My children have big birthdays this year – they turn 16, 18, and 21. They are growing up – slowly, quickly, reluctantly, painfully, beautifully.
The youngest’s birthday comes first, and has just passed. There has been a history of terrible events occurring on Neale’s special day. One year a hurricane lingered off the coast, and we spent her day confined to an Orlando hotel room. A few years ago, my older daughter – armed with a learner’s permit, not yet officially licensed to operate a car – drove us into a wreck right in front of the birthday restaurant. It wasn’t her fault, and no one was hurt. But still. It kind of dampened the celebratory mood.
This year, the oldest, who lives in an apartment with her cat named Miss Moment, woke up to find Miss Moment not in the apartment. The cat had apparently escaped the night before when my daughter was getting something from her car.
My daughter – this is Scout, the one I called the Diva in my early blogs – struggled against a strangling sense of panic. She called me, but I didn’t have my ringer on and missed her call. By the time I rang her back two hours later, she had recruited her dad into putting up flyers, she had posted notices on social media, and a friend was riding a bike around and around the neighborhood looking for Miss Moment, who efficiently goes by Moe.
I felt as helpless as I ever have during my 20 years of parenting. I asked her if she had been drinking the night before (she hadn’t), then apologized immediately for blaming her. “Cats get out,” I told her. “It happens.”
I have never been a cat person. Dogs forever. I’ve never owned a cat. But I’ve recently had two cat experiences that have softened my dog-loving heart. The first is that I watched Miss Moment for three weeks while Scout was out of town. And currently I’m fostering a cat longterm for a friend. I love when they appear almost magically against you, purring. They are beautiful and mostly self-cleaning, except for the litter box, which is a plus. They pounce, which is fun to watch.
Cats are also kind of assholes. They don’t listen. They don’t leap with joy when they see you. They taunt. They sit on the edge of the counter and stare at you and then push out their little paws and knock glasses of water onto the floor. They sharpen their claws on your sofa, ignoring the $50 deluxe cat tower with scratching post sitting just five feet away.
Well. I could go on and on.
I never would have encouraged Scout to get a cat. But one day at work, she texted me and asked if we could FaceTime. My imagination went into overdrive. Was she pregnant? In jail? Taking drugs? In the hospital? Married? Registered as a Republican? Of course! I texted back, pretending I was just happy to hear from her.
I answered her call, and there on the screen was the tiniest little puff of breathing fur I had ever seen. Scout was in love. She even let the younger kids name the kitten, and because they were enamored with the language of RuPaul at the time, Miss Moment became the moniker. Moe. Spelled with an ‘e,’ because why not.
That was a year ago, and now Moe was missing, and my Scout could barely contain her fear. She has loved Moe fiercely. Moe has been her companion through heartbreak and love, through loneliness and friendship. Moe, I realized, had become for Scout like my dog Buddy is for me. And if my dog Buddy was lost, I would be nearly paralyzed.
I was not ready for my girl to feel this kind of grief, a grief that would be tinged with guilt and despondency, an unanticipated loss that would send her reeling. I waited to hear from her with growing dread.
Unbeknownst to me, the birthday girl had arrived at the apartment to aid in the search. She, too, loved Moe, and had spent many hours teasing her with mouse-like toys and encouraging her to chase tiny red lights for fun. Neale started walking south and immediately spied a cat strolling languorously across a lawn. She approached it slowly to confirm its identity. It was Moe.
She picked her up and carried her home, thereby becoming a superhero on the morning of her 16th birthday.
It was, in fact, a very adulting day for all of them. Neale became a cat-finding lionheart, Scout felt the first pains of grief and responsibility, and Nico spent the day driving home from an 8-hour solo road trip to the University of Alabama which I had allowed him to take, making me either the worst mother ever or the best. Still not sure.
These days, I’m not sure of much, actually. I don’t know about tomorrow, much less the future. My sense of self vacillates between sharp and hazy. But these things I know for sure: my children are learning to flourish beyond the confines of their mother’s embrace, and sometimes, cats are okay.