Lessons From Kittens
By Lisa Regula Meyer
We’re a week into the foster cat experiment and things are going well. Our cat has finally made peace with the foster cat, Chowda seems comfortable, and the kittens are growing well. Kenny thinks the kittens are the best thing ever, and the kittens aren’t nearly as afraid of him as they once were, in large part because he’s gotten much better at not being a scary rambunctious giant. Having two mamas in the house for mothers’ day was interesting and gave lots of food for thought.
Possibly the most insightful bit has been looking at “mothering” and how it differs across species. I was having a conversation with a family member about how natural being a parent is, and that everyone knows how to do it instinctively. That sentiment right there set off some questions in my head, because we all know people for whom parenting is anything but natural- think of all the stories that make the news of parents doing utterly stupid things with their kids. And really, parenting doesn’t really seem so natural for Chowda, either. She frequently will lie down on top of the kittens, drop them from the bed, and do other seemingly less-than-kind things to the kittens. But she hasn’t killed one yet, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
For us human parents, the list of things to do for our kids is even longer than “keep kids alive” and includes some extremely unnatural items, like “help with homework,” “put together toys,” “fashion coach,” and “taxi them around town.” Sure, those are things that most of us have done ourselves, but hardly makes them come naturally to us. Really, almost everything above basic survival is learned and pretty impressive that we have figured all this out.
From my viewpoint, it’s the unnaturalness of parenting in the twenty-first century that makes it worth celebrating. We’re in uncharted waters here as a species, and we’re doing OK. Even well, in many cases! We’ve managed to learn an extraordinary amount, and found ways to pass on that knowledge so other generations could build upon that base. We do so much more than simply maintain life, but to enhance and improve it for our kids. We have expanded the family beyond blood ties to chosen families and nurturing our friends and neighbors. We don’t just create life, but ideas, organizations, and art. To all those who “mother”, those who nurture, create, and sustain things other than themselves- thank you, and congratulations; you’ve made a difference in the world.
Now to make sure that the kittens are all safe and where they’re supposed to be…