58: And Baby Makes Six

58: And Baby Makes Six

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

And Baby Makes Six

Kittens can happen to anyone.

~Paul Gallico

She strolled up the steps of our deck, her tiny yet powerful pink nose tracking the scent of salmon sizzling on the grill. Skinny as a rail, this far-from-finicky feline had no time for gracious invitations. She was on a mission to fill her empty belly.

“What a beautiful kitty,” I whispered while stroking her coat, a patchwork of dirty white, gray, black and brown.

She slid her body along my leg, anxious to bond with the suspected source of the tantalizing smells that wafted through the air.

“Looks like trouble,” my husband teased.

He’s an animal lover too, but for him common sense usually wins over sentimentality.

“I know, but look how skinny the poor thing is,” I said as I scooped her into my arms, cradling her like a baby against my chest.

Then something caught my eye: the telltale signs of a soon-to-be-nursing mother cat.

“Oh no, she’s pregnant — look at her nipples!”

“You’re kidding,” my husband said as he placed the salmon on the table. “I guess we’d better get her a plate.”

Our guest perked up in anticipation of the impending feast. With no time for manners, this hungry little hobo practically inhaled the little mound of salmon we’d placed in front of her. Afterwards, she stretched out on the warm wood of the deck, soaking up the sun while licking her paws clean.

“A kitty!” cheered my six-year-old son as he raced into the back yard just in time for dinner. “Can we keep her?”

“I don’t think Chelsea would be too keen on that idea,” I said, referring to the reigning queen of our castle, a fat and happy feline with no desire to share the attention of her human subjects. The last time we introduced a potential playmate, she snarled and hissed and left a special “surprise” for me to clean up.

“And we don’t need a house full of kittens,” my always-practical husband pointed out.

“Kittens!” squealed my son, his eyes lighting up like Fourth of July fireworks. My husband rolled his eyes, obviously wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.

If this cat birthed her kittens outside, I thought, they would be feral and unadoptable — another sad statistic in the growing problem of homeless strays.

As the evening wore on, our diminutive dinner guest ate up our undivided attention. In the hustle and bustle of clearing the dinner dishes, she disappeared like a shadow into the night.

I hope she has a warm place to sleep, I prayed.

During the next few days, I learned that this wandering waif, dubbed Lucy by one neighbor, had dined and dashed at houses all along our street. I imagined her as a weary, cross-country traveler, stopping only to recharge and refuel at convenient truck stops along a dark and lonesome highway — and I worried about the future of her babies.

I guess it’s in Mother Nature’s hands, I told myself.

A week later, Lucy reappeared. Although a little rounder in the belly, the rest of her body was still much too thin for a pregnant mother.

“What if we keep her in the laundry room until she has the kittens?” I asked my husband. “Then we’ll find them good homes.”

A tall order I knew, even for an eternal optimist like me.

Surprisingly, my husband agreed. My son jumped for joy.

Quarantined in the laundry room, Lucy was safe and well fed; but she wasn’t exactly content. Accustomed to roaming the streets, this free spirit was used to doing what she pleased. Now she found herself trapped by the unwelcome responsibility of impending motherhood.

Despite her objections, our makeshift maternity ward offered privacy, protection and plenty of space for her to stretch her legs while we waited for the big day to arrive.

Periodically, we let her roam the house when “her majesty” was fast asleep in the upstairs bedroom. During one of these adventures, Lucy became strangely fixated on my husband, meowing and pawing at him. He repeatedly shooed her away but she kept at it with a frantic, almost desperate look in her eyes.

The light bulb of female intuition switched on in my head.

“I bet the babies are coming!” I exclaimed and we rushed Lucy to her birthing suite: a laundry basket lined with old baby blankets.

“What’s happening Mom?” my son asked, his eyes wide as her body contorted with contractions.

“She’s giving birth, honey,” I answered softly. “We need to be as calm and quiet as possible because this is a big job for her.”

In a matter of minutes, Lucy squeezed out a motionless bundle of bloody fur — ugly yet amazing.

“What’s that?” My son looked like he was about to lose his lunch.

“It’s her baby,” I said. “And I think there are more on the way.”

Lucy licked each newborn until tufts of fuzzy, down-like fur appeared, then leaned into the next set of contractions without a sound. I stroked her softly, marveling at how calmly she performed one of the most daunting duties of motherhood.

“Is it a girl or boy?” my son asked, anxious to find out whether he had a new sister or brother.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” I said.

Exhausted after this maternal marathon, Lucy and her new family fell fast asleep.

The next day, the unsteady siblings — one girl and four boys — inched around on weak, wobbly legs in search of milk from mama’s belly.

“Why can’t they open their eyes?” my son asked.

I appreciated his eagerness, recalling the first time I gazed into my own baby boy’s eyes as I held him in my arms.

The kittens seemed to double in size overnight, as did their curiosity. They explored every nook and cranny of the laundry room, clumping through their food dishes and digging feverishly in the litter box while dust clouds puffed into the air. They squeezed through narrow passages behind the washer and dryer, played hide-and-seek in a stack of paint trays, and wrestled in piles of dirty clothes. This once plain and practical space became a playground of endless fun and fascination for them.

Day after day, Lucy dutifully tended to her babies’ needs. Then one afternoon, she made a break for it.

I spotted her from the kitchen window, a flash of fur sprinting across our back yard. It didn’t surprise me: what mother hadn’t fantasized about making a mad dash from reality? But I wasn’t about to become a surrogate mother to five little felines.

I acted fast, running to the laundry room and gently holding one of the kittens up to the open window while he mewed frantically. Lucy stopped short then bounded back to comfort her crying baby.

A wanderer’s soul is no match for fierce maternal instinct.

I soon found good homes for all five kittens — and for Lucy. My son cried when one adoptive mother chose his favorite, the one he’d hoped to keep as his own.

This feline family not only touched our hearts, but also taught us some important life lessons about giving to those in need — and about letting go.

~Margrita Colabuno

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