26: Daycare

26: Daycare

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?

Daycare

A good neighbor will babysit. A great neighbor will babysit twins.

~Author Unknown

“Look, Mama. There’s a white cat.” Mary pointed out a white shape against the dark green of the pinion pines in our front yard. An elegant white cat surveyed us with piercing green eyes.

“I wonder who she belongs to,” I murmured. Mary went over to the tree and stood on tiptoe, her tiny bare feet quivering with effort to reach our guest.

As if she knew the child was gentle and kind, the cat tilted her head to let Mary scratch behind her ear. “Oh, Mama,” she breathed. “I’m going to call her Snowflake.”

Our tiny home was already bursting with two adults, three children, two dogs, two cats, and two fish. I glanced at the For Sale sign posted next to our driveway. On top of keeping everything neat and tidy for the unexpected calls from potential buyers, the idea of taking in another cat overwhelmed me.

“Please, Mama!” Beth jumped up and down beside her older sister, straining to reach the kitty, who knew to stay out of reach of the smaller girl.

“Who do you think she belongs to, Mom?” At nine, Jim took his job as older brother seriously.

“I don’t know. She’s too beautiful to be a stray or feral. She’s not very old, but she’s certainly not a kitten. Let’s ask around the neighborhood.”

“Then can we keep her?”

“We’ll see.”

Deep in my heart I suspected that someone from the city had abandoned the cat. An hour later, we trudged back up our driveway. “Mom, no one lost a white cat,” Jim said.

“Kids, we can’t bring another cat into the house.”

“But we can feed her. Right?”

“Yes.”

“Hurray!” The kids charged up the wooden steps of the deck.

“We’re not keeping her!” I called to their disappearing backs.

A week later, I slipped out into the garden by the pond as dawn glowed. I sat by the dark and still water, pulled my sweater close against the chill of the summer morning air as I sipped my morning cup of Irish Breakfast tea.

“Mrrow.”

I glanced up as Snowflake jumped down from the pine tree and ambled over to sit beside me, both of us watching the pink and orange reflection of the sky against the surface of the water. When I dipped my fingers into the water, the goldfish came to the surface, and immediately Snowflake was on the alert, eyes glued on the flashing orange shapes.

“Oh no you don’t,” I laughed, deflecting her paw as she moved to strike at the fish. “Those are my goldfish.” She initially resisted, but then relaxed and curled up next to me. As I rubbed her she flopped onto her back, silently begging me to scratch her belly.

When I felt the small swellings, I knew Snowflake was pregnant. Just what I needed — a knocked-up teenager. While I wasn’t ready to turn Snowflake into a housecat, well, not my housecat, I couldn’t ignore a pregnant cat.

I purchased nourishing food for expectant mommies, and Snowflake rewarded us with her presence every time we were outdoors, sitting with me in the early mornings or following the kids as they played in the yard.

We created a safe place for her to sleep and ultimately have her kittens. Snowflake allowed my children to pick her up and place her in the new bed we’d provided. But as soon as we walked away, she’d hop out and head over to my strawberry bed, through the wire field fence to our neighbor’s yard to where she had found a small space underneath one of their many sheds. Our neighbor had many piles of wood, lumber, sheds, and abandoned cars, which made good hiding places for small animals and an even better hunting ground for a determined cat like Snowflake.

As Snowflake became heavier and bulkier, she was content to just sit and watch my children play. One morning, she failed to appear and I worried that an owl or coyote had gotten her. But later Mary ran into the house, face glowing, and announced, “Snowflake had her kittens!”

“Where?”

“Under the shed next to the fence!” We all charged outside and raced to the fence line. Try as we might, we couldn’t see far enough under the shed to spy the kittens, but we heard their tiny mewling sounds. For several days, we saw nothing of Snowflake, but continued to hear her kittens. I had hoped my kids could see the kittens as newborns, but I explained to them about Snowflake’s determination to protect her little family.

About a week later, my kids and I sat on the porch hulling strawberries. I looked up to see what looked like Snowflake coming through the fence, hopping over the strawberry hills, heading our way. She had something in her mouth.

“Mom! Snowflake is bringing us a kitten!” Mary cried.

The skinny, dirty, bedraggled white cat carried a tiny black and white kitten in her mouth. Snowflake dropped it into my outstretched hand, turned away, trotted across the yard, and through the fence. She reappeared with another white bundle. Five times she came through the fence with one of her kittens held gently in her mouth.

Snowflake’s appearance alarmed me. It had only been five days since we had seen her, but she looked awful. Her eyes were dull, and I noticed that her nictitating membranes were not fully retracting. Our new little mother was clearly exhausted. The last time she disappeared through the fence, she didn’t reappear.

We stared down at the kittens curled together in a tight mass of black, white, and brown fur, and I suddenly realized that Snowflake had brought her brood to us to babysit. “Jim, go get a box. Mary, there’s a towel under the sink in the bathroom.” Beth and I stared in wonder at the tiny miracles in my lap. Beth gently stroked between the eyes of one tiny kitten who raised its head to her touch and began to purr.

The kittens nestled together in their box. About four hours later, just as I began to worry that she had left her still-blind kittens for me to raise, Snowflake reappeared. Her movements were more brisk and her eyes were brighter. She was still bedraggled, but she’d made an effort to groom herself.

Snowflake had taken a much-needed nap.

This set the pattern for the next few weeks. Every afternoon after lunch, Snowflake brought her kittens for us to babysit while she took a nap and had a bath. Before dinner, she retrieved her kittens, who had learned to follow her.

Knowing firsthand how tiring pregnancy and childrearing can be, I could only look at Snowflake with admiration. Who could resist such a cat? When time came to find homes for the kittens, we opened our home and our hearts to Snowflake and one of her daughters, both of whom visited the vet to prevent another unwanted teen pregnancy. A delightful addition to our family, Snowflake and her daughter gave us many years of pure love, but no more babysitting duty.

~Kathleen Birmingham

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