Sunrise, Sunset

Yesterday was a big day around here, full of endings and beginnings. North has finished high school (though graduation is almost two weeks off) and we adopted two kittens.

Penultimate Week of School

“I am never going to high school on a Tuesday again,” North informed me on the second Tuesday in May when I got back from voting in the Maryland primary. Public schools were closed because some of them were polling places, so North had the day off. They had already voted by mail, so they ordered pizza and watched two horror movies back-to-back—Halloween and Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. “Are you living your best life?” I asked them and they said yes. The reason they’d have no school the following Tuesday was that it was Senior Skip Day, and I did end up saying yes to that.

Last Weekend of the School Year

The following weekend Beth and North went cabin camping. They took some hikes, including one along the Susquehanna River, where they saw a lot of herons, and they explored antique stores in Havre de Grace, where North bought some penguin earrings. On Saturday North fed most of their school papers for the year into a bonfire, which has been a May-and-June camping trip tradition for both kids over the years. (They had to save a few papers because there was another week of school left.)

Last Week of School, Monday

On Monday, North went to school in pajamas because it was Pajama Day for Senior Spirit Week. They were also lugging a tote bag filled with apple juice, pineapple juice, paper cups, and a bag of Sour Patch Kids. This was their contribution to their AP Lit class’s end-of-year party. In law, they started watching Legally Blonde, and they didn’t expect to have to complete any assignments on it. They reported that they were doing math games in their IB math class and regular work was continuing in Sociology and Mythology, but things were definitely winding down.

The next day was Senior Skip Day. This was also the day we met the kittens (virtually). But let’s back up a little here, so I can tell you about a different cat, because he was an important part of how we got here.

The Original Conjuring Cat

If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve probably seen pictures of our next-door neighbors’ very friendly cat, Uno. I haven’t asked, but I assume his people named him that because he’s blind in one eye. Uno’s family moved in back in December and sometime in February he started to expand his territory to include our yard. He rolls around and naps on our grass, occasionally climbs a tree, and winds around my legs while I come outside to put compost in the bucket or hang laundry on the line. If I stop petting him before he thinks I should, he knocks the socks off the drying rack or bats at my ankles to get my attention. Sometimes when someone opens the back door, he will come inside and explore. We are all smitten with this cat.

The first week in May, Uno’s people went away for a few days and North cat-sat for him. He must have missed his family because for a few days he came inside our house more often than usual and stayed longer. He actually jumped up and sat on my lap while we were watching television one night. Everything about this experience, his weight and warmth in my lap, the way he purred and licked my hand, was deeply comforting. It was that night I felt something shift in me and I realized, more than a year and a half after Xander died, that I finally felt ready to have cats again. Like Mr. Mistoffelees, Uno had performed a conjuring trick on me and melted that frozen, cat-shaped part of my heart.

I decided not to say anything to Beth or the kids for a week, just to see if the feeling stuck. It did and ten days ago (in our family therapist’s waiting room) we started looking at kittens available for adoption at various rescue organizations’ websites. The next day, Thursday, we put in a request to meet two male kittens. We heard back from their foster home on Sunday that they were no longer available, so we chose another pair of kittens, one male and one female, from a litter of four, and we heard back that same day that they were available. We made an appointment to meet the man who was fostering them virtually on Tuesday morning, knowing that North would be home for Senior Skip Day.

The Naming of Cats

Before the meeting, we talked a lot about cat names. I am the one who cares the most about names, the one who regularly posts comments on Swistle’s baby-naming blog, and the one who has a list of cat names saved up for future cats that is longer (by far) than the number of cats I am likely to have in the rest of my life, unless I become a crazy cat lady. But I also like the serendipity of cats who come with good names already. Matthew was just such a cat. Xander came to us with the name Spanky, so obviously that had to be changed.

When we were waiting to see about the two male kittens, I wavered between their shelter names (Oliver and Enzo) which I liked, and the names I’d picked years ago for two male kittens (Jonas and Ezekiel, from the Indigo Girls song). Everyone seemed willing to let me decide. But when we learned they’d already found a home and we were considering the male-female pair, I was lukewarm on their names (Dawson and Darla), but I didn’t have go-to set of names for a mixed sex pair.

I did have one for a gray female, though, Willow. My logic was pussy willows are gray, and I also liked the idea of another name from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer because it is my all-time favorite television show. We had a brief discussion about how the kitten in question might be more of a gray/brown mix, the kind that’s often called a brown tabby, but Beth reassured me that pussy willows are gray and brown if you include the stem. I’d been considering giving any cats we adopted middle names to honor Matthew and Xander and when I put Willow and Alexandra together, it sounded perfect. Willow Alexandra… isn’t that lovely?

My girl cat name list was longer than my boy cat name list. In fact, the only other male name I could remember was reserved in my mind for an orange cat, so I asked if anyone else had ideas. North brainstormed a few: Charlie, James, Leo, and Walter. I liked most of those and threw Jonah and Zachary into the pool, but I wasn’t set on any of them. Then I remembered Graham, which I’d completely forgotten was on the list. (I never wrote any of this down.) We decided we should wait to meet the kittens and see what fit.

 Last Week of School, Tuesday (Senior Skip Day)

Tuesday morning, we chatted with the man fostering the kittens while we watched them play with toys and tumble around on the floor with the other two kittens in their litter. We learned all four were getting spayed or neutered the next day and after that, they would be ready for adoption. We requested the forms for the next step.

When we got off the call, Beth said very sternly, “We can’t have four cats,” but no one had said anything about that, so I think she might have been speaking to herself as much as to us.

After the meeting, North and I walked to Koma, a coffeeshop that opened in our neighborhood last winter. We got coffee and split an apricot Danish.  I dropped them off at home and continued my morning walk. When I got home, Noah and North were watching Dr. Who. I set North to work organizing and culling a drawer full of free greeting cards we get from charities. (We get more of these than we can use, and the drawer is stuffed).

In the mid-afternoon El came over to watch Fear Street 2 with North and they stayed for dinner. North had wanted them to come earlier, saying it was kind of missing the point of Senior Skip Day to come after school had already let out, but they weren’t really put out. Beth had asked them earlier in the day how their skip day was going, and they said, “Good. I’m not at school,” which I think was all that was required.

Last Week of School, Wednesday

We picked North up at school Wednesday afternoon because we had an appointment, and they had a gift bag. Four of their friends who are juniors had bought them a teddy bear wearing a mortarboard, a box of Sour Patch Kids, and a card. They seemed quite touched by this gesture.

The Naming of Cats, Part 2

That same day we heard from the shelter than Dawson had been adopted so we said we’d take one of the remaining female kittens in the litter and I immediately switched gears to my female-female name pairs. There were three: Amelia and Chelsea (after my two favorite Joni Mitchell songs), Chloe and Olivia (after a line in a Virginia Woolf essay), and Ruth and Naomi (after the Biblical characters, who are sometimes read as lesbians). North didn’t like any of them. But it turned out not to matter, because soon after we got that news, the man who was fostering the kittens said it was a mistake on the shelter’s part, that someone had considered Dawson but not taken him, so he was still available.

Last Week of School, Thursday

North left for school wearing a senior class t-shirt for Senior Spirit Week. They came home and reported they had successfully returned their chrome book and confirmed they had no outstanding debts to the school so they could graduate, after waiting in line for over an hour to do so. There were cupcakes in their math class.

After school, Beth and North went to PetSmart and came home with all manner of pet toys, including some from the Pride display. There was a rainbow-colored tunnel, three interlocking rainbow-striped arches made of cardboard for climbing and scratching, a ball track, and worms that dangle from a stick because the man who fostered them said it was their favorite. They also got the kind of food they’ve been eating and litter. We also ordered a cat tree with platforms and a cave and a ball on a string to bat.

Friday: Last Day of School and Kittens’ First Day Home

North wore their Oberlin t-shirt to school on the last day of school. In the early afternoon we had a phone call with the shelter to finalize the adoption paperwork and an hour later, we were picking North up at the bus stop, so we could go pick the kittens up from their foster home in College Park.

In the car North reported on their last day of school. Nothing academic happened except in Mythology, where they listened to the teacher read them a story about Gilgamesh. There was Italian ice in math class. They liked seeing where people were going to college on their shirts.

The kittens came right to us when their caregiver brought them out. They were curious and friendly, not shy at all, and they went into the carrier without much fuss. We marveled at how tiny there were. Matthew and Xander were twice as old (four months) when we got them, and they grew into very large cats, so they were big for their age and already looked half-grown when we adopted them.

I hadn’t gotten much work done that day but once we were home it was impossible to work. Obviously, we had to sit in the living room and watch the cats for the rest of the afternoon. They explored the living and dining room, jumped up onto whatever surfaces they could, nosed around under furniture and came out with dust on their whiskers. They liked all the toys and played energetically with them. They pounced on each other and wrestled and didn’t seem at all sore from their surgeries two days prior. When they discovered the basement steps they raced up and down them. (We’d wondered if they would be able to manage the stairs when we first saw them, but that worry was put to rest. It’s relevant because it’s where their food and litter will go, though we started off with it upstairs.)

After a few hours with them we decided Walter was the name that fit best. It was the only one that was either first or second on everyone’s list. I am pleased with how it alliterates with Willow, and I also like that it could be after Walt Whitman, since our first cat (who Beth got in college) was named Emily, after Emily Dickinson. I told the kids that Whitman and Dickinson were the two best nineteenth-century American poets. “And that’s a fact, not an opinion,” which made them both laugh.

“You have strong opinions about poetry,” North told me. But why wouldn’t I? I spent a big chunk of my twenties and thirties studying and teaching literature.

As for the final piece, Walter’s middle name is Matthias for Matthew. So, the names are Willow Alexandra and Walter Matthias. Willow is the one with the white markings. She looks a lot like Emily as a kitten and a bit like Uno, too, who is a tabby with a white chin, chest and feet.

Around five-thirty Beth drove North to school for Senior Sunset. It’s an end-of-year tradition that, along with Senior Sunrise, bookends the year. The kids sat out on the football field, socialized, signed each other’s yearbooks, and watched the sun set. Pizza, chips, and snow cones were served. It sounded like a nice, low-key event. North said it was fun, and they hung out mainly with other kids from the GSA.

The cats have been here for a full day now. They seem quite at home, not unsettled by the move at all. They will cuddle with us, but only briefly (unless they fall asleep) because they are quite busy playing with their toys and running around like maniacs. They are starting to meow more after being almost silent yesterday. From the night Uno sat in my lap to the day they moved in with us it was only two and a half weeks. And in less time than that, North will be leaving for the Girl Scout camp where they are spending the summer as a counselor. Part of the reason we hurried once we’d made a decision was so that they would have time to bond with the kittens before leaving for most of the summer.

So, all in one day, there was ending, of our time with kids in K-12 public schools, and a beginning, of our time with these kittens who will eventually be our empty nest cats. It makes me wonder about the future, what North’s college years will be like, what’s in store for Noah, and what the kittens’ adult personalities will be like.

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears