My first baby

I knew when I met him that I was meant to be his mama.

I’d been in a relationship for about a year and my biological clock was telling me it was time to nurture something. I mentioned this urge to my boyfriend, and he told me I should look into adopting a newt.

I rolled my eyes and asked a coworker for help with details. She suggested finding a rabbit to parent for a while. A starter family, she said, began small. Then I could move up to a cat or dog. I wrinkled my nose. “Never a cat. I hate cats.”

We went to the shelter, which had no bunnies. At lunch, the waitress gave us our check and asked if we knew anyone looking for a kitten. “Not me,” I said. “I don’t like cats.” My friend, who has fostered more cats than any other person on Earth, asked about the kittens. Abandoned, blah blah blah, eyedropper feedings every other hours, blah blah blah, about the size of this bagel…my friend suggested we go take a look.

Never believe an animal activist who says you should “just” go look at kittens.

The woman went to the back of her house and brought out a huge basket teeming with kittens. And right in the middle was the most beautiful caramel-colored kitten I’ve ever seen. I pointed right at him and said, “I want to hold him.”

And I was done for.

I brought him and his brother home, after a terrifying stop at Target where I panicked at leaving them in the car, panicked at choosing the right litter and box, panicked at choosing the right food and water dish. Panicked at driving home with a cat carrier…pretty much all of the panics I had driving home my son years later. How did they let me adopt these creatures without any proof I could do the job?!

I gave them a bath (yeah, well, I didn’t know, but neither did they) and tried to use the blow drier to dry them (yeah, well, I didn’t know, but they taught me). When my boyfriend knocked on the front door the next morning I ushered them into the bathroom and shut the door. I told him when he came in that I had a surprise. He glowered, and said it had better be a newt.

I opened the door and these gorgeous, fluffy little boys came tripping all over themselves out of the bathroom. The grown man put the tips of his fingers together just beneath his chin and whispered, his face all aglow, “It’s kittens!”

They loved him. They loved us. They made us laugh and we did our best with them. When the first baby came, the black cat was mad but the caramel cat was curious. He stayed, always, two feet away from the baby. We have a fabulous video of Peanut, just able to sit up at 6 months, calling to the beautiful orange cat. In gibberish. Persistenly. At high volume. For more than 10 minutes. And then bursting into tears that the fuzzy brother would not come when called in screechy gibberish.

But whenever Peanut cried, the cat came running over.

That habit persisted until last week. If anyone in the house cried, my oldest love came running to see if he could do anything. And as always, I told him, “Thank you for checking on us. But seeing as you have no thumbs, you’re not much good to me, you silly old thing. But I appreciate the gesture.”

He was huge. When he laid on my chest, all 15 pounds, I felt grounded and true. When he laid on my lap, I acted just as I did with newborns: don’t move a muscle lest you jostle your dear little one.

He was a giant baby. Weaned too early, he and his feline brother both came to us, two months old, nursing on anything they could find. The black cat nursed on his older brother’s forearm. The big beige guy nursed on clothing. He eventually weaned his brother by biting him every time he started to suck on that wheat-colored arm. But nobody pushed him off the clothing, and for 13 years he slept and nursed on the jammies I wore out of the fire.

Whenever I sang, particularly showtunes, that little camel-hair-coated kitty came and sniffed my mouth, as though there were something preternatural inside he needed to diagnose. I wondered if he suspected I’d swallowed a Broadway cast and he wanted to come to their aid.

When his black feline sibling died, we worried about him. But he seemed not to notice. He still had us, and he seemed quite pleased about that.

When he got sick last week, I worried and called the vet. When they said he might not last the day I sobbed. When he didn’t make it even 48 hours from the first sign of illness, Spouse, that same man who crawled around with the kittens and wanted desperately to name them both Newt, wept like I’ve never seen him cry before.

Because Luke was our first baby.

And I’m wrecked.

Spouse took the litter boxes out of the bathrooms today. I thought I was going to be okay until the moment I saw that, for the first time in 13 years, there’s actually room to navigate our bathrooms.

And I don’t like it one little bit.

Hide between Dad's Feet

Pretending innocence

17 thoughts on “My first baby

  1. That cat confirmed you were nuts. Showtunes? He loved you and your crazy.

    Newt1 and Newt2 are a beautiful pair.

  2. Aww! I’m so sorry. I didn’t think I liked cats either until we recently got two to help deter mice from entering out house. Now I think I’m more of a cat person than a dog person, but just never knew. I do like my dog, though, too. He’s just needy in a way I sometimes can’t bear because of others’ neediness. Cats are cool on their own, though mine like to snuggle on a limited basis.

    Losing a pet is so hard. I’m so sorry.

  3. Newt 1 and 2 seemed like some pretty cool cats!

    I too had an early weaner except it nursed on me…until I followed the advise of a friend and rubbed Tabasco sauce on my arms and neck one night. As usual, he snuggled up to my neck and started suckling, then flew through the air hissing…he went cold turkey after that.

    Hugs to you.

    • Tabasco is some tough love.
      He nursed on clothes we weren’t wearing, so we didn’t feel the need to wean him. We just put the fire jammies at the end of the bed and ignored him.

  4. Rambo and Scoshi were our first feline babies. They passed strangely at major life turning points for us. Scoshi (at 17 years old) passed the weekend before the arrival of Belle, the first canine addition to the family. Rambo (at 18 years old) passed right after Bugga, the first homo sapien addition to the family. Ash arrived just after Baby C came into our lives. Of course, he’s just insane.

    Each cat offered their input on my first text, which you know all about.

    Sorry to hear about your loss. Cat’s require a different kind of interaction than dogs. They’re more independent and capable of becoming part of everyday life that dogs don’t. Dogs are more like an interjection and cats … not quite harmonious … but fitting into the eb and flow of things. Their loss feels very different from the loss of any other four-legged family member.


  5. I’m so sorry for your loss. Your post about this topic comes at an interesting time for me. Our 15-year-old feline and 14-year-old canine are both struggling. And I am too. I am not ready to say good-bye to my first babies who were the first siblings for my oldest. I know it will be soon for both of them. While I won’t have to worry about startling the dog who can’t see, hear, or walk well yet insists on laying close to me wherever I am, or cleaning up after the cat who can’t remember how to use the litter box – it’s like that empty space in your bathroom – I just won’t like that freedom one little bit.

    • Oh, Rita. I’m so sorry the end of their lives is so challenging. Can’t imagine they’re having a good time, either.
      We were awfully lucky, humans and feline alike, that the end was so swift and severe.
      I know you won’t miss the inconvenience of being a nursemaid to those family members. But maybe knowing they’re not having a hard time any more will help a bit.
      Good luck. Hope it’s gentle and swift, which is what I guess I hope for all of us.

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