. They were both females. The littlest one that had been covered in blood was barely moving. Dr. Terry gave her a shot and examined the other ones.
“What are you going to do with them?” he asked me.
“I guess I'm going to raise them,” I said.
“Do you know what you're getting into?” he asked.
I clearly didn't. But I thought, “What can be so hard about raising a bunch of kittens?”
Famous last words.
I got some milk replacement mix from Dr. Terry and set about the job of mothering the little felines. The females died within days. I had already named them - Jewel, the runt, and Callie, the calico. I buried them both in a flower bed planted with irises and moved the concrete St. Francis statue over them, tears falling down my cheeks.
The other three males, however, lived - and thrived. Boomer was the gray tabby - so named because he had such a loud voice. Chile was a pretty yellow tabby. Peaches - whom I thought was a female at first - was orange and white. He quickly became “Mr. Peaches” when I discovered that he was, in fact, male.
The boys howled with hunger at feeding time - which seemed to be all the time. My life for the next month was taking care of the kittens 24/7. I was freelancing at the time and I put all of my writing projects on hold, much to my editors' annoyance. My days revolved around 10-2-6-10 - feeding times every four hours.
It was quite a production. I measured the mix, mixed it with water, warmed it in a pan and poured it into two small animal feeding bottles. I had to get a certain amount down each kitten, making sure not to get it in the kittens' lungs. Afterward, I had to burp each kitten.
Then came bath time. I dipped a cotton ball in a bowl of warm water and washed each kitten's fur, making licking noises (that was something I added). Then I dipped another cotton ball in warm water and “stimulated their genitals,” as the instructions I'd read on the Internet about raising cats told me. Enough said.
After they got stimulated and did their business, I wrapped the kittens together in a box with a hot water bottle.
The whole process took about an hour. Then three hours later, it was time to do it all over again.
My husband offered to help, but I had gotten down the routine and he had a university teaching job, whereas my work schedule was flexible - or non-existent at the time.
I was so tired after a few weeks of this that one night, at the 2 a.m. feeding, I fell asleep sitting up and holding a kitten in my hand. He was sound asleep, too. I looked at the innocent, vulnerable little life in my hand and felt like I'd been born to be a cat mother.
I was never so glad,, though, as when the kittens finally started eating solid food and using a litter box!
The kittens grew and seemed healthy. When I took them in to Dr. Terry for their shots, he said, “What beautiful kittens!” I felt a big sense of accomplishment.
Of course, after raising the kittens, I couldn't bear the thought of giving their lives over to anyone else. We already had two cats and a dog, so our cracker box of a house got pretty crowded, as did the litter box.
After we built our house and moved into it, the cats had even more room to play. And they know who their Mama is. When we go to sleep at night, Chile snuggles under one arm and Boomer curls himself around my head. Chile even puts his paws around my neck and “hugs.” Peaches, a bit more independent, is more of a lap cat. I didn't teach them how to purr, but they all know how to do that quite well and often.
I wouldn't trade anything for these cats. They have taught me that their lives are just as important as mine and that it's OK to take a nap, play and just enjoy sitting in the sun. Sometimes kids just know how to put things in perspective.
And, hey, guys - I'm expecting a Mother's Day card from you all. Tell your Daddy Cat to get one for me. As for a gift - you've already given me the best one.