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.
Yay, kitten! She’s so cute. I heard there was a phone call from you last night =) Happy to hear that things are going well. You are missed and much loved!
Thank you so much, Eva Elizabeth! I’m sorry I missed getting to say hi to you last night – I’ll definitely call again soon. 🙂 It was so good to hear our ‘family members” voices. Big hugs and much love!
Caroline, what a coincidence…I was just talking to my wife Virginia how much I’d love to have a dog. I’ve been waiting for so long and I guess I still have to wait some more, because there is still this “other puppy Simon” running about and having two of them in a house could be too overwhelming 🙂
Indeed, pet care requires work and dedication, but it’s always outweighed with so much joy and happiness they give us… the “unconditional love” we get in return.
I’m so glad that Boots found her new caring home and happy for you that you finally got your “passionate kitten.” I can already imagine as she is accompanying you during those long hours of composing and writing your new book and encouraging you with her purring nods. And that’s wonderful 🙂
PS. Congrats on your “Top Autism Blog” badge Caroline! Keep up the good work!
What a coincidence, indeed! I hope that you’ll be able to add ‘another puppy’ soon — yet I know just what you mean about the work and dedication! So here’s to the right time. 🙂 And you’re right – it’s been great to have her company as I work. (Though initially she seemed to think that she could help out by stepping onto the keyboard … !) Thank you for sharing, as always. 🙂
Welcome, Bootsie!! So adorable! I remember when Curley cried when she was separated from us on the short flight from Prescott to Phoenix- we could hear her in the baggage area! I know Bootsie will get used to the routine and all the care you give her! Great job!
Yes! That was so hard to hear – she just wanted to be with her ‘people’!
And you’re absolutely right – she’s definitely getting more accustomed to the house and the routines. She’s actually dozing on the coffee table in front of me as I type. 🙂
Congratulations, Mom! (It really is like being a mother with a kitten or puppy.) This is definitely a good way to practice prior to becoming a biological mother!
“. . . 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.”
How often do we despise our weaknesses and berate ourselves for allowing them to exist. But every one of us has weaknesses just as we have strengths; otherwise, we would not need each other. And I believe firmly that we were created with weaknesses and strengths for community, to strengthen others and be strengthened by them as part of our everyday lives.
To have no weaknesses would leave a person without a need for others, and likely disdainful for anyone with visible or other obvious weaknesses. How sad and lonely an existence that would be. When we each embrace our weaknesses as part of who we are by design, we may humbly receive blessing from each other and humbly give to each other in a spirit of belonging.
What a joy to be able to be grateful for whom we have been created to be, and to celebrate who each one is, “warts and all.”
Love it! Thank you, Greg – and yes, it is like a little taste of parenthood, in the first few days at least. Though parenthood is tougher on so many levels, it’s a similar taste of caring for a small, vulnerable being who looks to you for all its needs … and, as you said so well, that vulnerability is precious.
Aww…congratulations on your dream-come-true kitten, at last! Bootsie is in the best and most loving of hands, I am sure!
So sweet! Thank you, Renee – I really appreciate that. She’s certainly bringing a great deal of happiness & laughter into our home.
Eleni howled for about a week every night. We thought it was terrible, but now when know puppyhood is much shorter than babyhood 🙂 Good luck on your kittenhood journey!
Haha you can totally relate! She’s doing much better now. Thank you, Tiff. 🙂
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oh so adorable, as is that sweet vulnerable part of you too
Thank you, Carolyn! I appreciate that. 🙂
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