Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Story of Moses-Kitten

Sunday evening, there I was, sitting in my house as the sun went down. The chicks, hen and ducks had been cooped for the night. Our bumbling dog and chattering seven year-old had been sent up to bed for the evening. My husband had wrapped up a weekend spend building boxes around my cool weather garden beds and filling those with compost in preparation for fall crops. Myself–I was gardening. Catalogs were spread around me. Dog-eared books lay flat against the rug. My pen jotted furiously. Mike walked by.

"I am cross-referencing the recommended vegetable varieties for our area with their available sources," I told him.

He raised his eyebrows and, covered with dirt and sweat, went to go put the tools away. A short while later, he came back.

"I think there's an animal in distress out there, " he said. "I thought it was the sound of the chicks, but I think it's out front."

I climbed out from under the heap of gardening books, and walked out onto the front step. Silence and crickets. Glancing into my poultry yard, my eyes glimpsed the little black and white face of an unwanted visitor. I went back in.

"There's a skunk in the bird yard. The chicks must just be going crazy."

Mike, though, disappeared as I continued to jot down varieties I could buy from Native Seeds/Search. I heard his steps as he came into the living room and stood next to me. I looked up to see him holding a very small animal. My first thought was that he had brought in a baby skunk and I let out a small shriek. Looking again, though, I saw that it was not a skunk but a kitten–perhaps two weeks old.

"He was in the hood of John's truck just behind the head light. I've been hearing him for hours."

Mike handed me the kitten. It felt slightly cold and I fussed about, demanding a heating pad and towel to put it on. It mewed and pitched about, not really walking, but drunkenly ambling forward and landing in odd places. I directed Mike to walk down to the house where the drunk cat-hoarding people live and see if they have a mama cat there. A short while later, he returned, still with the kitten in hand.

"Well, I guess I need to take care of it, " I sighed.

I called the emergency vet to see what I could feed it if I couldn't get any kitten formula after 9 PM on a Sunday. Mike emailed the local pet store, which has a Pet Supply 911 form online and, then, as almost an hour passed and the kitten began trying to nurse from fleshy patches of my hand, I sent Mike to the grocery store to get kitten formula, if any could be gotten.

"I think I may have seen it there," I said.

He returned sometime later with a product labeled "cat milk."

"This isn't right," I said, "but maybe it will do until morning. It says it's OK for kittens."

I tried feeding the kitten from a dropper. He was livid and pushed at the dropper, insulted.

"I guess I should go back and try again," said Mike. At this point, it was 10:30.

"If you can't get that," I told him, "get infant formula."

But he made it back with kitten formula and a bottle. Thank God, I thought. From that point, it took 45 minutes to get the kitten to eat anything.

"I want you to know," said Mike, "that we are not keeping that kitten unless we get rid of Marmalade Lion. So don't start thinking you want to keep him."

"Of course I want to keep him," I told Mike. "He's like Moses."

"How's that?"

"Moses was found in a basket of bullrushes and this kitten was found in the hood of John's truck. I would think the similarities would be obvious."

In order to piss off my husband, I started referring to the kitten as Moses and made him take its picture. Mike began to look distressed. Then, in looking further at the formula bottle, I discovered I would have to get up and feed him again in three to four hours and, haggard, at 11:45, dragged myself off to bed. I set an alarm for 4 AM.

I set up the box but the kitten preferred to sleep in my hair. He mewled all night. He wanted to eat every two hours and suffered from restless leg syndrome. He needed to be burped. I tried to rub his nether-parts with a damp cloth to encourage him to produce urine and feces, but he acted afflicted and would neither pee nor poop.

In the morning, Mikalh awoke and declared that he wanted to keep the Moses-kitten. The kitten awoke and declared he was hungry. More bottle feeding commenced. Rowan and Devin came back from their dad's and met it.

"Can we keep it. Please?" said Devin immediately.

My mother came over and fell in love with the kitten, apologizing profusely to it for the absence of its mother in baby talk. Our dog Xavier, the Super Nanny, could hardly contain himself. A pitiful, whining sound emanated from his gullet and he covered the kitten with slobber and adulation. I had to put him out so the kitten didn't drown.

"Can I have a turn to hold it?"

"Can we keep it?"

I could get nothing done. The kitten needed to be comforted, held, fed and the problem of its urination addressed. My mother, luckily, volunteered to hold it while I cleaned the house, bleary-eyed with lack of sleep.

The care of this kitten for me was somehow a religious act. Throughout my life, things have come into my sphere of awareness that required care and I have felt that it was my job not to turn away from them but to go ahead and care for them. Whether or not there was money, time, sleep, room, reason–I have just cared for them. I have ended up with feral cats time and time again, adopted from litters underneath my house. I have a dog that was given to me by a little boy in the parking lot of Lowe's. My backyard holds a chicken that was nearly pecked to death by her flock and needed a new home. We are raising three new chicks to be her friends. We have four ducks because we started with one that was lonely and needed a home. And I have decided to home school my intelligent, creative, distractible seven year-old next year so that he can have the closest thing I can get him to the education he really needs.

Either I am St. Francis of Assisi or I am completely insane.

The afternoon wore on. I cleaned. The kitten ate. I finally got him to pee. My older two kids begged to be dropped off downtown so that they could while away the hours walking through grocery stores and libraries in a town with nothing to do. When the house was empty of children old enough to have armpit hair, I looked outside to see that there was a lean, wide-eyed cat sitting under my neighbor's truck.

"Mom," I said. "Give me that kitten. I think that's his mama."

I walked outside, gingerly onto my grass, holding the kitten where she could see. Her eyes grew to saucers but she did not budge. And I set him down in my grass and stepped back. The Moses-kitten mewled and cried piteously, complaining of this new abandonment. The lean cat did not move. But, from across the street, summoned by the wail, came a cat the very image of him–medium-haired, patched white and grey and lifted him up in her mouth. She ran with him across the street and he was gone.

I heard my seven year-old, Mikalh collapse in wails.

In an instant, that responsibility for the care of a tiny, helpless thing was gone. The decision was made without deliberation or question but by instinct. Only after did I wonder if I had done the right thing. Did this block need more feral cats? Would he be better off without a person to care for him? All I knew was that, right now, he desperately needed his mother and that we were very poor substitutes. In three weeks, he would be better off with me or someone else. That simple matter of three weeks would define the rest of his life.

The rest of my decisions I make in slow motion. I decide to remain at work. I decide to cut hours. Then, finally I decide to leave altogether. I decide to send my son half a day. Finding out more about what that would mean, I decide to try a full day and see after three months. Then I decide it would be better not to heap on more failure but to start fresh, to begin clean and I pull him out all together. I question everything. Nothing I do feels right. Do I devote myself to nights awake, holding the bottle to the lips of a confused ball of fur or set loose a stray upon the world? Sacrifice the right love now for the right love later? Or the reverse? Had I thought about it, could I ever have decided?

I am not so sure, but Mama Cat was. That was her baby, and she was there–the second she could hear that familiar cry. She picked him up without indecision and hid him some place new. Covered with the smells of dried dog slobber and human flesh, she still knew her child.

A great deal of pain could perhaps be saved if I felt as sure of myself as that mama cat–if I could run as fast as my legs would carry me to lift my children to safety, undeterred by the strangeness of the lingering smells of the world on their flesh. A great deal of pain indeed.


  1. This is an amazing story!

    After all you'd been through with the little thing, to have it suddenly hurried away like that was a fantastic twist to your day...

    I'm (usually) glad I'm not guided strictly by instinct. I'm big on taking credit for my good decisions, rare as they might be.

    1. It was so strange to have it gone all of a sudden!

      You know, I don't exactly think my life would be better if it were guided purely by instinct, either. I'm by nature a thoughtful person. I think sometimes I just go way too far with that thought. It felt refreshing to act instinctively for once.

  2. Yeah. . you're St. Francis of Assisi.

    1. Well, not really. I'm much more likely insane. But thanks all the same. ;)

  3. Wouldn't it be nice to more clearly listen to our instincts rather than suffer from analysis paralysis? Personally, I'd enjoy a bit less deliberation in my big life decisions anyway. And I think you're a wonderful combination of St Francis and insane. :-)

    1. That's probably an apt, if generous, description, Margi. :)

  4. Tara, a wonderful story with highly entertaining tidbits. Loved your phrase "When the house was empty of children old enough to have armpit hair" ! What a great way to reference supposed teenagers. As for your identity, you write too well to be insane, St. Francis the First may resent a Second, so you must be the next host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom! Tom . . . sniggling a bit, who has only one miniature snauzer to tend to.

    1. Ha! Wild Kingdom might be a good platform for me. I have been collecting sundry needful animals all my life. My eldest son informs me that when he grows up he will have only a dog. Like you. Much saner.

  5. Can I tell you an interesting tidbit? In my book, (which I started 2 years ago, way before I 'met' you) I have a character named Terra. She is a redhead. Her Gift is that she can talk to animals.

    What this means, I don't know, but I don't believe in coincidence.

    (Aren't all writers just a bit insane? Makes our stories better.)

    1. That's fabulous, Jewels. My career as an animal whisperer has been interrupted only somewhat by my concentration on my own biological children. Perhaps Terra and I are related. I can't wait to meet her. :)

      And yes, you can't write well, I contend, without being at least mildly bent. Where would you get your material?

  6. I love that your maternal instincts were just as strong as mummy cat and that you knew where the kitten was supposed to be....with its mother.

    I would hazard a guess that your instincts with your own babies are just as spot on, but I know I over analyse the decisions I make just to make sure my instincts are still firing on all cylinders ;-)

    I am glad to be back reading our blog after a while away, I have missed your witty take on life.

  7. "Either I am St. Francis of Assisi or I am completely insane." I don't wish to alarm you, but these two things are probably not mutually exclusive and may, in fact, be a wadded-up mess of cause and effect that will never be untangled.

    I adored this and I am all too familiar with self-doubt and second-guessing and overthinking especially when it comes to trying to protect others, including but not limited to the ones I brought into the world.


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License