When I woke up last Friday, I had no idea that a dream was about to come true.
It was a typical day in Alabama. I filled our truck with bags of laundry and drove to our friends Chris and Laura’s house to use their (generously shared) washing machine. As I drove, I was reminded of how fast life can change. Just a few weeks ago, I despaired of learning to drive our stick-shift truck. But thanks to your encouragement and a commitment to practice, I’m driving myself around town. Amazing.
While the laundry spun, I told Laura how much I was looking forward to our next challenge … finding a kitten to care for. My husband and I had agreed that, next month, we’d look into adoption.
I’ve wanted a cat of my own since I was about 8 years old. At that time, I went so far as to perform a musical number for my parents to plead my case. (I turned the Mary Chapin Carpenter song, “Passionate Kisses” into, “Passionate Kittens”.) Alas, my creative song-plea was unsuccessful, and my every living situation thereafter has stood between me and kitten ownership.
I wanted a sweet, friendly kitten, 8-10 weeks old, ideally female. She’d be black or grey, with white ‘boot’ markings on her feet. Why? So I could name her Bootsie, of course. I’d had plenty of time to think about it.
When I told Laura about this long-deferred desire, she said, “A friend of mine has some kittens that need good homes. Would you like to go over and see them? Maybe you’ll find Bootsie.”
“Yes!” I said. My heart responded. My mind, on the other hand, was overflowing with reasons why this wasn’t the right time. We’re not done with the renovations. I don’t know enough about cats. And so on. But my heart insisted on bounding ahead.
And you know what happens next, don’t you? I walked in, and there she was, curled into the corner of a blue laundry basket with three other kittens. A black and grey striped kitten with white boot markings, the only one of the litter with that coloring. Bootsie. I was scared to pick her up, but she settled right in on my lap, purring. And when she looked up at me with those elegant eyes, I was a goner.
We brought her home the next day, and — as any pet owner knows — that’s when reality set in. That’s when you come face-to-face with the new level of responsibility that comes with a dream realized. That’s the moment when you know if you really want to be a caregiver, or if you just like the idea of being one.
It’s times like these when a long wait can be a blessing in disguise.
Our tiny, homesick ‘Boots’ kept me up half her first night, mewing. She’d cry, and I’d stumble, bleary, to comfort her. Around 5am, she figured out how to catapult her tiny body onto the bed. Even in my sleep-deprived state, I admired her audacity … and moved to lie down on the floor. I’d forgotten how hard it can be to serve as a primary caregiver for a vulnerable being.
I knew to expect loneliness from her on that first night, but what I didn’t expect was its effect on me. Being there for her when she was scared cemented our sense of connection. As I stroked her fur, I remembered other nights I’d surrendered sleep caring for people at L’Arche (a faith-based non-profit where people with and without intellectual disabilities create homes for life), and how those times had tied us together.
I recalled nights I’d sat with Miguel* in the hospital, and oh-so-many midnight bathroom assists. And I remembered the conversation I’d had with Theresa the day before we brought Bootsie home, when I’d told her that we’d be getting a kitten. “WOW! Congratulations!” Theresa had said, her excitement carrying across the distance between us.
I smiled, thinking how good Theresa is at caring for people and animals. She’s a natural nurturer, so it made sense that she’d be thrilled at the prospect of a kitten to love. Yet as I hung up, I also thought about how it takes courage to give care; it takes strength to open your heart.
These things require letting down one’s guard, and, for most of us, that’s a dicey prospect. It’s scary how fast you can connect with someone or something in your care. This kitten has been here a day, and she’s already beloved.
As I’ve cared for her, I’ve been struck by how fragile she is, how much I want to protect her. And in caring for her, I’m also learning to care for the small, scared part of myself. I’m learning not to shun my own weaknesses, but instead, to treat them tenderly, to cradle them close.
In fact, being with ‘Boots’ reminds me of how vulnerable we all are, how much we need to feel love around us. This kitten is infinitely more content when I’m nearby. She reminds me that presence is powerful; that showing up can mean so much.
Now, after a round of wild play, she’s sleeping by my side. A long-held dream is in my care, and though a new responsibility is on my shoulders, there’s also a new lightness in my heart.
Passionate kittens, indeed.
How has caring for a pet opened your heart?
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*Names have been changed.