Midnight Musings: Raising a teenager

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | JO ANN KIRKLAND

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | JO ANN KIRKLAND

We have two teenagers at our house. One, a boy, graduates from high school in June; the other is a girl cat. Born four years ago, that makes her 16 in people years, or at least that’s the way she acts.

Our semi-feral cat birthed three kittens under our king-sized bed in the middle of a March night. My son raised them, gave each a name, socialized them and when we realized we couldn’t keep all three, we gave the two male kittens to grateful ladies who love them.

We kept the girl, Ash. Soft gray fur, blue eyes, first to learn to use the litter box; we thought she was the lucky one because she stayed with her mother. We pictured mother and daughter cat sleeping entwined together like a never ending mobius, until you couldn’t tell whose head was whose.

That didn’t happen.

If they’ve ever slept together, we’ve never seen it. And as far as being friends, on a good day they tolerate each other, on a bad day, they fight. Does this sound like teenage behavior?

The mother cat is fastidious, always cleaning herself, especially after my husband pets her. She was a good mother, keeping the kittens clean, though having been orphaned as a baby, we’re not sure where she learned her mothering skills. Ash always looks unkempt, her fur sticking up in strange ways.

Sometimes when Ash comes in from outside, her mom will tentatively lick the top of her head in greeting. I picture a human mother, reaching over to smooth her daughter’s stray hair,  a loving touch more than a necessary one. Ash will permit the grooming for approximately three seconds and then rear back and hiss. Her mother growls in response, they both poof up and daughter flounces away, tail twitching. If she had a bedroom door, she’d slam it.

At night, a cat stands outside the sliding glass door, her mirror image inside, waiting to go out. I open the door, they glare at each other and one leaps over the other to enter.

As much as they dislike each other, they’re more alike than they seem, with the same mannerisms. Just like when you see a mother and daughter standing next to each other, cocking their heads the same way, hands on hips, flinging their hair over their shoulders and it’s clear that they swim in the same gene pool.

When I take my daily walk, I sneak out the front door so they don’t hear me. They like to follow behind, like dogs, but are not allowed past Chase Creek. The mother likes to roam and once took months to find her way home.

I call out to them, they come running and we walk down to the creek together. I take two steps, turn around and wait. They are on opposite sides of the small street, in identical positions, rolling in the sand, coating their fur in the stuff left behind by the melting snow.

If someone wanders down our street, they sit at opposite ends of the empty field, growling like feline watch dogs.

They share the same fear of strangers and vacuum cleaners. Any time either of them hears the bump of the vacuum cleaner up the stairs, it’s as if the blue Hoover had grown headlight eyes, its hose becomes a snake, its voice like the growl of a monster. They scatter to the farthest corner under different beds, emerging hours after the cord of the monster is wrapped up and put away.

When the plumber came to fix the showerhead, they were sleeping, dreaming kitty dreams. They both looked up and fled out the open door, glancing back over their shoulders as if pursued by Satan himself. It took a piece of Muenster cheese to coax the mother in, hours later, and even then she was on high alert for trespassers. Ash didn’t return until the next morning.

They sleep on different cushions at the table, their bodies curled into separate circles of cat.

Maybe one day, after Ash gets through her terrible teens, we’ll find them snuggled together, a picture of Zen contentment. But I doubt it.

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