Complacency has no home in the birthing box.
That much I knew after a few weeks with the Big Bang babies.
Things were calm now, but I had three kittens to rear, and my education was not yet complete. I’d already promised Talia we’d be partners and get through this together, but she was about to teach me my next big lesson.
The kittens had settled into a peaceful schedule of nursing and napping while Talia enjoyed breaks in the adjacent bedroom. She continued to roll over on them, but they were old enough to squirm out from under her. Her mothering was still unrefined, but nature had equipped her with the right instincts. She wasn’t especially nurturing, but whenever I approached the kittens, she stopped what she was doing and watched me with suspicion, ready to protect them if I stepped out of line. For this reason, I generally avoided handling the newborns and when I did, I moved slowly and within her view.
One morning, I entered the bathroom and found their box empty. I stood frozen, my mind racing to make sense of the scene. Rational thought dictated they had not escaped without help. My eyes locked on Talia, who was casually grooming herself in the bedroom.
“Where are your babies?” The pitch of my voice approached hysteria. She lifted a leg and chewed on the fur tufts between her toes while I frantically searched the room. I found them in a corner, comfortably asleep in a pile. Relieved, I sat down to take a breath and Google her behavior on my phone.
A mom cat will frequently move her kittens to ward off detection from predators.
But I did not approve of this spot. It wasn’t safe. What should I do?
You can move them back, but the Queen always wins. I glanced up at Talia. She regarded me with a smug expression.
I moved the kittens back to the box.
She returned them to the corner.
I waited until she went to use the litter box and moved them back to the box.
Corner. Box. Corner. Box. Corner.
Frustrated, I gazed into her wise green eyes and built a makeshift barricade, realizing my mistake. I was not in charge. This was not a partnership. Talia was the boss.
Through the many adjustments and milestones to come, I never pulled rank again. A kitten herself, Talia tried to play with her newborns, rabbit kicking them as if they were fellow litter mates, so I made sure she got plenty of daily exercise. Within time, the babies opened their eyes, walked, ate, and pottied. I was amazed how these transitions happened with relative ease.
Soon they became toddlers, escaping their playpen and racing around the room, jumping on Talia, and wrestling with each other. They developed distinct personalities: Penny the smart one, Raj the goofball, and Bernadette the adventurer. They’d grown up and were ready to head back to Tabby’s Place. Restless in her confinement, it was time for Talia to resume her own kittenhood as well.
During the three months this new little family stayed with me, my son finished high school and left for college, and my husband and I became empty nesters. In the midst of the chaos in my personal life, caring for Talia and her babies imposed long stretches of quiet, meditative time.
In these closed-off rooms, already vacated by my grown daughter, Talia and I bonded over one of life’s most precious journeys. She wasn’t always a perfect mother, and neither was I, but in moments of crisis we both managed to trust our instincts and muddle along. Through trial and triumph, we’d become partners in raising her children, and she’d unknowingly helped me let go of mine.
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Epilogue: As of the publishing date of this final blog entry, Talia and all five of her babies were spayed/neutered. After their rocky start to life, Sheldon and Amy are thriving; Bernadette and Raj are on hold to be adopted; and Talia, Sheldon, Amy and Penny are all available for adoption — and having a rollicking good time — at Tabby’s Place.