Happy 17th Birthday to my Son

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This is the first in the monthly #FelineFriday series.

My kids have 4 paws and a tail. It’s not a joke or some redneck colloquialism. After having four different doctors inform me that I cannot have children, my cats are the closest to a child for me. They have been with me longer than any human being, including either of my parents.

When I adopt, I adopt for life. I am not a crazy cat lady that lives with 10 or 15 cats. I live with two cats, because that is what is reasonable for me to handle given time, money, love, and other resources to ensure they have a life of true children.

Kitty is my oldest and my first.

Today he is 17.

I’m not sure if I adopted him, or if he adopted me, but in the past 17 years, he has made me a better person, taught me how to grow up, and shown me more about myself and others than I ever thought possible.

The first 7 years of his life were pretty rough for both of us. I was not yet settled, but I kept us together as a family. This was back in the time when my relationships were tenuous, my housing situation even more so, and the most stable things in my life were the fact that I had a car and a cat that made a family.

Kitty has an anxiety disorder, which he was diagnosed with by the Feline Behavioral Specialist at one of the most prestigious colleges of veterinary medicine in the country, which happens to be in our local community. I’m pretty sure his diagnosis is mostly my fault. It probably comes from homelessness.

From times that we were living in the car, Kitty has been my protector. He has always been hypervigilent and very possessive of me. I am definitely his human. At times he acts more like a dog than a cat. Most of the time, I am quite certain that he is more human than any being I have ever known.

As Kitty turned 7, I was finally able to give us some stability in life. We have had stable housing since he turned 7. In fact, the past decade has been the most stable decade of my life. I have worked hard to keep the family together. Yes, there were times that we were living in the car, but no matter how bad things were, I have always made sure that my kids have never gone without. They have always had food, and their medical care has been better than mine. Those are the sacrifices that you make as a parent – when you love someone so much with your whole being that you do everything to take care of them.

Kitty has been with me for 17 years. He has been here every time I walk in the door. He sleeps with me every night. Some days, he is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. He has seen me through multiple relationships, many of them abusive. He has become my litmus test for being able to judge a potential partner’s character. Does my Kitty like you? If so, then I’ll think about dating you.

Kitty has his own personality, and he takes care of me. In fact, his name was never intended to be Kitty. I named him Molecule. He would only ever answer to Kitty. I guess he chose his own name. Kitty is also a purebred Maine Coon with no papers. The breeder turned him in because his traits “weren’t desirable.” In 17 years, I have not found a single thing undesirable about him.

Kitty and I adopted each other when he was 4 months old. We were alone together that first year, and then, his younger brother Kip, entered our life. Kip had a chronic health condition, which contributed to my desire to provide more stability for all of us as a family. Kip passed away from his illness a few years ago, when he was 14.

When Kip was alive, I administered and kept track of all his medications. As he quickly declined, I even took to washing him with a washcloth his last day or two of life when he was just too tired to deal. I will always remember the night before Kip passed away. It was one of those moments when Kitty, in the way he interacted with Kip, showed me the true meaning of love. This is a manner of love so deep, that I have not seen it anywhere else in life.

They say that love is watching someone die. The night that Kip died was the only night in 17 years that Kitty did not sleep with me. He slept with Kip. Then, he woke me up at 3 am when Kip got bad to let me know it was time to say goodbye.

Kitty and I also grieved together. I would not have made it through Kip’s passing without Kitty. When Kitty’s time comes, I honestly don’t know how I will survive that moment. I hope it does not come any time soon, but I know that at age 17, our time together is now more limited.

I have a lot of guilt over the fact that I have worked most of his life. I mean, I had to work 60 hours a week or more in low-wage jobs while going to school just to pay the bills. Yes, I was finally able to provide housing and stability for our family, but the price that was paid was missing out on our time spent together.

I am looking forward to completing grad school and so grateful that I am now only working one job 40 hours a week or less so that I can have more of the short, precious, sweet time together. I know that our time together is shortening. When it is Kitty’s turn to pass away, I only hope that he knows I love him more than I have ever loved anyone. He needs to know how very much he is loved and how he is the best and most important thing that has ever happened to me.

I honestly think that if it hadn’t been for trying to keep the family together, I would probably still be drifting. I don’t think I would still be living in my car, but I would probably still be burning the candle at both ends right up until the wick was gone.

Kitty has been with me every day. He loves me when I’m happy, he loves me when I’m sad, he loves me when no human person in my life has loved me. He has taught me so much in life. I don’t think I saved him. I think he saved me.

When I say Happy 17th Birthday to my son, I really mean my son. Kitty has shown me what family means.

Happy 17th Birthday, Kitty. I love you.

From the back of a jacked up tailgate

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On this 4th of July holiday, I think we all take the time and opportunity to appreciate the good things in life – family, friends, and leisure time. Weekends like this make me wish every day was Independence Day. Oh wait, it is. You are in control of your own life. The choices you make decide what you do today, and what you do tomorrow. Granted, some of those choices are constrained by societal constructs and standards, but for the most part, we have a lot of freedom to decide the intricacies of our days.

Some of my favorite moments have occurred during 4th of July festivities, and I look forward to creating many more memories not only on 4th of July, but every day, as I orchestrate my life. Some of my favorite memories include:

  • Sleeping in the back of the pickup truck on the beach of the Pacific Ocean looking up at the stars after a long day of surfing, and an evening of bonfires, singing, and spending time with good friends both new and old.
  • Going to the drive-in to watch the latest movies with the one with whom you really want to spend your time.
  • Hiking the state parks and being able to see waterfalls along the way. For some truly spectacular views, check out Watkins Glen State Park in New York, which boasts over 100 waterfalls along their trails, the most of any park in the state.
  • Barbequing with friends after a game of ultimate Frisbee on the lake and spending time talking well into the night.
  • Fishing on the waterways, enjoying the quiet of nature, and the peace of the waves.
  • Tailgating prior to the DMB concert at VA Tech in the 1990s.

By far, one of my favorite views of the world has been from the back of a pickup truck. Whether transporting surfboards, hanging out with the dog, or sleeping under the stars, there is just something about feeling the calm and enjoying the scenery and the ones you are with.

What are your favorite ways to spend the holiday? While holiday weekends allow us a break from our normal lives, we don’t necessarily need a holiday to take that break. Yes, we all need to work to make money and live, but do not allow your occupation to define your life. You are not your job. How you spend your time when you are not at work is entirely your choice. Many of life’s greatest moments are experiences that do not require money, only time.

Happy Birthday, America.

Remember the freedom for which we have fought and obtained.

Embrace it. Fully. Rewind real slow.