I was all set to write my Thanksgiving post, but writing anything has been nearly impossible since this happened:
I have fostered kittens before, successfully if that means getting them safely reared and placed in good homes, unsuccessfully if that means one of those homes should not be mine, which it was and which 9 years later looks like this:
But other feline foster parents at the shelter where I volunteer were full up when these furballs arrived Friday. And some time ago I had prepared a suitable space, steeling myself to fret and laugh and navigate the magnificent and perilous province of attachment, which now looks like this:
They’re four weeks old, having been removed from their feral mother too soon. But the shelter accepts whoever comes through the door, even when overwhelmed by kittens, which is pretty much all the time. At least these wee ones — three boys and a girl, none weighing as much as a pound — had been introduced to baby food and milk replacer, so bottle-feeding would not be necessary.
Nonetheless, babies are babies, and it’s now my job to shepherd them through the next four to six weeks and the immediate perils of infancy: They have diarrhea, normal in their circumstance but a concern with newborns of every species because of dehydration; little creatures can die of such maladies with cruel quickness. So I was worried when the grey tabby — the shyest — did not take food at midnight Saturday, though he was right as rain the next morning.
I have been calling him “the grey tabby” in a conspicuous effort to appear unattached. A friend keeps asking if I’ve named the kittens, and I keep outwardly demurring. Inwardly, I have followed the shelter practice of naming litters by themes, so individuals are linked by association. We’ve found homes for the sundaes — Butterscotch, Caramel and Turtle — and the Revolutionary War figures — Hamilton, Washington, Lafayette — and currently have a couple of Trekkies ready for adoption: Spock, for sure, though I think Kirk recently found his forever home. So outwardly, I have not named the kittens now living at my house Xander, Giles, Spike and Buffy.
Pretense aside, it’s already done: attachment. They have started to call to me in their tiny kitten voices, asking me to play with them, hold them in my lap, brush and pet them. And I am calling back, involuntarily: I’m here. I’m not near as good as your mom, but I’ll take care of you. Please be well.
We already belong to each other.
I watch them playing — spinning like tops, tumbling over one another, throwing themselves with such abandon into the unknowable days to come — and consider Kahlil Gibran’s famous words about children in The Prophet:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
Then, I sigh: Attaching without possessing is a noble aspiration, but Gibran never had children, and I doubt he fostered kittens. In this matter as in most important endeavors, the saying is much easier than the doing. And the day these four leave my home for the big, broad world will be fraught with sadness. But hope, too, for loving homes and full feline lives.
But that time is not now. Now, I realize I have just blown my nose with a tissue I used to wipe the butt of the kitten I have not named Buffy. The grey tabby — the kitten I have not named Xander — is stirring from sleep, and the orange kittens, the ones I have not named Giles and Spike, have already tumbled out of the little nest they all share. They see me above, typing at a table, no farther from them than I care to be; they mew and fix me with those impossibly big kitten eyes.
Play, they say. So I do.