For me, writing is like dancing in the rain. It’s blissful time spent spinning my random thoughts into fantastic stories. Creative writing is the carrot I dangle in front of myself. It’s my reward for completing mundane tasks like laundry or updating my mailing list. I haven’t felt like writing anything other than art tutorials in months. I’ve been in an uninspired slump due to my fears about the pandemic and all that it has changed. I was truly surprised that my ability, or in this case inability to write colorful stories that unveil new and artistic perspectives, hinged on my inner happiness and emotional health.
Kittens gave me my voice back.
Tiny kittens gave me a reason to write and reflect on our evolving situation. I first began taking the kittens’ pictures to have something positive to share with family and friends. I wanted to make them smile because seeing the kittens and momma kitty taking care of them made me smile. To date, I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of them every week for 18 weeks. After a few weeks, I recognized parallels between the kittens’ growth and my struggles to grasp what was happening to us. Despite world crisis they were tiny reminders that new life and hope are possible. Each week I recorded their growth with my camera. I witnessed their steady transition from helpless dependents, to adventurous thrill seekers, to lazy adolescents.
The kittens, and the enormous number of pictures I collected inspired me to write. Wouldn’t you know, once I started writing, the words flowed like water from a faucet. What I thought would be a short account has become a complex winding journey of discovery, revelation, and hope. And so, I offer you my story in parts. Please enjoy my Kitten Quarantine Countdown – Part 1.
Taking kitten pictures turned into a physical calendar of sorts. It was a way to track the passing weeks with hope.
Before I go on you should know mama kitty, Sissy Cat and her kittens are well taken care of. The barn owner is keeping them all. She has four young children who love the kittens and give them lots of attention. Horse owners who board their horses at the barn hold them when the kittens are in the mood to cuddle. Mama kitty and all her kittens were spayed or neutered when the kittens were old enough.
March 16, 2020, 1 Week Old
On March 9, 2020 six tiny fur balls were born in the soft shavings of a horse stall at the barn where we board my daughter, Niki’s horse. The adorable kittens stole my heart on sight. It was their one week birthday when we met. They’d been moved to the safety of the tack room and were snuggled tight in a feed bucket. I took pictures of the squirming pile of fur as they kneaded and pawed for position on momma kitty’s belly. Sissy Cat was a proud and devoted mother from the beginning. She tirelessly fed and cleaned her babies. When visitors stopped by to admire her new family, she’d take a break and circle your legs for attention.
At one week old, the newborn kittens’ ears and eyes were closed. Their physical immaturity and defenselessness against outside threats in a new world echoed my own unpreparedness. Like the kittens, I didn’t want to hear or see the bad news-the certain reality that COVID-19 was spreading across the US at an alarming rate. Like the kittens, we isolated ourselves and found consolation with the comfort of family.
March 22, 2020, 2 Weeks Old
Sad news. There were only five kittens this week. One was weak. Despite efforts to nurse it back to health the kitten died. Thankfully, the remaining kittens were growing strong. They were more active, but contained by the steep walls of the feed bucket. Still blind and deaf, they struggled to get a grip on the slippery rubber feed bucket. They blindly swam around the bottom of the bucket on their bellies going by smell and feel until they found the security of their mom and siblings.
I reminded myself every day to be grateful that my family was together. We were safe and healthy.
Likewise, we were fumbling around trying to grasp the unfathomable. We were blindsided by the unfolding news about the devastating significance of the pandemic’s long term effect on life as we knew it. We stress-ate comfort foods, having meals of French fries and ice cream, while lettuce wilted in the crisper drawer. We slept longer, waking bone tired from the sustained duress of uncertainty and conflicting news reports. I tried to stay positive and reminded myself every day to be grateful that my family was together. We were safe and healthy.
March 30, 2020, 3 Weeks Old
The kittens had a home upgrade from the small feed bucket to a spacious crate. Their eyes and ears had opened. They were curious observers now. They explored the corners of the crate walking sideways on wobbly little legs, as if they were on a listing boat. Mama kitty was happy to have human company in the tack room. She was tired of the constant care of five in a confined space. Whenever I entered the tack room she circled my feet and rubbed against my legs asking for attention. She loved being scratched under her chin. When I’d pet her back, I’d be rewarded with sleepy eyes and her soft purring. Meanwhile, the kittens were piled up in the corner of the crate watching and learning how momma skillfully worked the simple human.
In the future, when I look back on that pivotal time, I hope I see myself as a role model to my kids that I’m proud of.
The death toll from the virus was rising at a frightening rate and it showed no signs of slowing. I was staggering on uneven ground gathering as much information as possible to keep my family informed, safe and healthy. I was happy to have momma kitty’s attention. Like her, I was fatigued by the constant care of my family in a confined space. At home, we were all being considerate of each other to a fault. Saying please and thank-you for every small gesture of service. Was our compassion for each other real or an illusion? It’s possible I manifested it to cope with the growing reality that people were dying. Just like that, life as we knew it changed in an irreversible way. In the future, when I look back on that pivotal time, I hope I see myself as a role model to my kids that I’m proud of. I hope I was an unselfish, nurturing, teacher, equal to momma kitty with her kittens.
April 1, 2020, 4 Weeks Old
Eating and sleeping were still the kittens primary activities. Between snacks and naps they wandered around the inside of the crate investigating the corners. They walked a little steadier, with more purpose this week. Their eyes were bright and curious. They mildly liked being held, tolerating cuddling and cooing for a few minutes, then they’d squirm to be released. They were starting to play with each other, chewing each other’s ears and batting swishing tails. When momma kitty was inside the crate the kittens hungrily climbed all over her, she had no room to get away or space for herself. Whenever we were in the tack room, momma pleaded with her eyes to be let out for a few minutes. She’d circle my feet and rub herself against my legs purring for attention. She was cotton soft and warm in my hands.
April Fool’s Day was canceled. Jokes and clever tricks held no humor or amusement. No one was in the mood to laugh when the Governor announced the state was closing. I work from home and love my living and working space. I didn’t mind having to stay home. I did mind not having the option to go out, or to shop, or to feel comfortable in a store around strangers who no longer make eye contact or smile.
I didn’t mind having to stay home. I did mind not having the option to go out.
We were told to stay home, shelter-in-place. Only go out to buy essential items. This brought up the question, what’s essential? Food, of course. Toilet paper, yes. Hand soap, hard yes. Clothes, maybe. If we’re not going out, I could wear old T-shirts and baggy shorts. Plants? Flowers? Gardening supplies? For me that was a definite, yes. So why did I feel a pang of guilt when I bought those things?
At Home Depot I worried the shopping cart police would pull me over and confiscate my purple petunias. At the checkout I felt judged by the young cashier. I felt bad that she had to work in public while I had the luxury of working in the comfort of my home office and private art studio. She obviously needed the job. No one would work under those conditions, wearing a hot face mask and sweaty gloves in the garden center in 90-degree weather if they didn’t need the income. Then I thought, my purchase was keeping the store in business. In a small way I was helping her.
How did this relate to the kittens? I became pinpoint focused on my family’s most primary needs: food, shelter, and safety. We gathered together and supported each other with kindness and love, and a little ear biting, when necessary. For the most part, I’m proud of how my family was handling the stress and forced togetherness. It wasn’t always easy. Tempers flared, mostly sparked by fear and emotional exhaustion. The looming threat of the virus was exhausting. It’s a ghost in the darkness. You know it’s out there, haunting you; it’s just a matter of time before it jumps out and grabs you.
Horses are to Niki what flowers are for me. Essential. Therapy. Necessary.
Another question came up. Should we continue to go to the barn for my daughter, Niki’s weekly riding lessons? Horses are to Niki what flowers are for me. Essential. Therapy. Necessary for a happy, healthy outlook on life and the future. Heaven knows we needed all the positive energy we could find at that time.
It really wasn’t a question at all. Niki adores her horse, Glorie. If Niki had a choice, she’d live with Glorie instead of me. One day soon, she will. Niki supplies feed and maintains Glorie’s routine care. Of course, we’d continue going to the barn. We’d maintain safe distances, wash our hands, and socialize outside six feet apart.
Being the devoted barn mom I am, the minute we arrive I clean the barn bathroom as well as all the doorknobs and light switches with disinfectant. Just so you know, I did that before the pandemic. Barn bathrooms are the worst! No offense to any barn owners, but barn bathrooms should be painted the color of dirt. Oh, and don’t get me started on the spiders. Warning don’t look up in the corners.
As the weeks turned into months there were many times that I was extremely thankful to have the barn to go to. The only other place we went was the grocery store and there was nothing pleasant about grocery shopping anymore. Prices were high, shelves were bare, the tension between people hangs in air like stale cigarette smoke, and I can’t hear a thing anyone behind a mask is saying.
The barn was a relaxing destination. The drive was nice, just long enough to feel like we went somewhere, and it got us out of the house. It was our weekly routine. We’d get breakfast on the way, then I’d watch Niki’s lesson, then I’d do a photo shoot with the kittens while Niki groomed Glorie. The barn property has huge beautiful old oak trees that cast giant pools of shade. The scenery is picturesque. Horses and ponies graze in green fields. Chickens run around like they have somewhere to go. The barn is a lovely, peaceful, quiet place to enjoy being outdoors. And of course it has adorable kittens. No flowers yet, but I’ll work on that.
Special thanks to Kiper Farms for giving us a safe and friendly place to go when we needed space to breath.
Take a few minutes to do something special for yourself. Small distractions really do improve your outlook and well being. Look at the positive impact tiny kittens had on me, and now hopefully you.
What are you doing to find balance?
Wishing you good health and happiness,
Don’t miss Part 2 – Follow my Blog!
Week 6- I took a few priceless pictures that captured the pure essence of kittens and their perfected balance of innocence and badass.